In a recent issue of UAJ, writer Lee Cohen took a look at the idea of interconnected resorts, or the so called “Interconnect” linking up Wasatch Ski Resorts, Euro style- via chairlifts. The idea once so popular, but largely under the radar for the past several years, has never gone away he discovered. It has been simmering for years, with many pieces of a puzzle including land ownership, water preservation, and access as being the keys to making it happen. Recently, Talisker Corp., owner of Canyons Resort, announced plans to develop a tram or chairlift that would connect the resort in Summit County, over the spine of the Wasatch, to Solitude Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. One of the main arguments for the lift is to alleviate traffic and congestion in Big Cottonwood. Here are two views to the debate.
Hook It Up!
By Andrew McLean
I can’t believe that the seven major resorts in the Central Wasatch haven’t been connected already. If this was Europe it would have been done decades ago, which would have relieved many of the problems the canyons are now facing. Enough doinkin’ around with roller coasters and phony phestivals –connect those dots!
Nothing says “European Ski Resort” like trains and affordable public transportation. For many Euro resorts, you fly in, land in a major airport, walk downstairs, get on a train and arrive right in the center of Resortenhaffen with no need for a car. This is an excellent concept for the Wasatch as well, and the place to start is the mess called Little Cottonwood Canyon. This canyon has one of the highest concentrations of avalanche paths in the U.S., and packing it with stuck cars is a disaster waiting to happen. Known as “the red snake,” these stuck cars are often not the result of too many vehicles, but of 2wd rental cars being crashed by inexperienced drivers, or UDOT closing the road. Even the slightest accident blocks the road in both directions for hours at a time. This canyon needs a safe, sheltered, reliable Euro style rail system complete with snow sheds and transfer stations at Snowbird and Alta.
From Alta it is only 2.2 miles in a straight line over to Brighton, which is child’s play for a European tunneling project. There are already many miles of existing mining tunnels under the central Wasatch, and for comparison, the English Channel tunnel is 31 miles long. Two miles is nothing. The town of Brighton would be perfectly situated as another transfer hub at the head of Big Cottonwood and would serve both the Brighton and Solitude ski resorts.
From Big Cottonwood into Park City, the plot thickens, but not by much. Unbeknownst to many tram proponents, transportation infrastructure already exists and has been there for over 100 years in the form of the Guardsman’s Pass road. This existing roadbed is begging for a rail system and I can already envision the postcards depicting a cheery little train packed full of smiling faces as it chugs across the crest of a snow capped Wasatch on its way to sinner’s paradise – Park City.
Once in “No Parking City” this interconnect plan score again, as no cars equals no hassles in this town which was laid out before the Ford Model T was invented. Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort and the Canyons all rub shoulders with each other and skiing between them is only a matter of their respective CEO’s allowing it. Luggage hauling between the resorts would once again be done with a train and I’ll even take the liberty of naming it – The Snyderville Basin Powder Express. Interstate 80 completes the loop back to the airport and now has public transportation as well as an endless supply of resort shuttle buses.
As a form of transportation, aerial tramways and chairlifts are often attributed to Europe, but in reality they are more fitting for places like Disneyland. Trams are seasonally operated, run only during daylight hours and are completely unrealistic ways to haul loads of luggage, plus you have to buy a ski pass. A family of four could rent a car for a week for less than the cost of a single tram ride up and over from one canyon to another. I also doubt that Newark Nick and his family are going to want to ski with their luggage if they have to move by tram.
The Central Wasatch needs an interconnect vision that extends beyond the resort’s latest marketing scheme. Ski tourism is an important part of our economy, but that doesn’t mean we should be giving away pristine public lands to faceless foreign private equity firms and trusting them with our mountain’s future. To truly become world class, or at least Euro class, we need to invest in a rail system by allocating public funds or issuing bonds. Considering Little, Big, Parley’s and Park City all used to be serviced by railroads, this is hardly a farfetched fantasy. We need an all-season, all-condition system that serves the needs of locals as well as tourists. Indiscriminately plugging in trams only escalates the battle between the resorts and if one gets a tram, the others will be close behind. If this happens the Wasatch will be a lost cause of tangled tram lines, ruined mountainscapes and privatized public land. These mountains will outlast all of us (including the resorts) and will be cherished by future generations. We need to stop thinking about selfish short term goals like profits and powder, and create infrastructure that will help preserve the Wasatch Mountains.
