If you are a mountain biker or know someone who is, you may have heard the debate raging on about mountain bike wheel diameters. From 26 to 27.5 and all the way to 29-inch, there seems to be little consensus. To attempt to sort out what the ideal wheel dimension is, I recently sat down with Chris Erkkila, assistant mountain biking manager and Doug Gormley, lead bike instructor at Deer Valley Resort.
JF: Sometimes I wonder if I have the right size wheels on my mountain bike and if I am not giving away performance by staying on traditional 26-inch tires?
Chris Erkkila: It’s been a steady progression. In the old days, I’ve saw downhill bikes with a 24-inch wheel in the back and a 26-inch wheel in the front. And then, a few years ago, the 29-inch craze hit so big that the bulk of our rental bikes were all 29-inch wheels! Now, with the 27.5-inch design gaining acceptance, the pendulum has swung back to a position that manufacturers are finding to be a right size that covers everything.
Doug Gormley: Just like Chris, I’ve experienced all wheel sizes, from 26, to 27.5 and 29-inch. There’s no “holy grail” though. All these sizes have strengths and weaknesses. A very simplified argument for the 27.5 is that it “splits the difference.” It falls somewhere in the middle, albeit not quite exactly…
JF: What’s the most obvious benefit of a large, 29-inch wheel?
Chris Erkkila: The theory is that the larger the diameter, the more efficiently it rolls; that’s right, rolling gets easier with bigger wheels. This is the reason why the settlers in the west put large wheels on their wagons; it was much easier for them to go over ruts, wood stumps and rocks.
JF: What was your experience with last year’s rental fleet and its 29-inch wheels?
Doug Gormley: Overall, it worked out really well. There were some issues with some of our smaller riders feeling a bit awkward on the bike. One of the positives was that a 29er rolls over rough terrain very well. For somebody who is struggling to maintain momentum, these wheels can roll over features that would normally hang them up. Another advantage is that this larger wheel provides more traction and also brakes more effectively.
JF: Any downside to a 29-inch wheel?
Chris Erkkila: Well, going downhill gets you more centrifugal force with 29-inch tires, which causes the larger wheel to resist turning. Another possible drawback is that larger wheels create a longer wheelbase that makes turning in tight corners a little bit more challenging.
Doug Gormley: I agree; they are not as maneuverable. I do think there are some people who thought the bike felt a bit cumbersome and awkward at times. This is why our rental fleet will mostly be 27.5 this summer.
JF: But, I’ve also heard that larger wheels make it less likely that the rider will fly over the handlebar; is this true?
Chris Erkkila: Ha, ha! I think the chances are really still there. Maybe just because they can roll over stuff more smoothly, you might be less prone to do it, but if you aren’t very gentle with the new, powerful, hydraulic disk brakes in front, you might still go over the handlebars!
JF: I still don’t understand which wheel performs better for downhill versus cross-country use?
Doug Gormley: Downhill riders need smaller size wheels for nimbleness and maneuverability. Today, in World Cup competition, most riders are still on 26-inch wheels, but more and more are moving to the new 27.5.
Chris Erkkila: You won’t see downhill racers riding a 29-inch, because, as Doug said, it’s less maneuverable; but he’s right, they are leaving their 26-inch for these new 27.5-inch wheels.
JF: So, are you suggesting that 27.5-inch might be a happy medium?
Chris Erkkila: From what I understand, the trend began in Europe with the “650B,” as they call the 27.5-inch over there. It was actually borrowed from road bikes, then adapted to mountain bikes and from that point forward, it was enthusiastically adopted and caught on rather quickly.
JF: Is there a reason for a holy war to settle the perfect wheel size?
Doug Gormley: No, there are so many factors to consider that each size can be fully justified. If you’re into cross-country, 29 might be the obvious choice, but if downhill is your thing, a smaller wheel will work better. I still feel very strongly that there is no panacea, though.
JF: Have the junior riders been spared that tug of war?
Doug Gormley: If anything, there are many junior bikes that benefit from a 24-inch wheel. There are lots of factors like clearance over the top tube, rider’s weight and height that come into play in that category. There are still lots of benefits to 20, 24 an even 26-inch wheels for youngsters.
JF: Are these new 27.5-inch wheels adapted to women’s bike frames?
Chris Erkkila: When the first 29er came out, companies scrambled to place these larger wheels on existing frames, with obviously less success on women’s frames. It wasn’t always a good match. Today, with the growing popularity of 27.5-inch wheels, manufacturers have been adjusting their frame design and construction to work better with that diameter.
JF: As every ounce seems to count enormously, how is wheel design impacted by the quest for weight reduction at all cost?
Chris Erkkila: It was pretty rare to see “everything carbon fiber” 10 to 15 years ago. This has changed and today you’ll see frames and rims made of that material. A larger wheel is heavier and light weight materials become more attractive. Carbon fiber is one of these materials, extremely light and strong but less sturdy than aluminum. If you crash and your bike goes flying off the trail and you damage the carbon fiber, it’s pretty catastrophic. You can put a dent in an aluminum frame and still ride it to a certain extent and be okay. Today, it’s quite common to see carbon wheel sets matched with carbon bike frames. Because of the rocky nature of some mountain trails, there’s obviously a risk that a close encounter with rocks and other obstacles could severely damage these pricey rims.
JF: Do you feature carbon rims in your rental fleet?
Doug Gormley: No, and it’s essentially a matter of cost. These rims are still very expensive! Sure, they’re very lightweight, strong and super stiff. Sometimes even too stiff!
JF: All these considerations about sizes and materials shouldn’t make us forget the critical element that is the tire. What’s new in this area?
Chris Erkkila: We are seeing more tubeless tires these days, just like the ones you have on your car. Tubeless tires allow you to ride on less pressure and they’re also lighter. To a certain extent they also reduce the chance of getting a flat tire.
Chris Erkkila: Because you can hit certain obstacles on the trail without getting a pinch-flat or “snake-bite” as some folks call it. This happens when the inner tube gets pinched against the rim and you get two holes in the tube. In theory, running without a tube eliminates this, but you should still pack an extra tube, just in case.
