Congress stepping into help ski resorts on Government land

Posted By: The Ski Channel on March 17, 2009 12:00 am

Environmentalists and resorts have long fought over property usage on Government land. Resort owners wanting more activities, environmentalists wanting less.

A bill was introduced Monday by Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, that will allow ski areas to offer year-round recreation on land they lease from the U.S. Forest Service. Mountain biking, via ferrata, alpine slides, zip-lines and numerous other outdoor activities would be allowed under the bill.

There are over 100 US resorts who operate on federal land under a 1986 law that allows skiing and ski-related activity. Opponents say that under the bill, resorts could offer amusement parks and water parks and activity that is not reasonable or appropriate.

"We would like recreation on national forest lands to be dependent on a natural setting and dependent upon an outdoor recreation experience," said Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, an environmental group in Durango, Colo. "Urban-type recreation that could be provided in any context is not appropriate on public lands."

There have been numerous clashes and last year environmentalists did not like Vails’ alpine coaster plan and have pushed back hard against it.

"By that logic, even snowboarding wouldn’t be allowed," said Geraldine Link, a spokeswoman for the National Ski Areas Association. "That one challenge really was a wake up call for the Forest Service – that they need to update the act."

"As our economy is still struggling, we need to make it clear that these year-round opportunities are welcome and available to help promote jobs, stimulate local economies and provide educational and recreational activities for families," Udall said in a statement released Monday.

Forest Service Deputy Chief Joel Holtrop, has stated that a bill like this needs to be passed to help resorts "remain economically viable."

But he said that the bill was so broadly written "it could be read to allow water parks, amusement rides or other urban-based recreation under a ski area permit."