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Will a cog unclog Utah’s ski canyon congestion?

1st December 2020 | Craig Altschul

Resorts in this article: Alta Ski Area, Snowbird

Could a cog railway like this in NH be in Utah's future?

Could a cog railway like this in NH be in Utah's future?

The public has had its opportunity to weigh in and there are now two new options for easing the vehicle congestion up Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon for skiers/riders and outdoor enthusiasts heading to Snowbird and Alta ski areas. It’s a subject that’s been part of the Wasatch conversation for many years.

The newest options just announced by the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) include a cog railway (think Colorado’s Pike’s Peak  and New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington chuggers) or a long gondola, beginning about three-quarters of a mile west of the canyon mouth.

“We’re happy that UDOT is taking the lead on transportation issues in Little Cottonwood Canyon,” Ski Utah President and CEO Nathan Rafferty told OnTheSnow.com. “While there’s no silver bullet for the challenges that come with navigating a steep mountain road and over 500 inches of yearly snowfall, reducing vehicle traffic in the canyon is a must. 

“Ski Utah supports the LaCaille Gondola Option which, while not addressing every need, moves the most amount of people in a fashion that is safe, reliable and consistent," Rafferty said. Ski Utah is a nonprofit snow industry trade association.

Congestion in the Canyon

Congestion in the Canyon

Copyright: StraightChuter.com

These two new options will be included as alternatives in the Little Cottonwood Canyon draft Environmental Impact Statement (IES). More than 6,500 public comments were received.

Previous options identified by the agency in June included enhanced bus service, enhanced bus service in a dedicated shoulder lane, and a gondola at the canyon base. All alternatives are being studied with the hopes of significantly improving transportation in the canyon.

The new gondola alternative featuring the gondola from La Caille would include a base station and 1,500-space parking structure on the west side of North Little Cottonwood Road in Sandy. Visitors, under this option, would board 35-passenger gondola cars departing every two minutes for direct access to Snowbird and Alta. 

The cog railway, also proposed to chug off from La Caille, is a diesel-powered train. It is essentially a steep grade railway with a toothed rack rail, usually between the running rails. This allows the train to operate on steep grades. 

The new option for the gondola would cost an estimated $576 million. The cog railway would run an estimated $1.05 billion. There is no current plan on how to pay for either option at this point.

The next phase is the development of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). That document -- expected next summer -- will provide a detailed analysis of the impacts to the social, economic, built and natural environment of each of the alternatives. It will identify a preferred alternative. That will be followed by another public review and a final EIS late in the year.

Nothing is a given in the environmentally conscious Wasatch world. Didn’t take long for Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, to offer up comments to Salt Lake City media saying, “A gondola or a cog railway will only add to the crowds in the canyon to the detriment of the environment and the watershed." Save Our Canyons, a nonprofit, is “dedicated to protecting the beauty and wildness of the Wasatch canyons, mountains, and foothills.”








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