User Fees rears its head again

At the last KTAG meeting, we were told that the government is once again considering implementing user fees for Peter Lougheed Provincial Park ski trails. We need to know what your views are on this, both for and against. Please, EVERYBODY join in this discussion so I can get back to KC at the next meeting in November. There are a great many issues to consider: Is this the thin edge of the wedge?  Should snowshoers be included? Season passes? Seniors?

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73 comments… add one
  • Linda Vaxvick Nov 26, 2012, 4:25 pm

    Skiers, you might be interested in the comments after this Globe & Mail column about cancellation of tracksetting in some SK National Parks: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/why-is-the-government-cancelling-winter/article5618187/

  • Maurice Gaucher Nov 21, 2012, 4:32 pm

    Hi Everyone — Thanks to our collective efforts and to those of many other K Country users we have again stopped the implementation of user fees.
    The short article from today’s Calgary Herald is a suitable end to the recent debate about user fees for xc-skiers in K Country. Peter Lougheed would be pleased. His vision for K Country and for Peter Lougheed Park never included user fees. He was adamant about making this special area accessible to everyone free of charge.

    The central issue is that Alberta should be promoting healthy outdoor activity and not inhibiting it. Once user fees are implemented for one user group you may be sure that other users such as snowshoers, mountain bikers, and hikers will soon be added, that yearly fee increases will occur, and that the bulk of the revenue will go towards the new bureaucracy as well as other priorities and not towards the enhancement of the user experience. All users of K Country should be actively promoting an adequate budget for K Country.

    I encourage everyone to tell the politicians that we do not want to see further cuts in the already meager Parks / K Country budget — in fact they need an increase!

  • Gillean Daffern Nov 20, 2012, 10:42 pm

    I am tempted to write “The End,” but of course it is not. Merely another beginning. We do not know at this time whether more money will be pumped into parks, whether they will continue to operate at a deficit or whether there will be more cuts in services.

    Minister Cusinelli is our MLA and has been informed of this blog. So thank you everyone for expressing your opinions. It was interesting to note there are many more people willing to pay user fees than there was 8 years ago.

  • Tony Daffern Nov 20, 2012, 7:42 pm

    Minister Christine Cusinelli tweeted today: “I encourage all Albertans to get outdoors & active. There will be no trail fees for K-Country cross country trails this season or next”.

  • Alf Skrastins Nov 18, 2012, 9:42 pm

    Thorsten, if you are going to compare countries with “free” XC ski trails, you might also want to note the taxation rates in those countries.
    Austria is up to 50% Income Tax plus 20% sales tax.
    Germany is 45% Income Tax plus 15% Health Tax + 19% sales tax.
    Norway is 47.8% Income Tax plus 25% sales tax
    Sweden is 57% Income Tax plus 25% sales tax.
    Yes you are being spoiled in Alberta by paying a maximum of 37% combined Federal and Provincial Tax, 5% federal GST and no Alberta Sales Tax. Plus you’ve been getting free XC ski trails!
    Given the choice, I’ll take the low Alberta taxes and pay a few dollars to ski on nicely groomed trails.

  • Thorsten Nov 18, 2012, 7:00 pm

    a) I’m spoiled. I have cross country skied in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Austria and Alaska. All these countries have significantly larger cross country ski networks than Alberta, and nowhere were they charging any usage fees.
    b) For me, solidarity is a cornerstone of a developed modern society. You pay a general fee to the goverment (i.e. your taxes) for a variety of services and you don’t pay for each individual service such as public transportation, libraries, pools, police, etc. as you go. Sometimes you pay for something you don’t use and other times you are the beneficary. Works for me.

  • Charles Hayes Nov 18, 2012, 5:09 pm

    Will this fee be implemented before next election?
    The last time they tried this it was promptly shot down by the Premier.

  • Chip Nov 18, 2012, 5:01 pm

    First, let me say that I am not opposed in principle to user fees for many activities. In particular, I support user fees where the fees are proportional to user impact/costs and where the expense of administering the system offsets those associated with the use. So, for example, I’m a firm believer that users of the oil sands should be paying royalties that reflect the true costs of extraction and that drivers should do the same with respect to roadways.

    In this case, however, it has not been made clear that a user fee system makes economic sense (ignoring other dimensions of the debate, such as the philosophical issue of fees for use on public lands). In order to do this, we would need to know the cost of administering and enforcing the system, as well as the health impact of a change in usage associated with the system (Would fewer people make use of the system and would this have downstream consequences for health care?)

    I’m not an economist, but I have the strong suspicion that this is a money-losing proposition, unless the fees imposed were much higher than a reasonable person would pay. Let’s see the numbers and then make a decision.

