Originally published on TravelSalt.com
This review of the new Montage Resort in Deer Valley is dedicated to the letter M: the Montage signature letter. It’s also a letter for many important things in my life. Yes, it’s the first letter of my last name: Merrell. Very true. Which rhymes with my favorite actress’s name, also an M word: Meryl. Then there’s my significant other who took leave from being so significant this fall, late in September. That person’s name also begins with an M. Actually both the first and last names are M words. The rest of that name I’ll keep to myself. The double letter M is also true of my friend and brother-in-law: Michael M. All of us call him Mike.
I start with this bit, not to be particularly mysterious - another M word, or cute - not an M word; but to give you a fuller spectrum of what I experienced at the Montage and how my own life mixed with that experience. That pesky and haunting letter M.
We start with some basics. First, the drive up Parley’s Canyon - enjoy it. It’s a lovely drive and if you happen to be pushing the hill with your brother, Mike’s, turbo-charged Nissan pick-up, then, well.... it’s pretty friggin’ amazing. I felt like Claire Fisher in that final episode of Six Feet Under when she drives across the country overtaking history and those clunky oil rigs chugging along the road. Right from the get-go, you have views of the Uinta Mountains no one should miss.
I don't know about you, but I like to talk to myself while I drive. And I tell myself jokes. Or sing. I pretend there’s a secret camera installed in the rear-view mirror and that people I love can see me putting on a show. Even if no one else is really watching, the statement is true. “Ooh, gross,” I can just hear you saying. To which I reply, “Don’t knock love. Even self-love Consider that golden rule of rules: Love yourself - love everyone else.”
I’ll tell you now before we even arrive on Montage property that a visit there will both confirm and mystify your sense of love. Ooh, 'mystify.' Another M word.
So you get off the freeway and drive up to Park City. Here’s a first tip for you. If you’re using a GPS to find the Montage - which I was - don’t believe it when you pull off the round-about onto Marsac Avenue and that electronic male or female voice says, “You have arrived at your destination. It is on the...right.” It’s just simply not true. When you arrive at the Montage Resort in Deer Valley, believe me, you’ll know it. Keep driving until you get all the way up Marsac. The road will twist and curve but there will be signs and the entrance, itself, is unmistakable.
I pulled into a formidable drive and was greeted by Rob. He shook my hand and welcomed me to the Montage, then whisked my bags away and sent my (excuse me, Mike’s) truck off to be parked. Valet parking at the Montage is a complimentary part of the service. Give the valet a tip, though. It’s rude not to. I’m a bit like Hannibal Lectar in that sense; I don’t believe in rude.
Up I went into the grand lobby where Rob showed me to the front desk. I hung out here and chatted with Alyssa for a few minutes. Alyssa is from central Utah and very approachable. There was no line to check in and my guess is you won’t be ‘hanging out‘ there. The reason I did is because I was meeting the hotel’s PR director for a tour of the joint. And along he came: Mr. Dan Howard.
Here are some things I learned from Dan Howard’s tour...
The art around the Montage is prominent and they commission much of the work on display, using local artists from Utah and the west.
Montage Deer Valley is the third of the Montage family of properties. The first is its flagship in Laguna Beach which opened in 2003. The second is in Beverly Hills and opened in 2008. As you may already know, Montage Deer Valley just opened in December 2010. I was to learn later in the tour that Dan has not been off-property for forty-five days. This he revealed to me with a feigned laugh of delirium. Dan has a biting and slightly crazed sense of humor which I found very satisfying.
Montage is a mile higher up than Silver Lake and Stein Eriksen, which makes it the highest resort in Deer Valley.
From the lobby, we stopped by the espresso bar, Buzz, which not only sells a variety of coffees and gelatos, but also honey from the Montage’s own resident bee keeper. They do call Utah the Beehive State, folks, and having a bee keeper makes for a nice homage not only to the state, but, incidentally, to my papa, who, among other things, was also a bee keeper. Another incidental, my papa’s name is also a double M: Melvin Merrell. I know, I know, what a Melvin! He is no longer with us, so be nice.
