Wednesday, November 16, 2011

For now, no zip lines on Baldy

Sun Valley not changing plans in light of new ski-areas law

Express Staff Writer

Bald Mountain, Sun Valley’s primary ski area, is slated to get new mountain–biking trails but not other new recreational facilities. Express file photo

President Barack Obama signed a bill into law last week that is estimated to bring 600 extra jobs to ski areas nationwide. However, it appears that few or none of those jobs will be coming to Sun Valley.

The Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act was introduced in February by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and was meant to loosen regulations for ski areas on national forest land.

Federal law allowed resorts such as Sun Valley to lease land from the U.S. Forest Service for Nordic and alpine skiing, but the new law also allows summer activities such as zip lines, mountain bike trails, Frisbee golf and ropes courses.

Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said Sun Valley already operates summer activities such as concerts and mountain biking on the mountain. These uses are allowed through an agreement with the Forest Service, which has some discretion over activities that take place on the mountain.

"Sun Valley has not requested other types of developments, like ziplines or Frisbee golf, that would be authorized under this year-round resort permit," Nelson said. "At this particular area, for Sun Valley, I don't think it's going to have a large impact."

In a February interview, Sun Valley Resort General Manager Tim Silva said the resort did not plan on taking advantage of all allowed uses if the bill passed.

"Some interesting additional opportunities will arise if the bill passes, but our current focus is to improve the hiking and mountain-biking trail system on the mountain," he said.

Sun Valley spokesman Jack Sibbach said the resort is in the application process to build two mountain-biking flow trails, one from Baldy's summit to the Roundhouse and one from the Roundhouse to Lower River Run.

"That's been in the plans," he said. "This particular bill hasn't had any effect on that that I know of."

Sibbach said the resort does not plan any expansion apart from the new trails, but added, "We will take all things into consideration."

The Forest Service issued a news release Nov. 7 that stated that the 600 jobs could be created by an estimated 600,000 additional visits to ski areas per year, mostly in the summer. Additional visitors are expected to bring $40 million to mountain communities.

However, Nelson said Sun Valley is already a year-round resort, casting doubt that many jobs would be created there.

"You have hundreds of miles of trails for people to hike and bike on," Nelson said. "It's kind of already a four-seasons resort complex."

The new bill still forbids uses such as tennis courts, water slides, water parks, swimming pools, golf courses and amusement parks on national forest land. Nelson said that even if such uses were allowed, the ranger district would likely not approve them in this location, especially if there were private land available for those purposes.

"A forest could look at what was being proposed and make a determination about what would fit with that particular area," he said.

"Bowling alleys would probably be more appropriate on private land," he added with a laugh.

Katherine Wutz:

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