As skiers, snowboarders and winter recreationists, the members of Wasatch Backcountry Alliance appreciate and support Utah’s world-class ski resort industry. We recognize the significant contribution to the economy and quality of life that skiing and winter recreation provide for residents and visitors along both sides of the Wasatch.
Furthermore, Wasatch Backcountry Alliance and our members believe the current balance between opportunities for developed (resort) and undeveloped (backcountry) skiing is a crucial component of Utah’s attraction as a winter recreation mecca and that this balance must be protected. Given the significant growth in backcountry skiing and snowshoeing in the face of declining or flat resort skiing numbers, it is evident that backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, winter mountaineering and other forms of human-powered winter recreation are increasingly important contributors to Utah’s economy and quality of life.
The Wasatch Mountains hold value far beyond their unrivaled recreational amenities, terrain and powder snow. These mountains are an ecological and scenic treasure, the source of the water we drink, a place to find solitude and respite from the noise and stress of city life and to experience wild open spaces and wilderness on their own terms.
With respect to future ski resort expansion on public lands, including the Interconnect proposal to link the seven resorts of the Central Wasatch via additional ski lifts, Wasatch Backcountry Alliance supports the direction provided in the Wasatch-Cache Forest Plan. After careful analysis of environmental, economic and social impacts of potential resort expansion, the Wasatch-Cache Forest Plan determined that, “New resort developments on National Forest System lands will be confined to the permit boundaries in effect at the time of revision .”
The Plan goes on to state that, for all resort development decisions, “Special attention will be given to the scenic integrity of views from backcountry and wilderness trails.” Adding that, “visual integrity of ridgelines will be maintained.”
It is also noteworthy that public opinion overwhelming supports this approach to maintain the current balance. In the 2010 Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow report sponsored by the State of Utah, Salt Lake County, and Salt Lake City, 94 percent of Wasatch Front residents supported limiting resort expansion to existing Forest Service permit areas in a way that would not infringe on existing winter backcountry ski areas and have little or no effect on environmental resources.
While there may indeed be viable options to connect the Wasatch resorts in a way that avoids negative environmental and watershed impacts and maintains the current balance between developed and undeveloped recreation opportunities, Wasatch Backcountry Alliance and our members believe that any consideration of an Interconnect system should take place within the context of a broad and inclusive public planning process such as the current Mountain Accord initiative and that this process must incorporate an overall transportation solution for the Wasatch area.
And finally, we believe that before proposing a large-scale linkage of resorts, the Utah ski resort industry should show a good faith effort to demonstrate benefits from connections and common boundaries already in place between the resorts of the Wasatch. This process should also include careful study of resort connections in other parts of the world for proof of perceived benefits. For example, since the 1997 merger of Whistler and Blackcomb ski resorts in British Columbia to create Canada’s largest ski complex, skier/rider visits to the area have remained stagnant. It appears that combining the resorts into one complex has not created any additional economic or social benefit to the resorts or to surrounding businesses and communities.
Wasatch Backcountry Alliance and our members look forward to participating in partnership with the ski resort industry, local governments and other stakeholders to ensure recreation and transportation solutions that truly benefit all residents and visitors who turn to the irreplaceable splendor of the Wasatch Range for soul-replenishing recreation and rejuvenation.