WASHINGTON D.C. In Washington these days, it's all about jobs, jobs, jobs. Just consider the statement that Colorado Sen. Mark Udall made after Congress finally approved his bill, Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act.
"It's a reminder to the American people that we can work together on common sense jobs creation," said Udall of the law, which was passed by unanimous consent by the U.S. Senate after similar broad support in the House. "It's pragmatic, bipartisan, doesn't cost one dime to the American taxpayers, and reduces government regulation, while allowing businesses to create more jobs."
And the bill will produce more jobs for U.S. citizens, at the expense of foreigners, said Udall. By giving them more latitude for use of federal lands, according to ski area operators, they will be able to have more year-round economies, providing more year-round jobs, which will be more attractive to U.S. residents. That, in turn, will allow ski areas to do less recruiting of foreign workers from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and other countries for seasonal positions.
How different from 2008, when the legislation was first introduced and labor remained at a premium in most of the ski towns.
The fundamental problem identified by the 121 U.S. ski areas that lease land from the federal government was the vagueness of the previous legislation governing that use. Adopted in the 1980s, the law made no mention of snowboarders, only skiers. Not that this has ever caused the U.S. Forest Service any heartburn.
Summer was another matter. Lacking clear authority from Congress, the Forest Service was leery about authorizing zip lines, alpine slides and the sort of mountain biking courses as are found at Whistler, which require significant earth-moving and structures. Ski area operators wanted clear authority.
What will come of this? Probably concerts at some locations, and rock-climbing walls, David Perry, senior vice president of mountain operations for the Aspen Skiing Co., mentioned the possibility of both zip lines and alpine slides in a recent interview with The Aspen Times . Mike Kaplan, the chief executive, has talked about mountain biking.
But with perhaps a few exceptions, U.S. ski areas won't be offering the equivalent of Whistler's mountain biking park, according to Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. He told Mountain Town News that U.S. liability law exposes operators to greater financial risk than does Canadian law.
Norquay betting on summer
BANFF, Alberta - Mount Norquay, the ski area at Banff, is prepared to give up 44 per cent of its current lease in exchange for authority from Parks Canada to develop summer uses. However, a specific plan has yet to be drawn up and approved for uses such as via feratta, a rock-climbing route fixed with fixed cables and other permanent aides.