Park City Turf Wars

Five things you should know about the Hatfield-McCoy battle going on in Park City

For the love of skiing, Park City, Talisker, and Vail need to find common ground. PHOTO: Liam Doren

For the love of skiing, Park City, Talisker, and Vail need to find common ground. PHOTO: Liam Doran

Update: According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the 3rd District Court judge announced today his decision sign the eviction order that would force Park City Mountain Resort off the terrain owned by Talisker Land Holdings, LLC. However, the eviction will not be enforced until the end of August. In the meantime, the judge ordered a mediation between the two sides, forcing them to sit down and figure this out.

You’ve probably heard—the sky is falling in Park City. It’s a whole complicated mess of a legal battle that’s been drawn out for more than three years. But recently, the headlines out of Park City seem to just keep coming. And things are coming to a head. So pull up a chair and a bag of popcorn. Here are five things you should know about the movie-theater drama that is Park City Mountain Resort versus the landlord (Talisker Land Holdings, LLC) and Vail Resorts.

1. The gist: (In grossly oversimplified terms, because this is too complicated and convoluted for a story that needs to be less than 1,000 words): Park City Mountain Resort was enjoying one of the best deals in the ski industry—paying about $150,000 a year to run operations on the upper two-thirds of its terrain—until spring of 2011, when they were two tiny, but firm, days late to renew their lease. The lease was due Saturday, April 30, 2011. They submitted the requisite lease paperwork Monday, May 2, 2011. Oops?

Negotiations to strike a new lease went south, so Park City filed a lawsuit against its landlord, Talisker Land Holdings, LLC. Soon after, Talisker turned to Vail Resorts, signing a 50-year lease at neighboring Canyons Resort, with conditions that said Vail would take the lead on the legal battle against Park City, and, thereafter, take over the Park City terrain itself.

Then May 21, 2014, came around: the day a Utah judge ruled that Park City was indeed late, and thus, did not renew its lease. Park City wants to appeal the decision. Talisker and Vail want to move in. And that brings us to today.

Both sides are attending a hearing in the 3rd District Court Thursday that may result in the judge signing an eviction order against Park City. If that happens, Park City Mountain Resort will have 60 days to vacate the premises. Yup, an entire ski resort would be dismantled in less than two months.

2. The catch: access. While Park City may have lost most of its property, it still owns a third of the land—the bottom third. That includes the parking lots and all the access points, not to mention the snow-making machines, the chairlifts, and all base-area infrastructure—lodging, maintenance facilities, etc.

Unless all parties can come to the table and work things out, it’s a no-win situation. Park City’s parent company, Powdr Corp, says they have put offers on the table, but they’ve received no response from Vail or Talisker.

“I can’t negotiate with myself,” says Powdr Corp CEO John Cumming in a statement. “The truth is that I can’t get them to engage with me. We have received no concrete offers from Vail. Since we can’t keep bidding against ourselves, they need to come to the table. When that happens, this dispute can be resolved quickly in a way that works for both parties and the community.”

On the other hand, getting rid of Park City will be messy—more than $3 million messy. Last week, Park City submitted plans to the court detailing how they would move out in 60 days, dismantling 9 entire lifts, and removing all of their property. The work will take 33 weeks and $3,570,000. Park City officials said resort operations would cease immediately.

If the court approves an eviction order for Park City, the ski resort would remove the following lifts: Town, Crescent, King Con, Silverlode, Bonanza, McConkey's, Pioneer, Eaglet, and Silver Star. Parts of Jupiter, Thaynes, and Motherlode would also be removed.

If the court approves an eviction order for Park City, the ski resort would remove the following lifts: Town, Crescent, King Con, Silverlode, Bonanza, McConkey’s, Pioneer, Eaglet, and Silver Star. Parts of Jupiter, Thaynes, and Motherlode would also be removed.

3. Kind of a dick move. Talisker’s aggressive tactics to evict Park City and get Vail in is something you’d expect in a Judge Judy TV episode, or in a corporate office high up on Wall Street. Not the ski industry. Park City was two days late—one business day—on renewing their lease. And now the entire ski resort is facing catastrophic destruction? Let’s just take a moment to reflect on how absurd this all is.

4. Go Vail…? As you can imagine, Park City skiers are tired and scared. One of three of major resorts in the area (Deer Valley and Canyons being the others) is threatening to cease operations, and that will have a devastating ripple effect on, not just the economy, but kids race programs, secret stashes, and the town’s livelihood. In the name of skiing, everyone wants to find a solution to this. And for some, that means embrace the inevitable—Vail.

