Wasatch Prepares for Beheading

| February 28, 2012

Utah politics has positioned the Wasatch backcountry for its final death blow. Currently there is not one, not two, not even three, but NINE ski area expansions in the works. In the past these expansionist fantasies were thwarted by factors such as public input (90 plus percent are opposed), NEPA regulations, drinking water concerns, local government and coordinated master development plans. What has changed this time around is that Utah is being run by a group of hyper conservative, pro business, pay-to-play, anti environment, personal property rights fanatics. It’s a resort developers wet dream.

The projects and their effects on the Wasatch backcountry:

A link to the 4.5mb pdf version of this map.

1) SkiLink – a proposed gondola connecting the Canyons ski resort with Solitude which relies on a congressional bill to force the sale of public lands to Talisker, a private Canadian developer.
Lost backcountry:

  • ALL of Bear Trap Fork
  • USA Bowl
  • Wilson’s Hill (ironic considering Ted Wilson’s involvement)

Talisker winds up for the blow while Solitude (red cape), Alta and Snowbird watch from the wings.

2) Grizzly Gulch – Alta is expected to announce their plans to build this lift any day now. They own this property, but I wonder if they will give up any of the Forest Service land they are currently leasing in return?  Doubtful. Basically this will give a private company, Alta Ski Lifts Inc. complete control over all of upper Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Lost backcountry:

  • Patsy Marley
  • Grizzly Gulch
  • Grizzly Gulch trailhead
  • Michigan City
  • Davenport Hill
  • Direct access into East Bowl of Silver Fork
  • Twin Lakes Pass
  • Wolverine Cirque
  • All of the Emma Ridge

3) Flagstaff – Didn’t this proposal to put a chairlift from the town of Alta up the Flagstaff ridge die?  Ha.  Hardly. Putting in this chairlift would mean that everything from Snowbird, all the way to to and through Alta, over the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, down the Emma Ridges and over to the Our Lady of the Snow chapel would be off limits for uphill traffic, ie, skinning.
Lost backcountry:

  • Days Fork
  • Silver Fork
  • Holy Toledo
  • Toledo Bowl
  • Flagstaff trailhead (possibly the most popular TH in the Wasatch)

A photo taken from the top of Silver Fork showing the proposed Alta Flagstaff lift with Days Fork directly below in and Cardiac Bowl directly behind. The south side skiing from this lift would be marginal and it would turn most everything in this photo into slackcountry.

4) American Fork Twin Tram – Snowbird wants to put a tram from the top of their existing Hidden Peak tram to the top of the highest peak in the Wasatch, American Fork Twin.
Goodbye to:

  • Birthday chutes
  • Tri Chutes
  • Columbine
  • Upper White Pine drainage

5) Silver Fork – Solitude tried to expand into Silver Fork a few years ago and was denied.  This is nothing a lobbyist can’t fix with a congressional bill and few paid off politicians.
Lost Backcountry:

  • The Meadow Chutes – all of them
  • Upper Silver Fork drainage
  • Silver Fork trailhead

6) Jupiter Lift – This is a proposed lift connecting the base of Brighton to the top of the Jupiter lift in the Park City Mountain Resort.
Lost Backcountry:

  • Mill F East Fork
  • Guardsman’s Pass
  • Great Western trail

7) 10420 – Sharing a base with the lift above, this would extend Brighton’s reach to Peak 10,420.
Lost Backcountry:

  • Everything to the north of Brighton all the way to Mill F East Fork

8) Solbrite – After you have ridden the Gizzly Gulch chair to the top of Black Bess/Davenport and then skied down the Twin Lakes Pass sidecountry, how are you going to get back to Alta?  The SolBrite lift, which will take you from Twin Lakes Reservoir back up to the top of Solitudes Summit chair.
Lost Backcountry:

  • What was left of Twin Lakes Pass

9) Cardiff Fork – WTF?!! Yes, there is an odd-shaped piece of private property in Cardiff Fork that would allow a chairlift to be placed diagonally across Georges Hill, through the lower part of the Ivory Flakes and Cardiac ridge and then terminate near the bottom of Cardiac Bowl.
Lost backcountry:

  • Cardiac bowl
  • Cardiac Ridge
  • Ivory flakes
  • Georges

Cardiac Bowl in Cardiff Fork.

