Derail the Coaster Rally

| March 15, 2011

Ever since I moved back to Utah 20 years ago, Snowbird has been aggressively pursuing physical expansion of the resort to the point that it is almost nothing new.  On the Park City side of the Wasatch Mountains, most of the land is privately owned so development is a foregone conclusion, which has led to almost no free public access to the mountains on this side. You can exit out of the resort gates, but with no uphill traffic allowed in Utah, you need to buy a ticket first.  In Little and Big Cottonwood however, the ski resorts are mostly on leased Forest Service land, so expansion is much more controversial and involves public input, which resorts must hate.

My first experience with the Snowbird expansion machine was about 15 years ago when they were proposing to put in a 50,000 square foot “warming hut” on top of Hidden Peak. It was billed as being architecturally sensitive to the surroundings, but from the artists sketches it looked like they wanted to construct the Sydney Opera House at 11,000 in the central Wasatch. I attended the public hearing which was standing room only and overwhelmingly against the idea.  After an hour or more of comments against the idea, the Commissioners asked if there was anyone in the audience who wanted to speak for it, which is when I first met the Three Horsemen of Irrational Wasatch Development – a child, a senior citizen of European heritage and a person in a wheelchair. Five minutes later, the decision was made – in the name of doing it for the children, the handicapped, senior citizens and of course, to be World Class, it was approved.  Thank you very much.  Goodnight. Exit out the back to a roar of disapproval.

Lately Snowbird has been at it again, this time with a proposed “Alpine Coaster” which not only starts on the most iconic peak in Utah, Mount Superior, but also requires a bridge to cross over Highway 210 (the Little Cottonwood road) which is a State Scenic Byway.  I missed the public hearing on this as it was scheduled right before the Christmas holidays (coincidence?), and the idea seemed so ludicrous that I was sure it would get shot down by the Planning Commission, which just goes to prove I’m incurably naive.  Once again, a goofball idea was approved.  Thank you very much.  Goodnight. Exit to the rear.

The project is being appealed and a rally was held today at the Salt Lake County Planning Commission building to protest it.  It is hard to say what Snowbird is up to with this and many of its other proposed atrocities.  Projects like this destroy the very essence of the canyon, the neighbors hate it, the public hates it and it seems hard to believe they would ever recoup their costs on the structure. Then again, perhaps it is intended as Shock & Awe, which can then be converted to Bait & Switch.  OK, we won’t build the Alpine Coaster, but instead we want (insert some lesser evil here). In any case, it doesn’t do much to endear me as a local to The ‘Bird, but I’m not their target customer anyway, so I suspect they could care less.
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Category: Commentary

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (21)

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  1. andy says:

    FUCK DICK BASS! dont ski COALBIRD….that strip mine love’n, coaster build’n P.O.S. doesn’t get any of my money.

  2. mc says:

    I’m gonna go make some popcorn for this one.

  3. Mayor of Mormania says:

    These ludicrous ideas are sure to be increasing at an increasing rate. As Dick Bass’s health declines (he’s in his 80’s now), many of his last dying wishes will be sought to be accomplished.

    Keep an eye out for a tram that goes to the top of the Twins, and opens up lift access into Mary Ellen and Major Ellen gulches. Fine dining atop Hidden Peak is sure to be a part of that.

    The worst part is, money could be better spent updating the lodging facilities at Snowbird. I am sure they get complaints, since not much has been done in the past two decades.

  4. d3 says:

    it appears the salt lake county commission is woefully out of touch with the times. are there many people who DON’T know about traffic and impact issues in the cottonwood canyons? according to one factoid, one commissioner is on the dole as a consultant to snowbird on development issues … PRO-development issues.

    a friend of mine is getting married at watson’s shelter in early april. she secured a bunch of rooms at the cliff for a real deal (but for a 2-night minimum, of course). i reserved one, grudgingly, as i loathe spending ANY money there in support of their carnival. so i’m going to cancel that reservation. then write letters to the commission and the snowbird muckety-mucks.

    what are YOU going to do?

  5. Lil'C says:

    What sort of action gets noticed here in the great State of Utah, where God is worshiped in the form of handguns, monster trucks, and asphalt?

    How about a semi-automatic action? I’m considering the purchase of a Colt M1911, which is the newly adopted official firearm of the great State of Utah. It is a gas operated short recoil handgun that fires a .45 caliber slug at a little under 1000 ft/sec., and is nicely concealable as preferred by our lawmakers. Normally, it is equipped with a 7-round magazine, and counting the cartridge in the chamber, the M1911 holds 8 rounds.

