In a state rife with land disputes, few are as polarizing as the one regarding SkiLink, a proposed transit lift between Canyons and Solitude. SkiLink is a hot-button social, environmental and economic issue for Utahns, and the divide between stakeholders is gaping. This is the first in a series of stories that will teach you everything you need to know about Utah’s most controversial ski lift.
SkiLink would link Canyons and Solitude with a gondola-like interconnect.
We’ve all heard or seen the noise surrounding SkiLink. There are editorials in the local papers, anti-SkiLink signs in yards and supportive sentiment from tourists on ski lifts. It doesn’t take long to discover this is a heated issue among those who recreate in the Wasatch.
So what exactly is SkiLink? And why is it such a divisive topic?
The first question has a simple answer. SkiLink is a proposed transport-only lift that would shuttle skiers and snowboarders between Canyons resort in Park City to Solitude resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. If erected, SkiLink could be the first step toward connecting all seven central Wasatch ski areas, a long-stated goal of the resorts.
The answer to the second question isn’t so black-and-white. When it all boils down, there are three facets of SkiLink that incite the most rancor: environmental impacts, citizen views on public land use and the tourist-local dynamic.
Opponents of SkiLink say the lift is a tourist-oriented gimmick that will adversely affect the Big Cottonwood Canyon watershed while seizing some of the Wasatch’s already sparse backcountry. On the other side of the debate are those who argue SkiLink would be a tremendous economic benefit for Utah tourism, a job creator for locals, and an environmentally sound method of moving skiers around the Wasatch while still allowing backcountry access.
Muddying the debate is the uncertainty of whether SkiLink will even be built. The lift’s 30-acre path sits on United States Forest Service land, and the USFS has said further ski resort expansion isn’t in its master plan for the Wasatch. To combat this roadblock, Rep. Rob Bishop introduced a bill that would sell the SkiLink swath to Talisker, Canyons’ parent company, thus circumventing the Forest Service’s review process.
But Bishop didn’t push the bill to a vote, leaving SkiLink at a standstill heading into the next congressional session.
In the coming weeks, Salt Lake magazine will touch on the key issues surrounding SkiLink. The debate is deeper than neighborhood signs and chairlift chatter let on, and we'll try to guide you through the necessary info regarding one of Utah’s most contested recreation topics.
Jake Bullinger is the editor of Wasatch Magazine and has written for Salt Lake, Mountain magazine and Sports Illustrated. Follow Jake on Twitter at @jakebullinger.