Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Wilderness Access Outfitters’ Nordic Yurt

When Life Gives You Snow, Go Snowshoeing!

Imagine,  for a moment, being surrounded by gorgeous mountain views on a crisp star-lit winter night. Huge feathery flakes twinkle as they fall, and a brilliant moon guides you along your path. Caught in the moonbeams, it appears you’re walking through a sea of diamonds instead of snow. You stop to take in the majesty of the moment, the still of the evening broken only by the crunch of snow underfoot. Soon,  shouts of ‘Welcome,’ friendly conversations, and laughter echo through the aspens, scrub oak, and pines. Off in the distance, the subtle glow of lights and a melodious song remind you that a delicious meal and good company await you. Your heart beats with excitement as you put one snowshoe in front of the other, eager to reach your destination. The experience is magical and unforgettable.

Now, imagine that you don’t have to imagine! The Nordic Yurt in Soldier Hollow offers all the above and more! Owners, Bryan and Kate Silvey love the outdoors and enjoy sharing their passion with others. The couple is originally from the East Coast; however, like many avid outdoor enthusiasts, the mountains were calling, and they chose not only to go but to stay — making Midway their home.

Bryan has worked as an outdoor guide for most of his life, and Kate spent years helping others create small businesses. They both also have backgrounds in outdoor education. The couple’s enthusiasm for adventure and staying active and healthy, combined with their love for the mountains and the wild flora and fauna, led them to start Wilderness Access Outfitters. Kate shares, “Wilderness Access Outfitters allowed us to bring together our past experiences, desires, and passions of what we do in life, and to offer the Heber Valley the experience of accessing the outdoors. […] I’ve always wanted to open my own small business, and it felt like the combo of coming together and building an outdoor company was the right move for us as a family.”

Initially, WAO offered guided hiking, fly fishing, and stand-up paddle boarding trips. In addition to their excursions, WAO also rented everything you would need for an overnight backpacking or camping trip, a day at the lake in a kayak or canoe, and other outdoor essentials. If you needed it or wanted it, they would make it happen. As the company began to take off, Kate and Bryan decided to ramp up their guided snowshoeing tour by including an amazing meal in a cozy Nordic-style yurt! Kate explains, “These Yurt dinners were a great way to have a mix of [an outdoor activity and] having a fine dining experience in the beautiful outdoors of the Wasatch Mountain State Park; taking advantage of the Dark Sky Initiative, and being under the stars.”

Kate and Bryan were excited about the opportunity to work with Wasatch State Park, building an 18-foot yurt and working with local chefs to create delicious four-course meals. In the beginning, Kate and Bryan did everything but prepare/cook the meals. They guided the outdoor adventurers on a gorgeous snowshoe trail to the yurt, where they would serve each course and then guide their guests back to their meeting spot. After the goodbyes, the couple would tromp on back for clean up. They washed dishes, did the laundry, vacuumed, and cleaned the yurt, along with a plethora of other tasks that needed to be done. It was a lot of work, but the couple enjoyed having that time to talk with and get to know their guests. The experience felt more like an outing with friends and family, with a delicious meal in between. That personal interaction and attention to detail was not lost on the community as they came out to support Kate and Bryan. Soon, word spread, and people from all over came to Midway to enjoy the snowshoe excursions and Nordic Yurt dinners. Five years and a full staff later, the Nordic Yurt was ready for an adventure of its own. Kate explains, “Our partnership with the state park has been incredible. They’ve been remarkably supportive of us from the beginning. […] They’ve watched us grow from only having a few dinners to five dinners a week during the winter, plus summer and private events. […] When we decided it was time for us to grow — they said we think the space we have in Soldier Hollow would be a good fit for you. So, because we already had that trust, that relationship, and the bond of working together, going into Soldier Hollow was the next organic step for us.”

In 2021, Kate and Bryan expanded to a 30-foot yurt at Soldier Hollow. They built a fun deck where guests can sit and chat, listen to live music, and sip a drink while resting on the rails and enjoying the beautiful scenery and fantastic views of Heber and Midway. If they’re lucky, some wildlife may stroll nearby to say hi. Visitors can warm themselves by two deck fires, wander down to a large fire pit, take a seat, snuggle up in the fun western-themed blankets, and enjoy a S’more or two. The deck also creates a fun spot for Kate to welcome guests and introduce them to the musician(s), staff, bar, and Chef Ryan Estel, owner of the Old Goat. Kate shares, “Ryan has created a different menu each year for the Yurt, which is exciting because we can offer something different for returning guests — a new experience with new flavors.”  Ryan has partnered with Kate and Bryan for the last four years and has been part of what has made the yurt dinners so successful. “[…] it has been an incredible relationship to be able to create with Ryan — he’s a fantastic chef and is constantly blowing us away with the menus that we come up with together and we are excited to offer him again this year with the Nordic Yurt.” Aside from his prowess as a talented chef, one of the draws to Ryan was that he is local. Kate says, “We live here in the valley and want to support and give back to our community as much as we can. Most of our employees are local, and it’s important for us to support other local businesses, too. We try to use local vendors, local musicians, and get our food as local as we can. All of our wines and beers that we bring in are local.” In September, Kate partnered with Sierra Prothers, owner of Casperville Creations, for Harvest in the Hollow, offering delightful veggies, micro-greens, and even some edible flowers for their appetizer, salad, and main course.

From the outset, Kate and Bryan’s goal has always been to share their love of the outdoors, good food, good company, and access to the beauties that surround the Wasatch Valley with everyone. The expansion of the yurt has allowed them to serve more guests and offer new opportunities for friends and family to gather. Kate shares, “During the summer, we offered chuck wagon and hike-in dinners and hosted a lot of private events. […] It’s been another fun way for us to invite locals and tourists to our beautiful outdoors and enjoy our valley.” Although the Nordic Yurt has only been at Soldier Hollow for two years, Kate and Bryan look forward to what the future holds for both the Nordic Yurt and WAO. But for now, Kate shares, “Being a part of this little Winter Wonderland and working with our staff and Wasatch Mountain State Park and Soldier Hollow has really been such an honor. To be able to offer guided fishing on these beautiful blue ribbon rivers, the yurt dinners and private events, and get people outdoors and help them have an experience that they’ve never had before, to give them an unforgettable moment here in the Heber Valley, is a blessing. It’s such a great experience to be able to bring people together to enjoy the outdoors, to celebrate each other and this beautiful environment that we are in.”

There’s so much to do in Heber Valley’s Winter Wonderland!

After a day of activity at Soldier Hollow Nordic Center, enjoying the tubing hill, cross-country ski trails, biathlon shooting, snowshoeing excursions, and Ice Castles, or other winter adventures throughout the valley including, alpine skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, train rides, or sleigh and horseback riding, the best way to end the day is with an adventurous dinner at WAO Nordic Yurt.

Wilderness Access Outfitters Nordic Yurt at Soldier Hollow