By Allen Best
Ski area bill all about jobs
WASHINGTON D.C. – In Washington these days, it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs. Just consider the statement from Colorado Sen. Mark Udall (D) after Congress finally approved his bill, the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act.
“It’s pragmatic, bipartisan, doesn’t cost one dime to the American taxpayers, and reduces government regulation, while allowing businesses to create more jobs,” said Udall of the law, which was passed by unanimous consent by the U.S. Senate after similar broad support in the House.
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, allows ski areas to recruit fewer workers from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and other countries for seasonal positions.
In 2008, when the legislation was first introduced, labor remained at a premium in most 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.
Summer was another matter. Lacking clear authority from Congress, the Forest Service was wary of authorizing zip lines, alpine slides and the sort of mountain biking courses such as those found at Whistler, which require significant earth-moving and structures. Ski area operators wanted clear authority.
Expect 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.
But with 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.
Vail area projects get approvals
EAGLE, Colo. – A pair of projects in the Eagle Valley, one at Vail and the other in Eagle, got key approvals last week.
In Vail, the town council approved an amendment to the community master plan needed for Ever Vail, a $1 billion project at the base of the ski mountain, to move forward. Vail has no clear idea of when it will start building. It also needs several more permits.
In Eagle, the local planning commission unanimously recommended approval of a giant retail shopping complex called Eagle River Station. A similar plan of the same name was rejected by town voters last year, as was another major development plan several years before. The Eagle Valley Enterprise suggests that development could be a community issue in town elections in 2012.
Who benefits from air subsidies?
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Who benefits from subsidized airline flights? That seems to be the crucial issue in a proposal now being debated that would increase the sales tax in Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat’s direct flight program, one of the oldest in the ski industry, has been hit hard by the recession. A $1 million reserve fund has been depleted as the community has been forced to pay more to cover losses by the airlines. With fewer people flying and airlines wanting more money to cover higher costs of fuel, Steamboat has reduced the number of airline seats by 27 percent in the last three years.
“Never in the 25-year history of the program have we seen this kind of reduction,” writes Chris Diamond, Intrawest’s chief executive at the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.
Denver-based Intrawest has pledged to contribute a minimum of $1.1 million annually for the next five years, the term of the proposed tax. That’s the average donation it has given to the revenue guarantees in the last three years. A lodging tax collected in recent years also goes to the revenue guarantees, as do scattered other donations.
The proposal would increase the sales tax in Steamboat by one-quarter of one cent. Diamond and other supporters promise restored airline seats and expansion into new markets.
Opinions as expressed in the Steamboat Pilot letters section are divided. Proponents argue that the direct flights bring tourists who spend money in ways that benefit nearly everybody in Steamboat, directly or indirectly, as is the case of increased sales taxes that are used for streets, parks, and so forth. Opponents describe it as a subsidy fo the ski area operator and its hedge-fund owner.