Bill aims to grow yearround resort economy | VailDaily.com

Bill aims to grow yearround resort economy

Daily File PhotoGuests enjoy a scenic ride last summer on Vail Mountain's newest summer Adventure Ridge activity, a 4x4 truck tour. If Sen. Mark Udall's bill, the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, passes, Vail Resorts could build more summer recreation activities at its resorts, including an alpine coaster.

VAIL – A bill designed to make it easier to create offseason jobs is back in congress.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is again pushing the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act. Udall says it will help boost year-round economies in ski resorts by making it easier for the Forest Service to permit activities and events on national forest lands, beyond the Nordic and alpine skiing, and snowboarding already allowed.

That, Udall says, will help create jobs.

“We are blessed with natural resources that in good times as well as bad should be booming,” Udall said. “Our ski resorts are valuable natural and economic resources.”

Ski areas could offer activities such as mountain biking and concerts during their shoulder seasons. That would boost tourism and create year-round economic stability, Udall said.

Vail Resorts tracking the bill’s progress

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Vail Resorts is keeping a close eye on the bill’s progress.

“There are more tourists surrounding our resorts in the summer than in the winter,” the ski company announced in a report for its 2011 investors meeting.

“The strategy is to capture a much larger share of summer tourism on our mountain resorts.”

Udall’s bill “would enable additional expansion of summer activities at ski resorts,” the report says.

Vail Mountain’s Master Development Plan proposes an alpine coaster as one way to “augment existing year-round recreational opportunities at its Adventure Ridge mountaintop activity center.” The preliminary plan calls for a 3,100-foot-long elevated track with turns, twists, loops and jumps that descends roughly 300 vertical feet.

The coaster could operate yearround, according to the plan.

Vail Resorts does not say specifically what it might do to increase summer tourism, telling investors that there are a “wide variety of potential activities,” and that they “appeal to a broader summer tourism segment.”

“Strong consumer interest exists for these products. Expanded offerings on private land have generated strong revenue,” the ski company says.

Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said Udall’s bill could make a major positive impact on the state’s economy.

“We appreciate the tremendous leadership of Senator Udall over the last several years to champion this bill,” Ladyga said. “This bill … will be a huge lift to resort communities and Colorado’s entire tourism economy. We urge Congress to quickly consider this bipartisan legislation and pass it as soon as possible.”

Rep. Diana DeGette is sponsoring the bill in the House. It has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

The Forest Service also supports the bill.

Steady jobs a big challenge

Udall is a former mountain guide and outdoor educator, and called the challenge of providing steady jobs “significant.”

The bill will help by clearing up some confusion about what the Forest Service will permit. That will make it easier to provide year-round recreational opportunities, and year round economic stability, Udall said.

“We were close last year to passing it. I’m hopeful we’ll get this done this year,” he said.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Public Lands Subcommittee held hearings on Udall’s bill this week. Udall says it has bipartisan support.

“We’ve spent some time educating our colleagues about this issue,” Udall said. “Tourism is a top economic driver for Colorado, but because many of our ski areas are limited to providing recreational opportunities during the winter months only, many ski towns swing between thriving winters and slumping shoulder seasons every year,” Udall said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.