In 1997, SKI magazine published a two-page photo spread featuring the titans of the ski industry that year. Pictured around a poker table covered with highball glasses and cigars were Intrawest founder Joe Houssain, American Skiing Company's Les Otten, Booth Creek Ski Holdings' George Gillett and Vail Resorts' chief at the time, Adam Aron. Widely regarded as the titans of the ski industry, the four were on an acquisition spree that was sweeping across the country from ASC's flagship ski area in Maine to Intrawest's ambitious new properties in British Columbia, Canada.
Seventeen years later, those players are gone either forced out by bankruptcies and takeovers or by choice -- and the companies they founded have been shuffled and reshuffled. But the ski areas they captained are still thriving.
That is important to remember as Park City reels from this week's unequivocal ruling by 3rd District Court Judge Ryan Harris that Park City Mountain Resort's lease on the upper terrain had expired.
Since Wednesday's ruling, the landlord, Talisker Land Holdings LLC., has announced it intends to turn the lease over to Vail Resorts, which already operates Talisker's nearby property, Canyons Resort. At the same time, PCMR, which owns the base facilities and some of the lower slopes, has vowed not to give up control and says it will appeal the judge's decision.
That impasse poses a significant threat to the local economy. There is no logical portal to the disputed terrain other than the existing PCMR base area, and that plaza's proximity to the heart of Park City's commercial district makes it an integral economic engine for the whole community.
An appeal, which would likely halt pending improvements and new development in the area, would only serve to prolong an already drawn out period of insecurity among employees, business owners and property owners.
Make no mistake about it every sector of Park City's economy, along with a good portion of Summit County's has skin in this dispute. And now that the judge has ruled, it is time for a negotiated settlement, even if it takes a third party to spur the discussions.
For its part, PCMR has earned the community's loyalty. Its founders helped to establish Utah's ski industry and laid the groundwork for Park City's subsequent selection as an Olympic co-host. It adopted the fledgling National Ability Center and gave the program a base from which to launch an internationally recognized facility for disabled athletes. PCMR has also been a leader in environmental stewardship among ski areas.
But PCMR's latest statements seem to be alarmingly out of sync with its contention that it has the community's best interests at heart. The resort doesn't seem willing to acknowledge the damage their inflexible stance is inflicting on the town and on its own credibility.
On the other side, Vail Resorts, which has taken the lead role in the case, seems willing to negotiate.
Nevertheless, in today's ski industry, Vail is a 800-pound gorilla. As Utah learned when Vail introduced its Epic Pass, the company wields a big hammer, a fact PCMR knows all too well, and Park City would do well to keep in mind.
It may therefore be necessary to introduce a mediator into the talks one that truly has a single mandate to do what's best for the community.
Park City could step in to fill that role. City Hall has already laid the groundwork for linking future resort plans to requirements that PCMR's base will continue to serve as a permanent portal to the upper terrain. Both PCMR and Vail have supported that concept.
Summit County can offer a good template. In approving American Skiing Company's plans for Canyons, it outlined a Specially Planned Area designed around a resort base. The SPA's density constraints and public amenity requirements were intended to remain in place regardless of who owned or operated the resort, and that proved to be wise. American Skiing and the former landowners are gone, replaced by Vail and Talisker respectively, but the county's guidelines are still in effect.
In that light, we hope PCMR and Vail can come to a settlement, one with terms that will outlast today's industry heavyweights and will preserve the resort's vital connection to the community.