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Park City criticism of Vail Resorts epitomized by story of a cold, $9 hot dog

Old Town resident Michael Kaplan at a recent Park City Council meeting described a hot dog that he says cost $9 at Park City Mountain Resort. He noted the meal in a broader statement criticizing PCMR owner Vail Resorts’ management of the resort.
Courtesy of Michael Kaplan

Michael Kaplan had houseguests in the last week or so who wanted to ski at Park City Mountain Resort.

They spent time on the slopes before heading to lunch at Mid Mountain Lodge & Public House, and Kaplan’s meal that day has suddenly become emblematic amid an intense wave of criticism about the operations at PCMR directed at the resort and its owner, Colorado-based Vail Resorts.

Kaplan, an Old Town resident, during a Park City Council meeting last week told the elected officials of his experience at PCMR with the houseguests. He said there was little available parking at the resort as he also questioned the snowmaking and grooming efforts. He noted the long lift lines and the time waiting to eat as well.

“And absolutely terrible food. Forty-two minutes to buy a $9 hot dog. Would you eat this for $9,” Kaplan said, holding up a photograph of his meal that day.

The photograph showed a hot dog with a slightly toasted bun, served in a disposable container. He described the day at PCMR as “very, very embarrassing.” Kaplan said he understood the continuing novel coronavirus pandemic and scant recent snowfall are some of the reasons for the situation, “but Vail’s management of Park City is far from a world-class ski experience.”

“Vail Corp. are stewards of perhaps our largest and most important competitive advantage — the ski resort. But Vail has failed us. They seem to care little about our community or the guest experience, and yet Vail is enjoying record profits,” he said, adding there are “negative repercussions on our community and our reputation” with the name of the community attached to the resort.

The comments by Kaplan were some of the highlights of approximately 80 minutes of input to Mayor Nann Worel and the City Council last week about the operations of PCMR. The speakers covered a range of issues, including crowd sizes on the slopes, traffic and a development proposal at the base.

Kaplan’s comments, reinforced with the photograph, though, seemed to be especially memorable with so many skiers and snowboarders choosing a convenient option for lunch on the PCMR slopes like at the Mid Mountain Lodge & Public House. And on-the-slopes food prices have long been a point of contention across much of the ski industry, with many skiers and snowboarders packing their own lunches into their pockets to avoid the restaurants. A midday meal on the slopes is irrelevant to the overall experience of skiing for some, but for others it is one of the highlights of a day.

PCMR did not immediately respond to a Park Record request for comment about food prices on the slopes.

The input about PCMR and Vail Resorts at the recent City Council meeting was surprising in its broad nature and in the deep-rooted concerns expressed by speakers. Nobody representing PCMR or Vail Resorts addressed Worel and the City Council, and it was not clear if any were in attendance at the Marsac Building or listening to the meeting online. It appears the elected officials could meet with the PCMR side shortly, possibly by the end of the month. It is unclear what could be accomplished during such a meeting since much of the recent input dealt with topics that are not regulated by the municipal government.

There is continuing displeasure with Vail Resorts and PCMR years after the firm acquired the resort in 2014 as part of a settlement of a lawsuit with the former owner and then combined PCMR and Canyons Resort into a single property. Some see the Vail Resorts ownership of PCMR as bringing a corporate vibe to Park City, increased crowds and higher prices. The recent commotion, though, is some of the most intense since a 2016 dispute that centered on an effort by Vail Resorts to secure a trademark on the term “Park City.”

Kaplan’s professional background is as a professor in marketing and the management of mountain resorts. He spent 22 years teaching on the university level in Utah and in Europe. In an interview, Kaplan described Vail Resorts as short-sighted, saying profits are sought over the ski experience. Reversing what he sees as the Vail Resorts strategy would be a “more long-term outlook,” he said.

“The hot dog exemplifies a long, frustrating day of no parking, huge lift lines, several lifts not operating and lousy grooming,” Kaplan said, adding that the meal was cold.

Vail Resorts, Park City Mountain Resort ski patrol reach tentative deal, likely averting a strike

Park City Mountain Resort owner Vail Resorts and the union that represents ski patrollers on Thursday jointly announced the two sides reached an agreement in principle about a new contract for the ski patrol, a deal that, if ratified, would end the possibility of a strike that could have impacted PCMR during what is expected to be a busy stretch of the ski season.

The Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association membership last weekend overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike should the negotiations collapse. Talks between the union and Vail Resorts, though, continued after the authorization vote. The membership of the union is poised to decide whether to ratify the agreement shortly.

The Thursday statement from the two sides reads: “The Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association (PCPSPA) and Vail Resorts are pleased to announce that they have reached an agreement in principle, and are appreciative of the engagement and commitment on both sides. The parties are finalizing the details and next steps which will include a vote by union members in the coming days. We appreciate the patience and support of everyone as we work on moving forward together.”

Representatives from the union and PCMR did not immediately return phone messages on Thursday morning.

The statement did not provide details about the starting wage outlined in the agreement in principle. The starting wage has been the key point in the recent negotiations.

The union sees a starting wage of $15 an hour — the figure included in an earlier Vail Resorts proposal that patrollers rejected — as too low for the ski patrol, saying patrollers are trained to perform specialized duties like treating accident victims on the slopes, avalanche control and lift evacuations.

The Vail Resorts side countered that it had offered a proposal that is competitive with other mountain resorts, including wage increases, future increases that would be automatic and retroactive pay to cover hours that have been worked during the current ski season.

Park City Mountain Resort ski patrollers overwhelmingly authorize a strike if talks with Vail Resorts unsuccessful

The membership of the union that represents ski patrollers at Park City Mountain Resort overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike should negotiations with Vail Resorts, the Colorado-based owner of the resort, collapse.

The Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association said on Monday 98.2% of the votes were in support of the strike authorization. According to the union, 168 out of the 171 people who voted backed the authorization. There are 185 ski patrollers eligible for union membership, meaning the vast majority cast a vote.

Patrick Murphy, a Canyons Village-based ski patroller and the business manager for the union, said the 48-hour online vote closed Sunday night.

A bargaining session with Vail Resorts is scheduled on Monday evening. It will be the 50th between the two sides, according to the union. Murphy said he “optimistic” an agreement can be reached during the Monday evening session.

The authorization vote was needed prior to a strike by the union members. Murphy said the authorization, though, is not a signal of an imminent strike, and he acknowledged the union understands the broad impact a work stoppage would potentially have on the community. He said the union is “doing everything we can” to reach an agreement to avoid a strike.

The key point in the talks is the current starting wage of $15 per hour. The union argues the wage is too low for ski patrollers, who are trained for specialized duties like treating victims of accidents on the slopes, evacuating lifts and avalanche control.

The Vail Resorts side says it has offered a proposal to the union that is competitive with other mountain resorts, including wage increases, future increases that would be automatic and retroactive pay to cover hours that have been worked during the current ski season.

The union in the middle of December rejected a proposal from Vail Resorts. The union has raised more than $75,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to cover patrollers in the event of a strike.

The most recent contract negotiated by the union ended in November of 2020. It was a two-year deal between the union and Vail Resorts.

Vail Resorts on Monday afternoon after the union vote issued a brief statement. It reads: “We continue to have productive conversations with the union and have another collective bargaining session scheduled for Monday (this) evening.”