Mar 25 • 1HR 37M

Podcast #78: Beaver Mountain Owner & Mountain Operations Manager Travis Seeholzer

"We're 90 percent mountain and 10 percent resort, and really at our core that's what we are is a ski hill."

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Everyone’s searching for skiing’s soul. I’m trying to find its brains.
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Who

Travis Seeholzer, Third-Generation Owner and Mountain Operations Manager of Beaver Mountain, Utah

Beaver Mountain founder Harold Seeholzer with his first pair of “boughten skis” in March 1918. Photo courtesy of Beaver Mountain.

Recorded on

March 21, 2022

About Beaver Mountain

Click here for a mountain stats overview

Owned by: The Seeholzer Family (since 1939!)

Base elevation: 7,200 feet

Summit elevation: 8,860 feet

Vertical drop: 1,660 feet

Skiable acres: 828

Average annual snowfall: 400-plus inches

Trail count: 48 (25% advanced, 40% intermediate, 35% beginner)

Lift count: 6 (3 triples, 1 double, 2 conveyors - view Lift Blog’s inventory of Beaver Mountain’s lift fleet

Beaver Mountain’s current trailmap. View historic Beaver Mountain trailmaps on skimap.org.

Why I interviewed him

When our son turned 1 year old, my wife and I hosted a small baby-naming ceremony for our families. To prepare for this event, I tapped into my aunt’s extensive ancestry.com research. What I found both surprised me and explained everything: tracing my paternal lineage back for centuries, no one had died in the place where they were born since George Winchester, born in Hemel Hempstead, Herfordshire, England in 1555. George begot Daniell, and his son Daniell edged closer to London until Willoughby jumped the Atlantic and landed in South Carolina sometime in the early 1700s. The pattern continued through William, Francis, Jonathan, Wiley, Edward, Herman, Ken, and then me. Four hundred years of getting the hell out of wherever you were from. I’m sure my kids will leave New York City the second they can program their robocars to fly them to Moonbase Six – my 13-year-old daughter already hates the subway and just wants to live somewhere “where I can look outside and see grass.”

Perhaps because of this generational wanderlust, I’ve always been interested in the multi-generational clans who unite around place and purpose. I was in awe of kids in my grade school whose grandparents lived across the street from them, amazed by my neighbor who had attended my high school in the ancient 1960s, astonished to realize that local landmarks or roads were named after families whose children I knew well.

Many – probably most – ski areas started as family concerns. Gramps and the boys went up-mountain with some chainsaws and a tractor, and the next thing you knew you had a ski area. Over the generations, most of these went bust, and most of the rest grew and grew until the grandkids said to Big Ski Company X, “Wait, you’ll give me how much money to just go sit on my ass for the rest of my life?”

That never happened at Beaver Mountain. Harry Seeholzer hacked the joint out of the wilderness in 1939, and the Seeholzers are still running it 83 years later. That alone makes this a good story. A family could be running a petting zoo for eight decades and I’d want to host them on the podcast to talk about it. But add in 400 inches of Utah pow, a tie-in with the comet-across-the-night-sky Indy Pass, and a bursting-at-the-seams ski area acting as Exhibit A for why Vail and the Epic Pass may be the best thing to ever happen to independent skiing, and this is a conversation I couldn’t book fast enough.

Everyone always talks about how close the airport is to Utah skiing. Photo by Jay Dash photography, courtesy of Indy Pass and Beaver Mountain.

What we talked about

Utah’s not-so-snowy (for Utah) season so far; Remembrances of Travis’ grandpa, Harry Seeholzer, who was born in 1902 and founded Beaver Mountain in 1939; a bygone America where hardscrabble ancestors lived off the land; the big change in Logan Canyon management that allowed Beaver to open for skiing; the ski area’s different locations over time; what inspired Seeholzer’s grandfather to found a ski area long before the sport had entered the American mainstream; what saved Beaver Mountain in the 1960s; how a group of good-old boys hand-built a parking lot, baselodge, and chairlift in the course of a single summer; the transformational installation of the Harry’s Dream chairlift; the vagaries of running a ski area with no snowmaking; growing up and raising your family at a ski area; the old days of driving through Utah snowstorms that would close canyons today; how rapidly and profoundly Utah skiing has changed in recent years; how the megapass scene has transformed Beaver; who really runs Beaver Mountain; the story behind the woman who will hand you your Beaver Mountain lift ticket; the pride and pressure of maintaining an 83-year-old family business; whether the Seeholzer family is destined to continue managing the ski area; “there’s definitely no motivation to sell the ski area”; deciding what’s next as the megapass refugees roll in off the horizon; Beaver’s massive forthcoming base area expansion; tech’s place in the future of small ski areas; why Beaver Mountain still has RFID season passes but metal sticky-wickets for day passes; the downside of technology; the kids just don’t get the wicket tickets; reaction to nearby Cherry Peak, one of the newest ski areas in the country, opening in 2015; where we could see expansion and what it would take to make it happen; how Beaver Mountain shifted from federal to state land; where Beaver may drop a new chairlift and which chairs are priority for upgrades; the story behind the 20-year-old Marge’s terrain expansion and how that transformed Beaver Mountain; musings on being the new home of Keystone’s Ruby lift and Alta’s Germania; why Germania was such a great lift and what made it unique; why Beaver Mountain doesn’t have snowmaking and whether it ever could; why Beaver Mountain was one of the first to adopt the discount volume season-pass strategy and why they have persisted with it; how Beaver Mountain joined the Indy Pass; why the ski area blacked out weekends and holidays this season and why that’s likely to continue; and why Beaver still maintains reciprocal partnerships with a number of mid-sized regional ski areas.    

