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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Trail grooming at Deer Valley Ski Resort in Park City, Utah.

There were times when outsiders had doubts. Skier numbers were low, tables in the cafeteria sat empty and locals drove miles just to avoid Deer Valley.

Times were tough, remembered Bob Wheaton, president and CEO, "But we never lost sight of our goal. We never diverted from what we wanted to be — the very best."

SKI Magazine's list of North America's top resorts came out last month and, for the fourth year in a row, skiers voted Deer Valley the very best.

Four years in a row now, based on everything from access to dining, Deer Valley has been No. 1. Over the past nine years, Deer Valley has been No. 1 six times.

Park City Mountain Resort was voted No. 5.

"It's pretty amazing to think that of all the resorts in the country, two of the top five are right here in Park City," said Krista Parry, director of marketing at the mountain resort.

Every year, SKI Magazine sends out ballots — 40,000 this year — to its readers asking them to rate resorts. One request is that a voter must have skied at the resort they're voting on within the previous two years. It's a way of assuring voters know what they're voting on.

To put the results in perspective, voters have a choice of more than 325 major ski areas in North America.

To win it four times in succession, said Wheaton, "is a huge honor. It's also humbling when you realize the company we keep in the ski industry. There are a lot of very fine ski areas and excellent people running those resorts. To be held in this much regard is, indeed, humbling."

Edgar Stern, Deer Valley's founder, recalled in an interview a few years back that while skiing at one of the country's largest ski areas, he found little in the way of customer service. He found the staff rude and untidy and the food inedible.

"When I built Deer Valley, I said let's go in the absolute opposite direction. A lot of people told me it would never work, that I was crazy. In the beginning, when the cost overruns were so high, I wondered," he recalled. "But there are people looking for this kind of service … and it worked."

Stern passed away in October of 2008.

Other Utah resorts making the magazine's top 30 list include: The Canyons (No. 18), Snowbird (19), Snowbasin (27), Alta (28), Brighton (29) and Solitude (30).

In individual categories, proving Utah does indeed have the "Greatest Snow On Earth," Utah resorts dominated the "Snow" voting — Alta (1), Snowbird (2), Powder Mountain (3), Brighton (4), Solitude (5), Deer Valley (7) and Snowbasin (8).

Another of Utah's most attractive trademarks is the access skiers have to its 14 resorts. Within about 30 minutes of landing at the Salt Lake International Airport, skiers can be standing at the base of one of seven world-class resorts. In access voting, Utah resorts took seven of the top 10 spots — Deer Valley (1), Park City Mountain Resort (2), Brighton (4), Solitude (5), The Canyons (6), Snowbird (7) and Alta (9).

Utah resorts also proved to be among the best values in North America. Five of the top 10 were Utah resorts — Powder Mountain (1), Alta (3), Brighton (4), Solitude (6) and Snowbasin (9).

In the special Lifestyle Awards category, Alta and Snowbird were one-two, respectively in voting as the best Skier's Mountain; Snowbird and Deer Valley were one-two, respectively, for best Weekend Escape; and Brighton, Alta and Snowbird were one-two-three, respectively, for Value Trip.

Work on Deer Valley's lifts and its two main lodges started in the spring of 1981. The resort opened that winter.

And, as Wheaton said, it was a rough beginning for Deer Valley. There were doubters who said the resort couldn't keep up its level of service.

There were times in the early going when skier counts were well below projections; times when the opportunity to change directions were there. Periods when Deer Valley easily could have groomed fewer runs, taken out the tissue box and whittled down menus to the basics — hamburgers, fries and chili.

"If we could do things over," Wheaton said in an earlier interview, "we'd do things differently. We've had to overcome the 'snobbish' image that was first projected. The image we projected wasn't what we wanted or what we were. The image we wanted was that Deer Valley offers a warm and comfortable experience with an elevated level of service. Unfortunately, it took time for us to get over that early impression."

Stern's dream was to make Deer Valley a first-class resort that could match, service for service, the finest five-star hotels in the world. Over the years, Deer Valley has become just that — a five-star ski resort with customer service its No. 1 priority.

Proof, of course, showed in the voting booth. Skiers voted Deer Valley No. 1 in the areas of grooming, service, access, on-mountain food, lodging and dining, and No. 2 in weather, lifts and family programs. In fact, of the 22 categories on the ballot, Deer Valley scored in 15.

