If you’ve never driven over 9,700′ Guardsman Pass in the summer, you might not realize just how close Brighton Ski Resort is to the upper reaches of Park City Mountain. In fact, from Brighton’s fire station to the top of the Jupiter lift is less than 7,000 linear feet. It’s this reality and a similar one in Alta’s Grizzly Gulch that makes Ski Utah’s One Wasatch concept tantalizingly close to becoming reality. But the feeling that the Wasatch just isn’t that big also has environmental groups scrambling to prevent any more of these mountains from becoming ski runs. The challenge for Save Our Canyons, the Sierra Club and others is that all the land needed to complete One Wasatch is already in the private hands of Royal Street Land Company (owner of Deer Valley,) Iron Mountain Associates (developer of The Colony) and Alta Ski Lifts Co.
Over the Pass
I’m convinced Park City and Brighton will be connected first. Ski Utah calls the two lifts needed for this connection Guardsman A and Guardsman B. They would rise from a common point adjacent to Guardsman Pass Road between Brighton and Park City’s Jupiter pod on land owned by Royal Street a.k.a. Deer Valley. Operationally, it would make the most sense for CNL/Boyne to build and operate these lifts as part of Brighton. Guardsman A, which would need approval from UDOT to cross State Route 190, would likely be a detachable quad approximately 4,065′ long with a vertical rise of 740′ ending near the top of Jupiter. Guardsman B would rise back towards Brighton and be a detachable quad about 3,800′ long with a vertical of 1,235′.
Royal Street Land Company has a strong interest in completing the Guardsman connection because it now also owns Solitude. With Guardsman in place, a Deer Valley skier at the top of Lady Morgan Express could ride 4 lifts (Pioneer and Jupiter at Park City, Guardsman B and Milly Express at Brighton) and be at Solitude in less than an hour. The return trip would be almost as easy – Summit Express to Great Western Express to Guardsman A and Park City Mountain, which already abuts Deer Valley. Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County would both need to approve the Guardsman lifts before construction could begin.
Grizzly & Honeycomb
The terrain and politics between Solitude and Alta are more rugged. Alta Ski Lifts owns all of the property needed for a lift to Solitude up Grizzly Gulch. Interestingly, Alta also owns the upper reaches of Honeycomb Canyon and Honeycomb Cliffs to within about 50 yards of Solitude’s Summit Express top terminal. For this reason, Alta would likely build and operate both of the lifts needed to connect with Solitude.
The Grizzly lift (presumably a detachable quad) would leave Alta’s Albion base area and travel 6,180 feet (1,647 feet of vertical) to the top of Honeycomb Cliffs. From there, skiers could descend Honeycomb Canyon to the base of Solitude. The other direction would only require a short (1,250′) lift starting near the top of Solitude’s Summit Express to the ridge. This lift would probably be a “beer can” style jig-back tramway. An alternative to these lifts would be a gondola from Albion to Solitude’s summit, avoiding the environmental impacts of putting skiers in Grizzly Gulch. Even without unloading on the ridge, an angle station would probably be needed to get around Honeycomb Cliffs.
Even though it would be on private land, a lift in Grizzly Gulch would be required to go through the US Forest Service NEPA process and would likely face significant opposition, not unlike the SkiLink gondola once proposed between Canyons and Solitude. Stop Ski Link became a rallying cry for everyone from Protect Our Winters to Patagonia and Armada Skis before Vail Resorts came to Utah and killed the idea. Back to Grizzly Gulch, there’s also the fact that the Cottonwood Canyons supply drinking water to a million people. Save Our Canyons Executive Director Carl Fisher calls Grizzly “that little slice of 300 acres that’s a symbol of the opportunity to preserve another 80,000 acres.”
Filling in White Pine Canyon
Another piece of all this is the large hole that exists in the middle of Park City with no lifts above 9,000′ from Jupiter to Ninety Nine-90. There’s a thousand acres of develop-able private land in the upper reaches of White Pine Canyon owned by Iron Mountain Associates/The Colony. With two new lifts in No Name Bowl, Park City could finally gain some real skiing in the vicinity of Dreamscape.
With two lifts in Guardsman, two in No Name and one each in Honeycomb and Grizzly, One Wasatch would include 762 runs on 18,000 acres served by 97 lifts. But Carl Fisher of Save Our Canyons contends, “People don’t like it, people don’t want it. One Wasatch is about ski area connectivity with lifts, and that comes at a significant cost to the many, many other uses. It will bisect some of the most popular mountain bike trails in the area. It will fragment wildlife habitat. It will displace backcountry skiers.” As of now, all five ski area owners still back the concept. That includes some big names with big money – Vail Resorts, Boyne Resorts and the Cumming Family. And Ski Utah says One Wasatch could be completed in one construction season for less than $30 million.