Montage has three restaurants. Apex is the signature restaurant where you can get breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This area has a great blend of light and shadow and can also be divided into three sections for groups or family gatherings. They also have a skier buffet so people have the option of ordering off the menu or stuffing themselves on a buffet that makes others I've seen look like a soup kitchen. Apex was hopping with guests and music from a live musician as we walked through. Dan tells me the curator at the Montage hires local artists, including its performers; the goal being to provide a rich, local experience that couldn’t happen anywhere but right here at the big M - Montage Deer Valley.
From Apex we went to Compass, a large room with floor-to-ceiling windows and doors leading out to the slopes. This is where guests come for the amazing ski access. True to form, Montage does everything they can to be sure skiers don’t have to handle their own equipment. Each guest’s ski gear is pre-scanned and the information transmitted to the valet’s iPad. This helps the valet to keep track of what belongs to whom and also gives the valet opportunity to add any equipment the skier might be missing. Mmmm - ‘missing’ - another M word.
Deer Valley Resort has a desk at Compass where guests can buy lift tickets and arrange for lessons. From there, you just turn around and walk out to the slope where you’ll find the Empire chair as well as Ruby - which takes you up to Flagstaff and runs down to Stein Eriksen. Also just around the corner and under the drive is the Lady Morgan Express.
Close to Compass is the Montage’s signature kids’ program for five to twelve-year-olds called Paint Box. If you need a break for skiing or just to get away, kids can come here to learn about art and also participate in a host of outdoor activities. Paint Box accommodates half-day or full-day schedules for those traveling jet-setters who just don’t have time for their own offspring. Just kidding. All of us know it’s good - and healthy -to take a break. And knowing your kids are going to enjoy their away-time is a good thing to keep in your pocket here at the Montage.
Next it was off to one of my favorite spots: Daly’s Pub. This is number two of the three restaurants. Here I met the host, Gloria, who was full of energy and friendly charm. She gave me the run-down of entertainment, including the four-lane bowling alley, darts, pool, classic arcade games like pac-man, four wii stations, foosball, and shuffleboard. Wait, did I say four-lane bowling alley? Indeed, I certainly did.
“But the reason to come is not the games,” says Gloria. “The reason to come is our fabulous food. Chicken Pot Pie with a buttery, flakey crust; the sicilian pizza; our burger with applewood smoked bacon and aged cheddar cheese... And save room for the s’mores sunday or the traditional root beer float.” She sent me away with an appetite for more. This, I decided, is where I would be eating. And so I did.
Around the corner we went and walked into that four-lane bowling alley. Yes, folks, a bowling alley. All I could say was, “Awesome.”
It’s four lanes and can accommodate up to six people per lane.
“Does anybody else up here have a bowling alley?” I asked
“Uh. No,” said Dan.
“I didn’t think so,” said I.
“It’s a fun amenity for a hotel to have.” Dan dropped this statement in such a throw-away tone; as if the bowling alley were a loofa sponge.
“Uh... Absolutely. It’s like living at the White House,” said I.
“Right. Well, wait ‘til I show you our indoor swimming pool."
The third restaurant is a bistro called Vista which Dan compared to Bouchon. Okay I have to admit I’ve never been to Bouchon, except its bakery in the Time Warner center. Significant other M and I used to go enjoy the warm atmosphere and the great pastries and coffee (or cocoa or tea if coffee’s not your thing) during cold winter days. The bakery also has a great view of Columbus Circle and Central Park. I could relate to Vista in all of these ways immediately. Dan tells me people go there for afternoon and evening cocktails, shellfish, Croque Monsieur, and onion soup. That’s all well and good, but I say they go to Vista for the cozy feeling and the great view. There is an outdoor patio here with comfy chairs and a big open fire pit. Inside is another giant fireplace with sitting areas all around. Like the entire resort, one of Vista’s charms is that, though it’s large, it has plenty of quiet corners and pockets where you can go to sit and sip and chat.
Another charm is the contrast. Dan showed me one of his favorite artifacts on display from the old mining days of Park City; a dented metal lunch box. This reminder of the ‘hands-on’ life of miners set against the dark woods and plush materials, makes for a balance worth noticing. You know you’re not at home, but you feel like you are.
Okay, now off to the rooms...
