Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon: A Gondola Wins, Granolas Lose

UDOT (Utah Department of Transportation) determines to move forward with the Little Cottonwood Canyon expansion plan, which is a gondola serving Snowbird and Alta skiers using Utah’s taxpayers’ dollars.


UDOT (Utah Department of Transportation) determines to move forward with the Little Cottonwood Canyon expansion plan, which is a gondola serving Snowbird and Alta skiers using Utah’s taxpayers’ dollars.

A series of up to 40 poles, each with a concrete base of up to 15 feet in diameter, all serviced by new roads big enough to allow for huge trucks will be installed in some of the most pristine wilderness remaining up the middle of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  This is the reality of what the UDOT has decided. UDOT is made of up a group of unelected leaders who get to determine the environmental future of Utah’s canyons.

UDOT’s other option was to expand the roadway for dedicated bus lanes and services up the canyons. UDOT and proponents of the gondola wanted to paint these expansion measures as “either, or proposals”. Each option would potentially cost the state upward of $500 million, both options would have severe environmental consequences. 

However, Utah’s environmental community believes that neither option needed to be implemented as the ski resorts (Snowbird and Alta) are already filled to capacity. Anybody who has recently skied at Snowbird on a weekend will find hundreds if not thousands of skiers on the mountains, creating very hazardous conditions for skiers at any level.

Carl Fisher of Save Our Canyons was a guest on the Utah Stories show talking about this issue back in July. He said, “Their goal is to create a bigger turnstile, to generate more money, to benefit mostly the wealthy skiers, so they want to act like that there is a huge public need for spending a ton of money up the canyon. Taxpayer dollars would be far better spent improving our transit system throughout the Wasatch Front.”

Fisher believes that if $500 million to $1 billion were invested in a better transit hub for skier who want to reach a central bus station for skiing, then spending the money on making the buses electric, the money would go much further and serve far more Utahns than just those who have the budget to pay $130 for lift tickets.

DOT Project Manager Josh Van Jura said in a news release, “With numerous studies over many years as the starting point for addressing the transportation challenges in Little Cottonwood Canyon, we relied on the [environmental impact statement] process of in-depth technical analysis and environmental assessment along with agency and public input to identify Gondola B as the preferred alternative in the final EIS.”

Snowbird previously purchased the plots of land for the Gondola B option from CW Management, owned by Chris McCandless and Wayne Niederhauswer two of Utah’s most prominent developer/politicians– who regularly use their political clout to pass big development legislation which benefits the bottom line of their own projects, land and developments. 

Despite the public outrage and comments by dozens of environmentalists and environmental groups opposition to the gondola proposal, UDOT, and the cronies who work with the developer/politician elites in Utah got their way because the public input is not placed on a ballot, nor does the environmental communities opposition count for any actual dismissal of plans that obviously destroy pristine wilderness.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Sandy Mayor Monica Zoltanski said that they encourage members of the public to share their concerns with UDOT. Zoltanski said that she is pleased that UDOT has agreed to a phased approach that will attempt enhanced busing, mobility hubs and parking improvements and tolling prior to, “incurring massive pubic cost to build out infrastructure if other strategies work well.”

UDOT’s 45-day public review period begins September 2nd and with run until October 17th. To submit comments visit littlecottonwoodeis.udot.utah.gov.

The department will finalize the gondola as their choice and issue a record of this decision this winter. 


Gondola up Little Cottonwood Canyon Proposal: Short-sighted, waste-of-money, elitist visions of grandeur should remain in the clouds

Mountains of Money: What Happened to Utah Ski Resorts?

Ticket to Ride: “Political Pressure” Comes to Bear on Little Cottonwood Canyon Transportation Plans

Saving Our Canyons From Ourselves

Utahns’ Love Affair with Cottonwood Canyon

The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation—Improving Millcreek, Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons for Today, Tomorrow



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