2002 to 2018: The Emergence of the Modern Ski Industry

The 2000s continued to see growth in both the volume and revenues generated by Park City’s three resorts. What was once a recreational outlet for a mining town became a lifeline boosted by small business investors and was now evolving into a major industry governed by the laws of big business.

 

The Merger of Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons

In 2011, Park City Mountain Resort failed to renew its lease in a timely manner with Talisker Mountain Inc. (which owned and operated the adjacent Canyons Resort). They sent the letter renewing the lease two days late without much thought to the consequence. Indeed, for 8 months, things continued to operate normally until Talisker notified Park City Mountain Resort that the lease had expired. The late notice had given Vail Resorts the opportunity it needed to swoop in.

 

From 2012 to 2014, PCMR sued to retain rights to use the mountain, Talisker sold the rights as well as the legal headaches to Vail Resorts, and in a short-lived standoff, Vail Resorts ended up buying PCMR outright for $182.5 million. In the end, Vail would come to own and combine both resorts and their ski area into one mega ski resort known as Park City Mountain.

 

And so it was that Park City went from three to two ski resorts. Otherwise, the biggest immediate difference for the average skier—both in Utah and Colorado—was the ability to gain access to Park City Mountain with Vail’s popular EPIC ski pass.

 

Deer Valley Joins Ski Conglomerate

In 2017, Deer Valley was purchased for an undisclosed amount by an investment group that included Aspen’s parent company but which didn’t even give itself a name until 2018. The newly christened Alterra Mountain Company ended up owning 11 resorts in 7 states including Park City’s Deer Valley, as well as maintaining a close relationship with the ownership of Aspen’s four ski resorts.

 

It’s unclear how much the day-to-day operation of Deer Valley stands to change. Its new ownership has made few management changes and has pledged that resort managers are “empowered to be decisive, creative and bold in order to retain each mountain’s authentic character.”

 

Cost Hikes, Bells-and-Whistles, and Discount Packages

The larger question remains: The corporate maneuvering aside, what does this all mean for the average skiing enthusiast? Bigger corporate owners mean more investment and more technology and amenities available at Park City’s resorts. Indeed, every few years, the resorts attempt to gin up extra interest by installing new ski areas, terrain parks, and resort amenities. It also means higher retail prices for things like lift tickets and lodging, but it also means more aggressive discounts from these higher retail prices. Huge ski corporations have the resources to deeply research and predict the demand for lift tickets week-to-week and day-to-day. Buying lift tickets at Park City’s resorts is now more like the dynamic pricing of airline tickets than ever before and continues to move in that direction. Likewise, the marketing and advertising campaigns implemented by these corporations have grown more elaborate and narrowcast to specific ski audiences.

 

1981 to 2002: Growing Popularity to International Recognition

As three bona fide ski areas took hold in Park City, the final remnants of Park City’s mining operations disappeared for good. At the same time, alpine sports were becoming a major force in competitive sports. The modern cultural trappings of ski resorts came into existence and ski lift technology started to deliver on volume and convenience in a way that could make these ski resorts were profitable than ever. By checking out this archive of ski maps for Park City Mountain Resort, you can get a sense of the extent of the ongoing mountain and ski area development, as well as the ski maps and marketing campaigns produced during these years.

 

A series of notable events further ensconced Park City as a major ski destination. The first FIS World Cup held in Park City happened in 1985. By the early 90s, the three ski resorts were receiving nearly a million visitors each year. In a further sign of the diversification and proliferation of alpine sports, snowboarding was finally allowed in 1996. During the same year, Park City Ski Area was officially rebranded Park City Mountain Resort. The resort added its first high-speed 6-passenger chairlift. It was also around this time that the odd sibling rivalry between skiing and snowboarding emerged.

 

In 1995, Salt Lake City was awarded the 2002 Olympic Games, and Park City was a major part of the city’s Olympic bid and hosting plan. In the end, Park City and its three major ski resorts hosted more than 40% of all the Olympic events. These Olympic Games was the fait accompli as Park City as a premier international destination for skiing and alpine sports.

