SkiLink Update

| April 25, 2012 | 19 Comments

As much as I enjoyed being in Alaska (details and photos forthcoming) for the past three weeks, I couldn’t help but have a Wasatch flashback while we were flying over the spine of the mighty Chugach Mountains. Cruising at  something like 125mph, it took us about an hour to cross the range and we saw exactly one set of man-made tracks. By contrast, an east/west flight over the Wasatch range would take about a minute at that speed and not only would you see hundreds of man-made tracks, but you’d fly over the Salt Lake Valley, which in itself has a population three times as large as the entire state of Alaska. Both mountain ranges are fantastic in their own regards, but 30 acres in the Chugach is nothing, whereas losing yet another 30 acres in the Wasatch is huge.

In an effort to bolster support for their intended SkiLink land-grab, Mike Goar from the Canyons/Talisker put together a group called the Lift Utah Coalition, which held a press conference yesterday in Salt Lake City. The closed-door conference was accompanied by an equally large, or larger number of protesters, of which I was one. It is a sign of the times when skiers, hikers, snowshoers, hunters  and outdoor enthusiasts are boycotting new recreation infrastructure, while locked inside a closed room, bankers, real estate developers, ski resort managers, resort attorneys and home builders are promoting it.  While it is becoming clear that SkiLink is all about ski resort expansion, at least they have dropped the flimsy pretense that it has anything to do with transportation, which was about as transparent as a Fredrick’s of Hollywood nightgown on Gayle Ruzicka.  I think the only vestige of the transportation concept is to try to get state funding to help pay for it, or at least garner some massive transportation tax break.

Talisker has been throwing an impressive amount of money at this project, including roughly $500,000 on lobbyists, including Ted Wilson who is pretending to be an environmental consultant. I recently even got a request from a local marketing firm by a guy posing as a concerned citizen who said he wanted to write a guest post on straightchuter.com, which turned out to be a glorified press release promoting SkiStink.  You need to follow this blog a little closer there Porter Olson – nice try though you little scammer.  :)  Try skiutah.com – they’ll publish it and you can get your commission.


The silver lining on this dark little cloud of a press conference was that I actually got to see a real, live person from Talisker, namely Steve Postorino, Talisker’s Director of Public Relations and Press Conference Door Bouncer.  Considering they operates in a small ski town, most of my impressions of Talisker involved large logo’d SUV’s with tinted glass windows, private clubs and gated communities. They are a secretive organization and prefer to do most of their business behind the scenes in congressional offices, lobbyists suites or through attorneys.  Steve, pictured above, has no opinion on giving away public land – just ask him.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the local media coverage of SkiLink is the continual parroting of Talisker press releases as if they were facts, instead of pure sci-fi. Five hundred new jobs, $52 million a year in revenue and construction ethics endorsed by Northern Goshawks all over Utah?  None of them seem to notice that the crux of this entire project involves a foreign private equity group skirting local government and public input (and objections) by submitting a congressional bill to try to usurp public land for their private use. The painful irony of the situation is that Utah politicians claim to hate the Feds and love local control, yet the first thing they do is bypass the local agencies when “they don’t give us the answer we are looking for.”  It is also painful to see the newspapers describing the bill as “allowing the Forest Service to sell the land” when in fact it would force the Forest Service to sell the land, much like forcing grain down a goose’s throat to make foie gras before killing it to eat its liver.

The entire legal process is a bit of a mystery to me, but according to Carl Fisher of Save Our Canyons, the bill, H.R. 3452, is adrift while it awaits a Senate hearing, which may be a while as they have other more pressing issues.  I hope for the sake of the Wasatch Mountains that this bill is shot down as hard and as fast as possible, mainly because it would create such a horrendous precedent.  I’m not sure why a car dealership like Ken Garff Automotive would support ski resort expansion, aside from the fact that it Talisker gets their 30 acres, why not give Ken Garff 20 acres for a new car lot at Alta, or Ivory Homes a 40 acre chunk for some condos in Big Cottonwood , etc.?

For the record, I’m not opposed the idea of linking all the resorts together, but I think it has to be done in the least  obtrusive way possible to begin with to see if tourists even care, which I suspect they won’t. I’ve done the SkiUtah Interconnect once, which is was enough to understand why it is affectionately known as “The SkiUtah Disconnect.”  After finding out it takes all day to ride lifts to and from Alta and the Canyons, the thrill will be gone but the chairlift bedsores will remain.

A few parting words of hypocrisy from the Talisker website:

…belong to a club that’s more like a family, one that gives you access to Talisker’s 10,000 acres of private wilderness and experiences few people ever even dream of.  A place where design excellence is revered and nature is honored.

As a member, gain unrivaled access to world-class skiing, golf and every imaginable outdoor activity in the pristine wilderness of Park City, Utah.

Apparently wilderness is valued as long as it is privately held, nature is honored by constructing exclusive gated communities, and the area around Park City is pristine wilderness, except when it comes to public land, in which case it is just a wasted slag heap waiting to be saved from itself.

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 (19)

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  1. Neil says:

    Well said. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you just mentioned, from the hypocritical Utah Politicians to the phony 500 “permenant” (read: seasonal like the rest of the lifties) Jobs it will create. What a bunch of crooks.

  2. JonnyB says:

    And this my friends is why I love reading Straight Chuter. Great post Andrew. Sending solidarity from NorCal. Keep up the good work.

  3. Brad says:

    Right on, well said. Please keep sharing the info as you get.

  4. Grizzly Adam says:

    I read through the full version of the “economic analysis” that Talisker and the politicians like to point to, and it’s filled with nonsense. The kicker: “Forecasting skier visitation attributable to any single factor is challenging given the multitude of factors that come into play when examining historical visitation patterns. Therefore, the task of projecting skier visitation often becomes a relatively qualitative exercise that draws on experience, anecdotal evidence, and capacity estimates. Instead of producing our own skier visitation projections, then, we opted to gauge the reasonableness of The Canyons projections.”

    So. Yeah. Talikser pulled random numbers out the air, and then their buddies at RCLCO “studied” the numbers and decided that they are reasonable. RCLCO is, naturally, a company made up entirely of real estate moguls.

    This entire project stinks.

  5. byates1 says:

    feeling the pain from the east side of the country, thx for taking the position you have, and encouraging others to do the same. seems a hard battleground to fight in, i have called, left messages, written, etc and will continue to help.

    look forward to coming out and skiing with you guys soon. keep up the hard work.

  6. Andrew says:

    Thanks byates!

  7. Andrew says:

    Fine writing like that must be what justifies those hefty “consulting” fees. ;) “After cashing the check, we opted to gauge the reasonableness of The Canyons projections and found them quiet agreeable.”

  8. I appreciate the sentiment, but 30 acres of the Chugach isn’t “nothing.” That’s the attitude that got the lower 48 where it is now.

    Think I’m overreacting? This very thing is happening to Anchorage parkland as we speak. 30 acres here, 20 acres there, no one will notice, there are thousands of acres of open space just east of the city, no big deal…

    It’s not going to be long before this is just another utah.

  9. Andrew says:

    Hi Jill – sorry for the confusion, but by 30 acres being “nothing” in the Chugach I was referring more to the relative scale of the mountain ranges, not the impact of developing them or selling them off. 30 acres in the Central Wasatch is proportional to about 3,000 acres in the Chugach. If the SkiLink proposal were scaled up to Chugach size, it would be a strip of land roughly a quarter mile wide by 250 miles long.

  10. Sophie says:

    I’m not someone you would probably expect to be here. I was a delegate at the Republican Nominating Convention last week. I was there to vote against the very politicians that are pushing this Skilink agenda. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement in this article that called our establishment GOP politicians hypocritical because they are being very hypocritical. I saw a LOT of that at the convention!

    I wanted to see Jacqueline Smith and Morgan Philpot get elected, but of course they didn’t get the nominations. I know Jacqueline has been outspoken against Skilink and I contacted Morgan to get his opinion and he agreed with me that our current officials and governor specifically are being hypocrites over this (He was running against the governor). Hatch, Lee, Chaffetz, Bishop, Herbert, and the like don’t seem to care what we have to say, while they tout closer-to-home decision-making. It’s so wrong and I’m ashamed of them for this! That doesn’t make their message of closer-to-home governance wrong. It just makes them hypocrites who give lip-service to the real values of the people and then do whatever they want once they have power.

    Just to let you know, you do have right-wing people that believe in local public governance and decision-making on your side. I protested at the capitol with the Democrats when rich property owners were trying to claim the rivers and streams in their back yards as their own property in order to keep fishermen out. At the end of the day right is right and wrong is wrong and tea party (Oh My!) people will come out in droves to protest things like skilink if we just have the information and the message gets into that network. This is the kind of government bastardry that makes them tick!

    Letting you know you’ve got right wing extremist(wink) friends!

    Sophie

    P.S. When is the next protest?

  11. Chad says:

    Sophie, I to became a GOP delegate this year. I suffered through that experience because of SkiLink and other super crazy UT GOP ideas like “take-back-Utah”

    I was severely disappointed by the republicans to even consider other options. I even meet with some candidates behind closed doors in their secret fraternity style meetings at a local club downtown (I was invited by a caucus member). All they talked about was the usual meaningless soundbites, how dumb they thought delegates are, and campaign contributions.

    Trying to start a meaningful or thoughtful conversation with any candidate, or other GOP delegates, was like beating a nail with a marshmallow. I seriously started to question their intelligence.

    I tried to sway people over, presented economic and pro-business perspectives, nothing worked.

    Maybe I should just become the leftist-“marxist”-glennbackadjective they labeled me as?

    On top of this some legislators and even forest service employees don’t realize that people walk, hike, yet ski, outside of a resort or city. The idea of back country as something useful outside real estate and extraction is SO far from their brain that they literally don’t know that back country recreation exists.

    Believe me, killing ski link or getting a sensible interconnect is going to require more than Save Our Canyons, more than a protest here and there, more than a $50 donation, more than emails, more than online petitions. It will require a constant barrage of activism, personal meetings, coalition forming, and tons of PR. Or we could just get the church to oppose it…

    …but then again, according to some GOP legislators even the church is too far left!

