Vail Resorts chief in Park City: More work needed on housing, wages
The chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts, the Colorado-based firm that owns Park City Mountain Resort, in Park City on Monday evening acknowledged the company fell behind on workforce housing and wages, connected issues that are two of the overriding concerns in Park City and the wider community of mountain resorts in the West.
Rob Katz appeared in front of a packed room at the Santy Auditorium in the Park City Library as he delivered an address marking the 25th anniversary of the Community Leadership Lecture and answered audience questions. Katz covered numerous topics during the approximately two-hour event, describing his ideals of leadership, the status of the mountain resort industry and the industry’s future. He did not announce major new projects at PCMR and instead spoke in broad terms rather than dwelling on the details of the resort and the parent firm. He stated several times he did not have details about specific parts of the operations.
Katz, though, acknowledged Vail Resorts as well as the communities where the firm operates did not pursue workforce housing at the levels that they perhaps should have. He said it was a mistake by Vail Resorts as well as the communities.
“Now we’re playing catch up,” Katz said.
He said, though, Vail Resorts hopes to continue to invest in housing through a recession when a downturn occurs.
Katz, meanwhile, said wages at Vail Resorts fell behind after the most recent recession a decade ago. He said Vail Resorts must be a leader regarding wages, but he did not delve into details. The company-wide minimum wage at Vail Resorts’ U.S. ski areas is set at $12.25 per hour.
“I think it’s an area more has to be done,” he said about wages.
The topics of housing and wages are crucial to the wider community of Park City as well as Vail Resorts, one of the largest employers in the Park City area, itself. Workforce or otherwise affordable housing has long been a challenge for City Hall, businesses and rank-and-file employees in the most expensive housing market in the state. Many see there being a shared responsibility at some level between the municipal government and large employers like PCMR. The wages paid by the largest employers are also important since they are seen as influencing the pay throughout the broad list of sectors tied in some fashion to the mountain resorts.
Katz, meanwhile, addressed climate change, another crucial topic for the ski industry since some worry a warming planet could someday threaten snow sports. He said his biggest fear regarding climate change is as a father rather than as the leader of Vail Resorts. From the perspective of the company, he said, it is important to sell season passes prior to the start of the winter, which generates revenue regardless of the snow conditions later. He also said it is important that communities like Park City maintain their vibrancy. That, Katz said, would draw people even in years of scant snowfall.
He also briefly addressed diversity in the ski industry, saying the efforts are behind. The entire sport must embrace diversity, Katz said, adding that it must be a priority to hire minorities. He said he does not want skiing to be a sport “only for white people.”
Katz, addressing a topic of local interest, spoke broadly about night skiing for the public, which PCMR ended in 2017. He said many operational decisions are made at the individual mountain resorts rather than at the Vail Resorts corporate level. He said the resorts weigh topics like the guest experience and staffing when making decisions.
The audience was cordial on Monday evening, and the Katz appearance drew an audience of various ages with people appearing to come from across the Park City area. The event ended without any tensions although the Park City Police Department had a uniformed presence.
The event was a rare public appearance in Park City by Katz although he is believed to visit on a fairly regular basis for meetings at PCMR or private events. Many people in Park City remain suspicious about Vail Resorts more than four years after the firm acquired PCMR, ending a polarizing lawsuit centered on the former PCMR owner’s lease of most of the land underlying the resort’s terrain. They see the arrival of Vail Resorts as having advanced the corporatization of the community alongside rising process and traffic increases. Others counter that the presence of Vail Resorts has further lifted the local economy and the firm has contributed to the area’s not-for-profit organizations.
Two people indicated in interviews they are considering mounting campaigns for the Park City Council, a signal the City Hall election could attract an intriguing slate of candidates in a year when the majority of the five seats are on the ballot.