Ski areas pay record amount for use of White River National Forest lands | SummitDaily.com

Ski areas pay record amount for use of White River National Forest lands

Alli Langley
alangley@summitdaily.com

A snowboarder and skier make turns down the mountain on opening day at Keystone Resort on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014.

The 11 ski areas that operate in the White River National Forest broke the record for fees they paid to use public lands during the 2013-14 season, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The ski areas — headed by four owned by Vail Resorts and four owned by Aspen Skiing Co. — combined to pay $15.75 million during the Forest Service's 2014 fiscal year. That was up $2.26 million, or 17 percent, from the 2013 fiscal year, according to figures supplied by the national forest supervisor's office.

The federal agency's fiscal year ends in September, so the fees paid reflect booming business during the snowy 2013-14 ski season and a small but growing amount from summer operations.

The ski-area payments are determined by a complex formula that includes uphill chairlift capacity, percentage of public lands used for the ski area, skier visits and revenues from facilities and services operated on public lands.

“It’s really complicated, but it’s driven by revenue more than anything. If we have a good year they’ll go up, and if we have an off year they’ll go down.”

Alan Henceroth
COO of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Recommended Stories For You

"It's really complicated, but it's driven by revenue more than anything," said Alan Henceroth, COO of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. "If we have a good year they'll go up, and if we have an off year they'll go down."

PAYMENT HIGHEST FOR BRECKENRIDGE

For Summit County ski areas, Breckenridge Ski Resort topped the list after paying a roughly $3.5 million fee, a 23 percent increase over the previous year, for use of 2,908 acres for skiing and riding.

The other Vail Resorts' property, Keystone Resort, paid $2.07 million for use of 3,148 acres, or a 14 percent climb over the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Copper Mountain Resort, owned by Powdr Corp., used 2,465 acres for a fee of $1.07 million, or 12.5 percent more.

Arapahoe Basin, with its roughly 900 acres, paid about $440,000, or 112 percent more, though Henceroth called those numbers goofy and said the Forest Service must not have counted payments received after Sept. 30 with the fiscal year for which they were due.

Of all the resorts in the White River National Forest, Vail Mountain paid the most with its $5.3 million fee for use of 5,289 acres, a 14 percent increase over the previous year.

VAIL RESORTS TOPS $12 MILLION

Vail Resorts paid about $12.2 million total in fees for public land use on its four Colorado ski areas during the last fiscal year.

To put the company's payment into perspective, it paid a total of $3.1 million for public land use for the four ski areas 14 years ago.

As a publicly traded company, Vail Resorts doesn't comment on fees or other business metrics, said spokesman Russ Pecoraro.

Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams has consistently said the ski-area fees are a clear financial benefit for the federal government, as the fees go straight to the federal treasury, and the privately owned ski areas help maintain and attract visitors to the national forest.

However, the formula for calculating the fees hasn't been changed in decades. The U.S. General Accounting Office, a nonpartisan investigative agency for Congress, concluded in 1996 that fees for recreation special-use permits "do not reflect fair market value."

SKI AREA FEES FOR USING PUBLIC LAND IN THE 2014 FISCAL YEAR

Arapahoe Basin $438,304

Breckenridge $3,520,000

Copper Mountain $1,070,000

Keystone $2,070,000

Vail Mountain $5,340,000

Beaver Creek $1,320,000

Aspen Mountain $81,950

Buttermilk $209,339

Highlands $266,801

Snowmass $1,450,000

Sunlight $17,667

Total $15,753,961

Source: U.S. Forest Service