Courtesy Deer Valley Resort

No longer a secret among well-heeled families, Deer Valley is now often ranked the Number 1 ski resort in the U.S. in polls and by magazines, and luxury hotels, restaurants and amenities are raising the bar on and off mountain.

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Lay of the Land

“Even in snowstorms, the airport and the highway almost always remain open, which means a long weekend ski trip here is viable—even from the East Coast.”

My family first started skiing in Deer Valley over 20 years ago. I’ll never forget how my father—who had enrolled my three sisters and me in ski school on the East Coast as toddlers and then taken us on ski vacations every year in Europe, where we paid more attention to our on-slope fashions than to snow conditions—described the Utah resort. “It’s so indulgent,” he said. “They have Kleenex boxes in the lift lines, and little ski fairies who swoop out of the trees to help you up if you fall down.” The last bit was a mild exaggeration, but Deer Valley was the first resort in the world to build tissue boxes into the lift lines, to limit daily lift tickets so the slopes wouldn’t get too crowded and to post ski valets in the parking lots and hosts around the mountain.

When it opened in 1981, Deer Valley had five chairlifts and two lodges, Snow Park at the base and Silver Lake mid-mountain. There are now 21 chairlifts with 101 runs on six different mountains and more than 2,000 acres of skiable terrain. Multimillion-dollar houses now sprawl over the six mountains that the network of lifts covers. It probably also has the highest percentage of groomed trails of any resort, but it’s also possible to find untracked powder and tree runs. Among the distinguishing features of the resort is its commitment to families. Even though the resort has “uphill capacity” for more than 50,00 skiers per hour; the resort sells only 7,500 ski passes a day to reduce lines and crowds. Taos, Alta and Jackson Hole may have tougher skiing, and Aspen and Courchevel better shopping and dining, but children can seem tolerated, not truly welcome. Other spots do a good job of catering to families, but in doing so, often force a diet of hot dogs and pizza on children and adults alike. Deer Valley understands that parents can love skiing with their kids and also relish good food and wine at lunch. And only a 10-minutes drive away is historic Park City, with its many restaurants and shops. For those who want a more extreme kind of skiing, Alta and Snowbird are less than an hour’s drive for an easy day trip. My family has continued to return to Deer Valley because no other mountain manages to balance so well serious skiing, creature comforts and family-friendliness.

In fact, the resort was founded by Edgar Stern, who was familiar with European ski towns, on the idea that you could bring first-class-hotel-quality service to the entire ski experience. In the ’90s, he introduced the idea to a circle of his wealthy friends who bought houses on the mountain, then invited friends who also became repeat visitors. It wasn’t until the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 that the resort came to the attention of a wider circle when Deer Valley was the site of the freestyle mogul, aerial and alpine slalom events. In 2005, it was voted the best ski resort in North America by readers of SKI magazine; and it has been consistently swapping spots with Vail for top spot on most lists since then. One of its distinct advantages has always been how easy it is to reach: there are many flights into Salt Lake City, and then it’s a 50-minute drive, depending on the road conditions, on a major highway to the resort. Even in snowstorms, the airport and the highway almost always remain open, which means a long weekend ski trip here is viable—even from the East Coast. Throw in the fact that two of the country’s most indulgent ski resorts (St. Regis Deer Crest and Montage Deer Valley) are in Deer Valley.

Be aware that Deer Valley is one of only four mountains in the country to prohibit snow boarders. While it’s a plus for many families with little kids learning to ski, the prohibition on snowboarding can be an issue for those with teenagers. It is, however, allowed at Park City and the Canyons, both of which are a short drive away. In fact, for those who are staying for more than a few days, there is a range of excellent other resorts in driving distance, including Alta, Snowbird and Sundance.

Indagare Tips

Book early. Deer Valley has many repeat visitors, so the top places fill up fast. The Deer Valley Ski School begins to accept reservations in June and the best instructors book up early especially for the December holiday season.

Ship your luggage ahead. FedEx delivers daily to all the hotels and condos, and many guests send their skis and duffel bags ahead and then home again.

When to Go

Ski season typically begins in early December and runs through mid-April. Deer Valley gets an average of 350 inches of snow annually. Holidays are extremely busy, as it’s a popular family vacation spot, so if you are planning to come at Christmas/New Year’s, Martin Luther King or Presidents’ Day weekends or spring break, book way in advance—everything from hotels, ski school and babysitters to restaurant reservations.

If you want to mix culture with skiing, a fun time to visit Deer Valley is during the Sundance Film Festival in January. It’s not easy to get tickets for screenings, but there are Day-of-Show and wait list sales, and savvy concierges can often wrangle passes.

Getting There

Officials at Salt Lake City International Airport claim that half of the U.S. population lives within a two-and-a-half-hour flight of the city. 15 major airlines fly in and out of Salt Lake, including JetBlue and Delta (Salt Lake is its second largest hub after Atlanta). It also manages to stay open during snowstorms, which may be why it has been ranked as one of the most on-time airports in the country. For those on the East Coast, if you take an early-morning flight you’ll be at Deer Valley in time for lunch, thanks to the time change. The resort is just 36 miles from the airport east on Interstate 80. The Indagare Bookings team is happy to arrange airport transfers for members booking hotels.

Getting Around

If you are going for a week or more or plan to go into Park City for dinner or shopping, you should rent a four-wheel drive at the airport. It’s an easy drive to Deer Valley, but remember you are in snow country, so you want a car equipped for icy roads. Those going only for a long weekend will probably stay at the hotel most of the time, so you won’t need a car. The resort is well serviced by shuttle vans and taxis, and car service is available to and from the airport.

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