Seven ski resorts populate Utah’s Central Wasatch Mountains, so close that dropping a rope can connect neighbors. That simple action already allows skiers and riders to travel between Alta and Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon or Brighton and Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Now, government support is building for some form of physical infrastructure linking resorts in Park City and near Salt Lake City.
Connecting the resorts is a historical talking point. The idea is to create an experience similar to that found in the Alps, where it’s possible to ski from resort to resort (and town to town) and catch a shuttle or tram back to your starting point. But after years of talk, the first sign of action came with the SkiLink proposal announced last November by Talisker, the company that owns Canyons in Park City. The planned SkiLink gondola would move guests from Canyons to Solitude—thus linking Big Cottonwood Canyon and Park City. The proposal was followed by federal legislation: The Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act allows for the sale of 30 acres of National Forest managed land to Talisker for the build out of the SkiLink gondola. On February 29, the bill moved to the House of Representatives after a 20–18 vote of approval by the Committee on Natural Resources.
Last week the state weighed in on the interconnection idea, but not on the SkiLink specifically. On March 6, a resolution passed both houses of the Utah legislature expressing support for a “low-impact interconnection” of the seven resorts. The resolution includes language that says interconnecting would promote growth of the Utah resort industry and, in turn, the state’s economy.
“From our perspective, it doesn’t matter how [the resorts] get connected, just as long as it does happen,” says Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah. “It’s too good of an idea not to happen at some point.” Rafferty said the state legislation was not aimed directly at SkiLink. Other options exist and interconnection does not mean environmental degradation. “We know for a fact that a healthy, sustainable watershed is not mutually exclusive to a healthy ski industry,” says Rafferty. “Low impact means using the best available practices and being responsible stewards of the land.”
Wasatch residents worry their voices and local oversight bodies have been sidelined. Andrew McLean, a ski mountaineer living in Park City, suggests a dangerous precedent is being set. “The fact that they are pushing Congress to force the sale of prime public land to a Canadian developer [Talisker] is deeply disturbing,” he says. “Right now all of that land is used and loved by skiers, hikers, snowshoers, hunters, and many other people. This forced sale would create a strip of private property right through a stretch of public land.” McLean is concerned that in pursuit of the interconnection goal other ski areas will use similar methods to acquire public lands, leading to increased development in the Wasatch. —Olivia Dwyer