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Boston Globe: For N.H. ski areas on National Forest lands, a chance to reinvest locally

Boston Globe: For N.H. ski areas on National Forest lands, a chance to reinvest locally

Help may soon be on the way to ski areas operating on National Forest land.

Cogressional lawmakers are considering the Ski Hill Resources for Economic Development (SHRED) Act, a bipartisan bill that would allow fees paid to the U.S. Treasury by New Hampshire ski areas such as Loon, Wildcat, Attitash, and Waterville Valley to be reinvested at the local level through the Forest Service. The bill was introduced by Democratic Representatives Annie Kuster of New Hampshire and Joe Neguse of Colorado, along with Republican Representatives John Curtis of Utah and Doug LaMalfa of California.

Last year, the bill was marked up by the House of Representatives with a plan to re-invest 60 percent of ski area fees (averaging over $40 million nationally) to local National Forest needs. The Senate amended the legislation to instead reinvest 80 percent of those fees at the local level, with 20 percent directed to a general pool to assist with any National Forest needs.

The bill was re-introduced in February by Senators Michael Bennett, Democrat of Colorado, and John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, with support from New Hampshire Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, both Democrats.

If it passes, the SHRED Act could have ripple effects beyond the direct benefits to the New Hampshire ski industry, which generates approximately $570 million of annual revenue.

“Winter sports are a critical part of bringing visitors to New Hampshire,” said Kuster, co-chair of the Congressional Ski and Snowboard Caucus.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a dramatic uptick in traffic to National Forest lands in both the summer and winter, and as a result, the Forest Service needs more resources,” she said. These funds can be used for trailhead and facilities improvement, visitor services, and even trail work. So we’re very excited about it. It seems like a win, win, win.”

Within the 80 percent of retained fees, 75 percent of funds would directly support Forest Service Ski Area Program and permitting needs, assisting with trail improvement, administrative costs, visitor information, and staffing.

The remaining 25 percent would be available for year-round recreation management needs throughout the increasingly busy White Mountain National Forest.

For Waterville Valley general manager Tim Smith, one of the greatest challenges in operating on National Forest lands involves securing permits for endeavors such as building more affordable housing. Retaining fees should increase Forest Service staffing and capacity for approving projects.

“Securing sites for workforce housing is a fantastic example,” Smith said when considering the potential benefits of the SHRED Act.

“We need to prove to the Forest Service why that land needs to be used for [housing] and we need to do studies around that, showing that there are no dangers to endangered species, or wetlands areas, which requires bringing in specialists,” Smith said. “The Forest Service doesn’t necessarily have the staffing they need to work on this type of permitting, so this is exactly the area we could use some additional funding.”

In addition to the four large alpine ski resorts operating in the White Mountain National Forest, cross-country trail systems out of Jackson, Bear Notch, and Great Glen also pay a proportional retaining fee to the U.S. Treasury.

While maintenance needs are lesser for those ski areas, Jackson Ski Touring Executive Director Ellen Chandler pointed out that delays can occur when the Forest Service requires a botanist, hydrologist, or archeologist to consult on projects like cutting new trails or building a small bridge.

“We support Representative Kuster looking to streamline those processes,” said Chandler. “It’s not a question of whether resources will go to the Forest Service rather than the general fund. This will guarantee it. It sort of completes the circle.”

In a Legislative hearing held March 28, the Federal Lands Subcommittee heard testimony on eight bills related to outdoor recreation, including the SHRED Act. Geraldine Link, Director of Public Policy for the National Ski Areas Association, spoke in support of the bill.

“We’re experiencing record demand for recreation in this country right now and it’s not just ski areas,” said Link, who serves as the ski industry’s liaison with the USFS.

“By earmarking this money and tying it back to recreation, you’re re-investing in the areas that have need,” she said. “So the busiest forest is going to retain more money, because it generates more money.”

New Hampshire ski areas continue to expand their capacity for offseason activities, with Attitash and Wildcat both undergoing sizable construction projects this summer. Between mountain bike courses, zip lines, amusement park rides, and wedding venues, the four large New Hampshire ski resorts operating on National Forest land are looking for ways to retain their work force and keep revenue flowing year round.

Securing permits for more affordable housing and other challenges will be discussed at the National Ski Areas convention held May 8 through 11 in Savannah, Georgia. Among the attendees will be Ski New Hampshire President Jessyca Keyler, who leads a nonprofit trade organization that advocates for all 34 of the state’s alpine and cross-country ski areas.

“Giving the Forest Service the resources it needs to address requests coming their way will really help the ski areas move forward,” said Keyler. “When projects get done, it could mean keeping people on board as employees, or attracting more people to the ski area, which is more revenue for the area, and for the town, and that also translates to more jobs.”