Talisker Proposed Tram in Living Color

| September 26, 2011

After being berated by Talisker’s tram lobbyist, Ted Wilson, I thought I should go up to the area in question and check it out myself to see if I was over-reacting to the issue. I don’t think I was.

The Canyons is the largest ski resort in Utah and the fifth largest in the US. I live ten minutes from the base of the resort and have never spoken out about any of their expansion or development plans for one simple reason: it’s on private property.  If they want to develop their land as shown in the photo above by creating artificial lakes to hold snow making water, running gondolas to every knoll, cutting roads, plugging in mansions and lodges on every 5 acre plot and bulldozing the whole thing, as long as they aren’t asking for zoning variances or CUP’s, I don’t object.

What I do object to, a lot, is when they try to start expanding their empire onto adjacent public lands as shown in the photos below.  Once infrastructure like tram towers are installed in terrain like this it is never removed, and not only that, but it serves as an excuse to develop the public land even further.

The sign on the right should be rewritten to say "No dogs, horses or trams beyond this point."

Eighty-five percent of Utah’s population, or 2.36 million people, live within fifteen miles of the Wasatch mountains and public trails like this.  According to the Envision Utah study, the overwhelming majority of those who responded are opposed to ski area expansion onto public lands.  Areas like this may not be pristine wilderness in an Antarctica sense, but they are coming under increased development pressure from the ski resorts.

The "Red Spine" section of the Wasatch Crest Trail.

The "Red Spine" section of the Wasatch Crest Trail. This ridge-line is the dividing line between Summit County on the right and Salt Lake County on the left. The Summit County side has 14 miles of almost continuous ski resort development (Deer Valley, Park City & The Canons) on it while the left-hand side (Big Cottonwood Canyon, Mill Creek) is predominately public land.

This ridgeline does not need a tram over it, especially under the lame pretense of being used as public transportation.


Category: Wasatch Mountains

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 (33)

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  1. Smokey says:

    Well said Andrew…I’m with ya.

  2. Joe says:

    Andrew – your instincts are well guided. Up here in Alberta we have ski resorts on both federal (National Parks) and provincial crown land.

    There is always some kind of scope creep. Facilities that are for winter are pushed into summer use. New residential home units become excuses for fire smart tree thinning programs that magically increase available terrain. Initial expansions are followed by complaints that “we need more intermediate terrain” and they get that too. Your grand expansion plan fails its environmental assessment? No problem, just incrementally creep out and end up doing the same footprint over the next few decades. Endangered species are identified? No problem – your condo owners and employees will get in elected officials ears about jobs and the economy. It goes on and on….

    Short story is you gotta fight hard earlier or its death by a thousand cuts through expansion. Good luck.

  3. Daniel Morgan says:

    Andrew- I have spent all 21 years of my life growing up in the Park City (Jeremy Ranch) and have seen you in ski movies and your name on the roster of backcountry.com athletes, anyway i just ran across you blog while looking for some info on a WPG started avalanche that i was writing a english paper on. Ever since finding your blog i have checked it regularly and have convinced myself that it should be mandatory reading for any resident in utah that cares about the wasatch. i cant agree with you more that this tram should be stopped, i have ridden the crest trail twice this summer and would find myself incredibly sad if i were to see a chair going over it. Thanks for keeping us informed

  4. Jason says:

    The tram looks horrible, how do you suggest we help?

  5. Andrew says:

    Hi Jason – Staying informed and involved in the political process is about all that can be done at this point.

  6. Phil Santala says:

    “More information about the project, including a live discussion with Ted Wilson and Carl Fisher, can be seen tonight on KSL News at 6:30. ”

    http://www.ksl.com posted today!

  7. db says:


    Have the proponents started any environmental study that will be required to construct this project? Where will the funding to complete this project come from?


  8. Eric says:

    Thanks for the scoop. I love the blog and thanks for keep us informed.

  9. Dave says:

    Yeah, yeah, the onslaught continues. New year, new lift. Ted sold out long ago so dialogue with him won’t get anyone anywhere. The farcical argument about easing transportation (fewer cars!!!) is so disingenuous. Like the whole Flagstaff thing a huge public effort will be required to quiet it down. And like Flagstaff we’ll never really believe that the idea ever dies, it just waits for us to forget or tries to sneak in the backdoor (ouch!).

