Hello Wasatch Backcountry Enthusiasts!
Now that April is here we have the annual expectations: people getting their bikes and running shoes out, heading for the desert, sniffing out a little corn snow, and the occasional nice big storm to deliver fleeting powder! As we all know, this season was our second in a row that had a fairly significant mid-season drought, but we hope that you were able to get out and enjoy the backcountry plenty regardless of the conditions. As the season starts to wane, we thought we’d send out an update on what’s been happening in the Wasatch these last couple of months.
First and foremost: Little Cottonwood Canyon Parking
Most of you are likely aware of Alta Ski Lifts’ (ASL) new parking program, which was clearly targeted toward limiting backcountry use in favor of their revenue-generating patrons. ASL complained to us for years about their parking woes associated with non-resort users, so we gave them a number of ideas to help alleviate their parking situation, but instead of instituting a program encouraging carpooling the way that Solitude did a few years ago or limiting the number of all-season cars buried under feet of snow, they specifically targeted backcountry users. Over that period of time, the USFS had indicated that they would not approve a program that was specifically targeted toward the non-resort public users who were accessing public lands, but ultimately USFS accepted ASL’s program on its face.
That said, anecdotally the parking program seemed to “work” as ASL intended; there seemed to be fewer traffic/parking issues this winter, and our own trail counters indicated that backcountry visitation in upper LCC was way down. We put out a mid-winter survey to track people’s perceptions and habits from this year vs. prior years, which almost 200 of you completed (thanks!). It’s clear from the results that a) many people were confused by the system, b) people were discouraged by the prospect of the punitive and awkward system, particularly as it related to dawn patrol outings, c) the program pushed more people toward BCC and Mill Creek for their outings, and d) ASL’s reputation among our community was badly tarnished. We will provide more results from our survey later.
However, the bright spot of ASL’s system (and Snowbird’s reservation system in 2020-2021) is that it showed the entire community that management of existing traffic patterns through parking reservations is clearly an effective tool that has a real impact on the canyon. We are thankful that this happened before UDOT releases its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is considering expensive/intrusive/overbuilt transit options like a gondola or expanding the roadway. Because of the huge outpouring of public comments last year, the EIS has been delayed, and notably, their spokesperson has said that ALL options – including no change, and even a train? – may be back on the table.
Here is an article by local adventure writer and Wasatch backcountry guidebook author Jared Hargrave on his take on the potential gondola: utahoutside.com/2021/08/why-im-against-a-gondola-in-little-cottonwood-canyon/
The Wasatch Backcountry Alliance was proud to be part of the traffic solution by dramatically expanding our shuttle service from one day a winter to nearly all Saturdays over the winter! We are grateful to backcountry.com for their generous support of this program and Utah Mountain Shuttles for driving so many users up and down LCC. The WBA shuttle program showed enough potential that the Central Wasatch Commission has awarded WBA another $15k for this program for next season.
In Cardiff Fork, the mine/landowners continue to violate their Forest Service permit by leaving the road that ends at the mine, with snowmobiles and snowcats high marking terrain and providing access to the illegal yurt near George’s Bowl. It is clear to all that they are motorizing ski access plus yo-yoing with machines beyond their permit, yet it seems that little action is being taken to stop the illegal use. The owner of the yurt has received notices of violation and the county is trying to schedule a hearing, yet the yurt remains in place. The Special Use Permit that the Cardiff Canyon Owners Association has had in place for several years and mandates public access across their lands to access adjacent public lands is set to expire on May 31; the FS cannot renew a permit that is not in compliance, which is the case due to the unauthorized uses, so that situation will likely change for next season. WBA will continue to monitor Cardiff and provide updates as things change.
In Mill Creek Canyon, after over a year of WBA pressuring the Forest Service to clarify the dog leash rules, the Forest Supervisor recently signed a proclamation clarifying that in all of Mill Creek Canyon dogs are to be leashed on even days (on leashes less than 6’ long); on odd days they are allowed to be off leash on trails but must be leashed in parking areas. USFS also clarified that they are the primary jurisdiction on this in the canyon, not the county. This will help with the conflicts associated with the increasing dog popularity on the Mill Creek road above the gate (which becomes a “trail” in winter) and on the Porter Fork road, trails, and bowls/glades up there.
Save the Date! On May 19 there will be an open house at the Millcreek City Hall on 3300 South Highland to discuss the first design phase of the Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) grant awarded to SL County for updating the MCC road above Elbow Fork. There has been much talk of expanding the lane/road size without any bike lanes, so if this is important to you, plan on being there to let your voice be heard.
Solitude had new management this season and we were pleased to see them announce that they will allow uphill travel after daily operations starting this season, joining Brighton and PCMR in embracing a trend happening nationwide at ski resorts. Solitude allowed the Silver Fork youth skimo team to work out there one evening a week, and Amber Broadaway, the new manager, looks forward to expanding their uphill opportunities next season, which will help disperse use and provide an opportunity for avalanche-safe uphill workouts, among other benefits. Perhaps ASL and Snowbird can follow this trend?
The Central Wasatch Commission (CWC) has just introduced a draft of the long-awaited “Environmental Dashboard” that was created by the “Digit Lab” at the U of U. They are looking for public feedback on this over the next two weeks, so head to the dashboard and comment directly to the CWC. Notably, the equally-long-awaited visitor use/capacity study is scheduled to be finished this fall, which – in conjunction with the Enviro Dashboard – will help guide future development decisions in the Wasatch.
Despite Salt Lake County pulling out of the CWC, the rest of the stakeholders are still involved. While WBA has generally been disappointed with the slow pace and lack of deliverables from the CWC, we continue our stakeholder membership there since we still feel it’s the best chance for permanence in the preservation of backcountry terrain; we’d rather be at the table than on the menu!
Finally, please check out our updated website at wasatchbackcountryalliance.org if you haven’t already. We’d like to thank member Brad Hogan (@b.rad.hogan on Instagram) for donating his time to make the site come to life. It was a pleasure working with Brad and we highly recommend him to those in need of web design or WordPress services.
Thanks for reading through this somewhat long but important update! Now that we appear to be hopefully ending the pandemic, we are looking forward to doing more social events like the Member Meeting and Powder Party in the fall. In the meantime, continue to pray for Spring Snow, and as always thanks very much for the support.