Amy Roberts: When the numbers don’t add up |

Amy Roberts: When the numbers don’t add up

Park Record columnist Amy Roberts.

Admittedly, it’s rather pointless to write an opinion piece when you don’t have strong enough feelings on a subject to pick a side. Which is kind of where I stand on the Vail/Park City Mountain Resort chairlift upgrade controversy. It’s not that I don’t care what happens, rather I can understand both sides of the argument.

On one hand, local skiers and snowboarders would benefit from an upgrade to the Eagle and Silverlode Express chairlifts. And a good number of locals have spent the past few seasons demanding Vail “do something” about the overcrowding and lift lines. Upgrading these two lifts would relieve some consistent bottlenecks by moving more skiers around the mountain faster.

On the other hand, it is clear Vail’s unchecked growth has negatively impacted the town – and Park City’s reputation for a top-notch skier experience. The corporation has a proven history of pillaging the mountain towns it operates in, driving up prices, and laughing all the way to the bank. This is the first time Vail’s unchecked growth has been legitimately challenged and it’s not often a small group of people wins against big money. There’s satisfaction in a real-life David and Goliath outcome.

But on a third, nonexistent hand, there’s another point to be considered, one that isn’t getting much traction — this all could have likely been avoided had there been a little checks and balances in the city planning department.

When the Planning Commission voted to uphold the appeal of an administrative conditional-use permit that would have allowed for upgrades to the Eagle and Silverlode Express lifts last week, all it really did was check the authority of the city’s Planning Director. No doubt the fallout goes well beyond a little alpha-establishing chest thumping, but that fallout is largely because the city employee who granted the permit didn’t understand or honor the limits of her power. It also seems true that the information she was provided by Vail to base her decision on was hardly transparent. So maybe a little fact checking should go with the ego checking.

In essence, Vail submitted several shiny graphs and charts that all stated the lift upgrades would not impact the maximum number of 13,700 skiers per day, otherwise known as the Comfortable Carrying Capacity. Think of it as a maximum occupancy number for the outdoors. This number was determined in a 1998 agreement, which Vail would have to renegotiate if it wanted to exceed this capacity.

Renegotiating an agreement over two decades old would hardly be a quick process. Or a successful one considering Vail hasn’t been able to offer sufficient infrastructure like parking, bathrooms, and food service, much less mitigate traffic. Vail wants us to believe there’s no such thing as “chairlift tourism.” And maybe there’s not. But there is certainly such a thing as, “That place was too crowded and there was nowhere to park and we stood in line for three hours, so we aren’t going back,” tourist decision making.

And if this claim is indeed true, that no one chooses their ski vacation based on chairlift numbers, then the numbers Vail used in the shiny graphs and charts it submitted should have reflected this belief. Spoiler alert: They did not.

As part of the process, Vail submitted numbers for the Comfortable Carrying Capacity calculations for each lift and included the sums for 1998, the 2021/22 season, and what it would look like after the chairlift upgrades. But the inputs for each of these equations stayed the same, meaning the numbers used for a six-pack chairlift were the same as those used as the chairlift was a quad.

Perhaps Vail’s only sin is hiring consultants who just don’t math well. But if it was an honest mistake, it’s one that should have been caught prior to granting an approval. Especially if it wasn’t yours to grant.

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