I know… the title has the phrase “Mountain Accord” in it, but WAKE UP! A major milestone has been reached, and if you enjoy the Wasatch Mountains, now is the time to speak up for the future of them. After a year of negotiations with 21 stakeholders, the current Mountain Accord (MA) process is ready for public comment and there are quite a few issues which directly affect backcountry users and skiers.
Overall, I personally think it is a good start with one major exception – Alta still has Grizzly Gulch down as “under consideration” which to me is a total non starter as far as trading off ski resort base development in return for land swaps which would bring some of the more controversial privately held land (Superior, Flagstaff, Grizzly, etc.) into the public sector. Alta is essentially saying they want to do major development on what is now public land at their base area, plus have more water for making snow, plus have a train, AND, they want to keep the option of developing Grizzly Gulch open in the future. True, they do own a big chunk of land up there, but it is surrounded by an even bigger chunk of Forest Service land and putting a chairlift in there would be incredibly contrived, not to mention have chunky south facing, avalanche prone terrain and a massive terrain trap.
Trains/Bus Lanes/Glide Paths
Unlike many of my devote BC skiing brothern/sisters, I’m not that opposed to putting in a major public transportation system up Little Cottonwood Canyon for a number of reasons. First, the existing road and traffic issues are untenable if there is any avalanche danger, as 20ish slide paths threaten the road. The current solution to this is to issue heavily suggested backcountry area closures and use heavy artillery to shoot down the avalanches, but with these small mountains surrounded by 1.5 million people, that can’t go on forever and a better long term solution would be to build an avalanche-proof road. At this point, when you start building snowbridges and tunnels, you might as well do it right and make it as pollution free and reliable as possible. If there was a train, perhaps we could do away with some of the endless acres of asphalt parking spaces we have at the head of the canyons, and/or charge enough for parking to make driving cars less desirable, or heavily encourage carpooling.
To me, tunnels between the canyons are far preferred over surface roads or aerial trams, not to mention the area is already riddled with miles of mining tunnels. Yes, connecting the canyons would probably increase visitors, but the cat is already out of the bag on that one – they are coming one way or another and this would at least do it in an orderly fashion.
Mill Creek Shuttle
This would be like the Zion Shuttle Bus system, which I think works really well and has made the Zion Canyon MUCH better. I think it would work in Mill Creek vs. LCC/BCC as Mill Creek is relatively undeveloped and has little to no commercial development in it.
Landswap Vs. Resort Base Area Development
One of the key points of this proposal is the concept of trading 2,150 acres of Ski-Area owned land for more base area development. Ski resorts ceased to be about skiing roughly 15 years ago and I think their future has more to do with biking, hiking, shopping and the “F” word – festivals. Last year Snowbird had 10,000 people show up for Oktoberfestinhagen, which is more than they have had on a day of skiing. And then there is the Sundance Film Festival. If people want to go to the mountains to sit inside a dark theater or eat bratwurst while rocking out to ompalumpa music, they should at least do it in a controlled environment.
While I’m not thrilled about more base area development, the idea of permanently protecting the surround terrain from resort sprawl is very appealing.
Snowbird wants to expand off of the backside, Brighton wants to expand to the northeast and Solitude wants to expand to the west into the Flannigans/Guild line area. Hmmmm. Definitely resort expansion onto public property, but it is all consumed by sidecountry use already, so it is not core, essential terrain like Silver, Days or Flagstaff. As is, these areas are already fall-line accessible from existing chairlifts, so giving them up would not necessarily lead to more sidecountry expansion. Of the three expansions, Solitude’s is the most puzzling – I don’t get why they want it, and since their owner, Deer Valley, is full of smart people, it makes me suspicious.
These would be well built trails which connect the canyons for hikers and bikers. I’m in favor of these as they are a far better alternative than a snakes nest full of illegal and illogical trails all over the place.
Big Picture Transit
Public transportation from the airport to the mountains, along the Wasatch Front, over the backside into Park City and Heber, etc.. Sounds good to me.
PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD
This version of the Mountain Accord is open for public comment from February 4th through March 16th. Comments can be made on line or at a series of upcoming public meetings, and if you care about the future of recreating in the Wasatch, and preserving it’s character and water quality, it is important to speak up.