At anywhere from $40 to $70 a pop for lift tickets, downhill skiing is one of the country’s priciest sports — yet many ski resorts pay next to nothing for the federal land on which they operate. On average, resorts located on national forests fork over just 2 percent of their revenue to use the lands; that’s like a person who earns $50,000 a year paying $80 per month in rent. Some people say the arrangement is as it should be, because ski resorts are a relatively benign use of public lands (far less harmful than mining, grazing, or logging) and profit margins are often slim. But others say the increasing popularity of luxury real estate developments at the base of ski runs is bad news for the environment and should not be subsidized by taxpayers. Since the 1970s, at least nine independent studies (including reports by the General Accounting Office and the Agriculture Department’s Inspector General) have concluded that the public isn’t receiving fair market value from ski resorts leasing lands.
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