Peek inside Utah’s Wasatch Peaks Ranch, a ski, golf resort that’s among the most exclusive in the country

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Morgan • The gatehouse at Wasatch Peaks Ranch has a living roof seeded with Gambel oaks culled from the property. A low-slung stone-and-wood building with clean lines and tall picture windows, it is appropriately both elegant and imposing.

It is also one of the few completed structures at the private, ultra-luxe ski and golf community under construction in the mountains above Peterson.

On a crisp December morning, Ed Schultz, the property’s managing director, steered his black king cab truck around the building and up the road toward the development beyond.

And just like that, we’re behind the granite curtain.

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To call Wasatch Peaks Ranch enigmatic feels like it falls short of capturing the great lengths the Morgan County mountain resort goes to to maintain its mystique. Its website contains a one-sentence description and forms for inquiries. Prospective members, according to Schultz, must come packing no fewer than two referrals. They then must be vetted and approved before they are even shown any real estate.

Most people don’t even get as far as the gate.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The gate house for the private luxury ski and golf resort of Wasatch Peaks Ranch is pictured on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

A host/guard posted up in a van along the turnoff from Peterson, about a half mile below the gatehouse, turns around anyone who doesn’t have official business at the resort. Even those who have an appointment may not get beyond the Bar W Lodge, the temporary site of the resort’s headquarters. The Bar W sits on a swath of foothill property separating Wasatch Peaks Ranch from the burg of Peterson and is owned by a local farmer. He has previously rented it out as an Airbnb and hunting lodge, and it houses a collection of mounted trophies ranging from moose to a mountain lion that spans the pine-lined wall of the great room.

Wasatch Peaks Ranch’s owners — only one of whom is known — would have preferred to stay off the radar. Yet a lawsuit brought against the ranch and Morgan County created cracks in that facade. County residents sued for the right to vote on zoning changes made to accommodate the development, and after four years of litigation and revelations, the case appeared destined for the state Supreme Court. Then, in a sudden reversal last month, all three parties reached an agreement. The residents dropped their lawsuit in exchange for a 2,300-acre conservation easement on the 12,740-acre property plus $4 million for a foundation benefiting citizens of the county.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Renderings illustrate development plans for the private luxury ski and golf resort of Wasatch Peaks Ranch in the Morgan valley on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

Back in December, though, when the vote was still a very real possibility, Wasatch Peaks Ranch invited about 500 locals to tour the grounds. They gazed upon a land that hereafter will likely only be seen by construction workers, a few ski patrollers, close to 200 resort employees and the “1% of the 1%” who can afford a home within the complex (plus their guests, of course).

It’s no Shangri-La, though. At least not yet.

As of December, most of what had been built only hinted at what Wasatch Peaks Ranch will one day become. At that time, Schultz said the resort had about 115 members. At full buildout, the community is slated to include no more than 750 residential units, including homes, condos and townhouses built in 14 phases

Just beyond the gate, the skeletal frames of two of those villas arose from the hillside along the road. Considering the resort pitches itself as a place where homes will blend with nature, the are huddled awfully close together. They both also existed in a rough-hewn stage. A stop-work order imposed by the judge following his decision to allow a vote on the development’s zoning had halted construction on the property for two months. Instead of putting up siding, workers were laying down plywood sheets as temporary roofs to protect the structures against the elements.

Further up the smooth blacktop, more naked frames, a spattering of construction trailers and more than a half-dozen cranes come into view in a wide clearing to the south. One day, this will be the North Village, Schultz said. Here a collection of townhomes, condos and some single-family homes will encircle a community center. Plans call for a market, a tavern and a skier services building centered around a gondola leading up to the main ski lodge.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wasatch Peaks Ranch in Morgan valley is pictured on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, where snow covers open areas that make up part of the 18-hole Tom Fazio golf course. The private luxury ski and golf resort above the hamlet of Peterson was recently issues a preliminary injunction forcing a halt to sales and construction.

Amid all the upturned soil lies what looked like a large meadow blanketed in pristine snow. In actuality, it’s an 18-hole, Tom Fazio-designed golf course that has yet to be played.

Even further up the road, several ski lifts come into view. Schultz pulls his truck into a parking spot next to a red canvas building, one of two serving as a placeholder for the Oaks Lodge ski center. Though pains have been taken to spruce the place up, it’s no Stein Eriksen Lodge at Deer Valley Resort with its luxe wood-and-stone decor. Metal chairs with brown pleather padding surround several high-top and dining tables. Members can grab a free snack or hot cocoa here or order a full meal from one of two food trucks outside. There also is an alcove lined with cubbies for members to stash their gear.

Just out the door sit several fire pits ringed by plastic Adirondack chairs that look up at a ski area even the residents of Alta would envy. Most runs are rated black and double black diamonds with a few blue cruisers thrown in. Four aerial lifts, most of them high-speed and all recently manufactured by Leitner-Poma, and one Magic Carpet are already turning at Wasatch Peaks Ranch with nary a lift line in site. Another five are planned, including the gondola into the village.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The base of ski operations for the exclusive private luxury ski and golf resort of Wasatch Peaks Ranch in Morgan valley is pictured on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

The real draw of the development, however, is the view.

The jagged teeth of Thurston Peak are just a lift ride away. Meanwhile, through the trees to the southeast emerges a sweeping vista of the valley and the mountains surrounding it. It’s a clear day, which means, Schultz said, those snow-covered peaks in the distance are actually Kimball Junction, near Park City. More mountain views extend to the north and east.

Schultz said Wasatch Peaks Ranch doesn’t want to do anything to impede those views. The resort has strict building restrictions that will keep most of the construction out of the public eye, hidden behind the rolling hills that rise toward the more dramatic peaks. Even at night, self-imposed DarkSky ordinances should suitably cloak the community.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Acorn lift is pictured at the private luxury ski and golf resort of Wasatch Peaks Ranch in the Morgan valley on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

“They’re developing in a way to keep it looking as rural and secluded as possible,” Dana Farmer, the county residents’ lawyer acknowledged, “within the development and from outside the development.”

It’s not everything the Morgan County residents wanted. They were hoping for their day in court and to galvanize laws granting citizens the right to a referendum. But ensuring mountain views untouched by development doesn’t seem like a bad consolation prize.

At least from the outside looking in.

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