Wasatch Backcountry Alliance has – like everyone else – seen the new proposals that Alta unveiled for the next five years – and since public comment periods that the Forest Service puts up are some of the most important actions that we as citizens can make in terms of our impact on our public lands – we would like to provide our perspective to help you frame your own comments.
Comments will be accepted until May 25, 2016 – so click now to help ensure your voice is accounted for: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=48903
If you haven’t had a chance to see the proposal, here are a few places to learn more:
• The Salt Lake Tribune’s original article: http://www.sltrib.com/news/3832806-155/altas-dream-a-tram-to-the?fullpage=1
• Their quick editorial follow up: http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/3849201-155/editorial-let-alta-update-but-keep
• Alta’s blog discussing the proposal: http://www.alta.com/blog/onno-breaks-down-altas-proposed-future-projects
• An article on Powder Magazine’s website: http://www.powder.com/stories/news/change-comes-to-alta/?sf25930501=1#7GasuEjqR0YTpX7Z.97
• And the formal proposal itself: http://a123.g.akamai.net/7/123/11558/abc123/forestservic.download.akamai.com/11558/www/nepa/103726_FSPLT3_3033529.pdf
Here are the bullet points:
• Build a bottom-driven tram from Germania pass to the top of Mt. Baldy;
• Replace the Wildcat chair with a high-speed detachable;
• Replace both the Cecret and Supreme chairs with a one high-speed detachable, with a bend in it, ala the Collins chair;
• Replace Albion and Sunnyside chairs with one high-speed detachable;
• Add a new chairlift to connect Sugarbowl to the top of Collins;
• Additions to the Alf’s and Watson’s buildings, and building a new storage facility;
• Add Gasex avy control installations (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6HASl9LsY8);
• Remake an old lake (Lake Flora) in the Sugarloaf area (???) to provide more water storage for snowmaking; and
• Adjust parking in the two base areas – one to create better accommodation for buses.
An important part of Wasatch Backcountry Alliance’s mission is to maintain the existing balance of resort and backcountry terrain. An important strategy to accomplish this mission is to encourage the local resorts to improve their business by maximizing the opportunities that exist using their existing footprint; that is, without expanding into adjacent backcountry. Therefore, we were pleased that none of these proposals represented that, and in fact Alta’s stated desire to put a chairlift up into Grizzly Gulch, which would not only take out all of Michigan City, Twin Lakes Pass, and Patsey Marley backcountry skiing but also create easy-access side country into the entirety of Silver Fork was not included in this five year plan. So that is good. And at an estimated cost of $2-5 million for each of those lifts, if Alta spends $10-20M on the lift replacements alone and probably several million more on the other improvements, maybe it’ll be harder to justify further capital expenditures after this ambitious 5 year plan? More realistically, however, we hope that Alta is successful enough by staying within their footprint that they will not need to expand into Grizzly Gulch.
That said, after watching the construction of the new Hidden Peak lodge atop Snowbird and now seeing that huge structure up there from nearly every vantage point in the Wasatch, we are philosophically “with” many people in the region who decry any further ridgeline development, backcountry or otherwise, as they are not only a blight on the horizons but also represent ever-more resort “creep” (Snowbird’s subsequent strong arm expansion into American Fork via the development-friendly Utah county being the prime example). Alta is using the “avalanche safety” of Baldy as its rationale, to which there are arguments for and against: it is a myth that there is a shortage of bullets to supply the avalanche guns, and avalaunchers are an effective tool in avalanche mitigation, and Alta has done fine for 85 years without a tram that also happens to have a 150 skiers-per-hour capacity to take people up there. Therefore, we are not willing to throw our support behind the tram.
As to the remainder of the proposals – again, none of them threaten the backcountry and aren’t devastatingly un-environmental. However, there is a lot of concern from Alta skiers – and over 75% of Wasatch Backcountry Alliance members are Alta skiers – that more, and more-speedy chairlifts will generate more skiers on the hill which will create crowding and even less time until the resort is tracked out after a storm.
But formally, again, the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance wants to acknowledge that none of these changes affect the adjacent backcountry, and therefore don’t feel compelled to take a stand on those proposals. If you feel differently, please adjust your comments to the Forest Service accordingly.
Comments deadline: May 25, 2016