Just about everything at Snowbird reflects the flamboyant personality of its founder and owner, Texas billionaire Richard "Dick" Bass, the "large-mouth bass from Dall-as," as he calls himself. (At the ski tunnel's ribbon-cutting ceremony in December, the 77-year-old Bass belted out a Gilbert and Sullivan tune.) "He's a character," Schaffer says, "a one-of-a-kind, a dreamer, a passionate, funny guy and a talker." That's putting it mildly. A longtime mountain climber, Bass was the first person to ascend the tallest peaks on all seven continents, finishing at Mt. Everest in 1985. At one time, he held the world record as the oldest person to have climbed Everest. Bass opened Snowbird in 1971 with the tram, three lifts and some lodging. In 1986, he opened Snowbird's flagship 10-story Cliff Lodge and Spa, a 511-room hotel and convention facility. Built to withstand earthquakes and avalanches, from the outside the tower actually looks like a concrete bunker, but its interior walls and floors are adorned in an amazing array of authentic Oriental rugs. The Snowbird village, including three nearby condominium complexes, has seven restaurants, three day lodges with cafeterias and numerous stores. Because just about everything at Snowbird is owned by Bass, the resort promises one-stop shopping for lodging, lift tickets and dining, along with discount packages during low season. Check online for details. Inside the Snowbird Center beneath the tram, I met a visibly exhausted family on the final day of an annual spring ski trip. Bob Feldman and his wife, Lani, both skiers, and their 18-year-old son, Zak, a snowboarder, had sampled Brighton, Solitude and Snowbird. Snowbird was the favorite: Its sheer size impressed Zak's father, a social work professor at the University of Chicago. "It takes forever to get the lay of the land," he said. Snowbird, like Alta, contends with an image of extreme terrain and steep tree skiing, which it truly has, including a trail named "STH," which stands for somatotropin hormone but is known among locals as steeper than hell. Snowbird also hosts the annual Subaru U.S. Freeskiing National championship, in which contestants cut lines down Mount Baldy's impossibly steep slopes, jump from cliffs and often finish with the flourish of an aerial stunt.
Snowbird's Stunning Peaks
Photo: John Collins/Snowbird
On the Mineral Basin lift, I met Courtney Anderson, 30, a freestyle ski bum who at night tends the bars at Snowbird's Steak Pit to support his ski addiction. He was frustrated on his 110th-consecutive day of skiing, he explained, because he had been attempting all morning without success to get the speed needed to jump over a Mineral Basin rock formation. With this gonzo attitude, why only ski Snowbird, I asked. "The terrain, the snow and the people," he said. Alta is scheduled to close on April 16, 2007, though backcountry tours will continue. Snowbird usually remains open through May or June.
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