Interconnecting the Wasatch; Lift Lines in the Snow

The term interconnect is a loaded term that comes with a lot of baggage. In this post we are talking about the concept of a lift served connection between all 7 ski resorts and what impacts a project of this magnitude would have on the Wasatch range. The interconnect is a concept pitched by some of the Central Wasatch Ski Resorts to connect their resorts, via ski lifts, to create an enormous “resort style complex” in our watershed. Why? So resorts can market to patrons that they can ski not one or two, but four to seven resorts in one day! Low impact, logical connections utilizing little more than an access gate like Alta-Snowbird, or Brighton-Solitude, or Park City-Deer Valley simply aren’t enough to satiate the hunger pangs of the resort industry. The desire is to expand, at the expense of our watershed, to be able to market the ability to ski (err, ride lifts) from Park City to Snowbird is the means to what end? How does this connection benefit four season use in the Wasatch? We already have some of the lowest skier density in most skier markets. Connecting to multiple resorts is something that can be done using your own two legs, as Ski Utah’s interconnect tour has been doing for years. Read more about the resorts hopes of ski interconnect in this Outside Magazine Article. Keep reading for our take.

Despite overwhelming opposition to this concept, Ski Utah, individual resorts, elected officials and business leaders appear to be pushing this concept, even though the “first step” has been defeated. Envision Utah’s Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow Report (16,031 respondents) found “94% (of respondents) do no support development that includes any infringement on existing winter backcountry ski areas and should have little or no effect on environmental resources because building improvements are made in already-developed areas (Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow Sept. 2010).”

Our concerns with interconnect range from aesthetic to environmental to social to economic. We’ve heard it from the resorts (as have you) time and time again, “just one more lift…” It seems there is no end in sight for the constant expansion and exploitation of the Wasatch Mountains unmatched grandeur. At what point does increasing the amount of infrastructure in the Wasatch begin to decrease the experience for everyone?

These lifts would:

  • riddle our rigdelines with unsightly infrastructure,
  • plow down trees,
  • disrupt the natural lay of the land which took millions (dare we say billions) of years in the making to perfect in their current configuration,
  • cut off access to popular backcountry destinations,
  • These lifts are used as a marketing ploy to placate to out of state tourists generally out pricing many locals. Making it increasingly difficult for the local community to recreate in the Wasatch.
  • Impact our Watershed and the diverse flora and fauna of the Wasatch Range.

Click the link below to view a comprehensive map of all interconnection proposals. Please note that alignments are based off of conversations, news and magazine articles GRAMA, and FOIA requests and are not exact.

CLICK HERE TO LAUNCH THE MAP VIEWING APPLICATION

SKILINK
The silence surrounding the controversial SkiLink proposal is eerie. It is hard to believe that an issue that was fueled by over $1 Million (by our count) in lobbyists and campaign contributions from the Talisker Corporation can so easily fade to black. Speculation of the Vail – Talisker lease for the Canyons Ski Area may have slowed (or stopped) SkiLink. Conversations with community leaders and others affiliated with the ski industry say SkiLink is done. In conversations with Utah Congressional Delegations staff, many of whom will admit they received a ton of opposition (good work!), but refuse to say the issue won’t come back – rather saying that re-introduction of SkiLink in any form isn’t politically timely at the moment. Long story short – Be aware, and be ready to act should SkiLink rear its ugly head again. For more of the story on SkiLink, you can go here.

Flagstaff lift proposal by Alta Ski Resort

The Flagstaff lift proposal has been on the table for a long time. Many of you that have been involved with SOC for many years are familiar with the arguments for and against this proposed lift. With the introduction of the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act (HR 2808) we are comfortable saying that, if passed, this bill would eliminate the threat of a ski lift on the North side of Little Cottonwood Canyon to the ridge of Flagstaff Mountain. However, without a loud outcry of support for the protection of Flagstaff and many other unique wilderness quality lands in the Wasatch these points of access and inspiration could be lost to development forever.

