Free at last, free at last
July 22, 2016
I normally take this week to educate new residents about our Pioneer Heritage. It is, of course, the 24th of July. The 24th falls on a Sunday this year, so it's celebrated on either the 23rd or the 25th, just to add to the confusion. In the rest of the state it's on par with Christmas. In western Summit County, it's just one more random day the liquor stores are closed.
Instead, this year we can celebrate our glorious victory in the great Park City Trademark War of 2016. Vail withdrew the application to trademark the name "Park City." It's a good outcome in a kerfuffle that was mostly symbolic. It could have had a material effect on a few businesses, who would have run up some big legal fees trying to figure out what it actually meant to them. It was a real issue for them, and for some, it's already been a big expense. For the rest of us, it is purely symbolic. Symbols are important. That's why we have them, and why we care if somebody else tries to appropriate them. So the trucks will be repainted. Free at last, free at last.
It's become fashionable in town to grouse about Vail, and I don't get it. They are big and aggressive and successful. There's no question the resort has been operated differently since they took it over. It feels like the primary focus is taking care of the tourist from Milwaukee in the hat with buffalo horns, who will use his Epic pass five or six days a year, and less effort made to indulge those of us who will use our passes 100 days a year. In other words, they are putting the effort where the profits come from. They lose money on skiers like me every year—skiing for nearly nothing and eating lunch at home.
Vail is the 800-pound gorilla in the ski industry. I can understand the apprehension of local businesses who are suddenly competing with a company with seemingly endless resources. But that's how it works. Friends who work there don't like the changes in the work environment. That happens with every business merger or sale.
I've heard people complaining that Vail's donations to non-profits are just an effort to "buy their way into the community." So it would be better if they gave nothing? Their grant program is more bureaucratic than it was under the previous owners, and the passing out of the funds is kind of ostentatious. I've never heard anybody running the organizations complain about the support.
After Powdr Corp forgot to renew their lease, and the death spiral began, there were only a few possible outcomes. Most of them were terrible. Talisker had taken over the United Park City Mines Company position as landlord, but Talisker was also going down the drain. Unless somebody else stepped in, both Canyons and PCMR would have been owned by the creditors. If you think Vail is bureaucratic, try getting free lift tickets for some exchange students from some beady-eyed banker in a bank’s real estate department. Two years ago, the town was facing a very real possibility that the resort wouldn't open at all, with Powdr yanking the lifts out of the ground. From where we were, teetering over the abyss, things actually turned out pretty well.
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Still, I know a guy who printed up a bunch of "Vail Sucks" stickers and was passing them out on the lift last season. He was not able to point to anything specifically "sucky," but he was sure there was a general aura of "sucky-ness" about it all. Mostly he got busted for skiing on a closed run, and felt that as a part-time local, he should be immune from the rules.
I'm agnostic about Vail's influence on our town. It's a bigger impact than the Olympics. I don't know if that is good or bad, and it's probably some of both. It's easy to long for the days when there were only 2,500 people in town, and lunch was free if you knew the cashier. That's not coming back. The trademark application was an overreach. Vail did the right thing withdrawing it. There will be similar quarrels in the future. The relationship between the City and the Resort has not always been sunshine and lollipops, even back in the Badami era. There will always be a need to push back against the heavy weight a corporation the size of Vail brings to bear.
But last time I looked, I was skiing for about $7 a day, and the biggest complaint I've heard around town the last couple of years is that business is so good you can't get into a restaurant anymore. That's really nothing to whine about. It's time to make peace.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.