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Sleepy Sundance Resort will seduce you with its beauty
In skiing, as in marriage, spousal roles are defined, distinct -- and often at odds.
He thinks "whiteout" is code for no one on the slopes and plenty of fresh powder. She views a blizzard as a good reason to stay inside and read a book. He thinks equipment should be purchased solely for function. She bought her last three sets of skis (and several rounds of boots and helmets) because she liked the color. He maintains that if you've found a good resort, a place you know so well you could shoot the chutes in your sleep, why wouldn't you go back there forever? She thinks . . .
Fine: She is me, and he is the Intrepid Skier, my husband. The Intrepid Skier loves "his" mountain, Deer Valley, Utah, with unconditional affection. I enjoy Deer Valley too. Several decades ago, we got married at Deer Valley. But season after season as we returned to that luxe enclave, I found myself longing for change.
THE BEST WAY TO SUNDANCE
From LAX, Delta, Southwest and United offer nonstop service to Salt Lake City. Connecting service (change of planes) is offered on Southwest, United, Delta, US Airways and Frontier. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $200.
Sundance Resort, RR3, Box A-1, Sundance, Utah; (800) 892-1600, www.sundanceresort.com. Double rooms start at about $355.
No soap, the IS insisted, waving his snow publications describing "his" mountain as perhaps the finest ski destination in the solar system. But at a charity auction one fall day, I spotted my solution. Mine was the winning bid for a week at a ski house in . . .
"Sundance?" the IS grumbled. "No one goes to Sundance."
Sundance is too small, too remote, too filled with snowboarders, and not only that, he said, brandishing his magazines, they don't groom the slopes. I reminded him that any resort started by Robert Redford couldn't be all bad. Besides, I was paying.
"Turn left immediately after the tunnel," I shrieked as we made our way up unfamiliar roads late at night. The hairpin twists leading to the ski house were what I think are known in geometry as acute angles. But as we pulled up to the house, the most amazing angle of all was the vast stone face of Mt. Timpanogos, directly in front of us and bathed in moonlight.
At 11,749 feet, Mt. Timp is the second-highest peak in the Wasatch Range. For the Ute Indians, Timp was a sacred mountain. And so it is for the IS. For all those years at Deer Valley, he had gazed at Mt. Timp from afar. Now he could practically touch it.
By daylight, the sight was no less spectacular. Every window in the ski house took full advantage of the proximity of this 300-million-year-old mass of limestone and dolomite. Gazing at the mighty, mysterious mountain, which many say resembles the profile of a sleeping woman, we rode up one of the three chairlifts in rapt silence.
Let me repeat that: three chairlifts, only three. These were leisurely, low-tech things: No foot bars, and almost everyone ignored the pull-down chest bars. A note posted from Robert (Redford -- by now we were virtually on first-name terms) said some of the lifts used wind power. As slowly as we were moving, it could have been squirrel power.
That is part of the charm of the resort Redford created in 1969. Determined to preserve the quaint essence of snow sports, Redford kept Sundance small and un-glitzy. He rebuffed entreaties to clutter the mountain with condos, hotels and (in the fashion of Deer Valley) palaces that call themselves ski homes.
He set up his arts center and pledged that environmental conservation would shape all growth at Sundance. Lodging is fiercely, purposefully limited. One of the three parking lots has only 45 spaces.
Keeping costs low helped ensure the down-home charm. Daily lift tickets cost $47; $15 for seniors. On weekdays, big yellow school buses often pull in from nearby Orem and Provo, dropping off kids for an afternoon of student-priced skiing or boarding.
In the week the IS and I spent at Sundance, there were no lift lines to grouse about. At lunchtime, there was no pacing and pouncing for tables. The half-dozen food-spot choices at Sundance range from a mountaintop chili-'n'-burgers cabin to the way-chic Tree Room, which sends Zagat into raptures. Not once did we wait for a table.
Yes, there is a boutique, with Sundance paraphernalia and items with steep price tags. Once, I ventured to the art store: lots of photos, ceramics and glassware -- tasteful merchandise that purred "ka-ching."
Mostly, we found ourselves content at the top of the mountain. Still in the thrall of Mt. Timp and blazing bluebird skies, we alighted from the lift the first day to see three people in "Sundance Mountain Host" attire standing before us. As no other guests showed up, one host peeled off to ski with her teenage son. The remaining guides were 75 and, I think, 79 years old. The latter was a descendant of a Donner Party member; the former, a onetime Long Beach shipping official who was devoting his retirement to skiing and perfecting his Chinese. He and the IS, a fluent Mandarin speaker, spent the next six days leaving me in the frozen dust -- linguistically and, not to mention, athletically.
Mort, the Chinese-speaking ski host who became our daily companion, shared our reverence for Mt. Timpanogos and the stunning Alpine peaks that surround Sundance. The 500-acre resort sits amid 6,000 acres of preservation land. The result is a sense that Sundance is 10 times larger than it really is. The runs are broad, long and, if you select correctly, immensely challenging.
During a brief lapse into chairlift English -- presumably because I was along for the ride on the slow-speed triple chair -- I told Mort about the reservations the IS had expressed about Sundance. Mort got a good laugh, especially the part about no grooming, according to the monthly ski bibles the IS reads with devotion.
"Cancel your subscription," Mort advised, as we slid off onto yet another meringue-smooth mountain.
Because his schedule permitted, the IS drove me the one hour to the Salt Lake City airport. I had students to return to in Boston. The IS stayed for a few extra ski days in Utah. Naturally, he went straight to Deer Valley.
He called the next day, just as I was boarding the commuter rail at Boston's South Station. It was midday in Utah, and behind him I could hear the lunchtime cacophony and possibly the sound of cash registers tallying $15 hamburgers and $18 salads.
"I miss my mountain," the IS said.
I knew what he meant -- and I knew we'd go back to Sundance.