The U.S. Senate passed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent. What does it mean for Utah’s ski industry?

Former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill in 2020 to change daylight saving time in Utah.

(Photo courtesy of Rocko Menzyk | Alta Ski Area) Earth Storm Jacobs of Salt Lake City celebrates New Year's Eve at Alta Ski Area on Dec. 31, 2020.

Two days after Utahns set their clocks forward in time for the biannual time change, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would make daylight saving time permanent throughout the country by the end of 2023. The House would also have to pass the bill and President Joe Biden would have to sign it for it to become law.

If implemented, the time change could transform the operating hours of Utah’s ski industry, according to Mike Maughan, general manager of Alta Ski Area.

“Any industry that relies upon light ... for their employees to be able to do their job will be impacted by this legislation because it will mean that they will have to start their work day later in the morning and work longer into the evening to be able to accomplish what they need to accomplish,” he said.

Maughan said ski resort workers depend on daylight to conduct avalanche mitigation work on the resort before opening the slopes to the public. Making daylight saving time permanent, he said, would cause ski resorts to open at about 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. and lead to congested roads leading to the resorts for a longer period of time. Maughan estimates that during the winter season 1 million visitors drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The legislation called the Sunshine Protection Act, introduced by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, still requires passage in the U.S. House of Representatives and President Joe Biden’s signature to be implemented into law.

“Just this past weekend, we all went through that biannual ritual of changing the clock back and forth, and the disruption that comes with it. And one has to ask themselves after a while, ‘Why do we keep doing it? Why are we doing this?’” Rubio said.

Maughan said the passage of the legislation in the Senate came as a surprise.

“We’re just trying to wrap our heads around it now and give some feedback to our congressional delegation,” Maughan said. “We do have concerns ... in the industry as a whole.”

A different daylight saving bill, SB175, introduced in the Utah Legislature by state Sen. Daniel McCay this year sought to make Mountain Daylight Time permanent in the state, resulting in long dark mornings. McCay’s bill stalled in the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee in February after representatives from the ski and farming industry lobbied against the proposed legislation.

“I’m excited that the Senate decided to pick up daylight saving time. You have a lot of demand from the states around us and so it’s pretty popular in the West,” McCay said. “There are some safety risks that are going to come along with that. We’ll have to make sure we monitor those.”

McCay said the ski industry is not being flexible enough with the possibility of changing their ski resort schedules.

“There is nothing wrong with adjusting their schedule. They do it already when there are snowstorms,” the Riverton Republican said.

Maughan, who also opposed McCay’s bill, argued that the time change would force thousands of workers who work in the canyons to end the work day later in the evening. As a father of five, Maughan said he also is concerned with school children waiting for buses in the dark.

McCay said he won’t need to reintroduce his daylight saving time bill if Congress approves Rubio’s legislation. During the February committee meeting, McCay said he introduced the bill because he grew impatient waiting for Congress to act on daylight saving time.

Former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill in 2020 to change daylight saving time in the state. But that law requires Congressional approval and for at least four Western states besides Utah to adopt year-round daylight saving time.

For years, researchers and medical experts have warned about the negative health outcomes associated with springing clocks forward, including an increased risk of depression, heart attacks and car accidents.

At least 19 other states have passed similar laws or resolutions making daylight saving time permanent, such as Florida, California and Idaho. Those time shifts, however, have not taken effect without a change to federal law.

“Hopefully, this is the year that this gets done. And pardon the pun, but this is an idea whose time has come,” Rubio said.