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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

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Ski industry offers some guarantees on water rights issue

Forest Service looking to ensure long-term viability of ski areas

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With water a premium in the West, the Forest Service and ski resorts are discussing how they will administer water that originates on national forest lands. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — In comments submitted to the U.S. Forest Service, the National Ski Areas Association is suggesting a fresh start in developing a policy to determine ownership and future use of water that originates on national forest lands.

“Our new approach assumes that all previous water clauses are no longer in effect, null and void, and unenforceable. It would result in a consistent water policy across the board going forward,” said NSAA policy director Geraldine Link.

The ski industry comments came as the Forest Service held a series of hearings around the West in the early stages of developing a new water rights clause that eventually will become part of agency permits for businesses operating on public lands.

The ski industry and the Forest Service have been at odds over water rights for years, and most recently faced each other in federal court over a 2011 version of the permit language. The court said that the Forest Service failed to follow required procedures in rewriting the clause, and also noted that the agency has adopted a series of clauses that aren’t being applied consistently. Continue reading

Forest Service holds public meetings on ski area water rights

After legal showdown, agency, resorts start down collaborative path to address critical water questions

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Who owns the water originating on national forest lands? Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After losing a court showdown, the U.S. Forest Service will restart a process to try and clarify the future of water rights associated with permitted uses on national forest lands, especially with regard to ski areas in the West. Click here to see related Summit Voice stories.

In December, a federal court ruled that the Forest Service failed to meet legal requirements when it updated the rule administratively. Now, the agency will hold a series of public meetings, starting April 16 in Denver, to take input from the public and key stakeholders. Additional meetings are set for Salt Lake City on April 17, and Lake Tahoe, Calif., on April 18. Continue reading

Winter sports athletes urge action on global warming

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Winter sports athletes are urging action on climate change and energy in a letter to President Obama.

Olympic medalists, ski stars ask President Obama to speed the shift to clean energy

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As Colorado ski areas struggle with a second consecutive season of below-average snowfall and the Sierra Nevada snowpack only about half of average, a group of 75 Olympic medalists and other winter sports athletes are warning that winter is in trouble.

Stepping up to represent the global snow sports community on the political stage, the athletes this week sent a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to take action on climate and clean energy.

“Without a doubt, winter is in trouble … at risk are the economies of tourist-dependent states where winter tourism generates $12.2 billion in revenue annually, supports 212,000 jobs and $7 billion in salaries. Those are the jobs and businesses owned by our friends and families, generators of billions in federal and state income.” Continue reading

Colorado: Vail Resorts says mid-winter business rebounded

Major capital investments announced for upcoming seasons

Vail Resorts is talking up the Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge as part of its capital investment plan for the coming season.

Vail Resorts is talking up the Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge as part of its capital investment plan for the coming season.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Vail Resorts said business bounced back after a slow start to the season, with some of the company’s resorts posting record business during the Christmas holiday period. VR’s net income climbed 30.5 percent, to $60.5 million in the second fiscal quarter compared to last season, with skier visits up 2.9 percent and mountain net revenue up by 9.5 percent.

“We are very pleased with our performance in the second quarter of fiscal 2013, which was notable for two distinct dynamics we experienced in the quarter,” VR CEO Rob Katz said this week during a call announcing the company’s second quarter earnings. “The first was our results through the middle of December, which were marked by unusually warm and dry weather in Colorado that limited the terrain we could open, leading to lower than expected results for our four Colorado resorts.  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

Colorado ski industry should embrace wolverine restoration

Bob Berwyn.

Bob Berwyn.

Opinion: Obstructing conservation runs counter the interest of most skiers

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The upcoming listing of North American wolverines as an endangered or threatened species has huge implications for Colorado, and also gives the Colorado ski industry a chance to work off some of the bad karma it earned for opposing the reintroduction of lynx to the mountains of our state.

Wolverines are largest member of the weasel family and need rugged alpine terrain covered with deep snow to reproduce. Sometime soon, within the next few weeks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will announce its listing decision, with the best available science suggesting that global warming is likely to reduce habitat for denning and breeding to the point that it will threaten the existence of the species.

That’s were Colorado comes in. With more high-elevation terrain than any other state in the Rockies, and plenty of steep, remote brush- and rock-strewn avalanche paths, our mountains could be a climate refuge for the animals, according to conservation biologists working on recovery plans for the rare critter. Continue reading

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