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Pilot inspection program looks to increase safety, address congestion in Utah canyons

Every skier or snowboarder knows getting up a canyon during on a snowy day can be a grind. With a new pilot program, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and the Unified Police Department (UPD) hope to make this process easier and safer for canyon goers in the winter months.

On Wednesday, UDOT and UPD introduced a program that lets frequenters of the Big and Little Cottonwood canyons bypass field tire inspections by offering snow tire and chain requirement checks at the beginning of the season. Those who pass inspections will get a sticker they can place on their windshield that lets police know they meet the tire requirements.

“We’re looking at it as an innovative way to potentially solve the congestion issue that we see at the mouth of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons,” said UDOT public information officer John Gleason, adding that the canyons are “getting more and more popular each year.”

Right now, the program is only available to those who live in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons and employees of the Alta and Brighton ski resorts, as well as the surrounding businesses, Gleason said.

If the program sees success, it could be applied to other canyons and roads throughout the state, including Utah County’s Provo Canyon and the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway that leads to Sundance Mountain Resort.

“It’s very limited at this point, so it’s not open to the general public,” said Gleason. But if it is successful, “then it is something conceivably that we could roll out on a much broader scale here in the near future.”

State traction laws require that on days where highway and canyon road conditions are hazardous, such as during a heavy snowstorm, cars on these roads be equipped with either four-wheel drive, certified three-peak mountain snowflake tires or traction devices, such as chains or tire studs.

Andria Huskinson, communications manager for Alta Ski Area, said it is not uncommon for vehicles without adequate tire traction to visit the resort and experience problems on the road.

“There can be cars that slide off the road because they don’t have proper snow tires,” Huskinson said, “and that’s what causes a lot of the congestion.”

Huskinson said she hopes the pilot sticker program will help reduce congestion in Little Cottonwood Canyon and prevent accidents, therefore making the drive safer for people visiting the ski resort.

“I think it’ll help because, hopefully, we won’t have cars (driving up the canyon) that don’t have the proper traction on their tires,” she said.

By preemptively inspecting vehicles, Gleason said the program has the potential to prevent “major delays” and “make everyone’s life a little bit simpler” by making it less likely cars will slide off the road or get stuck in the snow.

“Those type(s) of things are a threat to safety and really stall up traffic and clog up the canyon for people that are trying to get up there to enjoy skiing and snowboarding,” he said.

On Wednesday, employees of the Cottonwood Maintenance Shed at 6601 S. 3000 East in Cottonwood Heights began inspecting cars and giving out stickers.

By preapproving vehicles, “we take less time in the chain-up area and we could relieve some of the congestion at the mouth of the canyon,” shed supervisor Jake Brown said.

Over the next week, inspectors will be stationed at the maintenance shed to preapprove vehicles that meet traction requirements, according to Gleason.

'A delicate dance with Mother Nature': Midway Ice Castles open to public

A crystallized kingdom is welcoming one and all to Midway to revel in its icy excellence.

Since October, crews have been working to create the Midway Ice Castles hosted at Homestead Resort, and on Friday the annual winter marvel will open to the public.

“The weather has been interesting this year,” said Kyle Standifird, CFO and one of the owners of Ice Castles, explaining that weather plays a massive factor in the castles’ creation. “Our founder said it well when he said, ‘It’s a delicate dance with Mother Nature. She leads, and we kind of guide it and help it come together as a beautiful project.’”

Alpine resident Brent Christensen started Ice Castles in his own Utah County backyard, according to Standifird. Ice Castles now has six locations between the United States and Canada.

Billy Tiedemann, one of the project’s site managers, explained that some of the new additions to the site this year are a light garden featuring ice structures with lights shown through them, a 70-foot-long skyslide, ice caves, water features and a waterfall, fog, ice caves, and a maze that features a ruins-esque area that resembles an old courthouse or church.

“Even for somebody who comes year after year, it’s always different,” said Standifird.

According to Standifird, the Midway Ice Castles stand on a one-acre site that features ice walls and towers rising 12 to 25 feet tall and took roughly 10,000 man hours and approximately 25 tons of ice and snow to create. He explained that this site usually stays open until mid-February, but unpredictable weather always makes the attraction’s closing date an unknown.

“You’ve got to get your tickets now while you know it’s going stay open,” said Standifird.

For tickets and more information, visit http://icecastles.com/Utah.

Sen. Mike Lee criticizes Trump administration over ‘insulting and demeaning’ Senate Iran briefing

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, harshly criticized President Donald Trump’s administration after a closed-door Senate briefing by top military officials on the assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani. Lee called it “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issues, in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate.”

Lee, who announced in November that he will serve a co-chairman of the president’s reelection campaign in Utah, told a group of reporters that the 75-minute briefing was “insulting and demeaning … to the office that each of the 100 senators in this building happens to hold” and to the U.S. Constitution.

According to Lee, military leaders who led the briefing, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, tried to limit debate and discussion among senators and failed to provide “more information outlining the legal, factual and moral justification for the attack” that killed Soleimani.

“It’s not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government … to come in and tell us that we can’t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran,” Lee said. “It’s un-American, it’s unconstitutional and it’s wrong.”

