The bill would set an approval process for ski areas on Forest Service lands to allow for summertime recreation activities like mountain biking and concerts.
“Right now, the Forest Service does permit additional activities on ski areas; however, both ski area representatives and the Forest Service have approached me saying its unclear on what is appropriate,” Udall said. “This bill would define more clearly what should be on the list of activities and what makes sense.”
The 1986 law now allows only ski-related activities on Forest Service ski areas. According to Udall, the new bill would amend it, so that recreational sports other than alpine and Nordic skiing would be allowed. While most ski areas in Colorado allow snowboarding, it is not clearly defined by the 1986 law as an accepted use.
The new bill would authorize the Forest Service to decide on appropriate year-round and summertime activities to help level out ski areas’ seasonal economies and provide steady employment for the residents of their communities.
“This puts in place a process to determine what is an acceptable use,” Udall said, of the plan. For example: “Snowboarding is not specifically on the list of permitted activities, and everyone involved in the industry was feeling a little uncertain because it wasn’t.”
Udall cautioned that the bill doesn’t give ski areas the go-ahead to create out-of-context activities, like giant amusement parks or waterslides.
“There have been some debates about water slides and alpine slides,” he allowed. “The Forest Service does have some earlier discretion to decide what other activities fit into the National Forest.
“We want to keep the right balance and insure we protect the values we have come to appreciate on forest lands. There are some uses that the Forest Service would not find appropriate.”
As a member of the National Ski Areas Association, which supports the bill, Telluride Ski and Golf Co. CEO Dave Riley said the Telluride Ski Area is in favor of the act as well.
“It’s an attempt to utilize ski area infrastructure and facilities on a year-round basis,” Riley said. “We think it’s good for ski companies and good for communities.”
Furthermore, Riley said, as Telski continues to shape its ski area master plan, passage of the bill would better define what may or may not be included in that plan.
“Summer uses are a chapter in our plan, and this may influence its development,” he said. “Mountain biking, for instance, is already occurring on some resorts and not on others. This bill is intended to help clarify those types of allowed uses.”
A similar bill was introduced last year, but its passage did not come to a vote before the legislative session came to an end. It is unclear when the 2011 version of the bill will go up for approval.
But the 2011 version is being touted by supporters as a way to promote year-round recreation in mountain resort communities.
“This bill will not only increase recreational opportunities but also expand business opportunities and jobs,” Rep. Diana DeGette said in a statement released by Udall’s office. She also sponsors the bill. “Year-round recreational activity will provide substantial benefits to our local economies, and help create stable jobs in the thirteen states that are currently home to ski resorts on public land.”
For Telluride, Riley reiterated the bill would benefit ski communities, but even if passed, it would be awhile before the benefits took effect.
“This isn’t going to be an overnight situation, but over time, I think it could really help mountain communities, the ski resort and our employees,” Riley said.