This post is part of a series on the future viability of ski areas and ski area expansion in the PNW. The previous post explored how the climate and snowpack has changed over the decades and attempted to answer what it may do in the future. This post addresses the political issues and red tape around ski areas specifically in Washington’s Cascades.
Since 1990 Washington’s population has increased from 4.9M to 7.6M in 2022. Despite this, only limited ski area expansions have taken place, certainly not enough to keep up with population growth. As a result, our ski areas are vastly overcapacity. Facing a crisis of overwhelming demand ski areas have resorted to attempting to limit demand through various means in order to control crowding. It lead me to wonder, if the demand for ski areas and winter recreation in general is there, why have all nearly all meaningful expansions seemingly stopped in the past 30 years? What is preventing us from meeting demand and giving everyone access to our wintertime mountains?
Specifically, this post looks at the following issues:
- What land use restrictions prevent development?
- How did we get here?
- What happened to allow or prevent previous expansions?
- What needs to happen for future expansion to take place?
To answer these questions we need to go back to the development era of the 1960s, then through the increasingly restrictive years of the 1970s & 1980s, and finally to the red tape of the 1990s and beyond. It’s a story that involves decades of legislative history, a Supreme Court case, and a whole lot of maps. Given all this, it can seem hopeless that we’ll ever grow beyond the ski areas that we currently have, but as this post explores, there is a present opportunity for Washington to fulfill the demand for winter recreation in the Cascades.