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Editorial: Let Alta update, but keep tram off Mount Baldy

Published May 3, 2016 5:42 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Alta Ski Resort, which has been a model of ski-resort restraint, is reaching for the stars. It is seeking preliminary approval to build a small aerial tram terminating near the top of Mount Baldy, the majestic peak that has presided over Utah's oldest ski area since the first lift opened in Collins Gulch in 1939.

True to its roots, Alta is not proposing a massive project, and it is promising to be mindful of sight lines when it locates towers for the tram.

For Alta skiers, it's more than the view at stake. Mount Baldy is home to one of the truly legendary ski experiences in the world, the Baldy Chutes. The steep channels through Baldy's granite cliffs are only open to skiers when snow conditions won't kill them.



And the Chutes are only reachable by climbing. That is why an untouched Mount Baldy is both a visual necessity and a historical acknowledgement that skiing is more than just something done from lifts.

Alta maintains the primary purpose of the tram would be avalanche control. Specifically, it would allow Alta's ski patrol to toss explosives onto the steep slopes instead of relying on old military artillery to blast the mountain from across the canyon. But that begs the question of whether there's a problem with current avalanche control. No doubt avalanches have cost many their lives in the canyon, but not so much on Mount Baldy, at least not in recent times.

What's more, the tram could move 150 people an hour. That's more than the ski patrol will ever need.

To be sure, Alta can argue for parity with its down-canyon companion. Snowbird, which is about half Alta's age, was allowed to significantly modify the top of Hidden Peak when it put a tram there in the 1970s, and just last year Snowbird opened a large restaurant on that peak. What Alta proposes is far less of an impact, visually and otherwise.

And the rest of Alta's proposal, which includes expanded restaurants, one new lift and three replacement lifts, are reasonable accommodations for what is arguably the crown jewel of Utah skiing.

Those accommodations are also further signs that pressures on the Central Wasatch Mountains are mounting. There is little in this plan that will ease parking and traffic, but that isn't Alta's fault. It's Salt Lake County and the state of Utah that must solve the cars-in-the-canyon problem. And Alta's proposal to replace slow lifts with high-speed quad lifts will only make its legendary powder more elusive.

In an ideal world, Alta would sit untouched in a snow globe. In the real world, life brings changes. Alta should be allowed to make its updates, save one. Please don't touch a hair on Mount Baldy.

 

 

 

 

 

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