Snowboarding, now legally a sport

A snowboarder at Grand Targhee (gasp!). Courtesy of Grand Targhee

Snowboarding may be an Olympic sport, but due to some outdated legislation, apparently it's not legally recognized as a sport permitted at ski areas. Pending legislation, which regulates the permitting process for ski areas, has been proposed to the U.S. Senate to retroactively fix that problem.

According to a press release from Sen. John Barasso (R-WY), who co-sponsored the bill with Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), the law would be changed to "skiing and snowsports" to recognize snowboarding as a permitted use. They'll also add language to allow "other seasonal or year-round natural resource based recreation" in order to make the recreational permitting process with the U.S. Forest Service easier.

"The National Ski Areas Association initially contacted Senator Udall's office after some of their member resorts were denied approval for activities due to the current law," said Sen. Barrasso via email. "The National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 needs to be updated to reflect our growing communities. Our bill increases tourism and creates jobs by giving ski areas year round business and recreational opportunities."

Under the new law, National Forest Service districts will have far more leeway to determine what activities can be issued permits. Specific inclusions include other snowsports, zip lines, ropes courses, frisbee golf, and bike parks and trails. Specific exclusions are limited to water or amusement parks, golf courses, pools or tennis courts.

For most observers, the original bill is laughably behind the times, as snowboarding, bike trails and other outdoor activities have long since been entrenched at most ski resorts. However, the expanded permitting is expected to make it easier across the board for ski areas to receive permits for additional activities, with oversight centralized with the USDA, which oversees the National Forest, and the Chief of the Forest Service.

"Each Forest Service seems to have a lot of latitude in what is approved -- that hasn't seemed the most efficient way to get things done," said Geordie Gillett, owner of Wyoming's Grand Targhee Resort. "The ski industry is tough economically; a government bill that says we support these businesses trying to survive and make the most of their infrastructure year-round is great news to me."

No limits have been set on what could be approved other than the listed exclusions, according to the National Forest Press Office in Washington DC. But they are not expecting any permitting requests that go much outside of what is already allowed. "We're hoping expanded year-round usage will encourage more enjoyment of our national forests," said USFS press officer Reggie Woodruff. "With that greater usage comes economic benefits, and people getting out in nature."

No date has been set for the vote, but Senator Barrasso said no opposition from environmental or other groups is expected.