Snowbasin, Utah—Budget skiing in Taj Mahal surroundings

The lobby of Earl's LodgeWant the posh experience of Deer-Valley-luxury on a more realistic budget? Think Snowbasin. For a $63 lift ticket, you won’t get a ski valet who carries your gear from your car, but you will find 2,650 acres of varied terrain, a vertical drop of nearly 3,000 feet, plenty of elbow room and lots of elegant touches.

Described as a sleeping giant when Sun Valley’s owner Earl Holding bought the resort in 1984, it was a rustic, one trick pony with a funky home-grown reputation. It has kept its down home funky local clientele base but now shares some of its sister resort’s amenities.

Mr. Moose — everybody's meeting site at Snowbasin.The wow factor starts with the base area, finished just in time for the 2002 winter Olympics. It’s a collection of rustic chic elegant buildings, all built in that swanky masculine, full-timbered, rock-walled, soaring-roofed style that’s become so popular with the elite set. The massive day lodge, named after its owner, feels just like a hotel. One woman came up to the information desk and asked how many rooms were available. (There is no slopeside lodging. The closest lodging is 15 minutes down the mountain.)

Chef prepares an omlette.Earl’s Lodge houses a huge entry lounge with leather couches and chairs in front of a large fireplace next to a dining room that looks like you’d need a coat and tie to be seated. It’s the eating area for the cafeteria-style food court that serves the usual and then some with a few higher-end twists — The salad chef will mix whatever kind of ingredients you choose; the omlette chef will make whatever kind of eggs you want; the stir fry chef will throw whatever…you get the picture. It’s called The Servery. Quite elegant in its own way.

On the other side of the great lounge, there’s an elegant sit-down restaurant and bar. Although you won’t see many customers dressed in flashy ski outfits, the retail shop across the way sells plenty of high-end merchandise. There are glass chandeliers in every room and, best of all for those in ski boots, carpets everywhere.

Earl Holding's Lodge at Snowbasin, UtahThe adjacent Grizzly Center houses ski and snowboard equipment rental, apparel, lesson central, licensed day care and fun den all just for kids. Even the bathrooms are scaled down for tiny ones.

The Moose is the central meeting spot where skiers decide whether to board two of the nine lifts for awesome wide-open terrain. The Needles gondola serves plenty of intermediate and advanced territory or take the John Paul quad to ski bowls, double blacks and the hair raising men’s and women’s Olympic downhill courses. Each of these lifts also serves new day lodges and restuarants with magnificent views plus the same elegant architecture, food and beverage.

First Tracks, which includes 90-minute guided skiing and breakfast, but not lift tickets, goes for $99 for the first person in your group and $50 for each additional member. Reserve a day ahead.

Photos by Steve Giordano