Not that Park City should be idealized as the mom-and-pop ski area. Powdr Corp is also big and corporate. But still, embracing Vail is a doctrine not often heard in ski towns. While some—ski industry people and locals—wouldn’t comment on this controversial situation with a 10-foot pole, others said they’d enjoy skiing Park City with their Epic Pass. Browsing the comment section of the editorial in the Park Record, the tone is predominantly pro-Vail. Although, one must be wary of anonymous commenters who go under aliases like Fred Smith. Every ski town has a loud mouth with an axe to grind.

5. Well, I ski Snowbird. Well, on May 12, 2014, the CEO of Powdr Corp just partnered with Snowbird. Ian Cumming, John’s father, was an original investor in the Snowbird lodge, and the partnership with the Bass family—which was done under the Cumming family, not Powdr Corp—has been touted to bring in more funding to improve amenities, like a new restaurant on top of the tram. At the moment, that’s all that’s been disclosed. But when Utah resorts are coming together under the ONE Wasatch proposal, which would unite all seven resorts in the Wasatch, it’s hard not to speculate what would happen if Powdr Corp lost its keystone ski resort in Park City.

6. Can we just go skiing now? Here’s hoping the skiers in the court rooms will reach common ground in the thing we all love—sliding down snow—and find a way to spin the lifts at Park City come December. We’ll find out more from the court hear later today. Stay tuned.

Add a comment

  • Turd Ferguson

    Vail can suck a dick. They have ruined South Lake Tahoe. Thank the ski gods we still have Sierra.

    • Andy Haley

      I got to ride Kirkwood one season, a good one 2010, then Vail moved in. Instant bummer in user experience.

    • Fred Smith

      Ruined? Season pass pricing for everyone has dropped since the EPIC Pass came into town. Three mountains on one cheap pass? I’ll take that kind of “ruined” any day of the week. You can have SaT while I’ll ski three great mountains.

      • Scott Abram

        As someone who lives in Breckenridge I can tell you what that cheap EPIC Pass did to the mountain. It ruined it. Back in the day of the $1000 Summit Pass you had four mountains, not three. And you could actually find powder stashes for a couple of days after a storm. These days it’s all scraped off by 11:00. And your comment about the mountains being safer now? That couldn’t be further from the truth. The mountain is always so crowded on the weekends that you take your life into your hands when you’re out there. Every time I have been skiing in the last couple of years I have come so close to being hit that it’s just not enjoyable any more. Plus there’s things like pumping the Blue River dry for snow making, Expansions into old growth forest. Silt runoff into protected areas. And ugly summer expansions.

        • ColoradoRules

          Because you live in Breck bro… shittiest place on the planet!!

          • Scott Abram

            Ha ha. Yeah maybe, but I moved here a long time ago when it was nice. And it’s the *holes like you moving there that ruined it.

    • Rico

      Agreed, TF. It’s more than the EPIC pass. Yes, that pass does include some great areas, but if you’ve skied more than 20 yrs, you know that the mountains themselves were much more exciting (picture more trees and less “Triple Wides”), the lifts still ran when the winds were higher than 10 MPH, and it wasn’t all about who has the best park.
      Sorry, i’m old and i remember (and cherish) the “good ol’ days” when you could ski in the trees w/o being shot at by the Mounties.

  • CRP85

    The argument that they were “only” two days late isn’t valid. With a deal that sweet they never should’ve put it at risk. They dropped the ball and now are trying to paint Vail as the bad guy.

    • Old towner

      Whether they were late or not, Vail, and Talisker btw, ARE THE BAD GUYS. Change and growth is inevitable, but leadership in change makes all the difference. A quaint little ski town, or a steroid-injected-money-making-mountain-machine-f$ck-fest have 2 very different effects on people, primarily the locals…the REAL locals, not the ones who just bought/built their 2nd, 3rd or even 4th homes there. The guys and gals who live in PC year round, who breathe Park City and eat it for breakfast. Just sayin… This battle is ultimately about them, at least the effect it will have on them.

