Tom Clyde: Looking toward next ski season
I got a couple of emails from Vail Resorts about the credit they are giving Epic Pass holders because of last season’s early closure. It all seems more complicated than necessary, with a formula adjusting the credit for the number of times skiers used their passes, what they paid initially, and astrological signs. In the end, it is a generous adjustment for a problem that wasn’t of their making. I’m getting a 20% credit, and when subtracted from the price of the pass, I skied Park City for under $20 a day. Nobody can complain about that, even with the shortened season. Lift access cost less than lunch, and I didn’t buy lunch.
The credit towards next year’s pass is one of those customer good will moves that will cost the resort a ton of money—they sell something like 600,000 Epic Passes, so 20% off adds right up—to compensate us for circumstances they didn’t cause and couldn’t control. It was generous, and we should all keep that in mind when grinding up the Pioneer chair, grumbling about the need to upgrade it with a high-speed lift. Can’t have it both ways. Where does all the money go? Oh, yeah, we’re skiing for $20/day.
In plague news, County Health Director Rich Bullough delivered a grim statement to the County Council last week, saying, “The governor makes it very, very clear that there will not be gatherings of over 50 people until we’re at the new normal, green phase. He also makes it clear that that isn’t going to occur until there’s a vaccine. So I would speculate that we’re well into 2021 before groups of greater than 50 are going to be allowed.” That throws a monkey wrench into pretty much everything.
He also said that events like large weddings won’t be happening for months. Well, there’s always a silver lining.
The list of cancelled events continues to grow. Deer Valley pulled the plug on the concert series this summer. The remodel of Snow Park Lodge is also on hold because of economics, but this would have been the perfect year to do it, starting construction in March, and not having to worry about keeping functional bathrooms and food service in place for the summer. But there will be no concerts and no remodel this year.
The overall statement, though, is discouraging both in its specificity and its vagueness. It is consistent with the Governor’s “Utah Leads Together 2.0” plan, and we all know what that means, or maybe somebody does. Apparently no gatherings of more than 50 until there is a vaccine, and a guess that we’re “well into 2021” before things loosen up. On the Federal level, nobody but the President thinks a vaccine is closer than about 18 months (and we might want to test it some before passing out 300 million doses). That doesn’t sound like school opens in August. Seating people in clusters of 50, with some buffering space or shower curtain around them, at a concert or rodeo doesn’t really work because they all have to come in through the same entrances, use the same bathrooms, food service, and so on. Oakley and Kamas are still trying to figure out their events for the summer, but I’m not standing in line for demolition derby tickets.
The morning liftline at Payday or Carpenter next winter doesn’t seem to fit that “under 50” rule. The idea of lift lines no longer than 50 people sounds great, unless you are a resort operator. Then it sounds like bankruptcy. Skiers spread out on the hill, riding up with only their own party on the lift—it sounds plausible until you get to the initial morning lift line, restrooms, the lunch rooms, and the reality of the number of skiers necessary to cover operating costs. The resorts are moving ahead on the assumption that things will be closer to normal, but nobody knows if the visitors who pay all the bills around here will travel or not.
For retailers, the deadline to pull the trigger on their orders for winter inventory is getting close. Seasonal retail is frighteningly risky under the best of circumstances. What if you bought lots of green and the Kardashians wear blue, or loaded up on extreme cold weather gear and we have a mild winter? It’s a series of high-stakes bets on every item purchased. But placing your orders for this year? Yikes.
The sad reality is that nobody knows what conditions will look like in six months. That makes it very hard to make decisions now based on little more than hunches. I don’t much like the sound of waiting for the “green” normal, a miracle vaccine, or being “well into 2021” before we have more than 50 people in Silver Lake Lodge. As much as we all want clarity and predictability, there isn’t any. The only thing that’s certain is the uncertainty.
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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“Three months ago, I felt like the odds of having something approximating a normal ski season were pretty good. Now? Who knows.”