U.S. Forest Service approves Beeline program | SummitDaily.com

U.S. Forest Service approves Beeline program

COPPER MOUNTAIN – The buzz Copper Mountain’s Beeline Advantage Program has causes might be fading, finally.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in Washington, D.C. announced this week that the program, which allows skiers and snowboarders to skip long lines and earn other perks, does not deny equal access to public lands, the crux of the 3-year-old argument.

The decision reached Washington after local forest officials accused the resort of offering the program to those staying at Copper’s resort properties, while denying others the same access. Copper Mountain conceded that point and, last season, openly offered it to anyone willing to shell out a few extra bucks.

“We had concerns about whether it was in the public interest,” said Steve Sherwood, deputy forest supervisor for the White River National Forest. “Basically, the decision that was made … was let’s let the market do its thing. If it’s not in the public interest, the program will go away and die.”

The USFS could only authorize the program if need was demonstrated for the activity, if it is consistent with other agency management policies, if the program is deemed appropriate use of public land and if it is in the public interest.

Last season, Copper officials offered a Beeline upgrade to season passholders for $20 a day, a single-day ticket for $124 and a Beeline Advantage season pass for $999. While prices have not been set for this season, Copper Mountain spokeswoman Beth Jahnigen said the resort will run a similar program this year.

“We’re happy to come to an agreement that both sides were happy with,” Jahnigen said. “Pricing and marketing programs are deemed by the USFS to be business decisions of the resort and best left to the management teams of the resort industry.”

As competition increases among resorts, Sherwood said, more conversations between corporations and public programs will occur. This argument, he added, won’t affect relationships between the USFS and Copper Mountain.

“The policy we had was fairly gray … so we needed to adapt,” Sherwood said. “The way it works is, it goes up the line. People are asking, “Why would Washington make the decision?’ It was very appropriate because it is a large policy decision. We will certainly get past this. We’re both professional organizations.”

Other mountains offer similar programs. Vail, for instance, allows groups of 20 or more to ski a full hour before lifts open to the public. The difference lies in where the money goes. Vail’s program benefits local charities, while Copper’s program profits Intrawest, the controlling corporation, as a marketing tool to lure more skiers to the mountain.

Local Jim Horkovich, a longtime opponent of the program, protests the program on a Web site, where he writes, “It has everything to do with Intrawest’s unfair and unethical attempts to maximize their lodging services profits.” Horkovich could not be reached for comment on this week’s decision.

The Forest Service will be having internal meetings this month to contemplate future issues that might arise between public and private entities. This way, Sherwood explained, future conflicts might be solved more quickly.

After the internal discussions, the Forest Service will hold meetings with resorts to evaluate new and old policies.

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