The Park Record editorial, December 3-6, 2011 | ParkRecord.com

The Park Record editorial, December 3-6, 2011

The SkiLink debate: So far, lots of posturing, not enough dialog

Proponents of the proposed SkiLink went to Washington, D.C., this week to begin laying the groundwork for a gondola that would link Canyons ski resort with Solitude. They hope to convince Congress to sell a 30-acre strip of U.S. Forest Service land between the two resorts to make way for the lift which, they say, would attract more business to the state and also relieve traffic congestion on local highways.

Meanwhile, on the Utah home front, opponents of the project have been mustering their own forces and are characterizing the project as a potential environmental catastrophe.

Unfortunately, there seems to be very little discourse between the two. From their own myopic viewpoints, each is unwilling to concede that other may have a valid argument. From our perspective, though, the project has both potential benefits and pitfalls that deserve a full and fair examination.

The concept of bridging the Wasatch Front and Back with a lift is a lightning rod for longtime opposing factions. Representatives of the ski industry have long argued that connecting the area’s resorts would be a boon to tourism and the state’s economy. In this case, they also suggest the link could reduce traffic in Big Cottonwood Canyon and over Parley’s Summit. Environmentalists, though, say it would open up the remaining backcountry to development and destroy a vital watershed.

But what if the two sides were able to negotiate a compromise, one that could actually reduce traffic and offer skiers a chance to ski two resorts, without damaging the landscape in between?

SkiLink developers have released preliminary traffic studies that suggest that the gondola could reduce traffic by offering an alternative to driving from Park City, over Parleys Summit and then up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Solitude. The numbers though seem overly optimistic, especially when offset by their promises of creating more jobs and drawing more tourists.

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But we also have to examine the motives of those who are against the lift. Many are themselves, travelers in the backcountry they want so desperately to protect from human intrusion. They seem to want to reserve the forest for themselves. But backcountry travel throughout the Wasatch is increasing at an alarming rate even without lifts and traffic in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons is already a serious concern. It may, at some point be more environmentally sound, and safer, to offer transport by lifts between the resorts’ boundaries.

Some say the Wasatch Mountains are already bought and sold and one step away from turning into an amusement park. We aren’t ready to concede that point. Nor are we willing to rope them off like a museum exhibit.

Instead of opening the floodgates for more development in the Wasatch Mountains, SkiLink, and the regulations that govern its development, could set a precedent as a proactive environmental effort that also serves an economic interest. But it will take hard work and open minds on both sides to achieve that goal.

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