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A Utah district judge on Thursday signed an order evicting ski area operator Powdr Corp. from the majority of terrain at its flagship Park City Mountain Resort, which the company has operated for 20 years.
But 3rd District Judge Ryan Harris stayed enforcement of the order until a trial date in late August and demanded that Powdr and competitor Vail Resorts, which is poised to take over Park City Mountain Resort as the new tenant for landowner Talisker Corp., work with a third-party mediator to discuss a deal to keep the resort open next season.
No sign of such a compromise has emerged despite more than a year of negotiations between Vail Resorts and Powdr Corp. Fiery public letters between the company captains have pitted the resort operators in a winner-take-all battle that Vail Resorts, thus far, is winning.
Powdr has promised to rip out chairlifts and deny skier access from its Park City Mountain Resort base area to the nearly 3,000 acres of upper terrain, which landowner Talisker wants Vail Resorts to operate.
“PCMR remains committed to finding a resolution that works for both parties and the community. PCMR supports the court’s order for third party mediation, and hopes Vail will now come to the table with a concrete offer,” said Alan Sullivan, the attorney representing Powdr Corp. in the lease dispute with its former landlord Talisker. “When that happens this dispute can move toward a prompt resolution.”
The impasse boils down to entrenched positions that neither side seems willing to surrender.
Vail Resorts in 2013 signed an industry-high $25-million-a-year lease with Talisker to operate the neighboring Canyons ski area, which included a deal to run Park City Mountain Resort’s upper terrain if Vail Resorts handled a lease lawsuit with Powdr Corp.
Powdr Corp. failed to file paperwork in 2011 that would have renewed its sweetheart lease from the early 1970s and Talisker pounced on the clerical error as an opportunity to install a new operator for Utah’s busiest ski area.
When Talisker declined to renew the lease, Powdr sued.
Last month Harris ruled Powdr’s lease had expired and Talisker could tap Vail Resorts as the operator.
Last week Powdr filed motions with the court asking to delay eviction pending an appeal. The motions detailed a nearly $6 million plan to yank a dozen chairlifts off the upper terrain and shorten three more lifts at its base area to accommodate limited skiing on the roughly 300 acres it owns at the base of the ski area. The company estimated closing the ski area would cost the region more than 1,000 jobs and $100 million in economic activity.
Vail and Talisker’s attorney John Lund, in response to the filings, urged Powdr chief John Cumming to let skiers traverse his base area land to access the upper terrain owned and operated by his clients. Vail chief Rob Katz earlier this year sent Cumming a public letter imploring him to sell or lease his base land to Vail Resorts, allowing the nation’s largest resort operator to take the reins at Park City Mountain Resort. Cumming fired back, saying Powdr would not cave in to a Vail takeover.
Cumming, in a statement accompanying last week’s motions, said he was committed to resolving the dispute, noting that he has made “repeated offers” to Talisker and Vail that would keep Park City Mountain Resort open.
“But I can’t negotiate with myself. The truth is that I can’t get them to engage with me. We have received no concrete offers from Vail. Since we can’t keep bidding against ourselves, they need to come to the table,” Cumming said. “When that happens this dispute can be resolved quickly in a way that works for both parties and the community.”
While neither side will discuss the particulars of the negotiations, it seems that both sides are vying for different parcels of land.
Cumming is offering to pay Talisker and Vail Resorts to use or buy the upper terrain. Talisker and Katz are offering to pay Cumming to use or buy the base area terrain. If Cumming cedes, he loses the ski area where he lives and the resort that launched his Powdr Corp. in 1994. If Katz cedes, he’s paying $25 million a year for the less-trafficked Canyons without the benefit of operating Park City Mountain Resort, losing a gamble that his stockholders might punish.
Harris said the two sides have until Aug. 27 — the next court hearing — to reach an agreement or the eviction moves forward.
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasonblevins