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For two years, downhill skiers have been in a froth over a proposed gondola that would connect Utah's Canyons Resort to nearby Solitude Mountain, linking up 6,250 acres of terrain. Though the project has been slowed by concerns about environmental impacts, odds are that it will eventually get federal approval. Meanwhile, other Utah resort managers have been quietly discussing additional lifts and boundary openings that would bridge seven mountains throughout the Wasatch Range, creating a European-style network offering single-pass access to 17,000 acres. Here's a look at how and when this ambitious project could all come together.
The Snow Report
1. SNOWBIRD <-> ALTA
Since 2001, the AltaBird ticket ($99) has allowed skiers to swipe passes at boundary turnstiles.
2. ALTA <-> SOLITUDE
PROPOSAL: A lift from Alta's base up to a cat-ski area known as Twin Lakes Pass, and another short lift from Twin Lakes Pass to the top of Solitude's Summit chairlift.
POLITICS: Alta's lift would be built in Grizzly Gulch, an area currently used for the resort's cat-skiing operation. Management needs to decide if closing that makes fiscal sense.
BONUS: Access to a 45-degree bowl full of open glades, cliffs, gullies, and ridgelines.
3. SOLITUDE <-> CANYONS
PROPOSAL: A gondola from Canyons to Solitude.
POLITICS: Backcountry skiers are upset that the gondola will cut through prime off-piste lines. Environmentalists are concerned that Canyons will develop land adjacent to the new lift, polluting the watershed. Since this is federal land, moving forward requires congressional approval; a bill made it through the House of Representatives and was expected to come up for a Senate vote in late 2012.
ETA: The gondola could be built in time for the 2013-14 season.
4. CANYONS <-> PARK CITY
PROPOSAL: A lift from Canyons to Park City.
POLITICS: Talisker, a Canadian company, owns Canyons and the land Park City operates on. But Talisker and Park City have been in a dispute over the terms of the lease. They expect to resolve it early this winter.
ETA: The lift could be built within two years of an agreement.
BONUS: Access to an open bowl and aspen glades.
5. PARK CITY <-> DEER VALLEY
PROPOSAL: Access points along the boundary between the two resorts.
POLITICS: Deer Valley and Park City execs are studying the logistics of a dual ticket.
ETA: 2013-14 season.
6. PARK CITY <-> BRIGHTON
PROPOSAL: Two lifts starting at Guardsman Pass, a seasonal backcountry road. One would carry skiers to Park City, the other to Brighton.
POLITICS: This is all private land, so approval hinges on Park City resolving a dispute with Talisker Land Holdings, its landlord. Environmentalists may try to halt construction over concerns that it will pollute the watershed.
ETA: The lifts could be built within two years of an agreement between Talisker and Park City.
BONUS: Trails down to the lifts would include everything from easy groomers to glades.
7. BRIGHTON <-> SOLITUDE
The resorts were linked in 1984. The SolBright Pass ($82) allows back-and-forth access through several gates.
The numbers on a hypothetical ski-tour loop beginning and ending at Snowbird:
$105: Price of a lift ticket
15: Number of chairlift and gondola rides (includes existing lifts)
5: Hours of travel time