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Editorial: Grand ski dream needs to fit in larger Wasatch plan

Skiers’ dream must fit in larger plan

First Published Mar 20 2014 05:12 pm • Last Updated Mar 20 2014 05:12 pm

With much fanfare this week, the seven ski resorts in the central Wasatch Mountains joined together in a historic moment to announce ... a logo.

Actually, they were there to announce an idea to connect the seven resorts by ski lifts, something that has been talked about in various forms for half a century at least. And they’re still just talking. The principals in this endeavor, led by the trade organization Ski Utah, offered no specific plan or timetable for connecting the resorts. This was really just a show of unity by a group of resorts that haven’t always been on the same page, and still aren’t in many ways. (Two of them still are embroiled in a huge lawsuit.)

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Called "OneWasatch," the project would allow skiers to move across 18,000 acres of terrain through 100 ski lifts. There would be nothing in North America like it. The resorts say they can make it happen with about six more lifts, but they’re not exactly sure where the lifts would be.

Thankfully, the ski people were quick to point out that they were only introducing a concept, and they pledged to work through a public process to have a project that preserves both the public watershed and the pristine experience of backcountry skiers and other recreationists outside the resorts. They also emphasized that the estimated $30 million cost would be paid by the resorts, and they intend to locate the new lifts on private land, not National Forest land. If they can find routes over mountain passes without crossing Forest Service land, it likely will reduce the approval process.

Of course, that streamlined process is not what Save Our Canyons and Wasatch Backcountry Alliance want. Both groups fear that even if the lifts are kept on private land, the thousands of people they transport to ridgetops would damage the peace and beauty of the backcountry. They also point out that any disruption of nature, including ski lift construction and operation, will have an effect on the watershed.

The ski industry has been good to Utahns, including those who don’t ski. It pumps $1 billion a year into our economy, and most of that is generated by these seven resorts. This idea is discussed in the context of staying competitive with Colorado and California. Having 100 ski lifts accessible with one ski pass would be good leverage when our tourism folks are out there competing for tour groups and conventions.

The resorts say they are pursuing this within the framework of "Mountain Accord," a recently announced planning process that is bringing together all the industry, citizen and government players to plan the future of the Central Wasatch. This planning process — which includes both the resorts and the environmentalists — goes well beyond skiing to consider transportation, water quality and recreation.

Ultimately, Mountain Accord is bigger than OneWasatch. The Central Wasatch is home to all of us, not just the ski industry. We drink the snow that falls there, and we walk, slide and ride through those magnificent mountains in all four seasons. If OneWasatch can be made to work in that larger context, it deserves to be more than a logo.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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