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by R. Mark Elling

Some skiers support unlimited terrain expansion and new ski-area creation; others¿whether committed backcountry skiers or just resort-going conservationists¿think we've developed too much lift-served ski terrain already. Most of the rest of us are somewhere in between.

But the government may have us all choosing sides very soon. This winter the Secretary of Agriculture will decide whether the Forest Service (USFS) should implement a proposed new rule that would prohibit building or rebuilding roads on 54 million acres of roadless lands, mostly in the Western states and Alaska. The new policy would effectively sound the death knell for development of new ski areas on previously untrammeled public lands, and it would prohibit existing ski areas from expanding into new roadless areas outside their Special Use permits. At least three proposed new ski areas¿in California, Oregon, and Montana¿could simply vanish.

Ski-area developers are calling for help. "Skiers and snowboarders who support ski areas should get involved in the process, politically and proactively," urges Geraldine Hughes of the National Ski Areas Association.

Some backcountry outfitters are worried, too. "I think this is just a first step on the way to shutting us out of roadless areas," says Gus Gustafson, owner of Mount Bailey Snowcat Skiing in Oregon.

But the Forest Service says resort skiers and backcountry users alike have little to fear. "Many advocates of various uses keep trying to find something in our proposal that limits their use, but I don't find it in the current proposal," says the USFS's Cindy Chojnacky.

Still, if the proposal goes through, ski-terrain expansion could become history in huge swaths of the West. According to Hughes, both Al Gore and George W. Bush have weighed in on the issue: Bush has vowed to roll back the proposed restrictions; Gore has pledged to bolster them. Vote your conscience.

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