A young boy with tousled locks and designer ski gear strolls through a hotel lobby that could easily be mistaken for a gallery at the Tate — open, modern and punctuated by sharp lines and pops of color.

Accompanied by a nanny at least five decades his senior, the boy gazes about as the woman shleps bags of various sizes. This isn’t the set of a Wes Anderson film. At least, not yet.

I’m in the new wing of the Goldener Hirsch Inn, arguably the poshest of high-end accommodations now on offer at Deer Valley, the luxury ski resort known internationally as the place where Gwyneth Paltrow collided with a retired optometrist on the slopes. The resort recently extended its ski season through the end of April, thanks to another banner snow year.

Looking around at the opulent surroundings and the chic visitors enjoying them, it’s hard not to feel underdressed. Moreover, my knuckles are still white from the harrowing drive to Park City in heavy snow. But I was willing to brave the weather to meet the woman who has elevated Goldener Hirsch to the rarified echelons of global luxury — and who for decades has been working behind the scenes to push Utah’s arts and education to equivalent heights, even when others weren’t so comfortable with the altitude.

But Clista Hope Eccles, the bearer of one of the most famous names in Utah, has never had a problem with heights or the arduous ascent it takes to get there.

When I arrive at the inn, Eccles, 63, is standing at the reception desk chatting with employees. She wears a dangly “Ski Utah” necklace complete with mini license plate charms with Utah-adjacent words like “Oh my heck” and “Fetch.” The necklace is a reminder that her father, and legendary Utah philanthropist, Spence Eccles, worked to bring the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City.

As president of the Goldener Hirsch, Eccles oversees the property in the heart of Deer Valley with ski in/ski out access to the mountain. She speaks lovingly of both the Bavarian-inspired original inn — adorned with wood-burning fireplaces and furnishings collected by the family and brought back from trips to Europe — and the adjoining structure of sleek condominiums outfitted with full kitchens and room for entire families — available for thousands of dollars a night. A bridge connects both sides, transitioning from old world, quaint and cozy to spacious and modern. The hotel is part of the Auberge Resorts Collection, alongside some of the world’s most luxurious resorts, and last year was voted the No. 1 resort hotel in the U.S. and in Utah by Travel + Leisure by readers, some of whom undoubtedly benefitted from the unique ski valet service that even helps guests get their ski boots on and off.

“We try to make it as easy for guests as possible,” Eccles explains. “Sometimes we joke, if you really want us to, we’ll go skiing for you.”

The hotel — which Eccles has helped drive into the ultra luxe space of hospitality management — is a symbol of her posture toward life and vision for arts, education and philanthropy in the state. She calls it adding “the margin of excellence.”

Hope Eccles talks during an interview with the Deseret News at the Goldener Hirsch in Park City on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Eccles is comfortable on mountains; she started skiing around the same time she started walking. She learned the sport at Sun Valley while her family lived in Boise, Idaho, during the first 10 years of her childhood. After they moved to Utah in 1970, the family skied in Park City. She had big ski boots to fill; her father was an accomplished racer.

“We love the mountains, we love skiing and we love spending time together as a family,” Eccles said, explaining why the Goldener Hirsch, which they acquired in the early ‘90s, was a natural fit for her family’s broad portfolio.

“I was unemployed when my family bought the original inn,” Eccles told me. “That’s how it became my responsibility. Apparently it’s a lifetime appointment.”

Eccles has a quick wit, but it was, of course, not just her availability at the time of purchase that made Eccles qualified to become president of the inn. It was also her proven history of hard work and intelligence. Before accepting the role, she had earned an undergraduate degree in economics and political science from Stanford University, a law degree from the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, clerked for a 10th Circuit Court judge and acquired an MBA from Columbia Business School.

Her education prepared Eccles well for the business side of running a world-class inn. But for the personal touch of hospitality, Eccles looked to her parents for inspiration.

“Hospitality sort of felt natural because it came back to Mother,” Eccles said. She described her mother, Cleone Peterson Eccles, who came from a sheep ranch in Central Utah, as grounded and soft-spoken. Cleone met Spence Eccles at the University of Utah, and they married after four years of dating. She became both his biggest critic and his strongest supporter, Eccles explained, and added that they were partners in all their ventures for 54 years until Cleone died in 2013.

