Plan for Major Chairlift Network to Link Utah Resorts Raises Concerns

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Heading toward the Wasatch resorts. Photo: Flickr/CountryLemonade

Vail Resorts this week announced that it is acquiring Northern California's Kirkwood Resort. Some of K-Wood's loyal fansare is dismayed, fearing that admission into Vail's empire could change Kirkwood's small-resort vibe. But that's nothing compared to the ire raised in Salt Lake City this week when Senator Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, introduced a resolution to support a plan that would link all seven ski resorts in Salt Lake County and Summit County by chairlift.

On its face, it seems as though the proposal could have environmental benefits, through reduced vehicle traffic into both Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon, parallel canyons that access Park City and its adjacent resort, and Alta and its adjacent resorts. But environmental groups, including Save Our Canyons and figures within the ski and snowboard communities, say that constructing and maintaining the chairlifts would threaten the canyon watersheds and outweight any benefits from reduced congestion. Plus, skiers and snowboarders would still need to get themselves into either canyon, and the resolution does not call for any city-based tram.

Proposals for interconnects between Wasatch Range resorts have been batted around for decades, and the Niederhauser resolution, which has the support of Utah Governor Gary Herbert, would be a collasal project. Still, it's light on specifics. But another proposal, for a project called SkiLink, was introduced to the state's House of Representative late last year and has some more meat. SkiLink would connect two resorts, The Canyons and Solitude, through one major chairlift. But doing so would require the U.S. Forest Service to sell 30 acres of its property in Big Cottonwood Canyon to Talisker Corp., which owns Solitude, in order to build the lift.

Save Our Canyons director Carl Fischer told the Salt Lake Tribute that the proposals to build lifts to connect Wasatch resorts ignores a mountain-transportation study going on right now in Salt Lake County. And the director of Salt Lake City’s public utilities told the paper he hopes “thorough and robust studies to really understand the impacts” will occur, should the resolution move forward.

Aside from environemental concerns, there are questions over how much these linkages between ski resorts would improve the ski and snowboard experience. Proponents say the interconnects would make the Utah resorts similar to Europe's mega-resort complexes. But the differences in topography between the Alps and the Wasatch mountains could mean that unlike the endless schussing in the Alps, “you’d be spending a lot of time sitting on your butt” as you go from one Wasatch resort to another, says Adventure Journal's Michael Frank.

—Mary Catherine O'Connor

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