The Vail Pass Task Force
2019-2020 Proposed Fee Increase at Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area
10th Mountain needs your help. The US Forest Service is proposing to increase the fee at Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area from $6/person to $10/person and it needs to hear what you think of it. 10th Mountain thinks the fee increase reflects responsible stewardship of the area and will improve the experience at the six huts located in the area, and strongly supports the proposal. Please join us in this important effort by submitting informed comments to the USFS.
Understanding the history of this recreational area can aid perspective. Visitation began to increase in the 1980’s as the USFS permitted huts, snowmobile rentals, snowcat and heli-skiing operations, and other commercial activities. Snowmobiles were allowed to travel everywhere on the forest except for wilderness and ski areas. In the 1990’s, management began to include suggested non-motorized envelopes around the huts, volunteer grooming, monitoring, and occasional USFS staffing. Visitation continued to increase and it became evident that the experience – for hut visitors and other visitors – was not meeting expectations and more active management was needed. Through a series of meetings that included mediation and strong public input, the agency established travel management prescriptions (non-motorized, motorized, hybrid, cat skiing) for the entire area and improved essential operating services such as grooming, trail maintenance, signage, patrols, plowing parking lots, and staffing. The fee program was first implemented in 1998 and since then various fee structures have been utilized to pay for these services. Of note, the one constant in all the fee structures has been that all users paid the same amount regardless of travel mode. This has established a crucial (and tenuous) balance of influence, power, and general fairness.
The current fee structure was set in 2005 at a rate to meet expenses at that time. Since then, expenses have increased, purchasing value has decreased, operating deficits have become larger, and the agency has had no choice except to progressively reduce services including dropping to a 4-day/week presence this year. As you might expect, this has affected everyone’s recreational experience and not in a positive manner. The agency understands this and is proposing to increase the fee for the day pass to $10 and the season pass to $65 effective winter 2020-2021.
The USFS is controlling expenses and finding ways to do more with less. It has reduced its presence to four days per week, has developed collaborative partnerships with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, CDOT, Vail Pass Task Force, volunteers, and local stakeholders to make up for diminished funding, and augmented fee receipts with funds from other programs. The Vail Pass Task Force (which serves to advise the agency on management issues and administers grooming and plowing operations) is also working to make fee collection more efficient, reduce grooming expenses and is raising funds from local communities and stakeholders. Despite these efforts, the deficit continues to widen, services continue to be reduced, and the value of the recreational experience will continue to decline. The situation is grave: without a fee increase, the operational deficit next year is projected to be over $60,000. This is simply no longer tenable.
The six huts located in the Vail Pass area (Chuck’s, Jay’s, Walter’s, Janet’s, Jackal and Fowler/Hilliard) are popular and over 13,000 user nights occur in the winter which equates to twenty-five percent of winter hut use across the entire 10th Mountain System. People visiting these huts should be able to have a recreational experience that meets their expectations. Hut visitors in the Vail Pass area expect to share portions of some routes with snowmobiles given the high concentration of use and configuration of trailheads and routes but they also expect quiet, non-motorized, experiences while at the huts and on day-trips from the huts. The quality of the experience at the huts and in designated non-motorized areas adjacent to the huts is directly tied to the level of USFS presence and its management programs.
If approved, the fee increase would allow the USFS to bring management back up to previous levels and provide an experience that meets all users’ expectations. It would improve education, signage, grooming, and conducting patrols seven days/week would improve the ability to respond effectively in emergency situations such as avalanches, collisions, and other mishaps, and help preserve and protect those areas designated for human-powered use.
You can learn more about this proposed fee increase and submit comments at USFS Fee Proposal Comments. If you wish to learn more about 10th Mountain’s perspective on this issue, please contact Ben Dodge, Executive Director at (970) 925-4554 or at email@example.com.
Vail Pass Task Force History
Finally, your annual family ski trip to Shrine Mountain Inn is more than just a reservation. Once you arrive at the exit, you see them coming too: the other carload, equally enthusiastic, with snowmobiles in tow. Your youngster's neck cranes to get a better view of the machines and then asks, "Why do we have to carry everything to the hut couldn't we get one of them to take our stuff?" And so the multi-use conversation begins, with your five year old.
According to Chuck Ogilby, former President of the Vail Pass Task Force and owner of the Shrine Mountain Inn, multi-use conversations among a group of concerned users in the Vail Pass area began in 1989 or 1990. "The area at the time was being overrun with snow machines with no areas reserved for quiet use. A helicopter operated a heli-ski operation, a snow-cat operator was there, several private snow-cat clubs, and of course the Shrine Mountain Inn, the Jackal, Janet's, and the Fowler-Hilliard huts. This intense use was chaos. But the use then was a fraction of what it has become today."
The group organized, and by the mid-nineties the Vail Pass Task Force had become a 501 c3 corporation. "For many years the Task Force tried to operate the area under a voluntary sharing (and separated) use plan. This, however, received no compliance from the snowmobile community. After years of frustration, and limited successes, the Task Force asked the Forest Service to implement a Fee Demo area as a last straw to manage the area."
"It is my true belief that if this action had not been taken, the entire 55,000 acres today would be one large snowmobile play area. This would have resulted in a sacrificed area for skiers including the non-motorized pods, which have worked, the elimination of the snowmobile through route in front of the Fowler-Hilliard, and larger non-motorized pods around the other huts, and a non-motorized Commando Run."
"The mission of the motorized user is to have marked, groomed, loop trails. For the non-motorized user the mission is to have designated, trackless, quiet areas and trails in which to seek enjoyment. I believe these objectives are being met better and better every year and it costs a great deal of money to administer both sides of this complex equation."
As an organization dedicated to self-reliant, non-motorized use of Colorado's backcountry, it is imperative that the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association supports the Vail Pass Fee Program. 10th Mountain collects fees from hut users when they make their booking. The fee program provides guidance to all winter recreationists visiting the Vail Pass area. Maps are distributed, showing the designated areas/trails for motorized and non-motorized use. Boundaries are marked with signs and have been set to maximize each user group's needs, and to utilize the area's topography. Patrolling rangers issue warnings and tickets when established boundaries are ignored, or fees are not paid. Working together, users of all types can now enjoy the Vail Pass area.
Send comments regarding 10th Mountain's involvement in management of the Vail Pass area to 10th Mountain's Executive Director, Ben Dodge, firstname.lastname@example.org. Download a map of the Vail Pass management area here (caution, large download).