Doug Gormley: Our rental fleet is still running with tubes and tires. On a personal level, I’ve been slow embracing the tubeless trend, because it had not prevented me from getting flats. Even with my best tubeless set up, I still carry a tube as a backup.
JF: Are bikes delivered with tubeless set up?
Chris Erkkila: Not usually, it’s more an after-market option.
JF: Let’s talk about inflation. What tire pressure do you recommend?
Chris Erkkila: Several factors should be considered. One is downhill versus cross country. Others are how much a rider weighs, what type of terrain is involved as well as particular trail conditions. I’m 6 feet tall, I weigh 200 pounds, so I inflate my cross-country bike in the high 30s psi (pounds per square inch). On the other hand, my downhill bike is only inflated at 20 to 25 psi. Typically, the lighter you are, the less air you put in; but when you do that, you might increase traction too much. Conversely, the more air you put in, the less rolling resistance exists.
Doug Gormley: In our rental operation, we’re about at 35 psi with the bikes. In some instances, we go as high as 38. This is the best balance we find between good traction and pinch flat avoidance. Of course, if we see a rash of pinch flats, we can always raise that threshold.
JF: I’ve always been told that, prior to going downhill, it make sense to let some air out; is that right?
Chris Erkkila: Oh, yes. It’s hard though; the biggest mistake people make is to just do it “by feel”; unless you do this very often, you’ll mess up. The only way you’ll know for sure is by using a pressure gauge.
JF: On these big, fat tires, what kind of tire tread works best for Deer Valley’s trails?
Doug Gormley: The manufacturers are all doing a good job at matching tire tread with bike suspensions, dimensions and performance. We’ve selected a trail bike that is the equivalent of an all-mountain ski; it is very versatile and the tread selected for these bikes strikes a nice balance between cross-country and downhill.
Chris Erkkila: Tires are like shoes; you might prefer Nike over Adidas, so it comes down to personal preferences. Of course, here we have dry, dusty soil and our tires are suited for these conditions. When we get a rain day at Deer Valley Resort, we call it a “powder day” because if you get just a little bit of moisture on the trail, it gets “tacky” and you can go a bit faster and carry more speed into the turns; it’s fun!
JF: What an enlightening conversation about wheels! As many riders are headed for Deer Valley Resort and get ready to hit your trails this summer, what last piece of advice do you have for them?
Chris Erkkila: There’s no one right wheel size for any certain type of rider. It’s up to each person to go out and try what seems to work best. The 26-inch size probably isn’t going to be around for much longer. It’s going to be 27.5 and 29-inch for the foreseeable future, with the latter wheel size likely to be preferred by many cross-country riders.
Doug Gormley: Beyond this discussion about wheels, we see a large variety of bikes on the mountain. Ultimately though, a good all-mountain trail bike works best, whether you ride the lifts or just pedal. Having a very versatile bike with a suspension offering four to five inches of travel works very well and allows you to accomplish everything you want in a day while truly enjoying it!
If you love to hike, would like to explore the mountains around Deer Valley Resort and are staying in town for more than just a couple of days, there are a multitude of ways to get fully acquainted with the area and get you so excited that you’ll want to come back for more. To help sort out some of the best Deer Valley hikes, I spent time with Steve Graff, Deer Valley’s Mountain Bike Manager, brain storming about what kind of graduated mountain hikes could fill an active vacation week. This is an overview of the options we picked for you.
A wonderful way to begin is to spend the first day getting acquainted with the weather, the elevation and the terrain. Using the chairlifts on that first day is ideal for minimizing the impact of the altitude. For instance, start at Silver Lake Lodge and begin by riding up Sterling Express and then hike down the Silver Lake Trail. It is a hiking-only trail, so you’ll find only hikers on it. A little over two miles long and dropping 1,300 vertical feet, the trail begins at the top of Bald Mountain at 9,400 feet and meanders all the way down to Silver Lake Village. “Of course, if you are in excellent shape and neither the jet lag nor the altitude seem to bother you, you can do this in reverse by hiking up the Silver Lake Trail,” says Steve Graff. Most people can do it in about an hour depending on their condition. Morning is a great time for this hike. The views are incredible around the east side of Bald Mountain as one sees the Jordanelle Reservoir and, in the distance, the Uinta Mountains… In this high desert climate, mornings are generally very cool. In summer, Deer Valley’s morning temperatures range from the upper 40s to the lower 50s at sunrise, before reaching a daytime high somewhere between 70 and 80 degrees. Crisp, mountain air and beautiful, clear views reward the early morning hiker. So, if you choose to hike early to the top of Bald Mountain and get there any time after 10 a.m., you can ride the chairlift down at no charge. Just make sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, a light jacket in the event of a sudden storm and always carry more water than you think you’ll need.
For the next day, a great hike is to follow the Ontario Trail from Silver Lake Village. This trail wraps around the west side of Bald Mountain and offers totally different views. It passes some old silver mine remnants including historical, weathered equipment and winds its way to the top of the mountain at 9,400 feet. Once more, there’s always the option of riding Sterling Express down, or if your legs are still strong and willing, hike down the Silver Lake Trail and make a loop out of it. Just like Silver Lake, Ontario trail is a hiking-only trail. On average, it takes one to one-and-a-half hours to get to the top. When hiking, remember that shoes often cause problems and while you should always wear sturdy hiking shoes on your hikes, make sure they are well broken-in before you start hitting the tails. Always take the time to lace them up properly and make sure to wear good socks. If blisters appear on the first days, the best approach is often to take a day off and have a break. If this is not possible, purchase some moleskin at the local drugstore. Steve suggests “Another option would be to combine a hike up Silver Lake Trail with a descent down Ontario Trail and make it a five-mile round trip with a return by noon at Silver Lake, just in time for lunch at Royal Street Café.”
