Tram or lift could connect Canyons and Solitude
The idea of connecting ski resorts in Salt Lake and Summit counties is being resurrected, this time with a Talisker Mountain Inc. proposal to build a tram or lift between Canyons Resort and Solitude.
Ted Wilson, who has been Talisker's director of government affairs for two months, said Tuesday the plan is early in the development stage. But it is envisioned as a way of linking the two resorts without causing the kind of problems that have undercut previous interconnect proposals.
"We won't put anybody on the mountain. It's strictly transportation over the top of the [Wasatch Mountains] ridgeline to Solitude," said Wilson, a former Salt Lake City mayor who was an environmental adviser to Gov. Gary Herbert before joining Talisker. "We wouldn't be affecting backcountry skiing, which has always been one of the complaints about the interconnect."
Not everyone buys Wilson's argument.
"I don't believe that whatsoever," said Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, whose board showed little enthusiasm for the plan after receiving a briefing from Wilson earlier this month.
"What we see this doing is giving people a ride up to ski that [upper] side of Big Cottonwood, which has been free from development," he said. "That will alienate a larger user group [of backcountry skiers] who would get pushed out. They couldn't compete for fresh snow with a lift opening that area to thousands of people."
Efforts to contact Solitude Mountain Resort officials were unsuccessful late Tuesday.
Wilson said no proposals have been submitted to the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, whose approval likely would be needed for the transportation link be it a chairlift or a tram because any support structures on the Big Cottonwood Canyon side of the ridge would be on forest land.
Canyons Resort, which Toronto-based Talisker acquired from the collapsing American Skiing Co. in 2008, is already Utah's largest resort, with 4,000 skiable acres, all on private land.
Fisher said he first heard a nebulous idea about a Canyons lift more than a year ago, when Rep. Jim Matheson was trying to expand wilderness designations in the central Wasatch. But nothing came of it at the time, he said, and the idea was on Save Our Canyons' back burner until Talisker hired Wilson.
"We knew pretty much immediately what his job was going to be," Fisher said, contending Wilson faces a tough time showing the proposal is consistent with existing forest and watershed-protection plans.
"They have their work cut out for them, that's for sure," he said.
Wilson said a more detailed proposal probably will be announced in a couple of weeks.