A judge denied Park City Mountain Resort’s appeal, and the impact could be felt nationwide

Secret formula used to determine capacity can be questioned by planning commissioners if there’s no way of verifying it, Third District Court Judge Richard Mrazik ruled.

Anyone concerned about overcrowding on the lifts or in the parking lots at their local ski resort got a win, even if a symbolic one, in Park City’s Third District Court on Monday.

In a decision against an appeal by Park City Mountain, Judge Richard Mrazik ruled that the Park City Planning Commission has a right to question whether the resort accurately determined its Comfortable Carrying Capacity and the parking it would need to accommodate the users of two lifts that it sought to update last year. A resort’s CCC is the number of skiers it can comfortably handle on its 10th busiest day.

Vail Resorts, owner of Park City Mountain, will almost certainly appeal the case. However, if the decision stands, it could mean that any resort using CCC to determine how many skiers or snowboarders it can best accommodate in a day might be required to reveal those calculations, which are proprietary, when seeking mountain upgrades and expansions.

“This impacts all communities where these mega passes have really just brought a crush of traffic in recent years,” said Angela Moschetta, one of four Park City residents who originally fought for a closer look at Park City Mountain’s CCC calculations. “They may all have to be accountable to capacity and reveal capacity. Which would be great for communities, but that obviously upends entire business models.”

CCC has become the industry standard around the world, including for most, if not all, ski areas in Utah. But, the exact equation is a well-guarded secret. Over the past 60 years, an entire industry has been built around businesses that have developed proprietary CCC algorithms and used them to help resorts plan their growth.

Last year, four Park City residents questioned the CCC calculations of two competing firms. Discrepancies existed in the final tallies presented by SE Group, hired by Vail Resorts, and EcoSign, hired by Park City. In addition, the final numbers Park City Mountain submitted were lower than in the resort’s Master Upgrade Plan. That could translate into the resort providing fewer parking spaces.

The residents argued that the resort couldn’t receive an administrative conditional-use permit, issued by the city’s planning director, because the permit request did not meet two of the conditions laid out in the 1998 Master Upgrade Plan. The first was that the proposed Eagle lift did not follow the alignment of the old lift. The other was the discrepancy between the CCC in the master plan and the one Park City Mountain submitted. The Park City Planning Commission decided that, unless its members could do the calculations for themselves, it couldn’t confirm the CCC numbers submitted by the firms were accurate. It voted 3-1 in support of the residents.

Park City Mountain appealed the commission’s decision in July 2022. On Monday, Mrazik dealt the resort another blow.

“We’re talking about modernizing two lifts,” Park City Mountain’s lawyer, Kathryn A. Reilly, argued. She added, “Those two experts agree there’s not going to be an increase in parking.”

Mrazik noted that even if they are experts, the commission has a right to doubt their findings unless it has a way to prove them to be correct.

“Is it appropriate for the planning department to be reasonably skeptical of information presented by two experts?” he asked.

Clayton Scrivner, a spokesperson for Park City Municipal, said the legal system played out as it should Monday.

“Though disagreements in our community can be contentious at times, our system is designed to resolve these matters deliberately as is the case today,” he said in a statement. “We appreciate the Court recognized the diligence of our Planning Commission, whose complex work often goes underappreciated.”

In addition to appealing the judge’s decision, Park City Mountain can still seek a conditional-use permit for the lifts from the city.

“We appreciate the District Court’s time and consideration of our appeal,” Sara Huey, a spokesperson for Park City Mountain, said in a statement. “We continue to be disappointed in the Park City Planning Commission’s decision to revoke the permit for these lift upgrades, but remain committed to investing in the guest experience at Park City Mountain.”