How to have a swish adventure in this secret Utah valley

If you love to ski more than you like to drive, locals in Utah’s Heber Valley have a secret. 

The Wasatch County destination’s back roads lead to Deer Valley Resort’s Jordanelle Gondola far faster than from Park City and with little to no traffic. A ways from the resort’s main entrance, you’ll also skip big lines and get on the mountain faster — although there are no easy green runs from the gondola, and those taking ski lessons still have to meet their instructors at the base of Snow Park Lodge. 

With a record 700 inches of snow in Utah — the state usually gets 500 inches of snow per season — ski resorts like Deer Valley have extended their ski season by a week.

Some ski fanatics say that this year, there might even be ski days until July 4 at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort and at least through April at other resorts, including Alta Ski Area, Brighton, Snowbasin and Brian Head Resort in Southern Utah.  

From our perch at the Zermatt Utah Resort & Spa, both the Deer Valley Resort and Sundance Mountain Resort — the Robert Redford-owned property that was the original setting for the Sundance Film Festival, which launched in 1978 — were equally accessible. 

While Park City has a fun, Western vibe, the Heber Valley has its own alpine allure, with Swiss-influenced architecture and dining, thanks to its original Swiss settlers from the 1860s and 1870s. In winter, the streets are lit up at night like a picture-perfect Hallmark card.

The Heber Valley also boasts its own health and wellness wild card. The Utah Crater in Midway — across the street from the Zermatt — is inside the grounds of the Homestead Resort.

The crater at Homestead Resort.
Hole-y moly: Explore this 10,000-year-old crater.
Adam Barker

The crater, which was more than 10,000 years in the making, is a therapeutic geothermal hot spring hidden inside a 55-foot-tall limestone rock. You can tour, swim, snorkel and even scuba dive it.

The waters are always between 90 and 96 degrees and 65 feet deep, which makes it the only warm-scuba diving destination on the continental US, according to its website. There’s a hole at the top of the rock that brings in fresh air, and light, without detracting from the warmth of the mineral water. 

Nothing here is fancy, even bringing your own towel is recommended, and that’s part of the charm. 

A woman doing yoga.
It’s not a stretch to say Utah is focused on wellness — just head on over to Park City Yoga Adventures.
Adam Barker

For yoga aficionados, Park City Yoga Adventures will also organize private yoga lessons on paddle boards inside the crater, where you can practice your practice or learn from scratch, knowing that falling into the healing water while doing your full wheel is just part of the deal. You can tack on a sunrise or nighttime trek through a forest to the crater, according to its website. 

The crater formed when melting snow from the Wasatch Mountains seeped into the earth and became heated, then bubbled back up to the surface to create the crater. The warm, healing water was in stark contrast to the thick snow outside, which made it feel even more magical.   

Foodies also love the valley’s seasonal focused and locally sourced restaurants, run by chefs like Tamara Stanger at The Lakehouse at Deer Creek and chef John Platt’s Midway Mercantile, where a vegan menu is also in play. 

To mix it up off the slopes, we also snowshoed one night to dinner at a yurt in Soldier Hollow at Wasatch Mountain State Park. We started as the sun set and walked back under the light of the moon. 

For those who really enjoy off-slope challenges, the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center even trains biathlon athletes — an Olympic sport since 1924 that is a cross between cross-country skiing and shooting. With rifles. In a race. Seriously. In the middle of the contest, athletes stop to shoot a .22 caliber rifle. If they miss, they are docked time and sometimes have to ski penalty laps.

We decided to stick with snowshoeing. 

There’s also snowmobiling, sleigh rides and even ice fishing — where people wait all day to get bites from trout and other fish at Deer Creek State Park and Reservoir, Strawberry Reservoir and Jordanelle State Park Reservoir.

En route, don’t be surprised to see moose and elk as well as deer. Then get ready to do it all over again. 

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