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Ski coalition forms in Washington

Matt Zalaznick/ Assistant Editor/Local News

A coalition has formed in the nation’s capital to defend the interests of the nation’s ski and snowboard resorts.

Eagle County’s Congressman, Rep. Mark Udall, along with New York Rep. John Sweeney, were joined by industry leaders, Vail Resorts executives and members of the U.S. Ski Team in Washington, D.C., Wednesday in announcing the formation of the Congressional Ski and Snowboard Caucus.

“The industry is excited to have a passion for skiing and snowboarding in the House of Representatives,” said Bill Jensen, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain, who attended the press conference. “It’s a good group of people.”

The bipartisan coalition’s aim is to “promote the health and physical benefits” of winter sports and ensure the financial health of the country’s ski resorts, staffers for the two congressmen said.

“Skiing and other winter sports are fun and provide opportunities for people and their families to enjoy the outdoors, face challenges and appreciate the beauty of our nation and our communities,” said Udall, a Democrat whose district includes several ski mountains. “We want to work with elected officials and the ski industry to keep this recreational opportunity healthy, vibrant and environmentally responsible.”

Other problems the congressmen said the “informal” caucus would deal with were land management, transportation, wildlife, education and housing in ski resort communities.

“Skiing and snowboarding are two of the most fun ways people can enjoy the great outdoors and the beauty of our mountains and forests,” Sweeney said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Ski and Snowboard Caucus and the industry to educate people about the benefits of winter sports and their positive impact on local economies.”

Guaranteeing that health insurance companies cover injuries suffered skiing or in other extreme sports is one initiative the industry is currently working on, Jensen said.

“We’re working with the American Motorcycle to close that loophole,” he said.

The industry has not lacked a voice in Washington, but the new coalition should give resorts more weight in the nation’s capital, Jensen said.

“We have a good presence there,” he said. “Having a caucus like that in the House is nice because there’s legislation that impacts the ski industry. This is a group you can go to and through connections with other representatives, you can spread the word about the industry’s positions.”

The SnowSports Industries America, the National Ski Areas Association, Shannon Bahrke – Olympic gold medalist in 2002 – and Diann Roffe, gold and silver Olympic medalist in 1994 and 1992, joined the lawmakers in launching the “Winter Feels Good” campaign, a new national consumer program to get more people involved in snow sports.

“The lack of physical activity has become an increasingly serious issue in the U.S.,” said David Ingemie, president of SnowSports Industries America. “With the advances in technology that enable consumers to stay warmer and more comfortable than ever before, never has it been so easy to step outside, enjoy the fresh winter air and get fit at the same time.”

Kristin Rust, of Colorado Ski County USA, the state ski industry’s largest lobbying organizations, called the formation of the caucus “encouraging.”

“It’s great to have people on our side,” said Rust. “Skiing is one of the biggest things Colorado does. Having that voice out there really works for us.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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