If you're a snowboarder, please cross Deer Valley, Utah, off your list immediately. You're not wanted. Likewise, if you're one of those parsimonious skiers who favour budget accommodation. There's plenty of room for your sort a mile or two down the mountain at Park City, the largest winter resort in the US, owned by the same group that runs Vail and Whistler.
Deer Valley – and you're more likely to see a moose here than a deer – has always had (lift) tickets on itself. Since it opened in 1981, it has prided itself on being the premiere luxury ski resort in the US. The hotels are five-star. The restaurants are gourmet. Overnight ski storage is complimentary. And "ski valets" are on hand to take your skis and poles to the slopes.This might be skiing, but not as most of us know it.
In 2017, Deer Valley was acquired by the Alterra Mountain Company, which also owns Steamboat Springs, Mammoth, Big Bear and Solitude. Its Ikon Pass can be used in 39 year-round ski destinations including Thredbo, Mount Buller and New Zealand's Coronet Peak. Perhaps that explains why 8 per cent of Deer Valley's clientele each year is Australian, the resort's largest international market.
In 2002, Deer Valley hosted three events – freestyle mogul, aerial and alpine slalom – during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. And it's virtually certain to host more when Salt Lake City is awarded the 2030 Olympics. No other city has put in a bid so far.
So what is Deer Valley like? The good news is that you'll never have to look over your shoulder to check if an out-of-control snowboarder is coming down the same slope. And the historic town of Park City, once part of the "wild west" and home to Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival each January, is just a five-minute shuttle away.
Deer Valley and Park City Mountain ski areas, each a 40-minute drive from Salt Lake City airport, are separated by a single ridge, but you can't ski between them anymore (there are strict penalties if you're caught with the "wrong" pass). But if you're here for a week, ski both.
Would Edgar and Polly Stern approve? They were the founders of Deer Valley. In 1971 they purchased what was then called Treasure Mountain (now Park City Mountain) along with the neighbouring peaks that would become Deer Valley. Ten years later, the Sterns opened Deer Valley Resort, a concept then entirely new to world skiing – more like a luxury hotel or cruise ship than a traditional winter sports resort.
The two original "day lodges", Snow Park and Silver Lake, were several stars ahead of anything that existed on an American mountain before. Five chairlifts (no Pomas or T-bars!) whisked pampered clientele up to the two mountains, Bald Eagle and Bald Mountain – offering 35, mostly intermediate, runs.
Fast forward four decades and Deer Valley now boasts 21 chairlifts, 103 perfectly groomed runs and six bowls spread over more than 800 hectares of skiable terrain, some of which will challenge even the most hard-core off-piste skier. Plus some of the most luxurious accommodation and restaurants you'll find clinging to a mountainside.
Unless you're a ski nut, you've probably never heard of Stein Eriksen. The Norwegian has been called "skiing's first superstar", what Arnold Palmer was to golf, Muhammad Ali to boxing, or Rod Laver to tennis. Eriksen – who died in 2015, aged 88 – was the first person from a non-Alpine country to win an Olympic gold medal (giant slalom, 1952, Oslo). Humble, handsome and charismatic, he was the "father of aerial freestyle skiing" and famous for the stunts he performed when he was director of skiing at Deer Valley.
Today the Stein Eriksen Lodge and its new multimillion-dollar satellite, Stein Eriksen Residences, which opened in 2018, are among the elite accommodation. And yes, being Deer Valley, everything is ski-in, ski-out.
Unlike Eriksen, Deer Valley is boastful. SKI magazine's readers named it "the No. 1 ski resort" for an unprecedented five years in a row, from 2008 to 2012. It has also won the World Ski Awards "Best resort in the US" title every year since 2013.
So what continues to make it special? The snow is amazing. The on-piste alternatives now extend to Flagstaff Mountain and the black runs of Empire Canyon to Little Baldy Peak (what is this obsession with hair loss?).
It's frivolous, I know, but our group paused for an afternoon liquid refreshment at Montage Deer Valley. Burgers & Bourbon is one of seven restaurants at Montage and, as its name suggests, it has a wonderful array of bourbons. Sadly, in the interest of research, I ordered one of the three alcoholic milkshakes. Believe me, a coke float isn't improved with a shot of bourbon. Nor is your skiing.
Delta flies from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City return several times daily. See delta.com
A one-bedroom suite at Stein Eriksen Residences starts from around $US410 a night but prices vary according to the season and room size. See steineriksenresidences.com
Steve Meacham was a guest of Park City Chamber of Commerce.