Photograph by Bill Singleton

Face lift

Great place to learn gets even better

By Bryce Petersen Jr.
Standard-Examiner staff

EDEN -- The changes are subtle so far at the resort formerly known as Nordic Valley. But newcomers and old-timers alike are dreaming big now that Wolf Creek Resorts has purchased the facility.

"See that ridge up there?" asked Cindy Beger, director of the Wolf Mountain Learning Center, from the top of the Howling Wolf chairlift. "The resort owns everything up to there."

All told, the resort owns 468 acres. Today, 100 acres are open for lift-accessed skiing. Nobody knows when or if the resort will expand. But thoughts of backcountry trails, guided tours and maybe, eventually, lift access are hard to suppress.

For now, though, Wolf Mountain is working on improving on what Nordic Valley was already known as: A great place to learn to ski or snowboard.

Here's a list of what's been done so far: Updated the two lifts; added a terrain park; cut one new run, regraded others and renamed them all; built Cub's Carpet, a conveyer belt to get beginners easily to the top of the learning area; and rebuilt the historic Barn, using empty space as a ski shop and ticket window to allow for demolition of other buildings that blocked the Barn's view of the slopes.

Here's what they haven't changed: Wolf Mountain's ticket prices are still lower -- by far -- than anywhere in the state. The terrain still leads skiers naturally from a nearly flat slope and gradually on to the resort's two expert runs.

One of those expert runs is named "Barney's Way," for Lloyd Barney, Nordic Valley ski patroller since 1970, when the first skier rode up the resort's first chairlift.

Barney broke his leg in September, but will be patrolling again in a couple of weeks -- as soon as he can fit his leg into a ski boot.

"My son says, 'They only name runs after Olympic champions or dead guys.' I said, 'Maybe they thought I was going to die before the ski season started after that snow cat rolled over me,' " Barney said.

But Barney is alive, well and looking forward to teaching his 2-year-old great-grandson to ski at the same resort where he taught his children and grandchildren.

That's the kind of devotion Wolf Mountain loves to inspire with its teaching programs.

"That's our goal. That's our niche. That's why we've called it a Learning Center," Beger said. "We want this to be the best place to learn how to ski or snowboard."

Even the terrain park is being designed as a learning tool. Sure, there will be a 35-foot tabletop jump -- once the work is done and snow conditions allow. But there will also be tabletops of 10 feet, 20 feet and 25 feet to help riders work up to the big one. Practice for the 20-foot rail slide, which will rotate with three other features in the park, can be had on the 8-foot and 12-foot rails, all of which will have an almost-identical approach.

"That's to make the transition as easy as possible," said Tom Mills, the park's designer. "We're gearing our park toward progression."

Mills is one of several Wolf Mountain managers who have been brought in from other Utah resorts. He spent the last few years designing Brian Head's well-known terrain park. Beger is another. She lives less than a mile from Wolf Mountain and taught skiing at Nordic Valley in the 1980s, but has commuted to Deer Valley for years. With the ownership change last summer, she decided the time was right to come back.

Then there's Barney, who's just changing the name on his uniform. Count him among those excited about Wolf Mountain's future. And present.

"I've waited 35 years for this," Barney said.

Wolf Mountain's to-do list

Nordic Valley regulars have been dreaming about all the things that could happen with an owner willing to invest. Now that it's happened, here's a wish-list:

* Snowcat trips or backcountry tours on the 468 acres that the resort owns. Only 100 acres are lift-served.

* Or a lift to the ridge.

* Summertime brush removal to open up the fall-line tree-skiing.

* Offer lift-served summer mountain-biking

* Do all that, and keep the prices the lowest in Utah.

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