TO: Jesse Garcia, Chairman
Ogden City Council Office
2549 Washington Boulevard, Third Floor
Ogden, UT 84401
FROM: Don K. Wilson
[Address on file]
[Contact WCF Blogmeister]
Ogden, UT 84403
SUBJECT: The Chris Peterson Resort Development
In response to the ever increasing turmoil surrounding the Peterson development plan, I became curious about the purported purpose of the overall development effort, i.e., the creation of a resort facility on Peterson's Malan's Basin property. Although a number of questions have been raised concerning the remoteness of the property and the evident problems associated with access and providing necessary utilities and critical services, very little comment has been made about the suitability and potential of the area for development into a quality resort.
Based on 13 years of hands-on involvement at Snow Basin and a like number of years of engineering experience in the aerospace industry; I have undertaken an informal evaluation of the proposed ski area development, the results of which I would like to share with you. I believe that you will agree, that any informed decisions concerning approvals of the proposed development must be based on accurate information from qualified sources. My purpose is to raise a flag concerning one aspect of Peterson's plan. But, I strongly urge you, as a decision-making body, to insist upon comprehensive feasibility studies of all aspects of his proposal and in particular, the Malan's Basin development.
No doubt, Ogden City, Weber County and the State will have oversight and some measure of control over the project. Nonetheless, my concern is that as a privately held property, we may be inclined to think in terms of - the property is his to do with as he wishes. The problem is, that the end (Malan's Basin development) should justify the means (all of the "enabling" real estate development to apparently precede it). If Mr. Peterson's real objective is a Malan's Basin development, then his plan puts the "cart before the horse". In the absence of a development timeline, I must assume that Malan's Basin would follow Peterson's extensive real estate developments. Should this prove to be the case, an unfinished, or more likely, an unstarted Malan's Basin development would place all of us in a very awkward position.
My evaluation of the Malan's Basin site is restricted to the physical aspects of the area and is based upon data taken from a USGS topographic map providing 10-meter digital elevation data. I am unaware of particularized weather and snow data for the area in question and I have made only general observations in this regard. I have noted three significant limitations affecting the feasibility of the proposed development and I include a summary of my observations and provide a more detailed treatment in subsequent paragraphs.
THE PHYSICAL SIZE OF MALAN'S BASIN - The overall size of the developable area is too small to meet today's ski industry requirements for a quality ski resort offering.
BASE AREA SIZE LIMITATION - The base area in Malan's Basin will limit the developer's plan for an extensive condominium development and may well compromise his ability to provide essential base-located facilities.
SKIING TERRAIN - The designated ski slope in Malan's Basin displays a number of undesirable characteristics that would make development of quality ski runs questionable. With all things considered, I question that the slopes in Malan's Basin can provide "good skiing" over a desirable range of skiing difficulty. Most family oriented ski areas seek a difficulty mix that affords some beginner (least difficult), some intermediate (more difficult) and some expert (most difficult) skiing. With an average slope gradient of 50 percent for the whole area, including the ridge and valley, most of Malan's Basin skiing is in the more difficult, or most difficult category. Snow Basin, a neighbor to the east, for example, advertises 7 percent novice terrain, 29 percent intermediate, 34 percent expert and 30 percent expert only. At the same time, Brighton, near Salt Lake City, offers 21 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate 39 percent advanced and no expert. Since most recreational skiers have intermediate skiing capabilities, you can see the problem Malan's Basin faces with terrain that limits them to the more advanced skier.
The overall physical area of the development site is small by any standard, with an offering of less than 200 acres of skiable terrain. I refer to Brighton, because Malan's Basin promoters have offered comparisons of Malan's Basin to Brighton in their promotional materials. For example, Brighton offers 1050 acres of skiable terrain, over 5 times Malan's Basin size and yet Brighton is basically a "Mom and Pop area" and the smallest of several ski areas located in Salt Lake and Summit Counties.
Skier capacity is a factor in resort profitability and is in direct relation to the physical size of a development . Even if Mr. Peterson is contemplating a luxury resort as an adjunct to higher revenue, the size of Malan's Basin is a significant limitation.
Peterson has stated that Malan's Basin is "similar in size to Snow Basin for most of its history". This is not a valid comparison and would only apply to Snow Basin in its rope tow days. Apart from being an obvious exaggeration, any implication that Malan's Basin has the development potential of a Snow Basin, is totally misleading. Snowbasin has over 2800 acres and 104 runs.
