TRAIL RIDES (Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)
What is appropriate recreation on public lands used by ski resorts?
Skiing, snowboarding and skate skiing? Of course.
How about zipping through the forest canopy on a suspended cable? Racing in a running competition? Dancing at a concert? Barreling down elevated ramps on full-suspension mountain bikes? Pedaling singletrack through the aspens?
Under the 1986 National Forest Ski Area Permit Act, regional Forest Service chieftains had little direction when it came to approving and permitting such summertime activities at ski resorts, and most summer-oriented development was limited to private land at base areas.
That is about to change thanks to the new Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which
CONCERTS (Associated Press file)
was signed into law Nov. 7. The act amends the 1986 law by expanding potential recreational uses of federal land used by ski resorts.
"One thing we are really concerned about is staying relevant and in touch with the youth of America and changing demographics, and we think outdoor recreation is one of the key ways the Forest Service can interact with people these days," said Jim Bedwell, the former forest supervisor of the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests who now serves as the agency's national director of recreation and heritage resources.
Bedwell has two years to sculpt a new policy that will serve as a blueprint for resort development but said his team will be ready to entertain resort proposals this winter. He expects to see things like zip lines, canopy walks, mountain-bike terrain parks and trails emerging in the already- developed areas of ski resorts. More pristine areas such as Vail's back bowls will remain in their natural setting.
"We are going to concentrate heavy development within existing development," said Bedwell, who expects to have a new policy intact within a year.
That policy, he said, will probably include a type of zoning that would corral development into a ski area's more
ZIP-LINE RIDES (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)
developed areas around chairlifts and base areas while protecting the less-developed areas of a ski area. And of course, Bedwell said, all development will be natural-resource-oriented and will "harmonize with the outdoor setting and natural environment." So no Ferris wheels, water slides, golf courses, tennis courts or skateboard parks.
Geraldine Link , director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association, said the nation's 121 resorts on federal land will likely quickly pursue things such as zip lines and canopy tours.
"Then, in general, ski areas will begin investing more in summer facilities because this summertime question mark has been removed," Link said. "This act means we won't see turmoil or issues based
MOUNTAIN BIKING (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)
on the appropriateness of summer activities. I think we are going to see resorts go full bore and try to create a critical mass they need for a successful summer program."
Resorts will still need to follow the established process of submitting a master development plan to the Forest Service and assessing project impacts through federal environmental review.
"It should certainly help in the sense that it will give 'programmatic' direction to a wider array of summer uses on Forest Service land within the ski areas," said Jim Stark, winter-sports administrator with the Aspen Ranger District who last April completed an environmental review of new summertime bike trails at the Snowmass ski area. "Overall, this should help the Forest Service be a little more consistent in how we look at proposals nationally."