Together, Cleone and Spence raised their children to never think of themselves as different from other children, despite their wealth, and to value hard work, integrity and a good education. They were expected to pull their own weight, do well in school and always do their best.

“Hospitality is a combination of a lot of common sense and graciousness that we hope we adopted from my mother. She was just such a lovely, gracious person.”

Eccles’ son, Randy Quarles, said that hospitality comes naturally to his mother, and that she raised him to treat people well and be respectful. He hears often from his friends how much they love his mom and the way she looked out for all of them, still, despite her many projects and packed schedule and keeps up with the details of their lives and welcoming them warmly into her home.

The inn is more than just a business venture for Eccles. It’s also where she met her husband, Randal Quarles, at the Goldener Hirsch through mutual friends. At the time, he was working as a partner at Davis Polk in New York and flying back to Utah on the weekends to visit his family in Roy. “I said that he always made me laugh, and my family told me I should marry him. So I did,” Eccles said. They’ve been married 27 years and have three adult children — Randy, who is 25; Spencer, who is about to turn 23; and Emily Hope (who goes by Hopie), who is 19.

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When Quarles was asked to serve in the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush, the family moved to Washington, D.C., but Eccles stayed involved with the inn and her life-long pursuit of making Utah better.

“I like to say I didn’t actually move, I just stretched,” she said.

Throughout her time in Washington, and after returning to Salt Lake City in 2014, Eccles remained heavily involved in her family’s foundations funded by the Eccles family’s assets, which originated with Hope’s great-grandfather, David Eccles.

David Eccles immigrated from Scotland to the Ogden Valley through the Perpetual Emigrating Fund of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “He was enormously grateful to the church,” Hope Eccles said.

Eccles described her great-grandfather as a 19th-century man who built his wealth through various forms of commerce, including lumber, sugar, banking and railroads.

David Eccles’ children used their wealth to create foundations that have become some of the biggest and most well-known philanthropic institutions in Utah, and Hope Eccles, as well as her siblings and cousins, carry on their legacy. She sits on the advisory board of the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, is vice president of the Marriner Eccles Foundation and is the director of the Spencer F. and Cleone P. Eccles Family Foundation. “Our family has a responsibility to make a positive impact,” Eccles said. “It’s a blessed opportunity to be able to do that.”

The Eccles foundations are focused principally in Utah, Eccles explained, and widely benefit local communities. Their donations support art, health, medicine and education. Eccles has a particular passion for education, and in 2021, she received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Utah for her education advocacy. She served on the school’s Board of Trustees for nine years, and on the board of directors for the S.J. Quinney College of Law’s Alumni Association. She was also Gov. Jon Huntsman’s deputy for higher education from 2004-2005 and sat on the Utah Board of Higher Education.

A closeup shot of Hope Eccles' necklace with Salt Lake City Olympic charms during an interview with the Deseret News at the Goldener Hirsch in Park City on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

“As a family, we believe that education is the thing that can make a difference,” Eccles said. “Education is what gives people the tools to decide what they want to do with their life. It gives them the perspective to appreciate all the many beauties of the world. It gives them the chance to provide for their family and contribute to their communities.”

Eccles speaks frankly about what she believes needs to change in Utah’s higher education programs. She has concerns about what she sees as “mission creep” in Utah’s secondary education institutions and what she describes as their alarmingly low graduation rates. She told me she believes students need a full range of secondary education choices — from technical education to world-class research universities — and said her family’s foundations are focused on strategies that will increase graduation rates.

“We’re making sure the programs schools offer are excellent and that they’re achieving their purposes,” she said. “We want to provide the margin of excellence.”

When I asked her to further explain the margin of excellence, Eccles told me the role of the family foundations is not to simply send money. Instead, their job is to help organizations identify how they can make a more meaningful difference. “A lot of times that means a little more funding or a little more leadership. And that’s what I call the margin of excellence.”

The values imparted by her parents have driven Eccles’ work throughout her career, and instructed her parenting, while always striking the right balance. “She was always working, but would interrupt her work to take care of her kids,” her son Randy told me, adding that she is “the best mom in the world.”

Eccles recognizes she has a family name and legacy to live up to. And for her, that means giving back and and doing so thoughtfully. “Dad always says you should leave something better than you found it,” Eccles said. “We have a responsibility to give back and make things better.” Then she added, “It’s a blessed opportunity to be able to do that.”