Everything is awesome
I generally tend to hunker down at home for the holidays, venturing no closer to Park City than necessary until the smoke clears. But the skiing this year was too good, after years of it being so bad, and I couldn’t pass it up. So I ended up skiing in the thick of the holiday madness. The vacation peak seemed spread out with Christmas and New Year’s being on Fridays this year. It was still plenty busy. I didn’t try to eat in town.
So far (and because of the holiday I’m on a very early deadline — anything could happen between me hitting the "send" button and the paper hitting your porch), we have avoided a repeat of Carmageddon. That occurred on Dec. 29 of 2014, when we achieved total gridlock from Silver Lake Lodge to Kimball Junction. There are a lot of excuses for that one — a modest December snowstorm that took a ski resort town by surprise, software problems with the traffic lights at the Junction, and just too many cars on not enough streets. Traffic this year has been heavy and annoying, though with the exception of a couple of hours a day, mostly within reason. The traffic flow hasn’t been what I would consider acceptable as a regular pattern, but considering the holiday crush, it’s understandable.
Skiing has been excellent. On Christmas Eve I got several untracked runs through the X-Files trees in Empire Bowl, and the bowl itself was about as good as it gets. I peeked over the rope to see if my favorite place at Park City was open. It didn’t really matter because I deliberately bought the cheap-o locals pass and am blacked out at Park City during the holidays. That’s usually just fine with me. But I still wanted to see if the hike-to terrain off McConkey’s was open. It wasn’t. Neither was Jupiter, or Super Condor.
After the long powder-drought was so spectacularly broken, Park City didn’t get Jupiter or Super Condor open for Christmas. Jupiter opened later in the week and they were bombing the crap out of Puma. Locals freaked out, even those of us who were blacked-out. Four feet of snow and not open? Logically, I should have been hoping Jupiter didn’t open until the holiday crowd had gone home, and then it would be just us up there. But not having it open on Christmas after 4 feet of snow was, well, just short of alarming.
There were all kinds of explanations: A dangerously unstable snowpack with all that new snow on top of a really rotten under-layer. So much avalanche control work on other runs that they just couldn’t get to it. Patrol too busy rescuing lost mittens and wounded Texans to get the new terrain set up with ropes, pads, signs, etc. Not enough lift operators. General orneriness. And then there were lift lines. Allowing for a large exaggeration factor, the reports are that the lines at Silver Lode were between a half hour and Wednesday.
It’s the first year of the combined operation, and patterns and traffic flow are different. It will take some figuring out, though I would have thought a road connecting from the bottom of Silver Lode to the bottom of Motherlode would have been pretty obvious while they were already removing the mountain. Long time locals reacted like it was an Ebola outbreak. Leslie Thatcher on KPCW did a long interview with Park City COO Bill Rock. It was about 5 or 6 minutes, but can be summarized as follows:
Leslie Thatcher: So, Bill, what the heck?
Bill Rock: Everything is awesome.
I’m confident that they will figure it out quickly. Jupiter is open and the planets are moving back into alignment. But are we really surprised?
Years ago, the City Trip went to Aspen. Everybody decided it was lovely, with beautifully maintained empty houses, stores none of us could afford to enter, and clusters of mountain-architecture, government-subsidized housing for the municipal employees. We left, vowing that we would never become Aspen. And then spent the next 30 years doing everything we could to duplicate it. So here we are.
We built a town that requires an army of modestly paid employees who can’t afford to live here, and a population of CEO-types who commute to Salt Lake, and are shocked that we have a traffic problem. If you need 40 more lift operators to get everything open, and are lucky enough to find 40 people with a pulse to take the jobs, they can’t afford to live here. They lose half their pay to commuting costs. And we are surprised that it’s hard to find lift operators, cooks, housekeepers, and on and on.
We are absolutely choking on our own success, but that doesn’t mean we won’t order dessert.
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.