The Canyons Tram and Ted Wilson

| September 20, 2011 | 24 Comments

After an email and a follow up phone call from Ted Wilson, I have decided to delete the previous posting as Ted  said he felt it was a personal attack on him and betrayed our friendship.  The gist of the post was that Talisker, an ultra high-end developer in the Park City area whom Ted works for as a lobbyist, is planning on putting a tram from the top of their Dream Catcher chairlift up to and over the scenic Wasatch Crest trail, across 1.8 miles of public Forest Service land and terminate it at the Solitude ski resort.  This is an incredibly controversial plan and made more so as it is being pitched as a solution to the traffic congestion in Big Cottonwood Canyon. It is also controversial as Ted has a long history of being a champion of the beleaguered Wasatch and his support for this lift is seen as a betrayal of these values.  Ted says it is not and there is a “method to his madness.”  Time will tell.

I’m generally bad with dates, but know that I first met Ted on April 3rd, 1993.  I remember this date as I met him in a hospital emergency room where is nephew, Roman Latta, was in critical condition after being  caught and buried in an avalanche while skiing with me and some other friends earlier that day. I had known Roman for only an hour or two in total before the accident happened, and from the Alaska plates on his Jeep, I thought he was from out of town. As I walked into the emergency room, I was floored to see it packed with people and soon learned that Roman was from Salt Lake City and a large group of family and friends were there to support him, including Uncle Ted.  It was a sobering lesson and put a very human face on avalanches for me.

The Central Wasatch Mountains is a tiny little range and after skiing here for a few years, there is often only one or two degrees of separation between people. Due to it being right near a major city and having weird drinking laws, I don’t think it has nearly the cohesive community of places like Jackson Hole or Tahoe, but it is very common to have lots of casual friends, or know of people through immediate friends.  This is both good and bad.  It is good as skiing buddies are the best friends on earth and everyone has a mutual love of a common interest – skiing (or boarding).  It is bad as inevitably in a small range like this, conflicts arise and you find yourself on opposite sides of a fierce debate with someone you know as a friend or have skied with. To complicate this issue, tons of skiers/riders work for the ski industry as guides, instructors, patroller, etc., and they are bound by their employer not to criticize them.  Being a free agent with no ties to a ski resort or government agency, people often feed me inside scoops on upcoming controversial developments to help spread the alarm, which I am happy to do, although it often alienates friends.

This is unfortunate, but I also feel very strongly about preserving the Wasatch Mountains, so it comes with the territory. However, many people are not in the position to voice their opinions, which is how many of these controversial projects get rammed through.  Public meetings are held and the same ten people speak out against them, while in the background far more people are grumbling about it under their breath.  Since moving back to Utah twenty years ago I have seen a vast explosion of development, and that is nothing compared to what the people who have lived here continuously since the 1960’s have seen.  It seems obvious to me that if development isn’t reined in the Wasatch will soon become yet another over-priced, over-groomed, over-hyped run of the mill mega resort.  The sad part of this is that for many people, this moment can’t come soon enough.

 

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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 (24)

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  1. rob says:

    Thanks for the heads up Andrew. I’ve wanted to give Mr. Wilson the benefit of the doubt these last few years as he worked with our governor, but joining Talisker was the final straw for me. Perhaps it’s just a side effect of living here for a while, but seeing a former Utah politician team up with a developer scares me more than just about anything else. Please continue to sound the alarm on these issues. Looking forward to adding my voice to the 10 vocal opponents this round.

  2. Sven says:

    It’s too bad that Ted’s influence reaches even to your blog, Andrew.

    “What have you done for me lately?” In Ted Wilson’s case, lately he has done nothing to advocate for the protection of our public lands but instead has fought their protection in the form of development and financial gain. It’s sad really. From his opposition (along with Guv Herbert) to protecting Utah’s proposed wilderness areas (as seen in his comments on Secretary Salazar’s Wildlands Policy) to this new attempt to Disneyfy the Wasatch, Ted Wilson has lost all credibility as a defender of the Wasatch and the public lands that make Utah an attractive place to live and work.

