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‘TalisVail’: Locals, Employees Reaction Sets In To Vail Resorts In Utah

CanyonsIn a little historic mining town, away from high-speed interstate traffic, the phrase, “At least we’re not Vail” was regularly uttered by locals with pride. Today, Park City is singing a different tune as they begin embracing the idea of one of the industry’s leaders taking the helm at the largest ski resort in Utah.  


"Park City is a community that welcomes the world, and the addition of Vail Resorts to our mix of very successful and professional ski resorts can only benefit both our residents and our visitors," said Park City Council Member Liza Simpson in a statement to the Park Record newspaper. 


"Vail has proven to be a successful resort operator in a very competitive marketplace,” added Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty. “They will undoubtedly bring some fresh energy and do nothing but add to the spotlight already shining on Utah's $1.2 billion ski industry." 


Starting Transition


The talks moved from press conferences to administration meetings this week as VR tackles the transition. Canyons employees will be on the Vail Associates payroll by July 1, 2013. Vail’s head of resort management, Blaise Carrig, who served as general manager of Canyons from 1997-2002, however, reassured locals that the transition wouldn’t be some “Game of Thrones” siege. 


“Canyons employees do not have to reapply for their jobs,” said Carrig. “We didn’t come here with a bus full of replacements. If you look at how our other resort transitions have gone, we just don’t do that.” 


These next few weeks won’t be about the proposed SkiLink, golf courses, or the Park City Mountain Resort land lease; at least not on the surface. After announcing they would retain Canyons’ General Manager Mike Goar, Carrig and crew set about implementing Vail’s payroll, financial reporting, ticketing and human resources systems, a plan seen as essential. 


Most everyone wants to know about SkiLink, the polarizing idea to connect Canyons and Solitude Ski Area across the backcountry, but Carrig said, “My focus really has been about making this a smooth transition. SkiLink will have to wait.” 


“Talisker doesn’t know how to run a ski area, so having someone who does is very attractive,” Deer Valley hiking guide Nate Sears told us. Deer Valley Resort set the bar on resort operations in Utah and although they will continue to offer a different product than Canyons, the fight with Vail for tourism dollars and guests is inevitable. 


Deer Valley Competition 


“Vail’s been competing against Deer Valley forever and now they’re competing in their backyard,” warned local ski instructor Bonnie Godfrey. 


Deer Valley President Bob Wheaton took the high ground. "The folks at Vail Resorts are great ski area operators and we welcome them to town,” he told the Park Record. “There are a lot of great people at Canyons and the combination will be impressive."


Talisker has made big strides since taking over from the now defunct American Skiing Company in 2008 and investing $75 million into the resort, but at the end of the day they’re still a real estate developer. 


“Even though the extent to which no one knew (about Vail Resorts coming on the scene) is staggering, it was just a matter of time before someone else ran our ski area,” another Canyons employee told SnoCountry.com. “Talisker knows their strengths and shortcomings and so does Vail. It’s going to be a better place now that the world’s ski leader is in charge.”


Canyons has had more suitors in its checkered past than Marilyn Monroe, but it looks like Vail’s 50-year commitment more than elevates it from its underdog status. The resort is one more feather in Vail Resort’s seven ski area empire. They’re well-known in California and Colorado, but until now their reach escaped Utah. “This is a great ski market and recreation market,” said Carrig. “It’s the missing link.”


‘Epic” Pass Hailed


Locals are already hailing the “Epic Utah” proposition with a season pass price lower than anything the state has seen in a decade. Not only is the unrestricted pass nearly $200 less than what Canyons was selling for 2013/14, but it includes skiing at Vail, Beaver Creek, Northstar, Kirkwood, Breckenridge, Heavenly and a few days in Austria and Switzerland. 


"My nephew told me he would be visiting more next winter as his Vail pass would be good at Canyons,” said Summit County Council Member Kim Carson. “The effects of this lease will be far-reaching, and we still have a lot to learn about what those will be."


Despite the inevitable transition, Canyons employees say they’d “rather be here than across the street at PCMR or DV.”  Park City Mountain Resort is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary and many in the community see that resort as a town icon. 


Others question whether, even after the systems are in place, the pass prices instigate competition and the two areas conjoin, will the town have lost its charm and become the resort that’s just off the interstate? Stay tuned, as they say.


(Editor’s Note: Jill Adler lives and works in Park City, Utah. Her blog, PCSkiGal, is a regular SnoCountry feature.)

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