Canyons marred by development
By ray diehl
With the end of ski season, mountain areas transition to summer uses. Salt Lake area ski resorts generally work on upgrades to their facilities. Along with this comes the seemingly endless pursuit of new skiable terrain.
Meanwhile, the jewel of the Wasatch, the Cottonwood canyons, slowly disappear under the weight of resort expansion. Who are the true beneficiaries of the unbridled development?
The Cottonwood canyons have suffered significantly over the last 150-plus years due to a lack of vision. Logging and mining have had significant impacts on the canyons. Luckily, time and nature have combined to heal many of those wounds. However, the mining activity and mining claim laws have moved large parcels of the canyons into private ownership and have spurred further development.
Unlike logging and mining, the addition of more and more lift towers , mid-slope restaurants and home sites (and accompanying maintenance and access roads) results in permanent degradation of natural resources from which the canyons will not recover. And, just who are the beneficiaries?
As the resorts expand, they clear and develop increasingly larger areas of undeveloped land. Snowbird pushed over the ridge to the American Fork drainage many years ago. Alta wants to cross the highway to the opposite side of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Canyons and Solitude are pushing SkiLink to increase the skiable acres they can offer to destination skiers.
SkiLink has been promoted as a means of helping local skiers by easing their travels to Solitude and Canyons resorts. Yet the profusion of overnight accommodations at Canyons and Solitude raises questions about which skiers the proposed lift will generally serve. SkiLink will allow both resorts to advertise a substantial increase in skiable acres accessed from each resort, but is not a major draw for local skiers on a day trip to either of the resorts. So will SkiLink really benefit Utahns?
As the local ski resorts continue to focus on destination skiers, more and more locals get priced out of the market. More and more of the skiing is done by vacationers from far away, while locals fill the often low-paying service jobs. In the Bible story, Esau sold his birthright for "a mess of pottage," Might we be doing the same thing with our nearby mountain canyons?
The courts are currently dealing with the aftermath of a failed effort to change a southern Utah ski resort from a publicly accessible resort to a private resort open only to vacation home owners in the adjacent development. While this particular enterprise did not fare well, it may be a sign of things to come.
The corporate entity that owns Canyons resort also owns much of the skiable acreage used by Park City resort. Canyons has also made overtures for cooperation with Solitude via the SkiLink proposal. As ski ticket prices continue to rise, troubling questions arise about where affordable skiing access for locals may be headed.
Salt Lake area residents are blessed to have so much undeveloped mountain land in their backyard. People from all over the country travel great distances every summer to enjoy natural areas such as the Tetons and Yellowstone.
Here we have incredible natural areas with incomparable outdoor hiking and picnicking experiences minutes from a major metropolitan area. But if canyon development is left unchecked, we too may have to travel elsewhere to enjoy nature at its best.
Ray Diehl is a business analyst living in Murray. He describes himself as a lifelong lover of the Wasatch Range.