Dressed in a button-down chambray shirt and blue jeans and sporting a faint smile, Deirdra Walsh looks relaxed as she sits in a no-frills conference room on the second floor of a brick building in the Mountain Village at Park City Mountain Resort. After the late August sun has finished climbing the hills of the ski area, it peeks out the windows, casting the resort’s new vice president and chief operating officer in a warm glow.
It’s the calm before winter.
This ski and snowboard season, PCMR plans to implement some of its most controversial changes since 2015, when it took over operation of The Canyons and became the largest ski area in North America. While Walsh hasn’t kicked off many of the resort’s new policies for the 2022-23 season — like charging for daily parking at Mountain Village lots and capping lift ticket sales — it will be his work to inaugurate them.
Armed with her roots in the community and a history of sound-making, Walsh thinks she’s up for the challenge.
“I certainly did not come to the station unprepared for the challenges. And there were some things that were more surprising than others,” she said. “But that certainly doesn’t discourage me.
“For now, the only way is to move forward.”
When she officially stepped into her new role in May after having held the same position at Northstar Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif., since 2019, Walsh waded through the mud. Just two weeks after the 44-year-old took over the station’s reins from Mike Goar, the Park City Planning Commission voted to stop PCMR from upgrading two elevators – one of which was to be the first Vail Resorts eight-pack – after four Parkites raised concerns about overcrowding and the equation the resort uses to determine comfortable carrying capacity.
Walsh’s first official statements as head of the PCMR took the form of a reprimand.
“We are fundamentally concerned and confused that the city is blocking this important investment in customer experience at Park City Mountain,” she said in a statement prepared in June.
Vail Resorts, which counts PCMR among its 41 ski areas, has since filed an appeal in Summit County District Court. Meanwhile, he announced Wednesday that the elevators will be shipped to Canada for installation at Whistler Blackcomb, another Vail Resorts property, next year. If Park City gets approval to install elevators in 2023, it will have to order new ones.
The hubbub over the lifts revealed a long-standing breach of trust between community members and the resort.
This flaw can be fixed, Walsh said.
“I think,” she said, “there’s an opportunity to reset right now.”
Walsh said he received “a really warm welcome” from the Park City community. She attributes some of that to her history in the area. Originally from Missouri, she moved with her then-boyfriend, now husband, Rob to Park City in 2004. She learned to snowboard at Park City Mountain and got her first job there in the ski industry in 2007, when she was hired in conference. Sales.
Driven by the support of her female superiors throughout her career – she is one of three women currently running a Utah resort – the mother of two young children rose through the ranks to become director and then senior director of the mountain restaurant division. So when Park City Mountain was combined with The Canyons in 2015, it was up to her to merge their restaurant businesses.
“I think the actual resort integration was probably one of the hardest and most exciting things I’ve been involved in,” she said.
She started the conversation between the two groups by asking a question:
“What do we have in common? ” she says. “And if we can start there, then I know we can create something that feels true to being one team.”
His approach to leading PCMR is similar. She said she spent most of her first few months at the helm having coffee or lunch or the occasional glass of wine with elected officials, community members and other stakeholders. She used those conversations in part, she says, to find common ground.
Hopefully that’s solid ground too, as those relationships will likely be tested by the ticketing and parking policies that PCMR intends to institute this winter.
As part of a Vail Resorts-wide initiative, PCMR will cap online and walk-in lift ticket sales every day of the season, expanding on a pilot program last year that limited sales of tickets during the holidays. The hope is that the cap will prevent tracks and restaurants from becoming overcrowded – which was one of the main criticisms leveled at PCMR last year. Vail Resorts’ efforts to bolster the workforce, and therefore the amount of land and services it can offer, by adding employee housing and raising the minimum wage to $20/hour should also give more space for customers.
However, capping daily tickets has been criticized as a tactic employed by resorts to induce people to buy passes and commit to visiting a specific ski area early. Plus, it can be a point of frustration for locals when looking for last-minute tickets to take advantage of powder days that might otherwise be hidden on their passes or to entertain out-of-town visitors. . (PCMR said it would allow Epic Pass holders to purchase friend tickets even on limited days.)
“So you can never just decide to go on a trip…”, wrote a Twitter userresponding to an article about caps, “you have to be a super planner.”
A measurement team will determine when the cap should be used, Walsh said, using “lots of inputs.”
The ticket cap has received little attention, however, compared to the angst generated by the station’s new parking scheme.
From Dec. 12 through April 2, PCMR will require reservations and a $25 fee to park in its Mountain Village lots — Main, First Time and Silver King — daily between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Carpoolers with four or more people in one vehicle can park for free but must still have a reservation. Parking outside these hours does not require a reservation and is free regardless of vehicle occupancy. Visitors can also park for free daily at The Canyons in the Convertible lot and on weekends and holidays at Park City High.
Its intention, in part, is to reduce traffic congestion around the main village and deter people from visiting the area if they don’t have a reservation, which should reduce vehicle parking in the neighborhoods. It’s also a way to get people to carpool or take the bus.
PCMR will be the first of three Park City resorts to charge for parking, but it’s a tool used by most Cottonwood Canyons resorts as well as Sundance Resort.
Some locals applauded the program and PCMR for making an effort to reduce traffic problems. For many Utah skiers and snowboarders, however, the parking policy comes across as a cash grab. And it hits especially hard following the Utah Transit Authority’s announcement Wednesday that it will cut bus service between Salt Lake City and Park City this winter.
(Once skiers and cyclists have arrived at Kimball Junction, however, they can hop on one of the High Valley Transit buses, which will run free routes to The Canyons and PCMR’s mountain village daily at 15-minute intervals, according to Summit County Planning Director Caroline Rodriguez.)
“Well since greed runs this resort they had to make up for skier limitation (sic),” one commenter wrote on a Tribune article advertising paid parking. “At $25 (sic) a car, they will make a big profit that they could have gotten for the skiers they turn down. Skiing is too expensive for most locals anyway. This resort is for foreigners willing to pay.
Walsh wants to change that perception.
Its overall goal is to make a resort that spans 7,300 acres, 43 lifts and 330 trails more intimate. Doing this will require more capital investment, although she did not specify where that investment is most needed, and attention to detail. The end result, she said, should be a memorable and enjoyable experience for visitors, no matter where they come from or how much they paid for a ticket.
“I try to think about the customer experience, and every person who gets on an elevator is a guest,” she said. “And I think all the tides come in together, so a better customer experience is a better customer experience, whoever it is.”
Winter promises to be harsh for Walsh, but she’s confident she can weather it with a good conversation…and good wine. And maybe as soon as next summer, she’ll be sitting and basking in a warm glow — one created by a closer bond between her resort and her community.
Editor’s note • This story is only available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Please support local journalism.