Extreme Ogden — Railroad city rebuilds itself through extreme sports

Published: Thursday, Nov. 8 2007 12:00 a.m. MST

OGDEN — The idea was simple enough. Replace the railroad, once the lifeblood of this northern city, with snow, ice, water and super-high winds.

Did it work?

Ogden is, claims one national publication, "fast gaining on places like Boulder, Colo., as a destination for extreme sports."

On the extreme menu are activities such as skiing, indoor surfing, kayaking, rock and ice climbing, flying without wings, and water skiing.

"When we came into office nearly eight years ago, we knew we had to stop being an old railroad town. We used to have a railroad; then we had nothing," recalled Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey.

"We asked ourselves: 'What can we do to be the best in the world?' We knew we had unparalleled access to recreation. No one along the Wasatch Front has better access to recreation. No one has greater access to recreation so close to a downtown area. That's what will make this work. "

It started with skiing — Snowbasin, Powder Mountain and Wolf Mountain, formerly Nordic Valley. It was available and had been for years.

Snowbasin had long been considered Utah's best kept secret when it came to skiing. No resort was said to have more potential. It came to light in 2002 when the resort hosted key alpine events in the 2002 Olympics — downhill, combined and super G. Among roughly 700 resorts in North America, voter in SKI Magazine's annual poll ranked Snowbasin No. 29.

Powder Mountain is another of the "undiscovered" resorts. When its unmanaged powder fields are combined with its managed slopes, it is Utah's largest resort — 5,500 acres. In the magazine's annual reader's poll, under the category "snow," skiers rated Powder Mountain second only to Alta.

Wolf Mountain, under new ownership, is Utah's smallest resort but lists itself as its most "family friendly" and most affordable.

Then Godfrey targeted two more areas — attracting new businesses and exercising new opportunities.

"We spent years cleaning up downtown to create momentum. We weren't presentable the way we were," he explained. Roughly 60 acres of the downtown area has been renovated, and 120 acres is currently under redevelopment.

The new development includes the new Salomon Adventure Center, named after the ski company Salomon.

There, people can surf or boogie-board indoors on the FloRider, climb any one of the hundred routes on the IRock climbing walls, fly solo in the IFly wind tunnel, work out at Gold's Gym, bowl a few games or engage in a range of other family activities.

The FloRider is a double-wide, indoor standing wave, which simply means rushing water flows uphill over a trampoline-like surface at about 20 miles per hour to create a perfect wave. This wave can be surfed upright on a FloBoard or horizontally on a BodyBoard.

The wave can be sectioned off into two lanes, one for surfers and one for body surfers.

It's easy, said Casey Nielsen, vice president of operations, "But, there's a real learning curve. People do crash. Some really good athletes have come in, thinking they'll master this first time out, and they struggle. It takes getting used to.

"It's different and it's popular. We get individuals, families, birthday parties and even businesses that will bring in their employees either before or after a business meeting."

The IRock is a 55-foot-high indoor climbing wall offering rope climbing, bouldering and route selection ranging from very easy to extremely difficult.

To promote family involvement, "We encourage parents to become belay certified so they can belay their children. While the children climb, the parents are holding the rope. Interestingly enough, it creates a real bond between parents and children," Nielsen noted.