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Senate resolution pushes ski interconnect

Published February 21, 2012 1:58 pm

Canyons • Critics worry about bypassing local regulations.
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A legislative resolution calling for a system interconnecting the seven ski resorts of Salt Lake and Summit counties ran into opposition soon after its introduction Tuesday.

Drafted by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, SCR10 contends that linking the resorts would bolster Utah's tourism and ski industries while providing environmental and safety benefits.

"Connecting the ski resorts in Summit County and Salt Lake County will create a skiing experience unavailable anywhere else in North America," the resolution said, predicting an interconnect would create jobs and "reposition Utah's ski and snowboard experience to be even more competitive and attractive relative to other states."

Conservation groups have fought for years against an interconnect, whether it involved tunnels from bygone mining days or a series of chairlifts between the three Park City-area resorts and the four resorts in the Cottonwood canyons.

One example is SkiLink. Utah's Republican congressmen have filed a bill that would force the U.S. Forest Service to sell property in Big Cottonwood Canyon to Talisker Corp. so a gondola could be built between Canyons Resort, which the company owns, and Solitude Mountain Resort.

"It's disconcerting to me that our representatives at the Legislature are representing corporations over what people want handled in local processes," said Save Our Canyons Executive Director Carl Fisher. "It's a blatant disregard for the mountain transportation study going on right now in Salt Lake County … and it will alienate users bringing money into Salt Lake for the other three seasons of recreating."

Niederhauser's resolution does not specify what type of interconnect should be built. It encourages Summit and Salt Lake counties, the town of Alta and the Forest Service to "fairly consider the benefits of connecting the various resorts and expeditiously approve a low-impact inter-resort transportation system … based on sound research and public input."

The resolution claims an interconnect would reduce traffic and air pollution, protect watersheds and let skiers visit multiple resorts in a day.

Jeff Niermeyer, director of Salt Lake City's public utilities, said he hoped that if anything comes from this nonbinding resolution, "we'll rely on thorough and robust studies to really understand the impacts."

While the resolution advances "the notion it will protect watershed," he added, "the purpose is to increase users coming into the canyons. We have to understand the consequences of that."

Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, marketing arm of the state's resorts, applauded the measure. "It's really an exciting time for Utah's ski industry, with the possibility of this unprecedented opportunity."

"The concept is sound," he added. "To move between ski areas without getting into a car is one that I hope everybody could get behind."


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