The third day could be a perfect opportunity to begin hiking from a lower elevation, starting at Snow Park Lodge, and hike up the Deer Crest Trail. This hike is a little over three-miles long, all the way to Silver Lake Village. It is also a multi-use trail, where both hikers and bikers are allowed. The rules of the trails are that bikers yield to hikers. This said, if you notice bikers coming your way and can afford to step off the trail, let them pass; this is a gesture that is always appreciated. A smile and a greeting also go a long way; in short, by just being respectful of each other, all trail users can co-exist very well. The Deer Crest Trail offers yet another set of great views all the way up. Instead of just stopping when reaching Silver Lake Village, continue on to the Mid Mountain Trail and catch Red Cloud Trail up to the top of Flagstaff Mountain at 9,100 feet. From there, ride the Ruby Express Chairlift down to the Empire Lodge. Once there, hike back to Silver Lake via the same Mid Mountain Trail. Upon reaching Silver Lake Village, give your legs another break and download the Silver Lake Express chairlift. Both chairlift rides are free, as there’s no charge for the downhill rides, only the uphill part. This hike is a half-day hike. Including the two chairlift rides, it takes an average person between three-and-a-half to four hours to complete the whole loop. This too can be a perfect morning hike but can also be done at any time during the day. “One of the advantages of hiking at Deer Valley Resort is that the lifts are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, and that there’s always a staff of professional patrollers available to help for any reason,” remarks Steve Graff.
If the weather stays nice, as it does most of the time in the Wasatch Mountains, and no rain is on the forecast, a change of pace is always a wise idea around mid-week. Day four could be used for a guided hike. Deer Valley’s guided hikes are an excellent opportunity to learn what makes the area so unique, see more of nature and hike a little bit less. The resort has a number of guided hiking tours that can be customized to the needs and wants of all guests. They can be focused on local mining history, flora or wildlife. Some of the Deer Valley Guides have a vast knowledge of the local mountains and their surrounding areas. These tours should be booked in advance and can either accommodate small parties (up to five hikers) or larger groups (six to ten hikers), and are all reasonably priced. If you are looking for an even slower day, keep in mind that there is plenty of easy hiking waiting for you around Deer Valley and Park City without climbing a mountain. You can wander on the many trails that criss cross the valley floor, like the Poison Creek Trail, the Rail Trail, the Farm Trail or the more rugged Round Valley trail network, you can use the city-wide free bus system to combine them or when it’s time to return from your adventure.
To crown a typical five-days hiking week, a special trip could take you from Silver Lake to Shadow Lake, a truly picturesque destination, right below Jupiter Peak in Park City Mountain Resort. Another adventurous option is a long-distance hike on the Mid Mountain Trail, another multi-use trail, from Silver Lake Villate to Park City. This hike is a 7 to 8-mile trek, with little change in elevation but it will cover the whole distance that spans the two resorts. If you intend to embark on these longer hikes on your own, make sure you take along copies of the Deer Valley Resort summer trail map and the Mountain Trails Map, should you decide to push all the way to Park City Mountain Resort or even Canyons Resort. Steve stresses “In case of an accident, make sure to have the mountain patrol number on your cell phone (435-615-6208) and remember that you can call between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. After these hours, dial 911 for any emergency.” With very few exceptions, cellular phone coverage is pretty good and is available from almost everywhere on the trails. You could either turn around on the Mid Mountain Trail, working it as an up and back, forge ahead to Canyons Resort if you feel unstoppable, or choose to go down the Spiro Trail to Park City. When you reach your destination, either take advantage of the Park City free bus system to get you back to your accommodations or have lunch or dinner in Park City. This option, that takes about two-and-a-half hours to complete and can be a great afternoon trek since most of the itinerary is well shaded.
This is it; we have just summarized a week’s worth of hikes packed with adventure, gorgeous views and discovery at every corner. You might wonder if there are dangers lurking at the edge of some of the trails. I asked Steve Graff about that and he said “The number one danger in hiking is the weather; always check the forecast before you go and watch for events like thunderstorms or a sudden cold snap.”I also asked him about wildlife and he assured me that most animals will move on and get out of the way, except for moose. Steve added “If you run into a moose, give it plenty of space, make sure you don’t get in between a cow and calf, be patient, try not to startle them, this is their home; remember, you’re just a visitor.”
Now, it’s time to enjoy a week of happy trails in and around Deer Valley Resort.
When Mom and Dad are avid mountain bikers and love to race on fat tires, the next great thing to do is bring the whole family along and have a fun, late day competition, where every one can enjoy the company of friends in a cool mountain environment. That’s what the Midweek Mountain Bike Race Series is all about and they have two upcoming events at Deer Valley Resort. To learn more about the series, I met with Brooke Howard, one of the race co-directors, during a Round Valley event, in Park City, Utah.
JF: How did this program get started?
Brooke Howard: Jay Burke, the original founder of the series, started it at nearby Solitude Resort. At first, it was just a very casual, small group of racers who wanted to compete. Jay was also the founder of the Park City Point 2 Point and as this program grew in popularity, it quickly captured his entire focus away from the series.
JF: So what did you do?
Brooke Howard: At that exact same time, I wanted to start a midweek type of event, maybe not necessarily in mountain biking, but our family came out to the series every Tuesday; it was a wonderful event. My husband and my kids raced and the idea of seeing the series go away was simply terrifying. I met up with Jay and we took over the series. Today, Luke Ratto is my partner and the series’ other co-director.
JF: When did you take over?
Brooke Howard: In March of 2011, so this is our fourth year.
JF: At the program’s inception, how many participants did you have in a given race?
Brooke Howard: Jay was averaging 75 racers and when we took the program over, our first race attracted close to 150 participants, including the kids. We nearly doubled the attendance and today we are averaging about 230 participants per event.
JF: Counting the kids?
Brooke Howard: Not counting the kids! We have about 40 plus children at each event and those are free to participants.
JF: How many events do you have in a season?
Brooke Howard: We organize 12 events.
JF: Where do they take place?
Brooke Howard: We have two at Corner Canyon (near the Point of the Mountain, in Draper, Utah), one in Heber, Utah, four at Solitude, two at Deer Valley Resort, two in Round Valley (Park City) and one at Snowbird.
