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It’s not often that my nine-year-old son is driven to poetry. But our final run from the summit of Solitude turned out to be just the inspiration he needed. “The beautiful sun of the bright spring day pounds down on us with power as the steep mogul run lies before me,” he wrote for a third-grade assignment shortly after we returned to Colorado from a spring-break visit to the Big Cottonwood Canyon resort. The run came after riding Solitude’s rickety, retro, two-seater Summit chair, and when I asked him what was so memorable, he replied, “It was scary that there was no one else up there, but it made me feel really brave.”
I too have a great memory of that last run of ours: We’re perched over the lip of a black diamond called Shaft, deciding whether we should take this rather fierce-looking bump run or stick to the safety of Dynamite, a groomed blue. Cole decides on the bump run. (“We drop in with so much speed that the snow went up instead of down,” he’ll write.)
Turns out our timing can’t be better. Solitude’s new owners, Deer Valley Resort, would soon announce that its first upgrade is a replacement for that old Summit chair, and so we’ve gotten one of the last rides up it. Installed in 1982, the lift, along with the Sunrise chair, has been replaced for 2015–16 by a high- speed quad, and the ride time to the summit has been cut in half.
Not surprisingly, other upgrades are food-related: a new menu at the renovated Moonbeam Lodge (grilled salmon with chimichurri sauce, marinated flank steak with blue cheese) and a reopening of the mid-mountain Roundhouse Lodge as a Himalayan Hut, serving dishes such as traditional lentil dal, curries, and naans. And look for more grooming—also not surprising.
“This place is special,” says Kim Mayhew, Solitude’s newly appointed general manager, as we ride the Sunrise chair. “There’s a great vibe here. It’s ‘feel-good’ skiing, as I like to call it. I love the mix of terrain, from wide, mellow runs to the real scare-your-socks-off stuff.” Mayhew is referring to Honeycomb Canyon with that last bit. Honeycomb is Solitude’s crown jewel, a long, beautiful canyon with an intermediate run cut down the middle so it’s accessible to almost everyone.
It looks daunting as we peer down from the access point atop the Summit chair. The sparsely treed right face of the canyon seems more welcoming than the huge left wall, which is steep, forested, and plenty dramatic with scary-looking hike-to lines in nearly every direction. I’m practically salivating. This place is a gold mine.
Mayhew, who took the helm on May 1, says that Honeycomb balances Solitude. “It’s our little secret,” she says with a smile.
Mayhew hasn’t exactly followed the traditional trajectory of a GM. She joined Deer Valley in 1982 and has worn many hats over the years, including ski-school instructor and training supervisor. In her most recent post at Deer Valley as director of human resources, Mayhew presided over the care and feeding of nearly 3,000 employees, dealing with payroll, benefits, hiring, and recruiting.
If you’ve been there, you know that Deer Valley boasts the happiest employees around, so it’s no surprise that that’s where Mayhew is focusing first at Solitude. “The core staff here has been around for a very long time,” she says, “and one of the things I find most refreshing is their passion for the resort and their optimism. Our goal is to become part of what they do here every day, not come in and turn things upside down.”
The skiing public’s reaction last October to Deer Valley’s plan to acquire Solitude was mixed, from fear that snowboarders would be banned (they are not) to hope that Solitude’s infrastructure will get the attention it needs (it will). “We recognize that this place is a little gem,” Mayhew says. “We want to use our resources to enhance that vibe.”
Luckily, Solitude’s small but sweet village makes an ideal canvas. Built in the late 1990s, the cluster of condo-hotels at the base of the slopes is typical ski-resort construction (it was built by Intrawest) huddled around a plaza with an ice rink, restaurants, and a heated outdoor community pool.
During our late-spring visit, the pool is hopping from après-ski to 8 p.m. nightly with joyful kids playing Marco Polo and water tag, bobbing happily in the shallow end, and bouncing from pool to hot tub for quick warmups. In the village, we dig into piping-hot pies from the Stone Haus Pizzeria and Creamery and gorge on Hearth Bread (caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, black olives, and fresh mozzarella on ciabatta) at the Honeycomb Grill during après-ski on the patio.
And in true Soli style, liftlines are nil, we have entire swaths of the mountain to ourselves, and yes, the “vibe” is just as we expected: authentic, local, quaint—at least to a family who usually skis Colorado’s crowded Front Range resorts.
Which reminds me: When I told people we were going to Solitude on spring break, the large majority of my avid-skier friends had no idea where it was. And these are people who live one state over from Utah, not across the country. But with Deer Valley’s attention, perhaps Solitude won’t remain unknown for much longer.
>>Soli’s modest little village is cute and convenient. Options include town-homes, condos, and the full-service Inn at Solitude, and all lodging comes with access to the community pool, hot tubs, fitness center, and game rooms.
>>The small but cozy dining room at St. Bernard’s, inside the Inn at Solitude, serves a family-friendly buffet dinner Wednesday to Sunday, and the Honeycomb Grill, just across the way, offers a tavern-style menu nightly. Don’t miss breakfast at the Silver Fork Lodge, just down the canyon from the resort. It’s well worth the short drive.
>>The Thirsty Squirrel, in the village, is a comfortable pub perfect for an après beer and a snack.
>>The Solitude Nordic Center will outfit the family with snowshoes for an informative hour-long jaunt around the lovely, snow-covered lake. All lodging guests can watch movies in Club Solitude’s little theater, hang out in the game room with Xbox, play pool, or curl up by the fireplace in the lounge.