Amy Roberts: Fast tracks and slow learners |

Amy Roberts: Fast tracks and slow learners

For years, Park City locals have grumbled about the crowds and the dwindling respite between summer and winter tourists. And now, it seems that small but endearing window has completely closed. Locked and covered with plywood for good measure.

Park Record columnist Amy Roberts.

“There is no off season anymore.” We say it with an equal mix of annoyance about the way things are and nostalgia for the way things used to be. I muttered this line multiple times last Sunday when a friend and I attempted to have brunch on Main Street. Even though I know the “off season” is no longer, part of me still assumed there was at least a marginally slower season — if just for a few days. And a chilly weekend in the middle of October seemed like a decent chance for this. I called it “wishful thinking,” but “delusional” turned out to be more accurate. Main Street was jammed with people. Restaurants had lines out the door and wait times of more than an hour.

Once we finally got a table, my friend and I repeatedly asked each other the same question. “Who visits Park City in October?” It’s kind of like going to Florida in July. Sure, you can do it, but why?

Fueled by mimosas and speculation, we eventually surmised that skiing, which is arguably considered an elite sport, has morphed into a not-so-arguable elite lifestyle. People who don’t necessarily ski or hike, or even really enjoy the mountains, still want to be part of it all. It’s a complete culture now — with its own unique language, fashion, values and norms — and achieving the romanticized version of each elevates one’s social status. You don’t have to actually ski to apres ski. Or, as they’re doing it at Snowbird this season, you don’t have to actually stand in line to ski.

The resort recently announced it is installing Fast Tracks Express Lanes at six of its most popular lifts, allowing skiers and boarders who pay a minimum of an extra $69 (prices increase on busy days) the ability to cut to the front of the line. The “upgrade,” as the resort calls it, is designed to maximize the experience by minimizing the wait time. At least for those who can afford it.

The concept isn’t new. Amusement parks already do this. So does the federal government with its TSA precheck program. But it’s fair to say the roller coaster or the plane ride are exactly the same at 9 a.m. as they are at 2 p.m. That’s not the case with snow. As expected, many season pass holders aren’t happy with the program, claiming it makes the sport even more elitist and rewards the rich while sending long-time locals to the back of the line. Even Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden weighed in (the Fast Tracks program is also planned at Mount Bachelor), saying the initiative is an inequitable use of U.S. Forest Service land. Snowbird owners got Wyden’s letter too, as the resort also operates on public lands via a U.S. Forest Service Special Use Permit. While it’s a noble attempt, the argument isn’t likely to stick. If it did, anyone who can’t afford to ski could argue charging for a lift ticket isn’t equitable use of public land.

There’s a petition circulating on to stop the program. As of my deadline, it had roughly 1,200 signatures. Nearly every comment bashes the Fast Tracks program, calling it a greedy money grab in one way or another. The sentiment isn’t wrong; but the resort’s calculations might be.

Undoubtedly, Snowbird expects this move to generate more revenue. Somewhere in a back room, forecasting accountants are excited about a detailed algorithm. It all seems a bit shortsighted to me, though. Yes, plenty of people will pay for the ability to cut in line, but how many of them already did this by hiring an instructor? That’s one of the perks of dropping several hundred dollars for a lesson. While some people really do need help making a turn in the trees, a lot of visitors hire an instructor simply for the access. Now that they can skip to the front for much less than the cost of a tutorial they might not need, it’s reasonable to assume a drop in revenue generated from lessons.

And if that turns out to be the case, perhaps elitist ski culture will include a little karmic justice.

Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.

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