It’s that time of year, when ski and snowboard resorts across the country announce major structural upgrades, such as new chair lifts, rental fleets and dining options, in the hope those shiny new things will catch the eye of potential season-pass purchasers.
Vail Resorts, which operates the multi-resort Epic Pass, has plenty of that on deck for 2022-23 at its 37 North American properties, including two massive lift upgrades planned for Park City Mountain Resort.
But, the Colorado-based resort operator also appears to be bent on reinvesting in an asset that some would say has been neglected for much longer than its lifts or lodges.
Vail announced its latest initiative Monday: providing additional affordable housing for employees at four of its resorts, most notably Park City Mountain Resort.
That news came a little less than a month after Vail Resorts unveiled a raft of relief for overworked and underpaid employees.
In January, Park City ski patrollers threatened to strike until wages were increased. In March, Vail promised to raise its minimum hourly wage from $15 to $20 nearly across the board — including for bartenders and waitstaff — next season. Skilled employees, like ski patrollers and maintenance technicians, will start at $21 per hour. In addition, it announced annual merit raises for salaried employees will double to an average of 6%. It will also offer an employee development program intended to help create opportunities in leadership roles within the company.
Newly minted Vail Resorts CEO Kirsten Lynch said in an email to employees in March, when the wage increases were announced, that creating more affordable housing was “a top priority.” She echoed that statement Monday.
“As our mountain communities have grown, affordable housing has become increasingly more difficult for our employees to access,” Lynch said in Monday’s press release, “addressing this must be a top priority for our company and our communities.”
Like many resorts, PCMR has been short-staffed this season, closing its lifts at times because of a lack of workers to run them. Some of that reduction in workforce can be tied to the cost of living in Park City. A report from the rental website Zumper showed an 18% increase in the cost of a one-bedroom apartment between 2020 and 2021. A search on the site Monday revealed just one one-bedroom unit — apartment, house, condo or even a room — available in the city limits. It was an apartment going for $3,290 per month.
Though it did not disclose the price of the units, PCMR has committed to offering 441 employees access to affordable housing in the new development in the Canyons Lower Village near the Cabriolet Lift. Vail reported it has signed a “long-term” lease that begins with the upcoming season and has two, five-year renewal options. The units, collectively called the Canyons Village Employee Housing Development, are part of a public-private partnership between Canyons Village Management Association, Columbus Pacific and Summit County.
“We have and will continue to partner with those in our community seeking solutions,” Lindsay Hogan, Vail’s director of communications for the Rocky Mountain Region, wrote in a March email to The Salt Lake Tribune. “We plan to aggressively pursue building affordable housing on our land, and continue to pursue leases that make employee housing accessible and affordable for our employees in existing housing developments.”
The amount of affordable housing this initiative creates at PCMR is more than will be offered at the other three Vail resorts: Whistler Blackcomb (240 employees) in British Columbia, Vail Mountain (165) in Colorado and Okemo Mountain Resort (30) in Vermont. In total, according to the Vail Resorts statement, the amount of affordable housing provided by the company will increase more than 10% next season over this season.
Vail did not release the cost of the affordable housing initiative at PCMR. It is not, however, expected to cut into the incremental $175 million annual investment Vail plans to make in wages, leadership development and human resources support. It also should not cut into the $300 million it has budgeted to install 21 new lifts across 14 resorts.
Two of those lifts are planned for PCMR, both on the Park City side. One will be Utah’s first eight-person high-speed chair, which will replace the six-pack Silverlode Express, which loads near the Miners Camp lodge. The other will be a high-speed six-person chair at Eagle Lift, near the Park City parking lot. It will replace the current three-person chair, but with a new alignment and mid-station.
The installation of the lifts is contingent upon administrative approval of a permit by the Park City Planning Department. A public hearing will be held at noon Tuesday in the planning department’s East Marsac Conference Room in Park City and on Zoom.
Reservations will not be required to access the lifts next season, Hogan said.
Vail had required reservations across all its resorts during the 2019-20 season — the first full season under the COVID-19 pandemic — as a way to control crowds and manage any workforce shortages. It did away with that practice this season. And though there appears to be a trend of resorts reigniting their reservation systems in some capacity to deal with crowding, Hogan said that is not in the near future for PCMR.
“We do not believe it is necessary,” she wrote in an email to The Tribune. She added, “When we move people from lift tickets to passes, one of the outcomes is that pass holders use the added flexibility, spreading their visitation out across the season to days of the week where we have excess capacity.”
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