First off, the resort does not have any connecting rooms. They do it one better. For rooms next to each other that you may want to connect, they close off an outer door in the entry and keep the doors to each room open for families and friends (or ex-presidents and their mistresses) to traverse. Their smallest room is 600 square feet and every single room has a fireplace and a balcony with a patio. While Dan was showing me the balcony he drew back the shades, looked outside, and started grinning. He whispered to me as if someone with a hidden camera were listening. “We just made an inner-tube park out of our Grand Lawn this morning. That’s hilarious. How fun!”
One of my big ‘make-or-break’ areas in a hotel is the bathroom. Montage did not disappoint. The floors are heated, the roomy showers have the standard shower heads but also rain showers. This I like. There’s also a great tub. That’s ‘great’ as in really cool and 'great' as in big enough for you and one more. The Montage gives you a nice bath brush and bath salts, too. And each Montage has it’s own scent for bath products. The Deer Valley Montage’s mix is Lemon, Verbena, and Cedar. I have to admit, I had no friggin’ clue what Verbena is, so I asked Dan to repeat himself when he named the ingredients. He sounded out each word for me. “Leh-mon.” He looked at me with that evil twinkle. “Ver-bee-na....” Another twinkle. “And See-Derrr.”
Turns out - for those of you who can be ridiculously dull like I am at times - Verbena is a genus of flower and many sorts are indigenous to Utah. Like this one found in Zions National Park.
Anyhoo, along with the ability to create multi-room suites for families and groups, you also have a living room with a pull-out sofa. I’d put the kiddies with smaller bodies there. Another, slightly more ornate and whimsical homage to Park City’s mining history hangs here in the living room, too. Each one has a silver chandelier.
So we did our tour of the rooms and after looking through the master bath in one of the suites, I approached a rather anonymous-looking door.
“Ooh, what’s in here?” I asked.
“Uh... that’s a toilet.” Dan didn’t miss a beat. “You know it’s extraordinary that we have those in our bathrooms... but... I’m just here to say we’ve spared no expense here at the Montage...” Dan kept me laughing through the tour. It’s possible he’s missed his calling as a stand-up comedian.
The montage has a total of 154 rooms with 66 additional suites and residences for a total of 220. The residences are on the upper floors.
Off we went to the 35,000 square foot spa, which I pointed out is more space than the gorgeous spa at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. “It’s bigger than anything we have in California, too,” Dan said. We whispered our way through the spa so as not to interrupt the guests and made our way to the indoor pool. It’s lovely. What more can I say? I kept looking for Albert Finney dressed up as Daddy Warbucks, lounging on his back in the water.
All views at the resort, from the balconies to the Vista Lounge to the pool patio, are oriented to the Uintas, which makes for a spacious, open feeling.
The spa’s serenity suite is a couple’s spa treatment room complete with a fire place. I went back to this spot the next morning to see about some photos but they were preparing the room for some guests, so my shots don’t really do it justice. I did have the pleasure of meeting Ms. Loren Kornreich, the spa’s director, so my visit was well worth the effort.
Next we went to the meeting and ball rooms. The Montage will be a big wedding destination during the warmer months with a perfect ceremony spot out on the Grand Lawn. The ballrooms are beautiful as well as the meeting spaces. One of the major downfalls for many meeting rooms I’ve seen is that they’re often in the lower levels of the property and have no natural light. The meeting spaces at the Montage were filled with lovely natural light. Maybe not the best spot for selling off Alaska, but for a company meeting to discuss world peace or hardwood flooring, here’s your venue.
At the end of our tour I wandered around and took a photo or two and then up to my room. I took in the view on the balcony and enjoyed the air. This is one area that I will say could use a minor touch. When I turned to step back into the room, my feet were packed with snow that had fallen earlier. It would be a simple matter to put boot brushes just inside the door to make the experience flawless. I happen to like taking my shoes off and don't enjoy walking around on patches of cold, damp carpet.
