First hiking trail through Sundance’s preserve has a unique name with a unique history and stunning views

The Pahneekahvets Trail takes hikers through an area of the resort that was previously inaccessible.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mount Timpanogos and Stewart Falls as seen from the Pahneekahvets Trail at the Sundance Ski Resort on Friday, June 9, 2023.

A special trail deserves a special name, or so the thinking goes at Sundance Resort.

So when the first hiking trail was built this spring on the 1,500-acre Sundance Nature Preserve, a moniker as mundane as the “overlook trail” simply wouldn’t work. The 1.25-mile path through meadows and pines with stunning views of Stewart Falls, Mount Timpanogos and Primrose Cirque needed a name that lived up to its vistas.

To get it, resort managers and members of the Sundance Nature Alliance — the preserve’s caretaker — turned to someone who knows the land perhaps better than anyone: a Toompahnahwach Ute Noochew elder whose ancestors first inhabited the area in the 1800s. They approached him following a ceremony held last summer dedicating a rock monument near the base of the Outlaw Express lift to the Ute Indian Tribe “as The First People of the Land.”

“We were like, ‘Hey, we have this new hike and it has all these amazing views and just really captures the beauty of this area,’” said Blain Wilkey, Sundance’s vice president of marketing. “And almost unsolicited after a minute, he said, ‘Well, you should call it Pahneekahvets.’

“And we were like, ‘What does that mean?’ It means: Look over here. Look at the beauty of this place.’”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wildflowers along the Pahneekahvets Trail at the Sundance Ski Resort on Friday, June 9, 2023.

Visitors got their first look at that beauty last week. The first hikers found a rough-hewn path still soft enough in places to allow small green plants to sprout up through its dirt. Elsewhere, prickly pear cactus and scrub brush dot the trailside. A longer view reveals splashes of bright yellow and blue wildflowers, the vibrant green of grasses and pines and the purple and white of snow-capped peaks in the distance.

A few steep climbs at the beginning and up to the Pahneekahvets [Paw-NEE-ko-vitz] Summit convinced trailmakers to consider it moderate in difficulty. Most of the trail, however, is an easy downhill ramble. The start of the trail is accessed via the midstation of the Outlaw Express lift. Lift tickets, which are good for unlimited rides, run $26 for adults and $24 for kids 6-12 and seniors. Children 5-under are free.

Tracy Christensen, Sundance’s mountain safety manager and the architect of the trail, said the heavy snows and avalanches that rumbled through the Southern Wasatch mountains this winter added some obstacles for trail builders.

“You’ll see all the work that we’ve had to do to open this trail with the heavy timbering and stuff,” he said. “It’s just amazing to see these trees that have just been pulled over and shattered just by the force of nature. It’s bizarre.”

Sundance plans to open a few other new hiking and biking trails later this summer. Wilkey said that includes the resort’s first hiking path on the backside of the mountain off of Red’s Lift near Bear Claw Cabin.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stewart Falls as seen from the Sundance Ski Resort on Friday, June 9, 2023.

While those are all on Sundance’s property, he said the resort is working with the Sundance Nature Alliance to create a few more hiking paths through the reserve. Prior to the Pahneekahvets Trail, only a few trails around the Nordic center, which are used for cross country skiing in the winter and horseback riding in the summer, had been built within the preserve in conjunction with the alliance. Skiing and snowboarding is not allowed within the preserve.

The Toompahnahwach band of the Ute Indian Tribe made the mountains and meadows in that area their summer residence. They hunted and gathered plants for food and medicine there, then moved on when the weather cooled.

Robert Redford established the preserve after he bought Timp Haven, which he renamed Sundance, in 1969. In December 2020, he sold the resort to Broadreach Capital Partners and Cedar Capital Partners, which committed to continue Redford’s land preservation policies. That includes maintaining all or most of the preserve.

“The purpose is, one to preserve the land, but it’s also to teach people about the land and give them opportunities to experience it in a way that can preserve it, but teach people about not just the flora and fauna but the conservation,” Wilkey said. “So that’s why we put this trail in. I wouldn’t say it’s the end. We want there to be others.”

Which means soon they’ll be on the hunt for more names — ones just as special as the trails are.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Workers doing maintenance on a trail at the Sundance Ski Resort on Friday, June 9, 2023.

Pahneekahvets Trail

Region: Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

Destination: Pahneekahvets Summit and Sundance Lodge

Distance: 1.25 miles

Time: 1 hour

Elevation Gain: 410 feet

Dog Allowed: No

Restrooms: Yes (at lodge)

Biking/horses: No

Difficulty: 2