Friday, January 13, 2017

No snow? No problem, as ski resorts on federal land add warm-weather attractions under 2011 law

A slide at Vail Resorts in Colorado (Vail Resorts photo)
Western ski towns that operate at least partly on federal lands are adding year-round attractions to make up for a decline in tourism dollars from lack of snow blamed on climate change, Allen Best reports for High Country News. "In the East, where most ski areas operate on private or state lands, the push to create non-snow activities began some years ago. The payoff came last winter: At Christmas, many resorts were barren of snow, but New Hampshire’s Cranmore Mountain Resort drew visitors by reopening its bungee trampoline and ropes course. At Mount Sunapee, people zipped down a canopy tour line."

"But more than a hundred ski areas on Western national forests were governed by a 1986 law that authorized snow-related activities but provided no guidance for other uses," Best writes. "A 2011 bill sponsored by then-U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, greatly expanded what ski areas are authorized to do, as long as the new activities and facilities 'encourage outdoor recreation and enjoyment of nature' and 'harmonize with the natural environment'."

"As the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act was being drafted, some environmental groups fretted that ski resorts would be turned into Disneylands, says Doug Young, then an aide to Udall," Best writes. "So the bill prohibits water parks, swimming pools, golf courses, tennis courts and amusement parks, even as it clears the way for mountain bike parks, ziplines and ropes courses." Vail Mountain in Colorado and Heavenly Mountain in Lake Tahoe were the test centers for summer activities.

The U.S. Forest Service, which charges ski areas for summer activities, has projected "about 600,000 summertime visits to ski areas and almost $32 million in additional direct spending in neighboring communities, with a ripple effect of 500 annual, temporary or full-time jobs," Best reports.

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