Vail Resorts: Bill could be ‘huge win’ | VailDaily.com

Vail Resorts: Bill could be ‘huge win’

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Sen. Mark Udall is pushing this fall for some public land laws that could make new recreational activities available at both Vail and Beaver Creek resorts.

Udall is the sponsor of several bills related to public lands, including the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2009. It’s obviously no longer 2009, but Udall plans to lump the bill in with several others and present it as an “omnibus” bill by the end of the year, said Jennifer Talhelm, Udall’s communications director.

“Mark believes it’s the only way to get several of his bills, which have already been approved by Committee, to the floor and passed into law,” Talhelm said via e-mail.

The Ski Area Act would amend the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 and would allow ski area operators to provide other seasonal or year-round “natural resource-based activities associated with mountain resorts.”

Don Dressler, snow ranger for the White River National Forest’s Holy Cross Ranger District, said the legislation would give the U.S. Forest Service more direction so the Forest Service can have more consistency across all of its managed lands.

If the legislation is passed, Forest Service policies would still need amending, Dressler said.

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“It would be some time before any changes would be seen locally,” he said.

The Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 states that ski areas are only allowed to operate ski-related activities. The interpretation of what that means varies between various Forest Service district across the United States.

Dressler said some could interpret ski-related activities to exclude snowboarding, while other interpretations also exclude summer sports like mountain biking.

“We’ve determined that it includes natural resources-based activities,” Dressler said. “Anytime you’re relying on local interpretation, you’re going to have some variability.”

The legislation would essentially get everyone on the same page, and it could open up more opportunities for ski area recreation.

John Garnsey, co-president of Vail Resorts’ Mountain Division, issued the following statement about the pending legislation:

“This bill could be a huge win for all of our resort communities. In Colorado, it will help boost tourism across the mountain region, which is the state’s second biggest economic driver. Senator Udall and Representative (Diana) DeGette have shown great leadership to recognize the opportunities for creating more jobs and improving both the local and statewide economy. In addition to the economic benefits, this bill will potentially provide more opportunities for year-round recreation at our ski areas and allow more visitors to enjoy their public lands.”

Once the Forest Service could adopt its own agency-wide standards, ski areas could begin applying for permits for many kinds of activities like alpine slides or alpine coasters, to name a few.

Vail Mountain is 95 percent public lands, while Beaver Creek is about 60 percent public lands. Dressler said the Forest Service doesn’t accept proposals for activities if private lands are an option.

Private land proposals aren’t necessarily any easier to get, Dressler said. One good example is how Beaver Creek homeowners strongly opposed a Beaver Creek proposal for an alpine slide at the resort on the ski company’s land a few years ago, Dressler said.

The legislation wouldn’t give ski resorts the authority to build anything they want, but it would definitely open up the opportunities for ski area activities for which resorts can apply for permits from the Forest Service.

“We’re just as interested to see how this dialogue plays out, but we won’t be making any decisions until the (entire Forest Service) agency takes a stance,” Dressler said.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.