Moving Mountains

Seeking a Long-term Solution to Canyon Gridlock

Tom Haraldsen

June 6, 2013

 “If you’re looking at a sustainable industry that’s a huge part of our economy, then you have to look at Switzerland as being the Holy Grail of mountain transportation and taking care of their tourists,” he says. “Our resorts do an incredible job of providing our guests with a great ski experience. The part we don’t control, a very important one, is getting them to and from our ski areas. It’s like comparing dial up internet service to broadband—you can’t go backwards once you’ve seen how far you can advance.”

Everything on the Table

UTA is continuing its study of transportation options—an effort involving government officials, ski industry shareholders, environmentalists and many others. Allegra says the process “is all inclusive. My theory is that we aren’t leaving anyone behind.”

There have been dozens of studies over the past decade by various entities, with hundreds of options considered, and Allegra says the process now underway at UTA has culminated in the narrowing down of those options to a select few.

 “We’ve incorporated every good idea, debated them and studied them. From the investments we’ve made with TRAX and FrontRunner, we want to incorporate those to get passengers from the center of the valley to the mouth of the canyons, then seamlessly up the canyons, and add another leg to Park City. We’re looking at the value of one transportation mode over another, and looking at public transportation for the whole market, not just recreation. It’s a big portfolio.”

Rafferty envisions the day when a skier could enjoy the same experience in Utah that she can in Switzerland—taking a train from Salt Lake International Airport all the way to the resorts. In Zermatt, as in many parts of Europe, cog trains are the key ingredient.

 “One of the technologies that’s in consideration is the cog railway,” Allegra says. “It could run on the same tracks we use now. Coincidentally, cog rail was developed over a century ago here in the U.S. for Mount Washington and Pikes Peak, but it never really took off in this country. We invented it; it has matured and sophisticated since then, and it’s smooth and fast and all electric. That’s one of the visions we’re considering.”

Sometime this summer, UTA plans what it calls a “sculpting” meeting, where ideas are put out on the table, environmental issues are considered and the public dialogue can be voiced. Allegra says an essential part of any plan is protecting water, making sure it remains clean and pure for generations to come.

 “It’s a very exciting time from what I’m seeing and hearing,” he says. “We have a real chance to do something significant, and we’re working hard to make sure to do it right.” 

Envision Utah Study

In 2010, Envision Utah conducted a study of more than 16,000 residents regarding the future of the Wasatch canyons. Of these respondents:

  • 92% favored more UTA bus or transportation service up both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.
  • 82% favored a TRAX spur running from 9400 South to a visitor’s center, perhaps at the mouth of the canyons, where riders could transfer
  • onto a bus or railway up
  • the canyons.
  • 62% favored a parking fee for private vehicles at the trailheads in the canyons.
  • 57% supported shuttles to replace vehicles during peak weekends.
  • 69% favored development of a cog train/mountain rail system into the canyons.

Source: Envision Utah, Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow


Cog Railway: A railway with a toothed rack rail between the tracks. This rack rail meshes with cog wheels under the train to provide traction on steep grades.

Projection of Non-winter Visits to the Wasatch Range

  • 2003: 1.9 million
  • 2030: 3.1 million
  • 2050: 4 million
  • 2100: 6.4 million

Source: Arthur C. Nelson, Metropolitan Research Center, University of Utah

Projection of Skiers Visiting the Wasatch

  • 2000: 2.4 million
  • 2030: 3.9 million
  • 2050: 4.8 million
  • 2100: 7.8 million

Source: Arthur C. Nelson, Metropolitan Research Center, University of Utah

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