SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A long-running court battle between two ski industry titans is putting the upcoming season in jeopardy at one of Utah’s largest resorts that has been a fixture in the state’s ski culture for 50 years and served as the training ground for Olympians like Ted Ligety.
A Utah judge is expected to decide Friday how much Park City Mountain Resort must pay to cover back rent and court costs so it can stay open through April 2015. If the price tag is too high, the lifts could stand idle when the season opens in less than three months.
Judge Ryan Harris ordered the Park City resort evicted in May after ruling it missed a deadline to renew a bargain-rate, decades-old lease it got from a mining company in the industry’s early days.
Its new landlord, real estate company Talisker, last year lined up a replacement: Vail Resorts, Inc., the country’s largest ski resort operator.
Vail also took over the neighboring Canyons ski area last year and stands waiting to operate the adjacent Park City. But even if they evict, Vail can’t simply move in because Park City owns the land at the bottom of the hill.
“One of them owns a beach and the other owns the beachfront hotel,” said Talisker attorney Jack Lund.
The stakes are high. Both companies are trying to acquire as many resorts as they can in an effort to strengthen their hands in the lucrative ski industry, said Ralf Garrison, a Denver-based ski industry consultant with The Advisory Group.
Park City is owned by the wealthy Cumming family and is also part of one of the country largest ski companies, Powdr Corp. Consolidation offers protection from variables like weather and offers savvy skiers lift passes with privileges around the country, Garrison said.
“Vail and the Cumming family … are both really competing for those other independent resorts that might become available,” Garrison said.
The two sides will keep talking to each other through mediation up until the hearing in Park City. The judge will set a bond amount that Vail says should be about $124 million and Park City maintains should be a small fraction of that, less than $7 million.
If the ski area shuts for the season, it could mean $185 million in lost sales for Park City businesses, said mayor Jack Thomas.
“We’re in the moment of highest anxiety,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen an issue more important than this in the 50 years I’ve been skiing up here.”
Though there are two other resorts in the area, Park City Mountain Resort has deep historical roots and is physically connected to the ski town through a lift on its Main Street. The resort also employs some 2,000 people, and is responsible for at least a third of the 1.84 million skiers who come every year to Park City.
“It’s now getting to the point where people are getting pretty nervous about what’s going to happen this winter,” said Hans Fugi, owner of the Grub Steak.
Lifts began running at what was then called Treasure Mountain in 1963, heralding the start of the modern-day ski industry in the town about 30 miles east of Salt Lake City that hosted many of the events in the 2002 Winter Olympics.
It’s where many locals taught their children to ski, said Thomas, and also served as a training ground for Olympians.
“Where’s next Ted Ligety coming from if PCMR shuts down?” Thomas said.
Though Friday’s hearing is crucial for the upcoming ski season, it won’t end the fight. Park City is plans to appeal the eviction before the Utah Supreme Court.