    Chip Scialfa
    University of Calgary

  • SkierBob Nov 18, 2012, 3:47 am

    KB, I understand why you may be confused about my position on user fees. Listen to this interview I did on CBC, as it will clarify things for you. http://www.cbc.ca/homestretch/episode/2012/11/16/cross-country-ski-trail-fees/

    I did not state in my comment above that I was against a user fee. If you read it carefully, you’ll see that I pointed out government waste and mismanagement would cover the costs of grooming and tracksetting. Unfortunately, our government expects us to cover the costs of their wasteful ways AND pay a user fee. I enjoy skiing on groomed trails in Yoho and I am willing to help the locals fund the operation.

  • Gary Nov 17, 2012, 6:49 pm

    Here we are with a government that started out investing in our future by creating an excellent facility for all Albertans, but slowly but surely through fiscal mismanagement is taking this future away from ALL Albertans. Those who can pay will get access, those who can’t to bad. So much for future thinking. User fees for this resource was never the plan and should not be considered now.

  • Linda Vaxvick Nov 17, 2012, 5:53 pm

    Actually I think Zwozdesky cancelled proposed fees because of an imminent election.

    David – do you mean that a gate fee like in the National Parks should apply to all of K Country? Because the downhillers and golfers pay hefty fees for their sport and I’d be that some of that goes to leases and taxes that the facility operators pay to the province and the Kananaskis Improvement District.

    I think a better analogy for XC would be to ice rinks and swimming pools where there are costs associated with the special facilities, which have been built with some tax money.

  • David Finch Nov 17, 2012, 9:17 am

    Fairness is the main issue here, as the ski trail track setting is only one of many services provided in K-country. Downhill skiers at Nakiska and campers at Mount Allan also benefit from the money spent on the whole area.
    The cuts to K-country and the deficits it encounters are as a result of years and years of government policy, and if we do not like it we can tell our elected leaders.
    If cross country skiers are to be charged an annual fee, then the same fee should apply to downhillers, golfers, and those who stay at the hotels.
    In November of 2004 Gene Zwozdesky cancelled the proposed fee for users of cross country trails in K-country “in order to further encourage healthy living and recreational participation as part of our cross-country ski season which begins in a few days.”

  • KB Nov 16, 2012, 8:31 am

    Maurice – XC skiing is actively promoted in Alberta. The Canmore Nordic Center is a world-class operation that subsidizes XC skiing at ~50% (based on the day pass prices listed in a prior post). It’s hosting it’s third World Cup since the government-funded upgrades. Edmonton hosts the Birkie. Skiing in Kananaskis (PLPP, Mt. Shark, Ribbon Creek, etc.) are subsidized at >100% (as the parks run a deficit and there is no vehicle fee or trail access fee). COP starts blowing snow in October/November to get the facilities up and running. Government doesn’t fund outdoor recreation?

    Dick – there are only a couple of major road arteries into K-country. Half of those are closed in the winter. It is really expensive process to print up a bunch of annual vehicle passes and sell them at the gates (perhaps at CNC for the Smith-Dorrion access)?

    SkierBob – love your blog but weren’t you the first to sign up for a user-fee/tax/donation to support Yoho-Emerald Lake grooming? Better review your Oct 14th post – you support and promote paying an additional grooming fee (on top of the vehicle pass) to ski Yoho/Emerald Lake but not even a vehicle fee/trail fee to ski PLPP, Mt. Shark and Ribbon Creek?

    http://skierbob.ca/2012/10/lets-support-ski-trail-grooming-in-yoho-and-emerald-lake/

  • Maurice Gaucher Nov 15, 2012, 2:46 pm

    Today’s Calgary Herald has two separate articles that extol the value of exercise. One reports a 50% decline in Alberta’s coronary artery bypass surgeries per capita between 2003 – 2010. ” Albertans are doing better in terms of diet, and exercise – – ” said the lead author of the study. The 2nd article focused on “working out will boost your quality of life – physically, mentally, and socially”. The Alberta government should be promoting healthy outdoor recreation by maintaining adequate parks funding even in the face of deficits. Winter activities such as xc-skiing, snowshoeing, etc. should be actively promoted as both recreation that keeps health care costs down, and tourism that helps local businesses survive the winter. This is especially true when the very small cost of doing so is considered ( see Skier Bob’s comments above). The idea of increasing taxes via user fees to offset budget cuts to parks is totally counterproductive to the above objectives. This is especially so when it has been estimated that the cost of implementation and enforcement could be $100,000 per year. Is additional bureaucracy what you want your user fees/taxes to go to?? I would rather pay my taxes to maintain our current modest Parks budget with no additional administrative costs.

  • Skier Bob Nov 14, 2012, 6:29 pm

    Excellent comments on here, with good points being made on both sides of the argument. At first, I thought I’d be willing to pay a reasonable fee for the excellent skiing we have in Kananaskis, but let’s put some things in perspective: I’ve heard from a reliable source that it costs around $200,000 a year to operate the trail grooming in PLPP. The Alberta government threw away $113,687 on unused hotel rooms at the London Olympics. The $200,000 budget is not even a blip compared to the money wasted by irresponsible government.