    Now on to more important things. Andrew, what do you think of the new Dynafit Radicals. Which one should i get? Should I stick with the tried-and-true? So many options, I’m so confused!

  10. Troy Davis says:

    Well said and thanks for putting this on your site. I totally agree with you. This is not wanted or more importantly needed.

  11. Greg says:

    You know it’s coming… the great interconnect. Some of us are looking forward to it. Really, why hasn’t there been more options and connections being made already?

    It started with AltaBird, you can wave at each other from McConkey’s lift in PCMR to Empire lift in DV, Solitude and Brighton have always shared SolBright. It’s only a matter of time before Canyons and PCMR bridge Thayne’s canyon… most of it’s already done. If it wasn’t for all of these resorts you wouldn’t be gaining access to the ‘backcountry’. These resorts have never been defined by a single orange rope, and we’ll continue to ski between them the hard way or with a lift.

    The traffic in the canyons will never improve unless there is an actual option to not drive up them. It’s a joke if Talisker thinks they can relieve traffic in the cottonwood canyons… the traffic at Kimball Junction is just as bad. This isn’t a shameless marketing scheme, it is the interconnect, and it’s not the beginning, it’s the continuation. Don’t fight it, embrace it, and ski in between the lines.

  12. Andrew says:

    I agree with you there Greg. Deer Valley, PCMR and the Canyons are already one big resort. Solitude & Brighton share a border. Alta and Snowbird have now become AltaBird. So, as you mentioned, there are just a few tiny chunks that keep it from all being connected, and from what I have heard, they are mostly on private property, so it is almost assuredly a done deal at some point.

    But, I think that is just the beginning, as both Snowbird and the Canyons (the two most predatory resorts in Utah) are each at the end of the chain and they will want to be connected directly to the middle, as this tram idea shows. There is just no end to it and the resorts won’t be happy until they are all directly connected to each other.

  13. Pitt says:

    I used to work for the canyons and was involved in much of expansion of lifts to help give access to excessive real estate projects. Andrew I agree with you, there is not much that we can do against most of their projects since most of the resort is on private land. But the tram project is taking it to the next level. Talisker is only interested in one thing, and that is real estate development. That is the basis of the company and that is all they want. There is a reason why they only invest is skis resorts that are on private land. Build build build and sell sell sell. I can guarantee you that they have no interest in traffic impacts in BCC. Unless that traffic is impeding access to their own property. Thanks for keeping us updated. I will be working to prevent this from happening including trying to get information from my contacts at
    The canyons, even though I believe this is above them and many of them probably do not agree with what talisker is trying to do. Let me know where I can be of help.

  14. Andrew says:

    Hi Pitt – thanks for the insights. Yes, it is painful to see Ted and Talisker even making a pretense that this tram is somehow being done out of the goodness of their hearts to help solve a dubious transportation issue not only in a completely different canyon, but also in a completely different county. It would almost be more believable if they said they were doing it to help end world hunger.

  15. Akbar says:

    Ya, I am glad you said ” it’s painful to see” because if you said “can’t believe” it would leave me wondering. Of course they are obvious stewards for responsible land ownership. Thats like me saying “I don’t want to ride my 450 down that ridge line in your image.” I’m just here doing trail maintenance. It would be a flat out lie. But I still would not do it unless it was legal…. We just saw one big ski area in california buy the one next to it this week I remember when the upper management in “some big ski” corporations just quit asking. Cheaper to pay the fines. “Oh let’s did a big massive hole right here and bury some toxic waste” ?? Oh I can’t do that on Forest service land?? Sorry
    Keep up the good fight.
    If I lived there I would put on a gathering in the winter on the ridge to bring awareness. But I don’t

    God Luck

  16. Justin says:

    Thanks for the heads up on this one. That photoshopped pic says allot.

    I would recommend visiting the Save Our Canyons webpages regarding ski resort expansion. You can read through the proposals and the Forest Service response.

    This isn’t the only issue building steam, and there are things we can do to keep things in check.

