Guest Editorial, December 14-16, 2011 | ParkRecord.com

Guest Editorial, December 14-16, 2011

Paul Flake

I am concerned about a major tram system being aggressively sponsored by Talisker, the Canadian real-estate company that owns Canyons ski resort. As proposed, the system would connect Canyons with Solitude ski resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Although the idea of connecting ski resorts in Park City with resorts in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons is nothing new, the way Talisker has gone about getting its version passed seems suspicious. Talisker claims that its "SkiLink" gondola is necessary to reduce automobile traffic between Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon. Of course, fewer cars would mean cleaner air and water at least that’s the pitch. Talisker also claims that the project would open up more backcountry skiing for public enjoyment on lands located between the resorts (although Talisker would have no obligation to manage or protect those skiers).

Quietly, four of Utah’s five federal legislators have now signed on to Talisker’s plans and are supporting the "Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act." In its current form, however, the act completely bypasses federally protected watershed rules as well as U.S. Forest Service construction mandates. What’s also troubling is the fact that this act is being pushed through without public comment or opinion, even though it will require Utah tax dollars for project construction.

As sometimes seems to be the case when big business is involved, the environment is not really the issue here. While Talisker ostensibly claims that its "SkiLink" gondola would reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, it’s pretty apparent that what Talisker really thinks is that the company would make a lot of money if it could distinguish Canyons from the other two world-class resorts in Park City and thus attract more skiing and lodging business. It gets even better if Talisker can get taxpayers to unwittingly fund the project.

Maybe I’m uninformed, but having spent my entire life here in Park City, I didn’t know that there was a big traffic problem between Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon. Locals really have no reason to frequently make that trip. I suppose some visitors to Canyons may be curious to ski Solitude as well; but if they really wanted to, they could drive to Solitude Resort in the same time (or less) than it would take them to ride the 40-minute lifts to the top of The Canyons and then the approximate 11-minute tram to Solitude. Visitors coming from the Salt Lake International Airport also drive either the 26.7 miles up Big Cottonwood or they drive the 27.5 miles to Canyons. Either way, given the destructive construction and huge power demands of a high-speed gondola, it doesn’t seem like "SkiLink" will better protect the environment.

Let’s be honest: This tram proposal isn’t about the environment at all; it’s solely intended to increase the number of skiers that come to Utah, and specifically to Canyons. Unfortunately, more skiers mean more traffic, which means more pollution (not less). It’s insulting when private developers pretend that they are helping our environment. Of course, you can’t blame Talisker for proposing and supporting "SkiLink" because it would certainly attract more visitors to stay and ski at Canyons if they knew they could also access the Big Cottonwood resorts. Truthfully, Talisker would be thrilled if the project resulted in more automobile traffic (and air emissions) up both I-80 and Big Cottonwood Canyon. After all, that’s exactly what it’s designed to do.

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Whether or not the "SkiLink" tram project is ultimately in the best interest of Utah, and Park City, should be openly discussed, studied and considered before it is passed and paid for with public funds. By attempting to do an end run around public comment and federal protections, it seems to me like this project is being hastily rammed through by corporate and political powers in a greedy and paternalistic way. We need to slow this down and make sure it’s really the right thing to do, for our state, our community, and our environment.

Paul Flake is a senior at Park City High School. This essay was originally written for an AP environmental science class.

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