Deer Valley Resort
Supplanted for the first time in 2013 after an impressive five-year run in Ski Magazine’s top spot for annual North American resort rankings, Deer Valley did what most self-confident star athletes would do when they lose their status as
number one: they congratulated Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb for its success.
Deer Valley chair lift — Photo courtesy of Deer Valley Resort
While some segment of diehard skiers may shy away from Deer Valley with the concern that its higher-end accommodations and tony restaurants give off an atmosphere that’s too clubby – that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Friendliness abounds at Deer Valley from the moment you enter the parking lot: attendants guide you to your spot, shuttle drivers clear snow from the open air seating, lifties greet you at every opportunity across the mountain and the ski school instructors take tremendous personal investment and pride in helping you improve during your lesson.
Ski school — Photo courtesy of Deer Valley Resort
No doubt, Deer Valley is a confident ski resort very comfortable in its own skin – even with its high-end reputation. Why not have marble dividers and counter tops in the public bathrooms, or offer tissues at every lift line. On most vacations, regardless of destination, it’s often the little touches that add up to the overall experience. The same is true for Deer Valley Resort.
Ultimately, the skiing experience is still the primary focus. Deer Valley is known for its meticulous grooming, but with varied terrain and 100 runs across five different mountain peaks, there are plenty of options for everyone. Sure, Deer
Valley doesn’t quite have the steeps of Jackson Hole or the back bowls of Vail, but when you are blessed with an average of 300 inches of light, fluffy powder native to Utah’s Wasatch Front you don’t need much else to be in skiing heaven.
The mountain layout and lift network is hands-down among the best in class. Deer Valley’s express chairs whisk you up the mountain quickly and across the various peaks with ease. No need for slow traverses or mid-mountain congestion. Key improvements for 2012-13 include a new high-speed quad named the Mountaineer Express on Little Baldy Mountain and improvements to the Snow Park Restaurant at the base and Empire Canyon Lodge further up the mountains.
And when the day on the slopes is done, there’s a plethora of restaurants from which to choose.
Mariposa Restaurant — Photo courtesy of Deer Valley Resort
Well-known Mariposa, located mid-mountain at Silver Lake Lodge, is the top dining option with award-winning New American cuisine. It has switched to a tasting menu this season with so many of its guests clamoring to try a variety of creations from Executive Chef Clark Norris. His dishes come out like small works-of-art-on-a-plate and usually finish with an explosion of flavors on the taste buds. Service is friendly and very attentive, but don’t go if you’re hungry for a burger and a plate of fries. The smaller tasting menu-size dishes are more delicate and deliberate then what someone with a voracious appetite might be looking for.
Other popular options at Deer Valley include the Seafood Buffet and Fireside Dining at Empire Canyon Lodge – but with the resort’s proximity to Park City, it might be just as fun to throw on the jeans and boots to head into town for hip Main Street spots like Silver or 350 Main.
With its fancy hotels and dining, some may see Deer Valley as a delicate balance between a luxury experience and a ski vacation – but in the end, the resort accomplishes both by fusing the two into what might best be called a luxury
ski experience. It doesn’t really matter which is more important to you because in the end, whether you are a hard-charging skier first or primarily a relaxing vacationer, at Deer Valley you can have your cake and eat it too.
Quick – what’s the largest ski resort in Utah?... Snowbird? Nope… Alta? Not quite. Park City? Getting close, but no. It’s in fact, Canyons Resort, with over 4,000 acres of skiable terrain and 182 lifts spread across nine peaks located just west of Park City, a 5-minute drive from the old mining town’s Main Street. Many may not have guessed the answer initially, but almost everyone would agree that the Canyons Resort is on the up more than perhaps any other ski resort in North America.
After years of struggling to find its way, various resort name changes and some lacklustre amenities, Canyons has jumped right in with the big boys of Utah – and even among the nation’s top resorts. The 2008-purchase of Canyons by Park City luxury real estate company Talisker has only emboldened the mountain – with its new owners – to continue with improvements that have been made over the past decade.
Canyons is known by regulars for its ski-anywhere terrain and hidden stashes of snow among Aspen and Pine trees; each of its peaks offers areas for glade skiing from the top-down to go with the more open, manicured runs. The resort added
Iron Mountain in 2011 to further expand its terrain southward and feature even more intermediate and advanced runs, as well as tree-skiing acreage.
This year, Canyons became the first resort in North America to offer a heated chairlift. For the resort’s part, the lift has become – perhaps a little overbearingly – one of its marketing highlights for the season. The aptly-named Orange Bubble
Express travels from the main base area to the top of Sun Peak with a mid-station egress point along the way. Sitting down on the warm seats is a pleasant experience and its orange-hued bubble protecting skiers from the wind gives it a-sort-of 60s psychedelic vibe inside. The only negative: it really makes you notice how cold the non-heated seats are on the rest of the mountain. There should be a tacit ski resort rule: one heated chair lift equals heated chairs all around. The other lift option from the base village is the Red Pine Gondola – a very effective people-mover which also keeps you reasonably warm.
Along with skiing improvements, Canyons has vastly upgraded its lodging over the past few years with several five-star hotel additions – which is to be expected from a luxury real estate company – while its food offerings, once an after-thought, have begun to garner more and more attention.
Top restaurant The Farm received awards from local Salt Lake critics for its artisan delights and local cuisine sourced within a 200-mile range, while Red Tail Grill offers creative southwestern fare in a casual and hip setting.
The Farm — Photo courtesy of Canyons Resort - Dave Newkirk
Try some of the margarita specials including a tangy prickly-pear option or margarita with blueberry puree and black Hawaiian lava salt named Black and Blue. Then sit back and watch as the crowds ski down the mountain in the late
afternoon, drop their skis and relax in lounge chairs on the area that has been dubbed by locals as “Ski Beach” at the base of the gondola.
Canyons may not have the old-time character of Park City and its bowl terrain, or perhaps the lux and refinement of Deer Valley, but it’s gaining its own image as a forward-looking resort with impressive acreage, terrific tree skiing and
modern amenities. The debate over the proposed ski link gondola that would join Canyons with Solitude Mountain Resort in Cottonwood Canyon on the other side of the range is perhaps the biggest such future project.
Proponents say that the ski link could go so far as to alter how people view the Utah skiing experience by connecting multiple resorts with a short lift ride – even take some cars off the road for those commuting between the two resorts. Meanwhile, environmentalists are making their case for the dangers and concerns of the potential development, as well.
Both sides will be heard as this project goes through its various evaluation phases, but there’s one thing everyone can agree over the past few years: Canyons Resort has arrived and it has arrived in big mountain fashion.