Adventures in Mountain Hosting with Michael O’Malley

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How long have you been a Deer Valley Mountain Host, Michael?

This is already my sixth season, and I can certify that this is the best job there is in the State of Utah!

What is the job of a Mountain Host at Deer Valley Resort?

It’s like being an on-slope concierge; we are here to help our guests, to answer their questions, to direct them to the best skiing possible, to let them know where they can rent their equipment or where the best dining can be found.  We’re sort of social problem-solvers for our guests.

How many Mountain Hosts work at Deer Valley Resort?

We are about three dozen strong. First and foremost, our Mountain Hosts are all excellent skiers; they can take skiers safely anywhere on the mountain. We are a personable and lively group. Most of us are part-timers and our ranks include lawyers, engineers, real estate agents, entrepreneurs, sales people, river guides, medical professionals, a retired fire-fighter, a judge and several marketing people.

This diversity makes for some very interesting morning meetings. We all share a common love for skiing, a commitment to professionalism and we love helping people. We may laugh and joke, but we take our job extremely seriously. When we take guests on a tour, we want them to really relax so they can enjoy the mountain and we hold the privilege of putting the icing on the cake of a wonderful mountain experience.

What else do you do besides assist your visiting guests?

Well, over the course of a season, we end up helping almost every other department in a multitude of little ways. For example, we stamp-out lift lines on powder days, we help Ski Patrol by doing guest downloads on chairlifts, we empty the trash and the recycling cans, we restock the trail map boxes at the ticket windows and so forth.  As we all know, anything can happen any day and we, the hosts, try to be good, creative problem-solvers on behalf of our guests and fellow employees. Did I mention that we won’t hesitate to give a good morning scrub at the toilets on the top of Bald Mountain?

mh2 (1)What do you generally do when you are stationed by the trail maps?

When someone comes up to a trail map, we try to assess their needs. We ask them simple questions, like “What kind of terrain do you want to ski?” and they may say, “We like blue groomers…” and we direct them to the best groomed slope on that mountain, that day. One of their frequent questions is “How do we get from point A to point B?” We ask them “Do you want to ski a blue run or a green run?” We think on our feet and answer their questions on the spot, as there might be other people waiting with their own needs. We often hear the same questions, but we always get to the heart of the matter quickly and efficiently so guests can fully enjoy their day at Deer Valley.

So, what are the most typical questions you get asked?

It’s essentially about directions.  Most of what I hear could almost be just answered by “Go down Blue Bell and take every right-hand turn…” And there is “How do we get to the Empire Lodge?” or “Where’s the way to Lady Morgan chairlift?” sometimes, “Where’s the base of Silver Strike?” and always “What’s the best way to get back to Snow Park?”

First-time Deer Valley skiers invariably need to get oriented and must learn how to take either Homestake or Crown Point chairlifts to get to the top of Bald Eagle before they can reach the bottom of Snow Park.  It takes a little explaining that Snow Park is at the base of everything… Another daily question we get is “What’s the best green run?” Or “where’s the best snow” or even “where’s the sun?” as most runs at ski areas are facing North and they don’t get direct sun exposure at all times of the day…

mh1Deer Valley is famous for its complimentary Mountain Tours; what are they exactly?

These tours exist for our guest’s enjoyment. Each day, we offer five of them. We start at 9:30 a.m. with an expert tour that stays on Bald Mountain and includes the Mayflower and Sultan areas, then we have a 10 a.m. intermediate tour with two options, a “mellow” and a more aggressive one. Both tours stay on blue groomed runs and while they use the same terrain, they only differ in their pace. These three tours depart from the base of the Carpenter Express.

Then, at 1:30 p.m., we have an intermediate tour and an expert tour that both depart from the Sterling Express. Before each tour, we conduct an assessment run to determine the level of each participant. Occasionally we have to advise someone that a tour may not be suited to them, but most of the time, we can fit each skier into a homogeneous group; we’re a little more demanding on the level of participants during the morning expert tour, but there’s more flexibility on the intermediate tour.

Are you also the ears and the eyes of Deer Valley Resort on the mountain?

We certainly are on the front line of hearing what our guests are thinking or what they’re experiencing and we can feed that information back to management. For the most part what we hear is extremely positive. Deer Valley is known for its outstanding service and our guests appreciate what all of its employees do for them, from the parking attendants to the valets, the groomers, the snow-makers, the ski school staff, all the way to the chefs at each one of our day lodges.

We’re also an extra set of ears, eyes and even hands for our ski patrol. We all have radios and can communicate with them in the case of an incident or when a patroller needs help with traffic or some situations demand it.

What’s the weirdest things you’ve have ever heard?

I didn’t hear that one personally and it’s almost an apocryphal question asked of a Mountain Host some long time ago: “At what elevation do the deer turn into elk?”

What’s the most fun stuff you do?

I’d say that first and foremost, it’s leading an expert tour on a powder day. This said leading any tour on any day is always great fun. I also really enjoy running as the “rabbit” (lead skier) on the Deer Valley’s First Tracks program. Of course, answering questions at the trail map on a sunny day and helping people in a myriad of ways like rescuing a dropped pole or a glove on a fun trail, like Square Deal.

And what’s the most challenging part of your job?

Answering questions at the Bald Mountain trail map when it’s only 10 degrees and the wind is blowing sideways, loaded with snow pellets. It can also be doing speed control at the “Slow” signs on Success after the sun goes down and the evening cold begins to bite, it’s also re-assuring guests that there’s no blue or black run from the top of Flagstaff to the Empire Canyon Lodge.

What do you do when the unexpected happens?

As I just said, getting an expert tour on a powder day is always a privilege. A couple of weeks ago, I was being assigned such a tour and was on my way to the meeting place at the bottom of Sterling Express. I was coming down Homeward Bound at about 1:10 p.m. and I suddenly spotted a guest, a novice skier, who had gone off the trail, under the rope and down into the ski embankment.

She might have had a brief, wonderful powder run 30 feet down below, but was totally unable to climb back the steep drop on her own. I reassured her and called the ski patrol to bring a rope and help her back to the run. But by the time the patrol came and we safely rescued the skier, I had missed my 1:30 p.m. tour and I can only hope that my supervisor will take pity on me and reschedule me very soon!

And to conclude, what’s the weirdest incident that you’ve witnessed?

I was on station at the Bald Eagle trail map when someone alerted me that a beginner skier had just unloaded from the Carpenter Express chairlift with one of her skis on backwards. While it sounded hard to believe, I thanked the concerned guest and headed down Success in hot pursuit. Sure enough, halfway down the first pitch of the run, I spotted the beginner and could see that one of her skis was on backwards. She was doing a reasonable wedge despite the mismatched tips.

I managed to get her to slow down and pull over without startling her. She was from overseas and could only manage rudimentary English, but I had no difficulty communicating the issue to her.  Quickly, I got her straightened out and on her way.  How she jammed her boot into the binding to survive the lift ride, the unloading, and making a number of turns was beyond me, but clearly this lady had the “right stuff!”

 

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