Alta’s Grizzly lift

After getting a significant amount of blow back on Flagstaff, Alta decided to pursue other options for expanding the resort. Early in 2013, Alta Ski Lifts revised its USFS Master Development Plan for the resort. Couched inside that proposal was yet another lift for “avalanche control” purposes accessing East Hellgate to Grizzly Gulch. This lift would cut off a significant amount of the Wasatch backcountry, making the area off limits to dispersed winter recreational opportunities.

Solitude Summit Tram

In October of 2011, Solitude provided SOC with their proposal for a “small tram” connecting their resort in Salt Lake County over the Big Cottonwood Ridgeline on the Honeycombe ridge terminating at the top of Black Bess on Alta Ski Lifts property, inside the Town of Alta. This proposal according to the letter would satisfy two needs; “avalanche control for Solitude Resort” and allowing access to mountain customers that wanted to get to the “top of the mountain.” The lift alignment provided however, along with proposals made by Alta point at interconnection between the two resorts. While the lift may be situated to “minimize its visual impacts in the surrounding area” we are skeptical at best about the impacts that will be incurred to the backcountry community, viewshed and flora and fauna both winter and summer.

Brighton to Alta via Wolverine Cirque lift extension

The next piece in the puzzle is Brighton Ski Resorts desire to construct a lift connecting Mt. Millicent (Milli Lift) across the lower reaches of the Wolverine Cirque and terminating at or near the top of Patsey Marley. While the lift alignment is speculative at this time it is safe to say that the connection could box in the upper Wolverine Cirque and Patsey Marley ridge line impacting access and landing a debilitating blow to the viewshed in one of the Wasatch Mountains most visited areas.

Snowbird tram to American Fork Twin Peaks

Save Our Canyons spent the last two years working with many entities including Snowbird to define and agree upon the boundary lines of the proposed wilderness addition legislation titled the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act (HR 2808). In that process a land swap was agreed upon which would permanently protect the Flagstaff area on the North side of LCC in exchange for the American Fork Twin Peaks. From our perspective this was a hard pill to swallow however would protect Flagstaff Mountain from the aforementioned expansion and preserve this critical backcountry access point in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Solitude Meadow Chutes lift

Silver Fork canyon, a tributary in upper Big Cottonwood Canyon provides some of the greatest terrain for backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the Wasatch. Sustained pitches through sprawling aspen stands make this a highly prized and frequently visited region. A candidate for wilderness designation under HR 2808, Silver Fork canyon is currently managed under a “Special Management Area” held by the Forest Service. This area is considered by the Forest Service to be comprised of “wilderness quality lands” slated for wilderness designation should the WPG permit renewed in 2009 lapse. With the competition from many different user groups one wonders how Solitude Mountain Resort plans to expand into an area already spoken for? SOC has been able to pull together a rough sketch of what Solitude has in the works; First the Meadows Chutes lift which would provide lift served access from the base of the Honeycomb chair to the Silver Fork ridgeline. This resort expansion could mean limited or closed access to the Silver Fork drainage for up hill travel. Secondly, the Silver Fork Lift which will open more terrain in the lower reaches of the canyon while providing resort patrons a lift back to Solitude.

Jupiter Connection Lift and 10,420 Lift

Closing the loop on the Interconnect story would be the final two connections from Park City Mountain Resort to Brighton Ski Resort. The Jupiter lift connection would effectively bring into the resort boundaries areas like Hidden Canyon and 10,420 closing off some intermediate tree and open bowl terrain such as Sunny Glades and Lane’s Leap to back country skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and snowshoers.  Dispersed skier access would also increase up and down the ridge line opening the Big Cottonwood Canyon ridge to lift served skiers and snowboarders that may not be prepared or educated on the risks of accessing terrain outside the resorts avalanche control boundaries.

2 responses to “Interconnecting the Wasatch; Lift Lines in the Snow

  1. Pingback: One Wasatch: One horrible plan for the Wasatch Mountains | Save Our Canyons·

  2. Pingback: Critical response to One Wasatch interconnect plan |·

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