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April 10, 2014
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Vail Daily column: Fun and folly at Park City

Ah, so this is why the resort is called Canyons. Duh.

I’d taken the gondola out of the generic base village to mid-mountain and begun working the lifts running up ridgelines on the north side of the resort last Friday afternoon.

It didn’t take long to see the namesake pattern for each ravine. Ride up the ridge. Short and steep off the north side. Mellow down the middle. Southside runs had melted away, but still plenty of mountain to ride.

Sunny, 40 degrees, touch icy at the top, slushy at the bottom, perfect for me in the middle.

Lack of free time, grumpy knees, (sigh) age and a midlife start to an awesome sport combine to put me right around the skills of an enthusiastic and fairly regular vacationer. This year I’m in the two-, three-week range, a good season for me.

Knees are in a crankier mood today, so I’m looking for smooth and moving all too slowly toward steeper. Cruising under blue sky is just fine, though, as I warm up.

And I’m an actual visitor here. First time in Park City, for biz, and isn’t it nice that I get to call playing hooky the last afternoon of the trip genuine work and check out Vail Resorts’ new acquisition?

I didn’t realize that Canyons almost touches Park City Mountain Resort, which touches Deer Valley. Or that this string nearly touches Brighton, which touches Solitude, which is close to Snowbird, which touches Alta on the Salt Lake City side of the Wasatch.

The resorts are talking again about linking themselves by lifts, by the way.

Wow, talk about your ski vacation. You could start in one place, send your bags to another and get there skiing one mountain to the next. That would add up to 18,000 acres of terrain accessible by one pass if the concept One Wasatch, announced in mid-March, becomes reality.

I’m told not everyone in Utah shares my excitement. Backcountry riders are less than thrilled, and people want to be sure the watersheds would be OK. There’s also that small matter of litigation between ski companies operating Park City Mountain and Canyons to work out.

The ski terrain around Park City is privately owned, unlike our mountains that mostly are on Forest Service land.

As it turns out, the company that owns the land at Canyons also owns nearly all the ski terrain at Park City Mountain. Powdr, which operates Park City Mountain, owns the base area.

The terrain landowner, Talisker Corp., claims that Powdr missed the deadline in spring 2011 to renew its lease for that terrain. That December, Powdr turned down an offer to renew the lease at a higher price and sued Talisker.

Last summer, Vail Resorts signed a 50-year lease of Canyons and as part of the agreement took on Talisker’s part in the litigation. VR will lease Park City Mountain’s terrain if their side prevails.

That’s the nub of it, anyway. The parties just happened to have court hearings while I was visiting — the big news around town. Well, along with Garrison Keillor unplugged (him, a wooden stool, a bottle of water, a microphone, a full house at Park City’s version of the Vilar) and the Olympian parade scheduled that Saturday on Main Street, which is huge because Park City boasts of more locals’ medals than nearly all the countries that competed in Sochi. I heard more about the Olympians than the Litigants, to be sure.

The judge will take his time ruling on the case, and appeals no doubt will drag this out for years unless the resort companies work out a settlement, which doesn’t appear likely judging by the public statements outside the courtroom.

Powdr, which also runs Copper Mountain, sounds a bit desperate to my not quite unbiased ear. CEO John Cumming comes across like he arrived at a chess match thinking he’s playing a particularly blustery form of checkers.

If they lose the suit, Cumming and company threaten, Powdr will block access to Park City Mountain Resort’s terrain, and/or they’ll yank up all the chairlifts and towers before they leave. VR is just a big bully tearing apart the fabric of the town. What a tragedy for the community if Vail prevails. And so on. You get the drift.

Cumming seems unaware that he’s handed the high ground to Vail Resorts. They get to give comparatively mild responses that such tough talk is not constructive to resolving the issue, and golly gee it’s not our fault you didn’t renew your lease on time, and oh by the way we’ll pay fair market value for that base area. Let’s be reasonable here.

One longtime local who pays attention to these things told me that public sentiment seems to be swinging away from early support of Powdr to Vail Resorts.

Community leaders already recognize Vail Resorts as the best-run ski company on the planet. VR is smart enough to invest in contributions to community causes and groups, and I’m sure working hard to otherwise integrate into the community.

And, oh yeah, there’s that Epic Pass thing.

It snowed 4 inches overnight Saturday, and so instead of leaving Sunday morning, my sweet wife let me go back on the mountain, this time having taken my ibuprofen. What an awesome time, with sun breaking through flurries and no lines anywhere.

A rare companion on a chairlift ride got talking about the litigation.

“Well, I hope VR wins,” he declared. “Can you imagine being able to use your Epic Pass on both mountains?”

The “Park City Follies” opened a six-day, sold-out show while I was there.

This year’s title: “Epic Follies.”

Cumming might take a clue.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2920.

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The VailDaily Updated Apr 10, 2014 09:44PM Published Apr 10, 2014 02:36PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.