PARK CITY — Fall colors have emerged in the Wasatch Mountains, but a more lasting change came clearly into view in Park City Thursday.
In a surprise announcement, Vail Resorts Inc. of Colorado reported it has purchased Park City Mountain Resort, which was previously owned by Powdr Corp., for $182.5 million in cash.
The new owners said they eventually hope to combine Park City Mountain Resort with the adjacent Canyons Resort to create the largest ski resort in the country, creating a worldwide draw to skiing meccas in both Utah and Colorado.
The announcement came two days after Park City Mountain Resort agreed to pay a $17.5 million bond to continue operating on 3,300 acres owned by Talisker Land Holdings for the upcoming ski season. The resort's operation for the season had been in question as it sought to negotiate a lease agreement with its landowner.
Vail's purchase of the resort, however, cancels the bond and resolves all legal questions of the resort's continued operation, according to Rob Katz, CEO of Vail.
"I think the most important piece of today's announcement is it really ends all the litigation, the disruption, and ensures that we will not be talking about any potential concerns around the resort operating at any time for the future," Katz said Thursday. "I think it provides comfort and long-term security to the company and to the employees of PCMR."
The upcoming ski season will go forward as planned, and the agreement stipulates that Vail must retain all Park City Mountain Resort employees in their current roles.
The acquisition includes the resort base, parking, ski terrain and lifts, as well as water and snowmaking for the entire mountain. Powdr, however, will retain Gorgoza Park, a tubing operation about 10 miles from the resort.
"Selling was the last thing we wanted to do, and while we believe the law around this issue should be changed, a protracted legal battle is not in line with our core value to be good stewards of the resort communities in which we operate," John Cumming, CEO of Powdr, said in a prepared statement.
"A sale was the only way to provide long-term certainty for PCMR employees and the Park City community," Cumming said. "We're happy that the community now has long-term certainty, and we trust Vail will responsibly carry forward the legacy of PCMR and be a champion for the Park City community."
John Lund, an attorney representing Talisker, said the landowner is "extremely pleased" that a long-term solution was reached.
"We appreciate the faith and confidence that everyone placed in the judicial process to bring the parties to this outcome," Lund said. "We look forward to Vail providing a world-class mountain experience for the guests, employees, residents and business owners of Park City."
Park City Mayor Jack Thomas said the city remained neutral during the dispute between Park City Mountain Resort and Talisker. Whatever the outcome could have been, he said, the city was focused on not losing the ski season.
"We were interested in two things: one, the guarantee of the season, and two, a long-term resolution that this resort can remain cohesive and whole. And it looks like we got both," Thomas said. "Our community has its whole foundation in the economic engine that is Park City Mountain Resort. So getting this resolved for the season was a huge factor. Getting the long-term resolution … that's amazing for us."
Last year, Vail signed a 350-year lease with Talisker to operate Canyons Resort adjacent to Park City Mountain Resort. Katz said Vail hopes to combine the two resorts and operate them as a single unit.
"If we did that, we would actually create a ski resort with 7,000 skiable acres, making it the largest ski resort in the United States," Katz said.
For the 2014-15 season, Park City Mountain Resort will operate independently from Canyons Resort. However, both resorts will be covered under Vail's Epic Pass and Epic Local Pass, which gives skiers access to multiple resorts throughout Utah and Colorado.
Over the coming months, Vail will seek input from community members, as well as approval from Park City and Summit County, in planning the combination of the two resorts.
Thomas said combining Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort would add to the connectivity of ski resorts throughout the state.
"I think that's a huge factor," he said. "I think those of us that have grown up skiing, like I have, it's a pretty cool thing."
Ryan Price, who manages Park City Sport Ski and Snowboard Rentals, says having the country's largest ski resort in Park City would likely draw curiosity from many parts of the U.S.
"I think people will see that and they'll say, 'I want to try it. I want to get out there,'" Price said. "Hopefully that will bring in some people, and once they try it, they'll want to come back. Maybe (Park City) will steal some of that Colorado business."
Bruno Gava works at The Bridge Café & Grill, just next to the Town Lift in downtown Park City. The lift departs near Main Street and takes skiers to the top of Park City Mountain Resort.
When all is well, it's a good place for the café to be. But the lift ties the restaurant's success to that of the resort, which, until now, has been unknown.
"The lift runs this place," Gava said. "When Town Lift doesn't run, it's really bad. If Park City Mountain Resort doesn't work, it's really bad for the Park City economy."
Other businesses like Park City Sport anticipated a similar fate. Price says Vail's purchase of the resort, however, provided lasting security that was welcomed by businesses and clients alike.
"I think people have been holding back from making any certain plans," Price said. Now that the resort will open, "we'll probably get more phone calls. It's less scary for us."
Visitors who travel long distances to ski in Park City are coming to rely more on businesses like Park City Sport for rental equipment, Price said. In light of the trend, Park City Sport opened three branches at Park City Mountain Resort.
Had the resort not operated this year, the three branches would have been "scrambling for the leftovers from Deer Valley and Canyons," Price said.
"I think for most people, it's just a huge relief," he said. "It's nice that we won't have to go through this whole thing next summer. … It's done and over, and we won't have to deal with it again."