    I think I’ll duct tape my locked and loaded M1911 to a nice felt tip pen, and conduct a signature campaign. Do you think the commission is full of ankle-grabbing corporate fuck sluts? I’ve got a pen you can borrow to put your signature on their well lubed asses.

  6. Ralph S. says:

    What a joke! Hope it fails. At least the Mayor of SLC is opposed… for now…

  7. MM says:

    One would think this idea would’ve been laughed off as soon as it was proposed. But in Utah we live in a Idiocracy. Ever since the reelection of Ronnie Raygun nothing in politics has surprised me.

  8. Chris says:

    “Alpine Coaster?” That has to be the most pathetic development idea Snowbird could have.

  9. RW says:

    unfortunately, Snowbird realized the idiocy of a bridge over the road, and are now opting for a tunnel beneath the road. Where might this be built in relation to valeries?

  10. John Hansen says:

    If summer income is really the Bird’s reason for a coaster, Why not a Bike park instead: like Whistler, Winter Park, etc. ? Oh let me guess, that would require some skill and physical activity on the part of the payee.

  11. Rolyat B says:

    Just look at Breckenridge and Vail Resorts and what they are doing to expand their dollar. Breckenridge built one of those coasters, has plans for even MORE ski area expansion. It’s an uphill battle trying to preserve the mountains and I wish all of you in Utah the best of luck in your up hill battle.

  12. Jimmy says:

    Besides environmental issues, I don’t get the coster from the financial end. If they build it, will they come? I doubt it! P.C. will always dominate that croud. If Snowturd was smart they’d concider building some sort of “Wistlerlike” bike park on the south side (entry 2 area)of 210 where damage is done. It would generate more revenue than a stupid coster! If they added more singletrack, I might even go up there. (IF it were free) That being said, with LCC being so over used, I’m against anything that encourages more traffic up there. We need fees for Cottonwood Canyon access!
    This idea’s been floating around in my head since the proposed second tram and I’m giving it away. Bumper stickes that read “Snowbird is for Dicks & Bassholes!” Sell them with all proceeds going to SOC. I just haven’t had time to make them.

  13. d3 says:

    whatta buncha tools. the planning commission just gave preliminary approval for the coaster, and i just fired off a letter. good GOD!

  14. Sunshine says:

    Please post the names and E mail addresses of the Mayor, Planning commision members, city council members, Snowbird officials- Bob Bonar and Dick Bass. This would be the most helpful in getting more feedback out to those who aredecision makers about this studpid and short sighted proposal.
    Also posting addresses etc. for those organizations that are doing the good deed of fighting this would be helpful also. Keep up the battle!

  15. Smokey says:

    Hate to stir the pot and I wouldn’t be for this if I lived down there but one big thing has been left out. First off, the bridge over a scenic byway is stupid, but short of that isn’t this whole project planned on PRIVATE property?

    The environmental impact would be minimal…small locations of soil disturbance to build track. They’re not proposing a mine. Let keep the environmental agreement in check.

    Visual impacts. Well, that’s a can of worms. I would argue that the tram at Snowbird has more visual impacts (and environmental) then this coaster.

    My point, do we want to be able to organize/rally/protest when individuals, companies, etc propose projects on private property that we simply just don’t like? Or don’t serve US. Hmmm…that sets a precedence. Maybe I’ll start making signs when my neighbor puts out that stupid ass Christmas reindeer and lights.

    Get my point? Where does it stop? This is NOT on public land (short of the HWY crossing, which should kill the project IMO) and if it was, it would be a totally different arguement.

  16. Andrew says:

    Smokey – Yes, with the exception of the bridge over the road, it would be on private property. That said, I think there are a few other considerations with this project:

    1) A huge chunk of Snowbird is located on Forest Service land, which is public property. There are no rules on this, but to me, if a privately held company profits, exists and benefits from public lands, they have an obligation back to the public and immediate community. If Snowbird really wants to force the private property issue, perhaps they should give back some of the public land they use in return.

    2) I think Snowbird has a responsibility to the immediate neighbors as well. Roller coasters and their screaming passengers are loud and visually obnoxious. It is one thing if you chose to build a house next to an amusement park ,but another if an amusement park is erected next to your 20+ year old house.

    3) Snowbird is vast and they could easily fit this piece of crap somewhere on their existing footprint if they really wanted to, which leads to the following question;

    4) The starting zone for the ride is a weird little chunk of private land. It isn’t big enough for a ski run and would be very difficult to build a house or hotel on (if they even could). Because of this, I doubt Snowbird would get much money for it if they tried to sell it, but by threatening/planning to put a roller coaster on it, suddenly it become land blackmail – if someone doesn’t buy it, or if Snowbird doesn’t get a tasty little land swap for it, they will not only develop it, but do so in the most obnoxious way. This falls under the category of greedy, rotten, self-centered neighbors.

