DCSki’s Editor is in the midst of a road trip through western states, in search of snow and adventure. For the final ski day on his trip, he headed to the slopes of Deer Valley, but his day was cut short by the onset of the flu.
Some time on Tuesday, February 27, I realized I had the flu.
There were some warning signs earlier. While skiing at Snowbasin, I found myself closing my eyes while riding the lift or gondola, feeling more tired than usual. And on Monday evening, my throat was starting to get a bit sore, my appetite was starting to get a bit light, and my energy level was starting to plummet. I assumed it was just the days (and weeks) of cold, dry, windy air finally catching up to me, and I hoped a good night of sleep would reset my body and I’d feel great the next day.
But on Tuesday morning, I knew something was off. I met my friend Tony at the Holiday Inn Express breakfast bar and filled a plate with food (or at least, what constitutes food at the Holiday Inn Express breakfast bar).
I then poked suspiciously at it.
I tried to eat a bite, but put the fork right back down. I had no appetite and felt a little nauseated.
But I tried to hide this from Tony, who was super excited about his newfound sport of skiing and had flown across the country to ski just three days. This was day three, and we were heading to Deer Valley.
So I ignored the fact that I wasn’t feeling very well — even though I secretly wanted to go back upstairs to my room and crawl into bed — and we packed up and hit the road, arriving at Deer Valley about 35 minutes later.
Prior to this trip, Deer Valley was the only Utah ski area I had been to, and just barely at that. A decade ago, I had swung by Deer Valley for a day while picking up a friend from Salt Lake City. But that early December trip coincided with another lean snow year for Utah, and very few slopes were open at the time, so I only got to sample a bit of Deer Valley.
This year has been a lean snow year, too, but in the weeks leading up to my visit Deer Valley had finally received a lot of snow. I was really looking forward to getting the full Deer Valley experience this trip.
Deer Valley is known for many things: great snow conditions, impeccable grooming, and being one of the few ski areas remaining that still forbids snowboarders. But the thing Deer Valley is most known for is service. Its service helps put it over the top, and contributes to Deer Valley frequently being named the #1 Ski Resort in North America by readers of SKI Magazine. Deer Valley had once again claimed that top spot this year, and it was immediately clear how proud employees were of this fact.
Upon pulling up to the free parking lot by the Snow Park Lodge, I was greeted by a parking attendant. To say he was chipper is an understatement! He was quite talkative, immediately launching into a friendly welcome and a description of the day’s snow conditions. At some point in the conversation the topic of Deer Valley’s recent purchase by Alterra Mountain Company came up. Alterra had purchased ski conglomerate Intrawest and then purchased Deer Valley during late summer, 2017.
“We’re all wondering what kinds of changes Alterra might make,” confided the parking attendant.
He paused for a moment, then added:
“But what changes could they make? We’re the top-rated resort in the country!”
“They better not get rid of the turkey chili,” said a second parking attendant nearby. Deer Valley is known for its Turkey and Black Bean Chili.
I asked the parking attendant if he thought Alterra might change the no-snowboarder policy.
“I hope not,” he said. “In our guest surveys, that repeatedly comes up as a reason why people like Deer Valley. There are plenty of other places in Park City that allow snowboarding.”
The lack of snowboarders definitely affected the quality and feel of Deer Valley. Although I’m a skier, I fully support snowboarding — in fact, some of my best friends are snowboarders! But I will admit that the slopes felt less “crowded” or “intimidating” without snowboarders.
After gearing up, we hopped on a tram and were transported to the base lodge, where we got lift tickets. Deer Valley has old-fashioned lift tickets — the type that you attach to a sprocket. And when you go through a lift line, your lift pass isn’t scanned by an RFID reader or a handheld laser — it’s punched on your first run by a friendly lift line attendant. That makes it easy for the attendants to see whether you’re good to go, although the courteous attendants quickly learned to recognize you and asked how your last run was.
When Pennsylvania’s Whitetail Resort was first in the planning stages, its original investors and developers took a reconnaissance trip to Deer Valley. Deer Valley has long enjoyed a reputation for service and quality, and Whitetail’s developers wanted to mirror elements of that in their new resort. They incorporated components of what they saw at Deer Valley into the design, construction, and operation of Whitetail. Some of those elements have been replicated at other Mid-Atlantic resorts since then, but it was somewhat novel when Whitetail first opened in 1991.
Whitetail’s base lodge — which has since been expanded — was inspired by lodges at Deer Valley, and Whitetail also copied another feature — limiting daily ticket sales to ensure the slopes were never too crowded. Deer Valley continues to do that today. Whitetail also copied Deer Valley’s free ski check, allowing skiers to leave their skis at the base area without fumbling with quarters or worrying that equipment will get swiped by enterprising thieves.
