Thursday, February 20, 2014

Celebrity Skiing

I bumped into Conan O'Brien at Deer Valley the other day. Not literally, fortunately; he just happened to be in the same lovely lunch lodge as my ski group. We were having an amazing time, skiing light Utah powder and exploring all the glades. It’s funny, though, how having celebs hanging around adds instant cachet to the destination. Even though you know a ski hill is great yourself, it often takes someone famous to clinch it for you. 

Matt Mosteller with Chris Nolan at Nakiska
It got me thinking about “celebrity endorsement” in general. Hubby, Dr Simon Hudson is a tourism researcher and he loves researching subjects like that. Here’s a snippet of what he has to say on the value of celebrity patronage to a tourism destination:

“Encouraging celebrities to use tourism and hospitality products can result in considerable media coverage, and can therefore help to promote that particular product. For example, Richard Branson built Virgin Atlantic Airways with the help of a strong public relations campaign that included inviting as many rock stars as possible to fly on his airline. Destinations, too, can benefit from celebrity visits. The ski resorts at Whistler, BC, have a reputation for attracting high- profile film and music stars, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner and British singer Seal, as well as business magnates like Microsoft’s Bill Gates. Many consider the 1998 visit to Whistler by Prince Charles and his sons, Princes William and Harry, as the biggest thing to have happened on the Whistler celebrity scene.”
This is an excerpt from Simon’s book Tourism and Hospitality Marketing: A Global Perspective published by Sage and also available from Amazon (I wrote the case studies).

Robert Redford at Sundance by Kristina Loggia
Of course Utah resorts in the vicinity of Sundance (there are 11 of them within an hour of Salt Lake City airport) are regularly bestowed with the presence of film stars, producers and famous musicians. The Sundance Film Festival itself attracts hundreds of stars from all over the world each February – notably this year One Direction’s Harry Styles who caused much groupie groveling in Main Street Park City. And the spin off is that they often fall in love with Utah ski resorts much like Robert Redford did in the 1960s before he bought Sundance.

Like Redford, many of these celebs go a stage further, buying homes in the area. Will Smith, Katherine Heigl and Jeffrey Katzenberg have all recently invested in Park City, for example. Ski resorts don’t tend to exploit their star attractions, they prefer to give them privacy; but you can be sure that the chance sightings by media as well as general public reinforce their street cred.

Pierce Brosnan acting like a tourist at Sunshine Village
Another ski resort annually besieged with stars of stage and screen is Sunshine Village, near Banff in Alberta. Every January the Waterkeeper Alliance fundraiser is staged there by Robert F. Kennedy Jr, with a different celebrity lineup each year including stars like Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, Michael Keaton, Kelsey Grammer. Alec Baldwin is a firm fixture, taking part in ski, snowshoe and toboggan races plus gala events over two days. Last year he ran into my ski buddy, Yana Doyle in the Java Lift café. “He started chatting with us because he was crazy about my daughter Sadie," she told me. "He said he wished he had had more children.” He was so nice and normal that Yana didn’t even think to ask for a photo but she wished she had afterwards.

Powder Matt with Ellen Page at Nakiska
Leonardo DiCaprio spent two months filming Inception in Alberta's Kananaskis area. While there, Matt Mosteller (Powder Matt) and his wife, Maureen did private ski coaching at Nakiska for all the actors including DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. They also coached Ellen Page (star of Juno). "It was an amazing experience to be able to share the incredible natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies not only on set at Nakiska but also when we shot some scenes for Inception in Fernie, British Columbia," said Matt. "Fernie really took their breathe away the backdrop of the Lizard Range wrapping around the spectacular Elk River valley." The Mostellers had a blast spending time with all the crew. "Especially Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy and Director Christopher Nolan as each was real down to earth and we shared some very special moments with each of them," said Matt. "Not very often that you are in the hot tub with an all star cast from a DiCaprio movie!" The Mostellers still keep in touch with their famous friends and often provide coaching tips to Hollywood stars.
Matt with Tom Hardy at Nakiska
When you think of it, skiing is the perfect disguise for celebs trying to go incognito: they can go out in public covered up with helmet, goggles, face masks and bulky ski gear with little fear of being recognized unless they disrobe in the lodge. Years ago, in Verbier, Switzerland, when my son Rupert was just five, we bumped into Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson (who was then married to Prince Andrew) on the slopes. I knew she was around because my ski instructor friend, Jo had been coaching her daughters. I said to Rupert: "Look over there, there's a duchess and a couple of princesses." He looked around madly but said "I can't see any." I replied "With that woman over there all in black with the red hair sticking out of her hat." "Oh," he said, disappointedly. "I was looking for someone in a princess dress!"