The base area of the proposed development is at 6800 feet elevation. This is the historic site of the original Malan's Basin Hotel. This terrain ranges from flat to 30 percent slope. As a practical matter, a size limitation compromises Peterson's plan for a 350-unit condominium complex in the base area. This would have to be a multi-level structure and design details would determine its ultimate capacity. The conceptual rendering of the Malan's Basin base area is preliminary at this point and shows an appealing alpine-like village occupying the base area. It's important to remember, that a number of indispensable functions and important activities must be accommodated in this area.
Today's skier is accustomed to a full range of services and conveniences. Apart from overnight lodging, services and facilities should include: a day lodge for rest and warming with rest rooms, food and beverage services, equipment rental and retail sales, storage space and, etc. The base area must also accommodate a ticket sales area, office and administrative space, employee change and locker rooms, ski school and ski patrol first aid and emergency facilities.
In addition, there must be adequate space for shop facilities for snowcat maintenance, fueling and repair; this would include storage for spare gondola parts and tools. The base area must also accommodate gondola support towers and terminal structure as well as utility infrastructure. Last but not least, provision must be made for skier quaying space and public and employee accessways to the various facilities described. I believe that the space constraints in the base area in Malan's Basin represent a significant limiting factor to the development of a quality ski area.
There are fewer than 200 acres of designated skiable terrain in Malan's Basin and skiing is confined to a single slope that is generally northwest facing with some north and west exposure. As previously noted, the average slope gradient of 60 percent is relatively high but when you include the ridge and valley gradients, this becomes a more gradual 50 percent. Even then, the overall skiing difficulty of the Malan's Basin terrain is in the upper intermediate, to expert range, when you consider that the most difficult part of a run, or trail, establishes the overall difficulty index for that particular run.
The area is bounded on the south by a sharply defined ridgeline about 6400 feet in length, while the bottom of the slope ends in a sharp, V-shaped valley of roughly the same length as the ridge. The ridge and valley have a relatively low average slope gradient of 25 percent. Both ridge and valley are oriented generally along a east-west line.
The designated ski slope in Malan's Basin displays a terrain condition known as side slope, or double fall line. Unless you happen to be a skier, the condition is difficult to understand. Skiing the "designated slope" from top-to-bottom would involve a descent along a diagonal line across the slope. Suffice it to say that this is not considered a desirable situation. To avoid side slope skiing, a succession of "fall line" runs from the south ridgeline would provide a solution. The fall line of a slope is the path an unconstrained ski would follow down the face of the slope - the fall line runs perpendicular to the contour lines on a topographic map of a slope. Individual ski runs as opposed to an open slope, would avoid clear cutting and trees separating the individual runs would minimize the effects of wind and would contribute to the aesthetics.
Unfortunately however, the solution introduces or exacerbates other built-in terrain-related problems. For example, because of the terrain, the transition from the slope to the valley floor is abrupt. Fall line ski runs down the area slope would have an average slope gradient of 60 percent, while the individual fall line runs themselves would range from short and steep, at the upper and lower ends of the slope, to a maximum length of 1800 feet near the center of the slope. The longest run would have an average slope gradient of 50 percent. Although the fall line runs themselves would provide good skiing, they are relatively short. If the access along the south ridge and egress through the valley below are taken into account, the overall skiing experience would be greatly diminished. Both the ridge and valley are quite narrow but both have a relatively gentle average slope. Nonetheless, each would have to be widened considerably to facilitate controlled descent (turns) and prevent skier traffic problems. Skiing down the longest available fall line run in Malan's Basin would mean accessing it from the ridge top - not always an especially enjoyable experience because ridge runs are usually subjected to wind scouring and the effects of the sun. Reaching the base area would also involve skiing on the relatively flat terrain of the valley floor which would likely be congested with other ski traffic.
As noted, the valley floor is unacceptably narrow and skiers exiting the ski runs into the valley would face a merging problem. A partial solution for the merging difficulties would result from contouring the slope outruns at the transition to run parallel with the valley. However, as the valley is the principal skier traffic artery between the ski runs and the base area and the narrowness of the valley exacerbates the merging problem. Without extensive widening of the valley floor, still another problem exists, i.e., skiers of limited ability, who might otherwise handle the slope of the valley, need sufficient room for turns and maneuvering to achieve a safe and controlled descent. Widening would involve extensive cut and fill work and this would be both expensive and difficult given the terrain in the area. Aside from concerns about undercutting and destabilizing bordering slopes, it is not clear that widening efforts would be entirely successful due to the inherent terrain limitations in the valley. Once again, efforts to correct problems could easily introduce new ones.
