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Deer Valley, The Gold Standard in Skiing

Part II of Ski Correspondent Andrew McLean's Look at his own backyard: the ski areas of Park City, Utah
By Andrew McLean - February 26th, 2010

Editor's Note: 

This is the second of a three-part series by ski correspondent Andrew McLean as he explores his own back yard and it's three signature ski areas. A long time resident of Park City, Utah, Andrew writes in this piece aboutr Deer Valley. Read his introduction and story on Park City Mountain Resort; his third and final story on Park City will feature The Canyons.

Since its first days, Deer Valley  has been synonymous with the finest of everything resort skiing has to offer. From gold-plated faucets in the restrooms to pristine grooming on the slopes, it is almost impossible to come away from a day of skiing there without a gleaming Ultrabright smile on your face. Even among skiers who have traveled the world looking for the most gnarly off-piste terrain on the planet, Deer Valley gets enthusiastic high marks for being such a unique, high quality experience. When there is deep powder to be had, the high speed lifts and lack of crowds guarantee you will get all you can eat. If it hasn’t snowed for a while, get ready to dig into the daily house-special: miles of velvety corduroy grooming.

Deer Valley has always been known as one of the most expensive resorts in the U.S., but that’s changing. This hasn’t occurred because they have lowered their prices, but because many other resorts have raised their ticket prices to the point that Deer Valley, at $86 for a full-day pass, is in line or less than resorts like Vail ($98), Park City ($86) or Sun Valley ($82). A major difference with Deer Valley is that once you are there and have a ticket, everything from parking to assistance carrying your skis (important if you have kids), to mountain tours is included so you are not constantly pulling out your wallet to pay for incidentals.

One of the first things newcomers to Deer Valley will notice when they get off of the top of a chairlift is… houses. Actually, the term “houses” does not do these architectural wonders justice as they are more like Architectural Digest centerfolds. Due to the layout of the mountain, many of the runs wind their way through clusters of homes, which seems unusual at first but immediately becomes part of the scenery and the experience. Another thing that newcomers will notice, or more likely not notice, is snowboarding. Deer Valley is one of four areas in the U.S. which still ban snowboards, including Alta, Taos and Mad River Glen. Being a privately owned mountain, their reasoning is simple: they are banned. Thank you. Most visitors are aware of this beforehand and the adjacent Park City Mountain Resort allows boarding if the need arises. In the case of Deer Valley, this has created a skier-centric experience which is becoming increasingly rare in North America.

Deer Valley is composed of six separate mountains and organized into three main zones – Empire Pass, Silver Lake and Snow Park. The resort features 21 lifts and 100 runs which are all beautifully laid out and designed to make it easy to move around on the mountain without a lot of cat tracks or traversing. Most of the terrain is moderate, although there are a few pockets of expert terrain to spice it up. During the summer, Deer Valley “glades” (trims out the underbrush and tight trees) select wooded areas to create some of the best tree skiing in Utah. The resort center is located one mile east of downtown Park City and the resort shares a boundary line with the Park City Mountain Resort, although skiing between the two areas is illegal.

I’ve had many great days at Deer Valley, but the best one yet happened accidentally earlier this season. Our plan was to start the six-resort Ski Utah Interconnect Tour at Deer Valley and then move on, but due to deep snow and high winds, the boundaries were closed and we were “stuck” in Deer Valley. This hardly mattered as we got to ski with Heidi Voelker and Jen Franklin as a consolation prize and after the first run, all thoughts of the Interconnect were forgotten. Heidi is an ex-Olympian and now the Ambassador of Skiing for Deer Valley Resort, and Jen is the Mountain Host Supervisor. We were in good hands.

After a run in the Triangle Trees, I would have been content to stay there all day and tear it up, but luckily we moved on to Ontario Bowl and Sunset Glade, which were just as good. Mid-week, off-piste skiing in Deer Valley is the definition of faceshot nirvana as you have it all to yourselves lap after lap and there is no reason to stop. Except for lunch.

All of the ski resort lunches I’ve ever eaten now fall into two categories – pre and post Royal Street Café at the Silver Lake Lodge. A warning would have been nice, as I had no idea that we were about to be submerged into towers of steak tartar for an appetizer, fresh seafood taco main courses, deserts, lattes and fine red wine. As I usually skip lunch or eat a cold, mangled PB&J, it was a splendid shock to the system that I will never forget. Back on the slopes, we slid over to the Daly Chutes, which are some of the steeper lines in Deer Valley. Utah has been having a lean snow year, but the skiing was still excellent as the chutes are protected, yet also get some deep drifts. These were followed up with more tree skiing, a few groomers and then a trip to the bottom past the massive kickers (man made jumps for aerial competitions) to end a perfect day at the Silver Lake bar. As might be expected, the bar was clean, comfy, open and friendly. By now I was getting dangerously accustomed to the Deer Valley lifestyle and expected no less.

If you have never been to Deer Valley, it is a must-ski destination and not to be missed. Not only is the terrain wonderful, but the level of service and professionalism makes skiing there feel like they have rolled out the red carpet for you, except in this case, the rolling is done with snowcats and the carpet is miles of perfectly groomed slopes or deep powder. In the world of cookie-cutter ski resorts, Deer Valley is a unique and original indulgence.

A few weeks after my visit, my wife and daughter spent the day skiing at Deer Valley and accidentally left their skis in the outdoor racks and didn’t remember until them until next day. At most resorts, this would be the last you would ever see of your skis, but at Deer Valley, not only were they still in the rack the next day, but someone had brushed the snow off of them and stood the kids skis back up. After getting her beloved skis back, my wife said “I love that place!” I know what she means – it’s hard not to.

Next – the new big kid in town, The Canyons Ski Resort.

See Andrew's introduction to the Park City area and his write up on Park City Mountain Resort.


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