Tom Clyde: Handshake agreements and bowls
Many years ago, a little girl posed a question to the editor of the New York Post. She asked if there really is a Santa Claus. The editor of the Post printed an editorial responding to her question, analyzing it carefully before concluding that, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” I don’t know about Santa Claus, but yes, Virginia, there is Karma.
The irony of the current owners of Park City Mountain losing access to part of the mountain because a lease wasn’t renewed it just delicious. The lease on the land necessary to access Scotts Bowl didn’t get renewed and the ropes went up. But for the fact that Scotts Bowl is about my favorite place to ski, the situation would be hilarious. I know some of the history here from my former life as a lawyer involved in this stuff. It gets a bit complicated. Among the weird facts is that Deer Valley, now Alterra in its new corporate format, actually owns most of Jupiter Bowl, and leases that land to Park City Mountain, which of course is Vail Resorts in its new corporate format. So the two behemoths in the industry have a landlord/tenant relationship. That’s pretty odd.
The land under most of the skiing in Scotts Bowl is owned by the developers of the Colony in White Pine Canyon. Their property crosses over the ridge. The boundaries were based on veins of ore that have nothing to do with the surface topography or use. In between the White Pine property and Alterra’s Jupiter Bowl property is a relatively small parcel owned by Silver King Mining Company. You can’t ski into Scotts Bowl without crossing the Silver King land. The Silver King owners’ roots in Park City are literally as deep as the mines, and they were present at the conception of Park City skiing.
Since the Jupiter chair was installed in the 1970’s, the arrangement between the resort and the Silver King owners has been essentially a handshake deal involving little more than a few season passes and liability insurance. The leases were relatively short duration, and as one term ran out, the owners would shake hands on a new one. I assume that brandy and cigars were involved.
That’s how we used to do business around here. I leased a condo to Deer Valley for employee housing on a handshake with Bob Wheaton. The arrangement lasted 15 years before they bought something else and no longer needed mine. We both knew that whatever came up, the other party would do the right thing. We also knew that neither of us would ever find ourselves talking to the new accounting intern du jour at the corporate mother ship in another state. The deal was perfect.
When the Silver King lease expired, and no hands were shaken. No brandy, no cigars, the ropes went up, and no skiing in Scotts. It’s a difficult piece of property to value because there is really only one entity in the entire world that would have any interest in leasing or buying it — Vail Resorts. It’s too steep to build on, and it may be landlocked or accessed only through old mine tunnels. The skiing in Scotts Bowl is among the best on this side of the Wasatch, but it requires a bit of a hike to get there. It doesn’t get used much compared even to the rest of Jupiter, let alone the core of the resort. It’s not like losing access from Payday, or the parking lots, which became a $180 million existential problem for the whole town a few years ago.
Vail isn’t making money off the skiers in Scotts. The Scotts skiers aren’t paying for Ski School or spending $40 on lunch. It’s locals like me who are skiing close to 100 days a year without spending a nickel on food at Miners Camp. It’s avalanche prone, so the costs of operating that part of the mountain are high. Putting a rope up seems like a pretty reasonable business decision to the bean-counters at Corporate.
For many years, I’ve had passes at both Deer Valley and PCMR. I was reluctant to buy an Epic Pass this year. The difficulty of parking, the longer lift lines, and general crowding have been a turn off. The morning traffic jam on 248 isn’t Vail’s fault, but I can completely avoid it by parking at the Jordanelle gondola to ski Deer Valley. So I was done. Then friend reminded me of one absolutely glorious day of skiing last year when we hiked Scotts several times. I bought a pass at Park City. I hope they reach what will surely be an inch-thick, thoroughly lawyered, and completely brandy-less, agreement soon.
Meanwhile, it’s Christmas, and I hope you all have a great holiday.
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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A bounty of powder days still means that, at some point, the snow needs to be plowed.