Tom Clyde: The day the sky went dark
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August 25, 2017
The eclipse was interesting. I had friends who drove "yonder" into Idaho, with no destination in mind, just drive until it started, and then wait on the shoulder of the road or in some wheat field for totality. Then drive home. My niece decided it wasn't worth the effort, and then abruptly changed her mind and drove through the night to get to her brother's house in Jackson. Some people are describing it as absolutely life-changing. It was a chance to fully comprehend your personal significance in the cosmos (which apparently is not as significant as we might have wished).
The cosmos and I have pretty well worked things out. I got knocked to the ground by a bolt of lightning on my birthday this spring, and that seems to have made the relative positions of Clyde vs. Cosmos abundantly clear. I didn't need to drive to Idaho for further elucidation.
So I watched it at home. Some of the family were around, and we hiked up to a rock outcropping above the hay fields to watch the eclipse. Somehow, being that extra 300 feet closer mattered. We settled for 90 percent coverage, and took the obligatory pictures. I've got some great shots of the inside of my welding helmet — the camera couldn't figure out that it was supposed to be looking through the glass, not at the glass. Interesting, but it didn't feel life changing.
And then I got home and learned that at the moment of totality, the world really did change. Deer Valley chose that darkest moment to announce that they had sold the place. That seems life changing, even at 90 percent coverage. No telling what would have happened around here if we had been in the path of totality.
The new owner is a partnership so new that it doesn't even have a name, or is so mysterious that its name cannot be spoken. The Illuminati. The purchasers are a group that has been on a spending binge, buying up ski resorts like some game show where you fill your shopping cart with as many ski resorts as it will hold before the bell rings. They seem to have endless cash.
In a town that doesn't keep secrets very well, this was a deep, dark, secret. I don't know anybody who wasn't stunned by the news. Nobody has said what the purchase price is, but if you look at the sale of PCMR, under very distressed circumstances, at $182 million, and Whistler-Blackcomb at $1.4 billion (Canadian), you get the sense that the sellers won't be picking up lawn mowing jobs on the side to make ends meet.
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Of course, the press release promises that nothing will change. At least for the coming season, which is pretty well planned out, things will be business as usual. The familiar key personnel will stay around. Beyond that, who knows? It feels different from Vail's take over of Park City Mountain and Canyons. That situation had turned into a putrid mess, with a very real chance that the Park City side of things would actually not open, and lifts would be yanked out of the ground for salvage. Vail was the knight who rescued us; though not necessarily the knight we were hoping for.
This is different. Deer Valley operates so well that finding an empty Kleenex box at the lift line is a major disappointment. An acquaintance who lives in Whistler felt the same way about Vail's purchase of that resort — it was operating perfectly, and there's nothing a new owner can do but mess it up. Epic-ly.
The City Council is having a meltdown over the possibility of a Ben-and-Jerry's ice cream store on Main Street. Too many chain stores, paying outsized rent on spaces that are more a marketing presence than a store that is intended to make a profit on its own. They want limits on chain stores, so the Mom-and-Pop local stores, that need to turn a profit, can survive.
What about chain stores on the ski hills? With the combined acquisitions by Vail and the mysterious, unnamed partnership that has bought more or less whatever Vail didn't buy yet, there are basically two ski area operators in the country. Boyne still is a player in the Midwest (I raise hay on ground steeper than some of their black diamond runs). There are a few one-offs like Alta, Snowbird, and Solitude, which was not part of the deal. But it's basically a two-way competition. An article in the Denver Post suggested it would start a season pass price war as the new conglomerate tries to take market share from the Epic pass. I've got my doubts.
But I'm pretty sure that any announcement that makes the sky to go dark is going to have an impact.
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.