utah goes euro-style mega resort?
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March 7, 2005
Member since 01/27/2004 🔗
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another fantasy that might come true. i know you can take a tour of them with some guides -- as i was just reading about in the slc ski guide, and it caught my interest.

Utah envisions Euro-style complex with 12,000 acres of skiing
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) - Midway on a tour of six Utah resorts in one day, backcountry guide Mark Menlove bounds across the Highway to Heaven, a 500-yard ski traverse that links Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.

Five hundred yards. That's all that separates four resorts - Solitude, Brighton, Alta and Snowbird - from joining to form one sprawling ski area. Another pair of chair lifts could link these four resorts to Park City and Deer Valley, making for North America's largest skiing complex.

"If it's done the right way, an environmentally friendly way - and I believe it can be - then it's a plus for Utah," said Snowbird general manager Bob Bonar. "We want to see if it has legs."

The resorts, all independently owned, have kicked around the idea for years, some guardedly. It would require some form of revenue sharing, and it goes against the exclusive image cultivated by a few of the resorts, particularly Deer Valley.

In 1990 the Mountainlands Association of Governments studied options from traffic tunnels to cable tramways. The report was shelved as too grandiose, but time has made linking resorts only more practical.

Spurred by the 2002 Winter Olympics, many of the Wasatch resorts added high-speed lifts and enlarged their borders, making interconnecting trails a cinch. Already, neighbors Alta and Snowbird offer a joint pass, along with Brighton and Solitude.

Overbuilt, the Utah resorts are itching to attract more vacationers and chip away at Colorado's lead. Utah logs about 3.3 million skier visits a winter; Colorado leads the nation with 11 million.

An interconnect would bring together 12,000 acres of resort skiing on some of the finest powder snow - more than twice the size of either Vail or Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, making for a Euro-style ski experience and powerful marketing draw. That doesn't count The Canyons, a 3,625-acre resort that could join the club. It's only one canyon away from Park City Mountain Resort.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said he was eager to see Utah resorts link up and showcase "our competitive advantages."

"I think our ski industry is very hungry. They see that we are now in a position where we can begin to steal market share from Colorado," said Huntsman, who is striving to build Utah's economy and tourism. "Colorado's been in a green-light mode for 20 years now. And here for the first time in a while, Utah is poised for excellence in this particular area, where it's through inter-connectedness or bringing out other assets that we have, like proximity to a great airport."

The shrinking distances between Wasatch resorts was plain to see on the tour stitching together six ski areas in six hours. The outing brought together two resort managers, an industry ambassador and a board trustee for Save Our Canyons, a sometimes worthy adversary at Forest Service proceedings.

"It's a very narrow range, not at all comparable to the Italian Alps or Colorado Rockies," said Gale Dick, the 78-year-old patriarch of Save Our Canyons, making the case against resort expansion.

"Every time you put in one of these lifts, it takes away part of the backcountry," Dick said of the high-elevation, moderately sloped terrain prized by backcountry skiers for deep, stable snow. The resorts ring this limited range of the craggy Wasatch that is most suitable for skiing.

Bonar is convinced a resort complex could be laid out "in a way that works for Save Our Canyons," but Dick dismissed as so much talk what some in the industry see as inevitable: "They've been saying that for the last 45 years. They hope to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Ski Utah's interconnect tour, which draws 300-700 skiers a year, starts on the immaculately groomed slopes of Deer Valley, known for pampering guests with ski porters and gourmet food. The resort shares a boundary with Park City Mountain Resort on a shoulder of its 9,570-foot summit. On a chair ride to the top, Deer Valley general manager Bob Wheaton said an hour or two of bulldozer work could merge trails of both resorts.

"I don't know I'd go as far as say, 'inevitable,'" he said. "But possible? Definitely."

Deer Valley already limits skiers to about 6,500 a day because of restaurant, not slope capacity, and it often hits the limit, especially during March, Wheaton said. But even if Deer Valley opts out, other, more eager resorts could go along.

From the top of Park City Mountain Resort, Menlove leads the group through a short stretch of ponderosa forest for an open slope and 1.5-mile run to Solitude. It's the longest distance between these Wasatch resorts.

"From a business standpoint, there is an advantage," Solitude general manager Mike Goar said on a summit lift to the Highway to Heaven and the connection to Alta. "It's complicated - who builds which lift and how you share revenues. Europe is a model."

After a jaunt across the Highway to Heaven and a picnic lunch, Menlove leads skiers on a short run to legendary Alta, a place evoking the 1930s where skiers make pilgrimages, not visits. A guard shack separates Alta and Snowbird, Utah's most challenging resort, where the group takes a quick run.

Then it's back to Alta and a final, sweaty backcountry run to Brighton, a homestyle ski area that caters to locals.

Menlove, who has been guiding these $150 Ski Utah tours for four years, says customers are more likely to get lost in the crowds of a resort than in the backcountry. As if to prove the point, a second guide bringing up the rear got briefly separated at Snowbird, skiing to the wrong lift.

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