U.S. Forest Service opposes SkiLink | ParkRecord.com

U.S. Forest Service opposes SkiLink

Gina Barker, The Park Record

In a recent Congressional Hearing, the United States Forest Service weighed in on the Rep. Rob Bishop’s SkiLink Bill, which if passed would sell federal land to build a gondola linking Canyons Resort to Solitude. Gregory Smith, the Department of Agriculture deputy chief, voiced his opposition to the project and said that the public benefit was not strong enough for him to encourage the 30-acre sale of government land to Canyons Resort.

The gondola, dubbed "SkiLink," would link Canyons Resort to Solitude as a way to cut down traffic between Utah resorts.

"While we appreciate the desire of the bill’s proponents to reduce traffic between the two resorts, the department does not support" the SkiLink project, Smith testified.

Smith appeared before the House Natural Resources subcommittee, which oversees national parks and forests. Rep. Rob Bishop, the sponsor of Talisker’s transportation project, is also the chair of the committee.

When Bishop questioned Smith about the U.S. Forest Service position, Smith expressed his concerns on Bishop’s legislation, from the sale of government land to a private company to what Smith called a lack of evidence in showing the traffic reduction of the plan.

"We think that we would like to look at other options and work with the county to see if we could do something different there," Smith added.

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Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker also opposed the sale saying the indirect and cumulative effects of the project have not been addressed. He said he was worried that the gondola project would spur additional development in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.

"It is a great concern to us," Becker testified.

Mike Jensen, a Salt Lake city councilman, spoke in support of Talisker’s efforts, calling the project a unique solution to the transportation needs between the two resorts. Jensen added that any threat to the watershed was unlikely and that the only actual impact of a gondola would be visual, but that the benefits would be substantial. Jensen estimated $51 million would be added to Utah’s economy in the first year of gondola operations, attracting 75,000 tourists and adding 500 jobs.

"There have already been multiple studies over three decades," Jensen said. "It’s time to do something."

According to a Talisker study, the gondola could reduce up to 18,000 cars on the road a year by adding another route for people to travel between ski resorts.

"It will take cars off the road," said Canyons Resort manager Mike Goar. "There is no question. The debate may be how many cars can be taken off the road, but whether its 100 or 1,000, every car we take off the road is a benefit."

Goar addressed issues about the watershed and potential destruction of backcountry skiing, both of which Goar said would not be impacted if SkiLink were built.

"The experience is extraordinary, like no other experience in the United States," Goar said in support of SkiLink.