1963 to 1981: The Early Resort Years (Treasure Mountains, Park City West, Snow Park)

The first few years of the skiing industry in Park City were not the most lucrative but showed sufficient promise to continue the operation and development of the ski area. A major push was made in the late 60s and, despite some bumps along the road in the early 70s, the industry finally took hold. In 1974, Park City got a major boost when the US Ski Team relocated from Denver and additional major upgrades were made. The steady growth in popularity culminated in the third and last major skiing area, Deer Valley, opening at the beginning of the 1980s.

 

Treasure Mountains: In 1963, the Silver King Mining Company after two years of breakneck construction opened the Treasure Mountains Ski Area with the longest gondola in the world, a chairlift, base and summit lodges, and a J-bar. Soon, additional lifts and lodging were added, and the resort changed its name to Park City Ski Area. Some sources claim the name was changed as early as 1966, while others say the name wasn’t officially changed until 1971 when Edgar Stern bought the resort from Silver King Mining, before turning around and selling the resort himself in 1975.

 

Park City West: This sister resort to Park City Ski Area was opened in 1968. It, too, changed hands and names several times. It was renamed ParkWest in 1975 and has also been known as Wolf Mountain, Canyons, and Canyons Village at Park City. Though this location has long played second fiddle to the swankier main resort area, this alpine area has always been among the biggest ski and snowboard areas in the state.

 

Snow Park Ski Area: Though it was last to be developed into a major resort, this was one of the early ski areas for miners and their adolescent children. The first makeshift lifts were built at the Snow Park Ski Area from lodgepole pines as early as 1946. You could ski here on the weekend for a buck and a half and included a ski lesson. In 1981, Edgar Stern had made a comeback and was looking to get back into the ski industry. He bought this ski area, developed into a major ski resort, and named in Deer Valley.

 

What’s the Deal with Park City’s Air Quality?

If you’ve spent any time in Salt Lake City or the rest of Utah’s Wasatch Front, you’re probably familiar with the Salt Lake Valley’s natural inversion and struggle with air pollution. If your exposure to Utah has been mostly weekend and weeklong ski trips and you’ve been fortunate with your timing, you may not know what we’re talking about. That being said, what both local and visitors may or may not be aware of is Park City’s vulnerability to the poor air quality that comes with the Wasatch inversion.

 

Airmass Inversions 101

An inversion occurs when the normal pattern of thermal distribution is reversed—or inverted. In other words, usually when you gain altitude—when you head from the Salt Lake Valley up Parley’s Canyon to Park City, it usually gets colder. This happens when a warm airmass settles over a cooler airmass. Typically, solar rays from the Sun are able to warm the land underneath the colder airmass and disrupt any would-be inversion. In the winter, however, these solar rays aren’t as strong, and if there’s snow cover on the ground, less of the Sun’s thermal energy is absorbed by the ground. An inversion is typically the result and, in some cases, will last until a low-pressure storm system knocks the warmer airmass out of the way.

 

These inversions are a geological phenomenon and were remarked on by early pioneers who build their campfires and witness the smoke hit a ceiling and spread out horizontally against the sky. For it’s not the thermal inversion that’s the trouble in the end, it’s the trapped dome of air—especially when that dome is habitat to a million people, their cars and their industry.

 

Park City Air Quality for Skiers

Because it’s less common for visible signs of air pollution to manifest in Park City—especially compared to the heavy fog that descend upon the Salt Lake Valley during the worst periods of inversion—it’s easy to think that Park City gets off virtually scot-free. The truth is….a little more polluted than that. Park City can experience its own less intense inversions. Plus, some of the air pollution for Salt Lake City does inevitably leak out and up Parley’s Canyon. And while there are only some 8,500 permanent residents, there are roughly 600,000 yearly visitors, most of them crammed into the few short months that are peak season for skiing—and for inversions.

Now, we typically think of warming temperatures as the primary threat to our beloved ski town, but there’s also a secondary health concern associated with air pollution. While there are few immediate health concerns for the typically youthful skier, those with respiratory issues or those of advanced age or the very young may want to avoid the physical exertion that comes with being on the mountain when the air quality isn’t cooperating. But it’s also no secret that this type of health recommendation is an issue for the ski resorts who are trying to market reliable access to great skiing. That way, they can attract more out-of-town visitors who need to plan their trip in advance of the short-term weather forecast.

