Proposed Alta ski changes get lukewarm response
Ski industry • Forest Service says internal projects OK, but two new lifts may go too far.
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The U.S. Forest Service isn't too keen on an idea being floated by Alta Ski Area to build two new lifts, one into Grizzly Gulch, the other to the Flagstaff Mountain ridge separating Little Cottonwood Canyon from Big Cottonwood.

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest supervisor David Whittekiend informed the resort earlier this month that its vaguely described lifts proposal, included in a master development plan update proposed last October, was unlikely to be considered in detail by his agency because it is too big for this process, essentially seeking to expand Alta's existing boundary to include more Forest Service lands.

The same issue makes it doubtful the Forest Service will consider another concept in the master-plan update: To build overnight accommodations for 500 to 900 skiers on public lands around Alta.

This decision does not preclude Alta from pursuing the lift expansion further, Whittekiend said in a March 14 letter. But that would be a separate process, requiring Alta to provide specific information about lift alignment and skier flow between those areas and the existing Albion base. "You should provide a narrative explaining why [Forest Service] land is needed and why the use cannot be accommodated on private land," he added.

Whittekiend said other potential projects in Alta's updated wish list, being within the resort's permit area, seem eligible for further review when the ski area submits more detailed proposals.

Those reviews could involve formal environmental assessments. These include:

• Adding two new internal lifts — a small tram from the top of Collins lift to Mount Baldy and a lift from the Sugarbowl basin off Sugarloaf lift up to the top of Collins lift.

• Replacing Wildcat and Supreme lifts with high-speed detachable quads, Albion lift with a cabriolet for summer recreation, and tow ropes at the base.

• Widening and regrading Corkscrew run to make it more intermediate. Doing so would eliminate the need for the cat track that cuts across the lower third of Alf's High Rustler.

• Removing some trees to develop an easier-to-ride traverse from Collins lift into Ballroom, and making the High Traverse more manageable.

• Small expansions of Alf's Restaurant and Watson's Shelter and erection of a yurt off the Supreme lift.

• More snowmaking, partly with water from a restored lake at the top of Glory Hole.

• More parking in the Albion lot and fewer spaces in the Wildcat lot.

• Installation of solar panels on all resort buildings, and wind turbines on all lifts except Cecret and Albion, with a goal of generating enough power to run upper lift shacks.

Those projects include adding two new internal lifts — a small tram from the top of Collins lift to Mount Baldy and a lift from the Sugarbowl basin off Sugarloaf lift up to the top of Collins lift — replacing Wildcat and Supreme lifts with high-speed detachable quads and making Albion lift an open-air gondola for summer recreation.

Proposed trail work would widen and regrade Corkscrew run and modify the High Traverse and the traverse from Collins lift into Ballroom. Alta also is looking at small expansions of Alf's Restaurant and Watson's Shelter, erection of a yurt in the Supreme area, more snowmaking, installation of solar panels and wind turbines for power generation and more parking in the Albion lot.

Anticipating an end to the use of artillery shells and avalaunchers to reduce the threat of snowslides, Alta is eager to install Gazex technology, which uses propane and oxygen to create a shockwave, to control several avalanche paths.

The tram to the top of Mount Baldy would allow ski patrol to retire a 105 mm howitzer — and it would spare skiers a lengthy hike to the top of Baldy on days when snow conditions permit skiing up there, the resort's master plan update said.

Alta General Manager Onno Wieringa said the Forest Service's response will help the resort know how best to proceed in the years to come. "We'll pick out a handful of things from that list of projects and start packaging them together and submit them for [environmental] review," he said.

Wieringa said he was surprised the Forest Service addressed the Flagstaff Mountain lift since it wasn't addressed by name in the resort's plan update.

But he said it was included as a possibility because Alta has to "address alternative avalanche control on everything above the village so we have all the approval processes going that we need in case we lose our artillery."

Wieringa has maintained that skiers could enhance avalanche control on Flagstaff's slopes, compacting the snow to help keep it in place.

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg