Tom Clyde: It was a great ski season, even if the experience in Park City is different
That does it for ski season, and what a season it’s been. This would stand out as a great year under any circumstances, but after last year’s snow-less winter, it’s been enough to have people falling in love with skiing all over again. There weren’t many monster storms. Instead, it was a steady pattern of decent storms that kept it consistently fresh all year long.
In addition to great skiing, it’s been a season of great companionship. Our lift and lunch conversations are as strange and varied as the group itself, from the travails of a figure skater-mom (do you know what a proper tango dress costs?) to my negotiations with a werewolf about shooting a movie on the ranch. The trip to Colorado stands out as a high point in a season of high points. That should become a tradition.
The price of such a consistent snow season was the consistent storminess. It was an unusually gray winter. It wasn’t all that cold, but there weren’t many of those bluebird days, either. I hate wearing goggles, but the relentless flat light finally forced me to spend a fortune on new goggles with magic lenses that kind of work in the gloom. There were some serious bouts of cabin fever, and now that skiing is done — and winter is not — that could get worse.
There has been a lot of grousing about the resorts closing with all this good snow. The complaining is all pointed at Park City Mountain Resort. Deer Valley has always closed “early” and seems to get a pass on that. Other Vail Resorts properties have extended, so some think Park City has some obligation to stay open and lose money for season pass holders whose daily cost of skiing is now about $10. If you didn’t get enough in a year like this, that’s your fault. I want my bike. I want to go to the desert. I don’t count my ski days with any precision. The guy scanning my pass said I had 23 days at PCMR. The bills on my Snow Park lunch card suggest I have about three times that many at Deer Valley, which puts me somewhere north of 90 days for the year. That’s plenty. Melt already.
This was in some ways the first full season with Deer Valley operating under new ownership. Last year, the sale was so close to opening day that it was business as usual. The full impact of the Ikon Pass showed up this season. And it impacted. It’s not all Ikoners. Some of the traffic was us skiing more because it was so good. All year long, at both mountains, it felt like we had hit a tipping point. Parking at PCMR has been a problem for a few years now. Parking at Deer Valley was only an issue on a few weekends and holidays. This year, parking at both places was terrible, and the city decided to fix it by cracking down on the on-street parking in Deer Valley. The Jordanelle gondola used to relieve some of the pressure at Snow Park. Not anymore. Parking over there is worse than in town. That base is completely overwhelmed. It looks like 500 Ikon Pass holders drive up from Salt Lake every day and all try to park in the same spot at Jordanelle.
A new strategy is getting to the resorts an hour early and having breakfast, just to get a parking place. We will happily pay $15 for bacon, but will riot if they start charging for parking. That’s a good problem to have if you are in the business of selling breakfast. I prefer the breakfast of champions at the Chevron in Kamas (a couple of doughnuts and a Diet Coke), and end up parking in Siberia at 8:30. The base facilities at both mountains have failed. They are consistently well beyond comfortable capacity. The restrooms look like refugee camps. It’s difficult to find a place to put your skis on without having some gaper in a hockey jersey ski over you. It’s still easier to get on the mountain here than it was in Colorado, but that’s a very low bar. Once you get your skis on and move up the mountain, there is plenty of room to spread the increased crowd out. The overall skier experience hasn’t been seriously diminished. Yet.
Park City skiing has matured in ways we never imagined, or at least didn’t fully anticipate. For most of my life, the local resorts felt almost like neighborhood parks. Access was easy, and spoiled locals (like me) could easily combine a Home Depot errand with a couple of hours of skiing. We’ve gone full Disneyland now, and there’s no turning back.
I don’t know how many more skiers we can shove up the mountain without damaging the experience, but I suspect we are going to find out sooner than we like. That makes having enjoyed a great season like this all the better.
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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The governments of the Wasatch Back have to reckon with its future as a contiguous metro area, Tom Clyde writes.