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World-class Winter Sports on Your National Forest

Office of Communication
February 8, 2019 at 12:30pm

A picture of several skiers and snowboarders making their way down a ski run.

The Arizona Snowbowl is a full service downhill ski area on the Coconino National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Deborah Lee Soltesz.

Americans hit the slopes about 57 million times a year, and when they go, they spend billions of dollars.

The USDA Forest Service plays a role in this industry—a big one. The National Forest System is home to 122 ski resorts. That’s just a quarter of the total across the U.S. Despite this, nearly half the visits from skiers are to resorts on national forests.

So besides being on a national forest, how does the whole thing work?

“The Forest Service manages the land, performs environmental analysis, and issues special use permits to operators that build and maintain facilities,” said Sean Wetterberg, Winter Sports Program Manager for the USDA Forest Service.

This arrangement has allowed for $5 billion in private investments on national forests. These investments might be in the form of new construction, improvement, or repairs of buildings and infrastructure. Beyond that, operating and maintaining resorts takes staffing, and that means more than 41,000 full- and part-time jobs.

A picture of Smokey Bear in a crowd in the stands with his hands raised high in the air.

Smokey Bear at the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships on the Beaver Creek Resort, White River National Forest. February, 2015. Photo by USDA Forest Service.

As visitors support resorts through purchases of lift tickets, food, equipment rentals, and merchandise, the ski areas pay fees to the United States Treasury based on their revenue. This has resulted in the American people earning $45 million in fees in 2016 alone. While many Forest Service programs, including timber, grazing, and energy production, generate revenue for the U.S. Treasury, ski areas regularly outperform them all.

Spending is not limited to the resorts, though. Many of the rural communities surrounding the forest and the resorts benefit from these visitors, and, according to Wetterberg, they can be big spenders.

“Those coming for skiing tend to spend more than most—about $3 billion every year,” said Wetterberg.

The visitor numbers and economics of winter sports on national forests are impressive. More impressive still is that national forests are home to world-class winter sports events.

“We’ve hosted the World Alpine Ski Championships three times, the 2002 Winter Olympics, and that same year we became the home of ESPN’s Winter X Games,” said Don Dressler, USDA Forest Service Mountain Resort Program Manager.

A picture in Don Dressler in skiing attire and helmet with the World Cup finish line behind him.

Don Dressler, Mountain Resort Program Manager for the Rocky Mountain Region at a 2011 FIS World Cup Event on the Beaver Creek Resort, White River National Forest. Photo by USDA Forest Service.

Dressler says that even after the snow is gone, the access and amenities resorts provide make them ideal for hosting events like the GoPro Mountain Games, held every year on the White River National Forest.

Mountain biking and foot races have always been popular outside ski season,” Dressler said. “Now zip-lining and other activities are adding to that list of off-season sports that make the resorts on our national forests even more accessible.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A chart showing U.S. Forest Service fee receipts; Ski Areas 27%, Other Recreation 23%, Timber 21%, Land Use 16%, Power 7%, Grazing 5% and Minerals 1%.

While many Forest Service programs, including timber, grazing, and energy production, generate revenue for the U.S. Treasury, ski areas regularly outperform them all.

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