      • Skibiz

        You seem to not have a very clear vision of reality. Unless you are sitting on your haunches living off of daddies money like JC, vail resorts brings big money into your town and potentially the largest ski area in all of the US with PCMR and Canyons connection. It will make Park City the unquestionable ski destination and on competition with international destinations as well. It will help the town of park city in ways never thought imaginable. Stop bagging on Vail with no clear perception of the positive reality of this situation and what your beloved Cummings and Powdr have done and are doing to destroy your so called beloved town.

  • Barney

    PCMR certainly blew it by missing the deadline. It also sounds like they have made genuine efforts to find a resolution that works for Talisker/Vail, PCMR and the community of Park City. I think it’s safe to say the goose that laid the golden egg that is Park City is in peril…

    • Fred Smith

      They have not made any genuine effort for a resolution after Vail essentially outbid them. Cumming cannot get the upper mountain back because Vail is now the lessee.

  • brody jones

    This sucks for eveyone. Yes PC was late on their payment but is it really that big of a deal? the income that mountain has brought for utah is insane and now they are evicting them for being 2 days late? seems kinda whack to me

    • Fred Smith

      brody,

      You have the facts wrong. They were roughly 60 days late, but didn’t know it when the payment was made. Worse, PCMR backdated the lease document. This backdating of a legal document is considered fraudulent by the defendants (PCMR was the plaintiff). The court was not pleased, but noted it didn’t matter in terms of the payment being late.

      What is insane is that this is a fight between a billionaire family (Ian Cumming is worth around $6 billion) and the largest and best run operator of ski resorts in the world. This could last a very long time if John Cumming refuses access to the lower part of the mountain.

      The morons who bash Vail for being corporate don’t realize the money behind Powdr. PCMR had the sweetheart deal of all time, leasing the mountain for only $155,000 per year. Did they give it back to the locals in the form of lower pass pricing? No way. That only happened when the EPIC Pass came to town.

  • quitcherbitchen

    Hey Turd, Vail didn’t ruin South Lake Tahoe, YOU ruined SLT with your shitty attitude. Kirkwood & Heavenly both ran more efficiently this year with bigger budgets (I was there every on-time Kwood pow day opening, trust me, it wasn’t always like that pre-Vail), and our passes stayed affordable with more resort options. I get the “F Vail” mentality, I panicked too when I heard the news of takeover, but it has not been a town destroying change. The restaurants & stores were filled with visiting Epic Passholders excited to ride new mountains on their same low-cost pass, which means more money in my pocket to travel to other towns with Vail-owned resorts and in turn spend my money there. How is more money coming into our community bad for anyone? Sorry if you felt inconvenienced by a few more people in line with you for 1st tracks. If its that bothersome, hike backcountry. Vail didn’t take that option away from you. I still have a Sierra pass as well, but they had their fair share of shit-show issues last season too (overcrowding, closures, understaffed, ect..) Just embrace change, keep riding every day, and stop whining. Viva la SLT

  • Steve

    Today, and order of restitution, effectively an eviction notice was signed by the judge. The parties are required to enter into mediation and head back to court at the end of August. You missed a couple of important points in the article which are critical to understanding how this has unfolded here in Park City:

    1) PCMR got busted backdating the paperwork, essentially they missed the deadline, wrote a false date on the lease and submitted it late. That act of bad faith cost them a lot in the eyes of the court.

    2) John Cumming has been crying to whomever will listen about how big, mean Vail Resorts is out to shut down PCMR and cost everyone their jobs. At this point the collective opinion in town is that he was just trying to scare public opinion into his favor and most of us are tired of it.

    3) Vail has done an INCREDIBLE job at turning around Canyons and the Epic Pass affiliation has been a great boost to the local economy. Adding PCMR to that package all but guarantees that local businesses will only benefit from Vail taking over.

    4) Between Deer Valley being well… Deer Valley and Canyons having better terrain and smoother operations, PCMR has been a dysfunctional middle child for the past 10-15 years. The truth is that no matter who operates it the employees will have jobs but Vail will bring in more skiers and their money.

    Personally, it doesn’t really matter to me, I ski Deer Valley and have no interest in either resort. My income will not be affected by any of this either so these ar just the observations of a local tring to provide some insight you may not have from afar.

    • El Pirata Gigantor Sporty-Pant

      As I understand it(heard it from a bird fairly close to the source), PCMR either laid off or fired the (apparently only) person who knew about the lease paperwork from the last time they signed it… When the time rolled around to get it re-signed they got caught with their pants down and had to scramble… That’s how they were late to that party… For a big corporation like Powdr, that is pretty much inexcusable…

      I also understand that Powdr holds water rights for that mountain or something to that effect… If you can’t make snow in PCMR, your season is gutted… I can’t help but to stand on the sidelines, point and laugh… Somebody is about to drop a nice chunk of change up there…

      • Steve

        So an organization that generates millions of dollars and employs 4600 people every year has ONE person who knows the details of the lease on the land where they do business?