  17. JJ says:

    I have family whom I visit in PC. I ski with friends in the Cottonwoods tho…..I’d use this lift in a heartbeat. I HATE driving down parleys into the gag of the SLC haze. And I feel guilty about my contribution to it. Its kind of odd to me to hear you folks speak of the PC area the way you do. It’s already trashed relative to where i live….I think a lift would help connect the communities. It works great in Europe.

  18. Andrew says:

    Does your PC family live in The Colony? That’s about the only community this tram would remotely service. And, if you feel so guilty about gag of the SLC haze, think about your plane flight or car/taxi drive up to PC. Europe? Zermatt banned combustion engines almost 50 years ago and runs public trains every 20 minutes, which would be a much better start to fixing the problem than adding yet another ski lift – on public land no less. If anything, this tram would attract more people which would just compound the problem.

  19. Hal says:


    Your laser like analysis, engaging writing, and sharp elbows are much, much appreciated. Extremely stupid plans call for extremely harsh and pointed responses. I love that you don’t try to softball any of this stuff – no matter who you might know. If someone has the gall to propose something like this, it is an entirely proper response to flay them alive. So have at it.

    Please keep calling it the way you see it. When nonsense like this starts trundling downhill, it is imperative that someone has the ability and desire to call bullshit. The Wasatch are so lucky to have you as a free agent accountable to no corps. So all the “oh but you don’t know what a great and honorable man my husband really is” bleating aside, keep hammering and hammering and hammering.

    No wilderness area was EVER benefited by letting for profit cheese corps work their magic. Ever.

  20. Matt says:

    this link has some info on the forest servioe selling talisker a 30 acre corridor so that they can pursue the tram/gondola.


    i never thought this would involve congress. i’m sure there will be more info to come.

  21. rob says:

    Hey Andrew,

    With our elected official’s latest bonehead move, any more ideas about how to get involved. It’s one more reminder for the semi-annual donation to Save Our Canyons. Do you know of any other groups that are working on this?

  22. DR says:

    Your insights seem far fetched at the outset (perhaps due to your !presentation!), but upon further examination are genius. The rail system approach is easy technology and awfully efficient. The financial expense is only shortterm; Utahans are known as business minds, so a longterm financial analysis should not be a tough sell.
    The beauty of your proposal is that economic and environmental objectives are both optimized (or costs minimized). No matter how you look at it, it is a win.
    What next?

  23. David says:

    Andrew, Congrats on “living the dream” insofar as having a great Alpine lifestyle. You have done some awesome stuff, but I will never forgive you for kicking my ass in a bike race years ago….on a unicycle! Since your page is called Straight Chuter, please allow me to respectfully disagree on a three points. First, your initial claim of having never opposed development at Canyons is not entirely true. At a Summit County Planning Commission meeting, you stated your strong position against a Canyons heli-pad. I don’t think most people who attended realize that Canyons have every right and ability to fly from that spot. They were simply asking permission to pour concrete in order to make it a cleaner pad, minimizing blowing snow and debris. Secondly, I disagree that the proposed gondola would permanently mar the landscape, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The current Wasatch crest trail utilizes dirt roads, (Puke Hill!) has an active antennae farm on the route, and if you climb to it, you pass under numerous ski lifts. Have you ever biked the route, gotten home and said, “Wow, what a crappy ride! All of the clutter!” Probably not. You’ll be looking at the gondola for about 1 minute of your two hour ride. Third: This project CERTAINLY will affect traffic numbers. I will never again drive to BCC to ski. You used the excellent example of Zermatt, above. No cars. But Gondolas and trams everywhere. As you know, you can take several lifts, including two gondolas (sound familiar?) out of town, ski over to Cervina, Italy for lunch, and take more lifts to get back to Zermatt. There are many examples of this in the ALPS, it is great. No car needed! Park City’s sister city Courcheval, France is famous for the fact that you can ski to FOUR other valleys. No car needed. Lastly, I would like to state that I think the “blank spots” between Snowbird and Park City should be filled in, and we can be done with it. Given the European model, I think we could take an enormous amount of cars off of the road. After getting to PC, one would not need a car at all, to ski 7 world class resorts! This is a beginning toward that goal. Thanks, D