JF: How long is a loop for the kids?
Brooke Howard: For the kids, we do a mini loop that takes about 15 minutes and depending on the location, we offer different options. For instance, at Deer Valley Resort we create a skills course for them.
JF: What’s the course for adults?
Brooke Howard: For beginners we average four miles. The sport class is about eight to ten miles and the Pros and Experts are between 12 and 16 miles.
JF: Is it the same course for everyone?
Brooke Howard: Yes, for the most part. In the majority of cases, it’s just a matter of doing loops and on other courses, we will have a break-off loop.
JF: Is it always a cross-country type race?
Brooke Howard: Yes.
JF: Why do you offer free registration for children under 12?
Brooke Howard: Mostly to give them a taste of what mountain biking is all about, get them outdoors and exercising. As a matter of fact, and with few exceptions, all the children that come out here are children of racers competing in the main event.
JF: Lucky kids!
Brooke Howard: Right! But that’s not all. Summit Bike Club coach Kristi Henne coaches the free kids race too, so you can see that children are especially cared for and receive our undivided attention.
JF: So you’ve created a program that fosters both a fun and active family outing that everyone can look forward to?
Brooke Howard: Absolutely!
JF: Did the series start with that scope in mind?
Brooke Howard: For me personally, that’s what it was from the beginning: something we did on Tuesday’s with other racers. It’s a casual, family-friendly event, filled with camaraderie and aimed at encouraging health and fitness while helping grow the sport.
JF: How do you get the word out?
Brooke Howard: Facebook is a very good friend of ours, but most importantly, it’s word of mouth.
JF: Are bike shops helping you too?
Brooke Howard: Yes, we have flyers and posters in all the Wasatch Front bike shops, from Springville all the way to Ogden, Salt Lake, Heber, and of course Park City. Bike shops are also actively involved with the series. Locally, we work with White Pine Touring; they support the races in Park City and at Deer Valley.
JF: I’ve also noticed your impressive list of sponsors.
Brooke Howard: Among the main ones, there’s Mark Miller Subaru, our title sponsor behind the funding of our series, and there’s also Backcountry.com who came in last year, as well as Scheels, our 2014 “Wrench’n Sponsor”. Sheels has “trail marshals” who are out on the course, packed with a supply of tools, tubes and the like to help those in need of a fast repair or a tire change. All of our sponsors provide raffle prizes at the end of each event and the end of the season.
JF: Are there prizes at each event?
Brooke Howard: Yes, there are prizes at every single race and our sponsors also provide a monster raffle at the end of the season. Instead of honoring the winners after each race, we accumulate their points and, at the end of season, we award the top five finishers in the expert and pro class with some money and winners in the sport class are awarded with some prizes or a pass for next year. We also give a little goody bag to all the children.
JF: What about the monster raffle?
Brooke Howard: We reserve this one for those who participate in six or more races; prizes are season passes to a ski resort, bike racks and other sporting equipment.
JF: That’s quite a comprehensive program.
Brooke Howard: Indeed! While we are on the subject of rewards, I would also like to mention that, at the end of the season, a portion of our proceeds go back to help maintain the trails and keep providing a wonderful experience to all trail users. All of our funds go back to the trail community both in terms of physical work and cash.
JF: You said earlier that you have two events scheduled for Deer Valley Resort?
Brooke Howard: That’s right. The first event is at Snow Park on June 24 and the next one is at Silver Lake on July 22.
JF: Are both events for children and adults?
Brooke Howard: Yes. Snow Park will be set up as a skills course for kids, while Silver Lake will offer the regular children’s race.
JF: I’m sure many locals will be eager to participate. Could you tell us more about these two events?
Brooke Howard: Registration always begins at 5 p.m. If you register online, the adult entry fee is just $15, or $17 if you register at the race. The free kid race always starts at 6 p.m. and the adult race begins at 6:30 p.m. The adult race is a staggered start, beginning with the pro men and continuing all the way to the beginners group.
JF: Are spectators encouraged to come and cheer the racers?
Brooke Howard: Absolutely! Spectating is free and we love to have crowds at the finish line. We would just love to see you all come out and have a great time mountain biking and cheering the competitors.
In this day and age, any tenure that spans a third of a century is remarkable enough. However, when it also entails two vastly different careers, the feat becomes truly exceptional. Georgia Anderson began her employment with Deer Valley Resort in Human Resources before becoming the director of that department. About 15 years later, she re-invented herself by becoming the director of merchandising and logo licensing! This speaks volumes about the unlimited commitment and energy Deer Valley employees are capable of and how their unwavering leadership can inspire the next generation of employees.
JF: What prepared you for your current career with Deer Valley Resort?
Georgia Anderson: I grew up in Salt Lake City and moved to Park City in 1980; I was working for a small company in town. When I heard that a new ski resort was in the planning process, I immediately applied for a position. I interviewed with Deer Valley and obtained a position as an accounting clerk. The day before I was supposed to start, the director of human resources called me and said, “The person we hired to be my assistant is not coming and we’d love to have you take the job; what do you want to do?” I thought about it and said “Sure, I’ll be in human resources, why not?” As I came on board, things began to grow very fast. After a few months I was made a supervisor and a couple of years later, I became the director of human resources.
JF: So more than looking for a specific job, your desire was to be part of a new, innovative company?
Georgia Anderson: Yes and that’s where it gets interesting because sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if I had not made that choice at the very beginning. I feel so fortunate to have been here during those earlier years, when everything was being planned, the policies were developed and the vision was being formed on how we would become like the Stanford Court Hotel in San Francisco. I even remember personally visiting and experiencing that wonderful hotel and being part of this revolutionary change in the ski industry. At that time, the resort wasn’t open yet and the Snow Park Lodge was still under construction.
JF: Where was your office located?
Georgia Anderson: Our first office was where Starbucks is today on Park Avenue. We were there until the resort opened on December 26, 1981, when our first winter season began and we moved to the new Snow Park Lodge.
