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Mountain Accord Unveils Ambitious Plan for Utah Ski Country

Mountain Accord, a consortium of 20 public and private entities, just released its latest proposals for future development of the central Wasatch mountains in Utah, and there were some big reveals. With nearly 85% of Utah's population living along the range's western front, a huge concentration of people play, work, and live in a relatively small, ecologically fragile area. For snow lovers who ski or snowboard in the resorts around Park City or in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, the future of the Wasatch has been a hot-button topic for decades. In the past year, competing interest groups ranging from environmentalists to transportation advocates to ski resort directors have come together to propose a just-released blueprint for what that future could look like. And Mountain Accord is dreaming big. Proposals include a tunnel through the mountain linking Alta and Brighton, a train running up Little Cottonwood Canyon, and major land exchanges that would protect an extensive area of backcountry skiing terrain. Curbed Ski breaks down exactly what the Mountain Accord is, what is proposes, and what's next in this contentious debate.

What is Mountain Accord?

Officials are quick to point out that Mountain Accord isn't an approved plan, it's an ongoing process. And although the process wants (and needs) public input, Mountain Accord also has an Executive Committee who helped craft the current blueprint. That Executive Committee is made up of county officials, individuals from the Utah Department of Transportation, the Utah Transit Authority, the U.S. Forest Service, Ski Utah, and environmentalists, among others (check out the full list here).

Why now?

Participants believe that the future of the Wasatch Mountains depends on the successful implementation of a long-term plan. A growing, sprawling urban population and increased tourism are putting pressure on the Wasatch's sensitive mountain environment. Advocates want to preserve the region's clean water, open space, and beauty while also improving the economy and quality of life of the people who live or play in the Wasatch. These are big, complicated goals.

The Proposed Blueprint

Mountain Accord has divided up their blueprint into four parts dealing with the environment, recreation, transportation, and the economy.

Here are some of the highlights of the proposal:

· Improve transit service to the ski areas in order to reduce traffic, parking congestion, and automobile dependence.
· Connect fragmented economic markets through transportation (not ski lifts) to ensure the future of Utah's tourism.
· Build a tunnel through the mountain linking Alta and Brighton.
· Build a tunnel or an aerial tram to connect Bighton to Park City.
· Explore fee options to manage traffic.
· Focus development in areas that are already urban.
· Consider either a train running up Little Cottonwood Canyon, or rapid transit buses in a dedicated lane protected from avalanches with additional snow sheds.
· Several land exchanges that would allow more development at the bases of the Wasatch ski areas. Plus, an expansion to the ski area boundaries of Solitude and Brighton.
· In exchange, sizable chunks of private land would be transferred to public ownership and given some sort of protected status. This would preserve key backcountry terrain and could potentially threaten the One Wasatch plan.
· Implement an environmental restoration program.
· Build a complete trail network interconnecting the Wasatch Front and Back. The goal is to connect recreation destinations (think Park City, Solitude, and Brighton) with trails.
· Express buses from Salt Lake City International Airport to Park City.

So what's next?

Mountain Accord is now encouraging public comment on their blueprint. Comments can be submitted online or at any of three public open houses that will be held on February 11, 24, and 25 (details here).

After the public review period, the Mountain Accord Executive Board will make a decision on the proposed blueprint. Want more info? Check out the full website here, and don't miss this website of interactive maps.

So what do you think Curbediverse: what's your opinion on Mountain Accord's blueprint?

· Mountain Accord [Official Site]
· Planners unveil blueprint for future of Wasatch canyons [Salt Lake Tribune]
· Mountain Accord unveils grand plan for central Wasatch Front [Deseret News]
· Just How Big is Utah's Plan for a Euro-Style Mega Ski Resort? [Curbed Ski]
· The Results Are In: 68% Want to Combine 7 of Utah's Ski Areas [Curbed Ski]
· What Vail's Purchase of Park City Means for Skiers This Year [Curbed Ski]
· New Map Shows How 7 Utah Ski Areas Could Become One [Curbed Ski]
· Ski City USA and Ski Town U.S.A. Call Truce in Name War [Curbed Ski]