In the wake of an ugly year of partisan politics, there’s at least one thing both sides of the aisle can agree on — the benefits of year-round outdoor recreation. The Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011 (H.R. 765, S. 382), which amends the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986, has just passed in both the House of Representatives (394-0) as well as the Senate (unanimous consent), and given President Obama’s declared support of the bill, he’s expected to sign it into law in the next few weeks.
Under the 1986 legislation, the 121 ski areas in the country that operate on public lands (located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming) were only authorized to support nordic and alpine skiing. So technically, snowboarding on ski area lands leased by the federal government was illegal. And there were no provisions for ski areas to provide for non-winter sports and activities, though many facilities are perfectly suited to offer a wide range of year-round opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. The new bill fills in the gaps and opens the umbrella for things like mountain bike terrain parks and trail systems, frisbee golf courses, zip lines and ropes courses, but don’t worry — it specifically excludes things like tennis courts, golf courses and amusement rides. After all, the first specification listed in the bill is that each federally authorized activity and facility shall, as its primary purpose, “encourage outdoor recreation and enjoyment of nature.”
So what does this mean for the outdoor community? More opportunities for both business and adventure.
The unique facilities offered at ski resorts make them perfect for a number of other activities, and year-round business will help support smaller, rural communities that boom during the wintertime and have to depend on seasonal labor from outside. It will also increase revenue for the federal government, as increased use of the lands in question will result in more revenue overall, including the share the government receives for its ownership of the land. From an environmental standpoint, many activists have supported the initiative, noting that using the same land for multiple activities helps limit human impact to a designated area. Still, some ski enthusiasts have expressed concern that the introduction of other sports and activities on their slopes will damage their trail systems as resorts adjust to make their facilities multipurpose.
A few months ago, I spent a weekend at Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. My boyfriend wanted to teach me how to downhill mountain bike, and I had a blast riding the trails and testing out a few jumps and obstacles. A nasty spill on a rocky trail left me with two fewer palms than I came with, so I spent Sunday exploring the rest of the resort.
For something that’s normally a winter destination, there’s a lot going on during the summer months. Snowshoe offers downhill and cross-country mountain biking, geocaching, sportshooting, fly fishing, scenic lift rides, kayaking, paddle boating, Segway tours, a climbing wall, a Eurobungy, miles of hiking trails and more. A ski lift is practically a necessity for good downhill mountain biking — after riding fast and hard over crazy terrain, you just throw your bike onto the lift and catch your breath while you ride back to the top for another run. Chris and I have tried a few trail systems closer to home, but even without the vertical descent that Snowshoe has, we still spent a lot of time pushing our bikes back uphill. The four-hour drive to Snowshoe plus the cost of a lift pass is definitely worth the cost and effort, and we plan to go back several times next year.
“In Colorado, we know that the last snowflake falling doesn’t signal the end to our outdoor recreation — and it’s about time the law reflected that,” says Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), who sponsored the bill. “This is a big win for mountain towns and ski areas across Colorado and across the country.”
From the looks of things, this is mainly expected to affect ski areas that aren’t that close to me, but any time the government removes red tape to encourage outdoor recreation is a good thing for the outdoor community, so I’m definitely excited!
What do you think? Would you take advantage of summer opportunities at your local ski resort if they opened up? What are your thoughts on this bill?