If you haven’t fainted by now, you will probably be wondering exactly what will be left for backcountry skiing in the Wasatch. The answer is, the Wilderness Areas and a few table scraps.  The rest of it will be either directly consumed by ski resorts or turned into slackcounty/side country ala Scotties Bowl or Dutch Draw.  One of the bigger issues with these expansions is that they wipe out a majority of the safe terrain options which are essential for beginning touring or during high avalanche danger days. Not only that, they will pump tons of unprepared skiers into the sidecountry, which leads to avalanche fatalities like the one last week at the Canyons ski resort.

What to do?  Get pissed off, then get involved.  Write and harass elected officials as much and as often as possible. Boycott expansionist resorts and spread the word for others to do so as well.  Attend public meetings and speak up.  Twenty years from now, when lifts tickets are $200 per person per day and the resorts are filled with empty high speed quads and the corporate owners are still wondering why Utah still can’t compete with Colorado, it will be too late.
Help support StraightChuter.com and do some serious cutting with a Brooks-Range Igloo 70cm Folding Snow Saw from Backcountry.com. Click on the photo below…


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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 (44)

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  1. Rally for the Wasatch « rallyforthewasatch | March 17, 2012
  1. Justin says:

    Is that piece of land in Cardiff part of the Buxtons property or something different?

  2. steve says:

    that is not buxton’s land. his land is up near monte cristo.

  3. dude that likes the 'satch for it's touring ops says:

    thorough and well documented, thanks for helping to put this in view for all us walkers out there.

    Please keep helping us stay in the loop.

  4. Eric Dacus says:

    Sign me up to help, where’s a good place to start protesting this?

  5. Andrew says:

    The Talisker SkiLink bill is going in for “markup”

    The Natural Resources Committee as a whole can be reached via email here:

    or, the democratic chairperson, Ed Markey, can be reached here:

  6. Andrew says:

    From the map I’ve seen, the Buxton property is basically the valley bottom of Cardiff Fork right near the old mining structures. There are quite a few other chunks of private property in the area, and although I’m not sure what the distinction is between mining claims, patent claim or private property is, I think the owners all have the right to build on them.

  7. Christian says:

    FYI, for those sending in comments to the committee The bill in question is:
    H.R. 3452

  8. GrizzlyAdam says:

    Maybe someday we will be able to ride a chairlift from Sundance all the way to Canyons without ever touching the ground.

  9. Aleks says:

    Maybe Buxton can take care of the avy control work up there. I bet he’s qualified…

  10. Matt says:

    Thanks for writing this blog entry. Save our Canyons website also has good information for getting involved.

  11. Joni says:

    So much for attending all of those “visioning” meetings a couple of years ago. No one seems to be “listening”.

  12. Sam says:

    Take heart. NEPA regulations are not that easy to get around, even if the state peeps are down with violating them. The Feds aren’t so easily persuaded.

  13. Robert says:

    Thanks Andrew. This really is going to require a concerted effort to defeat. I don’t know who can organize it. I noticed in the Trib the other day that Mayor Becker appears to have already punted, calling for an amended process and NEPA. Pathetic. I do enough NEPA to know it’s typically little more than a smokescreen with the same end result. I also know that talk of trains will get us absolutely nowhere.

  14. Calvin says:

    Cardiff lift: all the danger none of the fun

  15. wasatchsurf says:

    Well after one of the better powder days of the year I was in a pretty good mood. Now I want to vomit. thanks for posting.