  24. Andrew says:

    Thanks for the comments David.
    1) The WPG meeting was for a CUP approval, not a new development. If Talisker wants to let WPG land on their own property, it is part of their SPA rights and they can (and do) allow it.
    2) I disagree with your logic that since the Wasatch Crest trail has developments on its privately owned parts that it is therefore OK to put more developments on the publicly owned parts.
    3) The only reason this proposed lift is being proposed as a solution to traffic problems is that Talisker wants to get some of the State money allotted for public transportation and because it knows that 90 plus percent of the public opposes ski area expansion.

  25. Bob says:


    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. The tram is not just an invasion into public lands, but a true threat to the watershed 500,000 people in SLC rely on. I posted this in reponse to someone pretending ski lifts / trams do no damage. I hope you don’t mind the repost. People need to mobilize against this.

    I grew up watching East Canyon stream degenerate from a prime fishery to being an algae bloom infested mess. The primary watershed for East Canyon stream is directly in the Canyons resort (owned by Talisker). Talisker’s property gets significant blame for the decimation of one watershed and East Canyon Stream is officially listed as an impaired body of water. The Canyons watershed has a Watershed Restoration Action Plan, I doubt you get to do one of those if you have been good stewards of the watershed on one’s side of the range. So we should now entrust Talisker/Canyons and allow them into Big Cottonwood?

    The study to look at is here: http://www.waterquality.utah.g

    or look here and see the same phosphate formations that cause runoff pollution from the Canyons also exist over in Big Cottonwood. Development releases the phosphates;


    Also the Talisker feather-light tram impact story has never played out in resort development. Have you ever seen a tram without a service access road?

    There will be no access roads? No off-loading on ridgelines, no need for maintenance access or cat tracks to allow ski patrol to recover the people who drop in without the skills? The cement for the footings will all be helicoptered in? Perhaps the excavation will not be done by heavy equipment, but rather manual hole digging is the source of the purported 500 jobs to be created.

    As far as the paid for traffic analysis, the traffic impact to analyze is the Wasatch Front where 2.1 million people live and there are 17,000 hotel rooms in Salt Lake County alone. Yes skiers live on the Wasatch Front and some ski visitors even stay in Salt Lake hotels (Park City claims only 7,552 people as of 2010 Census). The tram may cause more Wasatch Front skiers and visitors to opt to drive up Big Cottonwood and tram to the ridgeline rather than drive I-80 to explore the vast flats of the lower lifts at the Canyons. It is the Wasatch Front driving patterns that matter in the analysis as it is the Wasatch Front where the majority of Utah skiers originate from.

    The meaningful traffic patterns to study are on the Wasatch Front, not the Summit County minority side. It seems like Talisker was looking at Park City visitors only and not deeply at the Wasatch Front impacts. Let’s ask Talisker to share their traffic study and get UDOT to weigh in on their assumptions and demographics on the Wasatch Front.

    Better yet, we can have a full NEPA process and options like plowing Guardsman road or other public transport into Big Cottonwood can be looked at closely as an alternative to a Tram.

    The Canyons (Talisker) has a poor track record in their own watershed and are not a good risk to trust with a primary drinking water source for Salt Lake City.

  26. steven summers says:

    Andrew, It is the selling of public land to a Canadian real estate developer that is wrong. Going around the county and forest service by well paid off politicos is just icing on the cake.

  27. Andrew,
    I appreciate all the work that you’ve done on this issue. You’re really making an impact when it comes to drawing attention to this issue. Without your efforts, this would have been just another story a few pages back in the Trib. You’re article a few days ago on the 9 proposed lift expansions really summed up the resorts vision of the Wasatch of the future. Since reading it, I’ve shared it & your video on FB, emailed them along with my letter to our congressional delegates to over a hundred friends. I’m not sure what else I can do but you’ve certainly motivated me to action. I hope that you’ll continue to fight the good fight & inspire people to action.

  28. Shane says:

    Try this link to sign a online petition to help stop the sale of public land to Talisker.


  29. Steve says:

    I think David said it best!!!

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