By Erika Keffer
The greatest snow on Earth, our snow here in Utah, is cause for profit and environmental degradation.
Utah ski resorts have proposed several plans for expansion, including expanding skiable terrain and connecting Summit and Salt Lake counties over the Wasatch mountain range. These expansions are an unnecessary addition to the resorts and would have an enormous impact on the environment.
Alta seeks to add two separate lifts connecting to Big Cottonwood Canyon in two different gulches. Park City Mountain Resorts also wants two new lifts accessing Guardsman Pass and Brighton. Canyons Resort, the biggest in Utah, wants to build a tram to connect to Solitude, and Solitude wants another lift of its own for more skiable terrain. Also, Snowbird wants another tram.
These connector expansions, according to Ted Wilson, director of government affairs for Talisker Mountain Inc., are a “public service” and another way to access the high mountains. He admits it would also be profitable for his company. Wilson believes it will be an easier way for skiers to travel among Utah resorts and there would be no environmental impact.
This is ludicrous because Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons support the watershed that supplies drinking water to almost a half-million Utah residents. Providing easier access implies more recreators. In order to accommodate such recreation, concessions, restrooms and lodging are bound to follow. Also, more people mean more trash and less land for wildlife to roam and forage.
Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, said, “We as people are loving this place to death.” Traffic up and down Big and Little Cottonwood and Parleys Canyon causes severe pollution in the Salt Lake Valley. This is inevitable because of the enormous popularity of ski and snowboard tourism in Utah, but more reasons for people to travel the canyons is not helpful.
Expanding resorts in order to access more skiable terrain is profit-motivated and has a negative impact on the environment. All of the terrain where these resorts wish to expand is currently accessed by low environmental impact backcountry users who would be displaced if the expansions were put into effect. Backcountry skiers are more susceptible to avalanches because of the uncontrolled terrain, but there are great local resources about avalanche education.
If what these resorts are seeking is a more efficient way to get skiers from one resort to another, it would be more beneficial to negotiate lift ticket deals among resorts. Package deals for multiple resorts in the same canyon, or package deals for different nights at different resorts with corresponding lift tickets seems like a less impactful way to help winter tourists. Also, reworking the public transportation system to more effectively access the different canyons and resorts would benefit not only skiers and snowboarders, but ideally reduce pollution-causing traffic.
Changes like this would be much more beneficial to Utahans and visitors. We must protect our most valued resource, our champagne powder, and at the same time, drinking water.