Tom Clyde: New lifts and more bad news
This little cold snap has pushed skiing to the front of my mind. I’ve got my passes bought and am ready to go. This ski season is supposed to be closer to normal in terms of operations. Last year’s plague precautions made for a weird season. The lodges at PCMR were available by reservation only, which meant that you had to make a reservation to use the bathroom. When you are my age, that’s a lot of reservations. Or a lot of tree skiing.
Details haven’t come out yet, but I have to assume that they will make changes that have the restrooms more readily accessible, and those disgusting portable things will be gone. Masks are still required indoors, as best I can tell. Deer Valley’s protocols haven’t been announced yet, but the goal of limiting indoor crowding at the lodges will probably keep some kind of reservation system in place. Cafeteria-style food service is probably a thing of the past everywhere.
But it’s not about lunch. The big question is whether there will be snow this winter. They have the snow guns out on the mountain and seem ready to start blowing artificial snow when it starts staying cold. I’m not sure what they are using for water to make it with. I’ve been out of water on the farm since mid-July.
I’ve been looking for my usual hornet nest weather prognosticator. There were a couple of big nests relatively high in the trees. The big rain in August washed them away. Now the hornets seem determined to nest in the barn. The theory, which seems no less accurate than the National Weather Service, is that hornet nests built high in the trees point to a winter with lots of snow, and nests built near the ground suggest a light snow year. There is no guidance at all from hornets that build nests in the barn where the sliding door knocks them down, resulting in multiple stings. But that’s what we have to go by so far.
There was some terrible business news from the ski industry. Vail Resorts announced that they have sold 42% more Epic Passes this year compared to last. They cut the price by 20% in hopes of increasing volume, and it appears to have been a huge success. They have sold about 1.4 million Epic Passes so far. Besides representing a mountain of cash, that’s a lot of skiers. Industry-wide, the average season pass gets used between 12 and 15 times a year. That seems lame by local standards, but for people coming from Texas and Florida, that’s a pretty good season.
So 15 days times 1.4 million passes equals 21 million skiers days. Not all of them will be standing in line at Payday. Some of them will be standing in line at the Canyons gondola. Of course that is company-wide, not just here. Still, it’s safe to assume that a substantial number of them will be in Park City at some point in the season. From a purely selfish, local skier perspective, that sounds terrible. Nobody ever said the mountain wasn’t crowded enough.
As an indication of how crowded management thinks it will get here, for the 2022-23 ski season, they are planning two new lifts at PCMR. Normally that is exciting news. But in light of the increase in traffic, it’s hard to get excited. The Eagle chair will get upgraded to a high-speed six-pack, and will be realigned to put the top near the top of King Con, so it really moves people from the base into the heart of the resort. That should help relieve the morning congestion at the base.
The other change is converting Silverlode from a six-pack to an eight-passenger lift. I know eight-seaters have been used elsewhere, but I’m skeptical. It’s difficult to get six Floridians lined up. Getting eight people synchronized seems impossible. It may take a pack of border collies to herd people into position. The changes won’t completely offset the crowding from the increase in traffic, but might mitigate it some.
They didn’t ask my opinion, but to me, it would have made more sense to relieve the congestion at Silverlode by building a second, parallel lift. Back in the day, there were two parallel double chairs there, Prospector and Lost Prospector. That was before quad chairs existed, but the redundancy of two lifts was a benefit when something broke. A second lift, however, would require a second crew of lift operators and mechanics, and in this labor market, that won’t happen.
The Eaglet chair is getting scrapped. I’d like to see that installed in the Silverlode area to bump people over the ridge to Motherlode. It’s another option to spread people out, but also another crew of employees who don’t have any place to live.
These are interesting changes, and the increased capacity might partially offset the crowding from a 42% increase in Epic Pass sales. Conspicuously absent from the press releases was any mention of how many additional parking spaces are being provided to accommodate the huge increase in skier volume. I think the answer is “zero,” but it might actually be less than that. I can’t help thinking it might be an appropriate topic to add to the discussion about the hotel, which actually wants a reduction in parking.
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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“You don’t have to actually ski to apres ski. Or, as they’re doing it at Snowbird this season, you don’t have to actually stand in line to ski,” writes Amy Roberts.