Could interconnect, other projects lead to one mega ski resort along Wasatch?

Published: Sunday, Oct. 23 2011 12:11 a.m. MDT

Crowd at mountain demo day at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market convention at Solitude Ski Resort Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, in Salt Lake County, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Multiple ski resort proposals that could ultimately more than double the amount of access to ski acreage in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons has Salt Lake City raising the alarm on how the developments could impact its watershed, which supplies drinking water to nearly a half-million residents.

Jeff Niermeyer, director of public utilities, said adding a lift here, adding a lift there, putting in a new tram at one resort or establishing glide path to connect two resorts are among proposals under discussion. Some have been formally presented for review to government agencies — such as the U.S. Forest Service or Salt Lake County Planning — while others are in the talking stage.

Some projects include the development of a 200-home community at Cardiff Fork in the Big Cottonwood Canyon watershed or putting an aerial tram or lift that would connect Canyons Resort in Park City to Solitude.

"Our concern is that we have all these people right now trying to push all these individual projects and nobody is really looking at this in a holistic manner," Niermeyer said.

As the city's ultimate watchdog and caretaker of a Wasatch watershed that supplies the drinking water needs for nearly 500,000 people, Niermeyer admits he is ultra-sensitive to proposals that could threaten that supply.

Still, he said, with so many possible ski resort projects, expansions or improvements  floating about, he had to sit down and put the details on a map so he could the grasp the scope of what reality might look like someday.

"Once I saw this on a map, quite honestly, it scared me. The proposed cumulative  impact of all of these lift expansions could have a huge impact on the culinary water supply for Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County."

At a glance, projects Niermeyer says have been floated about or formally proposed are:

• Solitude's glide path from Canyons Resort to Solitude

• Park City Mountain Resort, two lifts in Guardsman Pass area on the Big Cottonwood Canyon side; glide path to connect to Brighton

• Solitude's expansion into the Sliver Fork area proposed to U.S. Forest Service, but rejected. Niermeyer says it could resurface if other projects gain traction.

• Solitude adding a lift from Honeycomb Canyon to the top of Grizzly Gulch area

• Alta adding another lift in the Grizzly Gulch area to extend terrain north toward Big Cottonwood Canyon and Solitude.

• Snowbird wants a new tram to connect to the Hidden Peak Tram to the top of American Fork's Twin Peaks, providing access into Mary Ellen Gulch in Utah County and a portion of White Pine Canyon in Salt Lake County.

• Private land owners are proposing a 200-home development and a lift in Cardiff Fork, a sub drainage of Big Cottonwood Canyon.

• Alta's proposed addition of another lift in Little Cottonwood Canyon at Flagstaff that would access Days Fork in Big Cottonwood Canyon and to the north.

• Canyons Resort proposing a tram or lift to connect its resort to Solitude

Niermeyer says the ski lift additions put forth by resorts such as Alta or Solitude may appear innocuous enough on individual basis.

"People may ask, 'What is wrong with skiing on the snow, does that wear the water out?'  But all expansions come with development proposals."

Niermeyer said ski resorts are going after the "wow factor" to compete with Colorado — envisioning some super-connected system in which skiers can access six or seven resorts in three separate canyons.

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