Zip lines, streamlined

In 2009, when Whitefish Mountain Resort began installing zip lines through the forest to attract more summer visitors, it did so on private ground, near the base area, partly because getting permission from the Forest Service to place zip lines on the public ground that the resort leases for skiing would have been a cumbersome process. But that process is about to become, well, zippier.

On Oct. 3, the U.S. House voted unanimously in favor of the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, a measure that would amend the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 to make it easier for the Forest Service to allow Whitefish and other ski resorts that lease federal lands to use those lands for activities other than skiing. Sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado, the bill is intended to boost year-round employment at ski areas. It would specifically allow the Forest Service to permit zip lines, mountain bike trails and Frisbee golf courses. The bill nixes tennis courts, water slides, swimming pools, golf courses and amusement parks.

For Whitefish Mountain Resort, the bill comes as it works to expand its recreational opportunities in the summer, when a couple of million people visit nearby Glacier National Park. "We have views of Glacier National Park from the top of the mountain," says Whitefish spokesperson Riley Polumbus, "and to be able to do more with activities in the summertime up there would certainly be an attractive thing...Essentially, what this bill is going to do is provide more tools to allow that to happen."

The current permitting process is flawed, Polumbus says, because it forces the Forest Service to apply a winter-based model to summertime activities.

Missoula ski area Montana Snowbowl has already received Forest Service permits for its lift-served mountain bike trails and disc golf course. Owner Brad Morris says he's "not anticipating changing anything" with respect to summertime activities, should the bill become law.

Sen. Mark Udall, also a Colorado Democrat, originally conceived the legislation. His companion bill passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in July.

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