By Jane Paskin of Businessweek.comThe best way to get from Main Street in Park City onto the slopes of Park City Mountain is to climb two flights of stairs to the top of a parking garage, put on your skis, and board the Town Lift for a 15-minute ride to midmountain. From the three-person chairlift, you can see the entire town of Park City (pop. 7,800) behind you, including the old-fashioned marquee of the tiny Egyptian Theater, which becomes the focus of international attention when the Sundance Film Festival comes to town for 10 days every January. Park City proudly considers itself more sophisticated and fun than the rest of Utah, home not only to Sundance but also to a brewing company that makes and sells Polygamy Porter (Take some home for the wives) and to Utahs first distillery since the 1870s. Its a place so appealing that jet-setters from both Hollywood and the Republican Party can vacation side by side in peace. Will Smith and Mitt Romney own homes there; Taylor Swift has come for Christmas.
Silver mining put Park City on the map in the late 1800s, but now its chief asset, outside of Robert Redford, is its three ski resorts and thousands of skiable acres. Park City Mountain, at the center of it all, gets as much snow as Colorados biggest resorts, with fewer crowds. On a recent visit at the start of the season, there were no lift lines, and the only sound was the steady hum of chairlift motors, punctuated by the holler of a skier or the dull whoomp of snow falling off trees. For 50 years, Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) has operated those lifts, groomed the slopes, patrolled the bowls. The resort celebrated its golden anniversary in December with a funk band and fireworks. It has also declared its intent to run the mountain for another 50 years. At the moment, that future is very much in doubt.
PCMR doesnt own all of Park City Mountain. Just up from the base of the Town Lift, an unmarked boundary divides the land that the resort owns around the base from the rest of the land, which it leased until recently from United Park City Mines. In 2003 a Canadian company called Talisker purchased United Park City Mines and, with it, the resort companys lease. The rent was about $155,000 per year, with an option to renew every 20 years until 2051. (Talisker declined to comment for this story.)