The U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with Salt Lake City, the Sierra Club, and a number of local citizen groups and companies are opposed to legislation introduced in the last session of Congress to sell 30 acres of public forest land to Talisker Co., a Canadian real estate development and ski-resort corporation, for a gondola linking Solitude Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon with The Canyons Resort in Park City, which Talisker owns.
U.S. forest managers, working under the Agriculture Department, rightly argue that the resort expansion would result in damage to protected areas and Salt Lake City’s watershed, and would create a private land island in the middle of a national forest. Promoted disingenuously as “a transportation alternative,” the SkiLink project is, quite simply, an expansion of The Canyons Resort into Big Cottonwood Canyon. Any resort expansion into the sensitive watershed of the central Wasatch has been consistently opposed by the Forest Service, Salt Lake City and the residents of Salt Lake Valley. Further, as a practical matter, skiers at The Canyons would spend an hour and a half connecting between 4 lifts, and pay the price of a lift ticket (currently $105) just to reach the proposed gondola, making the “transportation alternative” unrealistic.
SkiLink or “The Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act” (as the US House of Representatives legislation HR 3452 and companion bill in the Senate S1883 is titled) was introduced in 2012 during the 112th Congress by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, along with Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz. They contended that the interconnecting gondola would create more than 500 permanent jobs and infuse more than $50 million into Utah’s economy by uniting 6,000 acres of skiable mountainside, claims that can only be substantiated by the developers. As of this writing (February, 2013), the Utah delegation has not yet re-introduced SkiLink in the 113th Congress.
Meanwhile, work is underway among environmental groups, local government agencies, the US Forest Service, and others, to comprehensively analyze transportation alternatives for the Wasatch front and ski areas so that all factors can beconsidered in an integrated and open manner. The Sierra Club supports this holistic approach to transportation planning, rather than a proposal such as SkiLink.