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Skier safety, wildlife and outdated plans delay decision on Deer Valley lift

PARK CITY, Utah – A decision on whether or not to allow Deer Valley to build a new six-person lift on its currently undeveloped Park Peak was delayed Wednesday after the Planning Commission said they needed more information on how the resort would manage the project’s impact on wildlife. They also asked Deer Valley officials for more details regarding how plans for the new lift would impact skier safety as well as details on re-designating recreational open space. The Planning Commission’s decision to delay a vote on the issue until at least May 8, was unanimous.

Lift 7 would pick skiers up where the Ontario and Trump trails converge and take them to the top of Park Peak, where Deer Valley plans to build a new lodge and gondola – all part of their 3,700-acre terrain expansion, announced in late summer of 2023.  A portion of the land, which is owned by Deer Valley, is currently designated in the resort’s open space management plan as “undeveloped recreational open space.” 

Planning Commissioner, Bill Johnson, questioned whether Deer Valley was sticking to the original intent for that open space, which would need to be re-designated in the Flagstaff Open Space Management Plan to “developed recreational open space.” 

“As defined in its original use, (that area) included the opportunity to snowshoe and backcountry ski in the winter and it could be used for activities like hiking and horseback riding in the summer,” Johnson said. 

A screenshot from Wednesday’s Planning Commission presentation showing how Deer Valley’s Park Peak land is currently designated.

Steve Graff, Deer Valley’s VP of Mountain Operations said the Park Peak land was always considered as an area for future skiing. Twenty three years later, he said, it’s time for an update to their open space management plan. 

Johnson and other Planning Commissioners questioned whether or not re-designating the land would be something the two parties could come to an agreement on. 

“I do think that the wildlife management plan needs to be updated as well as the open space management plan, but it would have been nice to have some narrative provided on how you interpret and cite certain sections and (explain) how you can support that. I dug into these plans more than I wanted to, but there’s a potential wildlife corridor right there too, coming down that gully,” Johnson said, referring to a map showing an overlay of the proposed lift and terminal building and how the land is currently designated. 

Graff countered by explaining Deer Valley currently manages multiple wildlife corridors in areas where there are lifts, emphasizing the compatibility of their proposed use with wildlife.

Skier safety was another topic of concern at the meeting and public hearing. Deer Valley has said the expansion of mostly beginner terrain accessed from Lift 7 would help currently congested areas of the resort, like the Ontario trail, where beginners are learning to ski and expert skiers are using the same trail to move around the mountain. 

But some members who spoke at the meeting said that opening the Park Peak terrain would cause new problems in other parts of the resort due to a potentially high volume of beginner skiers needing to make their way to Lift 7 terrain each day. Town officials also questioned whether or not the lift loading area, where lots of beginner skiers would converge, was safely planned.

Advocates of the project included Olympic Champion and Deer Valley Ambassador, Ted Ligety, who said that adding high-elevation beginner terrain would be a game changer for new skiers young and old. 

“Getting the kids out of the base area is such an amazing experience. It’s so valuable for the experience of skiing. I’m really excited about the opportunity to take the kids out into this upper terrain that is easier to ski and have them experience a true mountain experience,” Ligety said.

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