Skiers and snowboarders board a gondola on a crisp Saturday afternoon eager to reach new runs. As they glide over the mountain, surrounded by the fresh powder, they laugh at the thought of the long drive they normally would have taken to go from Park City to Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Talisker Inc., owner of Canyons Ski Resort, and other proponents of the SkiLink gondola hope to make such a scene a reality, by connecting Canyons Ski Resort in Park City and Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Before they can move forward they must receive Congressional approval. However, opponents are trying to push alternatives to the gondola.
Tom Richardson, founder of Ski Our Canyons Responsibly, a group that has given support to the project, said this provides a whole new experience for skiers and snowboarders in Utah.
“This is world class stuff we’re talking about,” Richardson said. “It puts us in the league of many of the large resorts in Europe.”
Richardson said snow sport enthusiasts will have 5,200 acres of runs, making it the second largest ski complex in North America.
In addition to recreational benefits, studies performed by SkiLink have shown positive environmental effects as well. SkiLink commissioned a study showing the elimination of more than 18,000 car trips up Big Cottonwood Canyon and 1 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Mike Goar, managing director of Canyons Ski Resort, said that these drivers taken off the road are primarily tourists coming to roam the Utah resorts.
Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, said that although the information may be accurate, these studies fail to take into account the emissions from the gondola.
“We’ve done some research and some number crunching and based on the energy consumption of ski lifts and it’s actually going to be a wash,” Fisher said. “Ski lifts basically run off of coal power and emit the exact same number if not more greenhouse gases than cars they are planning to take off the roads.
For Fisher, priority should be given to transporting skiers up and down the canyons before even considering intermountain transportation. Save Our Canyons has started several studies looking into these alternative transportation methods to solve inefficiency problems with the canyons current public transportation.
Goar agreed getting skiers and snowboarders up from the valley is the largest problem, and one they spend more time on solving then they have spent on SkiLink. He said Canyons has alleviated such problems through subsidizing costs for employees and season lift pass holders. With these measures in place, they have continued to push forward with SkiLink.
After resistance from the U.S. Forest Service, SkiLink supporters have proposed the Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act, H.R. 3452, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, granting them the sale of 30 acres of governmental lands in order to start development. Save Our Canyons believes that this legislation will eliminate a public process that could bring about a greater good.
“SkiLink basically neuters the dialogue from taking place,” Fisher said. “They’re saying, ‘We’re investing in trams rather than looking into trains, rather than looking into dedicated bus lanes and really the greater issues taking place.”
Goar said that the legislation does not grant immediate approval to the project, but will put it in the hands of local governments and citizens in Salt Lake and Summit Counties. In the end, Goar said local voices would be heard to determine the feasibility of the project.
“If (all concerns) can’t be adequately addressed (in the local processes) then it’s a project that shouldn’t go forward,” Goar said. “It’s local citizens that should decide it, not the federal government.”
Goar said the bill has passed the committee stage in the House of Representatives and is awaiting committee in the senate. With Congress in recess until after the election, both sides will be given a voice in the public opinion that may decide whether a skiers dream of having access to multiple resorts has current value or if more needs to be done at a local level.