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Letter to Alta Ski Lifts Company: Proposed Development of Grizzly Gulch

April 11, 2018

Board of Directors
Alta Ski Lifts Company
8920 S Collins Road
PO Box 8007
Alta, UT 84092

Re: Proposed Development of Grizzly Gulch

Via email to Mike Maughan (mikem@alta.com) and Allen Orr (alo@alta.com)  

Dear Board of Directors of Alta Ski Lifts Company (ASL),

By way of introduction, Wasatch Backcountry Alliance (WBA) is an organization that was formed five years to ago to represent the disparate but growing human powered winter recreation community that seeks to maintain the existing balance of resort and backcountry terrain in the relatively small central Wasatch range.  With the backing of several thousand members, we have been an integral part of the Mountain Accord/Central Wasatch Commission process and have good working relationships with virtually all of the Wasatch stakeholders, including most of the ski resorts, Ski Utah and other important stakeholders.

Recently WBA heard rumors that ASL had decided to forego keeping Grizzly Gulch as a potential parcel for the impending land exchanges as proposed in the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Act (CWCNRA) that is expected to re-introduced this year by either Representative Mia Love or Representative John Curtis.  As such, we met with the ever-gracious Mike Maughan, who confirmed that ASL has decided to pursue ski area development and expand Alta’s operations in Grizzly Gulch. During the course of our discussion, Mike acknowledged more than once that this decision would likely face considerable opposition in the community. WBA does indeed oppose this move by ASL, and we respectfully request that you reconsider this decision.

Mike talked a lot about the concept of the “Alta Ski Experience,” something that ASL has been touting and delivering for decades. A large percentage of our members and a number of our own board of directors are Alta skiers and longtime pass holders, so we certainly appreciate that concept, both as a marketing tool and simply as skiers who love skiing Alta.  You are undoubtedly aware that UDOT is currently working on enhancing Little Cottonwood Canyon transit solutions with the likely outcome that people will be able to come up the canyon more easily, and we know that keeping the skier density low is a crucial aspect to the Alta Experience. We also understand the argument for adding sunny, accessible, and family-friendly terrain as the Salt Lake valley population grows and ASL seeks to maintain/improve profitability while maintaining the Alta Experience.  

That said, WBA believes it is worth considering that keeping Grizzly Gulch undeveloped and “wild” (despite its proximity to the ski area) has very broad appeal, strong support and adds immeasurably to the Alta Experience. People have been backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snow shoeing in Grizzly Gulch for decades, and many of these people are Alta skiers and pass holders. Today, Grizzly Gulch continues to see consistent use as a backcountry location. Wasatch Backcountry Alliance has done wintertime user counts at nine different trailheads in the central Wasatch for the past four years. The Grizzly Gulch trailhead is by an order of magnitude the most popular trailhead that we count, and with good reason: it’s the only relatively accessible and safe backcountry terrain in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and is the conduit to the wide variety of more challenging adjacent terrain in Big Cottonwood Canyon, including Days and Silver Forks, and the Mt. Wolverine and Tuscarora areas.  

Just as the terrain in Grizzly Gulch would be family-friendly terrain for a resort, it is family-friendly for backcountry users as well. For many kids and adults, Grizzly Gulch is their first exposure to the backcountry; in fact, it’s not uncommon to see kids as young as 7 or 8 years old hiking in Grizzly Gulch to earn their first turns. The undulating terrain is a favorite of young free-riders who hike up to use the iconic Chad’s Gap, Pyramid Gap and numerous other gaps and steep shots for their tricks and stunts. Grizzly Gulch is also the domain of many of the country’s best photographers, who use their eye and their media presence to publicize the Alta backcountry and by association, Alta Ski Lifts as well.  

In addition, as you probably are aware, Grizzly Gulch is the center for local avalanche instruction, with many of the field days taking place there. This is a fitting location for the passing on of this knowledge considering that Alta is well known for being the birthplace of modern avalanche study and mitigation.  Many of these participants stay at lodges in the Town of Alta, and ski the resort in addition to the backcountry, making Alta an even more appealing destination for people looking for a blend of in- and out of bounds skiing whilst on vacation.

It is our understanding that ski resort visits nationwide have been flat for many years, but Utah’s share has been increasing.  Sales of backcountry touring equipment have grown at an annual double-digit pace for the last 10 years while conventional alpine gear sales have been flat to declining. WBA believes that ASL, as a core skier’s mountain, has the potential to enhance its stature immeasurably in the ski community by preserving Grizzly Gulch rather than by using it for future resort expansion. The PR associated with an announcement that this iconic and well-loved area will remain as undeveloped land will undoubtedly lure people to the resort who see the opportunity to ski both the resort and the backcountry in the same day, who are more likely to partake in the cat skiing opportunities (which WBA would not oppose if the land exchange moves forward), and would send a clear message that Alta is indeed for skiers of all types.  

WBA’s board of directors and members are well aware that ASL is a business and as such needs to make business decisions. While we do not presume to know or second guess ASL’s long-term business strategy, we do believe the tangible returns ASL would receive by including Grizzly Gulch in the land exchange, namely water rights and high-value developable lands near the base, warrant serious consideration from a future business perspective. If ASL decides that it prefers to sell some/all of its land within Grizzly Gulch rather than include them in a land exchange, the community’s recent outpouring of support for the preservation of Bonanza Flat provides ASL with a precedent for the value people put on keeping land open and accessible.  

Wasatch Backcountry Alliance hopes that Alta Ski Lifts will consider the many reasons to leave Grizzly Gulch undeveloped for current and future Alta skiers, and for the backcountry community as a whole.  We would be very interested to meet with you to talk about creative options that could result in win-wins for all, so please contact WBA’s Board President Chris Adams at chrisa@wasatchbackcountryalliance.org or 801-5555555 if you are interested in setting up a meeting.  

Sincerely,

 

Wasatch Backcountry Alliance Board of Directors.  

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