Senate Passes Cantwell-Backed Bill that Supports Jobs at 8 WA Recreation Areas

Bill heads to President’s desk, will support year-round economies at 8 WA ski areas on federal land Cantwell: 'Bill will bolster Washington State’s recreation and tourism jobs’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed the Senate’s passage of the bipartisan Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act (S. 382). 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.

Eight ski areas on federal lands within Washington state 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.

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, cosponsored 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,” said Cantwell. “By updating outdated Forest Service laws, we are enabling our ski areas to expand recreational opportunities to attract visitors year-round.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.”

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).

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.

“This bill is important to Stevens Pass and the State of Washington because of the positive impacts on economic development, providing more jobs through adding summer activities, as well as greater recreational opportunities on managed public lands,” said John A. Gifford, General Manager at Stevens Pass Mountain Resort. “As our population grows, the demands for recreation will increase. Summer activities at ski areas keeps impacts in a controlled and mitigated setting and takes the burden off other areas of the national forest.” 

“The Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act will foster more outdoor recreational opportunities and job creation in northeast Washington,” said John Eminger, President of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association and owner of 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort, located about an hour north of Spokane. “Chewelah and the Colville area welcome visitors each winter to ski at 49 Degrees North. This bill will allow us to offer more summertime recreational activities, help introduce new visitors to outdoor experiences, hire more employees, and help diversify our rural economy. We appreciate Senator Cantwell’s support for this bill and for growing our local economy.”

The bill provides clearer oversight guidance to the USFS that more accurately reflects today’s use of modern ski areas. The current outdated statute only authorizes “alpine and Nordic skiing” at these areas, but the USFS has since authorized a variety of summer activities at certain resorts, and its application of the statute has varied greatly from region to region. This inconsistency has left some resorts with the leeway to provide greater expansion while others struggle to make any headway on providing commercial activities during the summer months.