It is pretty cool that Vail Resorts chose to make its Utah debut in Park City. On Wednesday the company announced it had entered into a long-term agreement with Talisker Corp. to operate Canyons Resort and the news immediately became the talk of the town.
Vail manages some of the most successful ski areas in the country and was a suitor in the bidding war for Canyons back in 2007 when the previous owner, American Skiing Company, was dissolving. At the time, many Parkites believed that Vail, with its proven record in the ski industry, would have been an ideal match, but Talisker, whose strengths favored real estate development, prevailed.
Now, with the latest development, Canyons may end up benefiting from the best of both. According to the agreement, Talisker is retaining four million square feet of development rights while Vail takes over operation of the resort.
But before indulging in too much bear hugging and back slapping, local citizens and businesses whose livelihoods depend on the success of all three local ski areas Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons should take a deep breath and keep a close eye on how the transition plays out.
Vail, with its well-known resorts in California and Colorado, is already offering a head-turning season pass deal that offers skiers unlimited access to 12 resorts a hard offer for locally owned resorts to match.
This week's surprise announcement may also have dramatic ramifications for Park City Mountain Resort, which has been locked in a legal battle over its lease to operate on ground owned by Talisker. The official press release from Vail clearly states that, pending the outcome of the lawsuit between PCMR and Talisker, the lease includes land under PCMR's lifts on land that Talisker owns.
The language hints at a hostile takeover and makes many who see PCMR as a pillar in the community, nervous.
Those concerns are valid. PCMR, which will soon celebrate it 50th year in operation, has set a high bar for corporate giving and participation in the community. From its inception, the resort has contributed to the arts and education and, of course, was instrumental in supporting the state's bid to host the Olympic Winter Games. PCMR has also played a leading role in the local ski industry's commitment to energy conservation and environmental stewardship. We have yet to see whether Vail will make the same efforts.
Canyons, under previous owners and other names, has always been quick to embrace ambitious plans for the future. Some of those plans have come to fruition but others have faltered. American Skiing Company, for instance, touted a grand plan cobbled together in a pasture and sealed with a handshake. That deal later turned into a snake pit of litigation that delayed development and cost millions in lawyers' fees.
A salient note of hope in the current transaction, however, is that local interests will be guarded by two who know the community well. Blaise Carrig, who is now the president of the Mountain Division for Vail Resorts, served as general manager of Canyons from 1997 to 2002 and shepherded the company's development plans through the county planning process. He was in town this week to set the transition in motion.
Also, Canyons General Manager Mike Goar, who has worked in the Utah ski industry for decades, and has been a voice of calm and reason through several tumultuous years at the resort, announced Friday that he will stay on in that position under Vail's umbrella.
The big announcement combined with those familiar faces and Vail's reputation in the ski industry are definitely cause for celebration. In moderation, of course.