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FOX 13 Investigates: Skier says cold, $9 hot dog is symbol of mismanagement at Utah resort

Posted at 9:33 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 15:40:33-05

PARK CITY, Utah — What Michael Kaplan wants you to know about the hot dog is that his complaints about Park City Mountain Resort aren’t really about the hot dog.

Kaplan bought the hot dog at a mid-mountain restaurant in the middle of January.

“We need some lifts coming out of the town,” Kaplan said. “We need better parking facilities. They’re letting down their own employees with lack of housing and lack of pay.

“It’s just been a Vail fail.”

Those last two words have become a social media hashtag this season as skiers complain about Vail Resorts, the owner of Park City Mountain Resort and about 40 other ski areas in North America and Australia.

“We went to lunch, and we ordered a sandwich, a $19 sandwich,” said Lauren Mummolo, a Connecticut resident who recently visited Park City Mountain Resort. “And they told me that I couldn't take two items off of it and customize it because customizations weren’t allowed.”

“I think we all respect the challenges of COVID,” she added “but I think we also have to respect the dollar that people are spending and especially during COVID.”

In the town of Park City, complaints have spilled from the slopes to the municipal government.

“This time last year, I skied like 18 days,” said Park City Town Council member Tana Toly at a Feb. 17 meeting. “I’ve skied twice. Not only because it hasn’t snowed very much, but I really just don’t want to deal with all of the things that I’m seeing or hearing.”

Nate Carlisle joins Max Roth to discuss his feature on $9 hot dogs and other problems skiers are complaining about at a Park City resort

In-Depth: Cold food, packed slopes in Park City

Park City Mountain Resort’s chief operating officer Mike Goar addressed the council at that meeting.

“There's been a fair amount of negative sentiment,” Goar told FOX 13 News after the meeting.

Goar said that sentiment has been “driven by some really challenging staffing issues that we've had this year that we're working through, and but it's impacted the amount of terrain and lifts that we've had opened this season.”

Culinary cold

Kaplan has taught courses on ski resort management at universities in Utah and abroad and can see the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort from his house.

“I had a bunch of house guests here, and we decided to ski Park City,” he recalled. “There was no parking to be found. Several of the key lifts weren’t running; huge lines; terrible grooming.

“And we didn’t have a good experience. So, we decided to go have lunch, and we waited 42 minutes for a cold hot dog. And the parts that should be warm were cold, and the parts that should be cold were warm.”

Kaplan contends Vail Resorts should be reinvesting more into its ski areas’ infrastructure and employees given the success the company has had with its discounted, all-resort season passes, which Vail calls Epic Passes. In 2018, an Epic Passes could be purchased for about $700.

Since then, Vail Resorts has been reducing the price — down to less than $600 for the current season if skiers bought early and don’t mind not skiing on holiday weekends. Vail does not disclose resort-specific pass data, so the Epic Pass’ exact impact on Park City Mountain Resort isn’t clear to the public.

But the town is setting sales tax revenue records every month.

Utah Department of Transportation data for January showed almost as many cars entering the town from Interstate 80 for January as the same months before the pandemic, even though the other traditional big draw for that month — the Sundance Film Festival — remained virtual.

“And if people are having a bad experience and aren’t coming back in the future,” Kaplan said, “that reflects directly on our economy and our reputation.”

Goar told the Park City Town Council the number of ski visitations to his resort are “similar” to recent years, but that nationwide labor shortages have closed some lifts and slowed food service.

Council members described cars with ski racks and out-of-state plates spilling onto streets that hadn’t seen them before in the residential neighborhood called Old Town. Goar wondered aloud whether fewer skiers and workers were carpooling or riding public transportation to avoid getting sick.

Council members shared other concerns — from constituents and themselves.

“It feels like there’s a lot more people,” on the slopes, said council member Max Doilney. “It feels a little less safe out there.”

“I’ve heard more locals say this year, come up to me and say, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever buy a pass at Park City again,’” said council member Ryan Dickey.

“It’s feeling like our residents can’t get to and from the services they need on the weekends,” council member Becca Gerber said.

Park City Mountain Resort wants to add more condos, lodging and restaurants to its base area in the town. Opponents of the development have used the ski and culinary problems to encourage the town council to say no to further development.

“Our leverage with Vail is going to be the development of the base area,” Kaplan said. “So that's where we should step in and just say, ‘If you want to develop it, we need you to do these best practices.’”

As for Kaplan’s hot dog, Goar told FOX 13 News: “I don't think there's an issue with $9 cold hot dogs. I don't deny that someone showed up with the picture of that.”

“We talked to our teams about the experience the guest had,” Goar added, “that isn't normal. I've not heard a story like that.”

Goar said the development project is separate from the problems the town wants to solve – with one exception. The project includes workforce housing. The town council suggested lack of affordable housing has workers driving into Park City.

“It's a great project that will be an enhancement,” he said.

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