Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Salt Lake City Climbers Urge UDOT To Not Put Gondola In Little Cottonwood Canyon

A photo of Nathaniel Coleman preparing to scale a boulder.
Ivana Martinez
Silver medal Olympian climber Nathaniel Coleman prepares to scale a boulder in Little Cottonwood Canyon. He said the roadside boulders helped him train and are incredibly special to him.

The Salt Lake Climbers Alliance and other state leaders came together Monday to talk about the importance of preserving the Little Cottonwood Canyon climbing scene.

The Utah Department of Transportation is currentlyproposing two options to help reduce traffic in the canyon. One is a gondola system that would run from the base of the canyon up to ski resorts like Snowbird and Alta. The other includes an expanded bus service and widening roads.

Julia Geisler, executive director of Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, said these proposals aren’t the answer to the canyon’s traffic issues. She said both options would threaten the roadside bouldering resources and alter the climbing experience forever.

“The cumulative effects of climbing and the impacts to our experience here will be quite detrimental,” Geisler said. “Not only [would] the noise increase from the road, but also the visual impacts from the gondola. [It would also] limit parking impacts to the trail networks that we've put in with the Alpenbock loop.”

She said these proposals would impact rock climbing as an equitable sport, by removing access to them.

“The breadth of the climbing resource down here is for all users,” she said. “It's for the general public. You can come here whether you have a dollar in your pocket or not and climb a boulder. So we want this resource to be maintained, open [and] accessible.”

She suggested UDOT look at other alternatives to controlling winter traffic like electric buses or tolling.

Politicians like former Salt Lake City Mayor, Ted Wilson and Utah Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, also spoke about their history climbing in these areas and their concerns with the project moving forward.

“It's not often that you get a conservative Republican out here for an environmental issue,” Anderegg said, “but this is my backyard. This is where I grew up.”

Nathaniel Coleman climbing a rock.
Ivana Martinez
Nathaniel Coleman said climbing outdoors makes a small part of his training but he values it when he goes bouldering. "It offers a mental reset, a place to escape city," he said. "Having massive projects [like a gondola] would ruin that experience."

He said he’s been in communication with UDOT to talk about the proposals and his concerns.

He said the gondola isn’t so much his focus but accessing the roads in this area is. Anderegg said he was assured by UDOT that it's aiming to decrease traffic by 30-40% and not have a complete shut-off of the area.

“I want to make sure that the solutions that are being discussed are balanced and make sure that we're not inadvertently destroying a resource that has blessed my life and my family's life for decades,” Anderegg said.

Nathaniel Coleman, the silver medal Olympian climber from Murray, said these spots are irreplaceable and have been important to his training.

He said if UDOT were to move forward with the proposals it would send a clear message to outdoor recreationists like him.

“It would say that our sport, our lifestyle and our history is not a priority,” Coleman said. “I know that climbing is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States. And Salt Lake is one of the greatest places in the U.S. to live as a climber.

UDOT is holding a public comment period until Sept. 3.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.