Land Swap in the Central Wasatch, UT: Conservation, Expansion, and Grizzly Gulch

Katy Shipley | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Wasatch, Little Cottonwood
Utah ski resorts in Little Cottonwood Canyon from above. Image: Snowbird/Dave Amirault

The Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act is up for discussion in Central Wasatch Commission meetings.  After being introduced in 2016, the bill was never enacted and has been debated for the past two years.  While the conservation act encourages protection of pristine land in higher elevations in the canyons, there are underlying suspicions about the future of the Cottonwoods.

Panorama of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Image: Snowbrains/Katy Shipley

Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act states that, 

” the USDA shall allow installation of access and avalanche control devices, excluding ski lifts, within or adjacent to the area” and that “the bill arranges for a potential land exchange involving specified National Forest System land and private ski areas in Utah.”

This act has lead to a proposed land swap between the ski resorts and the National Forest Service. It involves the trade of higher elevation land for land closer to the base areas of the ski resorts.

On one hand, the trade will allow the National Forest Service to protect the mountains, canyons, watershed, and recreation opportunities in the upper elevations.  Land that is federally owned by the National Forest Service would be preserved and is off limits to resort development and chairlifts.

Wasatch, Central Wasatch Commission
Areas in question for the land swap. Image: Desert News/ Central Wasatch Commission

 On the other hand, giving the resorts land close to their base areas will encourage expansion.  Anyone who has seen the traffic in Little Cottonwood would be skeptical of this trade.  Do we want to encourage expansion in an already crowded space?

Wasatch, traffic
Traffic is one of the biggest concerns on those who adventure in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Image: Ascent Backcountry/ Andrew McLean

Debate over what is best for the canyons is nothing new.  Talk of expansion continues, as Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude see opportunities to create a better resort experience.

Recently, Alta has taken Grizzly Gulch off the table and will not be trading it in the land exchange.  Being one of the most iconic backcounty areas in the canyon, this decision has raised concerns in the community.

Wasatch, Grizzly Gulch
Heading up Grizzly Gulch, the canyons easiest access to pristine and beautiful backcountry skiing. Image: Snowbrains/Katy Shipley

Plans to develop Grizzly Gulch could lead to sunny, accessible, family friendly terrain for the resort, adding to the overall ski experience.  This sounds like a great business move, but has already been acknowledged as one that will stir up opposition.

Wasatch Alta
Alta is known for its incredible powder and authentic ski experience. Image: Alta/Lee Cohen

Meanwhile, groups such as the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance are asking Alta to rethink expansion in Grizzly Gulch.

“WBA believes it is worth considering that keeping Grizzly Gulch undeveloped and “wild” (despite its proximity to the ski area) has very broad appeal, strong support, and adds immeasurably to the Alta Experience.  People have been backcountry skiing, snowboarding, and snow shoeing Grizzly Gulch for decades, and many of these people are Alta skiers and pass holders.”

Between trying to preserve the natural beauty and pursue business decisions, the Central Wasatch Canyons always seem to be in the middle.  Will ONE Wasatch become a reality if the land swap happens? Is Grizzly Gulch going to have a ski lift through the middle of it?  Will the National Forest Service own enough of the canyon to preserve the backcountry skiing?  If the bill makes its way into Congress again, it will be interesting to see what happens next.   

Most importantly, do we get to keep Chad’s Gap?



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One thought on “Land Swap in the Central Wasatch, UT: Conservation, Expansion, and Grizzly Gulch

  1. This area should be kept open for all backcountry use ! Wasatchbackcountryalliance is a hate group.

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