What’s It Cost to Rent Land for a Colorado Ski Area?

Resorts in the White River National Forest paid a record amount to lease public land last season. Here’s how much.

So, you’re thinking about opening a ski area in Colorado, are you, and wanna know what Uncle Sam’s going to charge you? No? Okay, well, surely you’re curious what Vail and Aspen pony up for the right to run those lifts on public lands, yes?

Well, it’s enough that you can practically hear White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams suppressing a grin when he told Summit Daily that areas paid “in spades.” In fact, for the last year available, the 2014-15 ski season, resorts paid a record $17.9 million. That was up 12.5 percent, or more than $2 million, over the previous year. The money, despite Fitzwilliams’ stoke, goes to the Treasury, not the national forest.

Vail paid the most, nearly $6 million. It, however, can afford it: In fiscal year 2015, the resort giant had $1.5 billion in revenue and nearly $366 million in profit.

Here’s what each of the 11 resorts in the White River National Forest paid in leases:

Arapahoe Basin

Aspen Mountain

Aspen Highlands

Beaver Creek



Copper Mountain







Photo by Aspen Snowmass

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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal. Follow him on Instagram at @stevecasimiro.
Showing 4 comments
  • Donald

    If Vail is making that much in profits then the government is not charging them enough.

  • Drew

    Of the $1.5 billion in revenue, how much of that is paid out in taxes?

  • RM2Ride

    Interesting, sure, but these numbers raise a lot more questions than they answer. For instance:
    Why the enormous disparity? How are rates set – based on acreage, as a percentage of revenue, or what? Are all rates comparable, or does every resort negotiate a rate of its own?

    How do these rates compare to other contracts for federal public land use, such as grazing, mining or timber? What does that say about the priorities of the USFS or other land agencies?

    Are these fees too high? Are they too low? How do they compare to fees in other USFS districts? Where does the money go. Is it used locally, to support White River (or other) NF, or fed into the federal budget of the USFS (or elsewhere into the federal budget)?


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