Talisker Mountain Inc., owner of Canyons Resort, and some land near Deer Valley (and other resorts throughout the west) in Park City is working hard (to destroy Canyons) to build a gondola—known as SkiLink—in Big Cottonwood Canyon that would connect Solitude Mountain Resort with Canyons. The proposed gondola would be built through the heart of some of the most beloved mountain biking, hiking, and backcountry ski terrain in the Wasatch Range.
The project is being ramrodded into reality under the guise of traffic management and economic growth, two worthwhile causes that a gondola in Big Cottonwood Canyon will have no effect on. Senators and House representative from Utah have sponsored bills that would permit the sale of the needed land in BCC to Talisker, effectively bypassing the need for environmental impact studies while ignoring input from the current land owners—the public. I oppose the SkiLink gondola. This is why:
“Growth for the sake of growth”, wrote Abbey, “is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
The Wasatch Range is home to some of the most lauded ski resorts in the world. And while the resorts themselves are partially responsible, providing extraneous benefits such as dining, lodging, shopping, and entertainment, the core attraction, the reason these resorts are featured in every travel, ski, and real estate magazine, and why people come from all over the world to visit, is the snow. The mountains. The Wasatch mountains are wonderful. And so are the ski resorts. Mostly. That is, the ski resorts are wonderful, exactly as they are.
The 8 resorts within an hour’s drive of the Salt Lake airport provide 17,500 acres of skiable terrain. Canyons, already one of the 5 biggest resorts in the nation, contains 4,000 acres alone—nearly 25% of all the skiable acreage in the Salt Lake/Park City area. The resort has 19 ski lifts and 182 trails, spanning 9 mountain peaks. Boston Globe columnist Tony Chamberlin is proudly quoted on the Canyons website: “So large and varied is Canyons that every level of skier will find not just some terrain, but a bewildering amount of it.”
But for Talisker Mountain Inc., that’s not enough. How much is enough? More.
I am an avid proponent of private property. Property rights are the foundation of a civilized, free, and prosperous society. Ownership promotes stewardship, and stewardship provides an elevated standard of living. We take care of that which is ours. Collective ownership, while practical on a small scale, diffuses responsibility and the rewards inherent with it. The result is often neglect, decay, and contention. Private property—including land, homes, and even our persons—promotes mutually beneficial behavior, and production. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.”
But the United States is enormous. Geographically as well as culturally, and is filled with vast tracts of undeveloped, open land. The republican government that Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues established granted collective ownership of these open, diverse lands to the people. To us. Known today as “public land” and largely made up of forest, desert, and mountainous landscape, we are the collective, if nominal, owners of millions of acres. And while we own—and cultivate, trek through, camp in, float by, fly over, drive around, and live among—these public lands, they are hardly ours. Instead the land is managed by Federal bureaucracies that rarely consider the input or the prevailing opinion of the proper (but, again, nominal) owners. That is, you. And me. And why would they? We are many. Too many. We can’t even agree on—or understand, if the busybodies are to be believed—the simple, stark things of life, let alone the (supposedly) complex issues of water rights, timber regulation, grazing permissions, the cultural benefits of helicopter-aided skiing, or the economic boons of mountain roller-coasters. We are many, and we are fickle, messy, stupid.
So, rather than worry too much about the public, The Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Forest Service, and (naturally) the Department of Homeland Security, manage the forests and the deserts and the mountains according to the whims of politics, and the decrees of senators, representatives, judges, presidents, lobbyists, and special interests. That is, of dollar signs. In other words, our public lands (and the agencies that manage them) will always and eternally be for sale.
Public land, while a noble, and even needed, gesture, is doomed. Especially so, when the maleable minds of Utah’s congressional representatives are involved.
Who ought to manage public lands? Why, the public, of course.
Ted Wilson is a former Mayor of Salt Lake City. He is also, apparently, a former champion of wilderness preservation in the Wasatch Range. He recently stepped down as Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s senior environmental advisor. He quit that job to become Talisker’s director of government affairs—Talisker’s chief lobbyist. Wilson was quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune, saying that “the position combines everything I love, working with private and public interests in land-use policy and advocacy for the Wasatch Mountains, which I’ve loved and respected all my life, and a chance to boost Utah’s position internationally as a great resort destination.” His immediate assignment: SkiLink.
I wonder if the contradictory nature of “advocacy for the Wasatch Mountains” and “Utah’s position internationally as a great resort destination” has ever occurred to Ted Wilson? Apparently not. And clearly, lobbying for the enhancement of Utah’s international standing among ski industry magazine editors, is far more lucrative than advocacy of the Wasatch Mountains themselves. Unless of course, in the mind of Ted Wilson, advocacy is mere marketing.
In principle, I have no problem with the selling of select public land to private owners. Nor do I object to (on principle) a private land owner destroying his own land, as Talisker has done, and is doing, at Canyons. But the incessant development, seemingly mindless and obligatory, taking place at Canyons is a stark glimpse into the mind of Talisker, and is reason enough to oppose its expansion into adjacent public lands. Especially when those public lands are home to the Crest, Mill D, and Mill Creek trail networks, and some of the best backcountry skiing in the area.
