Montage Deer Valley: An Active Autumnal Weekend

A return to Park City, Utah for Miss Mollie was long overdue! My first and only other visit was 40+ years ago, long before Deer Valley Resort even existed. It was a family ski trip and I remember that my brother and I thought we were so trendy back then skiing with a fancy new gadget called an “Astraltune Stereopack.” I bet you’re wondering what that is? Call it a pre-cursor to the Walkman, iPod, etc., it was a portable stereophonic tape deck that you strapped to your chest so you could play cassette tapes while skiing. The reality was an 8”x5”x3” brick weighing 3-1/2 lbs that was the epitome of cool at the time.  Needless to say, time has moved on, my Astraltune has long since been retired and the allure of an autumnal visit to Montage Deer Valley was irresistible – especially when I found out that that it was to audition a few new “experiences” they are introducing!

Frontiers’ Mike & Mollie Fitzgerald on their 1979 ski trip to Park City (Mollie sporting her astraltune!)

My flight arrived 45 minutes early at the spectacular, brand new Salt Lake City Airport. The $4.1 billion, 4 million sq ft facility – now the nation’s 9th largest airport – opened September 15th, perhaps in anticipation of Salt Lake City making a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics. Situated on three levels with soaring ceilings, loads of natural light, and an enormous art installation known as “The Canyon,” lit by psychedelic lights, this gorgeous state-of-the-art terminal is a most welcome upgrade!

A brief 45 minutes later, gaining nearly 4,000 feet in elevation, I arrived at Montage Deer Valley, with its enviable location atop Empire Pass in the Wasatch Range. The quaint Main Street of Park City (largely unchanged since my prior visit) with its attractive boutiques and galleries was less than ten minutes away, but being at Montage Deer Valley felt like I was a world away in a forest of pines and golden aspens and crisp mountain air.

I was shown to room #688, a one-bedroom Vista View Suite, which would be home for the next three nights. At 1,200 sq ft, it was super spacious (a Montage trademark) with “1-3/4” bathrooms (this was a new term for me…the Master bathroom had two sinks, a separate tub, and a shower; while the second bathroom had one sink, and a shower, no tub), two gas fireplaces, giant walk-in closet, and a huge outdoor terrace overlooking the year-round heated pool on which I could have held a cocktail party for 50 people!

Obviously, this would be plenty of room for me as a party of one! After a quick costume change into “mountain casual” attire, I met up with seven pals, all highly respected industry peers from around the country, and joined Jamie Fisher, Director of Sales and our hostess for the weekend, for a tour of the 220-room and 81-private residence property. Highlights of the tour included their 35,000 ft Spa Montage (the largest in the state of Utah) with an impressive array of treatment options and an immense indoor pool modeled after the one at Hearst Castle and the 4-bedroom Private Residence #1001 with full kitchen, laundry, and great accommodations for kids – perfect for a family.

Montage Deer Valley will celebrate its 10th anniversary in December this year, while the mountain itself opened in 1981. They are truly a ski-in/ski-out facility with three high-speed chairlifts at your fingertips and their on-site ski concierge takes care of absolutely everything from lift tickets, ski rentals, boot warming—you literally never have to touch your skis all week. One of the distinctions about Deer Valley is that it is for skiers only—anyone wishing to snowboard would have to do so at Park City Mountain, just 11 minutes away. There is a variety of terrain ranging from long, leisurely green and blue runs to double black diamond chutes and glades for more extreme options. Truth be told, I’m not much of a skier…I love everything about a ski resort: the cold weather, the clothes, the crackling fires, the après ski life, but can’t quite conquer the fear of a steep vertical descent. After being there, I do, however, understand why Deer Valley has often been voted North America’s # 1 ski resort by Ski Magazine, but there are also lots of great things to do when there’s no snow on the ground.

Dinner that night was at Daly’s Pub, featuring gastro-pub type fare and a four-lane regulation bowling alley!

The flatbread pizzas were delicious as was the truffle-infused mac and cheese, complemented by a sauvignon blanc from Slovenia of all places! We were joined by Joseph Mattioli, General Manager, Janet White, Vice President of Sales and Chris Hamaway, Executive Vice President Sales and Marketing for all of Montage and had a great evening learning how the family-owned Montage got started, its core philosophies, and exciting new projects they have in the pipeline (think Healdsburg, Big Sky, and Abaco).  We also were introduced to its sister brand, Pendry Hotels, which are a unique blend of polished comfort and modern edge with locations in San Diego, Baltimore, and West Hollywood and more to come!

The next morning we met our mountain guide, Trixie, for a hike and were joined by the hotel’s mascot, “Summit,” a Bernese Mountain Dog that was more the size of a miniature pony! We started straight up the base of one of the ski slopes before veering off onto forested trails.

