SALT LAKE CITY — A new restaurant addition, reconfigured parking and a tram designed to modernize avalanche control are under consideration by the U.S. Forest Service in a proposal for Alta Ski Area.
The federal agency released an environmental assessment on 10 improvement projects that include replacement of the Sunnyside and Wildcat lifts and more tables at Alf's Restaurant. An environmental group is already expressing concerns about the proposed tram's impact on ridgeline views.
Alta is one of the country's oldest continuously operating ski areas in the country, with it first ski lift installed in 1939. The ski area is proposing to add another tram, 1,900 feet long, to Mount Baldy to ferry ski patrollers to the top of the mountain for conventional avalanche control work.
The agency analysis notes that the tram would allow Alta to retire its 105 mm Howitzer and two "Avalaunchers."
While the analysis contains mitigation procedures for visual impacts at those ridgelines, critics like Save Our Canyons say the new tram would be visible from a long distance.
"Alta's proposed new tram to Mount Baldy will impact ridgeline views and be seen for miles — from the ridges of Timpanogos to the Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood, all the way to Mount Aire," said Carl Fisher, the group's executive director.
Alta resort officials say the new lift is part of the ski resort's efforts to upgrade avalanche control methods by moving away from artillery, which is proving increasingly difficult to obtain given Homeland Security concerns and general availability of munitions.
Connie Marshall, Alta spokeswoman, said the change is designed to boost both public and employee safety.
Alta wants to move to an avalanche control system that abandons helicopter bombing and "Avalaunchers" and replaces them with technology called Gazex, remote devices that use propane- and oxygen-infused exploders that use shock waves to displace snow.
The ski area wants four to eight of the exploders, which require gas storage buildings.
Save Our Canyons also raised concerns about the parking improvement plan.
"We can't park our way out of the canyon's transportation issues. Converting vegetated places into paved parking spaces such as Alta is doing leads to more congestion, not less," he said. "As recommended by both the Forest Plan and the Mountain Accord, transit, not more parking, will be the solution to transportation in the canyons."
The parking proposal would impact 1.3 acres of Forest Service land and modifies the Wildcat parking area to better accommodate UTA buses, carpoolers and skier drop-off. The 50 spaces that would be lost would be moved to the Albion lot, which would be expanded by incorporating the Snowpine lot.
Any additional parking has been capped by the Forest Service since 2003. The agency noted that an "imbalance," has been playing out between Albion and Wildcat parking areas, with more people choosing Albion because of it has become the "lot of choice" for intermediate skiers and summer visitors.7 comments on this story
A proposal to restore Lake Flora and put in a 10-inch waterline for 8 million gallons of water storage for Salt Lake City was excluded by the Forest Service while other alternatives are explored.
Alta officials have yet to put a price tag on the improvements, noting they are subject to the endorsement by the Forest Service and whatever restrictions the agency may impose.
The proposed projects would be carried out over several years and are part of the master development plan required by the Forest Service for Alta Ski Area, which operates under a special use permit granted by the agency.
Public comment on the proposal is being taken through Nov. 20.