Woo-hoo! We’re No. 13
October 7, 2016
Man, you take a week off around here and there's no telling what happens.
I just spent a week down in the Maze district of Canyonlands, mountain biking and hiking. The weather held, which was surprising, because I left home in a full-on blizzard with tree branches snapping off and blocking the road to my house, and it was raining all around us. We got a little shower on the last night, but since it was the last night we escaped the misery of setting up wet tents.
In all the time we were out there, the only wildlife we saw were a few antelope on the drive into the Maze, a bunny that was snooping around camp one morning, and a couple of Canadians. Pretty tame stuff. Meanwhile, back home, a bobcat had moved into the neighborhood. A neighbor got a couple of photos of it in his front yard, and there were tracks all over my yard. It appears to be about the size of a Labrador retriever, though skinny. It seems to have moved on.
A few years back, I had one that spent an entire winter right around the house, sharing the dog's food with little objection from the dog. It set up camp in the ruins of the "log fort" my brother and I had built as kids. I only saw it a couple of times, but there were fresh tracks after every snow, and the dog-food budget was off the charts.
Having a midsized predator on the porch puts a slightly different cast on taking the garbage out to the garage in the dark. Taking the trash out at my house is never a task to be taken lightly, but the usual risk is skunks. So I'm not sorry that it has gone.
While I was away, High West Distillery was sold to Constellation Brands, a corporate behemoth that includes dozens of wine and beer brands from Manischewitz to Corona. The announced price was $160 million, and according to the press releases on it, all the current High West people will stay in place to run the company, while the distillery in Wanship will get expanded.
There will be some celebrating in Wanship. $160 million should be enough to make anybody happy.
It's hard to get too enthusiastic about a local business getting gobbled up by the corporate predators, but this seems voluntary. They claim things won't change. Maybe pigs will fly. I certainly never thought I'd see the day that a business based in Wanship would fetch $160 million.
Speaking of corporate gobbling, the Canadian couple on the Maze trip said the local reaction to Vail buying Whistler for $1.4 billion was "muted." The deal had been in the works for a long time, and they were close enough to it that it didn't take them by surprise. In that polite Canadian way, they are reserving judgment and waiting to see how it all works out. They were quite interested in how it had worked out here with the purchase of PCMR and Canyons. We're still trying to figure that out.
SKI Magazine just came out with its annual rankings of resorts. I've never been all that sure of its methodology. For example, Deer Valley is often ranked higher for "access" than Park City, even though you have to drive past Park City to get to there. Their rankings for nightlife and off-mountain activities can also be quite different, even though they are drawing from the same town. So I take the rankings with a healthy dose of skepticism. It didn't help that No. 1 Whistler bought an insert ad that weighed as much as the rest of the magazine.
But that said, this year PCMR slipped to No. 13. This is the first year the rankings looked at the combined operation. Last year, operating separately, PCMR was No. 7, and Canyons No.14. Aspen jumped from No. 12 to No. 2 this year. PC ranked No. 32 for "character," whatever that measures, and No. 33 for both "service" and "overall satisfaction." Those are kind of troubling, since this was a ranking of only 30 resorts. How do you rank 33rd out of 30?
That has to be a disappointing scorecard after investing $50 million on the mountain. The complexity of integrating the two large and very different resorts into one was always daunting, and clearly isn't complete. I don't know if the understaffed feeling was a result of budget decisions or an inability to find people to hire (every business in town was scrounging for employees last year), but it showed up in the rankings.
On the other hand, if we remind enough people that Whistler is No. 1, and Vail's Epic Pass is good there next year, maybe the lift lines here will shrink back to normal.
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.