        I hope you don’t actually believe your “Source”. Powdr Corp isn’t known for being the best-run organization but they’re not that stupid.

        The best Powdr can hope for is a deal with Vail that allows them to operate the base facilities and charge a little above market rate for water. Vail would probably just build holding ponds like Deer Valley has anyway so the water is not really the issue that you think it is. Sadly, Cumming has a huge ego (even after all of this) and it is entirely possible that he takes his toys and goes home.

        Most of the private talk in PC right now is that there won’t be a ski season at PCMR this year.

        • El Pirata Gigantor Sporty-Pant

          I’m pretty dubious about the one person claim as well, but stranger things have happened… How else would you explain the fact that a big corporation like that dropped the ball? Sometimes the simple things turn out to be true…

          As far as holding ponds, of course Vail can build them… But how long is it gonna take and how long is it gonna take to fill them if you have no access to ground water? Either way, PCMR is hosed for a couple of seasons if Cumming decides to take his toys… The man most definitely has an ego… Which makes me nervous about him getting involved with Snowbird…

          Which brings about a whole different set of cringe-worthy questions… For example who in the world needs a restaurant at the top of Hidden peak and how much will the ticket prices have to go up for us-the-skier/boarder to amortize that investment?…

        • Jim

          You can believe what you want but let’s assume the testimony in court was the truth. The current PCMR CFO was asked by a bank to show proof the lease had been renewed in order to secure a line of credit. The CFO went to look for the proof. Found none. No one could even find the lease documents. Frantic searching ensued with no results. The PCMR head counsel made an emergency trip to PC, still no documents. A call was placed to the former CFO, who was fired when he questioned the timing on booking revenue when it appeared games were being played to boost executive bonuses. He says look in the drawer of my old desk. They find the documents there. The are in a panic and draft a renewal letter and back date it two days when it was already over 30 days late but they didn’t read the details of the lease and are clueless. They send it regular unregistered mail to a relatively anonymous address at Talisker. It sits at Talisker for months. Cumming then says some suspicious things in a meeting with Bistricer (head of Talisker) who starts to investigate the lease renewal. They find the renewal letter, realize it was sent late and this whole mess starts.

          So yes the management of POWDR really is that stupid. Oh and the CFO who started all this has now also been fired. So that is two CFOs come and gone over the last few years. And Vail/Talisker doesn’t look all that great either because they didn’t realize the lease hadn’t been renewed either for months. But at least they didn’t commit fraud and weren’t quite as massively stupid as POWDR.

          • Fred Smith

            Powdr doesn’t have a current CFO…she left the company several months ago. It was Elizabeth Paul, EVP who was asked by a lender (credit facility) for proof that the lease was renewed. It was later found in the desk drawer of a former CFO, Richard DesVaux.

            It didn’t matter if the lease was postmarked on a Monday or Friday backdated since the date of the renewal was in March. Backdating the lease renewal letter is pertinent, since it shows a desire to deceive. Both Talisker and PCMR/Powdr forgot about the renewal date.

      • Fred Smith

        PCMR fired Richard DesVaux. The rumor, and it is a rumor, is that he was fired for being an honest CFO who refused to play games with the timing of revenue for exec. comp. purposes. The lease was found in his former desk drawer gathering dust. PCMR was too stupid to look for it there.

        PCMR owns the bottom portion of the mountain. It also holds water rights. John Cumming is the pres. and CEO of Powdr, and his father is a multi-billionaire investor. They can hold out forever, and so can Vail Resorts (MTN is well run and cash flows enough to easily pay down debt and offer a 2.5% yield).

        This article was very poorly researched and written. The author should be fired.

  • alchook

    PCMR wasn’t two days late on the renewal. They were 60 days late. Their lease required them to give 60 day notice that they planned to renew.

  • N_and_N

    If it keeps the good skiing in the cottonwood canyons separate from the inferior park city resorts and the d bags that ski there – go Vail.

  • James

    Vail is snow sports worst nightmare. Yuck. Come on all. Get your head out of your darkness.

