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Utah's Mountain Accord Receives Approval to Move Forward

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After two years of debate and feedback, Utah's Mountain Accord was unanimously approved by the Executive Committee at the Sandy City Hall this week. A consortium of two dozen public and private entities working to develop a plan for the future of the Wasatch Mountains, Mountain Accord has ambitious plans to solve challenges in transportation, the environment, recreation, and the economy. With the latest approval, Mountain Accord looks to enter Phase 2, which will include specific recommendations, continued public feedback, and completing an Environmental Impact Statement. But what does this all mean for the ski community?

At this point, the approved Mountain Accord is not legally binding, but the document represents a significant consensus from a group that ranges from environmentalists, to city officials, to ski resort operators. Per the document, "It serves as a formal recommendation" for current and future decision makers. The signers of the document also agree to support the Accord and work towards its goals. Many issues still remain undecided, but here's what is agreed to so far:

· In total, the ski areas in the Little and Big Cottonwood Canyon have agreed to give up 2,417 acres in exchange for 760 acres of federal land at the base of the mountains. In essence, this is prioritizing development at existing bases over ski area expansion into new terrain. This will be done through a series of land swaps to promote the creation of a "National Conservation and Recreation Area" in the central Wasatch that prohibits the "expansion of ski areas onto public lands beyond the resort-area boundaries."

· Alta will get about 160 acres at its base and give up approximately 603 acres including the Emma Ridge, Grizzly Gulch, and Devil's Castle parcels. In return, Alta wants transit improvements (including a tunnel or some sort of connection between Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons), approval to build a 100-room hotel and eight commercial retail shops, and the water to support these new facilities.

· Snowbird wants to transfer approximately 1,100 acres of land to the U.S. Forest Service in exchange for 43 acres at the base of Snowbird and 400 acres in upper American Fork Canyon near Mineral Basin. Snowbird also agrees not to build any hotels or condos in American Fork Canyon or a gondola to Tibble Fork. In return, Snowbird will also get additional snowmaking water.

· Solitude will exchange 240 acres in the upper Big Cottonwood watershed in the Hidden Canyon/Guardsman Road area for approximately 50 acres of federal lands around the Solitude base area and an approximate 15-acre expansion of Solitude's special use permit to allow for relocation of the Honeycomb chair lift in lower Honeycomb Canyon. Solitude will also get additional snowmaking water and will provide better backcountry access to the Silver Fork Canyon area.

· Brighton would get 15 acres at its base and its Forest Service permit would be expanded 100 to 175 acres in Hidden Canyon in return for 200 acres of private land higher on the mountain.

· What about Park City? One of the most contentious elements of the Mountain Accord proposal involves a connection from Park City to the Big Cottonwood Canyon. The current document doesn't have specifics on what this connection would be. It reads, "The signers of this Accord agree to further study the economic, transportation, community, and environmental detriments, benefits and impacts (both positive and negative) of a wide range of non auto-based options to connect Park City with Big Cottonwood Canyon."

Other controversial items that still remain unknown at this time: the idea of putting a train up Little Cottonwood Canyon and building a tunnel to link Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood.

And most importantly for skiers, the idea to connect all seven Wasatch ski areas through a series of lifts still remains undecided. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty said the One Wasatch concept is still alive and something the industry remains eager to pursue, but insisted the resorts are flexible. "We are open to different kinds of connections," he said.

It seems unlikely that the current version of One Wasatch will happen if Mountain Accord succeeds. As Curbed Ski has reported before, Mountain Accord prioritizes the backcountry ski experience over resort skiing, and the land swaps proposed above jeopardize some of the One Wasatch ski resort links. But perhaps the One Wasatch concept could survive in a different form?

Regardless, Mountain Accord is moving forward. Given the seemingly incompatible goals of some of the organizations involved, that's a monumental step. Now, Phase 2 will include expanded research into each recommendation, continued public feedback, and an Environmental Impact Statement. Then it's up to the U.S. Forest Service, who will consider each of the land exchange proposals.

What do you think Curbediverse? What's your take on the approved Mountain Accord?

Read the full Accord over here.

· Mountain Accord [Official Site]
· One Wasatch [Official Site]
· Is Mountain Accord Good for Utah's Wasatch? [Curbed Ski]
· Mountain Accord Unveils Ambitious Plan [Curbed Ski]
· New Utah Blueprint Threatens One Wasatch [Curbed Ski]
· Just How Big is Utah's Plan for a Mega Ski Resort? [Curbed Ski]
· New Map Shows How 7 Utah Ski Areas Could Become One [Curbed Ski]
· Connecting 7 Wasatch Ski Areas in Utah: Could it Work? [Curbed Ski]