Splendid Isolation at Utah’s Lodge at Blue Sky

It’s easy to see why The Lodge at Blue Sky would make at least one list of places to disappear in luxury during the pandemic—it’s remote but not impossible, on 3,500 acres in a secluded valley outside Park City, 45 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport. Before Delta pressed pause on its SBA-SLC service, the resort made even more sense for Santa Barbarans looking to get away. (Whether we should’ve gone is an open question. Some friends invited us when the situation looked relatively rosy, and then we decided to go even after it darkened.)

Travel + Leisure succinctly explained the back story: “The property is the brainchild of Mike and Barb Phillips, who […] launched Blue Sky as an adventure destination almost a decade ago, hosting heli-skiing and trail rides, weddings and corporate events. In 2017, they partnered with Auberge Resorts to bring their hotel vision to life,” and the lodge opened in mid-2019. Best known for Auberge du Soleil, its Napa Valley flagship, Auberge Resorts now has 19 properties and eight more on the way—including a major overhaul of Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos.

The architecture, by AJC Architects, reminded me of Explora’s exemplary lodges in Patagonia and the Atacama Desert—boldly contemporary, but also somehow fitting into the surroundings. Public spaces include the lobby, a restaurant, and a bar. Mainly, however, guests stayed out on the terrace, where food-and-beverage service is also available.

There are three types of accommodations: traditional hotel-style rooms in the main building, called the Sky Lodge; conjoined rooms called Earth Suites in a series of outbuildings; and Creek Houses, freestanding cottages down by the creek. The non–Sky Lodge rooms have two benefits—you access them from outside, so you don’t have to deal with any shared interior hallways, and they’re far from any potentially noisy activity at the pool and communal terrace. Obviously, that may not be quite so appealing in cold weather.

We shared a Family Earth Suite, two rooms with a connecting door, with our friends. The best parts of the space were actually outside: a broad deck with a fire pit and a wonderful view, and—although not all Earth Rooms have one—an outdoor shower.

Although the room was certainly fine, the design critic in me was irked by a few things. Does anyone like a low bed with a ledge? You have to crawl onto the mattress, and getting out is awkward at best. The sinks in the bathroom were ADA low. And our balcony looked right into our neighbors’ room; they often left their shade raised, shattering the illusion of solitude and privacy. Less of a design flaw, but still frustrating: the bedside outlet was dead both in our room and in our companions’ next door (on the other side—not the guy whose legs are visible below). The hotel is only a year old. Did no one check the outlets? This stuff may seem persnickety, but I haven’t told you the rate yet.

On the other hand, the welcome gift was a pint of perfect raspberries. And the minibar snacks were included and replenished.

The pool is rather pretty, but there are only six or eight chaise longues—not nearly enough for a hotel with 46 rooms. The pandemic is partly to blame for the sparseness, of course, and guests are allowed to use the small spa pool.

As for what to do, there’s a small gym (limited to two guests at a time for now), hikes right from the property, and mountain bikes—regular and electric—that you can borrow. The hotel also offers paid activities, such as fly fishing, sporting clays, yoga, art classes, and horseback riding. We didn’t do any of them or see evidence of anyone else doing them. Instead, we headed off property to hike. The excursion I’d recommend most is the Lofty Lake Loop (below), well worth the 75-minute drive. In winter, of course, you could ski at Park City, although I have to imagine the 25-minute drive would be a drag.

The food at the Lodge at Blue Sky was far better than in Park City, where both meals were disappointments. Blue Sky chef Galen Zamarra might not be attempting anything as ambitious as what he did at Mas (Farmhouse) in New York City, but it still outclassed everything in the area. Also on the property is the High West Distillery, open mainly for lunch, with better-than-expected food.

Our shared suite was $2,000 per night (we did not choose the all-inclusive option). For the experience described so far, I’d say that’s high, but not entirely unreasonable. And heaven knows we were so desperate to get away that we might’ve paid more. When you factor in the service, however, the sense of value suffers. Nearly every interaction had a tinge of ineptitude. We repeatedly emailed in advance about airport transfers, but no one responded. We tried calling a dozen times—before, during, and after our stay—for various reasons, and only got through twice. At dinner, we waited 15 minutes to order because the server went MIA. When our room wasn’t cleaned, the housekeeper told us that we were checking out that day. (Um, no.) And as we were departing, the bellman put another guest’s luggage next to ours, so we inadvertently took it with us, only to have to deal with it an hour later. Perhaps some of the lapses were Covid-related, or perhaps the hotel just needs more time.

It’s a shame to end this review on that note, because the setting really is amazing, and I have many delightful memories of the place—a gin and tonic on the terrace, terrific watermelon and tomato gazpacho, a walk up the hill, sitting out on the deck, that outdoor shower, and sleeping with the door open, listening to the sound of the creek. As time goes on, we may very well remember the highlights far more than the gaffes, and maybe the hotel will seem like a better deal. It definitely helped that our next destination, the tired Amangani in Jackson Hole, cost twice as much.


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