Snowbird resort seeks permission for coaster in canyon

Published: Monday, Jan. 10 2011 7:08 p.m. MST

Two teens enjoy the zipline ride at Snowbird last summer. The resort is seeking permission from Salt Lake County to build a roller coaster in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — Snowbird Resort is seeking permission from Salt Lake County to build a roller coaster in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The ride promises lots of summertime fun if it's built, but it's already stirring controversy. Critics are especially upset about a bridge that will carry riders across the canyon's main highway.

"It's kind of an eyesore in the canyons," said Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons.

Park City Mountain Resort already has a coaster. It's popular enough to have generated several exciting videos that are posted on YouTube.  "I don't know if (Snowbird's) is going to be identical" said Jared Ishkanian, Snowbird public relations director, "but it will be similar" to Park City's.

Snowbird plans to call its version the Mountain Coaster. It will deliver thrills to paying customers in the off-season, not in the winter. The proposed location is on the steep slopes of Mt. Superior. Thrill-seekers will ride, one or two at a time, on gravity-powered "cars" similar to toboggans.

It's a way for the ski resort to be economically viable year round, Ishkanian said. "Over the years we've very thoughtfully added summer activities that I think have been very, very popular with our guests, especially local guests."

According to documents Snowbird filed with Salt Lake County, the track would be raised off the ground on a trestle-like structure varying from 2 to 13 feet high, depending on the terrain. The base of the thrill-ride would be near the Snowbird Center and the Cliff Lodge in the vicinity of the ski resort's Chickadee bunny slope. A cable will pull riders to the top of the coaster, a linear distance of about 1,000 feet. Then gravity will take over, pulling riders down a curving 3,300 foot track that drops nearly 400 feet in elevation as it winds its way back to the starting point.

Snowbird chose the slopes of Mt. Superior because that area is rarely used, according to Ishkanian. "This area will not affect the watershed, it will not affect back-country skiing and it won't affect hiking," Ishkanian said. "And that was a big consideration for us."

But Fisher said the coaster is more suited for an amusement park than for a scenic canyon. "Mt. Superior is one of the most heavily photographed and scenic peaks in Little Cottonwood Canyon," Fisher said. "There will definitely be visual impacts to that."

Ishkanian said the design of the bridge over the highway, as well as the overall length of the coaster, will reduce the visual impact.  "We're in discussions with organizations like Save Our Canyons to see how we can best make this aesthetically pleasing and kind of integrate with the natural landscape," the Snowbird spokesman said.

Fisher said Save Our Canyons would be less critical of the project if it was built entirely on the south side of the highway. He believes the visual impact would be far less serious there because the resort's other recreational facilities are already focused on that area.

The coaster would be entirely on private land. That's why Save Our Canyons is not actively fighting it. But the group plans to monitor the approval process closely. The project goes before the Salt Lake County Planning Commission Wednesday morning.

E-mail: hollenhorst@desnews.com

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