Tom Clyde: A mellow 2nd of July
It will take a while for everybody to weigh in, but from what I’ve heard so far, the July 2nd celebration was a success. In the strange way that Park City works, the holiday was both reduced and expanded, with events stretched out over the long weekend. The parade was on Friday, a day when people in Salt Lake would be at work. The goal was to have a smaller parade for a smaller crowd, in hopes of feeling like a smaller town. That seemed to work, with the normal crowds for Silly Market on Sunday.
The official reason for scaling it back was Covid. Covid has become the all-purpose excuse. Change jobs? Covid. Refuse to go back to the office? Covid. Lack of inventory and bad customer service? Covid squared. Now everybody just does their own thing and really doesn’t much care anymore. We’re back to “normal” and things are “open,” but deep down inside, we’re all still in sweatpants and don’t bother to shave. It felt so strange at first, but we have all become a bit too comfortable phoning it in. It will take a while to start fully participating in the re-opened world.
Anyway, while Covid was the official reason for scaling the holiday back, it was something the community had been wanting for several years. It really had become too big. Main Street can hold a lot of people, but there isn’t a great way to get them all there. The crowd felt too big several years ago, and the last couple of years, it began to feel unsafe. I’m not sure how they could get an ambulance or fire truck in or out, even with them pre-positioned just in case.
The tipping point for everybody is probably different, but even before the plague, I felt like we had hit a level of crowding that was damaging our brand. The small town feel we all crave, but can’t define in a way that a zoning ordinance can protect, was gone. Not just on the holidays, but in general. My perspective from 40 years ago is probably quite different from the perspective from somebody who has been here 20 years. It’s radically different from somebody else who moved here to escape the plague and, compared to anywhere in California, believes they have found paradise. And relatively speaking, they have.
But there is a sense that we are hitting some limits. That’s something that runs counter to everything the town was about for the last 40 years, when the goal was always to earn the respect for Utah skiing that it deserves, and a long struggle to create a “summer product.” Mountain biking proved to be it, and we went about trail building with a kind of maniacal zeal. And as locals, we loved it. Now it’s becoming over-loved and you can’t park at trailheads, people are snippy with each other on the trail instead of sharing the joy of being out there (even if in different ways). There’s serious talk of permits and regulations on trail use. It’s very hard to get my head around the concept of a well-regulated hike.
There are, however, real limits. Maybe it’s my old curmudgeon friends, but I hear a lot that we have hit the limits and it’s time to quit promoting. “More” used to be more, and the more the merrier. Now I’ve quit riding my bike on weekends, and it takes some coaxing to get me out skiing on the weekends. I’ve got the luxury of being able to do it mid-week, and even that is feeling a bit too busy.
The decision to scale back the 4th of July was a good idea. It’s probably an idea that will have some staying power even if Covid is no longer a valid excuse. It will be interesting to watch the discussion and decisions on that going into next year.
The friction will come from the ski resort owners, who are on an entirely different page. Vail cut the price of an Epic pass by 30% and plans to make it up with increased volume. That increased volume will be parking in even fewer parking spaces if PEG gets their way on the parking lot development. The City ought to be pushing them to abandon the hotel development completely and just build parking. There’s no shortage of hotel rooms around here, and nobody is clamoring to have longer lift lines.
Alterra, owner of Deer Valley, hasn’t been quite as aggressive in terms of going for the maximum crowd, but the Ikon Pass is the same program. Last ski season, plague-ridden as it was, set records. Anybody who skied knew it. Lift lines were nuts, parking was hard to get, and the ski runs sometimes felt like a mosh pit. It’s still better than skiing in Colorado, but that’s not the local goal.
The friction between a town that is looking to throttle back, and resort owners who are pouring gas on the fire, is going to become a big problem around here. It’s not clear which side of the fence the City leadership is on.
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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Tom Clyde was not impressed with Jeff Bezos’ recent trip to “space,” though it does make him wonder if space tourism should be in Park City’s future.