Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal to construct a European-style gondola to connect Canyons Resort in Summit County to Solitude Mountain Resort in Salt Lake County is gaining momentum.
In theory, SkiLink would be the first of its kind in the United States and give Utah a competitive advantage over other high traffic ski areas, according to project supporters.
However, critics have expressed concerns about the project's potential impact on the area's delicate environmental balance, especially the local watershed.
In November, four members of Utah's Congressional delegation introduced the Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act — legislation necessary for SkiLink to be considered by local jurisdictions.
According to SkiLink.com, a third-party study indicated that the economic benefits and impact from the connector would inject $51 million into the local economy upon opening with a ripple effect that will create 500 new jobs. In addition, SkiLink supporters claim the project could eliminate around 1 million miles of driving annually, along with 1 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.
"This idea of connecting the resorts and a joint lift ticket between multiple resorts would (be successful) like it's been in Europe … and enhance our position as a leader in destination skiing in the United States," said Canyons managing director Mike Goar.
The project cost — which would be borne by private investors — would be in the $10 million range, according to Goar, and take a 4-month summer building season to construct.
"A gondola can be constructed and operated with no degradation to water quality or to the watershed," said Goar of environmental concerns expressed by conservationists.
He said the construction methods — by hand and helicopter — would result in minimal impact on land, native vegetation or wildlife.
However, a local environmental group has strongly opposed the proposal saying it would do little to reduce pollution from traffic congestion or improve ski access.
"The SkiLink proposal is flawed, supported by phony data," wrote Save Our Canyons executive director Carl Fisher in a February Viewpoint article published in the Deseret News editorial page. "It ignores the larger issues regarding transportation, the need for public transportation, population and tourism growth in Utah."
"There is no doubt we need to find transportation solutions that benefit the poor air quality of the Salt Lake Valley and reduce traffic congestion in the canyons," Fisher said. "This gimmicky ploy to sell off our treasured public lands, our refuge from the city, and the watershed of our livelihood to corporate interests who have no regard for anything other than their bottom line is not the answer."
Save Our Canyons has scheduled an opposition rally Tuesday near the site of a press conference at the Salt Lake Chamber to announce the formation of the Utah Lift Coalition that will advocate for SkiLink. The coalition will feature about 20 prominent local business and civic leaders, including Goar — who will serve as co-chairman along with Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie, Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan and former astronaut and U.S. Sen. Jake Garn.
The Utah Legislature passed a resolution in March contending that a resort interconnect would enhance the ski and snowboard resort industry’s contribution to Utah’s economy, jobs and tax base — a separate idea supported by the state's top ski advocacy organization.
“Utah is uniquely positioned to create a ski and snowboard experience available nowhere else in North America,” said Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty. “This resolution urges interconnection of the seven Salt Lake and Summit County ski resorts using best environmental practices.”