There is a gentle nip in the air finally as fall comes to the Wasatch. But while the air is cooling down, debates over the fate of the Wasatch are heating up. Over the past few weeks, you might have noticed a little bit in the media about a massive ski area expansion project called One Wasatch. It’s a polarizing concept to develop our mountains and wrangle public lands away from our community. It has the ski community divided – those who love the resorts and the experiences they offer, who want to see new terrain and those who treasure the backcountry, the challenge and the opportunity for solitude. In a place as small as the Wasatch, a gain for One Wasatch is a loss for our amazing backcountry.
But this issue transcends skier v. skier and the means by which they access the Wasatch. Hikers, bikers, climbers, photographers, runners, leaf-watchers, picnickers, (old, young, local or tourist) everyone really, should have concern about the pending developments and the changes to the Wasatch spawned by One Wasatch. SOC has worked with a number of media outlets over the past few weeks wanting soundbites on One Wasatch, Vail’s acquisition of Park City Mountain Resort, and “Ski City USA.” We try our best to get the point across, but I think it is time to clarify a few points that are continually brought up.
Here is the beginning of what we hope to be a series – post a question about One Wasatch – we’ll do our best to find the answer. Help us debunk the myth of this latest iteration of ski resort expansion known as One Wasatch & help Save Our Canyons! Use this information in discussions with your elected leaders, with your hiking partner, at dinner parties (I’ll bring dessert) or even on a chair lift in a few short months. Write a letter to the editor, help us stop One Wasatch from destroying the recreational opportunities and environment of our Wasatch Mountains.
Myth #1: One Wasatch can be built all on private land.
False. Anyone who frequents the Wasatch or has looked at a USGS Topo Map of the area knows that property ownership and patterns are the things that nightmares are made of. It’s the Neapolitan swirl of ice creams, you want the chocolate and vanilla, but have to deal with the wretched synthetic strawberry in the mix, no avoiding it. In some places there are islands of private land in a sea of public land, and others there are bastions of public land mixed within private. You can thread a needle with a lift avoiding public land only stringing cables over the top, but you can’t open it up to commercial skiing without a permit expansion encompassing treasured public lands at the heads of our watershed. To do things in the Wasatch you have to work together because so many jurisdictions are involved.
Myth #2: Ski Resorts occupy a tiny portion of the land & the community has plenty of land to use.
False. OK, there is a bit of Forest out there, even Wilderness (and hopefully even more soon), but not every last acre of land needs to be used. Ski areas are there, and there is support from the public to do what you will inside those permit boundaries, within reason of course. Location is important. Ski areas currently dominate the high elevation, north facing moderate terrain in the Wasatch. The few remaining areas are threatened with development by One Wasatch. For decades, the community has said, no ski area expansion and no interconnect. The USFS plan, city watershed plans, county master plans have all reinforced this – as they should as representatives of the public. Also, see Myth #4 below on geographic extent of the Wasatch.
Myth #3: Tons of public support for One Wasatch.
False. Ski Utah sent out a poll to its membership lists asking what people thought of One Wasatch. They reported 45% support, 28% are on the fence and 19% oppose. You might be able to get a majority of your membership, but don’t confuse that with public support. The responses were comprised of about 3,000 people, Save Our Canyons has received about that many comments in opposition – 100% pure opposition from residents and visitors alike – there is no split in our data. So far as we have seen the folks who support One Wasatch either stand to benefit financially from ruining the range or have too much powder in their goggles blurring their vision for the Wasatch, but also clouding their judgement. Just a few short years ago, 94% of the public said no more expansion of the ski areas as they promote undesired development (2010 Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow report), diminishing the experiences of the masses and degrading our environment (inclusive of our highly valued viewshed). It should also be noted that approximately 7% of Salt Lake residents ski. What does the rest of the community think about the further development of our Wasatch? While certain skiers might like the concept, others don’t, but what does the overwhelming majority of the region feel should happen to the Wasatch. Speak up – LOUDLY.
Myth #4: One Wasatch make the Wasatch just like the Alps.
False. If we’re to be the Alps, One Wasatch is going to bring some serious mountain building and tectonic activity, so brace yourselves. The Alps are a vast mountain range in Southern Europe touching or encompassing some eight European countries. Roughly, the area of the Alps is 75,000 square miles, runs about 600 miles (east to west) and its thickest point is approximately 150 miles (north to south) from Munich, Germany to Verona, Italy. The Wasatch, by contrast running a 160 miles north to south, are about 40 miles at its widest from Willard to Francis, and have an area of about 4,500 acres. If we extract the little piece of Europe, the Central Wasatch, spanning two counties, is approximately 220 square miles. The grandeur of the Central Wasatch is unique – it contains the crown jewels of the entire range. In this small 22o square mile area, there are
seven six resorts that encompass 35 square miles. The Wasatch are amazing, but they aren’t the Alps and Utah isn’t Europe. There is a substantial amount of development in these mountains One Wasatch would lead to an approximate 10% to 20% expansion of developed ski terrain throughout the Wasatch, much to the dismay of the vast majority of users, and watershed managers. That’s a significant impact on such a tiny place that is already under a significant amount of pressure.
Myth #5: The Wasatch is amazing as it is today and needs our stewardship and protection.
TRUE, but unfortunately that’s not a talking point of One Wasatch. As a matter of fact, if you listen to the pitch enough – you’d probably start to wonder why the ski industry is in this abysmal place at all! For what is a mountain with out lift, ski runs and condos cut all over!? It took over 1.7 billion years to create the Wasatch that we enjoy today. It inspires us on a daily basis, it provides escape from our daily lives, an island of wild, a refuge, that cannot be improved upon by more earth moving, tree cutting, habitat fragmenting, or public access revoking. As more people come to the region, they too are going to want the same opportunities that have kept so many of us living in the shadows of this majestic range. The place is near perfection and you shouldn’t tinker with perfection – we say near because as strong of a guardian as SOC has been over the decades, we’ve lost a few rounds. To achieve perfection for the Wasatch, all we need to do is preserve and restore. Your support and actions will help us to realize that tangible goal.