Friday, May 5, 2023

LCC Gondola Plans and Avalanches

In the wake of this season's historical avalanche cycle, I was curious about the resilience of the proposed Little Cottonwood gondola to such an assault.

I haven't located gory details, but a basic summary is found on page 2-48 of the Little Cottonwood Canyon Environmental Impact Statement, Vol. 1.  I had assumed that they would locate towers outside of avalanche paths, but that apparently was not possible.  Instead, the report says that gondola alignment and towers avoided avalanche paths to the extent feasible.  Otherwise, the towers would be designed to be stronger and taller, the latter for cabins to avoid the powder blast.


This season illustrates that this is a critical aspect of the gondola plans.  I obtained the image below from the Little Cottonwood Canyon Alternative Interactive Maps web site.  It shows the location of the angle station and, with a green square, two tower locations. The one up canyon from the angle station is tower #9 and it is located in the Tanners slide path.  

The Tanners path ran big and destructively this year.  Below is a photo of it that was taken late this season and generously shared with me by Joel Pavek. My best guess of the tower position is indicated by the green square. 

I'd be curious to hear how this and possibly designs for towers in other paths might have fared during this season's onslaught.  Were the original plans sufficient for the forces generated this year, or will redesign be needed?  

Below is an example from New Zealand of why this is important. 


  1. Clearly the gondola design needs to be re-evaluated. A risk that has not received much attention is how to evacuate people, maybe 900 people, from the 30 or so suspended gondola cabins in the event of a major weather event or gondola damage. A repeat of this winter could mean many days when accessing the area below the gondola cables was impossible, forcing very risky helicopter rescues. If they can't fly, then people will die.

  2. Thank you for publishing this. I know a number of people are looking at this issue from different and have been concluding as much. The gondola is a NO GO!

  3. This is an excerpt from comments, I previously submitted, regarding the LCC gondola proposal: I’ve been a ski patroller, both professional and volunteer over the past 48 years. I have had to evacuate a number of aerial lifts in my day, most commonly in their first year of service. In addition to safely getting the riders from the lift to the ground, we have to make sure they can safely get to the base of the mountain. Riders of the LCC gondola will be skiers, snowboarders and even people who are just accessing the resorts for a meal, other events or just to watch their families on the mountain. Rescuers will likely place people of all or no mountain travel abilities into the wilderness including avalanche paths, cliffs, and other hazards. Who will be responsible for rescuing evacuees, Alta and Snowbird ski patrols, Salt Lake County Search and Rescue, others? Additionally, I just returned from a vacation in the Swiss Alps. Unlike the comments I have heard, I saw no trams, gondolas, or other aerial lifts, used to connect towns or other great distances. They were just used to access a single area from the base station. But I did see, roads, and trains connecting towns and other long distances. These roads and trains were protected by tunnels, avalanche sheds and falling rock mitigation walls, berms, and sheds which keep the roads and railways open, even during high avalanche and landslide conditions. I believe The LCC gondola is a fools errand.

    1. It's hard to believe that it is 2023 and LCC has virtually no structural avalanche mitigation infrastructure except for China wall (and that's being generous). In the Alps, much of the highway would be shedded.

    2. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but from the snippets of discussion I’ve heard it seems to me that building any sort of structures would be met with swift opposition from “we can’t disturb the native environment” or “how dare you do anything that helps cars instead of moving to other transit like trains” type of groups. But maybe that’s just me being cynical.