  3. Ted Wilson says:

    Andrew’s first article, the one he took down, was well reasoned and thoughtful on the issues. I had no problem with that. My objection was to a couple of personal items. Andrew is one of the greatest skiers of this generation. His contributions around the world and here in the Wasatch are huge. I join him in wanting a big wilderness area for the Wasatch and though we differ on how to deal with the automobile problems in the range, I consider him a good friend.

  4. Andrew says:

    Hi Sven – Don’t worry, I’ll be back. :)

  5. Richard says:

    I remember attending a fundraiser/wake for Roman Latta at Ted’s house and thinking at the time: “what a great guy Ted was to have been a climber, mayor, sponsor of Tibetans, back country skier, and now helping out the Avalanche Forecast Center.”

    I truly do not know what to make of his latest moves. I can’t see how the proposed tram would reduce traffic in the canyons. What I do see is the tram line going right up Dutch’s Draw which is a damn fine little back country ski hill. RIP to Dutch’s, Bear Trap, Willow, the Monitors, etc.

    This tram idea is as bad as the lift up Flagstaff.

  6. Rob says:

    The original post was far better. Pity you took it down

  7. Nicholas says:

    When I read the first post I was sure it was a joke, but sadly I was wrong. I understand that pressures from friends and family can alter the way we express ourselves, but I do wish that the first post was allowed to stand. We are responsible for the actions we take, and however uncomfortable some of the statements were, they were not out of line.

    I am quite saddened by the proposal to install a tram between the two sides of the ridge. I was raised in Park City, and can still remember when Kimball junction was nothing but a texaco. I do not by any means expect that development stops, and I am not upset with the vast majority of the development decisions that have been made- after all much of what has been done now brings visitors to town and supports the local economy, creates better schools, and has created a mechanism by which an otherwise small town has prospered. The recent surge in resort development, on the other hand, not only serves to vertically stratify the town by economic class, but seriously places the ever diminishing undeveloped areas at risk. Developments such as the colony, Tuhaye, and empire pass have utilized vast expanses of land for the enjoyment of so few.

    Moreover, it seems that the cooperation between ultra-high expense land developers and ski resorts (at least in the park city area) has led to what I see as a race to develop the biggest, more luxurious, and to myself and most of the town of park city, out of reach communities. I am continually amazed at how much the canyons has changed in the last few years, with the southern boundary now extending nearly to the iron mountain ridge. It saddens me to see such large expanses of land zoned off, and to now face a barrage of no trespassing and private property signs.

    I see this tram as another extension of this mentality. There is no reason for a tram between park city and solitude. The traffic in park city is already beyond the capabilities of the road infrastructure- just try to get out of town at 5pm in the winter when 248 is backed up from the barn to kimball junction. Funneling thousands of additional skiers through this corridor to reach solitude via the canyons is a ridiculous. If a reduction in traffic is what is sought, why not utilize a train (such as a cog train) or better mass transit from the salt lake city side? The park and ride lot at the bottom of big cottonwood is pathetically small (so much so as to be completely full by 8:30 am most winter mornings). Instituting a reasonable and effective mass transit system to carry skiers from the base of the canyon to brighton and solitude would do far more to reduce traffic than a tram between the two.

    I see this tram more as another un-needed attempt to draw skiers to the canyons; another step being made by the resort to be ahead of its competitors. If this is the logic, just present it as such. Hopefully the public realizes what a ludicrous idea this is and steps forward.

  8. keither says:

    Thanks for posting this Andrew. I will also be watching this one with heightened interest!

    Keith

  9. Holly Mullen says:

    I do not know Andrew McLean. Not really. And he does not know my husband, Ted Wilson. Not really. I wish all of you writing here had done a hair’s width of the work Ted has done over the years for Utah, Salt Lake City, the Wasatch, wilderness and and for decency and civility in political/environmental dialogue. He sees more than one way to define the Wasatch, and gets that these mountains belong to everybody. His heart and mind are on zeroing in on one of our worst sources or regional air pollution–the car. Especially the cars that snake up the Wasatch Canyons every weekend from November to May. (I believe that means many of you who read and write on this blog, correct? Maybe you never even considered you are part of the problem.)

