Park City- Prepared for the Future?

As a small child living in Pleasant Grove I would anxiously await our annual visit to Park City. We would stay in my Grandma’s condo, and I thought the little mountain town was on a different planet than my home in Utah County. When I was 12 and snowboarding became the center of my life, Park City was the apple of my eye. Every Christmas I would ask for a season pass to PCMR and then I would ruthlessly search for rides to the resort to snowboard each weekend. Thanks to my Mom, carpooling efforts with friends parents, and one friends generous older brother who would drive his little sister and myself to the resort with him, I made it to snowboard at PCMR many times each winter.
Park City became my safe haven, and as a religious minority growing up in Utah County I viewed my weekends in Park City as an escape to the “real world.” I was seeking the cultural diversity that started with the silver miners and continues on with tourism. In the almost three decades I have lived in Utah, Park City has transformed from a quaint and colorful little town into a sophisticated world-class luxury destination.
Park City has become an international destination for skiing, dining and vacationing in general. People come worldwide to gaze at our spectacular mountains, experience the “Greatest Snow on Earth,©” and dine with renowned chefs at many of the upscale restaurants. It is not just the tourists who come to enjoy Park City. Annually, waves of (usually) young adults come to Park City from all over the Americas to work for the winter season at one of the “world class” resorts. Park City making an international name for itself has been a long time coming and many years in the making.
Park City was declared a ghost town in 1951 due to disaster and decrease in silver value, but the remaining occupants of Park City were not going to give up easily. A visit to the Park City Museum reveals how resourceful miners used existing transportation (miner’s trains) and a federal loan to create Treasure Mountain Ski Resort (location of current Park City Mountain Resort). The cost was $3.50 a person per day and the first season brought in 50,000 skier days. Treasure Mountain Ski Resort was the beginning of Park City, the ski town. Park City West (location of current Canyons Village at Park City) opened in 1968 and has changed names and ownership a half dozen times in the past fifty years.
With the opening of Deer Valley in 1981, Park City boasted three ski resorts and people were moving to Park City specifically to recreate. Since 1997 Deer Valley has consistently ranked as one of the top three positions for #1 ski resort in the nation by Ski Magazine. Deer Valley has also hosted International or World Cup events for the past twenty years, including the 2002 Winter Olympics, two World Championships, and sixteen World Cups.
Skiing is not the sole reason people know the about the town. Robert Redford started The Sundance Film Festival approximately 30 years ago, staging Park City as the main venue. The film festival has since become an international destination, which brings celebrities, producers and talent worldwide to the town for 10 days each January, and now brings an estimated $72.5 million dollars of revenue to the state of Utah annually.
Park City has been in a state of change and growth since the opening of Treasure Mountain Ski Resort, and there is no denying that the shoulder seasons are continually shrinking. Matt Baydala, a resident of 12 years and owner of Yuki Yama Sushi expounds, “Park City was a one and a half season town when I arrived, now we are a three season town.” Ask any local and this is indisputably true, Park City is at maximum during the winter, but summer and fall are now increasingly popular with tourists. This is merely confirmed by observing the grocery store parking lots, traffic along 224 and crowds in Old Town. Where is the increase in population and tourism coming from? What does this growth mean for local business and residences? How does this growth affect the service industry employees? What does the increase in affluence and humans mean for current locals?
Obviously growth of tourism, businesses and residents originates in wanting to live and visit a recreational mecca. Park City offers the best of skiing, mountain biking, hiking, dining and lodging. Often people come to visit Park City and choose to stay. Recreational opportunities are what brought Matt, and Hannah Engelhard to Park City and the ability and abundance of mountain experiences keeps them here. Shaun Raskin-Deutschlander, owner of Inspired Summit Adventures, moved to Park City initially for a job in a youth outdoor program, like most people the skiing is what kept her here, but industry had a role as well. Summer of 2005 was Shaun’s first time living in Park City and 2005 was the same year Rossignol moved to Park City and only two years after Park City based SkullCandy was founded. As a competitive skier Shaun stayed for industry opportunities.
Diane Bode, a resident for 27 years, first came to Park City to teach ski clinics in 1982 and returned in 1990 because of the wild beauty. Diane paints a picture of a quaint little town nestled in nature: There was Main Street, the Junior High (Treasure Mountain) and the High School, and a small development in Prospector. There was nothing at Kimball Junction aside from two gas stations and a Denny’s. There was no Jeremy Ranch, and Silver Creek had all of 20 houses. Diane reminisces of a natural refuge before the Jordanelle Reservoir was created in 1992, revealing two communities that were drowned with the creation of the Jordanelle: Keetley and Hailstone. Diane illustrates open spaces that were a refuge for huge herds of elk and an abundance of sand cranes nesting on the wetlands.
The increase in affluence is attributed to visitors who fall in love and choose to purchase a home in Park City. Often these are second homeowners and the people who purchase these homes can afford the luxury experiences that are offered to tourists whenever they visit. Matt Baydala describes, “The influx of second home owners has changed the character of Park City. From a business perspective it is fantastic.” Matt describes second homeowners as those who desire high quality items and experiences. This clientele has allowed Yuki Yama to do what they do as these homeowners demand a high end product that they can afford.
For Shaun, she attributes the success of her business to the increase of affluent tourists. “Our niche market is geared towards the tourists coming here now. Based on Park City’s newly defined tourism demographic, people with disposable income are looking to indulge in experiences.” Shaun describes her clientele as those who put their money into life changing experiences over accumulation of more stuff.