  16. Andrew says:

    I know what you mean Wasatchsurf – lately whenever I go out skiing in the backcountry that thought crosses my mind – “Gawd, this is awesome… and it might soon be gone.” I grew up skiing at resorts and don’t hate them just for the sake of hating, but when I drive or ski by them nowadays, especially mid week, and see miles of empty chairlifts, half filled parking lots and sky high ticket prices, I just have to think that enough is enough. They should stay within their existing boundaries or we are going to end up with vast ski areas that serve very few people.

  17. wasatchsurf says:

    andrew- yep i’ve spent a lot of time in beartrap/willows this year just to enjoy it before it’s gone. do you know if any salt lake or UT based corporations have been involved in the opposition of the SkiLink? BD in the past has spoken out against stuff like this but I can’t recall if they have made a public stance thus far. If I recall correctly several salt lake based companies spoke out against the flagstaff lift proposal. Companies like backcountry.com and black diamond have a lot of leverage, seems like their involvement could help tilt the battle. but I guess that is a risky move for them.

  18. holyshiznit says:

    I need a brown paper bag…I am hyperventilating. The recent spray of ridiculous legislation shows how shortsighted, greedy, and utterly moronic our current elected officials are. I hope we can all get off our duffs and do something before it is too late. Let’s all get active and raise our voices!

  19. matthew schutz says:

    dude, my heart sank when i read this!! Thanks to andrew and christian for putting links for who to write to. Any other suggestions?

  20. Slack country bill says:

    Let em have it… Keep in mind the tourist dollars, clean forgin money being spent. The tax dollars, paying for road access. Skiing might save this state, or we can do more drilling, storing nuclear waste, and burning coal / polluting.
    Save our air, save our state, move tourists year round with electricity instead of diesel.

  21. Clay says:

    Just a quick thought / question. I wonder if there was a way that we could get the resorts to offer a more accessible pass option for locals. Actually make it possible for us to fill the slopes during the week days.

  22. Josh says:

    This article is poorly written. It is full of way too many assumptions and exaggerations. Just because something has a lift up it doesn’t mean it automatically will be open for lift accessed slack country and backcountry skiing. Most of the zones which you claim will be affected would still not be as easily accessible as you claim. You speak as if 1 of these chairlifts being installed means that every proposal will automatically go through. You speak as if over 90% of the public is opposed to a chairlift being installed. None of this is factually based.

  23. Josh says:


    “Twenty years from now, when lifts tickets are $200 per person per day and the resorts are filled with empty high speed quads and the corporate owners are still wondering why Utah still can’t compete with Colorado, it will be too late.”

    Of course lift tickets will be $200 at some resorts in 20 years. With the rate of inflation over 3% over a period of 20 years, and some resorts now charging $99 for a day pass, in 20 years that makes lift tickets almost $180. Just rising at the rate of inflation.

    Second, you are obviously trying to incite the emotions of your readers with these types of claims. I however, don’t think you thought through them well enough.

    1st. There is no possible way that a single ownership mega-resort would be created. (antitrust)

    2nd. There is no possible way that even under multiple ownership lift ticket prices will be increased drastically (I hear a hint of price fixing in the tone of your statement). Price fixing is illegal.

    3rd. If there really were emptly lifts running all over the place then you have nothing to worry about. There is no reason why you can’t tour up to any area where an empty chairlift is running. So this seems to be exactly what you want.

    4th. If there really were a lot of empty chairlifts running all over the place then the “corporate owners” would lower prices, making skiing more affordable for everyone.

    5th. If you do go out and decide to not support “expansionist resorts” then you are either going to be out touring or supporting those resorts that don’t want to expand. By supporting those resorts you are inciting them to look at expanding (increase in demand always leads to expansion) or you will encourage those resorts to want to put lifts in the areas where you are touring as they see an increase in demand of people wanting to ski those areas.

  24. JEd says:

    Some organization is needed to coordinate objections…… where are the b/c gear manufacturers for instance?

  25. GrizzlyAdam says:

    “Just because something has a lift up it doesn’t mean it automatically will be open for lift accessed slack country and backcountry skiing.”

    Uh no. The very purpose of a lift is to open more terrain.

