Deer Valley stands by its snowboarder ban as it takes over new Utah ski resort

Park City resort refuses to change its policy despite expansion that will triple its skiable acreage and could include BLM land.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Skiers at Deer Valley on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. The Utah resort is one of three in the nation to ban snowboarders.

Staff and executives raised their glasses of Champagne for a toast Thursday to celebrate the inking of a deal between Deer Valley Resort and Extell Development that allows the luxury ski area to expand onto the adjacent land formerly known as the Mayflower Resort.

Meanwhile, snowboarders around the state, and perhaps even the country, were eating sour grapes.

Though the deal could add a new base, 16 lifts, 135 runs and nearly triple the resort’s skiable terrain, it is just that — skiable terrain. As is Deer Valley’s tradition, snowboards will not be allowed.

For those who slide over the snow on one board instead of two, and who have been watching runs being cut through the mountains above the Jordanelle River for the past two years with great anticipation that they may one day be able to carve them, the “New Deer Valley” is disappointingly similar to the old one.

“Ah c’mon,” one commenter on a Tribune article wrote. “Let the snowboarders in, you snobs!”

Just three ski areas in North America are ski-only, and two of them are in Utah: Deer Valley and Alta Ski Area. Neither of those two have ever allowed snowboarders on their lifts. The third, Vermont’s Mad River Glen, banned them in 1985.

When asked Thursday if Deer Valley might consider carving out a space for snowboarders now that it had so much more terrain to work with, resort president and chief operating officer Todd Bennett was unequivocal.

“Deer Valley has a great legacy of ski-only,” Bennett said, “and we’re going to continue that.”

OK, but why?

Snowboarding was just gaining momentum when Deer Valley opened in 1981. The first national championships were raced a year later. Four years after that, the first world champion of halfpipe was crowned. As snowboarders began to establish their staying power and gain a larger market share — they now make up about 40% of all lift users, according to the Snowsports Industry Association — more resorts welcomed them, especially after the sport made its Winter Olympics debut in 1998.

Deer Valley was not one of those. Deer Valley founders Edgar and Polly Stern were skiers, and their vision was to create a luxe resort for skiers, replete with high-end accommodations and indulgent amenities. They pioneered the idea of a ski valet as well as the chairlift footrests and boxes of tissues at the bottom of every lift.

The Park City resort quickly found its clientele, and that clientele was willing to pay more for attentive service, world-class dining and impeccably groomed runs with nary a snowboarder in sight.

In 2001, Aspen Mountain Company’s Ajax resort in Colorado opened its lifts to snowboarders. That left just four ski-only resorts on the continent (Taos Ski Valley acquiesced in 2008). Yet even at that time, Free the Snow, an organization that worked to have snowboarding bans lifted, told the Park Record that Deer Valley would likely be the last to cave.

“Deer Valley is a different animal,” Matthew Kreitman, whose organization appears to have since disbanded, said at the time. “They have such a specialist audience.”

And Deer Valley has no intention of disrupting that. In its reasoning for staying ski-only, it could potentially point to a layout considered less than ideal for snowboarders, or fear of more collisions because of different styles of getting down the mountain. Instead, resort spokespeople have consistently preached that the policy caters to the will of its people.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Special guests view the new ski area that will be part of the Deer Valley Resort, on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023.

In a 2003 interview with the Park Record, then-Deer Valley CEO Bob Wheaton said the resort is ski-only because that’s consistently what guests tell them they want. That year’s Ski Magazine reader survey backed that up, with responders praising the policy. Attitudes haven’t changed much in the ensuing 20 years. In Ski Magazine’s 2023 survey, Deer Valley was voted the No. 3 resort in the U.S.

“Deer Valley is simply the best ski resort in the U.S.,” one reader wrote, according to the magazine. “Great customer service and no snowboarders.”

And unlike Alta, which was sued by snowboarders over its ski-only policy in 2014, Deer Valley does not sit on public land but entirely on private property.

That could change slightly when the resort expands to the previous Mayflower property. About 130 of those 4,100 skiable acres are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, according to Brooke Hontz, Extell’s vice president of development. Hontz said Extell is expecting to buy the land, which has no public access, before the official opening of the expansion in 2025-26. Not that access for snowboarders would change if it remained in public hands: Alta, which is on National Forest Service property, won its case by arguing the lifts are private even if the land isn’t. The result is that snowboarders can ride down its slopes but aren’t allowed a ride back up.

Deer Valley Expansion

That won’t fly at Deer Valley, even if it has plenty of runs to go around. Still, Bennett didn’t shut the door completely on snowboarders. Rather, he hinted at an option for anyone who wants to see “The New Deer Valley” for themselves.

“Deer Valley Resort has been a skier-only mountain since its inception in 1981, a tenet our guests have enjoyed and requested for decades,” Bennett said in a statement prepared for The Tribune. “Adding new terrain to our trail map does not change that and we are excited for our loyal and new guests to experience a larger Deer Valley in the coming seasons.

“And,” he added, “with the new expansion comes more of our award-winning ski school.

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