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Mt. Ashland plans no summer recreation additions

The Mt. Ashland Ski Area has no immediate plans to expand its summer recreational offerings despite a new federal law that allows zip lines, mountain bike terrain parks and other features at ski areas on U.S. Forest Service land.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama signed the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which formally allows a host of year-round activities at ski areas located in national forests.

"We have no plan at this point to enhance our summer activities given the terrain we have and the layout of the ski area," said Kim Clark, general manager of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area.

Mountain biking is not allowed on Mt. Ashland Ski Area runs, and Clark said ski area officials have no plans to ask the Forest Service to allow biking there.

Even if mountain biking were allowed on the runs, Clark said it wouldn't be economically feasible to operate a chairlift in the summer to shuttle people and their mountain bikes to the summit because a road already provides access to the mountaintop.

The ski area also has granitic soils that are prone to erosion and that could be damaged by mountain bikers, he said.

Although the new act signed into law this week formally allows a range of year-round activities, many ski areas on Forest Service land already have been offering summer activities.

Some ski areas have expanded operations with summer slides and tubing, zip lines, bungee-jumping towers, downhill mountain biking, obstacle courses and other activities.

While the Mt. Ashland Ski Area doesn't allow mountain biking on its ski runs, bikers are allowed to ride on an old road that passes through the ski area, Clark said.

The Mt. Ashland Ski Area lodge also has been the starting point for events such as the annual 12 Mile Super D Mountain Bike Race.

The downhill race follows a road near the lodge and then connects to a network of trails beyond the ski area boundary on Forest Service land in the Ashland watershed.

The ski area hosts weddings, reunions and other gatherings from spring through fall. Those events tend to be at the ski area lodge, Clark said.

The change to federal law that allows summer activities affects 11 ski areas in Oregon and 22 in California, Forest Service officials said.

Across the nation, 122 ski areas could be affected, officials said.

The change could create 600 additional full-time, part-time and seasonal jobs nationwide, and could lead to 600,000 more visits to national forests, Forest Service officials said.

The addition of summer recreation offerings could infuse $40 million into the economies of communities near ski areas, Forest Service officials said.

The change won't affect the Mt. Shasta Ski Park in Northern California because that ski area is primarily on private land, said Mt. Shasta Ski Park Marketing Director Jim Mullins.

The ski park hosts events such as the annual Shastarama downhill mountain biking race, which crosses wooded areas and ski runs. A chairlift shuttles people and bikes to the top of the course.

But the Mt. Shasta Ski Park doesn't allow mountain bikers on its slopes except during organized events, Mullins said.

For the future, Mt. Shasta Ski Park officials are contemplating new features that could range from a zip line to an alpine coaster. An alpine coaster is like a roller coaster, with riders traveling on rails down a mountain, Mullins said.

Forest Service officials said new summer facilities at ski areas in national forests will be subject to the same environmental review and approval process as winter facility improvements, such as ski area expansions.

A proposed Mt. Ashland Ski Area expansion of ski runs has been in limbo for decades because of environmental reviews and court challenges.

The Forest Service will not allow new ski area summer recreation facilities it considers to be too environmentally destructive, such as tennis courts, water slides and water parks, swimming pools, golf courses and amusement parks, officials said.

Frisbee golf and rope courses will be allowed, officials said.

Ashland Daily Tidings staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.