Ski resort access answers remain elusive
Transportation • Panelists agree that finding a solution is key for fragile mountains.
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Deer Valley • Friday's panel discussion was supposed to examine transportation to Utah's ski resorts from 30,000 feet and not to focus on a single topic, however hot, such as SkiLink.

But with Save Our Canyons executive director Carl Fisher and Talisker governmental affairs director Ted Wilson on the panel, how could the conversation not turn at some point to Talisker's controversial proposal to build a gondola from its Canyons Resort outside of Park City to Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon?

Sure enough, it did, near the end of the discussion at the University of Utah Center for Public Policy and Administration's Tourism Summit at Silver Lake Lodge.

Fisher brought it up, without actually saying SkiLink, in response to a question about when a decision might be made about the best means of moving a growing population from the valley floor to mountain resorts.

"We're spending all this time and energy fighting off pet projects rather than studying what's best for the whole Wasatch," Fisher said. "The sooner we put these pet projects on the back burner, and stop pursuing them outside of the public process, the sooner we can have projects on the ground trying to get funding" and public support.

He was referring to congressional efforts to accelerate development of the gondola through a bill that would require the U.S. Forest Service to sell 30.3 acres of land along the ridge between Canyons and Solitude to Talisker. That would take the federal agency out of the regulatory loop, leaving oversight to local governments.

Wilson did not respond to Fisher's point. But earlier, after Fisher had said a comprehensive plan needs to be developed to take cars off of canyon roads, Wilson said he couldn't agree more.

He added, however, that transportation problems exist already, citing traffic jams in Little Cottonwood Canyon last Presidents Day weekend, and added that action is needed sooner rather than later.

"My biggest concern is about plan, plan, plan," Wilson said, noting the need for better transportation has been studied since the 1960s. "It's time to move and we need to do this quickly. … I'm 73 years old and I want to see this happen because I think it's amazingly important."

Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said a recent trip he took to Switzerland for the Utah Transit Authority convinced him a rail and gondola system is an ideal solution — and that no place in North America is better suited than Utah to implement such a system.

"I have seen an incredible opportunity for our community to manage access to these areas responsibly," Hughes said. "I'd love to see a day where you'd be crazy to use an automobile to access these canyons. It won't happen tomorrow. But if we put our heads together and not have turf wars, it could happen."

A long-awaited transportation study of the central Wasatch canyons will come out in late October. But that study won't answer every question, said its producer, consultant Jon Nepstad of Fehr & Peers, adding that it merely sets the stage for future studies.

Park City Councilman Andy Beerman said Summit County could provide the first breakthrough in linking Utah's ski resorts. He predicted Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort will have some sort of interconnect within three years.

mikeg@sltrib.com

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