Resort Report: Summer ski bill, Las Vegas boom and Eddie the Eagle

A bill that would allow ski areas on U.S. Forest Service land to develop or promote more summertime activities such as mountain biking and hiking is getting key support in the U.S. Senate. That, and a potentially massive expansion at the Las Vegas Ski Resort, Sugarloaf, Breckenridge and Eddie the Eagle are all in this week's Resort Report.

A bill to OK summer activities on ski areas that sit on U.S. Forest Service Land — many of which already actively promote summer use for everything from zip-lining to mountain biking — was endorsed for approval by the Senate Energy Committee on July 15, 2011. The Ski Area Recreation Opportunity Enhancement Act would give the Forest Service more discretion in approving recreational sports other than skiing. In particular, it notes that those summertime activities could include mountain biking, summit hiking, restaurants and weddings. A 1986 law permits only ski-related activities on national forest land.

“Enabling our ski areas to attract visitors year-round will help boost Washington state’s tourism economy,” U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), said in a statement. Eight ski areas would benefit by the passage of the bill in her state.The bill was introduced by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) and is co-sponsored by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), John Barrasso (R-WY), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), James Risch (R-ID), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). While many see approval of the bill as a kind of formality for existing operations, others say it opens the door for future use. For instance, not even snowboarding or mountain biking are sanctioned under current law, according to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Jerry Blann. “A lot of these (uses) already take place on National Forest land at ski areas,” Blann told the Associated Press. 

Las Vegas Resort may quintuple in size

Powdr Corp’s Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort has won initial federal approval to expand by as much as five times its current size. The U.S. Forest Service has approved the area’s plan to redevelop its current 70 acres, adding four new ski trails, installing a higher-capacity ski lift and making lodge improvements. More importantly, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the approval could very well open the door for the “addition of seven new chairlifts and expansion of the ski mountain’s footprint to nearly 500 acres.” That level of expansion would take at least a decade to complete, and would only proceed after an environmental impact assessment.

Sugarloaf unlikely to be penalized for accident

The terrifying Christmas holiday week chairlift accident at Sugarloaf Ski Area is still making news in Maine, where the Elevator and Tramway Board met on July 18, 2011 to discuss the recently submitted accident report. Local papers report that during that meeting, Chief Inspector John Burpee said he didn’t think the area acted with malice in allowing the accident to occur, and that he wouldn’t recommend disciplinary action. The incident may still impact Sugarloaf at other ski areas in Maine, however, as Board Chair David O’Brien said he was “disappointed” in visiting many of the state’s ski areas to find that most do not have a set procedure for inspecting lifts.

Opposition to Breckenridge expansion heats up

The proposed ski area expansion at Breckenridge Resort took several new turns in the past week. White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams announced he would extend the public comment period on the proposed Peak 6 expansion for another month, through August 26, 2011, and said he is open to new ideas as to what the final plan might look like. And angry town council members said that Vail Resorts, which owns Breckenridge, had threatened not to sign a memorandum of understanding concerning the potential social impacts the expansion might have if the town proposed an alternative plan to the one they want. “There are (ski area) people that believe they can hold us hostage,” Mayor John Warner told the Denver Post. “If we say, ‘We don’t like (alternative) 2, we like (alternative) 3, in simplistic terms, they said then the (social-impacts agreement) could be off the table.”

In other news…

The Royal Gorge cross-country ski resort has defaulted on a $16.7 million loan, not only putting future development plans at risk, but also leading local papers to wonder if the area is headed for total default…US Army Staff Sgt. Wyatt A. Goldsmith of Colville, a Green Beret and ski patroller at 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort, is being honored by his fellow patrollers after they learned he had been killed in Afghanistan in rocket-propelled grenade attack…In Montana, authorities believe that a set of ski poles they found on Lone Mountain could very belong to Brad Gardner, a skier who went missing in the area on March 9…And Harry Potter star Rupert Grint, who plays the part of Potter pal Ron Weasley, said he is working to greenlight a biopic about Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards, the farsighted English ski jumper who competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics.

 —Peter Kray

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