Deer Valley Resort is celebrating its 40th season in operation this ski season. This is the fifth and final article in a series covering Deer Valley from Park City’s mining era through the resort’s early days.
December 26, 1981 – the “official” opening day for the much-anticipated newest ski destination: Deer Valley Resort. The repercussions fundamentally changed Park City’s economy and ushered in a new era of luxury skiing.
The 1970s had represented a decade of economic and political turmoil both domestically and abroad. Mining and skiing underpinned Park City’s economy – the former enjoying a 110-year legacy and the latter an upstart then spanning a brief eighteen years. Both industries suffered. Twin oil shocks, chicanery in the silver market, historic inflation, record interest rates, and spiraling energy costs extracted a heavy toll.
In 1978 American Smelting and Refining Corporation (ASARCO) and Anaconda Company shut down their joint Park City Ventures operation. Their combined loss exceeded $26 million. United Park City Mines and Park City Ventures scrambled to find a buyer for their operation. Their prayers were answered when Canadian mining conglomerate Noranda assumed the lease in 1979.
The town’s fledgling ski industry experienced its own misery. The Park City Corporation (a.k.a. Royal Street Corporation), which operated the Park City Resort (now PCMR), faced financial calamity. Under duress, the resort was sold to Nicholas Badami’s Alpine Meadows Corporation in October 1975. In the final settlement, owner and CEO of the Park City Corp., Edgar Stern, retained enough land to Park City’s south and southeast to possibly build a new ski resort. While the Badami family rehabbed the finances and business model of the Park City Resort, Edgar Stern harbored visions of creating a luxury skiing experience.
Edgar Stern was well versed in the luxury hotel business. His passion was to duplicate that business model in the ski industry. To do so, Edgar required property, which he had. Second, he needed adequate financing. Third, and perhaps most importantly, he needed a dedicated team well-versed in defining and delivering a premium product. The stage was set in 1976 when Royal Street Corp. received approval to develop Deer Valley Resort.
Over the next two years Stern secured financing and finalized plans. Construction commenced in 1978 with an estimated completion time of three years. Next, Stern recruited a “Dream Team” to transform the traditional skier experience and expectations.
First to arrive was Jim Nassikas, a legend in the luxury hotel industry. His latest accomplishment had been transforming the Stanford Court Hotel from a mediocre apartment building into one the finest luxury properties in North America. Jim’s fingerprints would touch all aspects of Deer Valley’s genesis.
Following Jim’s arrival, the remainder of the executive staff coalesced – John Miiller (General Manager), Bill Nassikas (VP of Food and Beverage, and Jim’s son), Steve Dering (VP of Marketing), Jim Whitteron (VP of Operations), Stein Erikson (Director of Skiing, and legendary skier), and Bob Wheaton (Maintenance Manager and future President of the resort). Together they would define the premier ski resort experience. No aspect of the operation was overlooked, from the slopes down to the bathrooms.
The grand opening was set for December 26, 1981, considered one of the busiest ski days of the year. The week preceding the launch was a blur. All details were checked and checked again. Snow conditions proved excellent, as Deer Valley boasted an enviable snow making infrastructure. While Edgar Stern could not control the weather, they sought to mitigate its dependencies, though natural snow had been good.
For the Deer Valley executives and staff, Christmas Day 1981 proved stressful. Would this experiment succeed or not? Would customers pay a premium to experience a new standard for luxury? The answers to such questions awaited.
December 26 dawned clear and cold. The rising sun smiled on the immaculately groomed runs. The first cars began arriving at approximately 8:30 a.m. What began as a trickle soon became a steady stream. The staff was fully prepared. The intrepid customers brave enough to visit Deer Valley on opening day were not disappointed. In fact, they were amazed by the complete experience – the service, the groomed runs, the day lodges, the gourmet cuisine, the amenities, and the attentive and caring employees.
On that first day 5,001 guests sampled Edgar Stern’s piece de resistance. Elation reigned supreme throughout the Deer Valley organization. However, for those toiling below ground there was little joy. Noranda suspended production toward the end of 1981. In April 1982 Deer Valley lowered the curtain on its first glorious season while Noranda lowered theirs for good. Park City and the ski industry would never be the same again.
The author acknowledges the contributions of Jim Whitteron, Larry Warren, Allen Gordan, and Steve Leatham.