Park City travelers offer cautionary message about Vail Resorts | ParkRecord.com

Park City travelers offer cautionary message about Vail Resorts

Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

A group of government officials, business leaders and not-for-profit executives from Park City recently visited Breckenridge, Colo., with plans to learn plenty about Vail Resorts.

The travelers returned to Park City with a range of opinions about the Colorado firm that has owned Park City Mountain Resort for a little more than a year. Vail Resorts is one of the major players in the North American ski industry and acquired PCMR in a deal that ended a highly contentious lawsuit between the former owners and a separate firm, under the Talisker corporate umbrella, that owns the land underlying much of the resort.

Vail Resorts earlier reached a long-term deal to operate the Talisker-owned Canyons Resort and is linking the two properties into a single mountain resort under the PCMR moniker. It will be the largest mountain resort in the U.S. There has been widespread interest in Park City in Vail Resorts as a corporate entity, influencing the organizers of the recent City Tour to head to Colorado. The mountain resorts of Breckenridge and Keystone, which the travelers visited during the trip, are Vail Resorts properties.

The City Tour listened to presentations by top-tier Vail Resorts officials, including CEO Rob Katz, and toured the properties. The tour organizers provided The Park Record a copy of the notes from a debriefing session at the end of the trip. The nine pages of notes include numerous references to Vail Resorts.

"Vail is preparing, does city and county know goals we want to achieve," the notes quoted one person as saying.

The notes were compiled without names attached. They show the people on the trip have concerns about the impacts the firm will have on Park City, and they broach a range of topics like the Vail Resorts-community relationships and taxes. The notes are similar to persistent grumblings in Park City in recent months even as others predict the connected mountain resort will be a boon for the city.

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Vail Resorts in quick fashion prepared for the 2014-2015 ski season after the PCMR acquisition. The firm over the winter won approvals in Park City and Summit County to build a gondola connecting the two mountain resorts and other improvements on the slopes. It is anticipated the discussions over time between Vail Resorts and local government bodies like the Park City Council and the Summit County Council will include tax issues and development. It seemed like some of the comments compiled in the notes were forward looking as people considered the long-term relationship between the community and Vail Resorts.

"Vail’s ability to control public perception and protect their image and brand," someone said. Another person said: "Don’t let Vail divide and conquer County vs. City, non-profits, staff all levels." One of the other comments was: "Epic pass = epic effects?" It is a reference to Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass, which allows holders skiing across the firm’s mountain resorts.

"Vail is getting a lot of business by using Park City Branding and expanding business in our back yard. Vail will need to deal with some of the impact they are causing by doing that," one group of City Tour-goers said in crafting a strategy.

The annual City Tour brings the group of Park City travelers to destinations in the region, including many of the mountain resorts. Leaders say the trips are valuable as the group learns about practices and projects in the other communities. The trip to Breckenridge, which also included a stop in Grand Junction, Colo., was especially notable since the group had the opportunity to meet with the executives from Vail Resorts. The class of Leadership Park City, a yearlong training program, also attends.

Myles Rademan, the director of Leadership Park City and the figure who has planned the City Tour for years, said in an interview the tour-goers saw Vail Resorts as an honest company with integrity and smart people.

"We came back saying ‘Hey, these are good people,’" Rademan said.

Rademan appeared at a recent City Council meeting to discuss the trip. Some of the topics he covered included a housing formula in Breckenridge that results in a high percentage of units designated as affordable, subsidized day care there and traffic.

"They have 22 days of gridlock every year," Rademan said about Breckenridge, comparing the figure to one day of terrible traffic in Park City earlier in 2015.

He said the mountain resort in Breckenridge posts more skier-days, an industry term that measures one person skiing all or part of one day, than Park City’s resorts combined.

Rademan told the elected officials Vail Resorts is a high-caliber firm and people must "understand who you’re dealing with."

Kristin Kenney Williams, the Vail Resorts vice president over mountain community affairs, provided a prepared comment about the City Tour in response to a Park Record request.

"We spent a terrific day with the Park City Leadership group. Because we were just coming off of our Company Leadership Summit in Keystone, many of our leaders were able to spend time with the Park City folks. We also invited the Summit County, Colo. commissioners and staff, as well as some of our local non-profit partners, to meet their counterparts," Kenney Williams said. "Having recently reached an agreement with the Town of Breckenridge to address parking and transit concerns, it was a timely opportunity to talk about how we had a spirited but very healthy dialogue with our elected officials and resort community members over the past several months to reach agreed-upon terms and do what’s in the best interest for everyone."

Some of the travelers’ comments addressing Vail Resorts, as compiled in the notes include:

  • "Complexities of Vail relationship knowing corporate vs. community objectives; recognition of separate entities, but collaboration"
  • "Don’t let corporate relationship deteriorate; Vail has the ability to divide the city/co"
  • "Breck’s sales tax be strategic and careful in negotiations with Vail and engage the public at the right time to avoid emotional conflicts. Be proactive rather than reactive"
  • "Vail protects their brand at all costs"
  • "Vail’s branding vs. keep community learn from Vail"