A big part of the shrieking monkey house you might experience on a Saturday morning in the Utah Wasatch is caused by industrial tourism, meaning lift skiing and helicopter skiing.
Having experienced the Wasatch zoo, it has been interesting to watch the constant battle between preservationists and developers. The preservationists sometimes come off as extremists, but perhaps a bit of extremism is to be expected when the monkeys get crowded.
Now, to be true to my ideals I have to say that the jobs and economic boost created by industrial tourism might actually be part of the reason people can work in the Salt Lake City area and lead the backcountry skiing lifestyle. But balance is key and the creeping expansion of lift skiing is something my ideals also cause me to red-light.
In the case of Solitude resort’s expansion into Silver Fork in the Wasatch, I just never saw it as something essential to the resort’s well being. It seemed more like the PR driven “me too” stuff that’s going on with resorts as they try to open more and more sidecountry terrain so their customers can actually ski some of the stuff they see in the brochure photos. Thus, it was somewhat gratifying to get back from our Denali expedition and see that the USFS is recognizing backcountry recreation and denied the Solitude expansion.
The Solitude denial is part of a an interesting trend (or a possible trend, if you’re a pessimist). Public land managers are recognizing the viable existence of adventure sports and activities that don’t require focused development such as resorts.
But, and it is a big but, we need to keep in mind that the USFS by their very nature tends to approve what produces income for them in the form of use and extraction fees. Backcountry users such as backcountry skiers and snowmobilers don’t commonly pay a use fee. Thus, if ski resorts are on a holding pattern of expansion in terrain and use numbers, is Big Brother going to come up with various schemes to extract money from those of us recreating in the outback on our own public land?
Extraction from our wallets is already happening, of course, for example in the form of the heinous Fee Demo program that was shoved down our throats by Congress in 1996, and continues to haunt us. Should we expect more of the same?
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.