Deer Valley celebrates success, hospitality with anniversary
When Deer Valley’s lifts hoisted their first skiers in 1981, both the ski area and the town were marked by their potential. The hills surrounding the resort were filled with trees, not homes, and the town was known more for its bohemian atmosphere than its luxury destinations.
But with the resort’s opening, all of that was beginning to change.
"It was a dream, a vision, for Mr. Stern," said Stein Eriksen, "to make the dream ski resort."
In the mountains south of town, Edgar Stern had planned a ski resort to match his vision. He wanted to build a resort where the service from the people to the accommodations and food would be just as important as the ski runs that cut down the side of the mountain; it would be a new sort of skiing experience, and it would influence the whole skiing world.
"We were doing something that nobody had ever thought about with a ski resort," said food and beverage manager Julie Wilson.
Since the resort’s opening day its history has mirrored that of Park City. The two have seemingly grown together.
Deer Valley opened its doors on Dec. 26, 1981 with five lifts and two lodges. That year, many of the resort’s current leaders were just joining the staff. Director of mountain operations Chuck English started off as the ski patrol supervisor; Wilson began as the Manager of Silver Lake Lodge and president and general manager Bob Wheaton was a ski instructor.
That didn’t last long though.
"I started about three months before we opened," said Wheaton. "I was originally hired as a ski instructor and before we opened, I was offered the position of building maintenance manager."
There, Wheaton was in charge of overseeing the completion of lodges and roads, installing utilities, finishing the structures and getting the resort’s facilities online. He was named to the position, he explained, because of his background in engineering.
Rising through the ranks Wheaton was eventually elevated to his current position as president and general manager.
Success and a staff
Deer Valley’s standards have led to success. Since its first day the resort has been known for its cuisine, accommodations and service.
But Wheaton said Deer Valley is special, ultimately, because of its workers.
"I think, clearly, it’s the staff," he said. "Without the people here, we wouldn’t be able to provide the level of service we do."
Staff members agree.
"The most unique thing about Deer Valley is the longevity of the staff, and because of that we offer a very consistent product," said Wilson.
"The thing that keeps me coming back to Deer Valley is the people," said Roger Burns, the assistant manager of guest services.
English said that over the years the company has learned that by treating its employees well, it will get the best results from them.
Wheaton made a similar point.
"We are not the anomaly," he said. "There’s a lot of us here who have been around for 20 years They treat us as they would ask us to treat a guest."
At the same time, he also noted Deer Valley’s foundation the resort’s level of service.
"I think one of the keys is that we try do pay attention to the guests and provide the best guest experience we can," said Wheaton.
That comes from listening to the guests’ suggestions, adjusting to meet their needs and working to maintain a connection with them.
"We have two themes at Deer Valley," said Wilson. "One is the attention to detail, and one is to exceed our guests’ expectations."
Those elements have endured. While the resort has grown, its philosophy and spirit has remained the same.
"I think it has been an easy, nice progress, all the time with the same purpose," said Eriksen.
The biggest changes, said English, have been the growth of the company and the terrain, an increase in snowmaking, and the advent of high-speed quads. But, he noted, the heart of Deer Valley remains unchanged.
Wilson had a similar response.
"It really hasn’t changed too much," she said. "We’ve had to keep up with the culinary trends and we’re a lot busier but our philosophies are the same."
The resort as a member of the community
Over the years, the resort has become the host of annual World Cup Freestyle competitions, and perhaps most notably, the slalom and freestyle events in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and those events seemed to create the most memorable moments for the long-time staff members.
"Hands down, the Olympics," said English, when asked about his favorite memory.
Wheaton had a similar story. He talked about standing on the race course up on the mountain, before one of the Olympic competitions, watching the resort bustle.
"I thought, ‘God, how cool is this,’" he said, "’right in our own backyard.’"
Now, in 2005, the resort has 21 lifts and three lodges and has earned its share of accolades, including a No. 1 overall ranking from Ski Magazine in 2001 and 2005. With individual No. 1 ratings for grooming, guest services, access and on-mountain food.
But, while those rankings are certainly a source of pride at the resort, Wheaton noted another accomplishment. He recounted a conversation with Stern.
"Edgar and I were sitting up at Silver Lake," said Wheaton, "and we were talking about mountain expansion and where we were putting in lifts, and I asked him what he was most proud of."
Wheaton relayed Stern’s response: "Edgar said, ‘The thing I’m most proud of is the opportunity the people on the staff have been given in their own personal lives."
That, said Wheaton, struck a note with him, that the resort not only produced a quality product, but also helped its workers.
He likened Deer Valley to a member of the community.
"I’d like to think we are a good partner with the city," he said, "that we’re a good neighbor, and that working with Park City Mountain and The Canyons we can provide a unique experience for Park City visitors."
Wilson said that Deer Valley and Park City in general offered something that few other areas could match.
"I think there are some beautiful other resorts in the country," she said. "I think that with Park City’s proximity to the airport and so many ski resorts in a 50 mile-radius; it can’t be beat."
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