Truth, the Wasatch Back is not the Front as far as snow accumulation goes. But actually, skiing at Deer Valley the morning after a big one is great compared to queuing in a line of Honda Elements bedecked in Black Diamond and University of Utah stickers waiting for the road to Little Cottonwood Canyon to open, and when it does, jostling with a bunch of Mark Abma look-alikes (along with actual Mark Abma) from bro central casting for first tracks on Hidden Peak.
Everyone remembers their first time in a new place and everything is sweetened by memory. I, for one, am haunted by antlers from four great years of skiing at Deer Valley. I wouldn’t expect to be treated the same way or even have the same feeling were I to pull up to Deer Valley today--regardless of the name on the deed. But the old days seem sweeter now that Deer Valley, an independent, family owned ski resort since 1981, sold to a private equity firm this week.
You can read more about why this acquisition makes the private equity one of the biggest players in the ski industry. But here are three signature dirtbag-skis-with-the-rich-and-famous moments from Deer Valley’s golden days.
1.) ONE FEBRUARY MORNING NEAR THE SILVER LAKE EXPRESS CHAIR, I was having a bit of a rough go, the kind skiers don't like to complain about in the open. Nothing was wrong, but everything wasn't right. My turns sucked, I was in the backseat more than a toddler, and my body was a set of four unmatched rusty hinges. Every little niggle seemed to have sharp pain lurking behind it and for some reason the bottom of my foot kept itching. Not a lot you can do about that. One of the Deer Valley attendants approached me as I kicked into line.
"How can I make your day better?"
"Can I help you with anything?"
"Are you sure?"
I paused. He paused. This is the part where, in movies, music turns up and someone gets a hug that signals it's the beginning of something.
His colleague was handing out tissues in the lift line to attractive ski moms who, for some reason, still unironically wear stretch pants. As the moms were instructing their whiny charges to blow, I felt like one of those kids: My fingers were cold, my toes weren't working. It was just past 10 a.m. and overcast and I wanted to go home.
"Could I have a Snickers and hot chocolate when I get back down?" I asked my guy in a pleading voice, joking but not joking.
"Absolutely," he grinned. It was the kind of reassuring smile that only a comfortably retired optometrist could have. His teeth were whiter than the bottom of a new Igloo cooler. He clasped my shoulder. "Remember, every day's a good day at Deer Valley."
It was a little Stepford of him, but OK.
I didn't think anything more of our interaction on the lift up and on thee next run down, I started to get more weight on my downhill ski and the turns began to flow. Something had clicked, so rather than calling it, the new plan was to traverse over to Mayflower Bowl (nobody's there, ever) and try my luck. As I sped by the chair's run-up, a referee-type whistle broke my straight-ahead gaze. I turned and there was my old friend, Snickers in one hand, hot cocoa in the other. I flushed. "Oh Jesus," I said. I started to dig into my pockets only coming up with gum wrappers and balled up bar receipts.
"Don't worry about it," he said. "It's on us."
2.) I WAS RIDING UP THE LIFT trying to whip up a little chat with a woman, probably around my age, blonde curls peeking out of her helmet, goggles seductively revealing the requisite three quarters of an inch of unprotected skin on her forehead. She said she was from back east, went to Penn. The most I could offer up in the pinch to connect was that my best friend from high school went to Brown. Go Ivys.
Anyway, I could tell I was toeing the uncomfortable side of such interactions, so I shut it down and tried not to break my molars on a frozen Clif bar in silence. She paused for several towers then, as the “Keep Tips Up” signs emerged on the approach, she asked what I did. I told her I was a writer; you know, gotta put a little zip on those last few chairlift throws.
"Ohh," she cooed in a way that was, in hindsight, laced with sarcasm. "What do you write? Novels? Movies?"
"Um, not really--I mean not yet. I help edit a magazine around here, freelance stuff, too," I coughed over the side of the chair. "What do you do?"
"Me?" she paused and seemingly tried to bite a nail through her glove. "Oh, I'm an actor."
"Oh, cool. Like community theater stuff, commercials?"
"No, not really. Well, yeah, commercials sometimes."
"Cool," I said again. "It's tough, acting. I hear acting's tough you know. So, good luck with that."
"Good luck with yours’ too."
Then the dismount. I made sure she skied out first and took the opposite path, giving myself a 6.7 overall.
Later, I met my buddy at the St. Regis bar and there she was, helmet off, right next to us, laughing with her husband. For the record, she was Elizabeth Banks, and I was the asshole.
3. ONE MORE? OK. There was the time I was riding up the Wasatch Express and ended up next to a guy who talked like he should have been wearing cuff-links and sipping on a Cutty Sark, neat. There are a shit-ton of hedge fund/finance dudes who take the commuter from JFK or LaGuardia to SLC in the early a.m. on a Saturday and ski for free with a show of their boarding pass.
No matter how rich they are, they love not paying. They point it out every time. "Skiing free today, bro--howdayalikethat!" as they heave out the chest in their Under Armour puffy. It's always some gum snapper from the Upper West Side with an origin story in Long Island. A real Bud Fox-type who came up from his uncle's pizza parlor, begged and borrowed his way through Fordham, landed a seat at a brokerage house in the ’80s, and now he's king, in his late-50s, semi- to all-the-way retired, and just took up skiing like two years ago. (“I never went outside before that. There wasn't a reason to.")
This time, Mr. Wiseguy hammered through his entire life story in under 90 seconds: wife, kids, second wife, no kids, another divorce--thank God--just playing the field ‘cept the field is "looking much shorter.”
“Money can buy you adulation,” he said, “but not from the kind of women you want to be adored by."
Now it was just him, next to me, recently diagnosed with Stage IV Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, which he pronounced like a movie title with the tag line: "every day/every run means something." That was when he broke character and started crying.
I put on the old Deer Valley spirit and said, "Every day's a good day here," as I clasped his shoulder.
Then he (for real) wiped a tear and said, "Fuckin-a. You're fucking-a right bro."
The four seasons I was a season pass holder at Deer Valley were the best of my skiing life, every day, every run did mean something. This was congruous with the fact that I was able to reside in Park City, a found paradise and the rarest of all towns: a working, thriving mountain community anchored by three independently owned resorts. In the past five years, it has started to morph into consolidated company town, or, as one friend put it, a Ski-mmunity Corp™. The people are, indeed, the same. But the feeling is different.
…Now, how can I make your day better?