ONE Wasatch Interconnect VIP Tour 2014

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Last Saturday Ski Utah was gracious enough to invite the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance along on a VIP tour of the famous “Interconnect” tour  – that is offered daily, and has been going since at least the early 90’s – to provide an overview of the ONE Wasatch “concept” that was unveiled last week.  Participants included Dave Whittikiend, the District Supervisor for the Wasatch-Cache-Uinta National Forest; Laynee Jones, the director of the Mountain Accord project; Jeff Heilman, a lead on the Mountain Accord project; Drew Clark, editorial writer for the Deseret News; Steve Issowits of Deer Valley’s development office; Brad Gilson, an engineer for Cottonwood Heights, Jon Shutz, an attorney representing SLC on Mountain Accord; Claire Woodman of the town of Alta; Michael Allegra, the director of the Utah Transit Authority, and the venerable mayor of Salt Lake City Ralph Becker and his new communications director Sarah Lyman.  And we had special guest appearances by Deer Valley GM Bob Wheaton, Solitude GM Henry Hornberger, Solitude owner Dave DeSeelhorst, and Alta GM Onno Wieringa.

Nathan Rafferty singing the praises
One of the guides showing the linkups

The general route of the Interconnect goes from the DeerValley base to the top where it’s adjacent to the ridge above McConkey’s chair, where we crossed into Park City Mountain Resort, up to the top of Jupiter where we climbed to JupiterPeak before dropping down to the Big Cottonwood Road where we crossed into Solitude.  From the top of Solitude we followed the Sol-Bright trail to Brighton’s Millicent chair, up that, down the lower Sol-Bright, back up Honeycomb, a traverse/sidestep up to Twin Lakes Pass, then down Grizzly Gulch to Alta, where of course, one can connect to Snowbird.  So it encompasses six of the seven ONE Wasatch resorts.

Mayor Ralph taking it all in

There were two main themes of the day: “Isn’t this great!” and “See how convenient this all is!”  The congenial and enthusiastic Nathan Rafferty of Ski Utah took advantage of most of the folks’ lack of specific knowledge of the area to reiterate these points a lot, and the guides were also well-versed in The Message.  Part of that included potential lift configurations; considering that ONE Wasatch is still just a “concept”, it was clear that a lot of thought has gone into how the concept can become reality:

  • A lift connecting the top of The Canyons’ Iron Mountain Chair with PCMR’s Jupiter area, going up laterally over Pine Cone ridge
  • Two lifts from somewhere in the ClaytonPeak area forming an upside down V heading into PCMR and DeerValley
  • A lift going from the top of Solitude across the deep expanse towards the top of the Honeycomb ridge (to the top of “Black Bess”, in Michigan City)
  • Alta’s proposed Grizzly Gulch chairlift, which seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

This is only 5; It’s unclear where the 6th would be.

To us, the big fundamental take-aways were that this was a relatively small investment on the resorts’ part (seven resorts splitting six chairlifts),  being able to promote a Euro-style connectivity is a great way to lure American ski travelers away from Colorado and California, there’s a lot of overbuilt/underutilized infrastructure that needs to to be utilized (ie lots of unoccupied fancy hotel rooms, and that even though it’s not very realistic that people will actually connect multiple resorts in a day, it’s a cool concept that promotes aspirational ski vacation purchasing.

When asked why PCMR, Deer Valley, and the Canyons haven’t done this already (thereby creating what would be by far the biggest resort in North America, it was answered that not only do these three have very different characters, (which apparently has some appeal to the more cookie-cutter Colorado resorts), and they have not acted simply…..because.  And obviously, the acrimony between The Canyons’ Talisker (owner) and Vail (manager) and PCMR – that escalated dramatically just in the last few days:  – hasn’t helped overcome that “character difference”.

I asked why not plow Guardsman, particularly now that it’s been chip-sealed to the pass?  Apparently it’s too steep and too subject to avalanche danger, but also because ParkCity is very fearful of the traffic implications on their Marsac avenue.    When told that the name “Honeycomb” comes from the maze of tunnels that are under the Silver Fork ridgeline I asked why not a tunnel to connect people to the resorts? Nathan didn’t know, and pointed out that the “BassHole” at Snowbird seems to work.  It was clear that the resorts are only going with what they know well:  surface lifts,

It is obvious that Ski Utah and the resorts presented this as a “concept” but are quite confident that will it happen.  It’s been rumbling around in their minds for years, and now – with the Mountain Accord process going – it could be their last, best chance to have it included into the Master Plan.   Ironically, they have no idea if it will actually “work” at luring people to Utah, and they admit that for each resorts’ core local customers there is little benefit nor much economic opportunity for the resorts themselves.

These kids were backcountry skiing (they hiked all the way to the top of Grizzly). If they can do it, who can’t?

Certainly with their ideas for lift configuration it would effectively “take out” much of the Brighton backcountry, Grizzly Gulch, and upper Silver Fork due to the ease of access that the lifts would provide, and be a bold precedent in doing yet more development throughout the Wasatch.

The future of Grizzly Gulch?

It is not in line with the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance’s commitment of “maintaining the balance of developed and undeveloped terrain in the Central Wasatch” – particularly when you keep in mind that the resorts already got much of the “best” terrain in the Wasatch long ago, and the Park City resorts have already taken out ALL of the PC backcountry skiing –  and therefore we will continue to post further information so that you can decide for yourselves if this is a viable concept.

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