Reaching the breaking point
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January 27, 2017
Well, that was interesting. It's been a long time since we've had a major snow storm during Sundance. In fact, it's been so long that we all believed we had it all figured out.
We thought we could manage the traffic perfectly, because we are World Class and World Class resorts don't have third-world traffic flow. And then it snowed. A lot. Every day. It came at inconvenient hours, just as the morning rush was getting started, and often kept it up all day.
Then, just for good measure, a couple of thousand extra people showed up to march in protest of the Trump election. It all came crashing down and nobody could get anywhere.
Friends reported taking over an hour to get from Park Meadows to Snow Park. Others gave up going through town, and instead drove out 248, to access Deer Valley from the Jordanelle Gondola. A friend who was following the march, but was not willing to forego a day of powder skiing for a parade in goofy hats, got texts people were abandoning the gridlocked buses because it was quicker to walk. By Tuesday morning the gondola secret was out, and even that was gridlocked.
So we had the march, Sundance, and some of the best skiing in several years all happening at the same time. It couldn’t have been any worse if we had thrown the Super Bowl, in a sustainable-heated tent, into the mix. Maybe a Rolling Stones Concert, too.
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Last year's Uber helicopter stunt suddenly didn't look so stupid, though there wasn't enough open, flat ground left to have landed on.
It's impossible to know if things would have been much improved if the roads had been dry, and operating at full width. The march was a complete unknown, and the City frankly didn't have any ability to stop it, even if they had wanted to. The First Amendment is kind of messy sometimes. But that's kind of the point. So we had the march, Sundance, and some of the best skiing in several years all happening at the same time. It couldn't have been any worse if we had thrown the Super Bowl, in a sustainable-heated tent, into the mix. Maybe a Rolling Stones Concert, too.
The official version is that everything was awesome. The skiing was, in fact, awesome, despite wind and avalanche holds, power outages and an inability to get employees into town to operate the lifts. The traffic situation surpassed the breaking point. But we won't scale back; we don't do limits around here.
I've heard it said New York City would descend into total anarchy within about 72 hours if the lines of supply were cut off. I don't know what our limit is here, but things could have become pretty ugly if the trucks with the hotels' clean sheets and towels couldn't get up from the laundries in Salt Lake, and restaurants couldn't get restocked. The grocery stores were essentially cleaned out before Sundance. No local is going into Sundance without plenty of TP in the house. But you have to wonder how long we are good for if the storm and traffic had shut down Parleys for an extended period of time.
Terrible as the traffic has been, the snowplow crews from the City, County and UDOT have worked magic in terms of getting roads open. By week's end, everything was a little frayed. Equipment was breaking down, plow drivers wanted to go home to get something to eat and maybe a couple of hours of sleep before going back out for another 12-hour shift. There was cannibalism in the unplowed cul-de-sacs.
Out in my neighborhood, which is still mercifully immune from Sundance, the highway is getting narrower by the day. UDOT tries to push the icebergs lining the road back a little. Instead, they scrape off a little snow over a long distance. It builds up in front of the plow until there is a pile about the size of a Honda Civic (and sometimes, actually includes a Honda Civic). They push it along and then, at the first driveway they come to, it all slips off the face of the plow and fills the driveway. It's a long way between driveways out here, so when it dumps, it's a lot of snow.
On mornings when I look out and see only a couple of inches at my house, where the lane to the house meets the highway, there is a wall of snow that needs the front-end loader to move. It's getting old, but everybody is trying to make it work.
Sundance is winding down. I managed to successfully avoid it again this year. I have no interest in Kardashian hunting, or standing in line to see unknown movies of frequently disappointing quality. Any day I can avoid a celebrity is a good day. But I do like a good movie. So I downloaded one to watch at home on these snowbound nights.
In hindsight, "The Revenant" was maybe not the best choice.
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.
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