Tuesday, January 28, 2014

field trip: deer valley resort

By Saturday afternoon, we were pretty bored with skiing the same runs over and over again; the snow had aged and toughened enough that even venturing into the off-piste areas that had held up the best was no longer fun.  Then I had an idea.  This year season passholders at Alta, Snowbird, Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort got three day passes at each of the other three resorts: since all we were doing was skiing groomers at Alta, why not use a reciprocal ticket at Deer Valley where they're known for their groomers?  Sunday morning rolled around and we were out the door by 8 a.m., heading up Parley's Canyon towards Deer Valley.  We drove to the Snow Park lodge, flashed our Alta passes and were promptly handed day tickets - easy-peasy!

My word - those mittens are huge!

Deer Valley Resort is consistently ranked one of the - if not the - top ski resorts in the country because of their excellent guest services: carefully groomed trails, ski valets, top notch lodging and hotel restaurants.  The swankiness is evident in the ticket prices ($108/day) and the hordes of green-uniformed employees just waiting to help guests (I was a little concerned I'd get attitude for the duct tape on my ski pants but no one seemed to notice).  The resort is spread out over 2,026 skiable acres across six lift-served mountains; the highest, Empire, tops out at 9,750 feet (almost 1,000 feet shorter than Alta's Sugarloaf lift).  Speaking of lifts: Deer Valley has twenty of them, most high speed detachable quads.  (Alta has seven.)  Since finding good snow wasn't really going to be an attainable goal for the day, we decided to try to ride as many lifts as we could.

Obligatory DV selfie

We took the Silver Lake Express out of Snow Park to the main mid-mountain area, Silver Lake Lodge.  From there, you can get to Bald Mountain and Flagstaff Mountain, with Empire Peak and Lady Morgan accessible from Flagstaff.  We rode the Sterling Express (to Bald) with a local who gave us some suggestions on where we might like to go.  We did a couple of blue groomers, then switched to Flagstaff where no less than four (!) lifts (Quincy, Silver Strike, Northside and Ruby) deposit skiers at the peak.  After several more blue groomers - where we got lost a couple of times and ended up on lifts we didn't intend to ride but which took us back to the top - I was getting chilled from just cruising in the shade.  We saw that Empire was completely in the sun and didn't seem to have many people on it yet, so we made our way over there.  (In actuality, we never once waited in a lift line as it was not at all crowded, and we ended up doing quite a lot of runs by day's end.)  

Taking a break on Conviction

There were a couple of groomed options coming off the top of Empire but the off-piste stuff was starting to soften a little.  We tried the top of Lady Morgan Bowl, which was okay, and then figured we'd give the bumps a try.  Empire Peak was pretty much covered in huge moguls, scoured smooth but slowly softening.  We did several bumps runs under the lift on Domingo and Conviction which were okay, although the moguls were really bigger than I can comfortably handle.  Magnet, off the Lady Morgan lift, was less fun: hard and skied-off, it would have been doable with sharp edges but with the edges I had, I didn't enjoy it much.

Heading back out after lunch

For lunch we ventured into the Empire Canyon Lodge, situated next to the gigantic Montage Hotel.  Lots of folks were sitting out on the deck but we were able to find an empty table in one of the many dining rooms, right next to a crackling fire.  The Grill had a nice variety of lunchables: gorgeous salads, burgers and sausages, chili, paninis, soups and pastas, steak wraps and fish tacos.  We splurged on a plate of chili cheese fries: the chili was flavorful, if a little too watery to be served over fries; the fries were not up to Alta's Alf's standards.  The ubiquitous Deer Valley employees were everywhere - a bus-person even cleared tables for skiers.  However, if I'm being completely honest, I think that Snowbasin's lodges and lodge dining are better.


After lunch, we took another lift out of Empire Canyon, back to the top of Flagstaff.  We did a bumps run where the moguls were slightly more manageable and I was able to make some decent turns in there.  After some runs on Flagstaff, we made our way back to Bald Mountain, where we tried some steeper blue groomers in order to hit a couple more lifts (Sultan Express and Wasatch Express).  At this point in the afternoon, however, the runs were pretty well skied off, which made me nervous to be sliding across the hard pack with no edge to dig in, and the bumps we found were huge and really hard.  From the Silver Lake Lodge we took our final lift ride (the extremely slow Homestake, bringing our total lift tally to thirteen), and then skied down the front face of the resort, pausing by the Olympic moguls run to marvel at how steep it was.

Apres ski at the EBS Lounge, Snow Park Lodge

It was nearly 3:00 p.m. when we got back to the car to take our boots off, but the sun was still hitting the apres ski deck so we had a pitcher of Full Suspension ($18.00) and pored over the trail map.  Despite the hard conditions, it was a good day: exploring unfamiliar territory under bright blue skies. We liked Deer Valley and would definitely like to ski it again when there's new snow; Lady Morgan Bowl, the Daly Chutes and Daly Bowl looked like good, challenging terrain, and we never even made over to the Mayflower lift, which has chutes, a little bowl and expert runs.  We've got two more reciprocal tickets left - maybe we'll make it back to Deer Valley again this winter.

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