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Wolf Mountain, American Skiing Co. entwined in more legal wrangling

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

The future of Park City’s largest ski resort appears in jeopardy as landowners squabble over who must do what, before construction of a golf course at The Canyons can begin.

Officials at the fledgling four-season resort are counting on 18 holes making The Canyons American Skiing Company’s crown jewel.

But since ASC, parent company to The Canyons, leased property from Wolf Mountain Resorts managing partner Kenny Griswold to form the resort in the late 1990s, the publicly traded company has lost nearly $600 million, an attorney for Griswold claimed during a recent court hearing.

The price of ASC stock has fallen from $20 to around 17 cents per share, Griswold said about the company’s "monumental collapse."

"When you get de-listed from the stock exchange and you are now a penny stock, you are not playing in the big leagues anymore," said Griswold, former operator of Wolf Mountain Resort who owns much of the ski slopes and developable land at The Canyons.

Meanwhile, officials at Park City-based American Skiing, who operate eight resorts in North America, have considered selling perhaps the company’s most visible property:

Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado.

With apparent attempts to liquidate assets underway at ASC, Griswold says he is losing faith the company will ever fulfill its commitments to construct a golf course in the Snyderville Basin.

American Skiing Company, Griswold and roughly 20 other landowners agreed in 1999 to provide land and easements for construction of the course at The Canyons.

"It was a cooperative effort that [Wolf Mountain] participated in," said Tim Vetter, a vice president at The Canyons, who added that Griswold is the only property owner who has not provided land for the golf course in escrow. "We have made huge strides and right now we have one party that has not come to the table and [Wolf Mountain] is in default with the county."

But as the resort’s master developer, ASC defaulted on the development agreement when the company failed to complete the course in 2002 as required by the contract, Griswold said.

"Not only is it not finished, it hasn’t even started," he added. "American Skiing Company went through a financial crisis and they were trying to stay alive and stay out of bankruptcy. The golf course was certainly not a primary priority."

But Griswold was the one recently issued a default notice by the Summit County Commission that alleges Wolf Mountain has failed to fulfill its obligations to the golf course, Vetter said, adding, "to me, that’s very telling."

"I don’t believe that Wolf Mountain has actually given anything yet," said Joanne Nadalin, director of The Canyons Resort Village Management Association (RVMA). "That’s probably why the county has issued notice of default and authorized litigation (against Wolf Mountain)."

The RVMA is an organization made up of landowners at the resort that helps oversee development of the golf course.

"It’s going to require Kenny and his people and his lawyers all to agree to do the right thing, then there will be no need for the Board of County Commissioners to make a tough decision about telling me to go to court," Summit County Attorney David Brickey said about the notice of default.

Griswold, however, insists Wolf Mountain has offered to provide more property for construction of the course than the development agreement requires.

"We were overly generous," he said. "What we will not be is bullied by either American Skiing Company or the RVMA."

Vetter countered, "nobody is bullying Wolf Mountain in this process."

A lawsuit filed by Wolf Mountain against the RVMA last week asks Third District Court Judge Bruce Lubeck to determine the obligations of each party as defined by the 1999 Canyons Specially Planned Area (SPA) development agreement.

"If all of us would stop pointing the finger at one another and come together as an integrated resort only good things will happen," Griswold said. "Otherwise, the courts will decide exactly who is responsible to do what, and that, I’m very comfortable with as well."

According to Griswold’s 14-page complaint filed July 25, "The landowners have never granted an extension of time to complete the golf course, nor have they released the RVMA or [ASC] from their obligation to construct the golf course by 2002."

Redesigns of the golf course have altered the impacts envisioned in the 1999 agreement and were not authorized by landowners at The Canyons as required by the contract, Griswold claims in the complaint.

"The golf course evolved through this process which Wolf has been a part of," Vetter explained. "Some of the changes came from Wolf Mountain."

Meanwhile, Griswold countered a comment this week made recently by Vetter, who told The Park Record Griswold might have an "ulterior motive" for stalling construction of the course.

"That was a low blow," Griswold said. "If you want to suggest that I have an ulterior motive to help to prevent [ASC] from filing bankruptcy, yes. If my ulterior motive is (for ASC) to keep their word on our contract that they’ve signed, yes."


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