SkiLink is not big enough
By wally jarman
As my mother used to say "The tourist's dollar is the best dollar." The come, they spend, they leave. Unlike mining, or fracking.
According to the 2011 Economic Report to the Governor, the major industries in Utah were: mining ($8.4 billlion), tourism ($6.5 billion), construction ($3.5 billion), agriculture ($1.38 billion), energy (dollar amount not given).
Utah had 4.2 million skier visits in the 2010-11 season, which surprisingly has been roughly the same since 2005. Its population in 2010 was 2.7 million; a 24 percent increase from 2000. The increase is more than twice the national average, and Utah has the youngest median age in the country. Those people will need jobs.
For the tremendous ski experience people find in Utah to continue, resorts must expand. Imagine the current population of Utah, and its visitors, skiing in the 1970s-era resorts. Admit it, we've gotten spoiled. We are used to small lift lines and big terrain. There's no going back. It would not be tolerated by locals or tourists.
However, this ski resort expansion has not come without detrimental effects, and it does not take a traffic study to realize one of the biggest problems is traffic in the Cottonwood canyons. Unfortunately, much or all of resort expansion has been without a master plan (or coherent vision).
Utah ski resorts have two unique features: plenty of good snow and proximity to Salt Lake City and to one another. The idea of linking Wasatch resorts has been around since Brighton was built on the other side of the mountain from Alta, and it gained proponents in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In 1988, Gov. Norm Bangerter endorsed a plan to build a system of lifts to connect the major resorts. In 1990, Bob Theobald, a Utah native and pioneer in freestyle skiing, proposed linking Park City to Little and Big Cottonwood canyons with a series of 28 "skytrams." A 1988 Deseret News poll on whether to build an interconnect between the two Cottonwood canyons yielded an exact tie.
Which, unfortunately, brings us to SkiLink. Unfortunate, because the discussion has become so emotional, shortsighted and lacking in vision. SkiLink as a stand-alone project might not be a very good idea, However, SkiLink as a spoke in a wheel of a thought-out master plan connecting ski resorts might be a good thing. SkiLink should stimulate discussion of the future, and, as Salt Lake Tribune columnist Tom Wharton proposed, a comprehensive Wasatch canyons master plan with all stakeholders involved.
Imagine a Little Cottonwood Canyon without cars, a cog railway transporting skiers to the top of the canyon, where then you could ski any of the connected resorts, possibly with hotels and/or huts located between. Remember, this is one of the only places in North America that could provide a European-style resort linkage.
It's foolish to say to tourists "If you don't like it here, go somewhere else." As the governor's report noted: "Competition among nearby destinations for the local and regional markets will continue to intensify." One has to be realistic that the ski industry in Utah should, and will, continue to grow.
The question is, how do we want our resorts to grow? Piecemeal? Or with a vision?
Wally Jarman has been skiing in Utah for almost 50 years and has been backcountry touring for more than half of that. His great-grandfather's company built some of the first ski lifts in Utah.
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