What is the reaction to Vail Resorts’ attempt to trademark the name “Park City”?

What is the reaction to Vail Resorts’ attempt to trademark the name “Park City”?

Controversy has been a common theme in Park City, UT since Vail Resorts took over as the owner and operator of Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) in September 2014, 15 months after taking over operations of Canyons Resort, also in Park City. Since then, Vail has connected the two resorts, resulting in the most skiable acreage for any ski area in the United States at over 7,300 acres. While PCMR’s former owner Powdr Corp was by no means a “mom and pop” operation, local skiers and citizens were concerned about the possible corporate culture that newcomer Vail would bring into the historic mining town located 32 miles from Salt Lake City. There was even fuss over Vail’s decision to replace local Park City Coffee Roaster with Starbucks—its corporate partner—as the only java of choice on the mountain.

Park City Interconnect Gondola

The Quicksilver Gondola connected Park City Mountain Resort and the Canyons. Image courtesy of Vail Resorts

The most recent dispute, which has gained traction thanks to editorial from KPCW Radio and the Park Record, stems from an application by Vail Resorts to trademark the name “Park City,” filed on July 8, 2014. The ski area is still officially named Park City Mountain Resort, but has been branded by Vail Resorts as simply “Park City” since it took over operation.

The application was filed nearly two years ago and has featured much back and forth discussion between VR CPC Holdings, Inc., which operates as a subsidiary of Vail Resorts, Inc. and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). However, on May 10, 2016, the trademark application received initial approval (application is published for opposition) from the USPTO examining attorney. By virtue of being published for opposition, a 30 day window opened up, allowing for any party—whether that be a Park City government official, local business or individual—who believes it may be damaged by registration of the trademark to do the following: File an opposition to registration or request to extend the opposition time with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

Reader comments on the Park Record article ranged from “We were Park City LONG before Vail moved in. Can you imagine if they got the trademark, they could force every business using Park City in their name to pay them royalties or change their names?” to “What a nice way of endearing yourselves to the locals, Vail. Bonehead PR move, I say.”

Angry Internet comments aside, one of the main worries from the community of Park City derives from the blurred line of of the words ‘Park City’ as a descriptor for the town and the many community business names that utilize ‘Park City,’ and its use as an indicator of the ski resort. Some of the growing opposition also comes from simple pride in the town. “I think the Park City residents have a lot of pride in the history of this town,” explains Renai Bodley, reporter for KPCW Radio in Park City. “This town existed long before skiing existed [here] and, from what I’m hearing, they’re concerned about a ski resort having trademark rights.”

Josh Mann of the Park Rag, a self-proclaimed “citizens journalism effort focused on the Park City area,” even went so far as to create a web site called “Park City Sucks.” The website states that while it doesn’t believe that Park City the town sucks nor does Park City the resort suck, the use of Park City in the resort name does. In a blog post on the topic posted in December, Mann likens it to Vail’s flagship property in Colorado. “It appears Vail has tried to mimic Colorado… where there is no distinction between Vail the city and Vail the resort.” The site as a whole attempts to outline the possible negative side effects of Vail Resorts’ trademark application.

“I think there’s the one concern that the city itself is somewhat diluted by Vail usurping that name and maybe a little bit of lack of respect for the town,” states Mann. “Then I think there’s the business perspective, people want to make sure that they could continue and do business using the name of the town. If you want to start up a ‘Park City Ski Shop,’ for example, you should be able to do that with the name Park City.”

Ron Balbis, a co-owner and the general manager of Park City Powdercats and Heli-Ski, revealed his concerns regarding his own business when speaking with Jay Hamburger of the Park Record. “Does that mean everything [with] Park City [in the name], [Vail Resorts] has the right to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? I would hate to lose the name ‘Park City.’ It would be tough to have to change our name.”

Vail Resorts and vice president of mountain community affairs Kristin Williams prepared a statement in response to the criticism, stating that the trademark application is simply a tactic in securing the brand name of Vail Resorts’ business.

