Out on the glistening slopes a lone skier cuts a daring figure, slaloming downhill at high speed, locked in the classic pose that looks so easy to people who have never tried it. Grinning, he glides to a halt before a group of appreciative onlookers. Obviously, he has enjoyed his breathtaking run. Just as obviously, he enjoys being admired for his breathtaking skill.
The dashing downhill racer is Stein Eriksen, who helped establish the sport more than 30 years ago, blazing a trail for the Killys and Klammers to follow. Eriksen, a Norwegian, was a gold medal winner at the 1952 Olympics in Oslo and dominated the world championships in Sweden two years later. Today, at 60, skiing’s first household name still finds his daily epiphany on the slopes, but he makes a living—a very good one—as host of the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley, Utah.
The rich who choose to ski Deer Valley pay through their Nivea-covered noses for the privilege—but what privilege! Peak ski season rates, up to $1,440 a night, are the highest in North America, but they cover a vast array of sybaritic amenities. Guests are shielded from even a hint of the overcrowding and inconvenience of so many less expensive resorts. “It’s not what you pay,” declares Eriksen, “but what you get for what you pay that counts.”
Undeniably, Eriksen’s guests get a lot, disembarking discreetly underground, where a garage door marked “Velkommen” rises automatically at the approach of their cars. A waiting doorman stows their ski gear in heated lockers or steers new arrivals to a rental counter offering Eriksen’s autographed brand of premium skis.
The 50 suites and 75 bedrooms are decorated with French country prints and equipped with full kitchens and massive stone fireplaces. (Fireplace tools hang from heavy brass hooks, but guests probably get little use out of them, since maid service includes removing ashes and laying new fires.) Bathrooms feature oversize whirlpool tubs, gold-plated fixtures and separate dressing areas.
Heated walkways link the lodge’s three wings with the main building. Afternoon tea is served, to piano accompaniment, in the soaring three-story lobby. The food-and-beverage service at Deer Valley is run by James Nassikas, president of San Francisco’s five-star Stanford Court Hotel. Says Bon Appetit magazine: “Deer Valley has the best cuisine at altitude anywhere in this country.”
And oh, yes, one other thing. For the fanatic who actually wants to leave all this comfort and go outdoors, the Stein Eriksen Lodge does have skiing. The slopes, mostly intermediate, are spread out over three peaks, immaculately groomed and always uncrowded. It seems little wonder that so many celebs have made Deer Valley their midwinter mecca. Eriksen has played host to former President Gerald Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Jane Fonda and a brace of Bruces(Springsteen and Willis). This past New Year’s Eve, John Travolta rented the hotel’s conference center, then enlisted fellow guest Sidney Poitier to help set up an impromptu disco.
Deer Valley’s success owes much to Eriksen’s ingrained perfectionism. A case in the lobby holds 178 of his cups, medals and ribbons. But even now, three decades later, he is bothered by the times he finished second or third. “There is a lot of disappointment in some of those little trophies,” he says. “If I hadn’t done this or that, I would, of course, have won.”
Eriksen has been on skis since he was 3, growing up in the hills outside Oslo. His father was an Olympic gymnast and a manufacturer of Alpine skis, while his mother was president of a national women’s ski club. “The dream was always there to become an international, good skier,” says Eriksen. He pursued his dream surreptitiously during the German occupation of his homeland, when the only approved ski meets involved competition against German soldiers. “We didn’t want to do that,” says Eriksen, “so we had some illegal races in those years.”
After an undistinguished debut at the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Eriksen went home and perfected his daring technique, skiing closer to the gates than anyone had before. By 1952 he was ready; he took the gold medal in the giant slalom and the silver in the slalom. Then, at the 1954 world championships, he took three golds, in the slalom, giant slalom and overall. Shortly after, at age 27, he decided to quit. “I had heard about athletes who had faded after their big victories and had not been happy with themselves or with life in general,” he says. “So I stopped when I was on top. I have never regretted that.”
Eriksen came to the U.S. in 1954. During the winters he taught skiing at Boyne Mountain, Mich. In the spring he became a traveling salesman, peddling ski clothes and his mother’s hand-knit sweaters. By 1969 he had moved to Snowmass, Colo., where he opened two sports shops and began to invest in real estate. There he met developer Edgar Stern, who wooed him to Utah to run the Park City ski area. In 1975 Stern sold Park City to develop Deer Valley. Eriksen stuck with him, and Deer Valley opened in 1981, with Stern as owner and Eriksen as director of skiing.
Skiing has been good to Eriksen. He and his fourth wife, Françoise, live with their son, Bjorn (Stein has three children from previous marriages), in a spacious chalet in nearby Park City and own a well-appointed cabin in the Montana woods. But for Eriksen, the biggest joy is out there on the mountain, where his skills still dazzle other skiers. “When you know that people like to see you ski,” he says, “it boosts your ego, and you feel what you’re doing is worthwhile. One of the reasons why this is a terrific life for me is that I like to get up on that mountain. As long as I can get the inspiration I get every day by going out there, I don’t see any reason for slowing down.”
—By Michael Neill, with Jack Kelley in Deer Valley