A major victory for Talisker Corp., and ultimately Vail Resorts, was achieved when a Utah District Court ruled Wednesday that Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) officials failed to renew their historic lease for a majority of their ski terrain and landowner Talisker is free to lease the ski area’s upper terrain to a new operator. And that new operator is Vail Resorts, which now has the rights to more than two-thirds of the land beneath Utah’s most popular ski area.
Powdr Corp., the operators of PCMR, argued it was an “honest mistake” when the resort operator was two days late filing paperwork to renew its lease for the land upon which PMCR operates. Powdr Corp. was paying Talisker Corp. about $150,000 a year for the land, per the series of 20-year leases first forged in the 1970s. For comparison, Vail Resorts is paying Talisker $25 million a year plus a percentage of revenue every year to lease the adjacent 4,000-acre Canyons ski area.
When Powdr failed to renew by the lease deadline, Talisker refused to sign a new lease with Powdr and went looking for a new tenant. Powdr sued Talisker to force a new deal. Talisker leased Canyons to Vail Resorts on the condition that the continent’s largest resort operator takes over the Park City Mountain Resort legal battle, calling Vail Resorts a “dramatically better operator” than Powdr.
Vail Resorts tried to evict Powdr from the Park City ski area while Vail chief Rob Katz launched a letter-writing campaign, publicly lobbying Powdr chief John Cumming to sell his base area land. Cumming has said he would rip out his chairlifts on the upper land if Vail won the lawsuit. He might, he said, convert his remaining acreage at the base of the ski area into a full-time Camp Woodward, modeled after the action sports training facility founded at Copper Mountain, which Powdr acquired in 2009. Powdr invested more than $100 million in PCMR.
In an 82-page ruling, District Court Judge Ryan Harris said Powdr’s plea that there are “enormous public consequences” with ending their lease of the land did not warrant making exceptions to legal rules and precedent set in several previous Utah lease disputes. Harris ruled on eight motions, siding almost entirely with Talisker and Vail Resorts.
As reported by the Denver Post, a defiant Cumming on Wednesday said: “We will not walk away and allow a Vail takeover.”
Vail can’t operate a resort on the land, Cumming said, because it does not have access to the Powdr-owned base area or parking lots essential for ski operations. He will not allow Vail Resorts to access his private land at the base of Park City ski area.
PCMR attorney Alan L. Sullivan said they would appeal the decision. Sullivan said the appeals process will likely last a year, meaning Wednesday’s decision will not disrupt the 2014-15 ski season at Park City Mountain Resort.