S2:Ep11 - Chris McCandless: Little Cottonwood Via Gondola


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Chris McCandless grew up in Little Cottonwood Canyon, dropping powder lines as a kid and hiking Superior in the summertime. It's a place near and dear to his heart. Three or four days a week you might find him driving up the canyon where the decision of the morning is Alta, Snowbird or backcountry - all the way up just soaking in the scenery.

Chris is like many of us and certainly not immune to having those moments of solitude soaked up by traffic jams on SR210. But amidst a broad public discussion on mountain transportation today, Chris McCandless has a vision. His concept for a high speed 3S gondola to whisk skiers up the canyon and help alleviate traffic on the dangerous canyon road below is very real. And people are listening.

If you've ever skied in Europe, you quickly learn how mountain regions have created transportation systems that simply don't rely on cars. Lifts and tramways aren't just for skiers. They're for moving people on railways, gondolas and more.

McCandless is a skier's skier. The passion he felt as a nine-year-old in Little Cottonwood burns every bit as big today. He brought that same passion to public service, as a Sandy City councilman for 15 years and past head of the Central Wasatch Commission.

Today, he just wants to be a part of the solution for future generations.

This episode of Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast will amaze you at how realistic the gondola project is over the next decade. Gondola? Railway? Buses? Highway? Watch for a Utah Department of Transportation decision soon! Here are a few tidbits. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Skiing is really at your core, Chris, isn't it?
(As a kid) I lived in Sandy. Me and my friend, we'd go up there every weekend and build jumps on the rope tow. We'd wear out so many pairs of gloves and make my mom crazy. We would take shovels, build great jumps, try to impress people. I don't think we impressed anybody, but we thought we did. And that was the fun part of it with our amazing prowess and ski jumping. And it just led from there and never gave up. I'm still skiing as much as I possibly can. And it's been a great experience. The hope is that we can help perpetuate this experience into the future for all of the generations yet to come.

"People want something to happen. They want it to happen now. We've talked about this for decades. Let's get something done now to solve the transportation problem." Chris McCandless

How did you get inspired on this project back when you were on the Sandy City Council?
A lot of projects came across our desk at Sandy City at the time. It was fulfilling. I was part of the solution and I enjoyed that. I don't regret a single day of service. And that helped me formulate where we are today with trying to figure out a solution for the transportation problems that plague the south end of the valley as it relates to Little Cottonwood Canyon. Two to five hour transit transit times to get into and out of the canyon doesn't work. We're ruining our asset.

How will the gondola help mitigate traffic in the canyon?
The gondola has the capacity of about 4,000 people per hour, which is a peak hour need. If you're taking that number of people up the canyon, you eliminate 1,800 cars an hour out of that canyon. You have decreased the congestion. You've increased the enjoyment of not having to deal with the 'red snake,' as they call it, going either up or down the canyon. It's pretty brutal sometimes.

How will the system tie into the neighboring communities in the valley?
One of the parts that I really like is our trail systems going into the base station. We want to extend the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and bring trails in from Sandy and Cottonwood Heights and from our immediate neighbors and put it right through a project so people can ride their bicycle to the gondola station or just walk. It'll be an absolutely staggeringly beautiful walk just to get the gondola base station and then take that up the canyon. Quite a date night, I would say. But, you know, I'm a romantic at heart!

There's plenty more in this episode of Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast.

  • What does he share in common with the lead character in Jon Kraukauer's Into the Wild?
  • How did he get up Little Cottonwood as a kid?
  • Why did he steal his brother's bindings?
  • His favorite line off the tram on a powder morning and why you want to be on first tram.
  • His favorite old guy rock band?

Take a listen today. Tune in to Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast presented by High West Distilleryon your favorite podcast platform. Subscribe to get first access to every episode.


  • Gondola Car: Doppelmayr 3S, 28-passengers
  • Base Station: Le Caille (restaurant) with underground parking and bus interchange
  • 28 minutes to Snowbird
  • 35 minutes to Alta
  • Flies over 64 active avalanche paths
  • 57% of the nine miles of SR210 is threatened by avalanche paths
  • Helps mitigate the up to 7,000 cars a day in Little Cottonwood Canyon

44 episodes