Will Vail take steps to restore public trust? | ParkRecord.com

Will Vail take steps to restore public trust?

Carl Fisher

Big news for the downhill ski industry this week: Vail Resorts (Vail) announced it is taking over the skiing operations at the Canyons resort. According to a press release by Vail, it appears the ski area management will be operated by Vail, while the real estate development will remain with Talisker. Per the release, Talisker will retain rights to 4,000,000 square feet (that’s just shy of 92 acres of ground area) of development potential at the Canyons.

What this means for the future of the Wasatch Mountains, SkiLink and the frequently referred-to Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR)-Canyons leasing lawsuit is purely speculative at this point. From our perspective, however, it seemed that Vail was counting on the fact that it would not only be acquiring Canyons as a resort, but also the land inside PCMR as part of this transaction.

Speaking of transactions, that was something that hit us during Vail’s public conference call discussing the deal Wednesday. The natural environment, the beauty of the landscape, our quality of life, the environmental functionality (watershed, geography, geology, wildlife habitat) of the place we call home was not once mentioned. For a place that gives so much to so many, it was only referred to as "a market," "an opportunity for growth," "a significant transaction," as the call was dominated by investors from Bain Capital, Barclays, and others in the financial industry.

The question of SkiLink did briefly come up, but Vail representatives stated they didn’t really know much about the project, and felt they needed to understand the details, stakeholders, and politics of the project before making any decisions. We look forward to talking with them more on that topic.

Here are a few of our initial thoughts:

  • We hope that this "transaction" will dampen the immediate need/want/desire for the SkiLink project.
  • We are very concerned about the additional amount of development at the Canyons (4 million square feet) and (anticipated?) future development potential planned for PCMR. Do Talisker and Vail already have plans ready to go for PCMR?
  • Vail’s repetition of "Utah has the greatest potential for growth" throughout the conference call was overwhelming. Is this code for interconnect and future resort expansions/acquisitions?
  • Given the split of resort management and resort development, we can only assume each entity will now be able to dedicate more time in its area of expertise: Talisker real estate development; Vail resort management and development.
  • A LOT is hanging on the pending court decision between Talisker and PCMR. Vail has acquired a number of ski resorts over the years. Who is next and will the focus be skiing or development?

    We hope that Vail will be a proactive community partner in stewarding our Wasatch Mountains that form the backbone of the most populated area of Utah. The Wasatch is not a market, it’s home. The landscape, natural environments, our communities, experiences and quality of life all need to be preserved and are inseparable from the future opportunities Vail and Canyons seek financially.

    Talisker’s approach has been to circumvent the public and pursue what it wants, regardless of the overwhelming opposition of the community. The public trust was ruined and many bridges burned. Everyone is watching, hoping trust is earned back and bridges repaired. Offering cheaper passes and lift tickets could win the hearts of some, but preserving what can not be replaced by money or discounts will go much further. What we have here is unique and we will continue working for many years to protect it.

    Welcome, Vail, to the Wasatch.

    Carl Fisher is the executive director of Save Our Canyons.

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