- (ENN.com) - Developments sprawl near
Park City, Utah. Utah skiing used to be known for its rustic no-frills
atmosphere, but developers at the dozen resorts just miles from Salt Lake
City are seizing the Olympic moment to turn the mountains into a playground
for the jet set.
- "Ski industry development has been
phenomenal," said Gavin Noyes, director of Save Our Canyons, an environmental
group trying to curtail the growth. "It has not been a Salt Lake Organizing
Committee initiative, but the resorts have used the Olympics to do a tremendous
amount of development."
- That has not set well with local environmentalists.
"The principle environmental legacy of these games is Snowbasin, which
is an environmental catastrophe," said Dan Schroeder, head of the
Ogden Chapter of the Sierra Club.
- In 1984, Earl Holding, an oil magnate
and one of the country's richest men, bought Snowbasin. At the time, it
was a resort known mostly to purists who reveled in the slope's ideal conditions
and spartan atmosphere. The resort is nestled in the heart of one of the
most spectacular mountain crests in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
- It didn't take long for Holding to announce
his intentions for the land. One year after purchasing Snowbasin, Holding
proposed a 2,500-acre land exchange with the Forest Service with the intent
of developing it into a posh resort with top-notch lodges and condominiums.
Holding also owns Sun Valley, the exclusive Idaho resort, and by all appearances,
he was looking to build a replica in Utah.
- The Forest Service countered with a 200-acre
proposal, and after some haggling, Holding asked for 1,320 acres. Again
the Forest Service said no. "I cannot in good conscience dispose of
public land for that purpose," wrote Dale Bosworth in 1990, then the
forest supervisor of the Wasatch-Cache forest.
- Stymied by the Forest Service, Earl Holding
turned to his friends in Washington. In 1996, Utah representative James
Hansen introduced the Snowbasin Land Exchange Act in the House. Shortly
thereafter, Orrin Hatch introduced a similar bill in the Senate. It helped
that Holding had contributed $30,000 to Hatch's legal defense fund and
at least $24,000 toward the congressmen's campaigns.
- On the surface, the bill looked like
a good deal for the government: Holding would exchange almost 12,000 acres
of land he owned throughout Utah for the 1,320 acres of land adjacent to
Snowbasin he had sought for more than a decade.
- However, most of the 12,000 acres Holding
owned were virtually worthless. Many of the tracts of land had no roads;
others were good for cattle grazing and little else. They were all remote.
In exchange, Holding would get some of the most valuable land in Utah.
- In 1996, the land swap was made law as
part a larger national parks bill. Now Holding is free to develop the land
as he wishes. That includes more than $70 million in renovations, including
a new 45,000-square-foot ski lodge and a new ski lift to equip the slope
for the Olympics.
- But Gray Reynolds, general manager of
Snowbasin, notes that the land swap was in line with the mission of the
Forest Service, which is to provide a boost to local economies. Plans include
a four-season resort, and "the horseback riding and the skeet shooting
and the golf and the swimming and tennis will be developed here,"
Reynolds told reporters on the eve of the Olympics. "Both the public
and Mr. Holding benefited." Before going to work for Holding, Reynolds
worked for the Forest Service and testified before Congress in favor of
the land swap.
- For as much controversy as Snowbasin
has received, it is only one part of a more concerted effort by the ski
industry to make the Wasatch Mountains the next hot ticket for the elite.
Much of that development has been in the Park City area, already host to
the Sundance Film Festival. The population of the area has nearly doubled
in the last decade, making it the fastest growing part of Utah.
- "Since Salt Lake City won its Olympics
bid, there has been between $300 million and $500 million invested in ski
resorts, with another $200 million on mountain improvements in the area,"
said Gavin Noyes of Save Our Canyons.
- Three resorts near Park City " Deer
Valley Resort, The Canyons, and Park City Mountain Resort " are creating
substantial developments in the Wasatch Mountains. Deer Valley and The
Canyons both received failing grades from Ski Area Citizens Coalition,
an organization that rates ski resorts' environmental records, largely
because of their rampant development. The organization gave the area's
other major resort, Park City Mountain Resort, a "C."
- "Skiing isn't a great business,
but real estate is," said Ivan Weber, a developer who built the first
Deer Valley lodge and now works for the Sierra Club. All three resorts
and outside developers have vigorously sought to develop not only ski resorts
but also luxurious residences on and adjacent to their properties. And
in Summit County, where Park City is located, the median house price is
now 50 percent higher than in the rest of Utah.
- Most of the wealthy new residents are
coming from Southern California, just an hour's flight away. "Southern
California is our major market, no doubt about it," local realtor
Steve Chin told reporters. The average home price in Park City is $500,000,
but the most exclusive residences can run up to $10 million.
- At Deer Valley, 2,200 condominiums were
approved for development in 1997. Since then, at least 1,500 have already
been built. The resort also added more than 2,000 acres of skiing terrain
and a third lodge in recent years.
- The Canyons has nearly 2,500 acres set
aside for real estate development and has added 1,900 new acres of skiing
area since 1997, doubling its terrain. In a nearby development called The
Colony, homes as large as 35,000 square feet are available in a gated community.
- Park City Mountain Resort spent $12 million
to build a 54,000-square-foot day lodge at the resort's base and has built
three new lodging complexes since 1997. It has also spent at least $35
million since 1995 upgrading its lift facilities.
- Park City and Deer Valley are both sites
of Olympic competition.
- "The land around Park City was probably
doomed anyway, but the Olympics accelerated and altered the type of development
there," said Weber. "It is artificially high-end expansive sprawl,
and I would assert that it cannot be sustained."
- Just two weeks ago, a proposal was made
to convert 1,600 acres of land, known as Bonanza Flats, into a year-round
resort. The list of proposed developments includes a gated community with
160 single-family homes, 70 condominiums, a 40,000-square-foot lodge, an
18-hole golf course, and a ski lift connecting to the Park City Mountain
Resort and the Deer Valley Resort.
- "We realize there are strong emotional
attachments to the land in Bonanaza," said the developer, Rory Murphy,
at a Wasatch County Commission meeting. "That is why we have gone
to such great lengths to minimize visual disturbance and implement environmental
- Even with developers' attempts to reduce
the impact of development, the Park City area is already sprawling, and
there is more to come. "We're expecting another 80 percent expansion
in resort terrain over the next 5 to 10 years," said Noyes.
- A decision on the Bonanza Flats development
is expected next month.
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