Deer Valley on a budget: How to plan a skiing trip

During my visit to Deer Valley last ski season, I repeatedly heard two things: it’s so expensive, and the dining scene is amazing. After spending two nights and three days at Deer Valley, Utah, I can tell you one of these things is true.

Deer Valley has an amazing culinary scene that you will want to indulge in. However, this resort is not the most expensive in Utah. In fact, lift ticket rates at Deer Valley are right in the average range for the area. Deer Valley fans know this is only one of the many misconceptions out there about this resort. In addition to hearing that it’s unaffordable, I’ve heard it ‘only has easy groomers’, is posh to the point of snobbishness, and that it’s a playground for the rich and famous. While it certainly boosts some A-list names among its home owners, the rest simply is simply false.


Deer Valley on a budget: Yes, it CAN be affordable!

First off, we simply have to accept the fact that most skiing in major resort in the US is expensive. In fact, it’s downright out-of-hand in many parts of Colorado, Utah, and California. The Park City area is no exception; however, you’ll do more damage to your wallet at Park City Mountain Resort now that Park City and Canyons have merged ($122/day for adults). When I skied recently in Colorado, lift ticket prices were upwards of $140. A Deer Valley one day adult lift ticket is $120, which makes it just below industry standard for resorts of its size. Not cheap, but certainly not the ‘splurge’ people think it is.

Buy lift tickets in advance:

Of course, you won’t want to pay day-of lift ticket prices. Make your Deer Valley trip more affordable by buying lift tickets online before your trip. Don’t overlook the season pass section: depending on how many days you plan to ski, buying a season pass can be a better deal (look for sales in October and November…in other words, right now!).


Stay in a condo:

Next, make your trip affordable by staying in a condo or house, splitting the cost with another family or two. Many people consider Deer Valley unaffordable because they’re thinking of all the amazing four and five star resorts situated around it. While its true that you can spend thousands a night at the St. Regis, Stein Ericsen, Montage, and more, less ritzy lodging is available. With the money you save, you can splurge on dining out (more on that below).

During our stay, we were in a condo in the Snow Park base area. We were minutes from downtown Park City and minutes from the lifts. Included in our condo stay was a complimentary shuttle in either direction, plus internet access, a full kitchen, multiple bathrooms and bedrooms (so crucial when sharing with other families), a washer and dryer, and lots of space to spread out. We sacrificed ski-in, ski-out access for price.

Enjoy some meals out:

When skiing Deer Valley, you cannot miss noticing the amazing culinary scene. Everything from breakfast at the base to on-mountain dining and evening apres ski is amazing, and if you deny yourself all of it, you’ll miss a key part of the Deer Valley experience. With your condo, you can decide which meals to eat in-home, and select a few nights to treat yourself. Here’s where to go:


  • Fireside Dining: Holy. Moly. Fireside Dining is an experience NOT to miss. It’s offered Wednesday through Saturday, and features four courses served from stone fireplaces, European Alps-style. Diners visit each ‘fireplace station’ at will, in buffet style. Start with the raclette (melted cheese with toppings), then move on to soups, stews, grilled vegetables, leg of lamb, and dessert fondue. It will feel overwhelming, but your waiter will walk you through it. We were told to remember to eat in order of ‘cheese, stew, lamb, fondue’. In truth, you can do it any way you’d like! Be sure to stop mid-way through your meal for a sleigh ride, offered right out front. The servers will hold your table for you, and the break will be welcome. Rides are only $20 per family. Even your meal is affordable, considering the uniqueness and quality: adults pay around $60, kids $30. Alcohol is not included in the price, but you can even bring your own without a corkage fee.
  • Seafood Buffet: I’m told many diners choose between Fireside Dining and Seafood Buffet when they visit Deer Valley. I’d be hard pressed to choose which! As the simple restaurant name suggests, Seafood Buffet is just that. Thanks to the hub airport at SLC, Deer Valley gets the same fresh seafood as LA or New York, at the same time, if not earlier. It’s offered Thursday through Sunday, and includes a Poke bar, raw bar, rotating selection of grilled and baked fish, prime rib, shellfish, and wonderful desserts. Adults are $68, kids are $34. It’s worth it.


  • Royal Street Cafe: This restaurant on the snow at the mid-mountain Silver Lake area offers sit-down, serviced dining mid-day. Don’t think of it as a splurge: the prices are only a fraction higher than they’d be at the buffet nearby, and you can actually sit down and put your feet (or boots) up. I had an amazing burger, and others ordered fish tacos, an ahi tuna tower, and Asian salad.
  • Snow Park Restaurant: Snow Park is at the Snow Park base area (and turns into Seafood Buffet at night!). It serves the usual breakfast in the morning, but makes this list due to its wonderful Natural Breakfast Buffet. This buffet area in the center of the room features granola, yogurt, berries, fruit, oatmeal, nuts, and the like. I made my own custom yogurt parfait.

And for those meals you simply must eat in? Don’t miss out on some of Deer Valley’s signature meals, even in your condo. Deer Valley’s famous Southwestern turkey chili can be bought as a mix in almost all Deer Valley gift stores; add your own meat and veggies, and you’ll have a huge vat of this chili for under $8. Additional mixes are available as well! You’ll have a taste of Deer Valley while feeding the whole crew for pennies!

What to expect on the slopes:


Yes, Deer Valley has a lot of green and blue runs. They’re long, impeccably groomed, and oh-so pleasant. While skiing down them, it’s fun to look at the huge ski vacation homes lining them (Deer Valley is surprisingly ‘urban’ in this way). However, expert terrain definitely exists, if you want it. During my visit, I was lucky enough to ski with former 3x Olympian Heidi Voelker, who is now an ambassador at Deer Valley. She showed me amazing bowls and chutes I didn’t know existed, especially off the Empire chair. Deer Valley also boosts a lot of glades that hide stashes of powder after the bowls are skied out.


No matter what type of terrain you like, you’ll notice that at Deer Valley, the runs and chairs are very well spaced and ‘crowd control’ is very well handled. I never found I needed to traverse or ‘hike’, and I never waited in a long line. Part of this is because Deer Valley actually limits ticket sales per day.  They base their capacity level on how many chairs they have available on-mountain for lunch. It’s a great system that results in a very peaceful atmosphere, both on the slopes and at lunch.

Tip: Definitely book lift tickets well ahead if you plan to come during holiday periods, so you don’t arrive to find the capacity has been met. In fact, I was told to book lift tickets and ski school at the time I book lodging.

If you like to shop:

You will have ample opportunity! However, if you want to stick to a budget, head into Park City and do your outdoor gear shopping at Cole Sports. This huge retailer of skis, outerwear, boots, shoes, and more has frequent sales, especially in the pre-season and late season. In Deer Valley, many upscale shops exist; if you need to avoid temptation, however, it’s easy, as there’s no central base area shopping here, where everyone converges.

Will your Deer Valley ski vacation be ‘cheap’? Goodness no! But it’s certainly possible to ski here for no more, and perhaps for less, than at other major ski resorts.


Disclosure: I visited Deer Valley as a guest of Ski Utah.