Everyone who’s ever done time in a ski town knows Mountain Dan. His name isn’t necessarily Mountain Dan, but it could be. It also could be Tahoe Timmy or Wasatch Willy or Telluride Tommy or Jackson Hole Jake or Aspen AJ or Big Sky Bobby or Beaver (Creek) Ron or, well—you get the picture.
Mountain Dan has worked for everyone in town and been fired from everywhere in town. Dishwasher, bar back, snowmobile repairman, volunteer liftie, snow groomer, dog groomer, seamstress …hell, Mountain Dan even crossed the color lines and worked at the burrito shop. Mountain Dan is fluent in Spanish and can make everyone laugh. He’s got dirt on everyone and everyone has stories about Mountain Dan too: The time he lit himself on fire with a flare when he was riding in the New Year’s light parade and his Gore-Tex jacket fused to his back leaving him with a half-plastic permanent scar back there. The time he laced ’em up to do the 91st Mountain Run and for some reason came in third wearing jean shorts crossing with a lit Pall Mall. The time he convinced some coug from the city to put him up in her ex-husband’s lakefront house for the winter where he sunk the guy’s boat, drank all his wine and crashed two of his cars …only a few seasons later did anyone realize Mountain Dan was never invited to stay there in the first place. For some reason, Mountain Dan never goes to jail.
Or how ’bout the time Mountain Dan disappeared for 13 months (and nobody noticed) only to return wearing a Corona poncho, sporting a wedding band-sized tan line on his ring finger and flashing a tribal tattoo …around his ankle—never to say anything about it again.
Usually Mountain Dan is encountered at your first job throwing skis on angry children’s feet by the dozen. Not sure whether Mountain Dan is an employee, someone’s friend or the owner, but he gets down on one knee and starts cranking boots on the little groms. Three hours later, the dust has cleared from the shop and you’re smoking a J out the back with the Mountain Dan.
“Don’t mention it,” he holds out a grizzled hand you imagined your grandfather would have. “I’m Mountain Dan.”
And with that single shake: Mountain Dan is your new best friend. At first, it’s going really really well. Mountain Dan knows all the cool stashes. Mountain Dan always hooks up weed on the gondola. Mountain Dan finds all the secret hot tubs to poach. Mountain Dan has the mythical manager’s skeleton hotel key card that opens any room at (possibly Vail Resorts-owned) Megaloresort and you guys rage and crash and take down mini bars like rock stars and sneak out the next morning wearing nothing but the complimentary robes.
Then a few months go by and you start to pick up on people’s reaction when you roll in with Mountain Dan. Guys step in front of their girls, the bartender puts away the glass wear. Were it a couple centuries earlier, everyone’s fingers would start twitching and fluttering above the mother-of-pearl-handled butts of their sidearm.
You start doing research around the shop. Nobody says anything really bad about Mountain Dan—but it’s nothing too good either. It usually starts with a story: “Mountain Dan made out with my ex one night and she woke up three days later with green stuff oozing from her top lip. We broke up a few weeks after that.” “Mountain Dan once tried to stuff himself into a Piñata for this big corporate gala and ended up falling two stories onto a banquet table.” “Mountain Dan on a five thousand dollar dare stuck his guitar neck like a third of the way up his ass. They actually had to Medivac him down to the city to pull it out without tearing his sphincter.”
And ends with a, “Yeah, you’re probably not going to want to be Mountain Dan’s sidekick for too long.”
And you’re not. You start to edge away from Mountain Dan in the lift line. When you see him sunning himself on the deck, shirt splayed open, chest doused in Coppertone and Malibu Rum you decide to take another lap or two. When you see him approach in the parking lot, you go check on something in the cab of your truck. Months, then years go by and you see Mountain Dan cavorting as an ever rotating turnstyle churns up new blood; showing them the stashes, poaching the secret hot tubs and coming up with one more story-of-the-season.
And that’s fine.
But then you can’t seem to shake Mountain Dan and Mountain Dan becomes a fixture. Mountain Dan becomes a blight. Mountain Dan becomes a ski town sarcoma. Mountain Dan… who looks innocent enough with his chipped tooth and crows feet and permanent Croakie line on his neck, eventually ruins everything for everyone.
Vail Resorts is Mountain Dan.
Actually, Vail Resorts is the evil, greedy, coked-up and drunk-on-hubris (and Fireball) Mountain Dan. Vail Resorts is Mountain Dan with a trust fund, seven days a week of bottomless bloodies, a serious meth addiction and a bad case of herpes all coming to your party nine Jåger bombs in after getting kicked out of the snow sushi joint for snorting wasabi and groping the waitresses and he’s on a mission to steal away your girl, take her out on the deck, make out with her, throw up in her mouth and drive away hammered in a stolen Tacoma wearing a helmet and a GoPro he took off some Gaper while he was queuing for the restroom in the ski cafeteria that afternoon.
