By Christopher Solomon/High
Steve Jenson twists the
throttle of his hornet-colored snowmobile and rockets up the empty ski slope.
At the top, where the motionless chairlifts wait, Jenson finally slows, and
cuts the engine. The shattered quiet of southwestern Utah’s high country knits
itself back together. At 10,300 feet in the palm of the Tushar Mountains,
frosted Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir stand as silent as penitents in the
December snow. The air smells of balsam and wintertime. A romantic would say it
smells like Christmas; a cynic, cash. That’s because Jenson and his colleagues
are transforming this troubled but scenic ski area into an über-exclusive
resort to rival the finest anywhere. And in the process they hope to make
themselves a great deal of money.
“This is going to be our
temporary upper lodge,” Jenson says. He’s dismounted and is pointing at
something a snowball’s toss away from the lifts. The building is vintage early
’80s, the windows now dark, a slab of plywood nailed ignominiously over the door:
the shuttered ski area’s upper day lodge. We are here just six weeks after the
Mt. Holly Club has begun selling memberships, and a certain amount of squinting
is required to see Jenson’s vision. “We’re doing a full remodel on it,” says
Jenson, the club’s president and CEO. “We’re doing a ‘European mountain feel’
— stone, timbers, some sort of a metal roof with patinas. Stone floors
and hardwood floors. Venetian plasters on the walls. A nice, exposed,
big-timber ceiling. There will be a restaurant, a lounge for people to have a
glass of wine at night. A ski shop and a sales office.”
That’s just to kick off.
“This whole flat area you see up here” — with a finger he lassoes several
acres of snow and fir — “this will all be the Village Center” — a
40,000-square-foot main lodge. Spa. Boutiques. Tennis courts. He throws his
arms wide to embrace, well … nothing but brooding spruce. “This is going to be
the heart of the resort, right here.”
Oh — but he’s nearly
forgotten the golf! “The golf course surrounds this part of the resort,” Jenson
adds, spinning. Afterward, as we motor around, he’ll point out black and green
PVC pipes that periscope from the snow, marking future tees and landing areas:
the schematics of a dream.
And yet something else
lingers in the air besides Jenson’s vision and the nip of frostbite. A closed
ski area is a melancholy thing. Snow drifts in the doorways of vacant lift
shacks. A sign for a ski run called “Rocky Raccoon” dangles forlornly. But it’s
more than that: There’s a curious, low-humming tension. It’s fed by the
flame-red placards — “Private Property — Mt. Holly Club —
Members Only” — that are nailed to most vertical surfaces, and by the
memory of the people back at the clutch of slopeside condos. None of them
smiled or waved as Jenson and his colleagues arrived.
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