March 20, 2014

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Central Wasatch Ski Resorts Envision Connected Future

By Heather Stewart

March 20, 2014

They don’t know when it will happen, or exactly how it will happen, but the seven ski resorts within Utah’s central Wasatch Mountains announced their support of the “concept” of connecting the resorts via chair lifts and ski runs. Connecting these resorts would bring together more than 18,000 skiable acres, more than 750 named runs and 100 lifts—all with one lift ticket.

“This is a concept and not a plan,” said Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, at the public unveiling of the concept on Wednesday. “We don’t have all the answers today.”

SkiUtah is calling the concept ONE Wasatch. It would bring together Alta, Brighton, Canyons, Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, Snowbird and Solitude.

ONE Wasatch would create a ski experience that can’t be found anywhere else in North America, said Rafferty, who expects the all-resort pass to appeal to destination skiers. “This is not just about adding more acreage,” he said. “It’s about creating a skier experience that will be unique in all of North America.”

Jenni Smith, general manager of Park City Mountain Resort, said that when the resorts are connected, “there’s not a ski area or ski community in this country that can beat us.”

The concept, which involves adding chair lifts and ski runs between the canyons, seems intended to accomplish the original vision of SkiLink—a gondola linking Canyons and Solitude—without the same watershed impacts.

“SkiLink has been tabled,” acknowledged Mike Goar, general manager of Canyons, although he said he’d “stop short of saying SkiLink is dead and gone.”

The goal of ONE Wasatch is “to create the most efficient and enjoyable interconnected mountain resort ski experience in North America, recognizing watershed protection and backcountry ski terrain preservation as key elements,” said Rafferty.

He said creating ONE Wasatch while protecting the watershed and backcountry terrain “is absolutely not an impossible task.”

Bob Bonar, general manager of Snowbird, said that completing ONE Wasatch in a “watershed-friendly way” was the most important aspect of the concept.

Developing ONE Wasatch would involve three major connections: connecting Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, connecting Big Cottonwood Canyon to Park City, and connecting Park City Mountain Resort with Canyons.

Rafferty said the project would require no public funding and likely would take place entirely on private land. However, building the new lifts and runs will require the resorts to go through a permitting process that will involve public input, said Rafferty.

Because of that permitting process, Ski Utah could not provide a timeline for completing ONE Wasatch. And possible sites for the new lifts have not been disclosed. “We have stopped short of talking about any kind of lift alignment,” said Rafferty.

He estimated the lifts and runs could be installed for less than $30 million total.

According to Rafferty, the seven central Wasatch resorts account for 80 percent of Utah’s skier visits. However, he said ONE Wasatch would benefit Utah’s entire ski industry, as well as Utah’s tourism industry as a whole.

“Everything about this concept starts and ends with creating the best ski experience for our guests,” he said.

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