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DENVER (AP) — Jim Horkovich was skiing at Copper Mountain Ski Resort last year when he was turned away from a short lift line marked by a yellow flag. The line, it turned out, was reserved for skiers who paid extra or had a lodging package with the resort.

Horkovich called the Forest Service to complain, saying the special program denied skiers equal access to federal land leased by the Intrawest Corp.-owned resort.

He has been fighting the program ever since.

"It makes me very angry because I feel like Intrawest is giving away access to land that you and I own for a price that the general public cannot afford," said Horkovich, who owns a condominium at the resort.

Horkovich isn't alone. Representatives of the White River National Forest and the Forest Service's regional office recommended against the program because they said it did not serve a clearly defined public need.

They were overruled by Dave Holland, the agency official in Washington who oversees recreation. The Beeline Advantage program will be in place again this winter.

"It's not the Forest Service's place to regulate pricing and daily decisions the resort makes," Holland said. "It is our responsibility to see that everybody has an equal opportunity to enjoy that public land."

Copper spokesman Ben Friedland said the program does not cater to the rich. "We're trying to offer products that span the range of all our customers," he said.

The program is a rarity in the United States, where ski resorts have generally not played favorites. Ski school class students and ski patrollers often get priority at ski lifts, but few others do.

The concept could catch on at other resorts, said Geraldine Link, public policy director of the National Ski Areas Association.

"I think it's cutting edge, to be honest with you," she said. "I think other resorts will follow suit."

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Established two years ago as a pilot project, the Beeline program is marketed primarily through lodging and skiing packages at Copper Mountain, about 75 miles west of Denver.

Those who enroll gain access to special, shorter lift lines and are allowed on the slopes 15 minutes before other skiers.

The passes are included in lodging package prices for guests at Copper Mountain lodges.

Officials at the White River National Forest, where Copper is based, wrote a scathing evaluation of the program earlier this year, denying the resort's request to continue the program.

"The Beeline Advantage program was operated, managed and marketed to effectively exclude members of the public from participating while at the same time providing a select group with special access privileges to public lands," the report concluded.

Kenneth Karkula, acting director of recreation for the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain office, said he agreed with the recommendation and forwarded it to Holland.

Some skiers and landowners, such as Horkovich, say the program discriminates against those who cannot afford the pass. They have complained about the program to the Forest Service and to Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., whose district includes the mountain.

Horkovich also noted that Beeline members have earlier access to the mountain. "That means only Beeline skiers get to cut fresh powder," he said.

Udall has asked the Forest Service to explain how the program complies with an agency policy of equal access to federal land.

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