The wine theme we started at lunch continued on our afternoon activity, “Mines and Wines,” a light-hearted three-hour private tour of historic locations in Park City, paired with great wines, which I highly recommend. Curated by Kirsten Fox, a Certified Executive Sommelier, founder of the Fox School of Wines and great-grand-daughter of a local prospector, she imparted a wealth of information about the mining history of the area. Switching hats in-between locales, she also extolled the virtues of seven different wines, tasted in 1.5 oz increments, and how to match with food. Most entertaining were Kirsten’s clever “connections” between the historic site we were visiting and the wine she selected to complement it:

  • Premiere Cru Chablis is grown in France’s Kimmeridgeon soil paired to the Gallina (part lead, part silver) soil of Park City while standing at the Ontario Mine
  • Insane profits that came through the bank in the late 1800s paired to the profitability of the rosé category of wine standing at the First National Bank dating back to 1891
  • Drinking a Pinot Noir (red that’s highest in resveratrol/antioxidants) to keep us outside the hospital instead of inside the hospital in front of the Miner’s hospital in operation 1904-1955
  • 20-year Tawny Port in front of the “Red Light District” (1880’s-1920’s)—as the addition of brandy stabilized the Portuguese wine for shipping so it didn’t spoil, so did the ladies of the night stabilize the Park City community so it wasn’t spoiled by fighting and discontent.

Much as I might have welcomed a nap, we soldiered onto a delicious dinner at Apex, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant. Executive Chef, Christian Ojeda, outdid himself with a lovely menu of Roasted Beet Wedge Salad with smoked bacon, blue cheese, toasted hazelnuts, tomatoes, and apple cider vinaigrette followed by Black Angus Tenderloin with pomme puree, charred broccolini, and preserved lemon bordelaise and a scrumptious Caramel Apple Tart for dessert that was almost too pretty to eat.

A good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast of huevos rancheros girded us for the adrenalin-inducing activity the next morning: a UTV tour in the Uintas Mountains. A one hour drive in Montage’s comfortable pair of Cadillac Escalades took us to the “Tracked Out Adventures” launch spot where we met the owner, “DJ,” and his team for a safety orientation.  It was a gorgeous morning with crisp air and clear skies. I had no clue what a “UTV” (Utility Terrain Vehicle—a “beefier” version with side by side seating for 2-4 riders) was vs. an “ATV” (All-Terrain Vehicle—usually designed for single riders). The machines and the protective gear we were to don in order to ride them looked formidable indeed.

Waivers were signed and I was kitted out to look like Evil Knievel with helmet and goggles and somehow, by default, it was deemed that I was to be a driver. Aside from driving our Kawasaki Mule at a snail’s pace for garden chores at home, I’ve had no experience doing this type of thing whatsoever and I was nervous as heck!  But before I knew it, it was time for “Ladies, start your engines…” and we were off!

With enthusiastic concurrence from my three passengers, we volunteered to go last—at a slower and more tentative pace than my fearless compatriots who raced ahead—and maneuvered up the mountain over a boulder-strewn track and the occasional steep drop off. Finally, after what felt like an eternity of equal parts angst and euphoria, we arrived at the top where we got out, stretched our legs, and savored the spectacular view, before summoning the courage for the downhill part.

Our jaunt was about 90 minutes— but they also offer half and full-day adventures as well as motorcycle trips and snowmobiling in winter.

We had a quick bite of lunch at “Burgers & Bourbon,” Montage’s slope-side casual restaurant, and I ordered Wagyu Beef Nachos which were sensational, and a glass of wine to calm my frayed nerves.

Before long, we were off to the Lower Provo River for a fly fishing experience called “Rivers & Rosé,” and this was definitely more in my comfort zone! Andy Damman, Corporate Director of Recreation for the Montage Group, joined us for the outing, and his affinity for the outdoors and passion for spotlighting the best of each Montage destination was contagious indeed. Rods rigged and waders on, Andy introduced Head Guide, Joe Mitchell, from Stonybrook Outfitters and his team, Steve and Dillon, who were amongst the most patient guides I’ve ever encountered. We were nymphing upstream using 5 and 6-wt. rods, a “dropper” set up and strike indicators which took a bit of getting used to as it’s the polar opposite of my trusty 14-ft, 9-wt Spey rod for salmon fishing!

To get to the river, we walked a short stretch along railroad tracks, stepping aside to let the Heber Valley Train pass by. This is a heritage train operating a sightseeing circuit 16 miles long and my guide told me that the historic locomotive and carriages were used in the film, “A River Runs Through It,” which felt very apropos.

On the riverbank, we celebrated our modest 3-fish catch with sundowners—several of the gals were fly fishing for the first time.

Picnic tables were laid with white linen and a sumptuous spread of charcuterie, cheeses, and chilled bottles of Whispering Angel Rosé.

Our Farewell Dinner was a tasting menu inspired by Montage’s Yama Sushi Restaurant, but served in a private dining room known as “The Library.” The first course was a Tuna Tasting with Big Eye Tuna Sashimi, Spanish Bluefin Toro Nigiri, and Spicy Ahi Tuna Rolls, followed by Smoked Pork Belly Bao Buns, and finally a 48-hour Braised Wagyu Short-Rib Rice Bowl with avocado, sprouts, and a poached egg.

The homemade peanut butter cups for dessert were irresistible! We toasted all of the marvelous experiences we’d had and applauded Montage Deer Valley’s initiatives to showcase their destination so completely. Trust me, I won’t be waiting another 40 years to come back – loved every minute!

Some photos courtesy of Montage Deer Valley.