This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Just like that, more than half the economic muscle in Utah's ski industry falls under one corporation, and it's from Colorado.
To anyone who has followed the ski industry in the American West, Vail Resorts' purchase of Park City Mountain Resort is the marriage of '60s children. Stretch pants and cable bindings were de rigueur when Vail opened in 1962 and Park City in 1963, and both featured enclosed gondolas to carry skiers. That was a more upscale experience than the chairlifts at Alta and Aspen, the pioneering ski areas that made Vail and Park City possible. The older ski areas remained skiing's high temples, but the upstarts eventually became bigger businesses.
Vail and Park City fueled a half century of competition between Colorado and Utah's ski industry, a back and forth that saw Colorado gain, then give up, the Winter Olympic Games in 1976, and Utah succeed in hosting the 2002 Games. Colorado has always had more resorts and more skiers, but no one now questions Utah's place among top ski destinations. Vail, regardless of its roots, was already invested in Utah's success with its stake in the Canyons, and now it brings the leverage and exposure of 12 ski resorts stretching from Lake Tahoe to Michigan.
In the end, PCMR's seller, Powdr Corp., had to bite the bullet, and it was a bitter taste to lose control of a ski resort like Park City Mountain Resort over a missed lease renewal. But the Cumming family that owns Powdr recognized that carrying on the bloody battle was harmful to everyone. Instead, Powdr exited with honor, including making the preservation of current employees' jobs a contingency of the deal.
And Powdr remains entrenched in Utah's ski scene after recently becoming majority owner of the '70s child, Snowbird, whose own niche is to combine a modern ski resort with the drama and challenge of Alta's legendary above-the-tree-line, deep-snow experience. There is now more powder in Powdr.
But Vail is clearly the big animal now, with an estimated two-thirds of Utah's most lucrative ski market, the destination skiers who come on vacation. It's publicly traded, meaning that PCMR now must meet the short horizons of Wall Street, but that is something Vail has done well. The company traded around $30 a share when current CEO Rob Katz took over. It fell as low as $16 during the 2009 recession, but the acquisition of Park City pushed the stock up to $87.53 at closing Friday.
With Utah's ski fortunes now more tied to a single player, there is comfort in knowing it's a successful player. In that way, here's hoping Vail becomes something akin to Delta Airlines, whose domination of Salt Lake City's air business has worked out well for both Utah and the airline.
Time to buckle up.