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Two Major Lift Upgrades Blocked at Park City Amid Local Ire Over Crowding, Parking

The nixing of the lift replacements at PCMR brought to the surface a deep-seated local angst with Vail Resorts over how the resort is run.

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The fate of two of Vail Resorts’ biggest lift upgrades is uncertain after the Park City Planning Commission voted to uphold an appeal brought forward by four local residents. 

The two projects in question are the replacement of the 25-year-old Silverlode six-seater, which is a common congestion point at the lower elevations of the Park City base, with an eight-person lift that will increase lift capacity by 20 percent; and swapping out the beginner Eagle and Eaglet lifts for a high-speed six-pack, with the aim of easing lift lines at another traditionally congested area that serves ski school and novice skiers.

Find Out About the Rest of Vail Resorts’ Planned Upgrades for 2022-’23

Four Park City residents brought the appeal under the argument that these upgrades should never have been granted a conditional-use permit, as they were in April, because the resulting improvements to skier flow and traffic would exceed the resort’s Comfortable Carrying Capacity (CCC). The appeal also cites inadequate parking at the resort as another cause for concern. (The resort is implementing paid parking for the coming season, which locals say is like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound.)

Much of the hubbub about the lift upgrades centers around the CCC numbers, which are a source of controversy between what Vail Resorts says is accurate and numbers that one of the Park City locals behind the appeal, Angela Moschetta, claims are closer to the truth.

Park City’s current CCC is 12,570, with its maximum set at 13,700. VR says that the new lifts will only bump the CCC to 12,860, according to research provided by outside consultant Ecosign, a B.C.-based resort planner. Moschetta presented figures at a June 9 meeting that brought Park City’s CCC to 13,980 after the lift improvements. (SKI has reached out to Moschetta to verify the source of her numbers, and will update this article with that information.) It’s also worth noting that this situation in Park City comes on the heels of VR’s announcement of record third-quarter profits and more planned infrastructure upgrades, which doesn’t help with visuals.

Park City lights
The blocking of two planned lift upgrades at PCMR brought to the surface local angst with Vail Resorts over a frustrating ski season at the resort plagued with crowds, parking problems, and closed terrain. Photo: Getty Images

“The miscalculated and already-exceeded CCCs confirm absolutely that this application violated the [mountain upgrade plan], and therefore never met conditions for administrative review,” Moschetta argued during the June 9 Planning Commission meeting. “On this basis alone, our appeal must be upheld and the decision of the planning director overturned.”

Planning Commission members subsequently asked VR to provide an explanation of the CCC discrepancy at a June 15 meeting, during which they found Vail’s reasoning to be unsatisfactory. The board supported the appeal of the conditional-use permit for the 2022-’23 lift improvements by a vote of 3-1, effectively sidelining the developments for the immediate future.

After the decision came down, Vail Resorts hit Twitter with a series of statements and replies that made its frustration clear. 

“Chairlift tourism, or the idea that modernizing lifts will draw more crowds, does not exist,” the company stated. “Skiers and riders just want to spend more time  on our vast terrain and less time in line. This decision means we cannot make important infrastructure improvements for next season, but we remain committed to finding ways to enhance our guest experience.”

Mike Goar, former PCMR president who’s heading to Switzerland to head up VR’s first owned ski resort at Andermatt, spoke during the June 9 meeting, reasoning that the improvements will help skier flow, reduce crowding, and get people up the mountain more efficiently, but that lift upgrades don’t lead to more skiers and snowboarders on the mountain. The Planning Commission members were not swayed.

After the decision came down, Park City Vice President and COO Deidre Walsh issued a statement sharing her surprise and disappointment with the results of the hearing.

“As the country’s largest resort, Park City Mountain has 41 lifts—our goal is to upgrade two of them, with the purpose of reducing wait times in two popular spots and helping guests move up and around the mountain more easily,” she said. “Those opposed to these important enhancements to the guest experience have created a false narrative that the replacement of aged infrastructure with modernized lifts will draw crowds.”

The social mediaverse has chimed in vociferously on both sides of the issue, with the louder voices coming in support of shutting the lift upgrades down. A lot of the frustration stems from VR’s well-documented struggles with staffing, crowding, and getting terrain open this past winter. The company has addressed the lion’s share of the problems with a substantial pay raise and other initiatives aimed to improve the skier experience for 2022-’23.

Get Caught Up on the Issues: What Vail Needs to Fix If It Wants To Retain Skiers—And Their Respect

“Read the room.  Guest experience at PCMR/Canyons was uniformly terrible last season,” tweeted one user in reply to the resort’s original statements. “Until you can get staffing and parking figured out, increased uphill capacity should not be a priority.”

Another Twitter user shared his frustration about last season’s crowding and overall guest experience. “You can’t even maintain and open all lifts and terrain parks as it is. Continue to work with the city to allocate and subsidize affordable housing. Vail’s business model has destroyed skiing culture. Rebuild first.”

But it might be this Twitter comment that’s closest to really getting to the meat of the issue. Ski Northwest, a blogger who’s been a vocal VR critic, tweeted, “Frankly, @VailResorts f’d around and found out when it comes to their relationships with their towns—the people who should be their most ardent advocates. It sucks for visitors, but Rob Katz spent a decade pursuing a steamroller approach. This is how that story ends.”

On the other side of the bench, skiers are concerned that Park City’s Planning Commission is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

”I can understand a frustrated and frayed community relationship,” wrote one confused skier on Twitter, “but turning down a lift upgrade like this one for spite is a lose-lose decision. Guess everyone can have next winter to think about while riding those old lifts again.”

Also Read: Vail Resorts Announces $100 Million Third-Quarter Profit Bump and Chairlift Upgrades

“This is probably an unpopular opinion,” tweeted another, “but I feel like any infrastructure upgrades that Vail makes at PCMR would still be beneficial. Yes, parking and staffing are huge issues. Yes, the experience last year was terrible. But does blocking these upgrades really help? Unlikely.”

This isn’t VR’s only recent experience with local backlash. In May, the company suffered another defeat around an already approved employee housing development that was shut down by the Vail Town Council due to its proximity to a bighorn sheep habitat in East Vail. After a series of contentious meetings, that parcel of land on which the housing was to be built will remain off limits, with the town urging the resort to consider other options. (There’s a short new documentary highlighting the uniqueness of the East Vail bighorn sheep herd that’s worth a watch, here.)

And things are heating up in South Lake Tahoe, where a class action lawsuit hearing scheduled for today (June 17) is expected to be well-attended by locals. The suit alleges that VR employees were asked to work off the clock in violation of federal labor laws. between 2014 and 2021. The company has since changed the practices and is looking to get approval for a settlement. Over 100,000 people are involved in the class action.

In Park City, PCMR Vice President Walsh confirmed that the Silverlode and Eagle/Eaglet lift upgrades will not be in place in time for the coming ski season. 

“We are considering our options and next steps based on today’s disappointing decision—but one thing is clear—we will not be able to move forward with these two lift upgrades for the ’22-’23 winter season. And that should be a disappointing outcome for everyone who loves to ski and ride at Park City Mountain.”

VR can appeal the decision or go through a new approval process with the Planning Commission. Either way, next summer seems the soonest we might see construction on the new lifts, if eventually approved. But clearly, Vail has some things on its punch list at PCMR that it can address in the meantime to prep the community for a more successful second attempt.