A ski vacation with a touch of decadence

At the St. Regis Deer Valley, you don’t even have to buckle your own boots. Photo: St. Regis Deer Valley

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2013 —I hadn’t skied since the Bush administration, so I felt a bit like Rip Van Winkle when I traveled to Utah in early December for a couple of days at Deer Valley. When did everyone start wearing a helmet, I wondered. And then there were my rental skis. I’d ridden shaped varieties before, but these were even curvier than I remembered, with a radically tapered waist that reminded me of Joan from Mad Men.

What really threw me, though, was the business with the ski boots. Did I really need help putting them on?

The young woman kneeling at my feet seemed to think so. It was the morning of my first day at the St. Regis Deer Valley, a luxurious three-year-old hotel that prides itself on personal service. This includes a squad of cheerful young “ski valets,” whose duties include buckling your boots in the morning. As someone who is unaccustomed to such pampering, I was startled by the woman’s offer and politely waved her off—only to discover that the hassle of getting into ski boots was one thing that decidedly had not changed in the nearly six years that I’d been absent from the slopes.

I grew up skiing in New England in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Conditions often were miserable, and not just because of the wind-chill factor. Chairlifts moved at the pace of a funeral procession and always seemed to break down just a few feet from the unloading platform. When frostbite threatened, you warmed yourself with watery hot chocolate in a charmless, overcrowded lodge. And needless to say, you buckled your own boots.

Of course, even as a kid I knew there was a world of alpine luxury out there, and later I was lucky enough to sample it at places like Vail and Val d’Isere, where I stayed in cozy lodges and developed a taste for schnitzel and raclette. The new high-speed chairlifts whisked me to the top without incident. The painful skiing memories of my youth began to fade.

But it wasn’t until my recent trip to Utah that I experienced skiing in its most rarefied form. Luxury, of course, is a big part of the Deer Valley brand. Just 45 minutes by car from the Salt Lake City airport, the resort is known for superb skiing—powdery glades, wide-open bowls, carefully groomed cruisers—augmented by platinum-quality service and amenities (think heated sidewalks). The St. Regis is one of several opulent lodges on the mountain, which is scheduled to stay open this year until April 14.

We arrived on the evening before opening weekend. In the lobby, gas flames danced in a stone hearth and the air was lightly scented with pomegranate and sage. After the bellboy showed me to my room, I wandered out to the main terrace for the “sabering ceremony,” a nightly ritual in which a hotel employee shears the top from a bottle of Veuve-Clicquot with a gleaming cutlass. Then it was back inside for dinner, where the offerings included Kobe beef, Russian caviar and macaroni with locally-sourced cheddar. 

The hotel spa offered another chance to indulge the senses, albeit at a lower price in calories. Late in the afternoon of my second day, I lay on a heated massage table while a sturdy young masseuse worked out the kinks in my major muscle groups, then rubbed my scalp with warm peppermint oil. Meanwhile, my feet were soaking in bags of warm paraffin, a novel treatment—well, novel for me—that is supposed to soften the skin and improve circulation.

Everything was geared toward taking the friction out of a ski vacation. To that end, the hotel is staffed with butlers—overseen by a former Buckingham Palace wardrobe manager—who will take care of everything from dinner reservations to unpacking or packing your luggage.

On the evening of my arrival, I descended to Jans Mountain Outfitters on the ground floor, where a helpful young technician kitted me out with skis, boots and poles in the space of about three minutes. A ski valet then collected the gear, which reappeared when I asked him for it the next morning, ready to hit the mountain.

Though much of the area had yet to open, a gentle snow was falling and conditions improved steadily throughout the weekend. I skied hard and avoided major pratfalls. When the lifts closed on my last day, I walked to the Swiss-made funicular that would carry me back to the St. Regis. A valet collected my skis and poles before I climbed aboard, and when I arrived at the top a few minutes later, another valet offered to remove my boots.

This time I didn’t hesitate. “Please,” I said, extending a weary leg.


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John Lancaster

John Lancaster, a former foreign correspondant for the Washington Post, is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. 

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