Page 2 of 5
In deciding what is appropriate recreation, the Forest
Service is guided first by a 1986 law that defines ski areas as being places
that offers alpine and nordic skiing. Not mentioned is snowboarding – or,
for that matter, many other uses occurring even then.
Forest Service regulations further state that activities on
all national forests must be “natural resource based” and oriented toward the
Also, forest snow rangers ask whether the activity could
instead be offered on private land. Using this filter, the Forest Service in
the early 1990s rebuffed pleas by ski area operators to allow them to build
housing for employees in national forests. The ski areas saw employee housing
as routine as snow guns, but the Forest Service said ski areas had private land
An easy call
Still, Forest Service rangers have often been troubled in
defining what is acceptable.
“Some of the proposals are bumping up against what
reasonable people would define as natural resource-based recreation,” says Ken
Kowynia, winter sports program manager for the U.S. Forest Service in the Rocky
An easy call, says Kowynia, is mountain bikes. Ski areas
began soliciting mountain bikers in the 1980s, and have now expanded their
programs. Kowynia argues that by congregating mountain bikes at ski areas that
use can be managed. The alternate is more dispersed riding in national forests,
which often results in so-called pirate trails where erosion is rampant and
disruptions to wildlife frequent.
The ski industry says the legislation is needed to clear up
whether mountain biking is a permitted use.
Geraldine Link, public policy director for the National Ski
Areas Association, cites one public comment in response to a proposed expansion
of mountain biking at Winter Park. The comment questioned the authority of the
Forest Service to permit mountain biking at ski areas.
Ski areas wanted the right to cater to mountain bikers to be
unquestioned, she says. They have been paying attention to the mountain bike
park at Whistler that has recorded more than 100,000 visits per summer.
“Just as terrain parks are increasingly popular, I would see
mountain bike parks, where you hone your technical skills becoming increasingly
popular in summer,” she says.