Prior to Wednesday’s briefing, Lee said he was unsure whether he would support a non-binding War Powers resolution put forward by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, that would seek to limit Trump’s use of military force overseas without congressional approval.

“That briefing is what changed my mind,” Lee said. “I’m now going to support it … specifically because of what happened in that meeting.”

The Utah senator added that he had minor concerns with the resolution that he discussed with Kaine.

A similar resolution passed through the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday 224-194. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, was one of eight Democrats who voted against it.

“The War Powers Act of 1973 already restricts the president’s ability to engage in military conflict without Congressional authorization and protecting America and preserving peace are my priorities,” McAdams said in a statement. “Therefore, I do not support this non-binding resolution.

“At the same time, I firmly oppose any escalation of hostilities in the Middle East without a coherent and defined plan authorizing the use of military force,” the congressman added. “Congress, in consultation with the President, must fulfill its Constitutional duties to define our objectives and strategies prior to going to war as well as how to pay for it.”

When asked about Lee’s criticisms, the president said Lee was likely upset because he wanted information that the military officials didn’t provide him.

“And it really had to do with sources and information that we had that really should remain at a very high level,” Trump said on Thursday.

“I get along great with Mike Lee,” he added. “I’ve never seen him like that. But other people have called and they’ve said it was the best presentation they’ve ever seen.”

A Senate vote on the War Powers Act is expected to take place early next week, according to Politico.

Former Provo man creates dating app for ex-Latter-day Saints

A new dating app seeks to fill the gap for former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints looking for relationships.

“It is not a place meant to pull people away from their beliefs,” said Zac Taylor, the app’s creator. “It is a place where people with like-minded, safe journeys can find a community.”

NEW, an app aimed at ex-Latter-day Saints, launched about two months ago and is available in both the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.

Users create a profile using either Facebook or Gmail, choose their affiliation regarding the church, create settings based on their gender and sexual identities and either tap “wow” or “nope” on profiles.

The app has gained more than 3,200 users and 76,500 swipes since it launched.

Taylor got the idea for the app after he had difficulty dating in Provo as a former member looking for someone who had been through a similar experience.

“I wouldn’t wish a faith crisis on anybody,” Taylor said. “It’s difficult to navigate, you lose friends and family members, and everything you thought was one way turns out to be different. It is really hard.”

He said former members don’t want to use Mutual — a dating app marketed toward believing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where users swipe up if they like a profile and down if they don’t — but also aren’t always willing to turn to Tinder, either.

“Tinder can be a cesspool of thirst traps and other trolls,” Taylor said, referring to photos used to attract sexual attention.

The Latter-day Saint faith believes that members must marry other active members in one of the religion’s temples in order to qualify for the highest degrees of heaven and be with their family in the afterlife. The religion also disapproves of the consumption of alcohol, tattoos and premarital sex.

Taylor said his dating pool collapsed after he left the church. He now lives in Salt Lake City.

Through NEW, Taylor said users can date others without having to explain their history and position with the church. He’d like to see the app expand to include features for people looking for friends.

Taylor said the app isn’t meant to be anti-Latter-day Saint and isn’t trying to compete with larger dating apps like Tinder and Bumble.

“Mine is just for a like-minded community of people who get why you might feel a little awkward at Starbucks not knowing what to order as a 35-year-old because you’ve never drank coffee or never ordered coffee,” he said.

The app is free to download. A $2.99 a month premium version gives users unlimited “wows,” shows them statistics about their profiles and bumps their profile to be featured at the top of their area.

Dick's sporting goods closes abruptly in Orem

The Dick’s Sporting Goods Store in Orem closed this week without fanfare or notification. The signs are down and the store is empty.

Dick’s stores in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Elk Grove, California, have also closed since the first of the year, according to media reports.

Orem city leaders have not been told the reason for the abrupt closure according to Kathi Beckett, Orem’s economic development director. Phone calls and emails to Dick’s national headquarters in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, have not been answered.

Dick’s opened in Orem in September of 2012 — hosting local basketball favorite Jimmer Fredette at a public meet-and-greet party. The location primarily sold sports clothes, shoes and sports equipment.

“We usually don’t hear when a business closes unless it’s a large company with several employees,” said Ryan Clark, director of community services. “I was in there right before Christmas.”

Clark said the closure was a surprise because Dick’s had renewed its business license on Dec. 23. The license costs $3,600, according to Clark.

The Dick’s store operating in The Meadow’s Shopping Center in American Fork remains open.

Dick’s, founded in 1948, is the nation’s No. 1 sporting goods chain and is a Fortune 500 company.

Its subsidiary Field & Stream locations — that are geared specifically to hunting and hunters — have had some store closures earlier in 2019 as well as other Dicks Stores including one in Springfield, Illinois, according to local media reports.

On Oct. 1, Dick’s announced it had sold eight of 35 of their Field and Stream stores to Sportsman’s Warehouse, based in Utah, because the chain chose to stop selling semi-automatic weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, according to a Business Insider report.

In March 2019, Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Edward Stack said they stopped selling the type of guns in the aftermath of the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.