[Update: President Barack Obama signed this into law on November 7th, 2011]
From the San Bernardinos to the Sierra-Nevadas, California's slopes this winter will swell with snowbirds. But as temperatures rise, snow slushes and lifts come to their summer pause, tourism can avalanche in areas that are left without activities fit for warmer temperatures.
For ski resorts in the state, the lack of summer fun may have more to do with the government than anything else. 23 California ski areas, including Mammoth, Bear Mountain and Squaw Valley USA, operate under permits from the U.S Forest Service, which has limited authority to allow recreation that is not winter-related.
That could soon change, thanks to legislation approved by Congress last week and expected to be signed by President Barack Obama. The Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act will allow the Forest Service to more broadly permit summertime activities in ski areas on public lands.
Some areas already have permitted activities -- Mammoth has mountain biking, Mountain High has Frisbee golf -- but that's not the case everywhere. "At some public land resorts, summer and year-round activities are not permitted," explained Tony Hawks of the National Ski Area Association, a sponsor of the bill, in an e-mail. "The proposed legislation would clarify and affirm the agency's authority to allow summer and year-round activities on lands permitted to ski areas."
Concerts, zip lining and ropes courses could also be allowed while major infrastructure like tennis courts, water slides, swimming pools and golf courses would be prohibited.
Colorado Senator Mark Udall, who has introduced the bill numerous times without success, said that the legislation's "small clarification" to current law will help sustain year-round jobs. "This is a big win for mountain towns and ski areas across Colorado and across the country."