Wednesday, March 19, 2014

ONE Wasatch.....at least, for a few

It's been rumored now for months, and Ski Utah finally came out with it:  their plan to connect all seven of the central Wasatch's ski resorts via chairlifts, that they boldly called "ONE Wasatch".  If we thought that connecting The Canyons and Solitude via Ski Link was a bad idea, this is approximately seven times worse!  Since this is my blawg and not anything where I need to be tactful, I'm going to forego that nicety and call it like it is.

Recently a very ambitious project was started called the "Mountain Accord" that is essentially the final and most comprehensive plan yet to coalesce the needs, desires, and demands of all the Central Wasatch "users": summer and winter recreators, canyon residents, business interests, animals, plants, etc.  The large committee has city mayors and managers, water managers (almost the entire water supply for nearly 2M people is ensconced above 8000 feet in the Wasatch), transportation engineers, wildlife/environmental activists, the US Forest Service, user group advocates (Salt Lake Climber's Alliance, Save Our Canyons, the Wasatch Mountain Club, and the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance) and others, and is really trying to take into account ALL of the perspectives into essentially managing the burgeoning population and associated (over) popularity of the already-most-heavily-used national forest in the country.  When we first got wind that Ski Utah was pondering a proposal to try to singlehandedly trump all of that by superimposing a comprehensive Euro-style lift system to criss-cross the ridges after their public relations debacle of the failed Ski Link my first thought was "there is no way they would have the hubris to propose something like that".  Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Here is an article on the press conference:
http://www.ksl.com/?sid=29129402&nid=148&title=plan-proposed-to-interconnect-7-utah-ski-resorts

I am super-psyched that Wasatch Backcountry Alliance's Jamie Kent got so much ink in it; Jamie is such a nice guy that no one can get annoyed by him, yet he's got a quiet and powerful passion that makes him a great person to have in that role.

Ironically, Ski Utah is sponsoring a ski tour this weekend to show various people who deign to show up some good untracked powd......I mean, all the great terrain that's going to be carved up so that people can ski.....a couple of resorts in one day.  Years ago Whistler and Blackcomb decided to merge and become one big resort and it was a huge.......non event.  Skier days did not increase.  Ironically, because Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, and the Canyons have already taken over essentially the entire Park City ridgeline, those resorts are basically already interconnected, but the famous sniping  -and beyond - that has gone on between them (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-02-06/park-city-vail-resorts-powdr-fight-over-ski-mountains-future) apparently has made formalizing that impossible?  Not to mention the fact that those resorts are all rightly concerned about their ability to thrive and even survive as global warming puts pressure on their already-weak snowpack.  So they resort to connecting over the ridgelines to their brethren of bigger snow and let Ski Utah do their talking for them, even as rumors abound that Vail - which has taken over management of The Canyons - is snooping around both Alta and Snowbird, looking to buy.

Some years ago I read a book called "Downhill Slide: Why the corporate ski industry is bad for skiing, ski towns, and the environment" (http://www.amazon.com/Downhill-Slide-Corporate-Industry-Environment/dp/1578051029) and it outlined in detail what we all inherently know:  the business model of ski resorts is to make audacious claims about ski acreage and numbers of runs in order to entice people to come and spend exorbitant amounts of money to ski for about 4 hours a day, and hopefully sell a ton of overpriced adjacent real estate.  It generally works.....until it doesn't.  Tamarack resort near McCall, ID went big on that model, and is now just a hillside with a bunch of cut runs for local backcountry skiers and people like Andre Agassi shrug off their investment loss.  Rumor has it that the huge megahotels in the Canyons are mostly empty, which is why owner Talisker and manager Vail are trying to figure out "what else" to do with that lame resort (but at least lift tickets are $105/day!)

The backcountry community needs to be careful to stay away from the easy argument of "our recreation is simply better than your recreation!" when talking about ski resorts.  But what's ironic is that Ski Utah's arch rival Colorado actually has a far-higher skier-density ratio than Utah, so the acres-per skier in Utah is already very good, relatively speaking. In fact, Solitude's only marketing message ever since I can remember is how few people are there and how it lives up to its name! (they actually took out a big chunk of their parking a few years ago....to add expensive condos).  So why the big push to link all the resorts?  To generate a lot of publicity, not really improve the skiing but create enough of a facade that one actually  can ski Deer Valley and Snowbird in one day that they can indeed entice.....maybe a few more? people to Utah to ski.  Of course, by the time the project will actually happen the lift tickets will be another 20% higher  - to $100-$125 instead of $80-$105, and the resort owners will continue to be asking themselves why their skier day numbers aren't going up.

In the meantime, we human-powered recreationists in the Wasatch have a fight on our hands.  Ski Utah learned enough from their Ski Link failure to know at least some things not to do and now perhaps know what to expect in opposition, but just as their new proposal is that much more audacious, so too must be the fight to maintain the existing balance between ski resort terrain and backcountry terrain.  Keep in mind:  there is not a clarion call from resort skiers to be able to ski all these multiple resorts in a day!  This is a marketing campaign designed to increase profits in a flawed business model, not to dramatically improve the skier experience, tho of course that's what it'll be wrapped as.

So for now, if you haven't already, join www.wasatchbackcountryalliance.com, donate money there for their upcoming survey that the U of U is conducting, go to Save Our Canyon's petition page and sign that (http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50928/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=13488), join Save Our Canyons as well, and tell the rest of the people you know who appreciate the Wasatch to do the same.

And then go shred some good spring powder!

1 comment: