Hayden Johnsen: Little Cottonwood Canyon does not have an infrastructure issue

Better ski bus service and carpooling make a lot more sense than an expensive gondola project.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) UTA and Central Wasatch Commission members gather at the Big Cottonwood Canyon park and ride lot on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, as the snow flies to remind residents about improvements to ski buses that will begin service on Nov. 29.

When I was in middle school, my parents would buy me a season pass to Snowbird. From Christmas break through early April, my friends and I would rope parents into driving us to the park and ride at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon early on Saturday mornings.

Getting on the bus always felt like an ordeal. It started with navigating the icy bus stop in plastic ski boots. The bus would be standing room only by the time it made it to the final stop before heading up the canyon. The floor of the bus was always wet and slick (one more obstacle in ski boots). You would get crammed into the aisle on the bus while trying to not maim someone with one of your skis or poles.

The reward was a day of making turns, but the day wasn’t complete until you went through that ordeal a second time to get back to the mouth of the canyon.

Riding the UTA ski bus played a part in why I asked my parents to help me buy a Jeep when I turned 16. A Jeep ensured I wouldn’t miss a powder day while also being vastly more comfortable (and cool) than the bus. It was infinitely better than being confined to the then limited bus schedule and having to gear up sometimes an hour before you would ever load on your first chairlift. I had made it. Why would I ever consider riding the ski bus again?

I started working at Snowbird towards the end of high school. Working meant getting to the resort earlier than my friends, so I had no one to help pitch in for gas. This became an issue due to gas prices being at an all-time high in the late 2000s.

Snowbird allowed employees to leave their gear at the Snowbird center. This completely changed my experience riding the bus. The bus solved my gas problem while being able to plug in my headphones or read a book on the way to work. Gone were the days of fumbling skis, poles and goggles while slipping and sliding on the slick floor of the bus while it weaved up the canyon. It was a completely different experience to board in street clothes for the six-mile ride.

The bus system is so much better than it was 15 years ago. The buses are newer, they are far more frequent and they are backed with software solutions like the UTA app. The bus may not work for all skiers/riders, but it is a good option for season pass holders who get a UTA pass for free, for solo riders who ski the same mountain throughout the season, and for anyone who is trying to manage their carbon footprint. We can make this a great option by providing subsidized locker rooms at the four resorts on the Wasatch Front for residents of Utah.

We do not need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the massive infrastructure that a gondola up Little Cottonwood Canyon will require. This proposed project would require year-round staffing, security and maintenance. It only attempts to solve the traffic issue 10 or 12 weekends a year for one of the two Cottonwood canyons. There are far more practical steps that need to be taken like improving access to mountainside lockers and incentivizing carpooling before pursuing a project that forever alters our beautiful mountains.

Hayden Johnsen

Hayden Johnsen was born and raised in Sandy. He now works in tech but considers himself an honorary ski bum.