Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mountain Town News


By ALLEN BEST - MTN TOWN NEWS SERVICE

Ski route from Vail to Winter Park identified

While some people have been scratching their heads trying to figure out how to install a monorail or some other train up the Interstate 70 corridor, Jean Vives has been confronting another challenge: How to ski it.

Formerly of Aspen, where he was co-director of Aspen Alpine Guides, Vives now lives in Fraser, Colo., near Winter Park, and from that base has laid out a ski trip from Vail to Winter Park. He thinks it can be done in seven to 10 days, without once spending the night in a tent.

It goes like this: From Vail to a backcountry ski hut near Vail Pass, then Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone and Loveland Basin. Then to the Henderson Mine, and the final leg to Winter Park. Altogether, that's not quite 63 miles.

It sounds daunting, and it would take skill, Vives, 56, told the Middle Park Times. But there is only one spot where an ice ax and crampons might be handy. Otherwise, it's all just basic backcountry skiing.

Affordable housing ante upped in Utah

Like it or not, residents of Snyderville Basin, an area of higher-end real estate along Interstate 80 south of Park City, will henceforth be required to have affordable housing as 20 percent of all development approved.

The Park Record explains that the median home price of condominiums and townhouses in Park City and Snyderville is $465,000. By comparison, the average hourly wage as of two years ago was $9.

The newspaper reports considerable dissent about the new housing requirement. Kimberly Gabryszak, a county planner, responded that no housing-mitigation requirement is perfect.

A-students like Ski Area Report Card; others don't

Seven years since its inception, the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition continues to pass out grades, A through F, to resorts in the West. The report card seeks to assess the environmental performance of the ski area operator, addressing not only the skiing component but also base-area operations controlled by the company, including hotels, condos and restaurants.

Based on stories in various newspapers, ski areas which got A's tend to defend the report card. Those who flunk dismiss it as irrelevant or unfair.

Squaw Valley is among the A students. "Squaw has put a huge focus on the environment in the last 10 years," Squaw Valley spokesperson Savannah Cowley told the Sierra Sun.

Down the road, Northstar got a D this year—mostly because of what it plans to do. Ski area operator Booth Creek, working in conjunction with East West Partners, plans to develop 800 acres of land. It is also building a Ritz Carlton hotel along the ski slopes. As well, it recently completed a large amount of housing at the base.

"It's unfairly biased against any kind of growth, and there is no accountability," said Jessica VanPernis, a spokeswoman for Northstar.

California's Kirkwood, which got an F for the second straight year, similarly dismisses a criterion in the report card. "There is a very strong bias against growth," said David Likins, the chief executive officer.

In Colorado, there are other complaints about the report card. Copper Mountain got an F, partly because of projects approved, but not executed--and which may never happen, said Jan Schenk, the environmental program manager. She told the Summit Daily News that she also disagreed with the report card because so much, about 45 percent of weighting, depends on whether a ski area expands terrain or builds real estate.

A far more important issue, she says, is energy use.

"To me, global warming is the most pressing environmental issue," she said. Importantly, she said, Copper spent $150,000 this year doing a lighting retrofit, to use less energy.

A similar charge is leveled from Northstar. There, the base-area real-estate product was certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Program, the first mountain resort village to qualify for that distinction. It was at the base level, the lowest of four possible levels.

Squaw a few years ago was ranking low, but has more recently put into place geo-exchange systems, to reduce use of fossil fuels to heat buildings, among other initiatives. Pointedly, it has not done any expansions, either of real estate or terrain, for several years.

An extraordinary rescue of elk from edge of ice

Being on thin ice is an expression that applies to elk, as well as people, as a case from Pagosa Springs, Colo., east of Durango, illustrates.

On Dec. 15, the Colorado Division of Wildlife was informed that several elk were in a pond near Pagosa Springs. Wildlife officers surmised that the elk had seen open water in the middle of the pond. When they moved to the edge the ice broke under their weight. The animals weighed from 300 to 500 pounds each.

While it is not uncommon for elk and other large animals to break through ice during winter, what made this case uncommon was their rescue.

John Romero said the elk apparently had apparently been in the cold water for some time. Though panicked and struggling, they appeared to have enough energy to last awhile, he said.

A volunteer firefighter, Thad McKain, had helped rescue three dogs on ice, but had never been called on to save wildlife. In his arsenal were two special wetsuits.

Secured by ropes, the two men moved to the water's edge in the middle of the pond. There, they used an ax to break some ice, creating a narrow slot into which they hoped to guide the elk. One of the cow elk swam to Romero.

The cow, he said, seemed very calm. He roped the elk's neck while McKain tied a rope around the animal's legs, then the whole crew pulled her out of the water. She fell down in the snow and the rescuers threw a blanket over her.

The rescue went less smoothly with the other animals. A second cow was similarly retrieved, but once released she dashed back into the water, and had to be roped like a cowboy ropes a steer. The last cow elk was the most difficult, and fought against being brought to shore.

A spike bull failed to make it -- as did one of the first two cow elk, even after being released about 20 miles away. Too weak after the ordeal to get up, she was shot.

It's got nothing to do with Garibaldi

The Nordic events at the 2010 Winter Olympics are to be held at a venue called Whistler Olympic Park. Somebody immediately noted the acronym, which some think is a slur used to describe Italians and those of Italian descent. Just in case it is, says Pique newsmagazine, Olympic organizers expect the public not to take verbal or linguistic shortcuts, and instead spell it out: W.O.P.

Truckee hopes to stem loss of twinkling stars

In most places, people want to turn night into day. Not in Truckee, Calif., where the public has strongly resisted adding street lights. Such street lights as exist must be on poles of no more than 20 feet. As well, existing town standards require lights to be shielded, directing light down rather than up or out.

Still, the night sky is eroding. Eric Larusson told the Sierra Sun that a bumper sticker, "The Stars Shine Brighter in Truckee," is no longer apt. They shine less--because of the competing light from houses, businesses and other sources. He described a dark sky at night as a manifestation of quality of life, and is among those urging Truckee to further restrict outdoor lighting.

Vail has Hollywood in the flesh, but not silver screen

While there are no doubt a few Hollywood actors in Vail for the Christmas break, the Vail Daily notes that the town has lost a less direct link, with both of its movie theaters having ceased operation in the last several years. More recently, a Blockbuster video store has been replaced by a real estate office, leaving only the grocery store video rentals. A theater is scheduled for opening in 2009, as part of a major real estate complex called Solaris.

As celebrities hit Aspen, so do photographers

Celebrity photographers, called paparazzi, arrived in Aspen the week before Christmas, and with good cause. Model Heidi Klum was in town, says The Aspen Times.

The photographers were also causing scenes here and there. In one case, police were called. In another, they were thrown out of a restaurant. But one photographer said it's in his best interests to maintain a low profile, because that's how he gets his photographs.

Still, compared with Hollywood, Aspen is relatively low key. Klum recently shopped at a store called Boogie's without any photographers trailing her, and tabloid celebrities Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn have eaten at the restaurant of the same name without incident.




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