Teri Orr: Dear Ms. Gibson
Dear Ms. Gibson,
Since your letter about my recent column was sent directly to my publisher and not me, I hope you won’t mind me using the paper to reply. You already know he immediately met your demand and struck from the digital version the word – “champagne” – that offended you when placed next to the word “powder” and not capitalized and credited to your employer with a ®. I, however, Do not go gentle into that good night of corporate overreach. To help the reader, the contents of your correspondence are truncated here:
“My name is Leslie Gibson, and I am the Marketing Supervisor at Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation (SSRC) which owns and operates the Steamboat Ski Resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I am writing because it came to our attention that you used the phrase “champagne powder” in a recent story “Teri Orr: Not universally the most wonderful time of the year…” dated December 10, 2021 to describe snow in and around Park City, Utah.
“The term CHAMPAGNE POWDER® is a US registered trademark identifying services offered by SSRC. SSRC has used the CHAMPAGNE POWDER mark extensively since at least as early as the 1960s in connection with ski resort services and related goods. As a result of this use, the mark has developed substantial public recognition and goodwill. SSRC enjoys common law rights in the mark in addition to the US federal registration of this mark (USPTO Reg. No. 3,796,193).
“The snow conditions at locations other than the Steamboat Ski Resort may be described as “powder,” “packed powder,” “fluff,” “blower”, etc., but not as champagne powder. We hope you can appreciate how such use of our trademark may impact our rights in the mark, and that we have the obligation to enforce our rights in the same manner as you would your own trademarks. We must therefore ask that you remove the use of champagne powder from this story and not use it in any stories in the future.”
I moved here from Lake Tahoe (specifically Dollar Point, named for the person Stanley Dollar and not the currency) in 1979. No one ever likened Tahoe snow to anything light and bubbly. Instead, someone coined the term “Sierra Cement,” and it remains in liberal use today to describe the heavy, frozen precipitation that often covers those mountains. The only trademark I could find for SIERRA CEMENT applies to clothing. Since Alterra Mountain Company owns Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley and formerly Alpine Meadows, which was once owned by the former parent company of Park City Mountain Resort, which is now owned by Vail Resorts) perhaps your parent company can trademark that highly marketable phrase as it relates to the qualities of that snow. But I digress…
For as many years as you claim your employer SSRC (acquired by Alterra in 2017) has been comparing snowfall within the boundaries of its resort in Steamboat, Colorado, to an effervescent beverage produced in a certain method in a certain region in France, countless people skiing both sides of the Wasatch Mountains have similarly and metaphorically used the word “champagne” to describe that same fluffy white stuff that falls in my Park City backyard. And all these people, not unlike all the people who have carried on conversations in Steamboat (the city, not the resort) for decades, use the phrase purely as personal anecdote and poetry, not as intellectual property.
If I sound confident on all this, it’s because we’ve learned a little bit about trademarks here in Park City these last few years. Your claim of trademark infringement appears to be Magical Thinking as the mark you cite makes no reference to snow, and we all know it is as difficult to trademark nature as it is geography. I can refer you to Utah’s legitimate and hard-earned mark — The Greatest Snow On Earth® — for more on all that.
Park City is used to being both the Sodom and Gomorrah for this state. As a former silver mining town founded by rough-and-tumble miners who drank hard liquor, enjoyed the pleasures of soft women and gambled away their wages, it was a bit cheeky of us back in the day to refer to the snow as the alcoholic beverage champagne and to combine it with the quality of our brut dry and powder-like snow. And it was a deliberate wink to let folks know Park City was in Utah but not of Utah. We are a state of mind within a state of record, proud of our rebellious nature that has served us well for over 138 years…
This newspaper, dating back to 1880, is one of the oldest weekly papers in continuous publication west of the Mississippi. It was called The Park Mining Record at first. We survived the great fire of our town in 1898, kept publishing with the help of The Salt Lake Tribune, and pieced together the paper in a tent when our own building burned to the ground. We have survived multiple owners and editors, myself included.
I understand your parent company, Alterra, is as new to owning Steamboat resort (not to be confused with Steamboat the town) as it is Deer Valley Resort. Apparently 2017 was The Year of Living Dangerously for mergers and acquisitions in the ski world. Here in Park City, we have long memories, and we are respectful of our past. We share both ideas and names. The Stern family, previous owners of Deer Valley, created a ski resort as elegant as their Stanford Court Hotel. It was named for Leland Stanford, a railroad and robber baron who founded the eponymous university with his wife and served as governor of California. And it was located on San Francisco’s Nob Hill, one of the seven notable hills in San Francisco named as much for its elevation as for the slang of its day, which acknowledged the four wealthy “nobs” (aka Pacific Railroad barons) who owned mansions on said hill. Anyway, that formerly elegant ski resort business took its operating name — Royal Street Land Company — from a street of the same name in New Orleans. But back to Our Town…
Here in Park City, we are sensitive to the actions of a corporatizing culture and remain clear on the truth and The Fault in Our Stars. The scene in that book and subsequent film, where the two young lovers first taste champagne and “drink the stars” (a phrase credited to the monk, Dom Perignon) is incandescent.
I have a difficult time imagining why people seated at desks in Steamboat and Denver assume they own entire communities built by Men to Match My Mountains or why someone would run automated searches intended to punish users of a colloquial phrase used to describe the qualities of snowfall. No one can lay claim to the essence of mountains or snow. They are of the earth and atmosphere, and we all just borrow them for a spell. If you wish to continue this conversation outside of threats, you are welcome to bring a bottle of bubbly for some friendly chit-chat on declining snow quality, the merits of 2002 Dom and the morality in trying to trademark geographic locations or nature’s elements. As for me, I will raise my own glass of champagne and toast the lightly falling powder, hopefully this very Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
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Fresh fallen powder and a layer of hoar frost clung to the evergreens as we cruised up Sterling Express at Deer Valley Resort. My new ski buddy sat next to me, relaxing after our first…