In March 1915, just over 100 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act that would eventually shape how and where we ski in the United States.
Known as the Term Occupancy Act, or the Occupancy Permits Act of 1915, this law had no direct relationship to winter sports. Instead, it was designed to promote the construction of summer homes and recreational resorts within National Forests.
A Little, Just a Little, History
It’s easy to forget that today’s sometimes giant, lavish, and extensive ski resorts owe a spiritual debt to early western settlers. What started as forest reserves in 1891, to protect the Los Angeles watershed, became National Forests in 1907. Surrounded by abundant beauty, the forests became important for more than drinking water, as early Westerners discovered mountain recreation.
While many were content as day-trippers coming to hike, picnic and relax in the shade of the mountains, others yearned to stay longer, pressing for private home development and overnight accommodations.
The Term Occupancy Act began as a way to meet these summer recreational needs. But by the 1920s, the Forest Service found itself partnering with local ski clubs to develop rudimentary ski areas. Fast forward to 2015, and you’ll find 122 ski areas, covering 182,095 acres, operating on National Forest lands.
And that doesn’t even begin to count the acres devoted to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling on the forests.
Clearly, when it comes to winter fun, public lands are where many of us go to play.
In February, the U.S. Forest Service rolled out a campaign to promote year-round recreation in the national forests. Featuring the tagline “Go. Play” and the hashtag #ItsAllYours, this year-long effort aims to get people outdoors, skiing, hiking, biking, picnicking, climbing and camping.
You know, playing.
And if you’re wondering about crowds, take a look at these numbers.
In addition to nearly 200,000 acres of permitted ski resort terrain, National Forests and Grasslands offer 143,000 miles of hiking trails, 4,300 campgrounds, 1,200 boating sites and 136 Scenic Byways covering 9,126 miles.
All together these forests and grasslands contain 152,222 miles of recreational trails and 19,964 recreation sites across 193 million acres in 43 states and Puerto Rico.
That’s a lot of ways, and a lot of places, to play.
Where Will You Go?
Not all National Forests and Grasslands are in the West, and 7 of 10 Americans actually live within 100 miles of Forest Service land. Winter and summer, these forests are our treasures, no matter how we play.
Need some inspiration? Here are three of our ski resort favorites for summer fun.
Ski It, See It: Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon
Timberline Lodge lies just below Oregon’s Palmer Glacier and is ground zero for summer skiing in the United States. Home to numerous ski and snowboard camps, it’s a summer training ground for junior, collegiate and national ski teams. It’s also home to a vibrant park scene.
Get up early for the best turns and then visit nearby Trillium Lake for a hike or run. Also, make time to visit the actual, historic Timberline Lodge.
The Lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression as just one of hundreds of public works projects on the national forests. In the Pacific Northwest alone, the CCC improved 57 ski areas during the Depression. Timberline Lodge is the crown jewel of their achievements and offers daily architectural tours.
Bike It, Hike It: Steamboat Bike Park
Come summer, Steamboat likes to call itself “Bike Town, USA.” With options ranging from the flat, paved Core Trail along the Yampa River to cross-country trails at both Howelsen Hill Ski Area and Steamboat Resort, everyone has options. The downhill scene is growing, with locals spending their weekends lapping Rustler’s Ridge and other bike park trails.
Prefer hoofing it? Hikers can take the gondola to the Thunderhead hiking trail on Mt. Werner or go horseback riding at Howelsen Hill. When you’re ready to slow down, make your way to Strawberry Hot Springs, arguably Colorado’s most beautiful warm waters.
Zip It. Flip It: Copper Mountain
It’s not the longest or fastest zip line you’ll find, but the Alpine Rush Zip Line at Copper Mountain is one of the most family-friendly. Race your kids and friends on the side-by-side lines, gliding 30 feet above West Lake in the Copper Mountain village. It’s also economical, at $10 per ride.
Copper Mountain is also home to Woodward Copper where you build your freestyle skills with summer camps and drop-in training sessions at the Barn.
Copper Mountain maintains two on-mountain, on-snow terrain parks through July. While Central Park, with its new surface lift, is reserved for summer camp and day camp, Pavillion Park is open for public sessions each Saturday beginning in June.
As I said, these are just a few places where my family and I enjoy summer fun in our national forests.
You’ve probably got your National Forest and ski resort favorites, too. And if you don’t mind sharing, we’d love to hear where you play.
Finally, for more information, and some inspiration, visit It’s All Yours.
Many thanks to Rachel D. Kline for helping me understand the history of skiing on the national forests. Kline is the author of “Winter Recreation on the National Forests, 1905-1969.” USDA Forest Service Heritage Stewardship Group, 2014.