  • R. F. (Dick) Wilson Nov 14, 2012, 10:16 am

    The Alta government is looking under every rock and crevice for money to solve the debt problem and who can argue about that. This, of course, does fly in the face of the galling sense of entitlement demonstrated by the MLA’s in unreasonably fattening their pension benefits but that is another story.

    From a hard nosed accounting point of view, it is difficult to imagine a fee collection scheme that would not consume a high percentage of any reasonable user fee. This alone should settle the discussion.

  • Bruce Johnson Nov 14, 2012, 9:06 am

    I would happily pay a park user fee similar to the fee charged by the National Parks as I use the provincial area on a more regular basis. With the present provincial government we are not going to see any increased spending, only cuts.

  • Paul M Nov 13, 2012, 5:42 pm

    If an ‘apples to apples’ comparison is preferred – Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park (both near Thunder Bay) have groomed XC trails and have a $5/day user fee. Going to the beach on the same peninsula (Lake Marie Louise) also incurs a fee in the summer.

    CNC is also a Provincial Park that recently received $27MM of tax dollars for upgrades for all Albertans – why is it odd to expect to pay fees at one groomed XC center (in a park) and not another? Because it was free in the past?

    COP also receives tax dollars to subsidize operations – doesn’t appear to be too much chatter about $19/2 km of trail (although about 3/4 of that fee is to valiantly make snow).

    Tax dollars are being spent on recreation – far more bang for the buck for government to spend on facilities close to major centers – not a 90+ min drive away. XC remains a fringe sport with significant infrastructure costs – if users want grooming in the middle of the wilderness, shouldn’t expect the government to put those needs above degrading road, water and sewer infrastructure (or the ability to build an ice rink and have it jammed from 5am to 12am every day).

    Parks are like gym and art in schools – first to go. Fire up the bake sales to save the groomer

  • Mikhail Kudienko Nov 13, 2012, 4:24 pm

    I totally support the user fees for K-Country.
    Alf, Lyle and Lynda pointed out the reasons very well.
    The big question is how much that is going to be and how to enforce the payments.
    I would think paying 60-70% of what Parks Canada charge for the passes is fair. And of course there should be an option for low-income people as well as day passes.

    It would be interesting to know how other places in the world operating the free x-c ski trails.
    For example Finland has much more developed x-c ski trail system where you ski for free between towns and villages for miles on perfectly groomed trails.
    But I don’t know how that financed and who is paying for it.

  • Gillean Daffern Nov 13, 2012, 3:42 pm

    Hold on! The ski areas that are being mentioned are all privately owned and operated. (Good to hear from you Lyle!) PLPP, Ribbon Creek and Mt. Shark are government owned and kept going through our tax base. I believe people are upset, NOT because they can’t afford a yearly pass, but because this government has drastically cut back on funding for parks, apparently not seeing the health benefits for Albertans.

  • Judy Nov 13, 2012, 3:27 pm

    I totally support user fees of some sort if it means continued grooming of the trails at Ribbbon Creek, PLPP and Mt Shark. Alberta is one of the only places in the world that has access to professionally groomed trails for free. We are so lucky to be able to ski on great trails in the Canadian Rockies.

  • Paul M Nov 13, 2012, 2:40 pm

    A $40 – 60 annual vehicle pass for K-Country (assuming the money stays in K-Country) is more than reasonable to maintain such a phenomenal outdoor recreation asset. Would also be a good barometer of how much true interest there is in outdoor recreation

    The CNC, PLPP and other maintained trail systems in Alberta are incredible value – no where else in the world will you find such high quality, well maintained and diverse trail systems as you will here. And they’re nearly free. Given you need to drive to the trailheads, mountain sports already economically isolate a given portion of the population. Claiming poverty on a K-Country vehicle pass is preposterous. An annual $40 – $60 to support K-Country trail clearing, grooming, maintenance, power, etc. is a screaming deal.

    Get some perspective – go online and check out Hardwood Hills XC – $21.50/day (Barrie , ON), Kamview Nordic – $13 – 18/day (Thunder Bay, ON), Whistler Olympic Park – $22/day (Callaghan Valley), Silver Star – $21/day (Vernon, BC).

    Albertans are complaining at $10/day at CNC for the top nordic center in the world?

  • Tom Nov 13, 2012, 12:48 pm

    I am opposed to user fees. The cost to groom the trails is very small in comparison to what this gov’t wastes on exotic trips;increased salary,pension,severance benefits;bloated expense accounts; etc, etc, Maybe us lowly citizens/ taxpayers deserve a benefit once in a while.

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