Park City Mountain Resort enters the world stage
December 24, 2013
Editor’s note: This is the second part in a two part series about the history of Park City Mountain Resort which is celebrating its 50th ski season. See part one here.
The ski season of 1976-77 is better known as the season it didn’t snow. The slopes were bare at Thanksgiving. Then, according to The Park Record, came the driest December in Utah history. At that time, other than a crude snowmaking system stitched together by the mining company, the resort relied entirely on Mother Nature. Christmas came and went without any customers.
Then-Park City Ski Area president and general manager Phil Jones remembered, "There the town sat. So we put everything we could put together and pumped up water, used the golf course pumping system, put aluminum irrigation pipe on top of the golf course, across the road down there, across the parking lot, up to the base, put a diesel booster pump at the base, and ran – the old snowmaking pipe that was there initially, ran water up that, put another booster pump midway on Payday, and pumped water to the top of Payday." That season, opening day was Jan. 5. And the skiable terrain was limited to a few runs off the Prospector lift.
At that time Park City had competing weekly newspapers. And on Jan. 5 The Park Record’s competition, The Newspaper, printed a front page that was blank except for two words in huge capital letters: "GONE SKIING."
After that, the resort’s new owner, Nick Badami made a commitment "to get whole hog in the snowmaking business," Jones said.
"Our decision was to take as much of the marketing budget as we possibly could and put it into the snowmaking capital expenditure. We cut marketing way, way back. We told executives there would be no bonuses for the next three years, and did everything with our capital budget, expect repair and maintenance on the rest of our facilities, and put all of that into snowmaking."
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Jones said he believes that decision saved the company. "It saved the town, for sure. We had ads in The Park Record from banks and businesses thanking us for our investment and what it did for the future of the town. It was a huge decision for a little company." He said the resort continued to upgrade its snowmaking system for the rest of his career.
Under Badami’s leadership, the resort also opened up new terrain with the Pioneer chairlift in 1984 and linked the mountain to Park City’s Old Town with the Town Lift in 1985. The construction of the Eagle chairlift in 1993 provided access to a new ski-racing venue near the bottom of the mountain.
Bringing the World Cup to town
Even before the arrival of the U.S. Ski Team, resort officials had worked hard to schedule competitive ski races. Beginning in 1963-64, the annual Lowell Thomas Classic attracted some of the top alpine racers in the country. In December 1969, French phenom Jean-Claude Killy visited the resort for a challenge series against Stefan Kelan, a giant slalom specialist from Switzerland. But it took Nick and Craig Badami, to put Park City on the international ski-racing map.
In the 1980s, Nick Badami was on the board of directors of the U.S. Ski Team. Craig, his son, was vice president of marketing for the resort and a flamboyant, enthusiastic fan of ski racing.
"Craig was a wild and crazy guy, and he had his dad’s purse strings, and he had his dad behind him," Jones said. "And he was kind of Nick’s mouthpiece, in lots and lots of ways."
In July 1984, U.S. Ski Team spokesman John Dakin told The Park Record that the International Ski Federation was considering World Cup races at either Park City or Snowbird to fill an 11-day gap in the 1984-85 race schedule. In October came the word that Park City would host men’s and women’s slaloms the following March.
At that time Karen Korfanta was working with U.S. Ski Team coach John McMurtry to help U.S. resorts prepare for upcoming World Cup and Can-Am (now Nor-Am) races. When McMurtry was named chief of race for Park City’s ’85 World Cup, he asked her to join the preparations for that event. She recalled think-outside-the-box meetings with Craig Badami and Jack Turner, a former nordic competition director for USSA, who was hired as World Cup event coordinator.
"He and Craig were the dreamers," Korfanta said. "They would spend many hours dreaming of things. In the race organization meetings we had, I mean, it was, ‘Think of anything that you can possibly think of that you would want to do.’"
What Craig Badami and Jack Turner dreamed up was unlike anything seen at an American World Cup race. With temperatures climbing into the 50s, about 10,000 race fans lined the course to watch Erika Hess of Switzerland win gold in the women’s race. In between runs they were entertained by local band Johnny and the Rockers, with Craig himself playing blues harmonica, as snowballs flew among the spectators. That evening came a fireworks show and another concert. It was, someone reportedly said, a rock concert posing as a ski race. Or was it the other way around?
"I think Craig was the first one that really, in the States, convinced everyone that it cannot just be a ski race. It has to be an event," Korfanta said.
About that time many of the top female U.S. racers, including Tamara McKinney, Diann Roffe, Holly Flanders, Eva Twardokens and Park City’s own Tori Pillinger, signed "headgear sponsorships" with Park City Ski Area, wearing the words PARK CITY emblazoned on headbands and helmets. International race fans couldn’t help but notice.
