On Wednesday, in Salt Lake City, leaders of Utah's ski industry unveiled "One Wasatch," a proposal to interconnect seven Wasatch ski resorts via lifts and runs. When completed, they say, it will offer the largest lift-served ski experience in North America.
All three Park City-area resorts (Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley and Canyons) are participating, along with Alta, Brighton, Solitude and Snowbird.
But there's still a long road ahead before the concept becomes reality.
"We don't have all the answers," Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty said. "This is a concept that we're promoting. There will be questions that we can't answer — not because we don't want to but because we don't have the answers (yet)."
This resort linkage concept has floated around for over three decades and isn't without challenges. Although the proposed connections between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, Big Cottonwood and Park City and Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) and Canyons, along with "dropping the rope" between Deer Valley and PCMR, could all be completed on private ground, many are concerned about backcountry and watershed preservation.
"It is absolutely not an impossible task to connect our resorts, protect our water and preserve the backcountry," Rafferty said.
Transportation and environmental issues, among others, are the focus of the recent Mountain Accord initiative and will also be taken into account by proponents of One Wasatch, Rafferty said.
"We are fully invested in the Mountain Accord process," he said. "If we didn't think we could do this responsibly, these seven resort general managers wouldn't be sitting on the stage today.
Rafferty emphasized there is no set timeline for the One Wasatch launch, but according to the accompanying website, onewasatch.com, all three connections could be made in one summer season for less than $30 million. All told, One Wasatch would link more than a combined 18,000 skiable acres, 750 named runs and more than 100 lifts.
But Rafferty insisted the concept isn't about the numbers. The Ski Utah president emphasized the importance of the overall experience — one that is unique in North America but already well established in Europe.
"This is not just about adding more acreage," he said. "Everything about this concept starts and ends with creating the best possible ski experience for both local and destination guests. This is about creating a skier experience that would be unique. It's a different way than most Americans are used to skiing. We hope to bring a slice of European mountain culture (to Utah)."
One Wasatch would allow skiers to do it all with a single lift ticket, with costs to be determined. Revenue would be tracked and distributed between the resorts via a computerized, wireless process that records skier activity. This type of revenue distribution is already in use between Snowbird and Alta, and Solitude and Brighton.
"I think if you combine this concept with our accessibility and the airport, there's not a ski area or ski community in this country that can beat us," said Jenni Smith, president of Park City Mountain Resort. "We can distinguish ourselves as a ski market unlike any other in North America."
In preparation for the announcement, Rafferty recently skied from the PCMR Legacy Lodge to Snowbird and back I three and a half hours. The proposed connections would likely shorten that time considerably.
But not everyone will be able to take advantage of seven-resort network.
Alta and Deer Valley currently do not allow snowboard use at their resorts. It remains to be seen how their One Wasatch lift passes would be handled.
Nevertheless, Deer Valley is on board. Bob Wheaton, president of Deer Valley said, "Our Utah resorts are already blessed with unparalleled access and snow. We truly are very excited about bringing this to fruition at the appropriate time with the appropriate focus."
Before participants can start flying in lift towers, however, other issues must also be addressed, including the environmental and backcountry access concerns highlighted by several citizen groups including Wasatch Backcountry Alliance and Save Our Canyons, among others who strongly opposed a recent proposal to link Canyons Resort and Solitude. That proposal, which would have crossed over U.S. Forest Service land, has since been tabled.
According to Canyons General Manager Mike Goar, SkiLink, as that project was known, will take a backseat to the cooperative efforts with One Wasatch. "We view this as a viable alternative and support seeking connections on private land. But he added, "I'll stop short of saying SkiLink is dead and gone."