Deep Powder: A Pilgrimage to Sundance, Deer Valley, and Solitude
By Brian E. Clark
The late, great ski writer Walter Roessing liked to boast that he often brought big dumps of snow with him when he visited resorts in the West.
Walt, who penned a Dallas Morning News travel column for decades, has been gone for about two years now. But some traditions need to be preserved.
So on a recent ski trip to Utah’s Sundance, Deer Valley, and Solitude resorts, I invoked Walt’s name – and that of Ullr, the Norse god of snow – before I set off for the Beehive State.
It worked, for as my National Ski Patrol buddy Dave Cushman and I drove up the narrow North Fork Canyon to Sundance – set at 6,100 feet about 30 miles northeast of Provo – the snow began to fall. And it didn’t stop until more than 22 inches was draping trees and piling up on the slopes, rocky outcrops, and rustic buildings of this intimate, Western-themed resort that was owned by Robert Redford for more than five decades.
Redford sold the 2,600-acre resort to Broadreach and Cedar Capital Partners several months ago. The companies have pledged to stay true to Redford’s environmental ethos while improving lifts, expanding skiable terrain (which now totals only 450 acres) by as much as 50 percent, and adding an inn in coming years.
The actor and director intentionally kept the resort small and even somewhat funky. It continues to have a 1970s, family-friendly feel, with less than 100 rooms available in cabins, a handful of homes for rent, two restaurants, a deli, a ski shop, and a general store.
Of course, no mention of the resort would be complete without including the Owl watering hole, complete with a bar that Redford found in Wyoming, transported to Utah, and had restored.
The resort’s name is a nod to the popular 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Redford played the laconic Sundance, while Paul Newman had the role of the more talkative Butch. Their love interest was Katharine Ross.
Photos from that movie and others of the Stewart family, who owned the small ski area before Redford bought it – as well as shots of actors and writers who have taken part in Sundance Institute programs over the years – line the walls of a hall between the Foundry Grill and the more upscale Tree Restaurant. But the displays are low-key, just like the resort and its former owner. At 84, Redford skis less now, we were told, but still has a home on a big meadow above the base.
Cushman and I were there to ski, not gawk. So after breakfast in the Foundry, we connected with instructor Jason Bowen, who led us all over the mountain and in some cases, into deep powder. (Bowen, an accomplished artist when he’s not skiing, thanked us for bringing the snow.)
“On a sunny day, you’d be able to see the Mount Timpanogos – which tops out at around 12,000 feet – up there to the right,” Bowen told us as we hunkered down on the Red’s chairlift. We were headed to the Bearclaw Cabin restaurant, which sits at 8,250 feet and offers spectacular 360-degree views of the Heber and Utah Valleys and the surrounding Wasatch Mountains.
It’s the only mountaintop lodge in Utah and comes complete with an outhouse, keeping with Redford’s earthy leanings. But that first day, with the winds blowing 30-plus miles an hour, we could only imagine the views.
By early afternoon, we’d called it quits after trying our skills on many of the resort’s 42 runs. That evening, we dined at the Tree Room, which contains Native American art, kachina dolls, and pottery from Redford’s private collection. It was the first structure built by Redford at the resort in 1970. And yes, it went up around a then-living tree. My salmon dinner was delicious, as was Cushman’s pepper steak, which came highly recommended by several locals.
We were greeted by bluebird skies the next morning and stunning views of the rugged “Mount Tim.” We lapped the runs off Ray’s and Red’s chairs numerous times. Because of avalanche danger, however, we could only look enviously at the inviting Bishop’s Bowl below the Bearclaw Cabin. Hopping into Bishop’s would be just one of many good reasons for a return trip, I told myself later that afternoon as we drove away from the resort.
An hour north via Heber City, we were a world away at Deer Valley Resort and the luxurious Stein Eriksen Lodge. Eriksen, who won Olympic and numerous other skiing medals for his Norwegian homeland, was director of skiing (no snowboards allowed) at Deer Valley for decades. He died in 2015 at age 88 and was famed as the father of freestyle skiing. In contrast to the private Redford, Eriksen spent some of his last years holding court at the eponymous lodge, signing autographs and chatting amiably with visitors.
Eriksen helped the Stern family design both the Deer Valley resort and the inn that is often described as one of the best ski lodges anywhere. For dinner, we ate in the Glitretind Restaurant, named for the second-highest peak in Norway. We both had a bisque soup, while I had tasty poulet rouge chicken and Cushman had a bison Wellington dish that he described as “unbelievably delicious and tender.”
After breakfast in an igloo-like Alpenglobe at the Stein – as locals call the lodge – when met up with Deer Valley host Jennifer Winstead, who regaled us with stories about skiing with the legendary Norseman as we rode lifts with her.
And there were plenty. Deer Valley covers more than 2,000 acres of skiable terrain and boasts 21 chairlifts, 103 runs, six ski bowls, a vertical drop of more than 3,000 feet, and impeccable service. Slopeside homes at the resort can easily cost $4 million.
We warmed up on blue cruisers as Winstead led us to each of Deer Valley’s peaks. We also made turns with Craig McCarthy, another ski buddy from past years. Last February, McCarthy and I scattered a few Roessing’s ashes on the slopes of neighboring Park City Mountain Resort, something we figured Walt would have appreciated.
By the time lunch rolled around, we were ready for a break. So we decamped to the Royal Street Cafe, where we gobbled up a Dungeness crab tower, chowed down on Street Corn guacamole, and spooned in the eatery’s famed Deer Valley turkey chili. We skied more runs in the afternoon until our legs were wobbly, grabbed a shot of whiskey at the High West Saloon just off the main drag in Park City, and then walked to the River Horse on Main, which has won numerous dining awards from Forbes Magazine.
We started with a lobster bisque, featuring (I’m not kidding) a marshmallow for a touch of sweetness. Keeping with my aquatic tastes, I chose the mouthwatering rainbow trout, while Cushman went native and ordered the Trio of Wild Game, which included North American buffalo, venison, and elk in a port reduction sauce. A true carnivore, he was in culinary heaven.
After a good night’s rest – and for our last turns on this Utah skiing and foodie odyssey – we headed to the west side of the Wasatch Range and drove up the winding Big Cottonwood Canyon to Solitude Resort – which has a small village that feels like it was plucked right out of the Alps.
Famed for its steeps in Honeycomb Canyon – where I’d skied in past years – we stuck mostly to the blues off the Summit, Sunrise, Eagle, and Powderhorn chairs because, frankly, our legs were getting a little tired. For lunch, we stopped in at the Roundhouse for tasty chicken salad wraps.
That night, we toasted Utah – and Ullr – as we dined in our digs at the Powderhorn Lodge on a delicious dinner made by Honeycomb Grill chef Tara Gerome that consisted of an abundant chopped salad with Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, set, baby heirloom tomatoes, green beans, radishes, cukes, avocado and a shallot vinaigrette dressing. Then we dove in a roasted chicken served with wood-fired veggies, baby kale, a Tuscan herb sausage with a lemon and thyme jus. But we saved room for house-made chocolate pudding with a dash of whipped cream.
It won’t be hard to lure us back to Utah, for we barely touched the surface of it skiing and culinary offerings. Of course, I’ll invoke Roessing’s name before I arrive.
For more information on the Sundance Mountain Resort, see sundanceresort.com; for the Stein Eriksen Lodge, go to steinlodge.com; for Deer Valley, see deervalley.com; for High West Saloon, go to highwest.com/saloon and for the Solitude Mountain Resort, see solitudemountain.com.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.