The resort held another World Cup race the following March, and then, in the fall of 1986, began the tradition of holding "America’s Opening," the first North American World Cup races of the season, in late November. It would continue until 2002.
Phil Jones contends that, without Park City’s success in holding World Cup races, the 2002 Winter Olympics would not have come to Utah.
In November 1989, following the end of another successful America’s Opening, Craig Badami was a passenger in a helicopter when a dangling cargo cable snagged on the corner of a ski-waxing cable near the base of the resort. The cable then broke loose and flew up into the helicopter’s rotor. The helicopter crashed onto the First Time ski run, killing Craig and critically injuring the pilot and four other passengers.
"Craig was Nick’s only son, and with him no longer alive, it took the heart out of Nick as far as the ski business was concerned, as you can imagine," Jones said. "So he began to talk about trying to find somebody to sell (to). … It was a difficult time. So anyway, Ian Cumming came along and had the wherewithal, and had a couple of young sons that he was trying to find a spot for, kind of similar to what Nick was doing with Craig. And so that became another transition."
Powdr Corp. buys out Badami
In April 1994, Alpine Meadows of Tahoe Inc. announced that it had accepted a stock buyout by Powdr Corp., a private corporation owned by Cumming, a Salt Lake City financier. The transaction gave Powdr control of both Alpine Meadows and Park City Ski Area. A year later, Powdr bought the Boreal and Soda Springs ski areas near Donner Summit. Since then, Powdr has also purchased Gorgoza Park, a tubing hill near Pinebrook, and several other resorts.
In the Badami era, the resort had resisted opening its runs to snowboards. However, in 1996 Powdr reversed that decision and changed the resort’s name from Park City Ski Area to Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR). The first terrain parks and halfpipes opened the following year.
The new owners also increased the uphill capacity of the mountain in the late 1990s with several high-speed six-passenger chairlifts including Silverlode, Payday, Bonanza and McConkey’s. The gondola, a resort icon since 1963, was removed in 1997. In 2001, the Town Bridge over Park Avenue consummated the process of linking the resort with Park City’s Old Town.
Bring on the Olympics
By this time Salt Lake City had been chosen to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. The skiing and snowboarding events were to be held at Deer Valley (freestyle skiing), PCMR (snowboarding, and slalom and giant slalom skiing) and Snowbasin, near Ogden (downhill and super G skiing).
Karen Korfanta, who had been running PCMR’s race department since 1986, was also hired as sport manager by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. She said that years of experience holding World Cup races proved invaluable when it came to preparing for the Olympics. In spite of the added security triggered by 9/11, she said the events went off almost without a hitch.
"You don’t find better competition venues than this," Bill Marolt, president of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, told The Park Record after the parallel giant slalom snowboard race. "All you hear is how friendly everybody is and how much fun everybody is having here. It’s an awesome statement to the international community."
For Marolt’s staff, there was plenty to celebrate. U.S. snowboard athletes swept the medals in the men’s halfpipe and took gold in the women’s halfpipe. Skier Bode Miller won silver medals in giant slalom and combined. At Deer Valley, hometown boy Joe Pack finished second in the men’s aerials, while teammates took silver in men’s and women’s moguls.
Teenager Nicholas Badami, who was just a toddler when his father, Craig, died in the 1989 helicopter crash, was one of those chosen to carry the Olympic torch, just as his father had carried a torch for the World Cup races some 17 years before.
PCMR in the 21st century
In the past decade, Powdr Corp. has continued to upgrade facilities at PCMR, replacing the First Time and Three Kings chairlifts and installing the new Crescent express lift in place of the old Ski Team chairlift. Another lift was built to serve the new Silver Star community near the mouth of the Spiro Tunnel. The resort also bolstered its summer activities with several new attractions including zip lines and the Alpine Coaster.
The first decade of the century also saw the deaths of former resort owners Edgar Stern and Nick Badami, who passed away four months apart in 2008.
But the biggest recent story has been the ongoing legal dispute between Powdr Corp. and Talisker Land Holdings LLC, which acquired United Park City Mines in 2003, thus inheriting the property underlying much of PCMR. Talisker officials, charging that PCMR did not renew its lease on the property within specified time limits, are seeking to evict the resort from the property. The dispute has been tied up in court since March 2012.
In spite of the legal wrangling, Powdr Corp. continues to operate the resort and plan for the future. In November, resort officials announced that they expect to build an 80,000-square-foot action sports mountain training center and camp starting in 2014 on PCMR property bordered by Silver King Drive and Lowell Avenue.