If the scent of smoke from the proposal to link Solitude and The Canyons ski resorts seems familiar to Ogdenites, it is because we remember a similar fishy justification in our backyard for the 2002 Olympics. Many will remember that Sun Valley Corp. claimed it needed 1,320 acres of Forest Service land in order to host certain ski races at Snowbasin in 2002.
As it turned out, less than 10 percent of that land was actually used for parking lot and lodge expansion, as well as a nifty commemorative park and temporary bleachers. The rest of the land was reserved for real estate development, some of which has now been proposed and approved.
Talisker Corp., the owner of The Canyons ski resort, wants to build a gondola between The Canyons in Snyderville Basin and Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon in order to reduce traffic on the canyon road. While reducing traffic might be a good goal, this proposal is primarily about ski resort expansion aimed at wealthy visitors. It's a smokescreen.
To hear Talisker's people, including the former mayor of Salt Lake Ted Wilson, tell it, this tramway will cause local skiers to drive up I-80 to Park City and park on powder days. After shelling out $96 for a lift ticket, eager powder hounds would then spend an hour or two on the lifts in order to get over to Solitude for first tracks.
The only trouble is that the powder would be gone by then, and why would Salt Lakers -- or Ogdenites -- pay more to ski less? (A pass at Solitude is $68.)
Two other interesting historical links are worth mentioning. First, Snowbasin's successful offer to host ski races was partly based on keeping Olympic events out of the Cottonwood Canyons -- because of traffic and other concerns. Second, Utah's elected officials were behind the Snowbasin Land Exchange, in particular James V. Hansen. The four Republican members of Utah's delegation have recently sponsored a bill to push the ski-link proposal forward.
If it worked once, why not try it again?
Certainly Ogdenites benefit from the world-class infrastructure -- lifts, lodging, snowmaking -- the Olympics made possible at Snowbasin, but the land swap was the frosting on the cake, not the cake itself. Or, if you prefer, it was the smoke from the fire lit within, not the fire itself.
Certainly the goal of making The Canyons the biggest resort in North America is far more important to Talisker than a few traffic jams in Big Cottonwood. And exactly what Solitude's stake in this is harder to see, unless it would be to give their out-of-town guests, the ones who stay in the faux-Bavarian high rises, access to all that is PC.
Let's be clear. The ski-link is the first step in connecting the seven Salt Lake resorts. To do so will destroy backcountry skiing and leave visual trappings on the ridgetops for all to see. It's about giving tourists a great experience and better access to better powder. The talk about traffic is a dodge, and it would be laughable if the ski-link weren't a real possibility.
Ogdenites are blessed with three great resorts that are still largely unknown. Many of us want to keep it this way. Still, every now and then we'll brave the crowds to ski Salt Lake. If we see through Talisker and Solitude's smokescreen, and don't want them to build their gondola, we can stay tuned, write letters and attend meetings. We can also never buy a ski pass, meal, lodging or concert ticket at resorts that displease us.
Holdsworth lives in Ogden.