Local Lift: Deer Valley’s leadership legend Sal Raio

Get to know local leadership legend Salvatore ‘Sal’ Raio, as well as thousands of other Parkites and visitors know him.

Upon graduating from college in Southern California, Raio started looking for a job in a ski resort and through some friends learned that a new resort in Utah was opening in December 1971. He was introduced to Ted Johnson, the founder of Snowbird, and was hired in June 1971. “The first six months were hard work as I headed up a crew of about 20 people and was responsible for clearing all of the ski runs in Gad Valley,” Raio told me. “That summer I was also introduced to ski legend Junior Bounous and so it began. I worked for Junior and Snowbird for 10 years in a variety of positions.”

Despite getting his very first job in ski teaching on a Southern California carpeted, mechanical ramp miles from a ski area let alone snow, he rapidly rose through the ranks from ski instructor to ski coach to ski school supervisor. In the summers, he helped build chair lifts, worked in the restaurants, and managed two of Snowbird’s hotels. In February 1972, Raio became a Professional Ski Instructor of America (PSIA) Certified Instructor, “Incredible how those years have flown by,“ he said.

Sal Raio, 2021. Photo: Jan Raio

“In the Spring of 1981, the new resort of Deer Valley started taking applications for Ski School Manager. With encouragement from Bounous, I applied for the job and got it.” The position eventually became Director of Skier Services and included Ski School, Children’s Center, Ski Rentals, and Lift Ticket Sales. Raio was seen walking around the Snow Park Lodge one of those early days curiously opening, looking, shaking his head, then closing each door he’d come to. Declaring, “This one,” once finding a little broom closet, he knew he had found what he could turn into Deer Valley’s first official sales office for ski school lessons. Those lessons have consistently been, more often than not, at a sold-out status.

“I have been very fortunate to have worked for ski visionary and Deer Valley’s founder Edgar Stern as well as Deer Valley’s ambassador Stein Eriksen.”

Sal has always been seen continuously picking up little pieces of garbage on the ground in his ski school uniform, simply keeping the place he felt so passionately about looking ship shape. 

Deer Valley’s award-winning customer service was also personified by Raio while dining with clients or “guests” as he so respectfully and organically referred to them. Adhering to the staff manuals he helped create, Raio was never without a napkin on his lap, using the far outside fork first, not even thinking about ordering or eating a moment before the guests did, and displaying genuine etiquette while holding doors for colleagues, friends, and strangers. 

Sal had met his wife Jan back at Snowbird in the early seventies, he was managing The Lodge at Snowbird and she was working the front desk. In the Fall of 1977, they traveled through Europe for over a month before he began coaching in Italy. They were married the following year in 1978.

Jan and Sal are still avid cyclists, riding between 1,200 & 1,500 miles in the summer, most of the miles in Park City. They’ve cycled through most of the National Parks in the west from Zion to Yellowstone and Glacier. “In 2003, we traveled to the Tour de France, I was fortunate to ride the last 11 stages of the tour, which included many of the iconic climbs in the tour history. It was a lifetime experience.”

Sal said hosting an Olympics at his venue was a huge highlight.

Sal Raio
Sal Raio’s induction into the Alf Engen Ski Museum. Photo: Jan Raio

He enjoys playing and building guitars as a hobby and has built seven guitars. “Lots of woodworking to see a finished result.” He also started painting about four years ago and “I love to paint mountain and ocean landscapes. It takes lots of concentration and enjoy seeing my development over the years.”

In recent decades he founded the Snowy Mountain Consulting and Marketing firm within the international ski industry. Raio explains, however, that it’s been somewhat dormant over the past few years. Business decisions change as the economic environment of the country change, consequently, the demand for consultants declined as companies hired many of their own people inside to do what consultants had previously done. Not currently on any boards, like he was for Park City’s Another Way School, but he continues to discuss situations with associates that remain on boards throughout the country.

“Jan and I love Maui, Hawaii, and spend a few weeks in the Spring there to thaw out after the ski season.” They built a small cottage on the island in 1988 up in the mountains with views of other islands and the sunsets. They sold it in 1997 as the labor of love of second home upkeep became a little more labor than love. After selling the cottage, they still visit Maui frequently as “it’s like a second home to us”.

“At the present time,” said Sal, “I’m enjoying my time with Jan doing the things that we love to do cycling, skiing, and traveling. Oh, and by the way, we’re building a new home, which is quite a challenge in this building environment.”

Sal and Jan Raio riding bikes together. Photo: Jan Raio

He opines that, “The ski business and ski resorts have been going through a transition that’s far from over. With global warming and world markets changing, ski resorts will continue to be under financial pressure consequently larger companies are more capable of dealing with financial fluctuations so the ski industry will continue to go in that direction.”

“PSIA is catering more to instructor’s needs and the certification process has become more user friendly and more transparent than in the past so instructors have a better chance of getting certified. This should
develop better instructors who can focus on student needs and give a really good lesson. Hopefully, this will bring more people into the ski teaching profession.”

Further cementing Sal’s patriarchal place in the skiing space, after almost 50 years in the ski business, he was designated a Lifetime Member by PSIA and in 2019 was inducted into the PSIA-I instructors “Hall of Fame.” As the plaque reads, “For his dedication to the ski teaching profession and his contributions to the sport of skiing. “I was humbled and honored to be placed on the wall in the Alf Engen Ski Museum up at the Utah Olympic Park alongside some of the true legends of skiing.

Sal Raio (R) and Junior Bounous skiing together at Deer Valley Resort. Photo: Jan Raio

“Junior is still my very special friend, an inspiration to be around, and we absolutely have great fun skiing together,” Sal said. “After all these years I still love to ski and to teach and Jan and I have developed many lifetime friendships. Skiing is a lifestyle, not just a sport!” 

Deer Valley; the model business model, stems from Sal Raio: the role model.

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