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Group returns from Switzerland with better ideas for Snowbird

SHARE Group returns from Switzerland with better ideas for Snowbird

The invitation was simple enough: Come see what we did.

And they did. Snowbird staff, land managers and observers went to the top of the world this past April to see Swiss engineering at its highest.And, hopefully, come up with some ideas of their own for a mountaintop lodge at Snowbird.

Among the future plans for the resort are the building of a new lodge on Hidden Peak, the opening of Mineral Basin to skiing and the addition of a new lift on its western boundaries.

"What we wanted to do was to see what was possible . . . to make sure that whatever we do with the lodge that we do it right," said Bob Bonar, president of the Little Cottonwood Canyon ski area.

Among those traveling to Switzerland were staff members from Snowbird; two representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Bob Ross and Rob Cruz; and two board members from Save Our Canyons - Alexis Kelner and Steve Lewis. The objective was to see what is being done in the way of mountaintop facilities and then help decide what can be done to build a mutually supported facility at Snowbird.

The first stop was to Titlus, a resort community near Englebury, Switzerland, for a look at the structure tucked into the hillside.

"What was nice," said Bonar, "was that the people were very cooperative. We met with the people we needed to talk to and were shown pretty much everything we needed to see. We learned what they did right and what they did wrong."

"I think everyone was able to get answered whatever questions they had. Each of the places we went was unique. Each offered special solutions to how they got power and water to the structure, and how they handled the sewage. We also found out about environmental problems they encountered and what rules they needed to follow."

The second stop was an observatory/resort called Jungfraujoch that was carved into the cliffs of the Eigers in the Swiss Alps. Reached by an underground transit system, the observatory perches on a pointed mountain peak 12,000 feet up, while the resort is carved into the mountain just below.

The train ride was $125, "But it was well worth it," Bonar said. "The train stopped at one point where a window had been carved out onto the face of the cliff. It was actually possible to talk to the climbers as they were going up the face of the Eiger." Built on a glacier, engineering allowed the building to move more than a foot in any direction under pressure from the moving ice.

The third stop was Murren, a revolving restaurant located on a peak about 9,745 feet elevation.

"One thing they had that we would like to introduce into our facility is an interpretive theater to show videos or slides of the canyon . . . the history, the geology, the resort," Bonar said.

"It would be something we could have in the winter for guests and in the summer for things like school groups."

The final stop was a resort facility at Zermott, Snowbird's sister ski area near the base of the Matterhorn.

"I think as a group we realize we need something - better public facilities, better staff facilities, ski patrol, rest rooms, restaurant. The questions now are how much and how big? I think we saw what we can do to make it blend in so that it looks right.

"I think having all parties involved in this process was a major step."

Lewis said he agreed that new facilities are needed on the top of Hidden Peak.

"After seeing the Alps, they reminded us very much of the Wasatch Mountains. But these are not the Alps and we hope a moderate-size facility can be built that will not be a lightning rod of opposition or a precedent-setting facility for other resorts," he said.

"Overall, the trip was both educational and enlightening from many facets of the ski industry, in terms of skier traffic, tram placement, restaurants, lodges. We saw things that were very pleasing and things that were not so pleasing.

"We support the replacement of current facilities. But we hope Snowbird will take a reasonable look at options."

He also noted that he found the Swiss people held an understanding of marketing and tourism that is not found here in the U.S.

"That is, they know how to attract tourists and can identify just what it is they are looking for," he added.

"It was nice to spend some time with all parties and talk about the issues facing us here. We got to know each other and, I think, break down some of the barriers," said Cruz, environmental coordinator for the USFS.

"It was good, too, because it opened our eyes about some things. I was surprised, for example, to see how many non-skiers paid to go to the mountaintop for the view and the feeling of being up there and a meal."

The USFS now will review Snowbird's proposed plans, incorporate its requirements, and then present them for public input. Once this process is complete, officials from the USFS will make a decision.

"What that will be we don't know. Whether it's to fix and replace the existing facilities, or build a new and larger facility to accommodate the needs of the resort and the visitors, we don't know yet. What we do know is that what's there now is inadequate and does not meet the needs of the resort or the visitors," said Cruz.