“Like many business owners, we want to protect the brand name of our business. Our only purpose for seeking a trademark registration for Park City is to ensure that no other ski area operator can operate a ski resort using a confusingly similar name and that no one can falsely represent that they are, or are affiliated with, the Park City ski resort,” the statement says. “The description of services associated with the application reads, ‘providing facilities for skiing and snowboarding, and conducting classes and instruction in skiing and snowboarding.'”

However, services associated with skiing and snowboarding, and the subsequent instruction of both sports, are inherently very broad. Balbis went on to tell Hamburger, that Park City Powdercats and Heli-Ski offers skiing services, which is cause for apprehension.

Mann informed me that he met with Williams as well as Bill Rock, Park City’s chief operating officer, in March, and was assured that the trademark is simply to prevent any other ski area from popping up and using the name Park City in its branding. Additionally, the services that come with the approved trademark will center only around “providing facilities for skiing and snowboarding, and conducting classes and instruction in skiing and snowboarding,” as listed above.

Mann remains skeptical, but hopeful. “I am cautiously optimistic that it’ll be fine and they’ll keep to their word that they just don’t want somebody to use the Park City name in conjunction with a complete ski slope somewhere,” he explains. “But I think there are still concerns in the community that the definition [Vail Resorts has outlined] may become too broad; that it could encompass [all activities] they’re doing at a ski slope and it will constrain what people can do here in Park City.”

Vail Resorts’ statement went on to say that this topic isn’t exactly new, as the company owns trademarks on both Vail and Breckenridge, two of its Colorado resorts. “Vail Resorts owns registered trademarks for both Vail and Breckenridge in connection with the mountain resort services it provides and we do not try to prevent businesses in the towns of Vail or Breckenridge from using the town names as part of the names of their businesses,” Williams says in the statement.

Mann, via ParkCitySucks.com, has still expressed wishes for Vail Resorts to “rename their resort,” and “turn their trademark application over to the public domain.” His main consideration being that an incident at the resort could “tarnish the Park City town name.” He’d prefer the resort name to revert back to Park City Mountain Resort, as it has been for recent years.

Tim Henney, a member of the Park City city council, believes that the issue as it stands is one of lack of clarity. His stance is that the community of Park City just hasn’t been presented enough facts or a forum for discussion in order to better understand what the trademark application means. In turn, he asked for a work session—an open meeting that focuses on long term effects of a particular issue—in order to flush out the trademark application’s potential positive or negative implications. The request was unanimously supported by the rest of the city council, and the time of the scheduled meeting will be announced this week.


[aesop_audio title=”KPCW’s Renai Bodley on Vail Resort’s attempt to trademark Park City” src=”https://cpa.ds.npr.org/kpcw/audio/2016/05/13-Randy-Renai-A2.mp3″ loop=”on” viewstart=”off” viewend=”on” hidden=”off”]

“Before there can be an informed decision about the merits of Vail’s application there needs to be awareness and understanding within the community. The work session will be the first step in the process of addressing that,” explains Henney. “Without an informed opinion from the community, it is difficult for council to arrive at a position that reflects the will of the majority of community stakeholders and/or citizens. At this point in the process, council is simply aiming to inform the community about Vail’s application.”

To summarize, Vail Resorts has gained initial approval from the USPTO to trademark the name ‘Park City’ for use regarding the ski resort in the town of Park City. The city council, led by member Tim Henney, is seeking to flush out and make public the potential outcomes, both positive and negative, before allowing the 30-day opposition period to close on June 9. Any current opposition stems mostly from uneasiness regarding confusion over the name ‘Park City’ as pertaining to the town and resort, and how that can affect local business.

Readers close to the situation in Park City and Utah as a whole, leave your reactions and comments in the section below.

Upgrade Your Inbox

Don't waste time seeking out the best skiing content; we'll send it all right to you.