The Canyons “transportation solution” was formally announced before the Thanksgiving holiday, and as Talisker announced the SkiLink proposal, Republican Members of the Utah Delegation simultaneously filed the Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act in both the House (HR 3452) and Senate (S 1883). It’s disappointing to realize the SkiLink is moving forward without any consideration of public sentiment or how it may truly impact the Wasatch.
Canyons Resort currently rests on 4,000 acres of privately held land owned by a Canadian based development company called Talisker. The scale of this resort makes it the 5th largest resort in the United States, and they are now pushing to expand their terrain with the SkiLink, which would connect Canyons via gondola to Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. A proposed action of this scope could very well tip the balance between the natural environment and a developed landscape in the Wasatch.
What came as a surprise is how the proposed action has now come to include the sale of 30 acres of YOUR public lands to Talisker via federal bill sponsored by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, and Senator’s Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee. This would ensure the entire SkiLink proposal would be on private land, a sneaky way to circumvent the public process and take regulatory authority out of the hands of the Forest Service; as the 2003 Forest Service Plan explicitly prohibits ski area expansion. Bishop’s bill is aiming to bypass the public process, at a time when it is clear the public (94%) overwhelmingly supports limiting resort boundaries to existing Forest Service permit boundaries in the Wasatch, as expressed in the Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow public process.
Impacts from SkiLink will span the spectrum; from blatantly disregarding concerns for the environment, surrounding Wilderness boundaries, potential impacts to the watershed, diminishing dispersed recreational opportunities, and quality of life. Once SkiLink goes live it would set a nasty precedent, as we can only imagine what other development schemes, not to mention how many other ski resorts are waiting idly by to see their development plans rammed through by Congressional order. Land managers and the public be damned.
This is not just another interconnect proposal, the SkiLink idea is moving forward swiftly and it is a serious threat to the integrity of the Wasatch. Pitched as a so-called “transportation lift” this proposal includes tram, lift or gondola that will leave Canyons Resort near the Daybreak lift, where it will deliver patrons to the lower (western) entrance of Solitude Mountain Resort. Capacity of the system is said to deliver approximately 400 people per hour, not stop at the ridgelines and take less than 10 minutes for the 3 or so mile journey.
At this point, we have heard Canyons officials say this is a great thing because a) it will reduce the amount of cars in Big Cottonwood Canyon, b) make Park City the main point of access for the Cottonwood Canyons and c) it will protect backcountry terrain.
It is unclear to us how running a lift will reduce cars in Big Cottonwood. First, this system works both ways and for many in the Salt Lake Valley, it is easier/closer to drive to the Cottonwoods than Park City. How will this not increase traffic in Big Cottonwood for those wanting to get to Park City? Second, traffic studies have shown that summer time traffic counts are the same as winter time traffic counts. The difference is that in the summer time, people aren’t all competing for “first chair” on a powder day. Third, you have to ride 4 lifts at the Canyons in order to get on the proposed interconnect, taking at least an additional hour or two before you are on your way to Solitude. Moreover, you would have to buy a lift pass to the Canyons to ride this “transportation solution,” so it seems like more of a ruse to sell lift tickets than to provide a viable transit option. Last, Park City, often referred to as “No Park City” has its own set of transportation issues, so all of this hinges on you even being able to find a spot. You could ride the new UTA line to Park City, but at that point, why wouldn’t you just ride one of the Cottonwood Ski buses?
As for protecting backcountry terrain, the Canyons already proved their sensitivity towards the backcountry community by constructing the 9990 lift which has a number of resort skiers coming over the ridgeline. Now they are proposing to give those people a ride back over the ridge. While this lift does not stop on the ridge and let people off, it does put a number of towers in an otherwise pristine area and will change the wild character of this popular destination in the canyon.