The influx of second homeowners and booming businesses provides service industry employees more opportunities, but with homes being occupied by part-time, second homeowners, the largest concern for managers and industry employees alike is housing. The housing crisis isn’t really new to Park City, but this year seems to be the worst yet. Even though Yuki is thriving due to the affluent population moving to and visiting Park City, Matt is concerned for his employees, “The ski town itself is dying because of all the second homeowners. Staff is going to have a much more difficult time finding housing. My fear is we will not be able to house employees. The service people are being forced out. The part-time homeowners can list their property on Airbnb during peak times like Christmas and Sundance and make as much money as renting to seasonal employees throughout the entire winter.”
Essentially many homes are sitting vacant most of the year, creating an even more challenging environment for seasonal and service industry employees to find lodging. It is irrefutable that seasonal employees are the backbone of the service-based economy. Without the lifties, ticket office employees, waiters, bussers, dishwashers, ski instructors… the seasonal staff that comes to Park City, our service industry would fail. “Who is the heart of Park City?” Asks Bode. “The people who work in the service industry, they bring the color.”
Hannah Engelhard has worked in Park City for 5 years, but this is her first year leaving in the summer and returning in the winter, making her a perfect example of a seasonal employee. The hardest part of working in Park City is not finding a job, in fact each of her three employers from last season are eager to hire Hannah this year. The issue is finding a place to live. “I started looking for a place in July and didn’t find one until October. If you are looking online and you are not the first one to respond to the post, you will not get the place. Our (new) place was online for 15 minutes and I was the first to respond. The landlord showed us the place first and our references check out.” Hannah is certain if she was the second person to respond she would not have found a place to live in Park City. Hannah continues to illuminate the severity of the housing crisis, “The landlord said he had 100 other people respond to the ad.”
Hannah and her employers are fortunate she found a place to live, but it’s not the only difficulty that is driving away industry employees it is also the price. The studio Hannah is renting this year is renting for $500 more a month than when she was looking at lodging in 2007. In my junior year of college in 2008 at the University of Utah, I rented a fully furnished condo at Crestview for $300 a person; with four people our rent was $1200. A current KSL search reveals the same type of Crestview condo now rents for $2700 a month. While renting cost has nearly doubled in the past eight years, the wage of an industry employee does not reflect the same increase. Sure people are making better money, but seasonal employees are not making nearly double what they made eight years ago.
The generic response to the housing crisis may be, why don’t these people buy a home? With additional development of low income housing it seems like the logical transition, right? Wrong. Baydala says, “Dishwashers, bussers, and people making less than $35,000 a year are not looking to buy and can’t afford the low income housing anyway.” Matt fears when there is “no one to do service industry jobs, the service industry fails.” Says Engelhard “Seasonal workers have it the hardest, even though that is when employees are most needed. “Seasonal housing should not be so difficult. It is exponentially busier in the winter and the additional help is not needed year round.”
If purchasing low-income housing is only an option for people making a higher service industry wage and not an option for employees coming seasonally, what is the solution? Requiring resorts to house their employees appears to be a start; and only Deer Valley already provides seasonal housing. Other local resorts while maybe looking for land on which to build, as of now they have not yet purchased a parcel for building employee housing and so seasonal employees are adding to the workforce that needs lodging in the town and surrounding areas. Business owners like Baydala are speaking with mayoral candidates about housing concerns, however; the issue is so dire it needs to be addressed immediately.
The overall growth is great for the town, our economy and exposure. The question is where do current residents see themselves in the next 10 years? For each person the speculation of what a future Park City will look like is different, but there is one resounding truth: we can expect continued change and development. “Growth will continue unless there is a recession or World War,” says Baydala.
Engelhard’s response is one that many industry employees (especially seasonal) must be feeling during their latest search for lodging. “Honestly, I thought in the midst of finding an apartment, I don’t know how many more years I could do Park City. I may have to find a new winter home.”
Bode, who has seen Park City transform over the past 30 years has a more critical account of the town’s future. In desperation she exclaims, “Everything is for sale to the highest bidder. No one cares about the 4,800 elk that need the open spaces surrounding Park City for their home.” Diane outlines the current situation, “We have traffic like we have never seen before… Park City is turning into a commercial development.” She foresees the future of Park City as bleak, “I don’t see Park City. I see a huge chaotic sprawl. There will be water issues. There is so much pressure to expand and develop. If you want to know where Park City is headed go to Vail or Aspen.”
Shaun is idealistic about the future of Park City, envisioning “The marrying of two worlds. The affluent homeowners and the full time members of the community who value conservation.” She hopes for Park City to be a leader in conservation and points to the new electric buses and continuous growth of public transportation as hope. “Change is necessary and it’s how you choose to help change move through.”
Myself I can’t help but thinking of the development that has already taken place. I know each new structure is a piece of earth that will not be restored for centuries. I am blessed with my current housing situation and fear when I can no longer live where I do, I will not be able to live in Park City at all. I can imagine the chaotic sprawl of houses from Park City to Heber. My mind is constantly seeing the worst possible scenario. Park City becoming too big of a city for me to enjoy.
Despite the “doomsday” scenario playing in my mind, I cling to Shaun’s vision of Park City. The perfect marriage of wealth and conservation, and the affluent members of the community stepping up to preserve land while Park City becomes one of the country’s “green” cities. I am grateful for her idealistic future of Park City, because without optimism I can only see myself being priced out, pushed out, forced out by a thriving economy too expensive for a teacher.

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