    Anyway, have at it friends. Just know that you don’t know Ted Wilson. So you have no need to try to “figure him out.”

  10. Andrew says:

    Hello Holly. I don’t think there is any debate that Ted has done many fantastic things for the Wasatch and is a completely decent person. However, this tram concept and the reasoning behind it completely flies in the face of everything he has accomplished and is fantastically uninformed. Yes, Little & Cottonwood canyons are often completely plugged with “the red snake”, but more often than not it has to do with the road being closed for control work (as was the case when Ted had his epiphany), crashed cars, bad weather or a mad rush for a three day weekend. It was also disconcerting that Ted had no idea that this tram would require riding multiple chairlifts and literally miles of skiing to even get to the base of it, and it is hard to believe that he forgot that it would also involve a $90 ticket. Per person. This to me implies that he is completely detached from the reality of the situation and is taking advantage of a social problem (traffic) to help benefit his new employer. This tram will have zero effect on reducing traffic, and if anything, the marketing of it will only help to increase traffic problems.

    Ted has also mentioned the importance of compromise many times, however, I’m not seeing anything offered in return for this tram aside from some vague references to a certain politician MAYBE changing his mind and voting for a wilderness bill, which in itself is far from a sure thing. It seems that all of the developers and politicians support the idea of Wilderness, as long as they get their pet projects rammed through first, or get an exemption from it, like for heli skiing. If this wilderness bill was an animal, it would be so de-limbed by the time it was actually passed it would be nothing but a pile of bloody guts.

    As far as civility goes, I’m personally surprised that Ted is so thin skinned after all of his years in politics. He was genuinely hurt by the spoofed photography, but honestly, those are now his constituents and his family. 99.9% of this tram will only benefit a sliver of ultra-rich people who don’t even know how to push a sled through the snow.

    To the ski resorts, the solution to every problem seems to be adding a new lift. Traffic jams ten miles away..? We need a new lift. Across public land.
    Of course people go berserk over things like this.

  11. Sven says:

    Holly,

    Don’t assume too much…this is Utah after all Some of us were born on the east bench from parents that were born on the east bench from parents that were born on the east bench with parents and/or grandparents that were born in Salt Lake when the east bench was just that place below that place where the “evil” feds set up their fort douglas to “spy” on us all. Just because we are lowly commenters on a rarely-read blog doesn’t mean we don’t know the issues, the land, or the man himself.

    To portray this, and all Ted’s recent public lands positions, as a battle against “the car” is ridiculous. If that was the case Mr. Wilson would come out in favor of protecting our state’s wilderness, public lands, and wildlife habitat. Instead, he is working to develop what little we have left for the benefit of the privileged few.

    Again, it is sad to see a man, who in a more politically tolerant time was a stalwart against the corporatization of the Wasatch, suddenly bend over when the political winds shift against him… we need champions, not chumps.

  12. Justin Wilcox says:

    I’d love to hear from Ted or Holly on how exactly this tram would do anything to reduce cars in BCC. First of all, BCC rarely has traffic issues compared to LCC (I shouldn’t even mention that since it will just get used as ammunition to extend the tram to Alta). And as Andrew mentioned on the TGR blog, who in their right minds is going to go to the Canyons to get to Solitude? It would take forever, far far longer than driving to Solitude. This wouldn’t alleviate any traffic in BCC, all it would do is serve as a novelty for Canyons skiers. Don’t worry Holly, I’m not trying to “figure Ted out”, I just can’t see any benefit from this idea, other than financial benefit to the Canyons.

  13. d3 says:

    probably the kerfuffle was because ted doesn’t wear fur! i saw the original post, too, and think your reply to holly is apropos. and i think if someone such as the well-known ted wilson is misunderstood, then he might speak a bit more clearly about motivations and goals for a tram from summit to salt lake counties. sheesh. this diesel truck of a concept makes the coaster look like a prius. let’s hope terry diehl doesn’t step in.

