Tom Clyde: Squatters and carpetbaggers
April 11, 2014
So that’s it for ski season for at two of our three resorts. PCMR is staying open another week. That lets them pick up the late Easter holiday, and also reminds us that Vail has closed up next door. The spring skiing has been very good for a few hours early in the day. You don’t want to up there until last chair. One of the best powder days of the season was April 1, so I wouldn’t give up on the chances of some additional good skiing next week.
For a year with uninspiring snow, it was a fun season. I’ve got a couple of standing groups that go out with almost religious commitment. There were some great hikes, bumps, and trees along the way. The company was excellent and there’s really nothing to complain about as far as the skiing was concerned. More powder would always be welcome, but that’s true even in a big year. Thanks to the hard work of the people who work the resorts, the conditions were always good.
So thanks to everybody who worked the resorts this winter, from patrol throwing bombs at 4 in the morning to cooks cutting up the spuds for the clam chowder. I hope your season packed as much enjoyment as mine. Good luck with whatever adventure is up next.
The season ends with some dark clouds looming. The battle between the squatters and the carpetbaggers over the ownership of PCMR is getting ugly, with Cold War threats of mutually assured destruction. PCMR has announced that if they are evicted, they are taking the lifts with them. The Vail side is insisting that they will accept nothing but complete surrender.
Vail’s purchase offer sounds reasonable, aside from the fact that there is no way to put a price on the property (even if PCMR wanted to sell it). It’s property that has only one potential purchaser—Vail. The value is huge if there is a lease in place and it is the front porch of one of the top ski areas in the country. It’s a little less valuable if it is the entrance to a terrain park. It’s either beachfront or it’s inland, and until the lease dispute is resolved one way or the other, nobody can tell where the ocean is.
I spent enough years practicing law that it has ruined my brain. I keep trying to assess the strategies and positions of each side. Both are trying to gain leverage, hoping to pinch the other until there is capitulation. Neither side seems close to giving up. So the legal battle will rage on. There will continue to be interim rulings on various issues, such as whether the lifts can be removed, but nothing short of a trial on the status of the lease renewal will really matter much.
The judge isn’t a mediator. He can’t write a new deal between the parties. He can only decide whether or not the lease got renewed. The judge can’t set a new rental rate, or a purchase price for the parking lots, or design lifts that connect Canyons and PCMR. Sadly, even a final decision on the status of the lease may not end it. Fifty years is a lot of tangling up, and it won’t unravel easily or without a few knots along the way. The landlord has been trying to get out of the deal for 20 years. Don’t bet on a chorus of Kumbaya breaking out.
In the darkest moments, it’s possible to come up with a scenario where Vail wins, PCMR removes the lifts, the razor wire goes up on the boundary lines, and the Park City Resort some of us grew up with and have skied for 50 years ceases to exist. Vail can graze sheep on the upper mountain, or pack their bags and turn Canyons back to Talisker. After all, Vail has no real stake here.
The bellicose rhetoric from both sides kind of points in that direction. But you have to assume that both sides know that preserving the value is important to whoever ends up with the resort. Everybody loses if the dispute ends up shutting things down and destroying the well-established brand. Surely, we hope, nuking the whole thing isn’t really on the table, even if it sounds like it. It would probably be good if the City Council was spending a little more time making contingency plans for the community’s status as collateral damage, unlikely as it might be. That might be more important than plastic grocery bags. Like the Cold War, this is going to go on for a long time.
Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to another season of great (lift-served) skiing at PCMR next year. Let’s hope for good snow.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.