Connected ski areas provide many benefits for skiers and riders looking to extend their fun, and the ability to access multiple mountains from one set of lifts can lead to a great vacation. However, ski area interconnects often lead to debates about economic expansion and environmental protection. As a result, they often take decades to plan, review, fund, and build.
One successful interconnect was built between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains in British Columbia. The Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which opened in 2008, spans 2.7 miles and spins 1,427 feet above the valley floor between the two mountains. It’s currently the longest continuous lift system in the world, and it has helped to make Whistler Blackcomb one of the largest and most visited Winter destinations in North America.
Solitude and Canyons in Utah and Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in North Lake Tahoe, California are currently working on their own interconnect projects and hope to emulate the success of the one at Whistler Blackcomb. Here’s the low down on where they both stand and what obstacles they still need to overcome.
Solitude to Canyons, Utah
In 2011, Canyons Resort proposed a $10 million gondola that would carry 8 people at a time (1,000 people per hour) 2 miles over the 10,000-foot Wasatch ridge. The 11-minute trip would drop them at Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. According to an interview with Mike Goar, Managing Director of Canyons, “the gondola would require 25 towers… with the holes for each to be dug by hand. Helicopters then would fly in the steel towers and dump buckets of concrete to hold them in place.”
Approval for this project may require the backing of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, and the Federal Government before construction can begin. Legislation to grant Canyons access to land to build the gondola has been working its way through the U.S. Congress since 2011, but has yet to be approved. The Project for Deeper Understanding hosted a public meeting at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Park City, Utah on February 28, 2013 to allow 300 people to ask Mike Goar and Dave DeSeelhorst, managing directors of Canyons and Solitude, any questions they had about the project. According to The Park Record, most attendees criticized the project due to environmental concerns, but they did so in respectful tones. Goar and DeSeelhorst responded thoughtfully, saying there would be little environmental impact and great economic gains. The meeting ensured continued dialogue among Utahns over a complex issue.
Squaw Valley to Alpine Meadows, California
After years of wishful thinking, another interconnect project is opening up between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in North Lake Tahoe, California. The two neighboring resorts merged in 2011 and questions immediately began to surface about whether or not they could be combined into a mega-destination.
The interconnect between Squaw and Alpine had been discussed as far back as 1969, but opened for the first time in April 2012 for the tail end of the season. Inga Aksamit writes, “while it is far from ideal it does present a unique experience for long-time skiers and riders of both mountains and as such is relatively worthwhile for expert skiers. As an effective connector between the mountains it leaves much to be desired due to the effort involved in hiking and the expert skills involved in navigating the steep backcountry terrain.”
The KT Backcountry Gate can be accessed from the top of the KT-22 chair on the Squaw side, and the interconnect can be reached from the top of the Summit 6 chair on the Alpine side. From there, get ready for some hiking, shuffling, and sidestepping, and don’t forget your avalanche beacon, probe and shovel… This is a real backcountry expedition. It will take you 30 to 60 minutes to get from one mountain to the other.
To build a more user-friendly interconnect, both resorts must work with the owner of White Wolf Mountain, Troy Caldwell. White Wolf Mountain is nestled between Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley, and although Caldwell is very supportive of it, he “estimates that a mountain connection between Squaw and Alpine is 10 years away.” He has a half-built lift on his property near the backside of KT-22, but it has not yet been completed. If things work out, the interconnect would create the largest combined resort in the United States.
What other interconnect projects are going on in your neck of the woods? We’d love to hear updates on your local resorts and what’s in the works. Feel free to share in the comments below!