Winter skiing at Park City resort hangs on summer negotiations

Published: Monday, July 7 2014 5:25 p.m. MDT

Slopes are in view at Park City Mountain Resort in Park City on Thursday, June 19, 2014.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PARK CITY — An ongoing dispute between land owners at the Park City Mountain Resort has city leaders and business owners hoping for a resolution that will keep skiers on the mountain this winter.

But as the two parties in the dispute head into court-mandated mediation, locals worry that more than just the fate of two companies hangs in the balance.

"It impacts the lodging industry, the restaurant industry, reservations for ski schools, et cetera," Park City Mayor Jack Thomas said. "We need to know that we’re opening earlier rather than later."

In 2011, Park City Mountain Resort failed to renew its lease of roughly 3,000 acres of mountain terrain from landowner Talisker Corp., initiating three years of legal action between Talisker and Powdr Corp., owner of the resort.

Park City Mountain Resort was served with an eviction notice in August, and on May 3, District Judge Ryan Harris ruled in favor of Talisker by finding that Park City's lease had expired.

Talisker also entered into a partnership last year with Vail Resorts to operate the nearby Canyons Resort, with the understanding that Vail's lease would extend to the disputed Park City land pending resolution of the litigation.

The two parties have been ordered to work together toward a resolution of the dispute, with a hearing set for Aug. 27. But if an agreement cannot be reached, the dispute sets up a scenario where Powdr. Corp owns a resort base without a mountain while Talisker and Vail own a mountain with no base.

"I think that would be devastating to see it bifurcated," Thomas said. "I'm not sure how it would even operate."

Thomas said the city is not able to take sides, but officials have expressed their desires to both parties that the annual ski season be uninterrupted and that a complete and functioning resort be preserved.

But he added that city leaders are concerned about broader impacts to the community and that a resort closure or decreased service could cascade into every business and every activity in Park City.

"It’s really a legal matter between two entities," he said. "Of course, the city could suffer the consequences of the resolution or not resolving this issue."

Impacts on the town

Kevin Mackaben, owner of the Pig Pen Saloon at the base of Park City Mountain Resort, said that a split of the property would be a worst-case scenario. It would not be a viable ski area without the Talisker land, he said, and the loss of skiers would jeopardize businesses at or near the resort.

He said he wonders how many new bankruptcy attorneys would arrive in town if negotiations between Powdr Corp. and Talisker "go south."

"I think everybody in business wants (Park City Mountain Resort) to start paying a new lease amount, then we go on with life," Mackaben said. "That’s the No. 1, I think, for everybody."

John Lund, an attorney representing Talisker Land Holdings, said the lease between Powdr Corp. and Talisker began in 1971 and was last renewed to a 20-year term in 1991.

Park City Mountain Resort had been paying $155,000 in annual rent, according to a lawsuit filed by the resort in 2012, compared to roughly $3 million in annual lease fees paid by Canyons for its resort property.

The disputed land occupies the bulk of the Park City Mountain Resort's upper portions, including the popular Jupiter Bowl area.

"By the time you get to the top of the Alpine Slide or the top of the Three Kings Lift you are on my client's property," Lund said.

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