JF: Now, you need to explain how you found yourself as director of human resources one day and director of merchandising the next?
Georgia Anderson: I wasn’t looking for a change, but at that time, the retail shop and logo licensing was handled by an outside company. The resort owner really wanted to bring that function inhouse and have someone in charge who understood the brand, had passion for that project and could take the lead. Our attorney for the resort knew that, and since we were working closely on human resources issues, she also knew me well. So one day, out of the blue, she called me and said, “Georgia, you have a degree in fashion-merchandising and I think you should consider becoming the new director of merchandising!”
JF: How did you respond?
Georgia Anderson: I first said, ”What are you talking about?” I was afraid to make a change but after thinking it over I decided that I could to do this. I loved the challenge, yet it was a huge shift for me, from dealing with thousands of employees to moving into merchandise and product development.
JF: When was that?
Georgia Anderson: It’s been about 16 years.
JF: How did you actually get this program started at Deer Valley Resort?
Georgia Anderson: We brought it inhouse and we established two Signatures stores; one here in Snow Park and the other at Silver Lake, then we moved the Snow Park location upstairs and added our Main Street store later on.
JF: Are you just in charge of the Signatures stores?
Georgia Anderson: No, I also oversee NextGen DV, the children outerwear store that we’ve been operating for three years. Also we have Shades of Deer Valley, our sunglasses and goggles specialty shop at Snow Park that we’ve been operating for seven years, and finally, also at Snow Park, there’s Deer Valley Etc., the espresso bar where we offer a lot of fun kitchen and gift items as well as a large selection of logo mugs.
JF: How many employees work in these stores?
Georgia Anderson: There are about 65 employees, mostly part-time, but they are an amazing group of individuals!
JF: What about online sales?
Georgia Anderson: We’ve been selling online for about 10 years and this business has grown steadily over time. Today we’re looking forward to making a change with our eCommerce cart that should boost our volume further. Our most popular online purchases are Deer Valley Gift Cards and the Turkey Chili mix.
JF: Were you also involved with the 2002 Store during the winter games?
Georgia Anderson: Absolutely! As we moved towards the 2002 Winter Olympics, just before the turn of the century, we added our 2002 Store, which was located in the Snow Park Lodge where SharpShooter Imaging is today. We operated that store throughout the 2001 – 2002 winter season. We were able to offer some incredible items, including our own Deer Valley Olympic pins, which was both a wonderful and fun merchandising opportunity!
JF: Besides the pins, what did you sell?
Georgia Anderson: We offered merchandise that had both Olympic and Deer Valley logos since we were an official venue and were in the midst of so many Olympic competitions.
JF: While we are on the subject of the Deer Valley logo, how did it get started and how was the brand created?
Georgia Anderson: My understanding is that the “Deer Valley” name itself was Polly Stern’s idea. Polly was the wife of Edgar Stern, founder of Deer Valley. I believe that the ad agency at the time created the logo and that Polly was also closely involved with its development and design. It has evolved ever so slightly over the years, but the deer head inside the aspen leaf has always remained. We are very fortunate to work with a brand and a logo that are so powerful and carry such widespread recognition.
JF: How are new items sourced and developed for your Signatures stores?
Georgia Anderson: Sometimes people approach me with design ideas; of course, we attend many trade shows, we also have some long standing vendors that may come up with new variations on their designs, but the most fun for us is when we’re creating something totally new, like Christmas ornaments. For instance, we took inspiration from our mascots, like “Bucky the Deer,” and last year we developed a 3-D ornament featuring Bucky on skis. Step-by-step, we’ve seen this project evolve from a rough concept into a completely finished product and the whole process has been extremely gratifying!
JF: Someone mentioned the Avalanche Dog merchandise to me; what is that?
Georgia Anderson: I’m glad you asked! About a year and a half ago, our Ski Patrol avalanche dog handlers approached me and said they are always asked by guests about the availability of merchandise featuring their rescue dogs. So this is how we developed the Avalanche Rescue Dog collection, with its distinctive dog and deer logo! When you purchase these articles, the proceeds go the Avalanche Rescue Dog program; this is a great way to sponsor the dogs and provide a great gift idea for guests who want to reward the person watching after their dog while they’re visiting Deer Valley!
JF: What are your best selling items?
Georgia Anderson: As I explained, we have many different stores, but the number-one selling item in all of them is the Turkey Chili mix! Another popular item is our little replica trail signs that we can even customize. We also sell lots of t-shirts, ball caps and coffee mugs.
JF: All are wonderful Deer Valley memories that people can use or see year-round!
Georgia Anderson: Exactly!
JF: What is your driving philosophy in picking a new product?
Georgia Anderson: First and foremost, it needs to reflect what Deer Valley Resort stands for in terms of quality and design. It can be playful though and doesn’t have to be serious all the time. We call this process passing the “Polly Test.” By this, we mean that when we’re considering new merchandise, we always ask, “Would Polly Stern approve of it?” Today, when we decide on a new product, there are things we feel good about and things that might concern us. If an item elicits too many questions or raises too many doubts, we simply won’t select it.
JF: How do you arrive at your price points?
Georgia Anderson: We cover all price points. Our products always represent an excellent value; for instance, anyone can come into our stores and find a good quality t-shirt that’s not overpriced.
JF: Can you give us a few examples, ranging from the most expensive down to the most affordable item?
Georgia Anderson: Sure, we have a 14-carat gold necklace with diamonds on it, made locally, priced at over $1,600 and a sticker that only costs a couple of dollars. We also offer a full range of polo shirts priced from $39 to $99!
JF: What have been the most important lessons you’ve learned over these 33 years with Deer Valley Resort?
Georgia Anderson: I think attention to detail is paramount. The little things take a lot of time, but they add up to a whole lot and can make a tremendous difference. Even though it takes so much energy to attend to the most minute detail, we take the time to always do it and we constantly take pride in doing things right!
JF: Now, if you keep that focus on details into consideration and take a sweeping view over your entire tenure with the company, what is your own personal definition of the “Deer Valley Difference?”
