Paying a premium |

Paying a premium

Bob Berwyn

Copper Mountain Resort’s plan to offer a premium-priced preferred-access pass continues to undergo intense scrutiny. The resort is marketing the program during the pre-season, but the Forest Service has not yet decided whether to authorize it as a legitimate use of public lands.Meanwhile, the Denver Post’s editorial board issued a scathing criticism of the so-called Beeline Advantage pass, charging the program is essentially a marketing tool for the resort’s real estate arm.Copper introduced the preferred access pass last season, and Forest Service officials said it was used 50,000 times.White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle had hoped to make a decision on the program before beginning a temporary reassignment Sept. 9, but acknowledged Sept. 6 that, based on the information she has at hand, the proposal is inconsistent with Forest Service policy.Ketelle is set to begin a two-month stint as acting recreation forester for the agency’s Rocky Mountain region, while recreation forester Steve Deitemeyer will fill in as acting White River supervisor. The fate of Copper’s program will be decided in consultation with regional Forest Service officials, according to Ketelle.&quotI’m in an information-gathering mode,&quot Ketelle said during a recent interview. &quotI’m looking for Copper to give documentation of how this is in the public interest. I’d like to get it resolved before the season starts,&quot she says. Copper has set Nov. 2 as its opening date this year.In an Aug. 19 letter to Copper chief Dave Barry, Ketelle wrote: &quotIn making my decision on whether or not to authorize Copper to utilize NFS land in association with the proposed Beeline Advantage Program, I will employ the decision process specified in Federal Regulation and Forest Service Policy.&quotThat includes determining whether there is a demonstrated public need for the proposed activity; determining whether the activity is consistent with the purposes for which the NFS lands in question are managed; determining whether it is an appropriate use of Forest Service lands, and finally, determining whether the proposed activity is in the public interest.Ketelle says she must be able to answer each of those questions affirmatively in order to OK the program. &quotAt this time, it has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction that there is an actual demonstrated need for this activity,&quot she wrote.Copper officials have claimed the program is a discretionary business decision over which the Forest Service doesn’t have any authority, but Ketelle responded in her letter that agency policy does address the marketing of services on Forest Service lands to ensure full public access.This exchange gets at the issue of how available the program is to the general public. Copper touts the Beeline Advantage pass as a benefit for destination guests, but claims it is available for anyone who wants it at a hefty premium. The Forest Service is interested in finding out how and where the program is advertised after all, if Joe Q. Skier doesn’t know about the program to begin with, it will be hard for him to take advantage of it.If the program is authorized this season, the agency will need to carefully monitor how it is implemented and what the public response is, says Ed Ryberg, winter sports administrator for the USFS Rocky Mountain region. The agency would try to determine how often it’s used and whether skiers and boarders ever purchase the ticket-window upgrades, Ryberg explains.&quotWe’ll also want to make sure the Forest Service is compensated,&quot Ryberg says. &quotCopper has valued this at $124 per day.&quotThe Forest Service collects fees from the ski areas based on a percentage of the gross revenues generated by activities on public lands.

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