Slowly but surely, we’re learning more about the private ski resort that opened in Utah during the 2021-22 season. Back in January, we covered what the first couple of years for Wasatch Peaks Ranch have been like. A couple of weeks ago, the Salt Lake Tribune dove into the ski resort. Last weekend, The Daily Beast analyzed the legal battles between a group of locals and the private ski resort. Here are some of the major takeaways from these articles:
- Humble Beginnings: Located in the town of Peterson, the 12,700 acres of untouched land were once owned by Dick Bass of Snowbird and Earl Holding of Snowbasin. The land went on the market in the mid-2010s with an asking price of $46 million and got purchased in 2019, but the purchase price was not disclosed.
- The Mountain Itself: Currently, the ski resort has three lifts, two of which are high-speed quad bubble chairlifts. The 9500-foot peak, Jacob Ridge, is accessible by a high-speed quad bubble lift. The ski resort features intermediate and expert terrain, with the most challenging being at the summit (Jacobs Ridge). Ultimately, the initial buildout will feature 1600 acres of skiable terrain, and five lifts, with the other two lifts connecting the real estate communities to the mountain. More lifts could come after that, as Leitner-Poma’s initial announcement said that they would be building nine lifts for them, and it could have over 3000 acres of skiable terrain.
- What Else Is There? Right now, not much, minus a temporary base lodge. Eventually, the property will host a mountain village, a Tom Fazio 18-hole golf course, and seventy miles of hiking and biking trails. Lots are for sale, but it doesn’t sound like there have been any homes completed yet. They are eventually aiming to have 750 housing units. The developers aim to keep 65% of the land undeveloped/open space.
- What It Costs: A membership costs $500,000. In addition, $5 million equity blocks have been sold for memberships. So far, at least 94 people have bought the $500k memberships, while others have become members through the equity blocks. People who have bought memberships are allowed to bring guests to the resort. The cost of annual fees, among other costs, is uncertain.
- The Leadership Team: Most of the investors remain a mystery. The only known investor is Lessing Stern, who is the son of Edgar Stern, who founded Deer Valley Resort. The first CEO of Wasatch Peaks Ranch was Bob Wheaton, who was once the President of Deer Valley Resort. The current CEO is Tiger Shaw, who previously worked as the CEO of U.S. Ski & Snowboard. The managing partner of Wasatch Peaks Ranch is Ed Schultz, who has helped guide the development since the land was purchased.
- Economic Impact: So far, $2 million in property tax revenue has been generated by the resort, and the ski resort has created 130 seasonal jobs. The Ranch believes that the ski resort will eventually support 600 jobs, and triple Morgan County’s tax base compared to 2018.
The Daily Beast also dove into the battles between the locals in Morgan County and Wasatch Peaks Ranch. Back in 2019, Wasatch Peaks Ranch quickly got the zoning and development approvals needed to begin construction. This approval was in spite of Whitney Croft, who is a Morgan County resident, presenting a list of over a thousand signatures of people that opposed the development during the meeting.
After that, Croft decided to organize a referendum, which would allow county voters to decide whether the zoning changes to the land should be revoked. Their argument was against what residents wanted from the 2008 Envision Morgan survey, which aimed to chart a sustainable future for the county.
The situation came to a head on Nov. 6, 2019, when Whitney and the referendum sponsors (Dave Pike, Bob Bohman, Shelley Paige, and Brandon Peterson), went to the clerk’s office to get the necessary signatures and notary public seal. At the same time, Schultz and WPR’s attorney Allison Phillips Belnap arrived to submit the final development plans. Here’s what Belnap texted Schultz in the middle of the situation:
“She doesn’t have it straight so let’s pray they fucked it up.”
It turns out that thoughts and prayers do work sometimes. After the petition referendum had been completed thanks to it receiving the notary public, Belnap told the county clerk to write down the time it had been completed and submitted, which was 5:05 p.m., five minutes past the supposed deadline that Wasatch Peaks Ranch would later argue was required.
A few days later, Wasatch Peaks Ranch sent letters to the district court, telling them to drop the referendum petition. After the court didn’t respond, the ski resort sent in a petition of its own to drop the opponent’s petition. This time, the court obliged, dropping the local’s referendum application.
Their reasoning included the petition “lacked a copy of the required ordinance, [and] lacked certification that the Sponsors were residents of Utah.” Interestingly, the untimely submission was not part of the county’s reasoning for rejecting it, as the sponsors argued that Utah’s referendum laws made the timing of their submission legal.
The legal battles continued from there. The opponents filed a petition with the 2nd Circuit District Court to resurrect the referendum, which eventually made it to the state’s Supreme Court. Utah’s Supreme Court ruled that the district court had jurisdiction, meaning that it has gone to Judge Noel S. Hyde’s docket. That case is currently going on, with Wasatch Peaks and Morgan County aiming to dismiss the suit. A final judgment and the consideration of the case are pending the motion to dismiss.
The locals eventually got sued for $10 million, with the developers alleging that they had delayed the development, cost them millions in potential investments, and halted one of their funding rounds. This lawsuit was eventually dismissed.
The opponents then countersued the developers, claiming they sued them to silence them. In this lawsuit, Wasatch Peaks Ranch accidentally filed a private strategy document as part of the declaration. The document stated that Wasatch Peaks Ranch planned to employ “back-door efforts” they planned to use to keep the project moving forward. One of these tactics was connecting with Rep. Logan Wilde, who is “personal friends with the District Judge.” Logan Wilde has since denied a relationship with the Judge or WPR:
“I know there are rumors that the FBI has raided my house, and that’s not true. The rumors have gotten out of hand.”
For a full recap of the legal history between the two sides, you can read the opponent’s description of the past couple of years here.
Meanwhile, Wasatch Peaks Ranch continues its collaborative relationship with the county. Morgan County News reports that Wasatch Peaks Ranch is aiming to create a public infrastructure district within the 12,700 acres of land that they own. According to a document submitted to the county, this will be in order to “undertake the planning, design, acquisition, construction installation, relocation, redevelopment, and financing of the public improvements needed for the project.”
Ed Schultz, who is the managing partner of Wasatch Peaks Ranch, spoke to the Salt Lake Tribune about the ski resort. One thing that he pointed out was that the buildout for this land could have been much bigger than what they’re doing if it ended up in different hands:
“The guys we competed with when we were negotiating in 2017 wanted to do a public ski resort with 5,000 to 10,000 homes. Peterson would have turned into Kimball Junction [the busy commercial zone outside Park City] with all the infrastructure required and massive change for the community, where ours is much more understated.”
That’s a fair point. Based on it being owned by Bass and Holdings beforehand, it seemed destined to become a ski resort eventually. That’s not to say that Wasatch Peaks Ranch has played its cards perfectly. I think they need to make inroads with the community, as the way that they sued the opponents for millions seems unwise in terms of their long-term reputation in the community.
A likely effect of this development is creating less affordable housing around Morgan County, which has become an issue in practically every ski community. My suggestions would be to help fund an employee or affordable housing developments, start some charitable endeavors in the county, or allow the community to ski there, for an affordable price, on specific days.
On the bright side, at least the members of the Ranch won’t be clogging up Little Cottonwood Canyon on a powder day.
Image Credits: Google Earth, Skimap.org, Whitney Croft