  26. Bucky says:

    Thanks for sharing that chilling map with us Andrew. I hope this bill gets shot down. Specific reasons I oppose this bill include:

    -The bill would violate local Master Plans
    -Negative impacts to watershed
    -Negative impacts to backcountry recreation
    -The bill would result in the loss of the public’s use of Federal land
    -The local public has indicated overwhelming opposition to such development
    -Visual resources would be affected
    -The transportation studies referenced in the bill, claiming that increased tourism and hospitality industry development would decrease pollution, are inherently suspect

    I’ve shared my opinions with our senators and the Natural Resources Committee and urge others to do the same.

  27. Andrew says:

    Hi JEd – yes, quite a few local manufacturers and companies have signed a letter opposing this. I’ve got a copy and will post it soon.

  28. wasatchsurf says:

    Josh- Have you spent more than one season in the Wasatch? Do you not understand what a tiny range this is? You are a fool if you think that expansion will stop at one lift. Every year resorts submit several plans for expansion not limited to lodging, lifts, roller coasters, etc.. the purpose behind this is to get a foot in the door. Once one project is approved the legislation can and will be used to get approval for other projects.
    i.e. once a structure is built going up south facing LCC it will be all over. If snowbird could get approval to build the coaster that would also be the gateway for the flagstaff lift.
    Also your little list has some issues with it.
    Point 1- It’s called the interconnect, resorts will still be their own “corporation” but will offer tickets that work at other resorts as well for an inflated price. examples alta/snowbird and the proposed canyons/solitude ticket.

    Point 3-Obviously you have not a clue on how uphill traffic laws work at ski resorts. Very few allow uphill traffic or any use of their resort property without a ticket. case in point Alta. Not only that but accessing ski resort property from outside the boundary can be seen as trespassing if the resort is on private land.

    Point 5- this is a joke. this has nothing to do with getting lift skiers “better” terrain, this has everything to do with the resorts being able to boost “skiable acres” and “total lift numbers” on their brochures for people to read at the local Holiday Inn and ranking in “Skiing” magazine. Example Canyons Ski Resort “Total Mountain Peaks: 9″(take from their website) what this really translates to is hills covered with mansions, driveways, and scrub oak. Calling any bump on the Park City ridge line a “Peak” is a pretty large stretch of the imagination.

  29. Josh says:

    Grizzly Adams, you missed the point. The lift will obviously open more terrain but many of the areas that Andrew mentions in this article are further from the lift than he would like you to think.
    Those areas would not necessarily be accessible from these new lifts.

    Andrew. I have been skiing the wasatch both backcountry and resort for 21 years.

  30. Matt says:

    Anything I can do as a Canuck other than ski it while I still can?

  31. Andrew says:

    My Utah history predates you by close to a century Josh. If you have ever had a chance to travel outside of the Wasatch, you’ll soon realize what a tiny mountain range it is. It is not Europe, and in fact it is probably more comparable to a single European mountain village (Chamonix, La Grave, Arosa, Zermatt) than the entire Alps.

    “Further from the lift” is all relevant and I don’t think a two minute hike/ski/skin is much of a deterrent to most people.

  32. Forgot one says:

    Hey andrew. hate to be the bearer of bad news, although i’m sure you know, although I do not think the implications are significant, however Snowbird plans to expand into mary ellen gulch with that tram up to the twins, otherwise that Tram accesses nothing extra other then pipeline and the E face of the twins. I don’t think that in and of itself is a huge loss, as I think its mostly powderbirds that uses it, however this all together, might possibly be the death of current day backcountry skiing as we know it in the central wasatch

  33. Zennagain says:

    Andrew- I appreciate your love of the Wasatch.
    To that end, I offer the following perspective:
    – In discussions such as these, one must be mindful of verbal physics. When you deliver your message with contempt, distain and anger one of two things happens:
    1) you are met with a shield (commonly known as the hand)
    2) you get it handed right back to you.

