In a state rife with land disputes, few are as polarizing as the one regarding SkiLink, a proposed transit lift between Canyons and Solitude. SkiLink is a hot-button social, environmental and economic issue for Utahns, and the divide between stakeholders is gaping. This is the third in a series of stories that will teach you everything you need to know about Utah’s most controversial ski lift.

11 resorts less than an hour of Salt Lake City International Airport. (Bryan Rowe/SkiUtah)

Many aspects of SkiLink are still a mystery. We don’t know what the lift’s environmental impact would be, how many local skiers and snowboarders would use it, or if it will even be built. There is one certainty surrounding SkiLink, though—it would make money, and there’s a good possibility it could become a cash cow for Utah tourism.

The numbers are staggering, even if they may be exaggerated. A Talisker-funded study found that SkiLink would pump $51 million into Utah’s economy and create 500 jobs in the first year alone. What’s more significant is the future impact SkiLink could have, as it would likely be the first step in a wider interconnect scheme that would connect all seven Wasatch resorts in Salt Lake and Summit counties.

“If it attracts more visitors, then it’s an economic plus for our state,” says Natalie Gochnour, chief economist at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. “Our ski resorts are an economic treasure to our state. They bring in a lot of wealth and if the resorts are connected, we would have a phenomenal asset, but it has to be done right.”

Paving the way for the grand interconnect scheme is where SkiLink’s true value lies. The central Wasatch resorts have long wanted to install an interconnect system. According to Canyons managing director Mike Goar, SkiLink is the decided first step because connecting Summit county with Big Cottonwood has proved to be the biggest challenge for the resorts. If Canyons clears that hurdle, a precedent will be set for future transport lifts, which would create a unique, Alps-esque ski experience in Utah. And the tourists would likely come in droves.

“If you are a skier who is staying at the Grand Summit hotel or Waldorf Astoria at Canyons and your family is planning to ski Solitude tomorrow, the vast majority of those users are thrilled with the prospect of not getting in a rental car and driving all the way down I-80 and up Big Cottonwood,” says Goar.

Detractors acknowledge that tourism dollars will flow if the transit lifts are built, but they argue a sustainable increase in revenue is unlikely.

“They build these glitzy, gimmicky type of things because it attracts a fast influx of people,” says Save Our Canyons Director Carl Fisher. “Then it trails off, and they have to do something else to bring the crowds back.”

Even if the crowds eventually wane, SkiLink and a greater interconnect system will undeniably bolster Utah’s already favorable image with tourists, and their out-of-state dollars will likely follow.