Georgia Anderson: It is the combined dedication and commitment from everyone to keep passionate about doing things right and keeping going back to our roots. We are not standing still though, as we always strive to improve our products and services. This approach is ingrained into our culture and we embrace change while preserving the personal touch.
Director of Skier Service, John Guay oversees the entire Deer Valley Ski School, the resort ski rental operations, children’s center and lift ticket sales. So, if you are a skier and are about to enjoy Deer Valley Resort, you will appreciate the many services that John has developed and polished over a period of 33 years!
JF: What did you do before joining Deer Valley Resort?
John Guay: I was in snow ski school supervisor at nearby Park West, today known as Canyons. I began there on the first of January 1975. At that time, the ski school director was short staffed and asked me if I wanted to teach skiing.
JF: Did you take the job?
John Guay: Yes, I gave it a try and that’s how I got involved. I begin by teaching groups of kids coming from Salt Lake City, I joined PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America), went through my certification process and ended up as a supervisor there.
JF: How was business during these early years?
John Guay: Quite different from today. The teaching quality had room for improvement. I remember teaching up to 25 kids in one class! We also had some peculiar habits; the lodge and the slopes at the resort were taken over by the staff to the point that, some days, there wasn’t much space left for the guests. We were all thinking about skiing and obviously didn’t focus much on ski guests.
JF: How did you make the transition from Park West to Deer Valley?
John Guay: As a ski school supervisor, I enjoyed working with instructors and loved my position. Yet, at the same time, this small resort had a lot of financial challenges. This is about the time when we began to hear about Deer Valley Resort coming to the area and bringing a new dimension in professionalism and service.
JF: What did you decide to do?
John Guay: I figured that if I wanted to stay in the ski industry and start a stable career, I needed to take the jump. I applied for a position with Deer Valley to find out what this new resort was all about.
JF: Did you see Deer Valley as a diamond in the rough?
John Guay: I think so; part of it was the consistency of work and the chance of being associated with a professional company. In addition, we also experienced some tough drought years in the late seventies and snowmaking was barely beginning. A little resort like Park West had very limited snowmaking infrastructure and the rumor about Deer Valley was all about modern chairlifts, snowmaking and grooming, so these possibilities alone had a huge appeal on me.
JF: Can you share with us how your first interview with Deer Valley went?
John Guay: Sure; I applied for a supervisor position. We met at Silver Lake in the spring of 1981. There was no lodge yet, so we met in a small cabin, I believe it was a real estate sales office for the Silver Lake Village. We met Stein Eriksen and some other people. We all went on the mountain where a great number of trails had already been cut. It was immediately apparent to me that all the runs had been laid out really well, you didn’t traverse much as all the trails were cut into the fall line. This was really impressive. It was also at the end of a great snow year and skiing that day was fabulous; I remember following Stein on a brand new mountain where nobody had been before!
JF: What happened after that first visit?
John Guay: I started in November of 1981. It took a while until we knew who was going to be head of the ski school. Sal Raio, a coach of the PSIA demonstration team, got the director position. When I met Sal, he offered me a job of supervisor. There would be two of us overseeing a staff of 24 instructors. He gave me the initial task of creating a weekly schedule that I had to prepare in one month. The group of instructors Sal had put together was hugely experienced and this created a tremendous challenge for me to earn the trust of such an impressive team.
JF: In this early years, was the concept of superior guest service already part of the Deer Valley’s culture?
John Guay: Yes. It started with that initial interview with Stein the spring before I was hired. Already, the idea that the mountain was for the guests stood as a central principle. Later that first season, Edgar Stern, Deer Valley Resort’s founder, explained a number of concepts during our early training sessions. It started with the anticipation that guests have before they even get to a resort, then their experience when they reach the place, the importance of a friendly and professional staff to greet them, the pristine beauty of manicured slopes up above, and so on.
JF: So, from the get go, Edgar Stern’s vision was already guest-centered.
John Guay: Absolutely! Edgar Stern always stressed that the guests expect people that are friendly, attentive, always ready to help and answer questions. A ski vacation is a major endeavor and when guests reach their destination, they’re pretty much frazzled and need to be well cared for.
JF: I can appreciate the importance of feeling welcomed.
John Guay: But that wasn’t all; there was also the importance of well groomed runs, which was kind of a revolutionary idea back in 1981; then of course, came the the cuisine, having nice restaurants could make a tremendous difference, because back in these days, food quality at ski resorts was poor. Finally there were ancillary concerns like attention to details, like having coffee always at the right temperature, picking up papers around the resort and the like.
JF: How did the staff buy into that culture?
John Guay: Well, it took some time. At first, there was some fall-out, it wasn’t without some challenges. Communicating that vision was tough, but for those of us who stayed with it, the effort was well worth it. And this probably explains why over the years, we’ve reached a tremendous employee retention rate.
JF: Did these high expectations influence hiring?
John Guay: As I got involved with the hiring process, we followed a very strict approach. You had to have an in-person interview. We certainly looked at job-specific skills, in terms of teaching experience. Obviously, we knew that we could teach people how to ski better or how to become better teachers if they lacked a bit in these areas, but we realized that we couldn’t change a person. In other words, a person’s demeanor, personality and attitude had to offer the right fit for what we were trying to achieve.
Then there was also the family experience weighting heavily into Sal’s vision; we wanted people that were family friendly. At that point though, the industry’s approach, as far as instructing was concerned, was to get a foot in the door, get some teaching experience, starting with beginners and children, and then move on to experts and adults. But the reality is that most adults and experts don’t need ski lessons nearly as much as children and first-time skiers, so we needed instructors that were good at the whole package and were willing to teach kids and could be really good with them.
JF: Are you saying that you were looking for staff members that had empathy and could put themselves inside the ski boots of these new skiers?
John Guay: That’s exactly right; it’s easy for people who are just good skiers to lose track of that concept. We needed people that enjoyed working with first time skiers, that were patient, that didn’t move too fast, and that had great communication skills.
JF: How does Deer Valley Resort stands in terms of teaching culture?