 

Ominously—and this may have changed since we posted this article—but ominously, we haven’t been able to find air quality information for Summit County listed among the state and federal website resources for air quality monitoring:

 

 

Though unsubstantiated, we’ve heard that the ski resorts may be pressuring county and state officials to prevent this information from being readily available to the public. Though problematic in their own right, you may still be able to find certain types of air quality information private weather companies and their websites.

The 2017-2018 Utah Ski Season Gets New Life

The Park City ski season got new life on February 19th, when a good snow storm rolled through the area, followed by sufficiently cold temperatures to keep it there for a while. And while there isn’t a series of blizzards lined up, there are enough flurries and squalls combined with the cold temperatures to ensure decent ski and snowboarding conditions hopefully for at least a few weeks. (I’m already knocking on wood typing this out.)

 

Looking Back

This follows the same pattern as January, which languished in relatively dry and unseasonably warm temperatures until January 20th brought about a foot of snow—rescuing what had been fully deployed snowmaking infrastructure. It’s the temperatures in Park City that are likely to have the biggest part in the story. The mountains seemed to shed the foot of snow with frightening ease at the end of January and early February.

 

The Current Forecast

If we can borrow from the cold snap that’s blanketed much of the eastern United States this year, we might finally have a legit ski season on our poles. Much of the area is hankering to make up for lost time, as most of 2017 was a lost cause for skiing in Park City. And while the average monthly snowfall in Park City doesn’t skew as heavily toward March and April as it does in Colorado, it’s not uncommon for late winter and early spring to see a disproportional amount of the total season’s snowfall amounts.

 

As bad as the first half of the ski season has been, that doesn’t mean the second half can’t be awesome! On the other hand, just because the end of February has been great for skiing doesn’t mean March is going to be an alpine paradise.

 

Looking Further Ahead

Like any skier, I like to follow both the short-term forecast and long-term climate trends. but I’m not in the business of trying to predict the weather. Still, I have hope, worry, and speculation for the future. The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported, “Resorts at lower elevations, like Park City, Canyons and Deer Valley, could see more rain and 10 percent less snow with even another 1.8-degree rise in temperature.”

 

It’s not all bad. For one thing, as that same news story points out, people are noticing and recognizing the danger. Plus, warming temperatures should also hold more moisture, mitigating some of the effects. The resorts keep getting better and better at making their own snow. Everything feels almost like it’s in its heyday, where as long as the next snowfall is coming, you can pretend everything is going to be good forever.

1900-1963: The Early History of Park City Skiing

You can’t understand the history of skiing in Park City without understanding the origins of the city itself. The city was founded in 1869 and named for Parley’s Park. Parley Pratt built and maintained the first road heading east out of Salt Lake City. Today, to get to Park City from Salt Lake City, you have to take I-80 through Parley’s Canyon. Used for grazing land by the earliest settlers, silver, gold, and lead ore was discovered soon after. It wasn’t long before Park City became a big mining town.

 

By the early 1900s, the town was humming and its newfound affluence also gave rise to a new demand for recreation. The population swelled to nearly 7,500. Tunnels were built into the mountainside, and a harness and towing system was devised to create the first ski “lifts.” The first mechanized ski lifts were installed in 1946 at Snow Park Ski Area (present-day Deer Valley). Nevertheless, WWII saw a decline in the output of Park City mining, and by the early 1950s, the outlook for Park City was quite grim. The population dwindled to just over 1,000 people.

 

Then, in the early 1960s, a plan was concocted to reinvent the city as a ski and recreation destination. The remnants of the mining company ownership and new investors applied for a massive loan earmarked for depressed, rural areas. For a while, it looked like the loan would never come through and that Park City was destined to become a mining ghost town. But then Jack Gallivan, at the time publisher of the Salt Lake Tribune, was able to use his friendship and influence President Kennedy to get the loan approved. And this joint venture created Treasure Mountain and the dawn of Park City as a ski resort town.