Ski industry chiefs run a political slalom on Capitol Hill

October 09, 2013

The United States CapitolThe two biggest ski industry trade associations are joining forces to leverage their lobbying clout with the federal government. In late September, board members from SnowSports Industries America  and the National Ski Areas Association teamed up in Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers — and also to discuss how to grow participation in snow sports.

“Getting all of us to focus on the issue and share best practices is the best way to move the needle for the industry. The resorts and the equipment providers are symbiotically linked,” said Stephen Kircher of Boyne Resorts and the NSAA board. We agreed that we need to set our goals higher for conversion, and that we need to rely on data to set these goals.”

The meetings on Capitol Hill with Members of Congress and their key staff members focusing on five main issues: Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, Miscellaneous Tarriff Bill, TSA Policy for Avalanche Air Bag Canisters, Water Rights for Land Resorts and Immigration and Visas.

“The most surprising aspect of our meetings on Capitol Hill was when Senator Maria Cantwell came into the room,” said Tim Petrick, SIA board president and president of K2 Sports. “I figured she would send one of her legislative assistants, but it was great that she sat down for nearly an hour to learn about issues impacting the wintersports industry and the ski resorts.”

“Time spent in Washington educating public officials about the ski industry and our pressing concerns is incredibly valuable,” said Michael Berry, NSAA president. “NSAA was pleased to unite with SIA on delivering a powerful message in Washington about the impact that the ski industry has on the economy and jobs and our optimism for future success as well.”

Key legislative issues for the ski industry:

Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has for several years maintained "voluntary standards" regarding drawstrings on children's upper outerwear. Recently, however, the CPSC has taken several actions that indicate that this standard is no longer "voluntary." In fact, the CPSC is moving to include certain children's outerwear with drawstrings as products deemed to present a "substantial product hazard." Substantial penalties may be imposed for failure to comply with the applicable standards and elated reporting requirements.

Sporting goods, including snow sports equipment sized for children 12 years of age or under, and /or products promoted and marketed to children fall under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act restricting and requiring testing for lead and phthalates. While there is no argument surrounding the need to ensure that junior snow sports products are safe for kids and does not expose them to the harmful effects of exposure to lead and phthalates, testing is costly, lacks standards, and testing requirements under the Act are redundant. Compliance with the CPSIA requires testing of all components of a product - i.e. buckle, sole, textile materials, plastic, clasps, etc. costs to comply are high and do not result in any increased safety for children.

Miscellaneous Tariff Bill - amend the Harmonized Tariff Schedule
Legislation promoted by SIA to provide a new tariff suspension on ski poles and renew the tariff suspension on certain cross country ski and snowboard boots with textile uppers that expired on December 31, 2012, moved forward in the House of Representatives. On July 17, a Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) (H.R. 2708) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means, subcommittee on Trade. In general, the MTB suspends import tariffs on product categories that have little or no domestic manufacturing. Over the past decade, the tariff suspension on boots with textile uppers has saved snow sports consumers and suppliers millions of dollars. The proposed tariff suspension for ski poles would eliminate the current 2.8 percent tariff. If Congress passes the MTB and it is signed by the President, both duty suspensions will be effective on a prospective basis 15 days after the date of enactment.

TSA Policy for Avalanche Air Bag Canisters
SIA members asked that TSA clearly articulate that policy for avalanche air bags to provide guidance to the industry and subsequently to skiers and riders who want to transport gear, and ensure that TSA consistently enforces their own rules regarding the canisters. Pre-season timing is vital to ensure the safety of those travelers heading into the backcountry to ski or snowboard.

Water Rights for Land Resorts
Last year, NSAA successfully challenged in federal court a USFS water policy that would require ski areas to turn over ownership of valuable water rights to the U.S. without compensation. The policy also places restrictions on the transfer of water rights that originate off the National Forest System lands, reducing their value and hindering a ski area’s ability to transfer or sell such water rights in the future. These clauses substantially impair the value of these ski area assets and hinder a ski area’s ability to obtain access to capital for growth and expansion in the future by lowering the valuation of the ski area’s assets.

Immigration & Visas
Even with unemployment in September at 7.3 percent, the ski industry still struggles for reliable, dependable workers. Preferring to hire Americans, but too often located in rural/ remote areas, where there is little population bases. And being a seasonal business - four to six months - it is hard to attract people to positions, even when we entice workers with season ski passes and other perks.

The foreign worker visa programs are absolutely critical to the ski industry. Efforts to impose regulations (like travel reimbursement) are designed to appease labor groups, but it only forces ski areas to leave money on the table in missed revenues for not having enough workers (language-skilled ski instructors, enough hotel room cleaners, food/cook staffs, etc.). Moving foreign ski instructors into “P” visa category is absolutely critical to the ski industry.


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