At this point in my geezerhood I’ve skied almost every major ski area in the USA. In March of 2016 I found one I’d never been to before and made my first visit to Deer Valley, UT. I spent two sunny ski days there in fine conditions. Deer Valley oozes with exclusivity and wealth. Sometimes that sort of thing can be a turn off, but when high class and superior taste are accompanied by great service and good ole fashioned courtesy a whole ‘nother thing emerges, a thing of beauty.
Right from the get-go you notice Deer Valley has a high staff-to-guest ratio. The parking lots are well managed. The base lodge is humming with employees and service windows (including a free overnight ski check). The numerous and beautiful on-mountain dining facilities are bustling with cooks, servers, and clean-up crew. But most noticeably, the lift corrals everywhere on the mountain, whether there are lines or not, are overseen by a legion of cheerful attendants doing their best Walmart Greeter imitation. Deer Valley knows SERVICE and does it with a smile.
My visit coincided with prime spring break time in the second week of March. Deer Valley was teaming with guests, but everything seemed under control. From my two day sample I can only deduce that there is a market for upscale skiing, especially when it is done well. Deer Valley does not suffer in the shadow of the big neighbor down the street.
The day before my visit it had rained in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. The lower half of Deer Valley’s terrain had been affected, but the fleet of groomers seemed to minimize the damage. Many of the lower groomed runs skied very well and the upper mountain skied great because the rain had turned to snow above 8,000 feet.
The 2,026 multilayered, undulating skiable acres of Deer Valley don’t instantly reveal themselves. It’s a big place with many luxurious slopeside accommodations and approximately 15 on-hill eateries offering everything from turkey chili to haute cuisine. Only after riding a good percent of the 21 lifts and exploring the full 3,000 vertical feet can you gain an appreciation of the enormity of the place. Two days wasn’t enough time to experience all of it.
Beautiful lodges, friendly staff, and a dozen high speed quads are all great, but what about the terrain? Deer Valley might not blow you away with limitless double black diamond runs, but make no mistake. There is a very entertaining range of terrain and much of the expert stuff goes underutilized.
I enjoyed many fine runs at Deer Valley including dipping in and out of the manmade moguls on Three Ply. This run parallels the Red Cloud chairlift in the Flagstaff Mountain trail pod. The skier’s left half of this run features perfectly shaped manmade bumps, while the right half is a groomed delight.
There are gorgeous groomed runs everywhere at Deer Valley, but the Bald Mountain (elevation 9,400 feet) trail pod may have the best. The steep, single black diamond trails like Blue Ledge and Stein’s Way on the skier’s right side of Bald Mountain have especially dramatic views of 3,000-acre Jordanelle Reservoir. Stein’s Way, named after the late, legendary Deer Valley skiing ambassador Stein Eriksen, may be the steepest groomed run in the entire ski area.
My favorite section of the mountain was the trail pod served by the Empire Express. The summit of this chair has an elevation of 9,570 feet. It’s the highest lift-served point in the ski area and collects some of the best natural snow. There are great single black diamond glades to the skiers left of the Empire chair.
Daly Bowl and the Daly Chutes are easily accessible to the skier’s right of the Empire chair and represent the premier expert terrain at Deer Valley. Further right beyond the Daly Chutes is a large area of moderate angle and very lightly trafficked glades. The Empire section of the mountain includes beautiful, fun terrain that should not be missed.
At one point in my visit to Deer Valley I took a ride on the Lady Morgan Express with the idea of using it to return to Empire. But it was clear from the lift ride that it serves its own fine array of challenging runs. I couldn’t resist checking it out and enjoyed skiing 1,150 vertical feet of fun, advanced offpiste terrain directly under the Lady Morgan chair.
I can’t file a report on Deer Valley without mentioning the renowned on-hill dining experience. I’m usually a skiing brown bagger, but my friends and I sprung for lodge food both days of our visit. Everything they serve is great and a surprisingly good value.
With my plebian tastes I went for a jumbo all-beef hot dog one day at the Empire Canyon Grill. I ordered “everything on it” and for under $10 that included two pieces of bacon, a ladle full of chili, kraut, cheddar cheese, sautéed mushrooms and onions, spicy mango relish, and various more mundane condiments. If you split an order of $5 fries with a friend you’ve got a huge plate of tasty food in a magnificent ski lodge at a spectacular mid-mountain setting for about the price of a burger and fries at your neighborhood Five Guys.
Deer Valley is the place to go for discriminating skiers. And I mean skiers. Snowboarding is not allowed. Sorry if that’s a buzzkill for some of you, but it does shape the demographic at Deer Valley and the place is very family friendly.
Deer Valley is located only a mile or two from Park City with nice proximity to all the activities and amenities that come with that excellent resort town. And like most of the ski areas in Utah it is easily accessible from the Salt Lake City International Airport (about 45 minutes via Interstate 80). If you love good food, great service, state of the art grooming/lodges/lifts, and a wonderful overall ski product you will find Deer Valley to be a real beauty.