Alta is often hailed as the birthplace of skiing and one of the last remaining staunchly traditional ski areas. Sadly, according to the their new master development plan, it appears that at 80 years old Alta is ready to cash in its birthright.
In Alexis Kelner’s Skiing in Utah: A History, he quotes one of Alta’s first residents: “… to some skiers, one of the fascinations of Alta is the chance to get completely away from the crowds and, in just a few moments, find untracked snow amid the beauties of nature… Complete solitude is not often so readily available. However, that will not last forever; already there is talk of a series of lifts connecting up all of the surrounding terrain. This will surely come someday and then Alta will not be quite the same. A few will shed a tear, but most will not understand why.”
The comments on Alta’s newly proposed changes, which are authored by people from around Utah and across the country, fear that tears will soon be streaming down the faces of those who have been romanticized by Alta.
Simply put, a tram to the top of Baldy is an abomination, both for the skiers and the appreciators of the Wasatch. What’s worse, if Alta cannot seem to even own their true intention of robbing the masses of a rite of passage of hiking Baldy, cowardly proposing yet another (Flagstaff, Grizzly) conveyance system under the guise of avalanche control. As if Baldy wasn’t enough, they are proposing to litter Devil’s Castle with avalanche infrastructure. Finally, we’ve worked for years to shift from cars to transit. It seemed we were on the cusp, but now they invest in more parking. Collectively, this is a myopic distraction from consensus-driven actions that truly need our action to steward the Wasatch.
The Tribune story failed to mention how the Forest Service gave Alta a categorical exclusion, refusing to conduct an environmental analysis on their proposal to replace the Supreme lift. The result, not mentioned anywhere in the article, was the destruction of native wetlands in Albion Basin. According to a May 25, 2016 letter signed by Sandy City, Salt Lake City, and Metropolitan Water of Salt Lake and Sandy, “Ground disturbance and alteration at or near wetlands pose direct threats to water quality and quantity. The importance of high altitude wetlands to water quality both down-canyon and in the Albion Basin cannot be overstated.” These three entities charged with protecting our water quality asked for “scrutiny” for these “extremely fragile long-standing unique wetland areas” and requested specifically that a categorical exclusion not be allowed for any portion of the proposal. Both Alta and the Forest Service disregarded this request and bulldozed forward (literally). Where once nutrient-rich wetlands filtered water, reduced erosion and improved the quality of our drinking water, there now stands several concrete monuments forever altering this irreplaceable ecosystem.
We recount this saga from a few months ago not to lament what could have easily been avoided, but to urge caution in adopting Alta’s other proposals before the public today. All of these projects will impact the fragile high alpine environment and its wildlife, not to mention our quality of life, our values, ultimately impairing what can only be described as the “Romance of Alta.” Mountains in the winter are harsh environs: snow blows, avalanches release, temperatures are unforgiving. We don’t need to protect people from these elements, rather expose them to the wonderful extremes of our mountains, hopefully earning respect (and blissful tears) for these splendid massifs and the life they support as generations before us have.
Carl Fisher is the executive director of Save Our Canyons