Malan's Basin base and upper elevations are 6700 feet and 8500 feet, respectively, verses 8755 feet and 10,500 feet at Brighton. The significance of this comparison is that elevation is a major factor in both snowfall amounts and snow quality. Brighton is noted for both its accumulated snow depth and the quality of its snow. With 2000 feet less elevation and a western aspect, Malan's Basin must face a high probability of unreliable snow conditions. Snow Basin with base and top elevation at 6391 feet and 9350 feet respectively, has had it's fair share of late season openings. Earl Holding largely corrected the problem for Snow Basin, with the installation of an extensive snowmaking system. This is expensive and requires a lot of water, but that's what it takes to protect a very large investment.
Chris Peterson is advertising "an impressive vertical drop of 1800 feet - slightly more than Brighton" (1745 feet). Vertical drop, by the way, is a reference that ski areas use to indicate the skiing opportunity in their area. In a further reference to vertical drop, Peterson states that Malan's Basin could offer the following:
"- 2600 feet (vertical) with forest Service approval" Comment - It is extremely unlikely that the Forest Service would ever grant Peterson access to the top of the mountain because:  In response to an earlier and much published Peterson-Godfrey faux pas, Snow Basin announced that its permit did not allow access to the area from the front (west) side of the mountain and it was not interested anyway. The USFS will doubtless place the best interests of a heavily invested, existing permitee (Snow Basin) ahead of Mr. Peterson interests and  The west side of Mount Ogden and environs, have a tragic history of avalanche problems. Moreover, the terrain is generally hazardous and unsuited for recreational skiing. The Forest Service has doubtless retained this upper property for the sole purpose of controlling access to the front (west) side. This is clearly a public safety issue.
"- 4500 feet (vertical) sixty days a year - the best in the country" Comment - I have been unable to identify a route below Malan's Basin that does not involve a cliff band or other precipitous terrain. Even by exiting Malan's Basin to the south from the area ridgeline boundary, difficult terrain will be encountered. Assuming that a route exists and could be made safe for public use, I believe that the "sixty days a year" statement is an exaggeration. While the 4500 feet may be accurate, I would certainly question it as being 4500 feet of high quality skiing. A perilous adventure perhaps, but not good skiing.
My evaluation of the Malan's Basin area leads me to the conclusion that because of the noted deficiencies, i.e., the overall size of the site and base area and a number of terrain-related problems, Malan's Basin lacks the potential to become a quality ski area offering. Given the circumstances, it may prove difficult to justify even the cost of a mountain gondola. In addition to the high development cost, due to the problems I have outlined, there remains the question of road access to the property and establishing essential utility services on the development site. The difficulty and attendant high cost of developing Malan's Basin itself, pales in comparison to the monumental problems and very high cost of accessing Malan's Basin. I understand that Peterson may attempt a roadless development in Malan's Basin. Should this prove to be the case, it would add immeasurably to the problems that he already faces and even more seriously compromise his chances of success.
While Chris Peterson talks like a man with nearly unlimited financial resources at his disposal, that remains to be seen at this point. Regardless, I foresee a distinct possibility that his Malan's Basin development could turn into a financial "black hole." In any case, Chris Peterson faces some monumental problems because of the built-in limitations of Malan's Basin. It is not by coincidence that many of Utah's premier resorts are owned, or were developed by very wealthy individuals - Redford, Bass and, of course Holding, to name but three. I suppose you could say that ski area development is the province of the wealthy. I do not question either the integrity, or commitment of Chris Peterson but, I do believe that he has allowed his enthusiasm for his project to compromise his better judgment.
Given the controversial nature of Peterson's plan, I have little doubt that a great deal of pressure will be applied to the Council from both sides of the fence. As one who will doubtless be labeled an obstructionist because of my opinions, I can appreciate your position as decision-makers in your efforts to make impartial judgments of the Peterson proposal. In closing, I am well aware of the implications of my comments. If the Malan's Basin development is not feasible, then, of course, now is the time to make that determination. In the event of a failed, or marginal Malan's Basin development, it would be extremely difficult to justify any of the considerable and controversial enabling development that would presumably precede it. Once again, I hope that my letter will raise a flag for you about a potential problem and will otherwise prove helpful to you in your deliberations. I will appreciate your timely consideration of my comments and I will look forward to hearing from you.
Don K. Wilson