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Deer Valley's New Montage Hotel

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© Courtesy Montage Deer Valley

It started in Laguna Beach. Then Beverly Hills two years ago. Now Montage Hotels hits the slopes of Deer Valley.

Montage Deer Valley does not announce itself quietly. Skiing down the slopes of Empire Canyon in Park City, Utah, you can’t miss the sprawling complex high above the base of the valley.

It is a big hotel with big ambitions.

It also could have been a big mistake.

The project entered its final year of construction in 2010, while the economy was still in free fall—and as people suddenly stopped treating themselves to cars, jewelry and vacations. The luxury market was among the hardest hit. And while the worst appears to be over for the moment, travelers remain wary of spending.

But Alan Fuerstman, founder and CEO of Montage Hotels, never considered pulling the plug, slowing down or curtailing amenities like the four-lane bowling alley or the 35,000-square-foot spa. With 174 guest rooms and 81 residences, the hotel aims to compete with those in Aspen, Vail and Jackson Hole, opening in time for the start of ski season in December and poised to host an event for the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011.

“It’s full speed ahead,” says Fuerstman. “Luxury hotels need to withstand the cycles that can happen. Yes, it was as severe as we’ve seen. But this property was built for generations to come.”

To a certain extent, Fuerstman lucked out: It was better to be completing a hotel this year than trying to fill one. The downturn also enabled him to recruit top-tier talent from a flooded labor pool. He had been down this road before, having opened Montage Laguna Beach and Montage Beverly Hills. He remains convinced that quality, particularly Montage’s intense focus on service, sells.

The company strives for the wow factor—something people never thought to ask for but, once they’ve had it, can’t imagine living without. Like the two-greeter service at the airport: One waits to retrieve your luggage while the other whisks you away to the hotel with a room service menu in the car so that your meal will be waiting upon arrival. When a guest didn’t like the way she looked in the brown robes at Montage Beverly Hills, she found a white one hanging in the closet on her next visit. For a family that had come to Montage Laguna Beach five Christmases in a row, the hotel surprised them with an afternoon in the kitchen, where they prepared their own dinner with a chef and his team.

“It’s the difference between a real switched-on hotel and one going through the motions,” says Fuerstman. “There’s a passion to get those things right and to exceed our guests’ expectations.”

In many ways Deer Valley is Fuerstman’s attempt to top himself. The hotel is designed in a Craftsman style, evoking the traditional mountain lodges of the West with stone foundations, expansive great rooms, outdoor decks and sweeping views of the Wasatch Mountains. The spa features 29 treatment rooms, an outdoor sun deck, an indoor lap pool, daily yoga and fitness classes, a salon for hair and nail services, and alpine-inspired ministrations. The hotel will arrange nature photography sessions, guided hikes and mountain bike treks, naturalist outings, fly-fishing instruction and gourmet picnics.

Despite its promise, the new resort has significant challenges ahead. It will compete with the area’s elder statesman, Stein Eriksen Lodge, as well as the Waldorf Astoria in Park City and the St. Regis, both of which opened on the mountain last year. Occupancy rates will rise and fall with the snow report, and the hotel will have to be creative about luring crowds in the off-season.

The son of a dentist and a homemaker, Fuerstman originally intended to go to law school. But after working part-time as a doorman at the Marriott in Saddlebrook, New Jersey, while a high-school senior, then as a bell captain at the Marriott Rancho Las Palmas Resort near Palm Springs, California, the summer after college, he knew he’d found his calling. “I was attracted to it immediately,” he says, “the interaction with guests.”

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