Park City criticism of PCMR, Vail Resorts epitomized by story of a cold, $9 hot dog

Old Town resident uses lunchtime meal as a symbol for what many see as wider issues at resort

Old Town resident Michael Kaplan at a recent Park City Council meeting described a hot dog that he says cost $9 at Park City Mountain Resort. He noted the meal in a broader statement criticizing PCMR owner Vail Resorts’ management of the resort.
Courtesy of Michael Kaplan

Michael Kaplan had houseguests in the last week or so who wanted to ski at Park City Mountain Resort.

They spent time on the slopes before heading to lunch at Mid Mountain Lodge & Public House, and Kaplan’s meal that day has suddenly become emblematic amid an intense wave of criticism about the operations at PCMR directed at the resort and its owner, Colorado-based Vail Resorts.

Kaplan, an Old Town resident, during a Park City Council meeting last week told the elected officials of his experience at PCMR with the houseguests. He said there was little available parking at the resort as he also questioned the snowmaking and grooming efforts. He noted the long lift lines and the time waiting to eat as well.

“And absolutely terrible food. Forty-two minutes to buy a $9 hot dog. Would you eat this for $9,” Kaplan said, holding up a photograph of his meal that day.

The photograph showed a hot dog with a slightly toasted bun, served in a disposable container. He described the day at PCMR as “very, very embarrassing.” Kaplan said he understood the continuing novel coronavirus pandemic and scant recent snowfall are some of the reasons for the situation, “but Vail’s management of Park City is far from a world-class ski experience.”

“Vail Corp. are stewards of perhaps our largest and most important competitive advantage — the ski resort. But Vail has failed us. They seem to care little about our community or the guest experience and yet Vail is enjoying record profits,” he said, adding there are “negative repercussions on our community and our reputation” with the name of the community attached to the resort.

The comments by Kaplan were some of the highlights of approximately 80 minutes of input to Mayor Nann Worel and the City Council last week about the operations of PCMR. The speakers covered a range of issues, including crowd sizes on the slopes, traffic and a development proposal at the base.

Kaplan’s comments, reinforced with the photograph, though, seemed to be especially memorable with so many skiers and snowboarders choosing a convenient option for lunch on the PCMR slopes like at the Mid Mountain Lodge & Public House. And on-the-slopes food prices have long been a point of contention across much of the ski industry, with many skiers and snowboarders packing their own lunches into their pockets to avoid the restaurants. A midday meal on the slopes is irrelevant to the overall experience of skiing for some, but for others it is one of the highlights of a day.

PCMR did not immediately respond to a Park Record request for comment about food prices on the slopes.

The input about PCMR and Vail Resorts at the recent City Council meeting was surprising in its broad nature and in the deep-rooted concerns expressed by speakers. Nobody representing PCMR or Vail Resorts addressed Worel and the City Council, and it was not clear if any were in attendance at the Marsac Building or listening to the meeting online. It appears the elected officials could meet with the PCMR side shortly, possibly by the end of the month. It is unclear what could be accomplished during such a meeting since much of the recent input dealt with topics that are not regulated by the municipal government.

There is continuing displeasure with Vail Resorts and PCMR years after the firm acquired the resort in 2014 as part of a settlement of a lawsuit with the former owner and then combined PCMR and Canyons Resort into a single property. Some see the Vail Resorts ownership of PCMR as bringing a corporate vibe to Park City, increased crowds and higher prices. The recent commotion, though, is some of the most intense since a 2016 dispute that centered on an effort by Vail Resorts to secure a trademark on the term “Park City.”

Kaplan’s professional background is as a professor in marketing and the management of mountain resorts. He spent 22 years teaching on the university level in Utah and in Europe. In an interview, Kaplan described Vail Resorts as short-sighted, saying profits are sought over the ski experience. Reversing what he sees as the Vail Resorts strategy would be a “more long-term outlook,” he said.

“The hot dog exemplifies a long, frustrating day of no parking, huge lift lines, several lifts not operating and lousy grooming,” Kaplan said, adding that the meal was cold.

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