Passage of ski bill could expedite building of mountain attractions | SteamboatToday.com

Passage of ski bill could expedite building of mountain attractions

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall

— Lawmakers are considering a bill that makes it clear that ski resorts are not just for the winter vacationer.

The National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 allows only ski-related activities on U.S. Forest Service land leased to resorts like Steamboat Ski Area. Any other uses — such as the building of downhill mountain biking trails, zip lines or disc golf courses — has required a tedious permitting process. Forest Service officials have been asking for clarity on the 1986 legislation, which doesn't address even common uses like snowboarding.

The Ski Area Recreation Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011 was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last week and more easily would allow year-round attractions on Forest Service land.

"This bill will bolster mountain economies by enabling the Forest Service to permit more use during the offseasons," Colorado U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, one of the bill's sponsors, said in a news release.

The bill's co-sponsors are Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso and U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop of Utah and Diana DeGette of Colorado.

Tara Trujillo, Udall's communications director, said Udall will push to have the bill voted on by the Senate next week.

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"It's time for the Senate to follow the House's lead and pass my bill on the floor," Udall said in a news release.

"We have been monitoring it closely and hope that it moves forward," said Jim Schneider, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.'s vice president of skier services.

Schneider said Tuesday that Steamboat Ski Area was not going to wait for an update to the Ski Area Permit Act to build new downhill mountain biking trails, which are under construction.

"That's the one thing we did choose to do and not wait for this bill," Schneider said.

If the bill passes, Schneider said the ski area would be able to move forward with a new disc golf course, ideally at the top of the gondola.

Schneider said there are a variety of other summer activities that could be added to complement the existing bungee and bull-riding attractions currently in Gondola Square during the summer.

The Forest Service already is in the process of changing its policies in preparation for the passage of the bill that would allow the permitted ski area land to be used for "skiing and other snow sports and recreational uses." The bill specifically allows zip lines, mountain bike terrain parks and trails, disc golf courses and ropes courses.

The bill also specifically prohibits the building of tennis courts, water slides and water parks, swimming pools, golf courses and amusement parks.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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