Monday, December 02, 2013

Feds’ direction on ski areas scrutinized

A coalition of eight conservation groups is fighting to prevent ski areas from adding roller-coaster-like rides for summer business and from restricting access for winter uphill skiers and snowshoers. The coalition filed comments with the U.S. Forest Service on Nov. 25 on a proposed national directive by the agency that will set the rules for summer activities and clarify that a fee can be charged for uphillers. Rocky Smith, a longtime forest-policy analyst for conservation groups in Colorado, said the potential for the “coaster” rides was the most alarming part of the directive for the group. “The law says, ‘There shall not be amusement parks in ski areas,’” he said. But Vail Resorts has applied to the Forest Service to install a “forest flier” at its flagship ski area, Vail Mountain. “Forest fliers are roller coasters, which in turn are an amusement ride,” said the comments submitted by the coalition. “The directive must prevent ski areas from becoming or hosting amusement parks.” Congress passed the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act in 2011. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, introduced the bill to define what ski areas can and cannot do on federal lands within their permit areas for summer activities. Now the Forest Service is working on the rules necessary to implement the law. It is taking public comment on its proposal through Dec. 2. Udall’s act authorizes zip lines, mountain-bike terrain parks and trails, disc-golf courses and rope courses. It prohibits tennis courts, water slides and parks, swimming pools, golf courses and amusement parks. Smith said the big issue is the Forest Service’s interpretation of “amusement park.” Ski areas are understandably seeking ways to improve their bottom line, he said, so they want a broad interpretation of what is allowable during summers. The coalition is concerned that the Forest Service will side with the ski industry by allowing “coasters” — a ride where a sled-like container with wheels glides along on rails that whisk through the forest. “They are really playing fast and loose with the language,” Smith said, referring to the Forest Service...more

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