Outdoors: Skier visits rebound nationally

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U.S. resorts tallied 56.6 million skiers visits — and counting — in he 2012-2013 ski season.

All regions post increases from last year

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After a big dip last season, skier visits rebounded strongly in the 2012-2013 season, climbing up to 56. million with the season still going strong at areas like Mammoth Mountain and Arapahoe Basin.

For the country as a whole, skier visits climbed 11 percent from last season. Skier visits in the Pacific Southwest and Northeast regions climbed more than 20 percent from last winter, not surprising, since they were the areas hit hardest by sparse snowfall and an early meltdown last year.

Resorts in all regions started slow but skier visits gained momentum through the holidays and spring break. Overall, 78 percent of reporting ski areas posted increases in visits. The median resort experienced a 10.6 percent gain in visits, according to a release from the National Ski Areas Association. Continue reading

Forest Service to address the tangled status of ski area water rights with a public process

Federal court ruling sends agency back to the drawing board

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The U.S. Forest Service will hold a public process to develop a new agency guideline for adminstering water rights at ski areas operating on public lands. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After being rebuffed in federal court, the U.S. Forest Service will start anew at developing new water-rights language for ski area permits. The agency plans to start taking public input this spring on the new directive, which would clarify ownership of water rights on national forest lands.

The Forest Service most recently issued a new water rights directive in Dec. 2012, aiming to establish that certain water rights have to remain linked with the ski areas where the water is used to ensure the long-term sustainability of the resorts.

The ski industry interpreted at least parts of the new directive as a direct grab of water rights that are properly administered under state water law. A year-long lawsuit ended in Dec. 2012 with a court telling the Forest Service it must use a public process to develop a new directive.

“The agency’s announcement and the agency’s recent policy that was struck down in federal court both assume that water should run with the land. This approach reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of water law in the West,” said Geraldine Link,  public policy director for the National Ski Areas Association.

Continue reading

Ski industry wins water rights lawsuit against Forest Service

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A judge rules this week that the Forest Service can’t force ski areas to transfer water rights to the federal government. Bob Berwyn photo.

Judge orders Forest Service to go back to the drawing board on developing permit language to govern water originating on national forest lands

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A long-running dispute over water rights at ski areas operating on public land was resolved — at least temporarily — this week, as Federal District Court Judge William Martinez ruled that the U.S. Forest Service violated its own regulations and other federal laws when it adopted a new water rights clause to be added to ski area permits.

Martinez stayed away from the takings issue raised by the ski industry, but slammed the Forest Service for issuing a new rule without providing a chance for formal input and public comment. Read the ruling here.

He vacated the water rights clause, enjoined the Forest Service from enforcing it and remanded the matter back to the agency for further action to be guided by the court ruling. Specifically, Martinez said the Forest Service failed to develop the new water rights clause under formal public processes required under federal regulations.

He also ruled that the Forest Service violated federal regulations because the agency did not evaluate the economic costs of forcing some smaller ski areas to to assign their water rights to the Forest Service without compensation.

“Given how critical and valuable water is to ski area operations, we are pleased that the court has stopped this unreasonable and unlawful policy in its tracks,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. “We look forward to working in cooperation with the Forest Service to develop a water policy in the future that respects property rights and state water law.” Continue reading

Snow woes: U.S. skier visits drop by 10 million

Spring skiing at A-Basin was cut short by lack of snowfall this year.

Worst season for industry since 91-92

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — If there was ever a clear sign that skiing is all about the snow, it could be this week’s news that skier visits across the U.S. plummeted by almost 10 million from last season, as many resorts opened late and closed early due to lack of snow.

The National Ski Areas Association said U.S. ski areas tallied an estimated 51 million skier and snowboarder visits during the 2011-2012 season, according to the preliminary Kottke End of Season Survey, the lowest total since 1991-1992, when when 50.8 million visits were recorded. Continue reading

Former Forest Service official says some ski resorts may have acquired their water rights by ‘fraud and deception’

A former U.S. Forest Service official weighs in on the water rights tussle between the agency and the ski industry.

Former head of Forest Service ski area program says current water tussle between the agency and the ski industry is an outgrowth of regulatory abuses during the Bush administration

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A recent flareup in the water war between the federal government and the ski industry took yet another turn last week, as a former Forest Service official weighed in and charged the industry with taking advantage of a lax regulatory environment under the Bush administration to try and acquire water rights that belong to the people of the United States with “fraud and deception.”

The water rights issue surfaced publicly in November, when the National Ski Areas Association, represented by attorney Glenn Porzak, complained in Congress that the Forest Service was trying to “take” privately held water rights by revising a ski area permit condition that was adopted in 2004. Since then, the ski industry has threatened to sue the Forest Service over the new water rights clause. Continue reading

U.S. skier visits climb to 2d-best total on record

Solid snowfall helped bring skier U.S. visits up to near record levels for the 2010-2011 season.

Trade group says solid snowfall helped boost totals in most regions

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Good snowfall and a long season helped boost skier visits nationwide to 60.1 million, the second-highest total ever behind the record-breaking 2007-2008 season.

It’s only the second time that the total has passed the 60-million mark, according to a press release from the National Ski Areas Association. The preliminary tally represents a 0.6 percent increase from last season’s 59.8 million skier visits.

Solid snowfall throughout the season may have been a big factor, the trade group said. snowfall was up 27 percent on average around the country, with only the southeast region seeing a drop in precipitation.

The biggest snowfall increases came in the Pacific Southwest region (43 percent), the Northeast (37 percent) and the Rockies (31 percent). Snowfall was up 26 percent over last year in the Midwest, and 9 percent in the Pacific Northwest, but down by 42 percent in the Southeast, reflecting a typical La Niña weather pattern. Continue reading

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