Plans move forward to link seven Utah ski resorts

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah ski officials said Tuesday they’ve chosen two spots for lifts that would be lynchpins in an ambitious long-term plan to link seven ski areas that would give the state a European-style experience.

The new details mark another small step forward in a project that is likely many years away from coming to fruition. Executives from seven ski resorts committed to the project in April after decades of discussion.

One lift would be in Grizzly Gulch and connect Solitude Mountain Resort in the Big Cottonwood Canyon to Alta Ski Area in the Little Cottonwood Canyon, Ski Utah announced. The other would be at Guardsman Pass and link Park City Mountain Resort to Brighton Resort in the Big Cottonwood.

The project remains in the conceptual phase with the latest announcement intended to illicit feedback and create excitement, said Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, a trade organization spearheading the project.

“We just want to be deliberate and thoughtful in how this rolls out,” Rafferty said, while adding, “It’s an exciting and fun step for our industry here in Utah.”

The project is expected to cost up to $30 million, paid for entirely by the resorts. No timetable has been set for work.

It would link Alta Ski Area, Brighton Resort, Canyons Resort, Deer Valley Resort, Park City Mountain Resort, Snowbird Ski Resort and Solitude Mountain Resort. Skiers who buy one pass would have access to 100 lifts, 750 ski runs and more than 18,000 skiable acres.

By combining 25 square miles of terrain, the Utah resorts could offer North America’s largest skiing complex — three times the size of Vail, Colorado and twice as big as Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia.

It would create an experience unique to North America. In Europe, lifts connecting ski areas are common. In the U.S., a daily pass to a ski resort usually confines you to that resort no matter how close a neighboring resort is.

The project, which is being called “One Wasatch,” is opposed by backcountry skiers and wilderness advocates who say more buildup will damage pristine areas used by outdoor enthusiasts and harm the watershed.

The new details did nothing to alleviate their concerns. The project is a marketing ploy to bring more skiers to the state at the expense of hikers, backcountry skiers, snowshoers and wildlife photographers who would be negatively affected, said Alex Schmidt, campaign coordinator of Save Our Canyons.

“We want to preserve this area for its wild qualities,” Schmidt said.

Rafferty is aware of the concerns and said they are working with all groups. He said the ski resorts have long been good stewards of the watershed, and emphasized that it’s not impossible to link the resorts while protecting the environment and backcountry.

“While it does take some new terrain to make these connections possible, I don’t think it irreparably damages our unrivaled backcountry experience,” Rafferty said.

The two spots chosen for connecting points were picked by ski area officials who know the terrain best as the most efficient spots, Rafferty said. But, with the project in its infancy stages, they remain open to suggestions, he said.

A third connecting point needs to be selected to link Canyons Resort and Park City Mountain Resort, Rafferty said. Such plans have been delayed as long-running legal battle involving the resorts plays out, he said.

The upcoming ski season is set to begin in Utah in about two months.

To learn more about the plan, read Utah chairlift plan would link 7 ski resorts

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