Will new Deer Valley lift proposal get off the ground? Not yet.

Park City planning commission holds off on a vote, voicing concerns about wildlife corridors, deforestation and skier safety. One landholder sees a better way, but a lawsuit may stand in the way.

Another new lift proposal, another potential snag for a Park City ski resort.

This time it’s Deer Valley Resort that could land on the wrong side of a Park City planning commission’s decision. During its meeting Wednesday, the panel decided to table a vote on whether to grant Deer Valley’s request for a conditional use permit for a lift that would extend into its expanded terrain and serve mostly beginner runs.

Lift 7, its placeholder name, would be a six-person bubble lift that could carry approximately 3,000 people per hour. The base of the lift is slated for where the Trump and Ontario runs connect. It would deliver skiers to Park Peak in the new “Expanded Excellence” terrain that Alterra Mountain Co., Deer Valley’s parent company, agreed to lease last year. The entirety of that terrain, formerly built as Mayflower Resort, will more than double Deer Valley’s size.

“Lift 7 serves as a vital connector lift operated by Deer Valley,” according to a document submitted with the resort’s application, “facilitating skier access to beginner terrain within the existing ski terrain under Deer Valley’s control.”

The lift requires the planning commission’s approval because it is not part of the resort’s original master plan. The eight other lifts Deer Valley plans to add by 2025-26 as part of Phase 1 of its expansion are located in Wasatch County and fall under the purview of the Military Installation Development Authority. MIDA, a quasi-governmental body run by an appointed board and led by state Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, has already approved those lifts.

Lift 7 has incited some concern, however, and several residents spoke out about it at Wednesday’s meeting and in letters to the commission. While some favored the plan, such as Olympic slalom champion Ted Ligety, others voiced concerns about the lift’s alignment, potential scarring of the hillside and the disruption of a key wildlife corridor.

Ligety, who has been an ambassador for the resort, is now teaching his own children to ski. He extolled the views from the Park Peak area.

”Getting the kids out of the base area is such an amazing experience,” Ligety said. “And having been where this new lift will be, it’s a stunning view up there.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Skiers at Deer Valley on Thursday, April 4, 2024. Alterra Mountain Co., owner of Deer Valley, plans to add 3,700 acres of skiable terrain.

Worries, though, exist among residents.

“The application is riddled with serious flaws impacting skier safety and creating unnecessary disturbance within [conservation easements and sensitive land],” Park City resident Anne Bransford wrote in a letter submitted to the commission on behalf of the Bransford Land Co. “It is also woefully incomplete both in terms of support/fact finding and mitigations.”

Bransford said her primary concern is for the safety of skiers in the area, including potentially her grandchildren and those of her two sisters, who are also managing partners in the Bransford Land Co. She wrote that the main run out of the area will likely be named Sunnyside, which is projected to be between 50 and 70 feet wide with a 20% grade. A study the company commissioned found the feeder runs in existing beginner areas at Deer Valley and at Park City Mountain Resort are, on average, two to three times wider with grades of no more than 15%

“Ski instructors, ski patrollers, and skiers of all levels informally surveyed by BLC,” Bransford wrote, “all agree this is far too narrow and steep for the beginner skier.”

Wildlife concerns

Lift 7 could also cut off important wildlife corridors and disturb areas deemed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources as “crucial” habitat for at least eight species. Among them are black bears, grouse, moose and elk. Several commissioners balked at Deer Valley’s reliance on a wildlife management plan from 2001 to make its determination that the lift wouldn’t interfere with wildlife habitat.

“I’m concerned,” commissioner Laura Suesser said, “about the environmental impact this lift will have.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Todd Bennett, president and chief operating officer of Deer Valley Resort, talks about the new Deer Valley Resort Expansion, at the Silver Lake Lodge in Deer Valley in August 2023.

Todd Bennett, Deer Valley’s president and chief operating officer, said studies of the terrain have shown the route selected for Lift 7 is the best one.

