Residents voice extensive concerns about Vail Resorts and traffic “disaster”

PARK CITY, Utah — During a public comment session that lasted over an hour at the Park City Council meeting on Thursday night, several residents spoke of a traffic “disaster” in Park City and the blame was largely placed on Vail Resorts’ Park City Mountain.

Former Park City Mayor Dana Williams, who served in the role during Vail’s acquisition of Park City Mountain Resort, said the ski experience locally is “not okay.”

“I started calling the other Vail Resorts, and I’ve talked to several of them over the last week and their local newspapers and everything else. What are you dealing with? Is your mountain completely open? No. Are you having lift line problems? Yes. Are you having traffic problems? Yes.

“And then so to counter that, I called the Alterra resorts,” he said. Alterra Mountain Co. owns Deer Valley Resort in Park City, which sells a limited number of daily passes each day.

“Are you open? Yes, 100%. Do you have lift line problems? No. Do you have staffing issues? It’s been tough, but everything’s open.

“So I’m not believing that this is Covid-related,” Williams said.

“One of my thoughts was that maybe we should talk to these other resorts, and maybe we should have a gathering of the resort communities… because we are to the point now where it’s damaging this brand, not only theirs, but this one. And this brand has taken 60 years to develop.

“And you know, I look in the eyes of you,” he said looking at the council, “and a lot of you were born here, you know what this is. It’s in your gut, and it’s not okay,” he concluded.

Silver Star Ski & Sport owner Todd Fischer said, “I’ve been here for a lot of years, it doesn’t matter how many, but just the overall experience, it’s changed.” He said the traffic in Thaynes Canyon is “out of control… like 30 minutes to go half a mile.”

“A lot of that can be alleviated with the Silver Star Lift, and it’s still not spinning. We’ve heard, it’s supposed to get spinning maybe this weekend. But that’s kind of what they’ve been telling us, a lot,” Fischer said of Vail Resorts. “It does affect business,” he emphasized.

Susan Daniero, a resident of the Payday Condominiums on Three Kings Dr., said that Silver Star is a “community lift.”

“We love that we don’t have to get in our cars, we can walk across the street, go up the elevator. And that’s not only residential, but it’s also those precious small businesses that are not owned by Vail that will benefit from that lift being open on a consistent basis,” she said.

Kevin McCarthy, a resident of Payday Dr., said that despite quick work by councilman Jeremy Rubell to put up traffic control signs that were “helping,” individuals have begun cutting them down every day.

“I’m the one that’s putting them back up,” McCarthy said. “It’s a step in the right direction, we got to do something about this before somebody like one of my invalid neighbors gets killed walking in the street on their rollator because the sidewalk is unusable and the traffic is driving like it’s the gumball rally.”

Jeremy Buzzard, a Park City resident for ten years, said traffic this season has been “an absolute disaster.”

“I have two young children, an eight-year-old and a 10-year-old about to turn 11, and they play outside our house and I had never before worried about their safety playing on our street and we live on a cul-de-sac.

“But people come driving up actually very fast around the cul-de-sac because the traffic here is a disaster. I think a lot of the traffic issue that’s happened recently has been because of Vail Resorts.”

Michael Kaplan, who teaches ski resort management and marketing at universities in the U.S. and Europe, told a story about taking his house guests over to Park City Mountain last week, after not going to the resort for over six years.

“From no parking, lousy snowmaking and grooming, several lift lines being closed, long lift lines, the lack of employees, and absolutely terrible food — 42 minutes to buy a $9 hot dog.

One resident expressed his discontent with the $9 hot dog at Park City Mountain.
Michael Kaplan held up the photo of his $9 hot dog while making a public comment during the Park City Council meeting on Thursday. “Would you eat this for $9?” (Photo: Park City Municipal)

“It was all very, very embarrassing,” Kaplan said.

Deb Rentfrow, one of the leaders of the Responsible Resort Area Development Coalition (RRAD), spoke to several issues surrounding the traffic problems.

She said public transit appears to be working, and said at several bus stops — specifically on Park Avenue and near Cole Sport — she has witnessed passengers unable to board because the vehicles are so full. She expressed concern with High Valley Transit’s decision to move the 101-Spiro bus route connecting Jeremy Ranch and Deer Valley to every 30 minutes. “They should be gaining efficiencies and improving, it shouldn’t be going the other way.”

Rentfrow expressed anxiety about upcoming construction at the Park City High School parking lot slated for later this year. The parking lot is used as an overflow for skiers and snowboarders headed to Park City Mountain.

The line to board the bus to Park City Mountain at the Park City High School parking lot. (Photo: Instagram @epicliftlines)

“We use that lot for overflow right now during the ski season. But we also use it during the summer for a lot of events for Park Silly Market, for everything else. And I’m just wondering if anybody has taken into consideration that that may not be available to us… we need some overflow,” Rentfrow said.

“It feels to me like there’s a general carrying capacity issue,” Park City Councilman Max Doilney said at the end of the public comment. “Whether it’s a carrying capacity of the resort that they’re not able to handle or a carrying capacity of our community, our infrastructure is stretched.”

He said he has spent the last two weeks making calls similar to those that Dana Williams made, to other communities with resorts owned by Vail. “They’re having the same issues we’re having,” he said.

“Now is the time that we start holding our partners accountable, not just here but in other communities, and come up with reasonable solutions because some of the things that are brought up here are clearly not just Vail’s fault.”

He said representatives from the resort plan to hold a work session with the council in two weeks. Doilney said he hopes they bring “real solutions” to the table.

In an end-of-January email to employees published by Epic Lift Lines, Vail Resorts CEO Kirsten Lynch wrote “you may have seen people expressing concern that pass sales have caused crowding at our resorts. The fact is that there have not been more skier visits this season. Skier visits are down this season as compared with last season and the season prior.”

The company sold nearly 50% more of its Epic Passes this season, after cutting the price by 20%.

Vail Resorts statement:

As of this morning, we have 90% of our terrain open including 6,400 acres, 33 lifts, 307 open trails and 99 groomed trails open (the largest terrain offering of any resort in the U.S.). The Silver Star lift is scheduled to open this Monday.

Our grooming count and acreage increased with the great December snowfall but recently has tapered back by a handful of trails due to the less-than-normal snowpack in January. We are continuing to focus our efforts here to provide the best experience possible.

Regarding traffic, we work very closely with the City on transportation and traffic plans, especially during peak holiday periods and weekends, and are appreciative of the City’s partnership. We continue to have active conversations with City staff to address these challenges and find opportunities to alleviate the City-wide traffic demands. The past two seasons have presented new challenges as the use of Public Transportation has been impacted by COVID, which does increase parking demand unfortunately.

A spokesperson confirmed that Park City Mountain COO Mike Goar will be meeting with the council in two weeks.

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