This week, Bad Mountain Dan Gone Wild stole Park City Mountain Resort like a pair of gas station sunglasses.
Mountain Dan Vail Resorts is the world’s biggest ski company. This means a lot because, well, like WalMart or Amazon or Google, the biggest companies in any industry are now prone to only get bigger and have their way and nobody, least of all them, really gets sued for antitrust anymore because nobody else can really afford to defend themselves against the counter suit* (*or write damning articles about why someone should be sued for antitrust without the worrying about the specter of a lawsuit that can snuff your website out faster than a Philly Blunt in the center console when the gum balls flash in your rear view).
It’s not as if skiing could use more bad news. Everything important on the planet is melting, winter is permanently hibernating and the sport itself is getting so expensive that the disappearing middle can’t afford lunch at a ski resort much less lunch plus rentals plus lessons plus lift tickets plus pants and jackets and socks and helmets and goggles and gloves and gas and fuck it let’s just go to Golden Corral and stare at our screens.
A Utah federal district court (oxymoron) ruled Wednesday that whomever at PCMR’s (sort of) former owner Powdr Corp let the mountain’s lease expire (granted, letting leases expire in a mountain town is basically a rite of passage—but that’s a different column) was either busy that day grinding on too much mango salsa at Chubasco, there was a sale on the knee-dropper demos at White Pine or was big time on the take.
Park City Mountain Resort has been busy beating off the advances of Canadian mega-interloper Talisker which claimed the post-lease-expired mountain in 2011. Talisker runs PCMR’s not-so-friendly neighbor Canyons Resort whose recent claim to fame is putting giant ’70s-hair-salon-orange blow driers over a chair lift to act as fart traps and introducing the $18 après ski slider. Talisker and Vail have been in bed together like coworkers from the accounting department, also since 2011. When Vail helped Talisker by taking over management of Canyons Resort last year, it got the rights to paint its face half-blue and do the legal battle over the PCMR land.
The 82-page ruling confirms PCMR did not drop its rent check off on time. In the corporate loophole of loopholes which had Vail lawyers swan diving into a giant vat of Moet last night, the lease began when Vail started its negotiations with Talisker, which means PCMR also lost its right of first refusal on the sale or transfer of property.
Those 82 pages basically tell PCMR, “You might want to put an ad on Craigslist for a new resort to run.”
Now Talisker can have its way and turn what is generally seen in the community as the Wasatch Back’s family/neighborhood resort into Vail’s new toy.
Stiff upper lip: “We anticipate that PCMR will operate business as usual for the 2014-’15 season,” said PCMR attorney Alan Sullivan. “We believe that no action affecting the operation of the resort can occur until the appeals are completed, which is likely to take at least a year.”
John Cumming (actual name), CEO of Powdr said Powdr still owns the base and the water rights of the resort. Which is like telling
Mountain Dan Vail Resorts he may be banging your girlfriend but you still get to give her foot rubs.
So, yeah—Vail stock, to the surprise of nobody, went up a notch to $69 Thursday. Along with PCMR and the Canyons—which represents more than 7,000 acres of skiable terrain—they have Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly, Kirkwood, Northstar (their website even resembles a Risk board) and a bunch of mini Midwestern ski areas, hotels, corporate ski shops in disguise as mom-and-pops at the mountain base, half-ass publications and some restaurants with rough-hewn reclaimed wood tables and jars to drink out of because everyone knows it’s cool to pay extra to drink out of jars in mountain towns.
But what does this mean now that
Mountain Dan Vail Resorts is in sole possession of the winning ski biz lottery Powerball numbers? Unparalleled access to the kind of legal muscle that can surely wrest a few more of your family-friendly resorts away from their ownership and a few more dollars from your pocket. Resentment, sadness, confusion, hand-wringing and, finally, submission will be the result. As Vail continues to expand, considerable effort will be put into marketing them as the good guy, the price under cutter, the rain(snow)makers. Industry leaders. Thought leaders. Hell, sign Shaun White up for another tour.
But make no mistake,
Mountain Dan Vail Resorts is a predator. And like all predators, could give a fuck about the business they’re in or the people who make those lifts turn. It’s a bottom-line venture run by bottom line people. The few will profit. The fewer will get rich beyond imagination and the dependency they’ve created through leverage will ultimately introduce the sport’s demise in the West in such calculated fashion that, contrary the photoshopped smiles it slaps on its passes, the devastation will look intentional.