Senators introduce bill to allow Forest Service to retain some fees collected from Aspen, other ski areas | AspenTimes.com

Senators introduce bill to allow Forest Service to retain some fees collected from Aspen, other ski areas

Staff report

Colorado's two U.S. senators teamed with a colleague from Oregon Tuesday to introduce a bill that would allow national forests to retain a portion of the fees they collect from ski resorts that use federal lands for operations.

The Ski Area Fee Retention Act was introduced by Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, Democrat Michael Bennet and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden.

The legislation would create a ski area fee retention account under the National Forest System. A portion of the $37 million in annual ski area fees would be retained in that account.

"This would ensure that the Forest Service has adequate resources to administer permits and review capital improvement project proposals in more heavily trafficked forests, such as the White River National Forest — the most visited national forest in the country," said a statement from the senators.

The Aspen Times reported in December that the 11 ski areas in the White River National Forest paid a record $20.18 million in fees for the federal government's 2017 fiscal year. That includes fees paid by Aspen Skiing Co. for its four ski areas.

The forest received about $16 million in funds appropriated by Congress last year and it was allowed to keep about $2 million in fees collected from visitors to the Maroon Bells and outfitter fees.

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The forest's budget has plummeted from $30.39 million in 2009 to around $18 million in recent years.

A larger share of the Forest Service's nationwide budget is devoted to firefighting efforts.

It was unclear Tuesday whether passage of the legislation would increase overall funding for the White River National Forest or if retention of ski fees would be accompanied by a decreased appropriation by Congress for general funding.

In a prepared statement, Gardner said, "It's important that our skiing communities don't just send money to Washington and not fully benefit from the government fees they are charged. 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."

Bennet said, "The Forest Service is an important partner for Colorado's communities and outdoor recreation industry. Retaining some of the ski area fees in our National Forests will help strengthen that partnership and provide new opportunities for growth in our mountain communities."

The bill was hailed by representatives of the national and Colorado ski industry trade associations.

"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.

Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA, said, "Ski areas in Colorado strongly support this proposed legislation, which will provide local Forest Service offices with the resources they so badly need to administer ski area permits and to review and process ski area proposals for improvements."

SKI AREA FEES

The 11 ski areas in the White River National Forest paid $20.18 million in fees to the U.S. Forest Service in fiscal 2017. That was up marginally from $19.94 million the year before. Following is the amount paid by each of the 11 ski areas and the difference from the prior year.

Aspen Mountain $105,917 +7.5%

Aspen Highlands $441,049 +11%

Snowmass $1,624,731 +0.6%

Buttermilk $267,380 +1.4%

Vail Mountain $6,393,503 -2.1%

Beaver Creek $1,588,723 0%

Keystone $2,975,170 +3.1%

Breckenridge $4,935,125 +4.4%

Arapahoe Basin $457,765 -9.4%

Copper Mtn $1,372,246 +4.8%

Sunlight Mtn. $20,626 +4.6%

Total paid $20,182,237 +1.2%

Source: U.S. Forest Service