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Utah resorts look to link
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - Email this article to a friend

Connecting the main US resorts in Utah would create a huge ski area to rival anything The Alps has to offer. It has been the dream of some for many years and may be moving a step closer. PlanetSKI reports from Utah.

Standing at the top of Jupiter Peak in the resort of Park City ski terrain can be seen in every direction.

One way is Deer Valley and the other way is Canyons.

Over a ridgeline is Solitude and Brighton while just over another is Alta and Snowbird.

The only trouble is they are not linked and it is against the rules to ski between them except on an organised tour.

If linked there would be over 20,000 acres of slopes.

It would dwarf the largest single ski area in the USA, Vail, that has 5,289 acres.

It would rival the Trois Vallees, Espace Killy, the Portes du Soleil, the Milky Way and any of the massive linked ski areas of The Alps. It would certainly be the biggest ski area in North America by a country mile.

It would arguably be the best too with the gentle and flattering slopes of Deer Valley linked to the steep and advanced terrain of Snowbird and Alta that have already joined up.

Seen through European eyes it is a no-brainer but for Utah it is not quite as simple.  Firstly there are local politics as each resort is separate and owned by families or small groups and some like it that way. 

The rope in questionThe rope in questionDeer Valley prides itself on being,er, Deer Valley and unlike anywhere else.

In places it is separated by a single rope from Park City and it has not intention, at the moment, of taking it down.

Secondly there are significant environmental concerns and the lobby group is vocal and armed with evidence.

However things may be changing.

The first steps are being made with a proposed lift connecting Canyons with Solitude.

SkiLink would be an 8-passenger gondola that would have a journey time of 11 minutes. It would carry 1,000 people per hour in each direction.

It is currently the subject of the Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act, proposed by four members of Utah's Congressional delegation: Rep. Rob Bishop, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee.

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It would provide 6,000 acres of interconnected ski terrain.

"SkiLink creates a game-changing advantage for Utah and for the US snowsport industry. It would establish Utah as the most interesting and convenient mountain destination in the US and will positively benefit our local economies," said Mike Goar, managing director, Canyons, a Talisker Mountain Inc. resort.

Talisker took over the management of Canyons and has ambitious plans for what is already the 4th largest resort in the USA.

The resort claims the new lift would provide 500 new permanent jobs and inject $51 million into the local economy.

Potentially less trafficPotentially less trafficIt goes on to claim a reduction in traffic through Big Cottonwood Canyon by as much as 18,000 cars per year.

"Initially that means around 1 million fewer miles driven per year and around 1 million fewer pounds of greenhouse gas emissions," claimed the resort in a statement.

However back country skiers and conservationists are against the proposal and argue it might actually create more traffic in the Big Cottonwood Canyon as it would give back-door access to Canyons from Salt Lake City.

As well as this single connecting lift there are also the first steps being made for full interconnection of Park City, Deer Valley, Canyons, Brighton, Solitide, Alta and Snowbird.

This month a plan was unveiled in The Utah Senate to connect the seven ski resorts.

It was drafted by Senator Wayne Niederhauser.

Linking the resorts would bolster Utah's tourism and ski industries while providing environmental and safety benefits, he argued.

"Connecting the ski resorts in Summit County and Salt Lake County will create a skiing experience unavailable anywhere else in North America," the resolution said, predicting an interconnect would create jobs and "reposition Utah's ski and snowboard experience to be even more competitive and attractive relative to other states."

As well as political opposition from some in the resorts there are worries about the environment.

Conservation groups have fought against the idea for many years whether it involved using tunnels from bygone mining days or new lifts.

The supporters though use environmental arguments for their case and the resolution claims linking the areas would reduce pollution and protect watersheds.

 Something over the horizonSomething over the horizon"It's really an exciting time for Utah's ski industry, with the possibility of this unprecedented opportunity. The concept is sound and to move between ski areas without getting into a car is one that I hope everybody could get behind," said the President of Ski Utah, Nathan Rafferty, to local media after the resolution was put forward.

According to conversations we have had at PlanetSKI with locals here in Utah the smart money is on the link between Canyons and Solitude going ahead. Eventually.

Any longer term linking of the seven resorts is some way off but momentum is developing. 

With Salt Lake City considering a fresh bid for The Winter Olympics in 2022, as we reported earlier from Salt Lake City, plans to link the ski resorts will certainly come up the agenda.

Watch this space.

It is currently possible to ski between the resorts but only on the official Interconnect tour that we reported on within this story.

Below is a video interview with one of the guides on the tour, Bob Merrill.

We also touched on the subject in the video snow report below that was filmed earlier this month.

The snow details are obviously out of date, but our content editor also gives a general report into what Utah is like.

For the spirit of the mountains

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