Wheaton credits his front-line employees for the resort's success.

"Staying with our commitment has been easy because of the staff and the great job everyone does. If the commitment of the staff was not there, we never could have reached our goal. Everyone comes to work every day focused on what they need to do," said Wheaton.

Greg Ditrinco, executive editor of SKI Magazine, in announcing the award, said "Deer Valley addresses skiers' needs, wants and desires, and hence the four consecutive years (as No. 1). It's not unprecedented, but it's a true accomplishment. Especially in these economic times where people like consistency. People want service. People like that personal touch.

"Skiers also want value, which isn't necessarily in price, but they want to feel they are getting what they are paying for, and Deer Valley delivers on all those fronts."

There was a time when voters didn't see Park City Mountain Resort as a top 5 or even a top 10 resort. It wasn't until the resort began to focus on the overall guest experience, said Parry.

"We really started to direct a lot of our resources into offering a great mountain experience and create a well-rounded family experience," she added. "That's when we started to be recognized.

"Utah has fantastic snow. That we can't control. So we started to focus on those things we can control, like grooming. We're among the few resorts that regularly grooms our black diamond runs. And because we do, we are able to open more of the mountain to intermediate skiers, which is a large part of our skier base."

In the Family Programs category, both Deer Valley and Park City made the top 10 list. This is the 23rd year of the magazine's poll.

Ditrinco said this year the magazine will be putting the ballot online "and anyone who wants to go to the site will be able to vote. We won't commingle the two surveys or redo our reader's survey, but each will be separate. We are all intrigued and fascinated to see how the more universal rankings will compare with our traditional 23-year-old survey."

Those who would like to cast votes on the open poll can do so by visiting www.skimag.com/2011OpenResortSurvey.

2010 Ski Magazine reader rankings

1. Deer Valley, Utah

2. Vail, Colo.

3. Whistler Blackcomb, B.C.

4. Beaver Creek, Colo.

5. Park City, Utah

6. Snowmass, Colo.

7. Aspen Mountain, Colo.

8. Breckenridge, Colo.

9. Sun Valley, Idaho

10. Aspen Highlands, Colo.

11. Telluride, Colo.

12. Mammouth Mountain, Calif.

13. Heavenly, Calif.

14. Steamboat, Colo.

15. Northstar, Calif.

16. Jackson Hole, Wyo.

17. Squaw Valley, Calif.

18. The Canyons, Utah

19. Snowbird, Utah

20. Whitefish Mtn. Resort, Mont.


1. Alta, Utah

2. Snowbird, Utah

3. Powder Mountain, Utah

4. Brighton, Utah

5. Solitude, Utah

6. Kirkwood, Calif.

7. Deer Valley, Utah

8. Snowbasin, Utah

9. Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

10. Aspen Highlands, Colo.


1. Deer Valley, Utah

2. Beaver Creek, Colo.

3. Northstar-at-Tahoe, Calif.

4. Sun Valley, Calif.

5. Vail, Colo.

6. Snowmass, Colo.

7. Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

8. Breckenridge, Colo.

9. Solitude, Utah

10. Park City, Utah


1. Deer Valley, Utah

2. Park City, Utah

3. Loveland, Colo.

4. Brighton, Utah

5. Solitude, Utah

6. The Canyons, Utah

7. Snowbird, Utah

8. Copper Mountain, Colo.

9. Alta, Utah

10. Squaw Valley, Calif.

Overall Satisfaction

1. Alta, Utah

2. Telluride, Colo.

3. Aspen Highlands, Colo.

4. Snowbird, Utah

5. Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

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6. Whistler Blackcomb, B.C.

7. Deer Valley, Utah

8. Vail, Colo.

9. Snowmass, Colo.

10. Big Mountain, Mont.


1. Powder Mountain, Utah

2. Loveland, Colo.

3. Alta, Utah

4. Brighton, Colo.

5. Arapahoe Basin, Colo.

6. Solitude, Utah

7. Kirkwood, Calif.

8. Taos Ski Valley, N.M.

9. Snowbasin, Utah

10.Big Mountain, Mont.


1. Brighton, Utah

2. Deer Valley, Utah

3. Alta, Utah

4. Aspen Highlands, Colo.

5. Solitude, Utah

6. Telluride, Colo.

7. Snowbird, Utah

8. Sun Valley, Idaho

9. Beaver Creek, Colo.

10. Aspen Mountain, Colo.