Months after the last hurrah of the Olympics, you'd think that Utah would be ready for a collective sigh of relief and a well-deserved rest from the frantic pace of construction that preceded the Games. But things are still buzzing in the Beehive State. The way developers are lining up with new second-home projects, the Olympics may have been just a preview of what could be the biggest land rush since the days of the Mormon homesteaders.
This drama is unfolding on a grand scale along a 75-mile swath east of the Wasatch Mountains, from Soldier Hollow in the south, where the Olympic cross-country ski venues were located, to Ogden Valley north of Snowbasin, where the men's and women's downhill and super G events were held. Smack in the middle, and clearly the epicenter of the latest building frenzy, is Park City, which has seen a litany of boom-and-bust cycles dating back to the era of the silver mines in the late 1800s.
The mega-millions that have been spent on expanding the ski terrain and base villages of Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons and Deer Valley have created a radiating effect on the surrounding areas. While the core of the town is largely built out, developers from throughout North America are quickly staking claims on choice parcels within hailing distance of the slopes. Most of the activity is occurring east of the Park City turnoff from I-80, near the freeway's intersection with U.S. 40 and southward along the meandering Jordanelle Reservoir. A catalyst for several new projects is their proximity to Deer Valley's backdoor entrance at the Jordanelle Base and Gondola, which gives skiers an alternative to fighting the traffic congestion in Park City.
While that may not seem like such a big deal now, consider how attractive it would be if and when all three ski areas are linked in a European-style ski circus. That is logistically possible with a handful of new lifts, and some resort and government officials believe the union is inevitable within five years. In that scenario, the Jordanelle base of Deer Valley becomes a gateway to the whole circuit. Already, the resort and some of its real estate partners are planning a sizeable village around the gondola. And wouldn't you like to be sitting in your new mountain home or condo when all of this happens?
Skiing may be the initial draw to this new real estate, but the developers are hedging their bets by sprinkling in plenty of golf courses. More than a half-dozen new tracks are planned or under construction, and a couple have already opened. Most of the new projects are strategically located within 20 minutes of Park City and 45 minutes of Salt Lake International Airport. They have views of the snow-capped Wasatch Range, Jordanelle Reservoir, the high-desert valley to the east-or all three.
Outside the orbit of Park City, builders are eyeing a stunning stretch of benchlands and valleys around Heber City and Midway, which are farther south on U.S. 40 and closer to Sundance Resort. In fact, Wasatch County, which has just over 15,000 residents sharing a land area of 1,177 square miles, could double its population within a decade. One project alone-a destination resort community that is being eyed for 4,500 acres on the west shore of Jordanelle Reservoir-would have up to 5,000 units, along with a walkway under the freeway to the Deer Valley gondola.
A second, though smaller, hotbed of new development is located in the scenic, sparsely populated Ogden Valley northeast of Snowbasin. Places such as Huntsville, Eden and Wolf Creek were undiscovered until Snowbasin-owned by Sun Valley oil, hotel and resort mogul Earl R. Holding-began reinventing itself at warp speed. The impressive new lift network and palatial day lodges are only beginning to create ripples in the ski world. No lodging or housing exist at the mountain right now, but Holding has indicated those will come in the future (look for a report on Snowbasin in SKI's February 20003 issue).
Two other peaks, located a few miles away-Powder Mountain and Nordic Valley-are not nearly as lavish or as well-developed, but still offer potential. Some recent buyers at Wolf Creek Resort , a golfing community at the lower end of Powder Mountain's access road, regard this ski area as the sleeper of Utah. "With its better exposure, it gets more snow than Snowbasin (if you include its off-piste offerings) and has more skiable terrain than Snowbird and Alta combined (5,500 acres versus 4,700-plus acres)," says Miami attorney Joe Buchanan. Last year he bought a four-bedroom condo at Moose Hollow, one of Wolf Creek's newest projects. "We don't need crowds. We live and work in the city, and we want some isolation when we go on ski vacations," he says.
Both Powder Mountain and Nordic Valley, a popular locals' hill that caters to families, have laid out visions of ambitious development over the years, but these have yet to evolve. One boost for both of them was the exposure from the Olympics, when a half-dozen national ski teams and throngs of federal security agents bivouacked at Wolf Creek. And with Snowbasin's recent transformation, deal makers are feverishly scouting for other opportunities nearby.
Ogden Valley-which some people like to compare to Sun Valley before it was developed-has the advantage of location, and it shares similar traits with Wasatch County. It, too, has a large recreational lake. Within 20 minutes, you can be in downtown Ogden, a lively college town. Figure an hour's drive to the airport, an hour to downtown Salt Lake, and 45 minutes to Park City.
And what does it take to stake out your piece of paradise? How about $165,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bath condo to $330,000 or so for a four-bedroom, three-bath townhome? The low end of that range is barely enough to do a passable rehab in California or New York. And here's another consideration: The local government is restricting the housing density to one lot per three acres-and only a few "clustered" projects are being approved.
Out-of-state buyers have been literally giddy about what they see as amazing value for their money, but it's worthwhile to do some homework before making a commitment. Check on whether the project is adequately capitalized, or whether it's a speculative venture that relies too heavily on presales before breaking ground.