Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) took a broadside Wednesday in its legal dispute over ski terrain and is pointing at Vail Resorts as the "bully."
Toronto-based Talisker Land Holdings LLC, which recently leased Canyons Resort near Park City to Vail, served an eviction notice to PCMR, giving it until Monday to vacate 2,800 acres of ski terrain.
Salt Lake City-based attorney Alan Sullivan, who represents PCMR, said his client will respond aggressively to the eviction notice. "We aren't leaving the property."
Park City, like all ski resorts, is now selling season passes and vows to continue operations throughout the upcoming ski season.
"Vail's eviction notice is nothing more than a bald-faced attempt to circumvent the litigation already in process and interfere with our business," Jenni Smith, president and general manager, said in a statement. "We will not give in to Vail's bullying."
John Lund, Talisker's attorney, downplayed the eviction notice and its timing. He called it a procedural matter and said Vail has no interest in disrupting PCMR's business.
"There is no intent by Talisker to take any action that would prevent PCMR's ability to operate their resort during the upcoming 2013-2014 ski season," said Vail spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga. "We are very cognizant of the importance of this situation to the entire Park City community and we look forward to bringing this situation and its uncertainty to a conclusion."
PCMR and Talisker have been embroiled in a lawsuit since March 2012, after the Toronto-based firm alleged that PCMR had not renewed its long-term lease in a timely fashion. The 20-year lease expired on April 30, 2011, and, according to court documents, PCMR did not send written notice of its intent to renew the lease until May 2, 2011.
Since the early 1960s, PCMR and its predecessors have leased ski terrain from United Park City Mines. Talisker acquired United Park City Mines in 2004.
PCMR owns its base facilities and stated in court documents it invested $100 million in improvements in recent years with assurances that it could lease the ski acreage until at least 2051.
The lease rate PCMR pays Talisker is $155,000 a year, an amount that dates to the 1960s.
By contrast, Talisker pays Wolf Mountain LLC about $3 million for Canyons terrain. And Vail has stated it pays Talisker $25 million annually to sublease Canyons ski acreage and facilities.
In a "Cover Notice" that accompanied Wednesday's eviction notice to PCMR, Talisker general counsel Fiona Arnold accused PCMR of not dealing in good faith. The notice states that PCMR post-dated a late lease renewal and was not reasonable about lease rates. That issue will be addressed at a Sept. 6 hearing in 3rd District Court before Judge Ryan Harris.
Until recently, lease rate negotiations were ongoing, Lund confirmed.
"As a condition to your continued occupancy we have asked you to pay a fair rent ... ," Arnold wrote. "You have repeatedly refused this request."
Lund would not comment on what Talisker believes PCMR should pay as "fair rent."
The flare-up between Talisker and PCMR is clearly a concern for Ski Utah, marketing arm of the state's 14 resorts. It comes just as skiers are making decisions on season-pass purchases and winter-vacation destinations.
But because the combatants are both Ski Utah members, organization President Nathan Rafferty maintained a neutral position while expressing confidence the dispute can be resolved before damage is done to Utah's industry in a highly competitive ski market.
"We just hope that both parties can come to a quick conclusion," he said. "People are starting to think about winter. Coming to a quick resolution would be best for the industry as a whole. There's too much at stake for this not to come to a resolution. We're optimistic things will get sorted out sooner rather than later."
Rafferty said he cannot conceive of Park City Mountain Resort sitting idle this winter.
"Obviously, it would be incredibly damaging," he said. "But I don't think it's realistic to think that there won't be skiing on that mountain this winter, one way or the other. There's too much at stake for that to be a realistic option.
"There's so much more to this situation than two companies fighting it. It impacts restaurants, hotels, you name it, the entire economy of Park City and the largest part of our state's [$1 billion a year] ski industry."
Rafferty's anxious optimism was shared by Mike Lindbloom, owner of Park City's Main Street Deli.
"So far, I'm not overly worried, but everybody around here is a little cautious about it," Lindbloom said. "It's all lawyers, so who knows what's going to happen. I wish they would get it resolved for them, too, going into season-pass sales and bookings for winter."
Ski terrain lease history
Since the early 1960s, Park City Mountain Resort and its predecessors, Treasure Mountain and Park City Ski Area, have leased terrain from United Park City Mines. In 1975, Park City Ski Area and United Park City Mines amended an agreement to clarify that the lease would end April 30, 1991, but could be extended by up to three 20-year terms to 2051.
Vail Resorts has added what it is calling the largest ski resort in the world, Les 3 Vallées in France, to its collection of resorts accessible to holders of its $689 Epic Season Pass, which is on sale through Monday. Les 3 Vallées covers three adjacent canyons, featuring almost 400 miles of interconnected slopes served by 180 lifts at eight resorts, including Courchevel, La Tania, Méribel, Brides-les-Bains, Les Menuires, Saint Martin de Belleville, Val Thorens and Orelle.
Epic Season Pass holders are eligible for five free days of skiing at those resorts, along with 18 other resorts in the United States, Switzerland and Austria. The U.S. resorts are mostly in Colorado and California but this year include Canyons Resort outside of Park City for the first time. It could benefit from Les 3 Vallées being added to the Epic pass because of direct Delta Air Lines' flights between Salt Lake City and Paris.