The free ski check attendants at Deer Valley aren’t just there to take your skis, though — they’re mountain ambassadors. They’ll gladly chat with you for 15 minutes offering their personalized dining suggestions in the town of Park City, or suggesting the best way to chart your day across the mountain.
Every person you interact with at Deer Valley is the same — they are evangelists for the ski area and clearly love to talk with guests. This level of service and enthusiasm permeates the entire mountain.
But let’s talk about that mountain — service is one thing, but how is the skiing?
With all the recent snow, the conditions were excellent. Deer Valley has a lot of terrain, but it’s sprawling, which can make it a little confusing. There are multiple base areas, and in some cases you ride a lift up one mountain, only to ride the lift down the other side of a mountain to reach another base area. Navigating across the mountain requires frequent trail map consultation, at least until you get the lay of the land.
And this is where the flu began to ruin my day.
Tony and I did a few green runs to warm up, and I realized I was finding the green runs to be challenging. I was focusing on each turn, and my legs and joints were hurting. As an advanced skier, this was unusual. Just the other day, I’d been darting all around the slopes, heading into powder in the glades and bouncing around moguls. Now I was barely making it down an impeccably-groomed green slope at Deer Valley.
We made it over to another part of Deer Valley, arriving at the top of Flagstaff Mountain. Tony was ready to try a blue, and we did. But by the time we rode the lift back up to the top of Flagstaff Mountain, I was so dizzy I had to sit down.
“You don’t look so good,” said Tony, eyeing me with concern.
“I don’t feel so good,” I admitted.
We decided to split up — I would rest for awhile in a small mountaintop cabin while Tony would practice his skiing. I hadn’t eaten anything that day, having only picked at my breakfast, so I thought I should get some calories in my stomach. I ordered a snickerdoodle cookie and a hot chocolate from Cushing’s Cabin. I managed to take one bite and one sip before feeling sick to my stomach. That was a very expensive snickerdoodle and hot cocoa that went in the trash.
After sitting for an hour or two, I texted Tony and said I wanted to try skiing again.
We met me at the lodge and we took a trip down a blue — Lucky Star, I think. Somewhere on that run I had to lie down. I don’t even remember how it happened — I just remember thinking “I have to lie down, NOW,” and I collapsed in the center of the slope. At first Tony thought I was joking (he had never seen me fall before) and he snapped a photo, but he then realized I was faint and began contemplating whether to call Ski Patrol.
Thankfully, Deer Valley wasn’t crowded, so no skiers had to deal with a human obstacle rudely lying right in the middle of the slope. After absorbing some of the cold from the ground — by now I pretty clearly had a bad fever — I regained enough energy to slowly, carefully make it to the bottom of the slope. Tony asked a resort employee for the easiest path back to Snow Park Lodge, and we followed that.
I found a comfortable place to collapse in the lodge in front of a fireplace, and spent the rest of the afternoon lying there, convincing Tony that it was OK for him to leave me and ski the rest of the day.
When Tony wrapped up his day, he returned with a huge grin on his face.
“Scott, the conditions were INCREDIBLE! I went all over and it was AMAZING!”
I felt a little jealous — my second attempt to fully explore Deer Valley had once again been scuttled, and I had even gotten a flu shot this year — but then I realized that I had skied over 10 days on this Snow Trip at some amazing areas, and in amazing conditions — I couldn’t exactly be bitter about getting sick on the last ski day.
A consultation with my doctor that evening confirmed that I had probably caught the bad flu going around. I picked up a prescription for Tamiflu and focused on recovering. Now, nearly two weeks later, I’m still recovering with a lingering cough and lack of energy. The flu ain’t fun, y’all.
So I will once again return to Deer Valley sometime in the future, when the snow is amazing and my body temperature is a healthy 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Hopefully I won’t wait 10 years again. Deer Valley is a special resort, with some of the proudest employees I’ve ever seen at a ski area, let alone any business. I had a chance to explore a bit more of the ski area on this trip, but there’s still a lot more to explore across its 2,000 acres, six mountains, and 21 chairlifts. And I still need to explore Park City Mountain Resort, Alta, and Snowbird. Until now, I’ve been particular to Colorado ski areas, but Utah has caught my attention.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
Scott - I have thoroughly enjoyed your journey. It was fun to read the updates on your travels. Not sure why but the cave adventure was one of my favorites. Get well sooner than later.
Scott, thanks for the continuind saga.-great reporting on your part.
Your flu story reminded me of my first trip to north Tahoe a very long time ago. It was to be a four day ski weekend. I came down with the flu, too, but I was going to ski if it was going to kill me. Skied all four days. By the fourth day I was at 103 and every breath hurt, but I skied anyway. I hate to think about how mnay people I infected.