  12. Andrew says:

    Thanks for the comments Chad and Sophie.

    Taliskers attitude and approach to this whole project has been incredibly frustrating. Early on, Ted Wilson was preaching the idea of compromise, but in the case of SkiLink, it’s a bit like being pregnant – it either exists or it doesn’t. There is no such thing as just kind of putting the tram in and changing the alignment, painting the towers or making it a chairlift instead of a tram is hardly a compromise. Ted hinted that future wilderness bills might stand a better chance if the tram went in unopposed, but that’s hard to believe.

  13. nlk says:

    Sorry the return from your Alaska trip was marred by this ongoing debacle. I recently received the mass-produced, electronically-signed, staff-written letter from “my” Congressman, Rob Bishop, in response to a carefully crafted, well tempered letter in opposition to SkiLink. The content of Bishop’s response was both laughable and enraging.

    Wish I could have attended the protest. Thanks for helping to keep this topic at the forefront. Standing up against big money and backdoor politics is no easy task, but the fight must continue. Oh, the irony of modern patriotism.

  14. Mark says:

    It took me a while to realize that this link (aka tram) is just another extension of the Canyon’s resort for people to be doing laps on. I’ve sent out over 50 e-mails to everyone that I’ve been able to find a valid address for. The entire process just stinks! Imagine in a few years when they try to get a permit to make runs that are utilized directly beneath the link.

    I understand the premise of visitors wanting to stay in a place with night life, imagine Alta on a Tuesday night, wow or doh! So they want to stay in PC. Using these lifts to get between resorts is a complete waste of time. We’ve both skied in Europe, some of the resorts are massive and you spend what seems like hours riding lifts to get to interesting terrain.

    If they want to increase skier day visits,fixing the Utah liquor laws and helping people understand the laws will do more to increasing tourism than any tram/interconnect.

  15. Bob says:

    What if skilink/grizzly lift are objectionable projects offered up to make an underground railroad look better.
    “Transportation Committee-On-Site Visit: On January 26th, Mr. Hanson conducted a tour of the Wasatch Drain Tunnel and the Bay City Mine for the Lt. Governor/staff, Mayor Becker/staff and Utah Transit Officials. This tour is part of the on-going transportation committee study for a COG Wheel Train from the Salt Lake City Airport to the Canyons. This concluded with a lunch at the Watson Shelter and presentations by Onno Wieringa and Bob Bonar.” See

    http://www.canyonwater.com/mnts022112.htm

    So a train goes from the airport to the Canyons, and they are talking about it at Alta, with tours of tunnels? Remember the questions from the tunnel (Talisker?) guy at EnvisionUtah Wasatch Canyons?
    Maybe a Watson “train station” connection to the airport and Canyons would be a better link than ski link/Grizzly lift, especially at night or on windy days? Or will there be both lifts and trains. And cars and buses in tunnels?
    Meanwhile, how are the backcountry folks (and their dogs)going to be able to poop or pee without watershed impacts? Lotta yellowsnow in some places!

  16. Andrew says:

    Hi Bob – I’m not that opposed to a tunnel between Alta and Brighton, especially as that entire area is already honeycombed with miles of mining tunnels. Unfortunately, I don’t think it would be a tunnel or the Gizzly lift, but probably both. The chances of Alta not putting in a lift when they own the property is about as likely as a Golden Lab passing up peeing on a fire hydrant – slim to none. One thing that I do wonder about, although I think I know the answer, is if Alta does expand their resort onto private land, are they going to give back some of the land they lease from the Forest Service so it is not yet another net loss of Wasatch terrain?

    If the ski industry really is as important to Utah as they say it is (I’ve heard it is in the 1% range of the total Utah economy, so I personally don’t think that it is), it seems like a light rail loop all the way from the airport to Alta, over to Brighton, over Scotts Pass to Park City, past the Canyons and back downtown would be on the table. The problem with this and building tunnels is that it takes public money to do it. When the resorts try to put something in (SkiLink comes to mind), they do it with borrowed money in most cases, and then own the lift/tram/etc.. I don’t think this model is ever going to work for a true mass transit system as it will be so expensive, for instance, a $96 lift ticket just to begin with.

  17. Matt Slawson says:

    Tribune article today about legislation to sell federal land that holds the “Y” down in Provo…attempt to establish a precedent to grease the wheels for the skilink sale?
    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/54052351-78/byu-chaffetz-forest-mountain.html.csp

  18. Bob says:

    Here’s the Alta end of ski link, see item 4.

    http://alta.utah.gov/docs/minApr12.pdf

  19. Andrew says:

    Thanks for the link Bob – that had some interesting titbits in it.
    1) Alta/Onno hate the proposed Wilderness Bill
    2) Alta/Onno’s plans to expand into Grizzly Gulch
    3) Alta’s congressional request to buy the land that some of their buildings are located on (Forest Service land?) passed in the Senate, but died in the House. This is good news not just by itself, but also as a potential indicator of how the SkiLink decision may go.

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