I lay on the bed and watched the cursive ‘M’ of the Montage logo floating around both flat screen TVs, taunting me. I have not traveled since significant other M and I broke up, so being here in a luxury spot was both exhilarating and a reminder of loneliness. It’s a contrast with the opulence and the friendly people I'd encountered thus far. I know, I know, poor poor me. Blah blah blah. To make things even more complicated, I also got word right at that moment (I’m not kidding) that the pathology report for my brother, Mike’s, cancer had come back. The report was hopeful, but also brought home the very real possibility that this was a fatal situation. I know, again, poor poor me. I’m not the one with cancer and I’m here at this great place. All true. I tell you these things because the richness of Montage for me is not the Disney kind of sweet where everything is oh so happy and light; and artificial. Here the experience is like the difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Montage is rich and full-bodied and brimming with contrasts. And truly an experience that could not happen anywhere else.
I had to take a bath. The warm water and the bath salts were a great relief.
When evening came, I took myself down to Daly’s and sat at the bar. This is where I met one of the chefs, Nate (Chef Nate from New Hampshire), who was yet another warm and approachable person. We talked while he prepared the chicken pot pie in front of me and put it in the brick oven. He talked about having moved here to open the St. Regis last year and how much he likes working at the Montage now. “The St. Regis was fine but a lot of the experience was a little cookie-cutter, especially the food. Even the Jean Georges restaurant is regimented in its recipes and lacks a personal touch.” We talked about his sister who now lives in Cottonwood Heights where I grew up. We talked about how fun Salt Lake City can actually be. “I drove through it once before and just sort of dismissed it,” he said. Easy enough to do. I grew up here and just sort of dismissed it.
After dinner I ended up at the Peak, a little boutique shop not far from the lobby. Here I met yet two more friendly and approachable people, Debbie and Sheri, who insisted I come back later and buy out the shop. Well, maybe next time ladies. I did get some cash from the ATM and here is my other critique of Montage. When your ATM fee is higher ($3.50) than the major banks in Manhattan ($3.00), your ATM is charging too much. Again, not a huge point of criticism, but one easy enough to remedy.
As the evening wore on I found my way over to the Vista Lounge and sat next to the fire place. The performer there, Jarrett Burns, pulled out pretty much every song guaranteed to wrench your heart. It felt as though he’d taken a peek into mine and knew just the remedy for loneliness and heartache: feed it.
He sang James Taylor’s Fire and Rain:
I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again.
Then Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight:
Go away then, damn you,
Go on and do as you please,
You ain't gonna see me gettin' down on my knees.
I'm undecided, and your heart's been divided,
You've been turning my world upside down.
...But don’t let me be lonely tonight.
He sang Maroon 5 Sunday Morning:
...things just get so crazy living life gets hard to do
And I would gladly hit the road get up and go if I knew
That someday it would bring me back to you
That someday it would bring me back to you
The list goes on. He sang Five For Fighting:
It may sound absurd...but don’t be naive
Even heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed... but won’t you concede
Even heroes have the right to dream
It’s not easy to be me....
I sat next to the fire with my cranberry juice and thought about significant other M and my brother, Mike, and my surroundings here at the Montage M. The life of every good thing. I recorded some of the songs and you can hear my little bits of sniveling in the background. The experience was rich and the kind that makes your heart ache. Here I sat in this gorgeous spot listening to this gorgeous singer. It can overpower you unless you just let it happen. Memories and the present richness mixed themselves into something I will never forget. Mortality - another M word. If you are lucky enough to have experiences like these, don’t be a dullard like so many people of privilege and take them for granted. We’re all in this world together. And all of us leave it, too.
The next morning I took myself down to Buzz and met Meghan and Amber. They were as lively as caffeine and popping with good cheer. It was the perfect wake-up morning.
So that’s basically my experience with the new Montage Resort in Deer Valley. What the Montage has to offer - aside from stunning views, near-flawless accommodations and facilities, and great food - is a staff of people that make it far and away the best new asset of a premiere ski resort. From my first greeting by Rob, to my conversation with Alyssa, to my tour with Dan Howard, to my casual dinner at Daly’s Pub and chat with chef Nate, to the live music and Jarrett Burns, to a chat with Meghan and Amber at the espresso bar; every encounter with the people here was warm and friendly and felt authentic. And that’s another M word: magic.
What are some ways your life has influenced your travel experiences? Or ways that your travel experience has influenced your life?
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