By J James McTigue
The Mountain closes, we tie up loose ends, pack the bikes and flip flops, head west. That has been our family’s off-season routine the last few years. This year we got an added bonus — that super-generous offer that never actually works logistically. The reasons are multiple: The timing is wrong, travel is too expensive, we can’t get off work. But this year, when the phone rang and friends invited us to Deer Valley for two days of skiing, we were all in.
I didn’t think to google where we were staying until we were 30 minutes from our destination, partly because I didn’t have time and partly because I didn’t care. I’ve never been a ‘hotel’ girl. Growing up, we camped on family vacations. Apparently this bothered my sister, because when she was ten she put on her list to Santa “to stay in a condominium when we go on vacation , like my friends do.”
As we approached Park City, I got out my smart phone to figure out where we were going. “What’s the name of the place?” I asked my husband, Jake.
“The Montage,” he replied.
I typed in the name and giggled. A picturesque stone bridge leading to a castle-like edifice nestled against the ski slope appeared on my screen. Other shots of colossal foyers, winding staircases, heated pools and down-filled white duvets followed.
We climbed the hill toward the Montage, crossed the bridge from the picture and drove up to the imposing entrance. Two well-dressed, buff doormen welcomed us and opened the car door. Abruptly, a sippy-cup and teddy bear fell out of the car. I hurriedly began clearing food wrappers and coloring books so the valet could get in the car. Although I’m fairly certain that, pulling up in our Honda Pilot with two road bikes and rocket box on top, we did not represent their standard clientele, I like to think they got a kick out of us.
We entered the hotel, and my one and a half year old, Belle, walked directly behind the concierge desk, to wave (and drool) at the receptionist. I became nervous about bringing two young kids to a five-star resort. The lady stopped working, and I expected a fake, polite look and plea to retrieve my child. Instead, she smiled at Belle, patted her head and gave her a stuffed bear. She then offered a stuffed coyote and coloring book to Mollie. “I bet you’ll like the S’mores on the patio from 4:00 to 5:00,” she said. Not only did the Montage offer daily S’mores, but with a choice of plain, vanilla bean, cinnamon or peppermint marshmallows. They also had a pub with a game room, Wii consoles and a bowling alley.
As we would find out, a “ski vacation,” the kind experienced at the Montage and marketed in ski industry magazines, is very different from what we do on a day-to-day basis in Telluride. Amongst my ski tribe, which consists largely of time-pressed mothers, skiing is all about efficiency: ski the best snow and where you can get in the most laps for the allocated time; chatting is for the chairlift; a suitable lunch is a frozen Cliff Bar; hiking for fresh tracks is encouraged and justified, as you are adding an element of cardio to the day.
In Deer Valley, we were introduced to a new and intriguing ski philosophy: warm up with groomers, stop and chat on the run, explore the entire mountain, sit down at an on-mountain restaurant for lunch and a beer, and frequently comment on the quality of scenery and snow.
I would later learn, Ski Magazine readers rated Deer Valley the #1 ski resort in North America for the fourth year in a row. The article cites the quality of the grooming, the gourmet food and the helpfulness of the staff. All of these things, Deer Valley has. And, Deer Valley does have some steep chutes and wide bowls. But, what makes each ski mountain different from the other, outside from the terrain and snow, is something that you can’t put in ski industry rankings. It is a mountain’s “ski culture” – the general vibe, the feel.
While we were at Deer Valley it had snowed 12 inches in 48 hours, and there was no frenzy to be first in line; there was no lift line. There was nobody ripping a gnarly line through a cliff band, and there was nobody hooting and hollering at him from the chair. There were families and friends spending time together on the ski mountain. This was Deer Valley’s ski culture; this was vacation.
At trip’s end, we packed our bags and coloring books, then hugged and thanked our friends. We pulled away, and I looked back at the Montage wondering, “Would my daughter put ‘a room at the Montage’ on her list for Santa?”
That would be nice.