Ski resorts of the White River National Forest paid record-high fees to the federal government for their use of public land in the 2021-22 ski season, according to Aspen Daily News. Vail Resorts, Aspen Skiing Co., and other companies operating within the area paid a total combined $23.76 million, $4.26 million (or 22%) more than the $19.5 million payed for the 2020-21 season.
The fees are based on several factors, mostly based on space used and revenue collected from the many different services located on the public land. It considers the amount of land used, chairlift capacities, and the revenue from any businesses located on public land, like on-mountain restaurants. Restaurants and other services that are located on private land are not considered in the fee collection. Initially, the forest service provided the amount payed by the separate companies using the land, but after a complaint from Vail Resorts, the public is only given the combined amount payed by every company (it feels like given that this is public land, the individual payments should be public information, but I guess not).
Aspen Ski Company’s four areas (Snowmass, Highlands, Buttermilk, & Aspen Mountain) use the most public land of any company in the area, taking up a total of 7,778 acres. Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Beaver Creek, Vail, and Sunlight Mountain are the other seven ski areas paying for permits to operate on White River National Forest land.
Though the paying for permits to operate on public land deal seems quite reasonable, the White River National Forest actually never sees a single penny from the fees. Instead, it all goes straight to the U.S. Treasury. According to Aspen Daily News, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado and Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming are seeking to implement the Ski Hill Resources for Economic Development, or SHRED Act, which would give a certain percentage of the fees paid by the ski resorts to the national forests.
I have absolutely no problem with ski companies paying to operate on public land, as long as they respect the land they’re using. I do, however, have a problem with that money never actually going towards the national forests! If you rented a room from a public library, that money would go back to the library. If you rented space in a public university, that money would go back the university. So why should the money payed to rent public land not go back to that public land? I also question the fact that neither the public nor any sort of journalists are able to see exactly how much each company is paying to use what I see as our land. Call me what you wish, but if land is public, that should mean it belongs to the people.
Image Credit: Vail Mountain, Aspen Snowmass, Copper Mountain, & Arapahoe Basin Ski Area on Instagram