In most cases, the selling of public land to private owners is a net gain for both the public in general and the private owner in particular—the government has a little less space to manage, and the private owner is motivated to create something of value. This is prevalent in urban areas—abandoned lots become private, but accesible parks (Zuccotti, for example), restaurants, grocery stores, markets, baseball diamonds, and office buildings. In such cases the benefit to the public is obvious, and rarely controversial.
However, the selling of public wilderness is nearly entirely controversial. As it ought to be. Wilderness (generally, and not specifically designated Wilderness) is highly valuable for both its recreational and economic potential. In the American West wilderness is integral to the mystique, character, and economies of both large cities and small towns. Wilderness usage and ownership is a passionate, heated topic. Common sensical expansion of industry and civilization into open spaces is often necessary. But rarely does the expansion of a ski resort qualify as necessary. Rather, resort expansion is nearly entirely useless.
The United States is in the midst of cultural and social turmoil. The economy is terrible. Politics are volatile. Kids are angry, misguided, and disenchanted. Adults are worried, frightened, and tentative. The reach and scope of government is unchecked. Corporate greed is rampant. The American people are being swindled by an elite group of politically connected coporatists, the Federal Reserve, the United States Congress, and legions of lobbyists, unions, bankers, and traders. Legislation today has little to do with upholding the Constitution. Liberty, the eternal nemesis of the State, is being marginalized, dismissed, and forgotten. None of this is new. But, largely thanks to the internet, the dark rooms of deceit are being flooded with light. And we don’t like what we see.
Corporatism, also called crony-capitalism, is a condition “in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials. It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, and so forth”. Corporatism is a plague on the American economy. Our bubble-laced financial system, government grants and loans (bailouts) to insolvent, overly risky banks and businesses, and the volatility of the stock market are the natural product of cronyism. Obvious examples of crony-capitalism are readily available—Solyndra, GM, Haliburton, the entire career of Newt Gingrich—and now Talisker Mountain Inc.
If SkiLink becomes reality, it will be yet another triumph of corporatism. It isn’t coincidental that the only non-Canyons/Solitude supporters (of any clout) of SkiLink are politicians and bureaucrats, and that the forward movement SkiLink is enjoying is due to a Congressional bill, H.R. 3452/S. 1883, that has been sponsored by several Utah lawmakers—sweet talked, no doubt, by their old friend, Ted Wilson.
Talisker Mountain Inc. can’t win public affection for SkiLlink. So, instead, it bought off local pols. Cronyism, at its dirty finest.
Public opposition to SkiLink is widespread. Talisker understands this. They know that the skiers, mountain bikers, and hikers that recreate in the Cottonwood Canyons, and the larger Wasatch Range are an active, awake, and intelligent gathering of conservation-minded people. We love the Wasatch. We love it for its accessibility, scale, abrupt ruggedness, and beauty. We understand that the existing ski resorts are a boon to our economy, and cultural persona. But, as I quoted above, “growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
Economic growth is important. But it must be organic, spontaneous, and unforced. Government stimulus spending, for example, is none of those things, and is incapable of spurring real, actual, growth. Instead, superflous demand is created among favored companies and industries through manipulated and subsidized prices, artificially low interest rates, and the promise of protection from catastrophic failure through bailouts. Normal market incentives are warped by regulation, law, and politics. Connected parties profit, while everyone else founders.
SkiLink is the epitome of growth becoming warped and corrupted. It is the sanctification of expansion—”it could create jobs!”—at the expense of common sense. There is no demand for a gondola between Solitude and Canyons. There is no benefit—either short or long term. Not to skiers, not to the local economy, and not to either resort involved. That a skier would driver farther, increasing fuel usage, and then pay double for the cost of his lift ticket, just to spend a better part of his day traveling, via ski lift, from one resort to another is mindless.
SkiLink is a ruse. A ruse for the shameless intentions of Talisker Mountain Inc. to expand onto nearby National Forest land. Today they want just 30 acres. But tomorrow they will need another 60. And then another 120. And then 240. When, I wonder is enough, enough?
Constructing this gondola will fundamentally alter the landscape of the Big Cottonwood and Mill Creek drainages and the Summit/Salt Lake County ridgeline. A landscape that is essential to the character of the Wasatch Range. Character that is essential to us, the people of Utah. Indeed, how do we want to define ourselves? Are we willing to sacrifice every last aspen grove and hogsback ridge to the machine of progress, and the cancer of meaningless growth? Are we ready to trade away the benefits and joy of human-powered exploration for the lazy, removed, flotation of a gondola? Are we so enthralled with the ambiguous notion of “world-class” and “premium” that we will assassinate the founding appeal and personality of the Wasatch Range?
I can’t believe that we are. I won’t believe that we are.
Stopping the SkiLink gondola isn’t only about saving Big Cottonwood Canyon. It’s about saving ourselves. Preserving ourselves. A reminder that we still value open, wild, dangerous space. That we need, more than ever, someplace where there is no commerce and politics, no steel and asphalt, no cable cars, tractors, or artificiality. To quote Abbey once again, “we need wilderness.” We need clean air, running streams, spruce trees, avalanches, windstorms, winter sunrises, and alpenglow.
Alpenglow without a gondola marring the horizon.
Stand up. Stand up and stop the mindless development, the crony-capitalism, and the drone-like devastation of Talisker Mountain Inc.