Aspen, Colo. • The growing popularity of strapping skins on skis and climbing uphill could soon come at a price at some ski areas.
The U.S. Forest Service is working on new rules that clarify that ski areas that lease public lands for their operations can charge people for uphill travel, The Aspen Times reported Tuesday.
The directive could affect fitness fanatics that use skis with climbing skins, snowshoes and stabilizers.
The directive "encourages" ski area operators to provide access to some slopes without a charge so that there isn’t a "de facto entrance fee."
The proposed language would authorize a fee "for facilities and services the holders provide, such as lifts, parking lots, and slopes and trails that have been cleared, graded, groomed or covered with manmade snow."
The Forest Service is accepting comments until Dec. 2 on its proposal.
Rich Burkley, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of mountain operations, said ski areas in the eastern U.S. requested the authorization for fees. They had low snow two seasons ago and encountered scenarios where uphill adventurers were vying for the same narrow ribbons of man-made snow where resorts’ paying customers were descending.
Burkley said Skico at this point isn’t interested in charging a fee for uphill travel at its four ski areas. "We have hopefully been accommodating," he said.
Skico has had policies in place for roughly 20 years because "uphilling" has been so popular at Aspen and Snowmass. Burkley said the growth in the number of people skinning or walking up has grown "exponentially" in recent years. On the morning of Nov. 16, before the lifts were fired up for the first time this season on Aspen Mountain, he saw 46 people heading uphill before he quit counting.
Some Colorado ski resorts require uphillers to get a pass. Others are restricting times and routes. Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain require uphillers to acquire a hiking pass and sign a waiver, but there is no charge, according to a recent article in the Summit Daily News. Breckenridge will no longer allow uphill traffic while the lifts are running, the article said.
The prospect of ski areas gaining the ability to charge a fee for uphill travelers has some adventurers nervous.
Kitty Benzar, president of the Durango-based Western Slope No Fee Coalition, said her organization is less focused on ski area fees than fees the Forest Service charges for access to public facilities and lands. However, she said the direction with ski areas appears to be part of a growing trend on public lands since a "fee demonstration" was approved in 1996.
The threat, she said, is "packaging access to nature as a product that can be marketed for a fee."
"At the risk of being accused of saying ‘I told you so,’ it’s really not any different from charging people for a parking space while they are off hiking or horseback riding in the Maroon Bells Wilderness," Benzar said. "Once people accept that as reasonable, as many in Aspen apparently do, the possibilities for monetizing the backcountry are endless."
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