  • Jim

    This article is full of inaccuracies. I am a full time local and have followed this closely since the beginning. As mentioned in other comments POWDR was not a day or even two days late, they were 60 days late in renewing their lease. Then they committed fraud by backdating the renewal letter to try and make it seem like it was on time. They were too stupid to even read the lease and realize that backdating it two days didn’t matter. And yes only one person, the former (fired) CFO, seemed to know anything about the lease. POWDR couldn’t even find the document for days.

    Local opinion is mixed. POWDR is generally seen as inept and dishonest. In addition they have failed to invest in PCMR in recent years and some of us are tired of the run down facilities and poor operations. Vail is no angel but they are at least seen as efficient and willing to make investment.

    POWDR is no “local” outfit and PCMR is no quaint, small town ski area. POWDR is one of the major operators of resorts in the country and is owned by billionaires and multi, multi millionaires.

    POWDR does not own “one third of the mountain”. They own a small slice of the mountain at the base and the base faciities. POWDR in fact owns no ski terrain worthy of the name at PCMR. POWDR repeatedly passed up opportunities to buy the land they operate on.

    So get your facts right next time Powder Mag and try and not be quite so biased, You consistently trash our mountains in your mag anyway so why do you care?

  • Fred Smith

    This is a poorly written article that is factually incorrect. The lease was backdated to reflect the date PCMR thought the payment needed to be made. However, the lease payment was due several months earlier as judge’s opinion shows (the author never bother to read it). Stating that Powdr has made offers and is negotiating with itself is also incorrect. Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, claims he is willing to talk but there has been nothing coming from the other side of the dispute.

    Dick move? You know nothing of business. This was not a clerical error, but a massive blunder on the part of an incompetently run company. Management completely forgot about the lease date until a lender for a revolving credit facility asked Elizabeth Paul at PCMR for a copy of the renewed lease. Neither the president, Jenni Smith, or the CFO could find it. The lease documents sat in the desk drawer of a former CFO gathering dust, and PCMR was too stupid to look for it there.

    The author of this article did not do his homework and should be embarrassed. This article is shoddy work.

    • Go11

      Nothing to add except that POWDER got all the facts wrong, that the Cummings are loaded, don’t give the hoot about the community as money is the only element dear to their heart.

      This later element is good news, because they’re greedier than proud and their focus on profits will force them to work out a juicy deal with Vail Resort. This way, they’ll make much more money than by running a micro-resort by themselves or practicing – as they threaten – a scorched-earth policy.

  • bransfuerdo

    blow my mind that Cummings has ran this resort into the ground all the while paying only $150,000 for the leased land. Still charges $1000 for a pass. Vail sucks, Park City sucks

  • skiboat

    Pretty sad. I liked Park City and didn’t like Canyons. Being 1 business day late is pretty disappointing. Talisker is pretty ruthless. I will avoid Talisker and Vail resorts. There are many other great resorts they don’t control yet.

  • Jared Hoke

    I don’t see where PCMR has any cards in this game; they dropped the ball, then acted in bad faith, then initiated the suit. That’s chutzpah, but not The Law. It also appears that they have not been particularly exemplary operators, while Vail is a proven winner with deep pockets and built-in advantages. The only horsepower PCMR has now is the mess they can make, if they insist on it. They’d be smart to get well paid for NOT making that mess, then: get outta Dodge.

  • powderskier

    And we complain about Bob Nutting at 7 Springs and his greed and stupidity.

  • Colorado RULES

    MOhahahah!! GO VAIL!! TAke that Park City ! Your ski resort will be better run, bigger and cheaper!! Don’t Cry “Embrace the Dark side”

  • Feel Good

    i lived by Vail for 15 years, live by Telluride now and life is good

  • David Cheezum

    As much as I dislike Vail Resorts, PCMR bears some responsibility. They knew the window for renewal, and they had to know Talisker was foaming at the mouth to strike a deal with Vail Resorts if given any chance. April 30th, 2011 was a Saturday. If this was a critical renewal for one of the sweetest deals in the ski industry, why wasn’t the paperwork submitted at least a week in advance incase there were mistakes? I clearly don’t know all the details why this wasn’t accomplished, but from the outside looking in, this was a no brainer.

  • sierragrl

    As a happy Mammoth skier, none of this really matters to me…but, seems to me PCMR screwed up and should ‘cut their losses’ by selling their remaining interests to Vail, which appears to be worth bank..take your money and run PCMR

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