PARK CITY, Utah — What Michael Kaplan wants you to know about the hot dog is that his complaints about Park City Mountain Resort aren’t really about the hot dog.
Kaplan bought the hot dog from a mid-mountain restaurant in mid-January.
“We need elevators going out of town,” Kaplan said. “We need better parking facilities. They fail their own employees with lack of housing and lack of pay.
“It’s just a failure of Vail.”
Those last two words have become a hashtag on social media this season as skiers complain about Vail Resorts, the owner of Park City Mountain Resort and about 40 other ski areas in North America and Australia.
“We went to lunch and ordered a sandwich, a $19 sandwich,” said Lauren Mummolo, a Connecticut resident who recently visited Park City Mountain Resort. “And they told me I couldn’t take two things out of it and customize them because customizations weren’t allowed.”
“I think we all respect the challenges of COVID,” she added, “but I think we also have to respect the dollar people are spending and especially during COVID.
In the town of Park City, the complaints spilled over from the runways to the municipal government.
“At this time last year, I skied about 18 days,” Park City City Council member Tana Toly said at a Feb. 17 meeting. “I skied twice. Not only because it hasn’t snowed much, but I really don’t want to deal with all the things I see or hear.
Park City Mountain Resort Chief Operating Officer Mike Goar addressed the board at the meeting.
“There was quite a bit of negative sentiment,” Goar told FOX 13 News after the reunion.
Goar said the sentiment was ‘driven by some very difficult staffing issues that we’ve had this year and are working on, but it’s impacted the amount of pitches and lifts we’ve opened this season’ .
Kaplan has taught ski resort management courses at universities in Utah and abroad and can see the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort from his home.
“I had a group of guests here and we decided to ski in Park City,” he recalls. “There was no parking to be found. Several of the key elevators were not working; huge lines; terrible grooming.
“And we didn’t have a good experience. So we decided to go have lunch, and we waited 42 minutes for a cold hot dog. And the parts that should be hot were cold, and the parts that should be cold were hot.
Kaplan argues that Vail Resorts should reinvest more in infrastructure and employees at its ski areas given the company’s success with its discounted season passes for all resorts, which Vail calls Epic Passes. In 2018, an Epic Pass could be purchased for around $700.
Since then, Vail Resorts has reduced the price – to less than $600 for the current season if skiers buy early and don’t mind skiing on holiday weekends. Vail does not disclose resort-specific pass data, so the exact impact of the Epic Pass on Park City Mountain Resort is unclear to the public.
But the city is setting sales tax revenue records every month.
Data from the Utah Department of Transportation for January showed almost as many cars entering the city from Interstate 80 for January as the same months before the pandemic, although the other big traditional draw for this month – the Sundance Film Festival – remained virtual.
“And if people have a bad experience and don’t come back in the future,” Kaplan said, “that directly impacts our economy and our reputation.”
Goar told the Park City Council that the number of ski visits to his resort is “similar” to recent years, but nationwide labor shortages have closed some lifts and slowed down the catering service.
Council members described cars with ski racks and out-of-state license plates pouring down streets that had never seen them before in the residential area called Old Town. Goar wondered aloud if fewer skiers and workers were carpooling or taking public transportation to avoid getting sick.
Council members shared other concerns – of constituents and of themselves.
“Looks like there are a lot more people,” on the slopes, board member Max Doilney said. “You feel a little less safe there.”
“I’ve heard more locals say this year, come up to me and say, ‘I don’t think I’ll buy a Park City pass again,'” council member Ryan Dickey said.
“It’s like our residents can’t get to the services they need on the weekends,” said council member Becca Gerber.
Park City Mountain Resort wants to add more condos, accommodations and restaurants to its base area in the city. Opponents of the development used the skiing and culinary issues to encourage the city council to say no to any further development.
“Our leverage with Vail is going to be base area development,” Kaplan said. “So that’s where we should step in and just say, ‘If you want to develop it, we need you to follow these best practices.'”
Regarding Kaplan’s hot dog, Goar told FOX 13 News, “I don’t think there’s a problem with $9 cold hot dogs. I’m not denying that someone showed up with the picture of that.
“We spoke to our teams about the guest experience,” Goar added, “that’s not normal. I haven’t heard a story like that.
Goar said the development project is separate from the problems the city wants to solve — with one exception. The project includes social housing. The city council suggested that the lack of affordable housing is driving workers to Park City.
“It’s a big project that will be an improvement,” he said.