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Snowbird, UT, Quietly Purchases Land for Proposed Little Cottonwood Canyon Gondola Base Station

Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains.

In September 2021, a deal was struck allowing Snowbird to quietly purchase a few acres of land near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah. The size of the land was quite insignificant – a paltry 4.86 acres. But it’s not the size of the land that’s important, it’s the location.

The two parcels of land purchased by Snowbird are the exact location of the base station for the proposed Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola which would pick up skiers and snowboarders at the mouth of the canyon and transport them directly to Snowbird and the base station. neighboring Alta skiing. The whole thing has been hotly debated in Utah for the past year or more, with most people either strongly for it or vehemently against it. State officials have tried to combat the tyrannical traffic that grips Little Cottonwood Canyon in the winter for more than four years, and last year narrowed the solutions down to two options: a widened roadway with a improved bus service or the controversial gondola. Both options are by no means cheap and would likely cost upwards of half a billion dollars. The final environmental impact statement on the matter, which would present the Utah Department of Transportation’s formal recommendation to the Legislature that will ultimately pass the legislation necessary to fund either project, is expected to be released this summer, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Let’s say the gondola is approved. This would require the state to purchase the land on which the gondola’s towers and base station would sit. The base station in question would be on State Road 210 near the entrance to the canyon. This land at the bottom of the canyon was purchased last September by LCC Base Property LLC, which, after a search of state business records by The Salt Lake Tribune, indicates that its address is the same as Snowbird’s corporate headquarters. at Holladay. Snowbird, which is owned by POWDR, one of the largest ski resort operators in North America, is one of the two main beneficiaries of the gondola, the other being Alta.

Do you see the picture now?

Those nearly five acres are valued at more than $2 million, according to the Salt Lake County Plot Search Map. Dave Fields, chief executive and president of Snowbird, confirmed to the Salt Lake Tribune that the company did in fact purchase the land last year. He said Snowbird bought the land to “protect the viability of the optional gondola” and used another LLC to “protect the deal so it could go through.”

Prior to the Snowbird purchase, the land was owned by Quail Run Development, an LLC owned and operated by CW Management Corp., which was founded by Chris McCandless, a former Sandy City Councilman, and Wayne Niederhauser, a former US Senator. state of Utah for more than 12 years, reports The Tribune. McCandless went public with his support for the gondola and told The Tribune that he sold the land on the condition that it be available for the gondola’s base station. He, like Dave Fields, thinks the gondola is the best solution to the canyon’s traffic problem.

If UDOT decides to run the gondola and it is approved, Snowbird would sell the land to the state at cost or donate it to UDOT, according to Fields. The Tribune reports that the UDOT was aware of the sale of the land to Snowbird, but that the sale will not impact the department’s final decision because when the UDOT began its environmental impact statement, Snowbird had not yet purchased the land. According to the UDOT, the owners of the land “do not really matter”.

So, was Snowbird’s purchase of the land unethical? Brad Rutledge, co-founder and board member of the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, thinks so. Rutledge is quoted in an article by The Tribune saying that Snowbird’s acquisition of the land “isn’t transparent” and “seems shady”, the main reason being Snowbird’s use of another LLC to make the purchase .

Salt Lake County elected officials have publicly announced their opposition to the gondola option, deeming it unnecessary, too expensive, and an overall eyesore. Last year, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson spoke out against the gondola, calling it “absolutely bad for this beautiful canyon.” Last month, she attended a rally and took her view that the gondola is not the best solution to the traffic problem in Little Cottonwood Canyon further. On the other end of the argument, Ski Utah shared their support for the proposed gondola last September, saying:

“Ski Utah strongly supports the gondola with the La Caille base station. The future of recreation at Little Cottonwood Canyon is in your hands!

UDOT estimates total capital and maintenance cost estimates for each project through 2053 at $724 million for the 8-mile-long gondola and $782 million for the widened highway and system. improved bus. However, many reviewers are skeptical of these estimates and insist that either could actually cost significantly more. Indeed, the estimates for both were made before the current rate of inflation and did not take into account the rising cost of building materials like steel and concrete. As history has shown, large, unique and complex construction projects, like one in a narrow canyon and pristine natural area like Little Cottonwood, can easily go well over budget. When factors such as cost overruns, delays, inflation or earthquake mitigation are taken into account, the cost of any of the proposed options could amount to $1 billion. dollars or more, expenditures that traditionally directly affect state taxpayers.

Other critics worry that the two “solutions” are just short-term solutions to a long-term problem. Realistically, you wonder how long would an improved highway and bus system or a new gondola really hold traffic? 20 years? 15? ten? Is it worth spending a potential billion dollars to patch up a problem that will eventually reopen as another problematic and costly wound in “x” years? Why doesn’t UDOT think about the future – I’m talking about 50, 75, 100 years later? Wouldn’t it be better to ditch the gondola and enhanced bus service options that really only benefit two companies – Snowbird and Alta – and look at the bigger picture instead?

What if, for example, all the Wasatch ski areas were linked into one large resort like they do in the Alps with their several mountain ski areas, over 200 lifts, where you can park at a resort or a town on one side of a mountain range, like Park City, then take chairlifts or ski runs to another resort altogether, like Alta and Snowbird? I’m not an engineer—I write and I ski—but I love these canyons and these ski areas as much as any of you. These mountains are my home, my livelihood. They will probably be my children’s and grandchildren’s home and livelihood. I want to see my downline living and skiing in a positive environment that actually helps them do that – it’s actually sustainable for them to do so, in the long run. So I ask you; Snowbird, Alta, UDOT, the average citizen who visits and skis this canyon: are you really willing to shell out ungodly capital and change the entire geographic landscape of this canyon for short-term benefit when the potential to ensure that each of our descendants from now until eternity may still enjoy this paradise of a place to the same extent as we do, hasn’t it yet been carefully considered?