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Where do you draw the line on use of ski areas?

U.S. ski areas look to four-season resort model

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In the U.S. many ski resorts are located on U.S. Forest Service lands, which limits the development of accommodations, villages, and other amenities and recreational opportunities that most resorts in Canada take for granted. For example, the nearest accommodations to Mt. Baker Ski Resort on the other side of the B.C. border are about 17 miles from the ski area, while summer activities are limited to hiking and camping.

The closest analogue in Canada is Banff National Park, which houses Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Ski Banff Norquay, where many activities are not permitted such as downhill mountain biking, and resort managers are constantly asking Parks Canada for more leeway to offer the same activities and amenities as resorts elsewhere in B.C. and Alberta.

Whistler remains the model for a four-season resort in Canada, allowing a wide range of activities during the winter months including motorized activities in designated areas, as well as a wide range of activities in the summer.

If U.S. ski area operators operating in the U.S. Forest Service have their way, they’ll be able to offer the same types of activities as Whistler.

Where do you draw the line on developed recreation? The U.S. Forest Service has been asking that question since at least 1919, when a young landscape architect named Arthur Carhart was dispatched to northwestern Colorado to design a road around a remote lake.

Why not leave the land alone? Carhart asked. His Forest Service bosses agreed, and Trappers Lake is sometimes called the cradle of wilderness.

Now that question is being asked again, this time as the result of a proposal from the ski industry going before Congress. Legislation being readied by U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, would broaden the allowed uses of national forests by ski area operators.

“My bill would make it clear that activities like mountain biking, concerts and other appropriate uses can be allowed at these ski areas,” said Udall in a press release.

Environmental groups, however, say Udall’s proposal is too broad. The bill, says Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, a ski industry watchdog, “leaves the door open to urbanized recreation activities like roller coasters and water parks that are inappropriate anywhere on national forest land."

The Forest Service has long struggled with defining what is appropriate. Carhart himself wanted the Forest Service to enable the general public to enjoy national forests by building campgrounds and roads. The agency did, and after World War II, picked up the pace. A major partner — the largest single source of visitors to national forests — have been the downhill ski areas.

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