The movers and shakers pushing the SkiLink gondola are creative and shameless. Canyons (Talisker) has spent an enormous amount of energy, and focused most of its promotional efforts, on the mythical idea that the SkiLink gondola will “inject $51 million into the local economy”, add “$3 million in tax revenue”, and create “more than 500 new jobs.” Impressive numbers. In fact, why not build gondolas across the Wasatch mountains infinitely?
But where do these numbers come from, and how were they devised? According to the SkiLink website they originated from an “Economic Impact Analysis performed by RCLCO - one of the nation’s most respected economic advisors.”
The touted economic impact analysis was indeed performed by RCLCO, a company whose mission “is to be the leading real estate knowledge and solutions provider”, and who is managed entirely by real estate developers and planners. I’m not Sherlock Holmes, but an analysis conducted by a real estate magnate on behalf of another real estate magnate strikes me as remarkably convenient. A positive review from RCLCO will, of course, mean future contracts when Talisker begins to build condos on the banks of Desolation Lake. This is not the first time that Talisker and RCLCO have partnered—they also teamed up on Talikser’s Tuhaye project—and it will not be the last time either.
But even more concerning is the fact that this analysis was not independent at all. Canyons created the projections themselves. RCLCO only “gauged the reasonableness” of them. The analysis admits that:
Forecasting skier visitation attributable to any single factor is challenging given the multitude of factors that come into play when examining historical visitation patterns. Therefore, the task of projecting skier visitation often becomes a relatively qualitative exercise that draws on experience, anecdotal evidence, and capacity estimates. Instead of producing our own skier visitation projections, then, we opted to gauge the reasonableness of The Canyons projections.
When SkiLink supporters claim that a gondola in Big Cottonwood Canyon will “create jobs”, “decrease traffic in the canyons” and “bring millions of dollars to the Utah economy”, it’s important to remember that such claims are based on wishful thinking. The numbers are a ruse. The numbers are dangled in front of gullible politicians and an indifferent public. That none of the claims will ever materialize is irrelevant. The goal is not economic growth, or traffic mitigation. Talisker’s goal is ever and always land acquisition.
Talisker has enlisted the help of politicians because nobody is better at making ridiculous, impossible, and baseless claims appear to be viable and inevitable. But these numbers are not rooted in reality. Indeed the analysis acknowledges that its “opinions are not offered as predictions or assurances that a particular level of income or profit will be achieved, that particular events will occur, or that a particular price will be offered or accepted.”
SkiLink is a ruse. It is merely the first step in Talisker’s plan to turn the northern slopes of Big Cottonwood Canyon—watershed, recreational, and beautiful terrain—into another flock of expensive and gaudy homes.