Third District Court Judge Ryan Harris issued a sensible decision in the contentious lawsuit between Park City Mountain Resort and Talisker Land Holdings/Vail Resorts, but it is still difficult to believe the parties are any closer to resolving their differences. As a result, many Park City businesses, property owners and employees are living day to day with a shadow over their investments and livelihoods.
The case centers on Park City Mountain Resort's failure to renew the lease for much of its ski terrain, located on property owned by Talisker. Harris previously ruled that PCMR's long-term lease had expired, leaving the majority of the ski terrain in the hands of Vail Resorts, which now operates the neighboring, Talisker-owned ski area, Canyons Resort.
On Thursday, Harris upheld the notice of eviction that would force PCMR to relinquish the upper mountain, but he also granted a stay of enforcement with a requirement that the parties enter mediation. The stay essentially gives PCMR, Talisker and Vail time to walk back from the brink of shutting down the resort.
But the heated rhetoric of the last few weeks suggests the two entities are miles apart from working out a sale or lease that would knit the PCMR-owned base facilities and the ski terrain back together.
PCMR claims Vail Resorts can't operate the upper mountain without the parking lots and base facilities. And Vail has acknowledged that accessing the upper terrain without the base would be problematic. Furthermore, PCMR has said that it will dismantle its lifts on the upper terrain if the eviction is carried out, making the slopes unusable until a new operator can install new ones unlikely by first snowfall this winter.
The two must work out a deal or accept responsibility for creating an unskiable mountain surrounded by empty parking lots and a bitter community.
Some hope PCMR will sell the base and other assets to Vail Resorts and make a graceful exit. As the operator of two adjoining ski areas, Vail could offer an attractive new product to the increasingly competitive international ski-resort market. Others, concerned over a potential monopoly by Vail's multi-state presence, still hold out hope that PCMR can forge a new lease with Talisker for the upper terrain and continue to operate as it has in the past, preserving Park City's tradition of three independent ski areas.
Unfortunately, over the last two years, meaningful negotiations have been set aside in favor of a legal battle. Even the judge wants to put an end to that strategy.
Both PCMR and Vail have told The Park Record they have the community's best interests at heart. Frankly, we are skeptical. We'll believe the first one that comes to the table with a reasonable proposal that will ensure the ski area continues to be the vital economic driving force and community pillar that it has been for the last 50 years.