Marijuana in the Mountains: How Are Washington Ski Resorts Handling Legalization?

Off the record, a handful of ski patrollers I spoke with admit that they’ve noticed an increase in that “funny smell you occasionally notice” on the ski lifts. But none of the patrollers I interviewed could say for certain that marijuana use has increased at their respective ski and snowboard parks this season after recreational cannabis use became legal in Washington.

In Colorado, another state where recreational weed is legal, some ski resorts admit to encountering a rise in skiers and snowboarders under the influence of marijuana. Vail, for example, went so far as to go after “smoke-shacks” within their boundaries, demolishing the user-built structures. Vail’s aggressive response was documented in an article in the December 2014 issue of Colorado-based “Elevation Outdoors.” Given the observed spike in marijuana use on the slopes in Colorado, there’s reason to believe a similar trend may be unfolding on the grounds of Evergreen State ski resorts.

Regardless of all the new media attention, people have been puffing on lifts and in the woods at resorts here for as long as skiers and snowboarders have been ducking ropes and searching for untracked lines. Whether it was previously tolerated or ignored, legality hasn’t really created the radical change or controversy that some might expect.

Alexis Hartmann, Marketing Director at 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort, makes it clear that the new law hasn’t changed the way they deal with marijuana use at 49. “The official policy is a zero tolerance for the use of marijuana, and we would deal with it in the same way that we would deal with alcohol or any other dangerous behavior. Those violating any of our policies are asked to leave the resort.”

Of the ski resorts that responded to inquiries for this article, half of them pointed out that they handled all “intoxicating” substances the same. If necessary, ski patrollers can revoke a lift ticket or pass or send the rider home. Once again, off the record, the patrollers I talked to reported that alcohol is still the number one problem by a long shot.

Hartmann adds that as far as the legalization of marijuana in Washington goes, many resorts, including 49 Degrees North, operate on federal land on a lease from the US Forest Service. “That means it’s not legal here,” she says. In other words, federal laws are king, and federal laws still say cannabis use on federal lands is against the law.

49 Degrees North operates within the Colville National Forest, Bluewood operates within the Umatilla National Forest, Mission Ridge is part of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, White Pass is located in Mount Rainier National Park and Mt Spokane rests inside Mount Spokane State Park. Since Mt. Spokane is on non-federal land, it’s basically an outlier among Washington ski resorts, but the message from the people who run and keep all of the state’s resorts safe is all the same. Like alcohol use on the mountain, if you smoke or otherwise consume marijuana while skiing or riding, then you’re a potential danger to others that could lead to an accident and you’re violating the rules.

It will probably take a few more seasons and a few more regulations before all of the scenarios regarding marijuana use in Washington are ironed out. There’s a growing element of tourism that could attract out-of-state skiers and snowboarders to visit Washington or Colorado for the opportunity to pursue their mutual love of cannabis and snowsports, and it could even become a lucrative addition for some resorts down the road. But for now, at ski resorts or anywhere in Washington, it’s good to remember that smoking pot in public places is still against the law, and in the interest of self-preservation, it’s best to accept that resorts may not be very lenient in the early years of legalization. //

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