John Guay: From the get go, we’ve always embraced the PSIA humanistic teaching philosophy by creating unique lesson plans tailored to the needs of our students.
In the late ’90s though, we began to compare our most successful instructors with the PSIA methodology. We found out that our best instructors didn’t operate in a linear fashion, but instead followed some basic themes in working with their students. We came away with a three-part teaching model. The first element was the relationship. Then came the activities and finally the supporting information that could take the form of visual aids or verbal comments.
JF: You weren’t just focused on skiing technique?
John Guay: That is correct; the mechanical aspects of skiing were only part of the process as we were pushing even more towards the development stages of our learners and we made certain that our staff embraced that approach and could influence generations of skiers season after season. Kids that once started with us are now bringing their own children.
JF: Does this mean that entire generations of skiers have become loyal customers?
John Guay: Yes, we’ve created a continued, natural cycle. While our clientele may sometime question the value of the money spent in ski school, we do strive to exceed their expectations. We know that if we do a great job taking care of our skiers, they’ll want to return and get more of that special time Deer Valley is able to supply. So part of our teaching philosophy is to learn how to turn a pair of skis and the other part is to create a fun and comfortable environment to the point where guests truly enjoy themselves, want to come back and and bring their own children into the process.
JF: Would you say that Deer Valley leads the way in terms of ski instruction?
John Guay: Deer Valley occupies a very unique position because of its unique ski-in, ski-out properties, its overall design and lay out as a resort, as well as the popularity of its programs and the volume of its activities. We, in fact, have a very hard time to meet the demand we’ve created. We recruit on a year-round basis, we hire and train people all the time and have become the largest ski school in the region. Surprisingly, this high volume of activity has enhanced the quality of our staff; they are not just instructors, they double as concierges and will do whatever it takes to satisfy our guests.
JF: Has this success had a synergistic effect on the entire resort?
John Guay: I think so; our training programs are designed to break down the individual “silos” that unavoidably prop up between divisions. We spare no effort to present a common face for Deer Valley and if a guest bumps into anyone working at the resort, whether it’s a lift operator, a customer service person or a food service employee, each one is trained to address that guest’s question or need and do whatever it takes to find the right answer or solution.
JF: Now, when you look into the future, how do you create new services?
John Guay: Over the years, we’ve never ceased to come up with innovative ideas. We tried moguls, telemark and parallel workshops, women specific programs and so on. Some programs have showed some staying power like our women programs or the Mahre Camps. More recently, we introduced Steeps and Stashes, a program that capitalizes on Deer Valley’s unique variety of terrain. We’re definitely looking at adding new products, yet a the same time, we don’t want to detract from our high-demand areas which always have been the lower ability zones and the new families with children.
JF: So after 33 years of exciting and nonstop developments, what in you views constitutes that Deer Valley Difference?
John Guay: First and foremost it is the quality of the guest experience. Hiring the right people and communicating that vision to all the staff, no matter what position they’re in is a crucial component in reaching that goal. We’re all here for that guest. The real vision is that when we are working, the mountain is there for our guests. When we are not working, we can be just like a guest and can go out and enjoy that same experience. But before anything, we want to take care of the guests that are here so they enjoy their experience!
Bryan is another first year staff member working as an assistant in the Human Resources Department. Until recently he was a member of the Utah Opera and has performed all over the world. He is also one of a select pair of Deer Valley male employees who come to work daily, wearing some form of neck-wear. Bryan distinguishes himself by wearing a bow-tie!
JF: Bryan, what was you occupation before joining Deer Valley Resort?
Bryan: I was performing with the Utah Opera and was also working for the Marriott Hotel Corporation while attending Medical School. I dropped out of Medical School because I found out that it wasn’t really for me. I did a lot of searching and concluded that I wanted to be involved with people, that I needed to use all my customer service and hospitality experience and found that Human Resources was probably the best bet for me. I started looking for some internship or entry level experience involved with human resources and that’s what landed me at Deer Valley Resort.
JF: How was your experience as an Opera Singer?
Bryan: I was raised in an Air Force Military family so I grew up moving all the time as a kid. Before I went to college, I actually visited India; you see, travel is in my blood. Then I went to school to be a music teacher. In order to get my scholarship, I had to take private lessons of some kind and eventually interviewed with the Chicago Symphony and, much of my surprise, was accepted as the youngest person in their chorus. That’s where my singing career took off and from there, I did internship, composition, conducting and I ended up in Germany for a while.
JF: What did you like about singing?
Bryan: I liked that I was good at it [chuckle]! It’s something that came naturally to me and because I traveled so much as a kid, it wasn’t difficult for me to move around, so people and travel where the areas I enjoyed most, more so than simply performing.
JF: And what didn’t you like?
Bryan: Opera singing is a very unstable profession, especially if I wanted to stay in the United States. Unlike Europe, there isn’t a great need for Opera appreciation in America, it’s more of a status thing. It also got to a point when I became tired of traveling, just because I had being doing it for so long. I had it with my romantic bohemian experience!
JF: What put you in contact with Deer Valley?
Bryan: I was looking for an entry-level human resources type job, because I was working on my professional certification and that experience was something I needed. I searched all over the places in the hospitality industry and the Deer Valley opportunity got my attention, I applied and obtained the position!
JF: What attracted you to Human Resources?
Bryan: People! I really like people, I like to help others, I like to be of service.
JF: What did you do with Marriott?
Bryan: I worked in the front office, worked at the front desk, checking in guests, working the phones, doing errands for special people, solving problems nonstop!
JF: Where did you live when you heard about the Deer Valley opportunity?
Bryan: Salt Lake City. I sill live there. Yet, at first, I wasn’t sure about the commute. This wasn’t the most convenient location for me, and in actuality, I had never set foot in Deer Valley before the first day I came to work. No one had ever met me in person!
JF: So, you were hired, sight unseen?
Bryan: You could say that.
JF: That’s amazing! Did you have a Skype interview?
Bryan: No. We just did everything over the phone!
