Push in Congress for SkiLink appears dead for now
Washington • Momentum for a gondola between Canyons and Solitude ski resorts stalled in the past session of Congress and might be dead this year as well.
So far, none of Utah's federal officials plans to reintroduce legislation that would require the Forest Service to sell land along the ridge between the two popular resorts, removing federal-approval requirements that would make it easier for Canyons to build the SkiLink connection between them.
"There is this more-comprehensive approach to transportation in our canyons," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, whose district would include SkiLink, said last week. He was referring to an environmental impact statement (EIS) in the early stages of development that is expected to take a sweeping look at future transportation needs in a region that includes the Cottonwood canyons, Park City and Salt Lake City International Airport. "It's probably best to let that play itself out."
The Canadian company Talisker, which owns Canyons Resort, had pushed SkiLink in the House last year. The legislation won support of the Natural Resources Committee on a party-line vote. But Talisker signed a 50-year lease in May turning over operations of Canyons to Vail Resorts, which has since said it is studying the SkiLink proposal but has not decided whether to pursue the idea.
Rep. Rob Bishop, who had pushed the bill in 2012, isn't sure if he will again introduce the legislation. Rep. Chris Stewart doesn't plan to add any measure on SkiLink, either.
On the Senate side, Sen. Orrin Hatch's office says he's looking at all the transportation options but hasn't decided whether to push the SkiLink measure. Sen. Mike Lee's office sees no movement on the bill.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, opposes SkiLink.
Last year's bill, which died when the session ended, would have required the Forest Service to sell 30 acres in Big Cottonwood Canyon to Talisker so the company could build an eight-person gondola that would zip skiers between resorts in 11 minutes. That's shorter and more environmentally considerate, supporters argue, than the one-hour drive between Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Detractors worry it would set a bad precedent to sell Forest Service land to a private company and that development would hurt the protected watershed.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams previously asked Utah's congressional delegation not to push the SkiLink bill until the environmental study process, known as Wasatch Summit, is completed several years from now. He said Friday that he's thankful the urgent push for congressional legislation has taken a step back.
"I'm optimistic," McAdams said, "because any solutions for the canyons should be locally driven and take a comprehensive view."