Bob Wheaton made Deer Valley what it is today
What a career. Bob Wheaton was hired on to a new resort – Deer Valley – before it even opened in 1981. In 1988 he was appointed the general manager at Deer Valley. A year later, he was promoted to vice president of operations, and in 1997, president. And now he’s stepping away from that role in January after 38 years to work as a senior strategic advisor for the new owner of Deer Valley, Alterra Mountain Company. About his new job, Bob says, “I’m excited that I’ll have the latitude to do things on my own.” Not bad for a kid from Michigan who began to teach skiing at the age of 15.
Trained as an engineer, and a graduate of Macomb College, he and his wife headed West in 1978 to teach skiing. What he ended up doing is showing everyone else how to run a top-tier destination ski resort, with legendary customer service, dining, and lodging. But he didn’t do it alone by any means. Thousands of employees shared his enthusiasm, where everyone took care of the guests and each other.
Bob’s steady hand was omnipresent at Deer Valley, from greeting guests to helping people solve problems to stripping guest beds when the resort was short-handed, Bob was there. His management philosophy is simple, if rare. “We’re all in this team together,” he says. “My job was to give people the tools to do their jobs.”
He’ll admit that there were lots of challenges; some short term, and some longer. Long-term, his goal was to help shepherd the vision of Founding General Partner Edgar Stern, who wanted to build and manage a ski resort as someone would a five-star hotel. It worked. Deer Valley has been ranked as the top resort by Ski Magazine eight times.
“Short term challenges, it had to be the Olympics. There was a lot of pressure,” says Wheaton, remembering a last-minute sign-off on the giant bleachers just two hours before an event. The resort hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic Games moguls and freestyle competition, and may again in 12 years.
He oversaw the expansion of a massive snowmaking system. “People know that we would provide a predictable and quality experience,” he says. There was the resort expansion into Empire Pass and Deer Crest, and now the Mayflower project is about to change the southeast side of the mountain with more than 900 acres, 6 lifts, hotels and condos.
And what would Bob Wheaton like to say to us as he leaves this role? “My simple focus was to keep Deer Valley Deer Valley. Thank you to everybody; guests, employees and everyone in town. It’s been a hell of a ride.” But he’s not mounting up and riding out of town. “I’m not going anywhere, that’s one thing I insisted on, was to stay in Utah.”