While I grew up in the shadow of Utah’s Mt. Olympus, I haven’t lived in my home state for more than seven years while I have pursued my Ph.D. overseas. Instead, I’ve had to turn to the Alps of Austria, Switzerland and Italy to get my fix of the mountain solitude that made a permanent impression of not only my hobbies and leisure, but my very identity.
And while the mountains of Europe are truly impressive, they lack a unique aspect of Utah’s mountains, in that in Utah there are still “wild” places that are hard to reach. I believe preserving this wilderness, a core tenant of our identity in the Intermountain West, is extremely important because we can never get it back once it’s gone.
That being said, Little Cottonwood Canyon has been a congestion nightmare since I was a kid. These little mountain roads just cannot get everyone up and down the canyon safely or fast enough. In order to preserve this slice of wilderness on Salt Lake’s back porch, there needs to be efficient and environmentally conscious ways of accessing the resorts and trails.
In this regard, I think a gondola is the best option to ensure access while reducing the number of cars driving through the canyon. Ideally, a gondola solution would be well connected with transit options so you wouldn’t need a car to get there at all. An added benefit is being able to relax while taking a quiet gondola ride on the way home from a day of intense skiing or hiking rather than sitting in a traffic jam (and not having your wife hold a plastic bag for dear life while driving down a winding canyon road). Of course, care should be taken that access to the canyon does not become a luxury commodity, with rates kept affordable particularly for valley residents and students.
Every time I visit home things have changed, but the activities I enjoy doing in Utah remain the same. I still take my niece hiking in the Cottonwoods. Oktoberfest brings a little European flair to the state and I love spending the day with good food and beautiful scenery with friends. I will take every opportunity to shred the Greatest Snow on Earth (which I can vouch for with experience on European snow). But Utah is growing and the conversation concerning the canyon has come to a head.
In the end, I hope Utah’s mountains never become as fully tamed as their European counterparts, but we should also take what has worked well in other parts of the world to solve the problems we already have. It’s a good solution for our current congestion issues and for the next generation to enjoy Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Jacob A. Nelson grew up in Holladay and is currently a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany.