This week's cover story, "Broken Link," dissects the controversy behind SkiLink, and why its supporters and those who oppose it both say they're on the environmental high ground. But what is SkiLink, and what does it mean for skiers and valley dwellers? Find answers to your burning questions below.
What is SkiLink?
SkiLink is a proposed gondola that would connect Canyons Resort in Summit County with the Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake County. SkiLink’s primary backer is Talisker Mountain Inc., the international real-estate and resort company that owns Canyons
Where will it be built?
The gondola will require a line of 25 lift towers that begin in The Colony, a private, gated community on the east side of Canyons. The towers will rise to the Wasatch crest ridgeline that divides Summit and Salt Lake counties, descend through what is currently national forest land in Big Cottonwood Canyon, cross over SR-190, and terminate near the Eagle Express base area at Solitude Mountain Resort. The total length of the gondola route will be approximately three miles and take 11 minutes to travel, according to Talisker.
How much land is needed to build the gondola?
As pending in Congress, the “Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act” requires the U.S. Forest Service to sell a corridor of approximately 30 acres of public land to Canyons to construct the gondola. Canyons managing director Mike Goar says the strip will be 150 feet wide to allow for “wiggle room” during the lift tower construction.
What will the gondola look like?
Each gondola car will transport eight skiers and their gear. According to Goar, the gondolas will be enclosed, painted white along with the towers, and removed during the summer,
Could Talisker use the land to develop more condos?
Yes, says Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons (SOC). He also suggests another developer could build residences on nearby, privately owned land. But Goar says that Canyons has “no interest short term or long term of building in that area.”
Will the gondola require access roads?
Goar says the towers will be installed by helicopters, built by hand and serviced from the lift itself. He insists that no access roads or ski runs will be built near the gondola route in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Does SkiLink cut across proposed wilderness?
Yes, according to SOC’s Fisher. He says that SkiLink will cut through the Mount Olympus wilderness area proposed in the legislation introduced by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah. In response, Goar says that the wilderness bill was dead when SkiLink legislation was introduced. But he said Talisker is willing to adjust the gondola route to accommodate any proposed wilderness.
Will skiers be able to exit the gondola along the route?
No. The original SkiLink design included a chair-lift with a mid-terminal unloading station at the top of the ridgeline. Goar says that Talisker has eliminated that option from the current proposal because of feedback from Ted Wilson and others.
Would SkiLink harm the Salt Lake watershed?
Not according to water quality studies commissioned by Talisker. “The science shows that the lift can be built without adversely impacting water quality,” says Goar. But Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, whose administration is responsible for managing the watershed, claims the congressional process prevents adequate watershed and environmental analysis of the project.
Who supports SkiLink?
Besides Talisker, SkiLink is supported by the LiftUtah coalition, which includes Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, the chambers of commerce serving Park City, Sandy, and the Salt Lake area, as well as representatives from local law firms, vacation companies, homebuilders and investment companies. In March 2012, the Utah Legislature passed a resolution supporting SkiLink along mostly party lines.
Who opposes SkiLink?
Stop SkiLink is an umbrella organization run by Save Our Canyons that includes Utah businesses and nonprofits like the Sierra Club, Black Diamond, Petzl and the Wasatch Mountain Club, as well as national entities like Patagonia, Eastern Mountain Sports, and The Wilderness Society. Local politicians like Ralph Becker, Peter Corroon, Ben McAdams, and most of the Democratic members of the Legislature also oppose SkiLink.
How much would it cost to ride SkiLink?
The price hasn’t been determined yet, but Goar suggests it will be a surcharge of less than $10 added to the cost of a future Canyons-Solitude multi-resort pass.
Will SkiLink encourage more backcountry skiing?
Not likely, given that the current gondola plan has eliminated an unloading station at the Wasatch Crest. However, if unloading stations were added to the route in the future, skiers would be able to access backcountry terrain by gondola that was previously reachable only by human power.
What happens if the SkiLink bill becomes law?
Talisker would purchase the 30 acres of land at a fair-market value and begin the planning and approval process to build the gondola. Talisker says the project would undergo a full federal and local environmental analysis, while SOC’s Fisher and others dispute this. The gondola project would be subject to local requirements and ordinances that govern development on private land in the Cottonwood Canyons and watershed areas, which are less restrictive than those on public land.