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“I don’t believe we’re providing the service we’re known for,” says PCMR COO Mike Goar

Locals told KPCW that crowds over the holidays were as big as they'd ever seen at PCMR.
Locals told KPCW that crowds over the holidays were as big as they'd ever seen at PCMR.

After a wild holiday period with intense snowfall and large crowds in Park City, Park City Mountain Resort Chief Operating Officer Mike Goar says staff shortages, COVID-19, and rough early-season weather led to the resort falling short of expectations.

Locals KPCW spoke with over the Christmas and New Years holiday said lift lines at Park City Mountain Resort were among the longest they’d ever seen. Lodging numbers from the Park City Chamber Bureau in December showed a near 100% occupancy rate in the city through January 1st.

PCMR parent company, Vail Resorts, also slashed prices for the Epic Pass by 20% for this season, leading to a 76% increase in the number of passes and pre-paid tickets the company sold compared to pre-pandemic highs. More passholders, combined with COVID-19 and staffing shortages, have left some unhappy with their experiences on the mountain.

Park City Mountain Resort Chief Operating Officer Mike Goar told KPCW a warm and dry start to the winter prevented many resorts in Utah from making crucial early-season snow, and caused PCMR to push back its opening day to November 28th. The late start combined with significant snow storms in recent weeks and the city’s throngs of visitors to create a bottleneck on the slopes and the roads.

Goar said December was like going from “zero to 100 miles an hour” in terms of opening terrain. He said the resort has been listening to guest frustrations, and admitted to falling short over the holidays.

“We’re more critical than anyone, I’ll tell you that, so, no, I don’t believe we’re providing the service that we’re known for and that we strive for,” said Goar.

He added that the amount of snow Park City received in such a short period of time led to guests’ complaints about terrain not being open when it was covered in snow. According to historical data by Ski Utah, after virtually nothing in November, PCMR received 87 inches of snow in December and currently has 68% of its terrain open.

Goar said the process for opening terrain safely isn't as straightforward as getting enough snow to cover the ground – important checks are needed by the resort's snow safety department and ski patrol before closed signs get taken down.

A lack of employees is another factor leading to frustrations over the holidays. Businesses across the country are short-staffed and searching for employees. In the Wasatch Back in particular, soaring housing prices and a low stock of affordable units has made finding employees even harder.

Goar said PCMR is not immune to those same trends. He added that the recent spike in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant has also led to more sick employees who can’t work.

“Staffing levels, generally, are very much a reflection of what we’re seeing across the community, and all communities," he said. "It’s very tight, no question about it. We’re also not immune from the surge that our community has seen from COVID. With that comes employees not here when that happens. We’re seeing it like every other business, and it is impactful to operations, no doubt about it.”

Goar said staffing levels vary from department to department. He would not give an exact number of the resort’s total, but said it’s closer to 100% than 50%.

“No, we’re not that short-staffed, but we’re feeling it, as I said, just like all other businesses,” Goar said.

The good news, he said, is that the resort has seen an uptick in job applications since the new year. Vail announced last summer that all employees now get a starting wage of $15/hr.

The union representing the resort's ski patrollers is also still locked in negotiations over a new contract. Since the patrollers are not resort employees, they don’t qualify for the $15/hr base pay. Patrollers currently start at $13.25/hr, and the union is pushing for a $17/hr starting wage and regular raises for the first three years of service. The union did not accept Vail’s most recent offer of $15/hr this week.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.