JF: You must have sounded perfectly right; congratulations!
Bryan: Thank you!
JF: How much did you know about the ski industry prior to taking that job? Were you a skier?
Bryan: I didn’t know much about the ski industry but I skied a lot while I was in Seattle getting my Masters.
JF: What are your day-to-day job responsibilities?
Bryan: I aid in the hiring process, I help new hires get oriented, I help with employee appreciation programs, all day, I answer the phone and questions about the various positions or the benefits. It never stops. I never had to memorize so many names in my entire life!
JF: When you got on board, what were you expecting?
Bryan: Even though the position was a bit different than what I had imagined, I liked what I found. I definitely found that HR was the right place for me, I didn’t expect the position to be as busy as it is though, but this is because we’re seasonal, yet the job is very enjoyable, I work with a great group of people who makes it fun!
JF: What kind of welcome and support did you receive from your co-workers?
Bryan: From day one it was so different from the other jobs I had before. It was overwhelming in a good way, everyone wanted to help, and all made me feel comfortable. Everyone was also so approachable. My birthday was soon after I stated working, so they made me a cake and it made feel so welcome!
JF: What are the most important things you’ve picked up since you’ve been working with Deer Valley?
Bryan: That there was a big difference between helping guests and helping my fellow employees. Since I’m mostly in contact with our staff, I sometimes have to say “no” to some of their requests. “No” had never been a part of my professional vocabulary and I have found this adjustment a bit difficult.
JF: Since you’re now fully immersed within the Human Resources Department, what would you say are the key qualities required from those who wish to work at Deer Valley?
Bryan: I think they definitely have to want to be here! I don’t ski, so I’m not here for the snow, but I like the experience, the environment and my co-workers are the main reason for me to want to be here.
JF: When you hire people, what are you looking for?
Bryan: Usually you can tell if someone is willing to learn or if they enjoy learning, but I would say that having the right attitude is the most essential quality!
JF: So, Bryan, now that we know more about you and your remarkable career path, what in your view makes the Deer Valley Difference?
Bryan: Part of the Deer Valley difference is helping our guests but it’s also helping each other. The position I’m in focuses on the “helping each other” aspect. Deer Valley is extremely supportive of its employees, there are many of people who have an “open office policy” and in my daily work, we’re constantly working on employee appreciation programs, adding policies on how to improve benefits, to make everyone fully appreciated, and to keep on nurturing a wonderful group of people!
Over the past 15 years, Freestlyle skiing has become a Deer Valley tradition. Not only did the resort host the 2002 Olympic Aerials, Alpine Slalom and Mogul events, but it has also held two World Championships and a dozen World Cups over this time span. The very first Freestyle World Championships were held in 1986. Two years later, mogul skiing was a demonstration sport in Calgary before becoming an official medal event at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics. World class mogul skiers who come to Deer Valley Resort to compete appreciate its challenging run on Champion ski run, as well as its impeccable and fun filled organization.
Like an overwhelming number of mogul enthusiasts, I never miss the annual Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley early in the year, and the dual moguls event in particular. Why the dual moguls? Because it’s a turbo-charged version of the regular event, as not just one, but two competitors, are jousting neck-to-neck, fighting the tremendous pressure of completing the run, in addition to managing the thought of having an opponent just ahead or right on their tail.
For the spectators it doubles up the excitement and the potential for upsets. All these elements are why I didn’t want to miss the dual mogul event when I heard that the 2014 U.S. Freestyle National Championships would be held at Deer Valley Resort at the end of March. Since I couldn’t attend the regular mogul competition on Friday, I set my sights on the dual moguls held the last Sunday of March.
I must admit that the usual Deer Valley spring sun wasn’t present that day. Instead, a fierce blizzard had taken over the mountain, with strong gusts of wind and a steady snowfall that would increase in ferocity as the competition came to its conclusion. There were about 60 men and 40 women engaged in that event and all would dual in a succession of heats, beginning at round 32.
As an official Deer Valley blogger and videographer, I was given access to the start of the race, where competitors get a plunging view of the slope below. In reality, the slope on Champion ski run is so steep that from the start, competitors can just see one edge that transitions down into the finish area. That’s right, the grade is so forbidding that the whole field of moguls isn’t even discernible – it’s a straight line separating start and finish – and the two sets of jumps can barely be spotted as the eye scans down towards the area where the spectators are massed!
That said, it takes a lot of courage, cool concentration, good preparation, and great physical shape to launch from the top of Champion! I watched the entire competition, making notes and taking pictures. While the fresh snow falling in abundance kept the course rather soft, it held remarkably well and the only challenge was visibility that, at times, made the contest even much more competitive than it would have been under normal, sunny circumstances.
In particular, it wasn’t easy on competitors who had to constantly switch goggles because of the heavy snow that dumped nonstop, and to make things even more stressful, skiers had to duel from a round of 32 participants, something unusual when compared to World Cup events where it only start at 16.
As usual, the women completed their runs first and the contest was won by Eliza Outtrim, from Hamden, Connecticut, who had already won the single mogul event on Friday. These successive victories brought Outtrim a total of three U.S. Titles to her name! Second in that dual mogul contest was Sophia Schwartz from Steamboat Springs, Colorado while Elizabeth O’Connell from Winter Park, Colorado took third.
In the mens category, Bradley Wilson, a Deer Valley Resort athlete, climbed on the highest step of the podium, while local Nick Hanscom from Park City took second, preceding Joe Discoe from Telluride, Colorado.
When the race was over and just after the award ceremony took place in the finish area, I ran into Bob Wheaton, President and General Manager of Deer Valley Resort who introduced me to Skip McKinley, one of the male competitors.
Remarkably, Skip ran the rental ski department at Deer Valley some 33 years ago, but even more remarkable was the fact that the man was still competing at Deer Valley Resort that day, and managed to finish in the top 40 at more than 60 years of age.
What an incredible achievement and what an inspiration to all of us that would love to ski bumps but no longer have the skills, nor the “suspension” required to make it to the bottom of the course. Way to go Skip!