Story and photographs by ASHLEIGH THOMAS
Vail’s Epic Pass and Altera’s Icon Pass have changed and shaped the landscape of the modern-day ski culture and business. Park City, Utah, is growing and changing at a rapid rate due to the passes. They invite skiers and snowboarders all over the world to buy a single ski pass that allows them to ski at multiple ski resorts.
Utah locals must prepare and consider the new changes to the Utah ski industry as the upcoming season approaches.
Park City is home to Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Mountain Resort, two culturally rich and unique ski areas that many people call home. These passes are altering the “Park City ski culture” as we know it, in part because the ski industry has been globalized on a huge scale. These passes give access to resorts all over the world including in Australia, Europe, Asia, Canada, and South America. But at this scale what are the lasting effects on small ski towns like Park City and the Park City way of life? Are these passes changing the industry for the better or for worse?
Many locals have described their feelings about the Icon and Epic Passes’ impact on Park City as a mix of good and bad.
Kathy Burke, the buyer for Cole Sport, described her feelings in an email interview about whether the Icon and Epic pass are beneficial to Park City or not. “I have mixed feelings about this. Being in retail, I am in favor of controlled growth and commerce. The town has grown and has more job opportunities for jobs.” However, she added, “the impact on traffic and the carbon footprint is having an impact on this town.”
Another Park City local, Renee Godin, PSIA ski instructor and level 300 ski coach USSA, discussed her experience with the growth. Godin said in an email interview that she has noticed the town has become busier. She also has experienced the impact of increased tourism with crowded restaurants, scarce parking spots, and slower commutes. “These are problems that locals find to be annoying, but more tourists for the local business is what it’s all about, it is what a small town thrives on. Tourist dollars, and that’s what people sometimes forget.”
Park City is known all over the world for being a unique ski town with something for everyone to enjoy and experience. Park City’s charm and ski culture is what made many Park City locals want to lay down roots and live there. “What brought me to Park City was the idea of being able to jump on a bus and ski 3 different ski areas, in one town making a European experience in the middle of the USA!” Godin said.
Park City’s Historic Main Street is one of the main attractions of Park City. Burke said Main Street is changing quickly due to the fact national corporate retail chains are seeing incentives to open their shops where locally-owned business have existed for years.
“My favorite characteristic is the community spirit of Park City and its heritage to its mining history,” Burke said, “specifically characterized through the historic commitment to preserving Main Street and Old Town. I think the Epic and Icon transition is bringing a commercial element to Main Street with its national chain stores. The growth in mono brand stores and national chains diminished the charm and uniqueness of specialty retail and character and integrity of Main Street.”
The economic development and change in the community’s character aren’t the only things that are evolving from the Icon and Epic Passes. The “on the hill” experience is also changing, said Chuck English, a former mountain manager at Deer Valley. He added that a couple of years ago locals could ski on wide open runs on the weekdays and sometimes even on the weekends. But that is no longer a reality. The number of visitors on the hill has greatly increased, creating longer lines, crowded runs, and busy lodges.
“The Icon has definitely changed DV (Deer Valley). Their stated intention of limiting skiers to the maintain quality experiences has gone by the wayside. They are not able to limit Icon pass holders even though they encourage them to make reservations,” English said in an email interview.
The Icon and Epic Passes may be attractive to some and less attractive to others. When asked about the expense of skiing and the experience as a whole, English added, “To a person who is already a skier the passes make it more affordable. Season pass prices were getting very expensive and I feel like some people might have started to drop out based on cost.” He thinks that there is less of an incentive and focus for new skiers to participate or buy a season pass. “This is a serious problem for the industry,” he said. This is an aspect that will change ski culture in the long term and is something to consider for new skiers and snowboarders.
With all things considered the Epic and Icon pass are creating an evolved modern ski and snowboard experience. They are a force to be reckoned with and will have a lasting impact on the industry and ski culture in Park City.