Yeah OK we’ll groom a little bit of it. Photo courtesy of Beaver Mountain and Indy Pass.

Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview

The West is dotted with ski areas like Beaver Mountain, three- or four-lift outposts serving a hyper-local population of families and school groups and the unexpectedly hardcore, the retiree or the stay-at-homer racking up 100 days a year while the rest of us are yelling at each other on Facebook.

For decades, many of us have treated these bumps like the bounce house at Six Flags. “Yeah, that’s cute, but I’m moving right along past it to crush the Triple Upside Down Tyrannosaurus Rexicoaster. On the fourth loop they have a Siberian tiger fighting a white rhino in a 10-foot cage!” So tourists drive right past places like Homewood or Sunlight or Diamond Peak or Monarch or Sundance or Bridger Bowl. They didn’t fly across the country to ski at some rinky-dink place that’s five times the size of their local and gets 10 times the snow – they’re here to wait an hour on the Snowbird tram line and post about it on Instagram. Many locals have a more nuanced view - enough of them that Beaver Mountain lasted eight decades with little help from the outside world. But for a lot of people, ski area choice was a pretty simple equation of size + snowfall + reputation = where I’m going.

Little Cottonwho? Beaver bags 400 inches of snow most years. Photo courtesy of Indy Pass and Beaver Mountain.

But this attitude is evolving, for a lot of reasons. One, the Epic Pass worked too well. Not only did it hyper-activate capacity at most Vail-owned mountains, but it spawned the Ikon Pass, which also worked too well. Trying to ski a weekend powder day in the Wasatch is like trying to catch the last lifeboat off the Titanic. You have a lot of competition. People, especially locals, need a break, and they’re seeing what else is out there. Beaver Mountain is not Alta (nothing is), but on a mid-winter Saturday, it’s not a bad stand-in if you can skip the canyon traffic and not spend much of the day plotting a Wile E. Coyote network of fake “to Little Cottonwood Canyon” signs that send unsuspecting tourists sailing off a cliff.

The second reason is the Indy Pass, which arrived at the perfect historical moment, when both the Epic and the Ikon passes had corralled the continent’s biggest butt-kickers onto a pair of thousand-dollar-ish products and everyone else was sitting around going, “huh, would you look at that?” And Indy Pass was sitting there like, “Oh, you want a lesser-known ski area with comparable terrain and maybe one or two fewer four-horse chariot lifts? Well here’s like 80 of them.” But while Indy raised the general awareness of these back-of-the-canyon outposts, it never overran them – passholders only get two days at each mountain. And the blackout dates can be insane – there are more full moons in an average month than days you can use your Indy Pass at Beaver Mountain. Nonetheless, the ski area’s presence on the Indy Pass has worked as an attention-grabber - Seeholzer told me on the podcast that Beaver Mountain was the most-searched resort on the Indy coalition during its first year.

The final reason is a mix of things, rising from our current cultural fixations on the local, the family-owned, the “authentic,” and the relatively unknown. In this arena, social media helps. “Oh, you took a vacation to Park City? Nice job tracking down the busiest ski resort in Utah, Inspector Gadget. Hey how about this gorgeous powder dump I found in the back of a canyon a couple hours away?”

Eighty-three years ago, Travis Seeholzer’s grandfather staked out a ski center on the fringes of the Utah wilderness. Word just now got out to the rest of us. It’s time to give these places the love they deserve.

Why you should ski Beaver Mountain

Utah has fewer ski areas than you probably think: just 15, less than half the number of Colorado or, gulp, Wisconsin. The state is tied with Montana for 12th in total number of ski areas, according to the National Ski Areas Association. And yet, Utah finished third in skier visits last year, with 5.3 million. That’s behind only California’s 6.8 million and Colorado’s astonishing 12 million.

Up and down at Beaver Mountain. Photo courtesy of Indy Pass and Beaver Mountain.

The reason is that Utah has some seriously kick-ass mountains, most of them are on some megapass or another, and all of them are exceedingly easy to access. Park City is an Epic Pass headliner. More than a third of the state’s ski areas – Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, Solitude, Deer Valley, and Snowbasin – have lined up on the Ikon Pass. Beaver joins Powder Mountain and Eagle Point on the Indy Pass, and MCP’s Power Pass claims Brian Head and Nordic Valley. That really just leaves Sundance and Cherry Peak as true independents (the remainder are specialized facilities like Woodward or the Olympic training center, or surface-lift bumps out in the hinterlands).

All of that is a long way of saying that it can be hard to find your own little bit of lift-served Utah. Even out-of-the-way Beaver Mountain is facing some volume concerns, as Seeholzer points out in the podcast. But crowding means different things at different places, and while you may be looking at some weekend liftlines at Beaver, the low-capacity, fixed-grip fleet keeps the trails relatively empty.

And while you’re waiting in line, you can think about this: you’re part of a pretty cool story, of a single family whose story echoes across generations and up Logan Canyon to the end of the road.

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