Traffic is one of the most hated factors in skiing. Resorts often sit in areas with only a few (or sometimes just one) access roads, so one accident, one avalanche, one not-very-sharp turn with the tiniest amount of snow, or one bumper-riding driver can mean a ride that would typically just last an hour takes somewhere around three to six instead. Utah’s Little Cottonwood canyon, which provides access to Alta and Snowbird, is one of those routes that loves to get clogged. To fix this problem, the state is considering building the world’s largest gondola, allowing skiers and boarders to ride above the road, rather than on it.
According to NPR, the preferred plan is estimated to cost the state $550 million, a price that will likely rise if construction actually begins. The gondola would rise to 260 feet above the road, featuring 32 passenger cabins with heated seats, phone chargers, and wifi. The Utah Department of Transportation estimates that the gondola would be able to be able to move the same number of skiers up the canyon in an hour as the road does on a traffic-free day, with cabins leaving every two minutes from a large parking structure at the mouth of the canyon. In theory, when the roads become clogged, dangerous, or straight up closed, the gondola would continue to move at a constant pace.
There are, of course, arguments for and against this project. In the fall of 2022, Salt Lake County’s council voted to appose the project, with councilman Jim Brady pushing for an improvement in the existing bus service through EV busses and dedicated bus lanes. He’s also pushing for both tolling along the road and stricter traction controls, all while pointing out that a gondola may damage the beauty of the canyon.
“We don’t know how long this snow is going to be in our Wasatch hills. With climate change, which is real, we could have good days and bad, good years and bad years. and we may not need the capacity that they claim a gondola could provide.” – Salt Lake County Councilman Jim Brady
Other opponents say that the gondola will just act as a revenue builder, providing access to just two private ski resorts via a highway with only two off ramps. But, according to supporters of the project, Alta and Snowbird wouldn’t be the only two businesses assisted by the transportation, with Alta GM Mike Maughan pointing out that well over 100 private businesses exist within the canyon.
“It’s like any other public works throughout the nation, whether it’s a bike trail in some rural community or a tunnel somewhere. Only certain people use those public improvements but they’re paid for by everybody.” – Alta General Manager Mike Maughan
Image Credit: Gondola Works UT via YouTube