  14. Jonathan says:

    Andrew, thanks again for standing up for the local BC user groups, and bringing this sad scenario to peoples’ attention. Is this a bastardized version of an aerial tram interconnect that received marginal public support in the Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow surveys, or would it be a public resource as it is referred to in the survey report?

    Here’s the pertinent excerpt:

    “The concept of an aerial tram system connecting Park City to Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons received less public support (58%) than the strategies recommended here. The Steering Committee recognized that such a connection could reduce the amount of traffic from Summit County and make our ski resorts more competitive, but could also reduce backcountry recreation areas and increase visitation and associated impacts. While controversial, a transportation connection received sufficient support to justify future consideration. Transportation projects should reduce congestion, improve air quality, and facilitate access and public safety, while maintaining our high-quality recreational experience and protecting natural resources.”

    SOC has made Envision Utah’s report available: http://saveourcanyons.org/files/resources/WCT_FINAL_23Sep2010.pdf

    Ted served on the steering committee for this SLCounty planning process, as did skiutah which was the original source for the aerial tram concept. Personally I think a train/transit system is the solution that would best serve the public interest. It received 70% support in the surveys.

    Put the rail up LCC through to BCC and on to PC. Link up the PC side with an aerial tram if that is preferred by all the absentee homeowners and you folks that live over there.

  15. Phil Santala says:

    Andrew,

    Kudos to you for pushing this issue up, surprisingly little interest is paid to these issues by KSL, or any Utah newspaper.

    Having been one to double, or triple park at the park and ride, and also one who faithfully pulls over to pick up hitchhikers when I can’t triple park, and only drive up solo with out doing either when I’m stopping at Kessler…I wonder as well what service a tram would do to help with congestion?

    Ted or Holly, any help with that??? Why not put public funds into more buses, so I could ride one every 15 mins, not waiting for them to leave Brighton on the top and 20 min intervals.

    Expand the park and ride lots, and run buses up those bad boys every 10 mins, and watch the accidents and lines of cars go way down. Need more incentive, make them free and charge people who park with less that 2 people in a car.

    Andrew, thanks again, please keep us informed as to what progress with this, and dates of public hearings!!

  16. Tom Macfarlane says:

    Andrew,

    Thanks for posting this. Ted was a climbing mentor to me in my youth. However, I realized during the Olympics debates that political/personal expediency trumped true commitment to protection of the Wasatch. When I learned that he had been hired by the Canyons I figured that they had a Salt Lake County expansion in mind and here we see it. Really just more of the same.

  17. Terry says:

    Thanks for posting about this Andrew. Your original post was even better!

    As for Ted Wilson’s statement, “I join him in wanting a big wilderness area for the Wasatch” it reads like total spin. How is that tram going to help “wilderness”? Sounds like he has sold out several times over.

  18. Matt says:

    Didn’t Utah open lands buy willow lake to prevent development? maybe I’m just confused as to the nature of the purchase, but it seems like it involves private/public land.

  19. RC Hawkins says:

    I will not bash Ted, nor Holly, although Ted has recently said unkind things about me. The tram deal is just wrong and we should not stop fighting it. It is sad to see an “old friend” try to justify his most recent descent into eco-whoredom through bogus prattling about canyon traffic. It is just plain wrong.

  20. RC Hawkins says:

    What?

  21. RC Hawkins says:

    No changes are necessary.

  22. John Mavor says:

    Great posts and good to see someone as Tireless as Andrew is climbing this hill (as opposed to falling into the hole). Opinion, some of it reads like “truth, you can’t handle the truth” which concerns me a great deal. It appears the simple solution to traffic congestion is additional public transportation and lot’s designed to serve the need? Am I missing something. If economic development is the end game then Ted and company are (sadly) on the right track.

  23. tod young says:

    do you know if Bob Grow is an attorney for Talisker?
    He was a founder of Envision Utah, but, like Ted Wilson, goes with the flow…

  24. Mateo says:

    Being a former politician in the employ of a major developer, you forfeit your right to be taken seriously in matters of conservation. He’s a local lobbyist hired to smooth things over by utilizing a classic red herring approach.

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