Andrew McLean lives in Park City and is a fourth generation Utard who made his first turns at Alta before moving on to ski all seven continents.
A Game Changing Experience
By Mike Goar
For years, conversation has waxed and waned about an “Interconnect” that would connect the Wasatch Range ski resorts into a mega resort. To clear up any confusion, the proposal of a transportation connection between Canyons and Solitude is not this “Interconnect.” Rather, it is an idea to connect Canyons and Solitude resorts via a lift or a tram providing an alternative to driving between the two resorts.
A well-planned and conscientious approach to connect Canyons to Solitude coupled with an open process of public comment and input is a good move forward for skiers and snowboarders, easing transportation and our local economy.
SKIERS AND SNOWBOARDERS
Utah has an exciting opportunity to enhance two of the state’s renowned ski resorts and create a game changing advantage.
This proposed connection has the potential to solidify Utah as the go-to destination for skiing in the United States. Utah is known for having the greatest snow on earth and earned worldwide recognition for our state during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. We now have the tremendous opportunity to forever change the ski industry in Utah and once again stand on the world stage by offering an experience unmatched by any other in our country – access to 6,000 acres of existing skiable terrain.
We recognize that a discussion about facilitating access between resorts brings about concerns of increasing access to the backcountry and being a primer to expansion. The idea of this proposed connection is to provide transportation between the Wasatch front and back via a lift or tram to the already developed terrain at Canyons and Solitude resorts.
Projections show our population is expected to double along the Wasatch Front over the next 30 years and skier visits are anticipated to grow at a steady increase of at least two percent each year over the next 10 years1. With this continued influx of people our traffic congestion problems will only escalate.
Many organizations throughout our State are looking at a variety of options to alleviate the growing congestion in the Cottonwood Canyons. From expanding shuttle and bus service to evaluating the feasibility of mountain rail, there are a number of ideas that are being discussed and evaluated. We see our proposed connection as a solution that is complementary to these ideas that would specifically move people between Canyons and Solitude resorts.
While we don’t envision this proposed connection as a ‘silver bullet’ for Utah’s traffic congestion problems, it is a solution that would contribute to the public good. A recent traffic study determined that a lift or tram would reduce ski season traffic from those drivers that roam between Canyons and Solitude resorts by as much as 18,000 cars per year. That means traffic in the canyons could drop by as much as 10 percent on peak days. The study also found that initially, the connection would mean 1 million fewer miles driven per year and around 1 million fewer pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to the benefit of reducing cars on our roadways, this lift or tram would enhance the ski experience by creating a convenient alternative to the 60-minute, 40-plus-mile drive between the two canyons. Skiers and snowboarders could travel between resorts in only five and a half minutes by tram or 12 minutes by high-speed chairlift. People coming to either Solitude or to Canyons that will use the connection, including those wishing to avoid Big Cottonwood traffic, would enjoy excellent runs at Canyons on their way to access the connection and then a quick ride over to Solitude to ski the excellent runs at Solitude resort.
In addition to offering a unique world-class skiing experience and helping to decrease traffic congestion between the two resorts, the Canyons and Solitude connection would create jobs resulting from the project itself and by attracting more tourists to our state, add dollars into our local economy.
An outcome of an initial survey of residents living in the Wasatch Front and Back determined 72 percent of Utahns are in favor of a connection between Canyons and Solitude. When information about the projected economic benefits of this project were shared, 90 percent of those surveyed said they are more likely to support the project.
It is important to note that this proposed connection is in the beginning planning stages and there is a lot to study when a project of this scale is considered. Once the evaluation of a whether the transportation conveyance will be a lift or a tram is complete we look forward to sharing the full detail of the proposal.
There are a lot of discussions that remain ahead. Canyons values maintaining an open dialogue with skiers, the community and lawmakers and is committed to working together on this good move forward.
 InterPlan Transportation Planning. August 2010. Project Number 100247.
Mike Goar is the Managing Director at Canyons Resort. He has 36 years of ski resort industry experience, including 27 years at Solitude Mountain Resort.