    5) The Wasatch is tiny and getting smaller by the year with all of the rampant development that is going on. This is just one more physical expansion of a ski area.

    6) From a local/community stand point, a roller coaster is pure cheese. The one in Park City Mountain Resort cost something like $22 PER FIVE-MINUTE RIDE. Locals might ride it once (as I have on a free ticket), but otherwise it is something they’ll never use, yet have to look at and hear for years. Compare this to bike/hiking trails, which are generally free to the public, yet generate no cash for the resort.

    7) I have a problem with Snowbird’s “too big to fail” philosophy, where they are constantly trying to physically expand at the threat of not keeping up with Colorado and/or European resorts, and if they aren’t allowed to expand, they might fail (hint/threat), so the Forest Service or Planning Commission had better allow them to do whatever they want or we are all going down. I don’t think this is sustainable at all. I’d much rather see Snowbird put money into upgrading their existing facilities than putting up new ones.

  17. MM says:

    Trail systems are money makers for ski resorts, lift served or not. I’ve had a few expensive lunches while riding at Snow Basin, Sun Valley, Deer Valley, and Canyons. Amusement park rides have no place in the mountains, including Park city.

  18. Smokey says:

    All great points Andrew. I agree with each, but the first point you make I’d like to expand on.

    The FS surely went to great lengths of public comment and environmental analysis when they issued a Special Use Permit for the use of FS lands on which they opperate the ski area (though maybe this was pre NEPA?). I’d be curious about the level of public participation during that process. I would agrue that there was measurable environemntal impacts from developing the Tram and lift system at Snowbird and the resort in general(vegetation removal, road construction, water use, etc) but not a whole lot of outcry? Largely because it benifited a bunch of people…

    Now there is a proposal that would have minimal (assumption) environmental impact on private ground that will benifit a very small amount of people but potential has a huge public interest? See the hypocrisy?

    Granted, the orginal issuance of the SUP from the FS was during an era vastly different then todays, but should that matter?

    Concerning the economic agruements. Greed sucks and is in the DNA of corperations like Snowbird. You and I choose not to support such ideals by making sure none of our money supports their efforts. Now if we could only get everyone else to think like this, they would be out of business…but this gets back to our incurably naive syndroms you speak of.

    In short, all of the above points show how you’d like to see the business be run, but public input is not in their business model. The best fight in this matter is to focus on the contractual use of public lands and show non-compliance during renewal of the SUP.

  19. Smokey says:

    In hindsight, maybe corperations that make ungodly amounts of cash off public lands need to have some sort of public participation (Board Members?) built into their business model in order to be issued such a permit? so when issues/projects like this come up, the correct stakeholders have a say in the process?

    I know, I’m dreaming now.

  20. Stopher says:

    Our society is in a downward spiral, all we can do is manage the ride. Our government is not, and has not been ‘for the people’ for centuries. The country is run by special interest groups and local governments are run by the biggest business’ and wealthiest people living in the town. Usually those two are closely connected if not the same.

    To many times I have heard Community Leaders say ‘You Can’t Stop Progress’. The hell you can’t, just say NO!. They should really change the name to the ‘Approval Commitee’. Most Local Governments seem to lack planning, and they can’t Regect anything because the petitioner probably has lunch and plays golf with someone important in City Hall. Or they are afraid of getting sued by the greedy developers and having to explain to the City Officials(read the developers friends), why these poor local business owners are being treated so unfairly and why this is going to be costing the City Money in court, “when said Developers bring so much to our local community(read tax base)….”

    It is sad state of being, but we might be to far down the rabbit hole…..

    The only way to fight greed, as stated above, is to hit them where it counts, DO Not partake of their KoolAid(read don’t support the business) no matter how sweet the powder. The only problem is, I’d be willing to bet Snowbird would careless if the locals didn’t ski there, I can’t imagine the local business makes up a very big chunck of the profit. Seems they probably make most of their money on out of towners, who can’t see or hear the roller coaster from their houses.

    Whatever happens, City Hall knows they just have to survive the initial flood of oposition, then after the tide has subsided and the eyesore has been built, they will tout it as a great benefit to the local economy because of all the additional revenue it will bring to town and local economy(read raises for the officials, and money to not stop more progress). Oh and don’t forget the Job play…. it will bring jobs and stimulate the local economy….

    All this is not to say that Andrew doesn’t have a most excellent and very valid point, it could very well be a corporate chess match. Corporate lawyers might already be three moves ahead, Snowbird might have just moved out a Kight, knowing they will give it up to eventually get the King…..

  21. Andrew says:

    Well said Stopher. Being part of the public input process can be an exercise in futility.

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