“We’ve looked at a number of options, but this is the right plan,” he said. “It’s good to have the debate and ask the questions, but we take this very seriously. We bring in world experts to look at it, and we feel good about the alignment.”

The Bransfords believe there is a better way.

The Bransford Land Co. owns some of the property upon which Deer Valley sits. That includes the land under the Trump and Ontario runs that it has leased to the resort for more than 40 years. Within that land lies a drainage that Bransford Land says forms a more natural and wider path for Sunnyside to return to Lift 7. According to Anne Bransford’s letter, surveyors found using Bransford Land property would also allow for adjustments to the lift alignment that would keep skiers waiting to board the lift out of the way of the bottom of the crowded Ontario run.

Commissioner Rick Shand referred to Ontario, a green run that is a main corridor into the Silver Lake area, as “a bowling alley” and “highly dangerous.”

The surveyor confirmed Lift 7′s alternate alignment “would require less risk management, less excavation, and a much-improved skier experience,” Bransford wrote. She added that the company was willing to work with Deer Valley to add the lift.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Extell's Mayflower Resort development in Park City on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023.

Nonetheless, Bennett called the option to use the Bransford Land property a “hypothetical that’s just not in existence.” He later indicated that a lawsuit had taken the option off the table.

Commissioner asks to verify capacity

On Friday, jury instructions were issued in Mayflower LLC’s case against Bransford Land Co. in Summit County’s 3rd District Court. That case solely addresses a dispute of an existing right-of-way access through Mayflower property to the Bransford Land parcels leased by Deer Valley.

Mayflower is a subsidiary of Extell Development Co., which partnered with MIDA to acquire the land and build what will soon become Deer Valley East Village. When it sued Bransford Land in 2020, it alleged the company incorrectly used mining claims to assert its right to easements across Mayflower property. In court documents, Mayflower asserts Bransford Land filed for the easement after it “demanded excessive prices for the sale of the mining parcels” to Extell.

“We don’t own the land. We’re open to discussions about land, but that land …,” Bennett said, trailing off. “You know, we’ve been a good partner with Bransford for many years. When there was an opportunity for us to expand, we partnered with folks like MIDA and Extell to acquire land, but the land that you’re talking about in the hypothetical is not currently available, and it’s in litigation.”

Alignment may be among the least of the issues Deer Valley faces in seeking approval for Lift 7 — at least if commissioner Suesser follows through with a comment she made almost as an aside Wednesday night.

Near the close of the discussion, Suesser mentioned she would like to be able to verify Deer Valley’s calculations of the changes Lift 7 would make in the resort’s Comfortable Carrying Capacity. CCC is a proprietary formula that roughly determines resort capacity. Two years ago, a resistance to reveal that formula derailed Vail Resorts’ effort to improve the Eagle and Silverlode lifts at Park City Mountain Resort.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Parts for building a new Eagle lift at Park City Mountain Resort lie scattered around the resorts parking lot, Thursday, July 7, 2022. A month earlier, residents blocked the resort from being able to install the lift because of discrepancies in resort capacities by two firms.

In November, a judge in Park City’s 3rd District Court upheld the commission’s right to question the formula. Vail Resorts is challenging that decision. If that effort fails, resorts nationwide would have to reveal the maximum number of skiers and snowboarders they can squeeze onto their slopes and into their midmountain lodges.

Deer Valley may have anticipated Suesser’s request. In its application documents, it stated that because Lift 7 does not serve a base area, it will not increase the resort’s capacity nor have an effect on parking demand. Representatives also heralded Deer Valley’s long-standing policy of limiting skier numbers.

“Our whole mountain is based more on comfort and experience than capacity,” Steve Graff, Deer Valley’s director of mountain operations, told the commission. “That’s not how we do business. We don’t run everything to our limits.”

The planning commission will address the Lift 7 application again during its May 8 meeting.

Editor’s note Clarification • April 26, 2024, 3:00 p.m.: This article was updated to clarify the nature of the lawsuit between Bransford Land Co. and Mayflower LLC and to note that Ted Ligety has worked for Deer Valley.