Colorado ski resorts paid around $ 19 million last season to use the White River National Forest

Tables were set for alfresco dining last winter at Sam’s Restaurant in Snowmass. Ski areas have had to get creative to make up for the lack of indoor dining due to COVID-19 restrictions.
David Krause Archives / Aspen Times

Colorado’s 11 ski areas located in the White River National Forest paid almost $ 2 million more for public land use during the 2020-21 season than during the disastrous winter before.

The 11 ski areas paid a total of $ 19.21 million to the US government last season. This is an increase of $ 1.92 million or 11% from the $ 17.29 million paid in 2019-2020.

This indicates that ski areas have adapted well to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest. Resort operators have set up temporary outdoor structures for dining due to indoor seating restrictions, for example.

“It took a lot of effort and I think it paid off,” said Fitzwilliams. “I think (the resort operators) deserve a lot of credit for trying to meet the requirements.”

The annual ski area fees paid to the US Forest Service provide an insight into the strength of the ski season. Most of the heavyweights of Colorado’s ski industry are located in the White River, including the four Aspen Snowmass ski areas and the Vail Resorts ski areas as well as a few independent ones.

The ski industry was on its way to a record or near record year when it was forced to abruptly shut down in mid-March 2020, at the height of the busy spring break season. This had a big effect on the bottom line. Alterra Mountain Resort, for example, is in legal action with its insurer to recover its business losses from winter 2019-2020. The Colorado Sun reported that Alterra has claimed its losses exceeded $ 200 million in the 15 stations it owns.

Due to the difficult end of the 2019-20 season, fees paid by the White River ski areas were the lowest since 2013-14, according to figures provided by the White River Supervisor’s Office.

Even with the slight increase last winter, ski area fees have lagged behind the industry’s strongest years of the past decade. The 11 ski areas paid a record $ 22.56 million in fees in 2018-19, according to the Forest Service. It was $ 3.35 million or 15% more than what the 11 resorts paid last season.

Resort operators pay a fee based on a complex formula that takes into account the acres of public land used by the ski resort and the businesses derived from the use of that land. Less activity means less expense and vice versa.

The Forest Service was disclosing the fees paid for each ski area until Vail Resorts complained that the disclosure provided confidential trade secrets. The Regional Forest Service office granted Vail’s request to stop reporting individual fees in 2017.

Fees paid by ski areas go to the US Treasury rather than the agency. Legislation has been introduced to keep much of the funds in the forest where they are generated. The proposal has industry support, but its fate is not yet resolved.

Fitzwilliams said his contacts with ski area operators indicated they were optimistic for a rebounding winter. The forest service has not been asked to approve measures such as temporary outdoor catering structures, he noted, but the number of COVID cases over the next two months will determine what ski areas must do during the winter.

A skier loads onto the Elk Camp Gondola through the gates decorated with flags for Australia Day at Snowmass Base Village on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. Tuesday was Australia’s National Day. (Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times)

Aspen Skiing Co. was particularly affected in 2019-2020 due to the lack of international travel. The wave of Australian visitors that usually hits in January was nonexistent. Australia currently has severe travel restrictions in place.

“Australia might miss its typical January window, but we hear we might see Australians later in the winter / spring,” Skico vice president of communications Jeff Hanle wrote in an email. . “The demand is there if and when they can travel. “

More encouraging news was reported this week that the United States would begin allowing travelers from the United Kingdom and countries in the European Union in November if they can prove they are vaccinated and COVID-free.

“We are seeing great interest and bookings from Europe,” said Hanle. “We should expect to see many European / British guests returning to town this winter. “

The brightest international prospect for Skico is Latin America, he said.

“Argentina and Mexico have booked and Brazil is waiting for flights to load and the United States to reopen itself to Brazilian travelers,” Hanle said.

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