Tom Clyde: Parking lot culture
From my house, the Jordanelle gondola is a very convenient way to access Deer Valley. I use it a lot when Park City is clogged with Sundance, World Champs or holiday traffic. The gondola was built as part of the Deer Crest development. I’ve tried to figure out when it opened. It’s older than you’d think, probably 1997 or 1998.
When it went in, it primarily served the gated Deer Crest subdivision, though the bottom terminal is outside of the passport control zone. There was a proposal early on to let Deer Crestians buy their own custom-fitted gondola cabins. The idea was that you could phone the base and say, “Rockefeller, here. Please decant the wine and put my cabin on the cable.” That proved as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s a 6-minute ride, and the time and effort needed to sort cabins was impossible.
There is parking there, and the gondola also served a small contingent of Deer Valley skiers coming from Wasatch County and beyond. It developed a kind of clubby culture, where you at least had a nodding acquaintance with the same people there every morning. You recognize the same cars in the small parking lot. There’s often a Maserati with a ski rack on the roof. That seems so wrong, and yet delightful at the same time. As the access has become more popular, the parking mix is as eclectic as the community it serves, from the expensive sport cars to the F-250 pickups ranging from brand new, and more expensive than the Mercedes, to vintage rigs with plenty of farm/construction patina. There are several people I know only from riding up the gondola in the morning, acquaintances built in 6-minute increments over several ski seasons.
It’s different this year. It’s become very busy. The parking lot is often overflowing by 8:45. The lines at the ticket window and the lift itself are longer than they have been. A first world problem, but still. The conversation in the gondola lately has been trying to figure out what changed. Theories range from Salt Lake skiers having discovered they can avoid Park City traffic jams by coming around to the gondola, to 1,000 new condos around the reservoir being occupied, and more hotel rooms in Heber and Midway. It’s all of the above.
There is also the impact of the Ikon pass. We experienced that with Park City and the Epic Pass. People who ordinarily would not have traveled to Deer Valley and paid retail are making the trip with the Ikon pass. When Salt Lake resorts are inaccessible because of the road closures, which has happened a lot this year, those season passes include a few days at Deer Valley. People are using and enjoying them. I rode up with a couple who live in Deer Crest who were quite dismayed by the number of “those Ikon people.” Riffraff from Aspen.
Anyway, the culture at the Deer Valley gondola parking lot has abruptly changed. It really hit me when I overheard a rather heated exchange between two guys the other day. A man in a Subaru with Vermont plates was castigating a man in a Subaru with Utah plates about idling his car. The Utah Subaru had apparently been left idling for a few minutes in the morning. The Vermont Subaru took great offense at that, and it festered in him all day. What a way to spoil a day of powder skiing. At the end of the day, as Vermont was leaving, the idling guy happened to be there. Vermont took the opportunity to block traffic exiting the lot to let him know that he was a terrible person and personally destroying the planet. The Utah guy said it was only a few minutes, and maybe Vermont could mind his own business. Vermont shouted that he breathes the air and it was his business.
Meanwhile, I’m loading my gear into my own Subaru (engine off) on the next row of parking, and can’t hear it all. It went on for a couple of minutes. The situation seemed to be escalating, but finally the cars blocked (and idling) behind Vermont convinced him to move on. He seemed filled with the satisfaction that comes from giving somebody else a good scolding. Ironically, he was idling the whole time he was scolding the guy. Seconds later, the Utah guy drove past, with a look on his face that kind of said, “I don’t believe that just happened.”
There’s rarely a need to leave a car idling, and it’s very annoying in the parking lot when you are putting your boots on and the car next to you is belching smoke in your face. Clean air is everybody’s responsibility. But it seems even more rare that there’s a need to give strangers a scolding. Has it really come to this? That’s what comes from too much kale in the diet.
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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