Skico fees increase for using public lands at Aspen Mountain, Snowmass
Aspen Skiing Co. paid $1,786,001 to the federal government in 2013 for national forest lands it leases to operate its four ski areas, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Skico’s payment — which reflects business during the 2012-13 ski season — was up almost 10 percent from the $1,627,795 it paid the prior year.
The 2012-13 payment is the latest available.
The Forest Service uses a complex formula to calculate ski-area lease fees. It combines uphill capacity, skier visits, revenues from restaurants and other facilities on federal land and percentage of the ski area on federal lands among the many factors.
Skico’s ski-area payments increased by a much greater percentage than its skier visits in 2012-13. It boosted its visits by 3 percent to about 1.38 million.
Skico declined to discuss its ski-area payments Monday.
Ski-industry officials have said expansion of ski-area operators into on-mountain restaurants has helped boost their revenues. A greater focus on summer activities — such as gondola rides for hikers and diners, and lift rides for mountain bikers — has also opened new revenue. Increased revenues lead to increased fees.
Snowmass ski area makes the greatest fee payment among Skico’s four ski areas. Its payment jumped 9.3 percent from $1.2 million in 2011-12 to $1.31 million in 2012-13. Skico leases just shy of 5,000 acres for its Snowmass operation, according to the Forest Service.
Skico’s fee for use of public lands at Highlands jumped by nearly 17 percent from $189,856 to $221,765. Highlands leases about 1,620 acres of national forest.
Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk lease smaller amounts of public lands. Buttermilk leases 835 acres while Aspen Mountain requires just 326 acres of national forest.
Aspen Mountain’s fee payment increased 7.3 percent to $68,641 for 2012-13 while Buttermilk’s payment went up 4 percent to $187,312.
The 11 ski areas of the White River National Forest paid a combined $13.5 million in ski-area fees in 2012-13, according to the Forest Service. That was up $982,818 or 8 percent from the prior year.
In 20 years, the fee payments by ski areas in the White River National Forest have doubled. They paid a combined $6.65 million in fiscal year 1994, according to the Forest Service.
This year’s payment was a record amount.
Skico pays substantially less than Vail Resorts, which also owns and operates four ski areas using land in the White River National Forest.
Vail Mountain alone paid $4,684,403 in ski area fees in 2012-13, according to the Forest Service. Its payment soared by $539,002 or 13 percent in the last fiscal year.
Vail Resorts paid a combined $10,544,120 million in ski-area fees at Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge. That’s in contrast to the $1,786,001 Skico pays for Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.
There are three other ski areas in the White River National Forest that aren’t owned by Aspen or Vail. Sunlight Mountain Resort, outside of Glenwood Springs, paid $15,141 in ski area fees for 2012-13.
Arapahoe Basin paid $206,562 last year, while Copper Mountain paid $950,595.
The ski area payments go to the U.S. Treasury. White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams couldn’t be reached for comment on the fee payments Monday. He previously told The Aspen Times that the ski areas “pay their way in spades.” The money collected far exceeds what the supervisor’s office spends on ski-area oversight, he said.
In addition, the ski industry stands out because operators get billed for any review Forest Service officials must undertake, such as expansion plans.
It is likely ski-area payments will increase again for 2013-14. Many ski areas reported strong business.
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Max Weintraub has been senior curator at the Aspen Art Museum since January 2019.