At Deer Valley, it pays to see the powder through the trees

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) Skiers who've ducked into the trees at Deer Valley know that this mountain resort, for all its luxury accommodations and film-star guests, isn't just a pretty place.

The powder stashes in the trees are about as good as they get. And that makes a mountain which is not terribly difficult overall - more than 65 percent of Deer Valley's runs range from easy to intermediate - attractive to skiers looking for a challenge. There are ample opportunities to take a cue from the mountain resort's namesake wildlife and swiftly bound into the woods.

During the annual Sundance Film Festival, which starts Jan. 19 in nearby Park City, Utah, it's easier to find pristine powder filling spaces between aspen trees than a movie ticket. That's because many festival patrons are more interested in parties and premieres than putting on skis.

''We can have powder skiing three days after a big storm,'' said Olympic skier Heidi Voelker, Deer Valley's ski ambassador. ''There's more terrain here than people realize.'' She's given tours in which she's worn out advanced skiers who began the day with low expectations because of all the green (easy) and blue (intermediate) on the trail map.

Other reasons that Deer Valley's powder stashes stay pristine include a snowboard ban and limits on the number of daily skiers, which also means relatively short lift lines. And of course, many skiers prefer Deer Valley's groomed cruiser trails.

Deer Valley also invests considerable resources in ''glading,'' where a crew spends about 4,800 work hours clearing dead or diseased trees, branches, brush, etc. This makes the remaining trees healthier while making the area more navigable on skis - not to mention supplying the resort's Silver Lake and Empire lodges with up to 50 cords of fireplace wood.

Another factor keeping crowds down is price. Deer Valley was imagined as a luxury mountain resort by its founder, Edgar Stern. Its high-end ambiance is routinely compared to Aspen's, where Stern was a regular before investing in Park City. Lodging rates during Sundance can run thousands of dollars a night.

Deer Valley's daily lift ticket is also the second-highest in the area at $128. Only Park City Mountain Resort charges more, $139. Daily lift tickets at other area resorts range from $79 at Brighton to $106 at Snowbird, with Solitude charging $83 and Alta $96.

Greg Bensel, an executive for the NFL's New Orleans Saints and NBA's New Orleans Pelicans, has made Deer Valley his family's go-to ski destination for the past decade.

''The amenities at Deer Valley are second to none; they cater to their visitors very well,'' said Bensel, listing the Stein Erickson Lodge, the Montage and St. Regis Resort among his favorite spots. ''We enjoy the fact that the runs and lifts are not overly crowded. There are many options to relax, work out, enjoy a great meal, spa - whatever you wish - and everything is very close.''

HEIDI'S HIGHLIGHTS

Voelker, an Olympian in 1988, '92 and '94, recommends a few spots in particular for advanced skiers. Those include the Daly Chutes and (unmarked) glades just east of the chutes known as ''X-Files.'' Also along the upper, central part of the ski area are the Sunset Glade and opposing Ontario Bowl - the latter also having glade skiing, but a little more cleared out. On the far west side are Lady Morgan Bowl, and below that a challenging tree-filled headwall called Centennial. On the far east side are the Mayflower chutes, and farther down the mountain are Triangle Trees.

The Daly Chutes and X-Files require some hiking from the upper part of the Orion run, reachable on the Empire Express lift.

''People don't take the time to go into X-Files because of the little hike, so you can lap in there and it's just beautiful, aspen skiing and you feel like you're kind of the only one in there if you're willing to make that little effort.''

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

The resort is relatively easy to reach - usually less than an hour's drive from Salt Lake City's main airport - with transportation options for those who don't want to rent a car.

Locals take considerable pride in Deer Valley's reliable, convenient and free shuttle service. It not only runs between lodges and other slope-side developments, but also has stops in Park City. Visitors are encouraged to use the shuttle service to reduce traffic congestion - particularly during the Sundance festival.

DINING

Between the lodges at Deer Valley and the offerings in Park City, dining ranges from casual to fancy, from pizza to sushi to Tex-Mex to traditional European alpine themes.

Local favorites include Adolph's (Swiss), where the menu includes beef bourguignon fondue; Royal Street Cafe for casual American fare like bison burgers; and the Mariposa (fine dining), with organic and gluten-free cuisine.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.