New bill passes Senate allowing eight local ski areas to expand operations of summer activities

By:  Mark Yuasa
Source: The Seattle Times

A bill to boost summer recreation at eight Washington ski areas that is supported by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has passed a major hurdle today with the Senate's passage of the bipartisan Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act.

Cantwell was a leading advocate for the bill, which will help ski area communities attract recreational visitors year-round, which support local economies and help create year-round jobs in these communities.

The eight ski areas on federal lands within Washington that will benefit from this legislation, which allows ski areas located in National Forests -- including 49 Degrees North (Chewelah), Crystal Mountain (Pierce County), Mt. Baker (Bellingham), Mission Ridge (Wenatchee), Stevens Pass (Everett), Snoqualmie Pass (King County), White Pass (Lewis County), and Ski Bluewood (Walla Walla) -- to undertake activities other than just winter skiing.

"This is great news for our resort, and we've been watching this bill for the past couple of years and it is good to see it move forward," Justus Hyatt, the Crystal Mountain Resort communications coordinator said. "With the gondola now in place we are able to do a lot of focus on summer activities."

These summer activities could include mountain biking, expanded scenic opportunities, summit hiking, expanded hospitality opportunities such as restaurants, and summer events such as weddings.

The legislation now goes to President Obama for his signature.

Cantwell, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, co-sponsored the bill and played a key role in moving the bill out of committee in July.

"This bill will bolster Washington state's recreation and tourism jobs," Cantwell said in a news release. "By updating outdated Forest Service laws, we are enabling our ski areas to expand recreational opportunities to attract visitors year-round. I'm proud that Congress was able to come together to pass this bipartisan legislation that will help create jobs across America and in Washington state."

The Ski bill will allow the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to provide more consistent and informed decisions across the country when it comes to recreational and tourism usage of ski areas within National Forests. It amends the 1986 Ski Permit Act to authorize activities during the summer months and gives the USFS oversight to determine, at any given ski area located within federal lands, which activities are appropriate.

"I think it is great to see this happen, and really good for Stevens Pass and for our entire region, and the smaller communities that depend on us for their livelihood," said John A. Gifford, General Manager at Stevens Pass Mountain Resort. "When you look at the economy right now it helps by adding a few more jobs that didn't exist before."

Cantwell co-sponsored the bipartisan Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act (S. 382). 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).