Udall's bill likely to expand summer ski area uses

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U.S. Sen. Mark Udall

— U.S. Sen. Mark Udall claimed Wednesday that a bill he steered through Congress this week will be an economic boon for Colorado mountain resorts by expanding their potential uses without turning them into amusement parks.

Udall’s Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act sailed through the Senate on Tuesday night with bipartisan support. The House passed the bill earlier this month, and it now goes to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill provides clarity for the U.S. Forest Service on appropriate uses at ski areas that lease public lands, Udall said. The Forest Service is a very “decentralized” agency that gives discretion to local district rangers on what can and cannot be allowed on public lands, according to Udall. That results in inconsistent approvals across the country.

The ski industry asked Udall, a Democrat, to help remedy the situation. He first started working on a bill five years ago, but it didn’t get voted on during prior sessions or was “held hostage” in the legislative process for reasons unrelated to its merits, Udall said.

This time around, Udall said he realized he needed to devote time to the bill to ensure its passage.

“I made it Job 1,” he said. “I decided a number of weeks ago, enough is enough.”

In the Aspen Ranger District, the bill isn’t likely to result in significant changes. The Aspen Skiing Co.’s plans for summer concerts and activities such as climbing walls and mountain biking at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass have been well-received by the Forest Service.

David Perry, Skico senior vice president of mountain operations, said in a recent interview that summer activity is where the company sees the greatest potential for growth. Skico might explore creation of zip lines and alpine slides in the future, he said.

Skico also added mountain biking trails to the Elk Camp section of Snowmass this summer and plans other additions next year. Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Kaplan said he sees a lot of potential for Aspen and Snowmass in promoting cycling overall, not just as the ski areas.

“This biking thing could really be a driver for us,” he said in a meeting with Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday.

In a teleconference Wednesday, Udall told The Aspen Times that he didn’t think his bill would have detrimental effects on wildlife and the environment. It applies to areas the Forest Service already has deemed appropriate for recreation development, he said. The bill also prohibits construction of “obtrusive” structures. Water parks, for example, are not allowed.

“The law will not turn mountains into amusement parks,” Udall vowed.

On the positive side, it could allow activities that attract more people to ski areas in the offseason, and it could get more kids into the outdoors, he said.

Expanding opportunities at mountain resorts will result in jobs for the surrounding communities, he said. Udall pressed the job-creation angle while stumping for passage of his bill. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, also a Democrat from Colorado, co-sponsored the bill.

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