Plans are in the works to create what would be by far North America's biggest ski resort complex, with 100 lifts and more than 750 runs spread over some 18,000 acres—all accessible with a single lift pass.
This week, ski industry leaders in Utah unveiled plans for a project called One Wasatch. Essentially, it's a Voltron-like mashup of seven existing ski resorts that neighbor and back up into each other in the Wasatch Range east of Salt Lake City: Alta, Brighton, Canyons, Deer Valley, Park City, Snowbird, and Solitude. The proposal calls for a few connecting lifts to be added that would make it possible to traverse from resort to resort. The result would be that a skier with one lift ticket has instant access to a staggering amount of terrain, the likes of which has never been seen in North America: a grand total of 762 runs over 18,316 skiable acres.
"With this concept coming to life, there’s not a ski area or community in this country that can beat us," said Jenni Smith, general manager for Park City Mountain Resort, per the Salt Lake Tribune.
Among the biggest resorts in North America right now, Vail, in Colorado, features 5,289 acres of terrain, while Whistler-Blackcomb, in British Columbia, boasts a total of 8,171 acres. Skiers would have to go to Europe to experience anything on par with what's being proposed in Utah. (France's Les Trois Vallées is generally credited as the world's largest lift-accessible ski area, with 183 lifts connecting eight separate resorts.)
How much would such a pass in Utah cost? When might this plan become a reality? Will it actually happen? As of yet, there are no definite answers to any of these questions.
For now, One Wasatch is merely a concept. It's an idea that's been discussed for decades, actually, and that has picked up pace since the region was in the international spotlight while hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics. This week, however, represents the strongest, most concerted push thus far to make the vision a reality. All seven resorts—which, remember, regularly battle it out in a fierce competition to attract snowboarders and skiers—are on board. The project calls for an infusion of $30 million for new lifts and other infrastructure, "100% privately funded," One Wasatch organizers are quick to point out.
For the most part, the larger ski community embraces the idea as well, so long as it's handled thoughtfully and carefully. “One Wasatch would catapult Utah into the category of a true international destination," reads a statement from Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, on the One Watch testimonials page. "It will be one of those situations where the sum of the whole is far greater than the parts…a game changer."
Critics say that One Wasatch will absolutely destroy much of the region's pristine beauty, while also potentially ruining key watershed areas. "The Wasatch is too amazing of a place to be lost for a marketing ploy by the ski industry," a group called Save Our Canyons announced in response to the One Wasatch proposal, redubbed as "One Horrible Plan for the Wasatch Mountains" by the organization.
Another group opposing One Wasatch, the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, released a statement reminding, "These mountains are an ecological and scenic treasure, the source of the water we drink, a place to find solitude and respite from the noise and stress of city life and to experience wild open spaces and wilderness on their own terms." Speaking to the Salt Lake Tribune about One Wasatch, Jamie Kent, president of the group, added, "I have no confidence they can protect the backcountry."