A regular royal resort, Verbier is also the destination where Prince Harry and Cressida Bonas were first spotted together. Princess’s Beatrice and Eugenie still visit with their former chalet-girl mother and Prince William has also been accompanied by the Duchess of Cambridge. Princess Eugenie celebrated her birthday there at La Carrefour restaurant last year. Carrefour is a lovely restaurant just above Verbier village, where I've spent many a lazy lunch or apres ski session. We even used to go up there for evening parties if the drive was do-able. Verbier has always been a big celebrity hangout, with Richard Branson owning a chalet there and James Blunt, Lawrence Dallaglio and Carl Fogarty recently launching as restaurateurs. They opened a slopeside restaurant last year and later added the Cuckoo's Nest to their slope side repertoire, with a menu that includes 'Sarah Ferguson specialities'. Made in Chelsea cast members are known to frequent the mountain chic après ski bar, La Rouge. Others spotted around town include Pixie Lott, Jason Statham, Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Diana Ross (who opened the jumbo ski lift back in 1987).

Although resorts don't like to intrude on celebrity privacy, I've persuaded a few more to admit to hosting the following famous skiers and snowboarders: 
Lindsey Vonn at Lake Louise Winterstart
World Cup

Lake Louise, AB, Canada - Every year the world's best downhillers assemble for the Winterstart event which launches the racing season. A great time to collect autographs. Lindsey Vonn was there in early December and she did a great job mingling with the crowds, happily chatting and posing for pictures.

Fernie, BC, Canada – Justin Timberlake snowboards there and has done catskiing and snowmobiling. Fernie also hosted crews and stars of Hot Tub Time Machine.

Canadian Mountain Holidays – Richard Branson heli-skied at CMH’s Valemount lodge this season:

Silver Star, BC, Canada – Nicole Kidman (and sister Antonia) and Keith Urban spotted there for the past two seasons.

WhistlerBlackcomb, Canada – Gene Simmons owns a home here and is seen with his family regularly. Other famous visitors include Alicia Keys & Swizz Beatz, Nas, Channing Tatum, Chelsea Handler, Usher, Queen Latifah, Lil’ Jon, Terry O’Quin, Daniel Radcliffe, Jack Black, Cindy Crawford, Richard Branson, Tori Spelling, Paris Hilton, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman, Tom Cruise, Heidi Klum, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner, Seal, Bill Gates, Prince Charles and Princes William and Harry,

Sundance, UT - This year’s festival lineup included Steven SpielbergKeira KnightleyLuke WilsonGwyneth Paltrow, Bradley CooperKristen StewartAubrey Plaza, Nicholas Hoult, Joseph Gordon-LevittMaggie GyllenhaalKellan LutzElizabeth OlsenBill HaderGoldie HawnAaron PaulRachel McAdamsEmile HirschAnna Kendrick, Joe ManganielloMelanie LynskeyGeorge TakeiJoshua JacksonDiane Kruger, Elijah Wood and Michael Shannon.

Aspen, CO – Celebs are two a penny in Aspen – notables include Mel Gibson, Victoria Beckham and Mariah Carey. Home hill for snowboarding star Gretchen Bleiler

Breckenridge, CO – Lots of Olympians train there including Bobby Brown, Keri Herman, Shaun White. 

Vail, CO - Lindsey Vonn lives at The Ritz-Carlton Residences when she’s training and has also showed Tiger around the slopes. Michelle Obama and family skied there. Paris Hilton, Jessica Biel, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have also visited.

Telluride, CO – Tom Cruise, Oprah and Jerry Seinfeld own property there and Robert Redford and Ralph Lauren have visited.

Jackson Hole, WY – Dick Cheney and Harrison Ford own property; Tiger Woods, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Jim Carrey and Sandra Bullock have visited.

Mammoth, CA – Being so close to Hollywood means multiple celeb sightings including regulars Arnold Swarzenegger, Cameron Diaz, Keifer Southerland and Tony Hawk. Paul McCartney has also skied there. 

SunValley, Idaho – Clint Eastwood, Robin Williams and Tom Hanks own houses nearby. And Bruce Willis used to own Soldier Mountain Ski Resort in Idaho, but in 2012 decided to donate it to the community.

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