The CEO of Vail Resorts anticipates the Park City Mountain Resort side will eventually make a correct decision for the local ski industry in the high-profile lawsuit involving most of the terrain underlying the resort.
The lawsuit pits the PCMR side, led by Powdr Corp. CEO John Cumming, against its landlord, Talisker Land Holdings, LLC, and a firm tied to Vail Resorts, the Colorado-based operator of Canyons Resort. In an interview with The Park Record during a trip to Park City last week, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said he anticipates PCMR's 2014-2015 ski season will not be interrupted. PCMR is selling season passes with a caveat outlining that refunds will be given if the season is impacted by the litigation.
"I know there's a lot of bluster. I know there's a lot of, you know, chatter, but I do believe that the Cummings will do the right thing for this community, too, when the case is ultimately decided," Katz said, later adding that he has confidence "cooler heads will prevail, and people will be doing the right thing for the skiing community."
The Vail Resorts agreement to operate Canyons Resort would be expanded to include the disputed terrain at PCMR depending on the outcome of the lawsuit.
Katz said he had not received a "direct response" from Cumming about a March offer by Vail Resorts to purchase the PCMR base area and the parking lots, which are not involved in the case. A buyout would undoubtedly also involve a settlement to the lawsuit. Cumming made a public statement after the offer rejecting the idea of a buyout as being bad for the community. Katz said he understands the Cumming family's interest in "retaining control," but he said they will not do so if Talisker Land Holdings, LLC is victorious in the lawsuit.
"If they win the lawsuit, then that turned out to be a great decision. If they don't, I don't think it's realistic to think that they're going to maintain control of the resort anymore, or certainly of that ski terrain. Because the landlord, in that case, Talisker . . . they've moved forward in a different direction already," Katz said.
He said there are examples elsewhere in the U.S. where a single company operates more than one mountain resort. Katz cited Aspen, Colo., Summit County, Colo., and Vail, Colo. He noted that Powdr Corp. itself has two mountain resorts in the same market in Vermont -- Killington Resort and Pico Mountain Resort. The arrangements have been successful, he said.
The PCMR side recently indicated in a court filing it plans to dismantle and remove most of the ski lifts if it loses the case. Talisker Land Holdings, LLC responded with a statement that the resort will not have the legal right to remove the lifts. Katz said Vail Resorts would put up new ones if PCMR removes the ones there now.
"It goes without saying that our company has both the wherewithal and the expertise to put in new lifts. With that said, I don't think that that makes a whole lot of sense for anybody. So we can do it," he said, adding, "I think, again, when the case is ultimately decided, I think things will cool down and I believe that the Cummings will do the right thing . . . I don't know what they would do with the lifts if they took them."
Katz, meanwhile, spoke about Powdr Corp.'s intentions to pursue an action sports facility called Woodward Park City on PCMR land not involved in the lawsuit. Cumming recently said Powdr Corp. does not want to build Woodward Park City as a standalone facility separated from the disputed PCMR terrain, but it would do so if it must. Katz in the March buyout offer outlined an option that envisions Powdr Corp. building and operating Woodward Park City and Vail Resorts funding the associated skier parking and skier facilities. The parking lots and the lower skiing terrain -- where Woodward Park City would be built -- are on land outside of the contested acreage.
"We fully support that. We think Woodward is an amazing experience. It's terrific for kids. We 100 percent agree with everything John said, which is this would be great for the community to have a Woodward facility there. Terrific," Katz said. "Why can't we also, if we're willing to pay for it, build skier parking underneath the Woodward facility, build some ticket offices and let people ski from there just like they do today."
Katz said the route onto the slopes is best from where it is now, at the base of PCMR. He said there are other routes to access the disputed terrain, but they are not in the interest of the parties. If it loses the case, the PCMR side has argued, there would be dramatic consequences for the community.
"The only reason these things, these catastrophes, happen is if, for some reason that we don't know why, the Cummings would block access through that base area to the mountain," Katz said. "But why? We actually think people would pay more to be in that Woodward facility, they'd pay more for real estate, pay more for retail if that was also the access point to the mountain."
If a settlement is reached outlining some sort of effort between Vail Resorts and Powdr Corp. at the base area, the results could be spectacular, Katz predicted. That should be the focus, he said.
"This thing could be, right, an unbelievable world class real estate, retail, commercial, Woodward facility and the access to the mountain. It could be one of the great base areas found anywhere in the world," he said.
Katz on Tuesday sent a three-page letter to Cumming discussing topics like places where two or more resorts are under the same ownership, the lawsuit and the prospects of discussions between the two sides.
The letter, which was released to the media, is available here.
Update: Powdr Corp released a short statement in response to Katz's Tuesday letter, which is available here.