The Real Dirty Bird by Jack Stauss

When I came to Salt Lake in 2008 I was following in the footsteps of generations of East Coaster’s to bigger mountains and deeper snow. During that first season I met some of these transplants hitchhiking down Big Cottonwood Canyon from the base of Mount Kessler to the park and ride. They had skied Argenta and were glowing from the experience. Their stories of their seven winters inspired and amazed me. They made concrete the idea of the “backcountry” was more than just a word we’d mumble on a boot pack up Pioneer Peak. The Wasatch was an uninhibited wild that I knew then I needed to explore.

I’ve now just completed my seventh winter in Salt Lake. Each season has had it’s blissful days of deep powder, scary blustery moments on ridges, and amazing vistas stretching out over seemingly unlimited amazing terrain. I have rode chair lifts at almost every resort in the state. I have skinned, skied, climbed, biked, and hiked all over the Central Wasatch. From Parley’s to Provo the landscape has become my home. It has become a place that is of the upmost value to me and those around me. I love it here. I love all the the mountains provides. From the fresh water to the beautiful granite, we along the Wasatch Front are some of the luckiest people in the world.

I finished this seventh season with a hike up Mount Baldy on the fourth of June with an old friend. We wandered our way up Alta, chatted about life, and soaked up the spring sun and mountain air. The snow was sloppy but plentiful and we were happy. The walk to the shoulder was quick and we were greeted by amazing views of Pfifferhorn, Lone Peak, Mount Superior, Raymond’s, Wolverine and way out past Park City to the distant peaks and haze. These are all areas I have come to greatly respect; their power gives me life and energy.

On the summit of Baldy, however, we were met with a very different sight. Chip’s Run at Snowbird had become a enormous sloppy dirt road for vehicles to access Hidden Peak’s unsightly development. Our conversations and blissful mountain gusto were disrupted by the grind of heavy machinery and clunky metal infrastructure. The Bird was indeed dirty.

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Snowbird Hidden Peak Snowbird Hidden Peak

Many experiences like this one over the years have lead to the realization that The Wasatch is not unlimited at all. It is in fact far from it, it is at capacity. Every year I see a new plan for the mountains. These plans are sold as progress, and that seemingly never ends. As early as my second winter in the Wasatch the idea of SkiLink came to surface. Then Talisker, then Vail Resorts. These projects are not beneficial to us as skiers, they are simply marketing ploys that benefit a one percent of the ski industry. Now ONE Wasatch and Snowbird’s goals for American Fork are quickly becoming a compromise that we are willing to make.

There is no more time for compromise. The time for a permanent protection from unnecessary resort development is right now. The resorts will continue to be tourist destinations and they will thrive within the beautiful wilderness outside of their boundaries as they always have. They do not need more “progress”. ONE Wasatch is a terrible idea. A new tram, restaurant, or “convention center,” zip lines, alpine slides or other carnival like distractions in the alpine are all terrible ideas.

We only get one Wasatch Range and we have added enough human influence as it is. Today is our time to work with the land, for the land. If we don’t, we will lose all that is valuable about this place that has so much to offer; to me, to you, and to future generations.

Jack Stauss, University of Utah Environmental Humanities Graduate Student, is SOC’s Summer Research Intern.



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