In search of hotel excellence: Montage Deer Valley

Think big. Think really big. Try one million square feet, including 81 residences plus 174 guest rooms and suites; 65,000 square feet of indoor meeting space; a 35,000-square-foot spa; five restaurants; multiple lounges; an extensive activity center, including one exclusively for children; bowling alley; two pools; retail space and 500-plus indoor parking spots. That’s the size of the 5-star Montage Deer Valley, a Montage Hotels & Resorts property in Park City, Utah.

The Montage Deer Valley in Park City, Utah
The Montage Deer Valley in Park City, Utah

The sheer size of this resort makes any financially minded readers immediately wonder how to generate a return on capital within a reasonable timeframe, let alone the immeasurable logistics of construction on such a grand scale on a remote mountaintop. In a way, as I approached the hotel for the first time, the scene was reminiscent of the “Grand Budapest Hotel” – inspirational, daunting, majestic and one-of-a-kind.

Yet, despite this mammoth floor plan, the property has been brilliantly designed to feel amazingly personal. The proportions of the lobby and public spaces are balanced so that you never travel far to any F&B outlet, lounge or recreational facility.

Recognizing that this is a much-vaunted ski season destination, my guest room came with a fireplace and plush furnishings. Staying in summer, the nightly rate was at least somewhat affordable, while I was told that it can double or triple into four-figure amounts during the winter.

It should be noted that Summit County, Utah – home to Park City and Deer Valley – is ranked highest in wealth amongst Bloomberg’s ‘Richest Small Towns in America’. This comes as no surprise given that our shuttle driver says that a lot runs about US$5 million, with an equal amount to build, according to local building code requirements. Judging from the houses we saw from the resort access road, the area is a testament to wealth, particularly since most of the homes are typically only occupied in ski season or for the Sundance Film Festival. Clearly, these aren’t folks looking to make a few spare dollars via Airbnb or VRBO.

General Manager Allen Highfield
General Manager Allen Highfield

So, how does a property of this nature command such rates, and what is the overall occupancy strategy? These were just a few of the questions I asked Allen Highfield, general manager of the property for the past three-plus years (the property opened in 2010). Ever vigilant, I spotted Allen several times during my stay as he patrolled the lobby, restaurant outlets and portico. With an effervescent character, he has an energy level that meshes perfectly with this outdoor activity-oriented property.

“It’s an amazing property on every scale imaginable,” Highfield noted, “with our size and facilities allowing for simultaneous functions. Montage provides a venue where everyone feels at home. We can be hosting a casual mountain-comfortable wedding, or a formal wedding where black tie is de rigueur, while at the same time welcoming guests coming off a day-long mountain bike ride.”

While he talked in more depth about the physical structure – which is truly astounding – I tried to investigate a little bit more about the engine that drives the property – its staff. Here is where Montage truly shines.

From the shuttle driver to the F&B team and housekeepers, every person I met shared a common philosophy and enthusiasm toward their property. No one was just ‘playing’ at service. Rather, they were personally immersed in a culture of passion, with a true interest to anticipate and deliver upon guest needs as well as a genuine feeling of personal pride with each guest that’s helped.

While remodeling your physical property to make it feel more personal is likely out of the budget, improving your service culture should be a perennial task and is one that can be initiated for relatively little in money down. From first interview of potential hires and through onboarding and continual retraining, developing a remarkable service culture is something that every hotel should strive to achieve.

And indeed, even with the picturesque location, incredible onsite amenities and fun activities every day, it was the service that nevertheless stood out to me as the most memorable quality of this impeccable hotel.