Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nobody cares that you ski at Alta

This is old news for some, but it was new to me. Ostensibly due to the need to find a long-term avalanche control solution, Alta Ski Lifts is proposing building a ski lift up to Flagstaff Mountain, the mountain I climb whenever I access Days Fork from the Little Cottonwood side, which is often.

The mountain is currently avalanche controlled by firing a Howitzer at the ridge top. But since they're running out of ammunition for the Howitzer and there's no place to get more, they need an alternative. The lift would allow patrol access to the ridge top in order to drop hand charges; skier compaction would also supposedly reduce the likelihood of slides coming down onto the road and into the already avalanche-proof buildings in the town of Alta.

Along with the loss of backcountry terrain, the proposed lift has the added problem of delivering a whole lot of people who won't have the skills to safely travel in the backcountry right to the top of an avalanche-prone bowl. Sure, they can put signs up warning about safe backcountry travel, but that doesn't seem to make a difference to the idiots at Brighton. And just because they won't have snowboards strapped to their feet doesn't mean Alta doesn't still have idiots.

The thing that really stymies me about all of this, though, is that if the intention here really is avalanche control, there's no way that erecting a ski lift is the most cost-effective approach. To say nothing of the environmental impact. Obviously, expanding terrain has something to do with it. But even then, it makes little sense.

Sure, you could access the goods on the North side of the ridge, but you still have to hike back up. And with the exception of the actual day the storm hits, the skiing on the South face of Flagstaff generally sucks. It gets baked and nasty, and it's survival turns much of the time. I guess you can groom it, but why?

Anyway, enough of my rant. I'm not sure there's a whole lot that can be done, but REI Salt Lake is hosting a community meeting to which they've invited representatives from Alta Ski Lifts and UDOT on March 31 from 6:30 to 8:30. Please visit for more information. Oh, and please come. Unless you support the lift, then please stay home and eat pork rinds.

Even if the odds are long, I think spending two hours at the meeting is a bet worth placing. Especially since pretty much any alternative is probably more practical.


  1. They're running out of ammo? That's the reason? Weird. Actually, unbelievable. I'm sure there are alternatives. If getting to hand charges to the top of the mountain under human ppower is a problem, maybe I could quit my day job and be a professional explosives schlepper.

  2. I know. Weird. Gazex ( would be way cheaper than building a lift and paying actual humans to deliver hand charges. Not to mention said humans (us weird ones at least) would be just as willing to hike as ride a wire.

  3. I read the post at Friends of Flagstaff. My only question (and this will reveal my novice status) is what exactly is "skier compaction"?

    Are they saying the added skiers on the mountain would help compact the snow and make it more stable?

    This smells of blatant terrain expansion. Is Alta really struggling to find a place to put skiers? They don't even allow boards, which make up what, 30-40% of lift users?

    It sort of reminds me of a blog post about a backcountry ski patrol.

    And certainly there are people who can supply more ammo? How much do they really use compared to the amount that is being pumped out in the factories?

    Maybe just shoot less? They rain bombs on those hills like GWB and his shock and awe.

  4. Adam,

    Skier compaction is exactly what it sounds like. Skiers on the mountain packing the snow down as they ski will reduce the risk of it sliding. At least in cold weather. Once the snow warms in the spring, it'll still go if it's gonna go.

    As for the ammunition, the military no longer uses howitzers, so nobody makes the ammunition. Which is not to say it couldn't be made. Other guns, besides howitzers, have a range that's too far to be considered safe, just in case they overshoot the slope.

    Numerous other options for pure avy control exist, most cheaper than adding a lift. But you're probably right that this is a land grab on Alta's part.

  5. Don't you hate it when people mess with stuff you love? I'm gonna go into the howitzer ammo mfg business...

  6. ^^^^^^
    There's a market for it if you do. You've got the right background...

  7. I agree, the rationale here feels weak.

    I like that Gazex device.

    I read an article a few months ago about running out of Howitzer shells and looking for other solutions. Money is a problem - replacing the guns will cost $ they don't have.

    But Alta, out of the goodness of their heart, will step up to help. Lame.

  8. Thanks for the bump on the event. I hope everyone can make it. We have actually heard back that Onno Wieringa, Alta Ski Lifts Director, will be at the event. Between he and UDOT (which will be represented, as well) these are the guys that can actually make the difference. Come and show them that we care. *Plus, don't tell anyone I told you, but I believe we will have pizza.