    Reel it in, tone it down, clean it up and pick your battle(s). Focus on the consequential results, costs, and effects of these actions, including public safety, avalanche control work, regular maintenance and the like.

    The Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons of the Wasatch have known people and their intrusions for a good long time. If you want to step into the mix, feel free- and further feel free to say what you mean and mean what you say.

    When you come in hot with a with a proverbial be-heading such as this, you better damn well mean it, and be able to back it up. Just sayin’.

  34. Pay to Play says:

    Bottom line: Private property rights are real. Over 75% of Cardiff Fork is privately owned. Backcountry enthusiasts who feel that this land, along with all land that OTHER people and companies have laid money on the table for, ought to stop and think about the number of times they have trespassed on private property (either knowingly or unknowingly). When was the last time you showed gratitude to the private property owners who have let you experience your backcountry passion on ground they loved so much, THEY BOUGHT IT? I don’t think you would take too kindly to me setting up my tent in your home’s back yard, and then throwing a fit when you decide to put up a swingset where I like my tent. Whomever owns the land BOUGhT the RIGhTs that come with land ownership in a free country. If you didn’t PAY you should be thankful that you have gotten to pLaY at all.

  35. Pay to Play says:

    This land is not being taken from you if you never paid for it.

  36. Tom V. says:

    Andrew, Christian, and anyone else who gives a damn about maintaining anything even remotely wild in the Wasatch needs to be good and pissed off. We don’t need to play nice. The fact is, if we sit back and wait for more expansion, which is all a guise for real estate development, it will all be gone soon. The other side is flush with cash and will spend it liberally to get this legislation passed.

    To this point, I have seen little in terms of an organized effort to stop all of this insanity. It is paramount that those opposed to resort expansion in the Wasatch get organized and get very visible.

  37. nOrm says:

    It seems likely that the Cardiff lift would meet its demise before long:


  38. Nate says:

    Andrew’s right, there needs to be alarm and anger over these planned/proposed/potential/theoretical developments. The Wasatch is a fairly small range, and the areas up for potential development are minuscule in size.

    Why should we oppose these developments?

    When I first skied in Utah (Solitude), I thought to myself, wow, I wish there was a lift to the top of Wolverine Cirque. When I skied at Snowbird and gazed across the canyon, I thought to myself, wow, I wish there was a lift up Superior and Flagstaff. Then I pulled my head out of my ass and remembered that these lands were some of the most beautiful I’d ever seen. My singular, selfish desire to take an man-made artificial lift up a mountain was a fantasy, a completely fictitious want, a manufactured need. This selfish desire would, in the end, destroy what is natural.

    Wilderness is important, even if nary a single soul ever steps foot or puts a skin track in it. Snowbird, Alta, Solitude, Brighton – these resorts are not struggling. And if they are, it’s not the public obligation to give them more land to lease, more land to place lifts on. This type of expansion process is endless.

  39. 1 step closer says:

    Well SCR10 passed House and Senate -> but that still doesn’t mean it’s taking over ever bit a skiable ->http://le.utah.gov/~2012/bills/sbillint/SCR010S01.pdf

  40. Andrew says:

    Hi Nate – I had the same impression when I first started backcountry skiing in the Wasatch. It seemed like it was a HUGE area with plenty of room for everyone. I remember seeing Wolverine Cirque for the first time and thinking we’d have to get a really early start to ski any of those lines as they seemed so far away. In reality, you can ski one or two of those lines in about four hours car-to-car. The entire Wasatch range is tiny compared to the great mountain ranges of the world, and the central Wasatch, where seven major resorts are located, is microscopic.

    What seems to get lost in these discussions is that the resorts, lobbyists and legislators are trying to grab the crown jewels of the Wasatch while pretending they are just ordinary lumps of rock. “Oh, it’s just 30 acres in the middle of thousands. What’s the big deal?”

  41. Andrew says:

    It will if people let it.

  42. Buzzy says:

    Dear Heyduke,
    Please come save us!

  43. Matt says:

    This is great, great news. A victory for lift-served skiers everywhere

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