New bill could allow Forest Service to retain some fees collected from Colorado ski areas | SummitDaily.com

New bill could allow Forest Service to retain some fees collected from Colorado ski areas

Randy Wyrick
rwyrick@vaildaily.com

David Neff | Vail Resorts A skier shreds Vail Mountain on Tuesday, Feb. 20, following a snowstorm. In 2017, Vail Mountain paid $6.39 million in fees to the U.S. Forest Service to operate in the White River National Forest. If passed, concurrent bills in the House and Senate could ensure a portion of that money is returned to the local forest.

Ski area operators pour $37 million annually into Washington, D.C., in fees to do business on federal land.

Up to $24 million of that could stay home, if the proposed Ski Area Fee Retention Act becomes law.

A House version of the bipartisan bill was introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, and Rep. Annie Kuster, D-New Hampshire. In the Senate, Colorado Sens. Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet, along with Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, introduced their own version.

All in, ski area operators paid the Forest Service $37 million in fees in the 2017 fiscal year.

However, that $37 million lands with the Department of Treasury for no specific purpose, Tipton said.

Most of that money, $20.18 million, was paid by the 11 ski areas operating in Colorado's White River National Forest.

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Between 2009 and now, the forest's budget plummeted from $30.39 million to around $18 million.

Snowboard caucus

Tipton and Kuster, co-chairs of the House Ski and Snowboard Caucus, want to direct up to $24 million of that money to the National Forest System to promote year-round recreation activities, infrastructure improvements and expanded services for visitors.

"Allowing the Forest Service to retain a portion of the ski area fees for permit administration on the ski area where the fees were generated will create efficiencies in federal spending, incentivize private investment, boost local economies and enhance visitor experience. Outdoor enthusiasts across the country will benefit from this legislation," Tipton said.

Ski resort communities should not be sending money to Washington without fully benefiting from those fees.

"My bipartisan legislation with Sen. Bennet will make it easier for our skiing communities to make the capital improvements they need to grow and thrive," Gardner said in a statement.

Ski industry trade associations love the bill.

"The bill will support the important public-private partnership between the Forest Service and ski areas, facilitate private investment in infrastructure on public lands and ultimately benefit rural economies and the recreating public," said Geraldine Link, director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association.

Fees Continue to Increase

Meanwhile, the fees paid by the 11 White River National Forest ski areas continue to grow, up 11 percent in 2016 over the previous year. However, for fiscal 2017, the fee revenue grew only 1.2 percent.

The fees are determined by a complex formula that takes into account how much public land is used for the ski operations and how much revenue is earned from using those lands. Skier visits and related business, such as ski school lessons, are part of the formula.

In 2015, Vail Resorts paid $15.9 million in fees for its four ski areas — Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone, which was $160,163, or 1 percent, more than 2016.

The fee for Vail Mountain alone was more than Aspen Skiing Co. paid for all four of its ski areas. Vail Mountain's fee was $6.39 million.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.