Friday, February 15, 2008

Mountain Town News


Telluride compromise to result in backup power

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- The news from Telluride is that a third power line may be strung—and dug—to serve the community. The story goes back about 10 years, and is of considerable importance to Telluridians, given how important electricity is to the tourist economy -- and how vulnerable existing lines are.

One existing line comes from the Durango area, loping across various passes in the San Juan Mountains. It is vulnerable, as was proven several years ago in March, when an avalanche knocked down poles, forcing brownouts during the peak of ski season. The other power line comes in from the west, but it is aging.

A new and taller power line was planned from the west, but landowners on the scenic mesas over which it would cross have resisted. Now, a compromise has been forged. As demanded by San Miguel County, the line will be buried as it crosses the scenic mesas, elevating the cost. The total cost of $16.4 million is to be absorbed among various users and beneficiaries, plus the electrical provider. However, many details are yet to be worked out, officials tell The Telluride Watch.

Wolf Creek agreement about new EIS reported

WOLF CREEK PASS, Colo. -- The Durango Herald reports that developers who want to build a base-village at the foot of the Wolf Creek ski area have agreed to resubmit a proposal to cross U.S. Forest Service land with an access road. Preparing a new EIS could take several years, the newspaper notes.

Opponents, who had filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service, had argued that the EIS issued by the Forest Service was inadequate in that it failed to disclose the full consequences of building the road.

Weak dollar converts into big foreign gain for Vail

VAIL, Colo. -- The sagging dollar has people from around the globe flocking to the United States this winter, with a 23 percent increase in international visitors at the five ski areas operated by Vail Resorts. In addition to the flagship resort, Vail Mountain, the company has three other ski areas in Colorado and one in California.

"Absolutely, the weak dollar, that's bringing people here," said Chris Jarnot, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. "In my 19 seasons in marketing, I've never seen anything like this."

For Vail, that's an economic boon, in that international visitors tend to stay longer, and spend more money, on such things as ski classes and restaurants.

Particularly notable is a new echelon of Russians paying top dollar for accommodations at Vail and Beaver Creek

This international influence is also felt in the high-end real estate market. About 13 percent of people who express interest in buying at the Four Seasons Residence Club are foreign, said Jeff Meier, senior director of sales and marketing. "Just recently, we've seen that Canadian buyers are starting to raise their hands."

Physicists wagering on the global thermometer

DURANGO, Colo. -- Most bets are spur-of-the-moment things, with outcomes decided in short order. Not so for a bet being discussed in Durango.

There, Roger Cohen issued a challenge, betting $5,000 that the globe's average temperature will be cooler in 2017 than in 2007. He has a doctorate in physics and retired five years ago from Exxon.

He has two possible takers: Paul Bendt, who also has a doctorate in physics, and who now works on energy efficiency testing for state agencies and utilities, and Bill Butler, a data-processing manager.

What all seem to agree on is that a one-year comparison, as Cohen originally proposed, is unsatisfactory. To get climate trends, not weather, they need longer-term comparisons -- such as between 1998-2007 and 2008-2017. Still to be negotiated is what authority will be used for the global measurements.

Visa hassles eliminate many potential tourists

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. -- U.S. ski areas would get many more foreign visitors if not for the paperwork, says Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the Travel Industry Association.

Dow told an audience at the Airline Partners Summit in Steamboat Springs that citizens of 27 counties do not give visas to travel to the United States. However, in some of those where visas are mandated, the trouble of getting one is enormous. For example, Brazil has just four cities with offices, and it can take several years. Travelers from India face several hurdles.

Further discouraging visits are the hassles faced at customs at U.S. airports.

Economist proposes I-70 congestion tolls

INTERSTATE 70, Colo. -- As a temporary fix for Interstate 70 west from Denver to the mountain resorts, Chris Romer, an economist and state senator in Colorado, proposed an old idea: congestion pricing. In other words, when the highway is very busy, mostly winter and summer weekends, tolls would be charged, in theory encouraging people to choose other times or ways to travel.

The idea bombed, to use the description of one Denver newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News -- or so it would seem. Certainly, the ski industry wasn't amused. "I give him credit for thinking outside the box," said Melanie Mills, the public affairs director for Colorado ski Country USA. "But we're not enamored of the idea of charging skiers for using an existing highway.

Romer also has a plan B: he wants to create a Wikipedia website, in which people can contribute ideas, and help him draft a bill to be introduced into the Legislature.

The normally unskiable getting skied this winter

ASPEN, Colo. -- The snow is so deep in Aspen this year that several people have skied Red Mountain, which is opposite the valley from the main ski mountain.

The sun-drenched slope, which is full of rocks and scrub oak, holds little snow most winters. This may have been the first winter anyone has skied it since 1983-84, reports The Aspen Times.

"It was fun," said one of the skiers, Neal Beidleman, who co-enlisted fellow adventurers Chris Davenport and Ted Mahon for the feat.

Beidleman summited Mt. Everest some years ago, while Davenport has skied from the summit of all of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks. With snow on it, Red Mountain isn't exactly in the same league.

"It's not a long ski. It wasn't hard. It's just novel," said Beidleman. "It's one of the bellwether events that shows how good the snow is."

Several new records have been set at Aspen's ski areas, and the storms continue to arrive into February almost without so much as a break for popcorn. City crews in Aspen, now deep into the overtime budget, are struggling to find places to dump the snow. However, down in the valley, at the town's water plant, 1957 still remains the year against which all others are measured.

Presidential wannabes and has-beens hang in ski towns

RED RIVER, N.M. -- It seems like you can't go to a ski town anymore without bumping into presidential types.

In New Mexico, news agencies reported that former president Bill Clinton was in Red River, a ski town of 500 people north of Taos, to watch the Super Bowl in the company of Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor and former presidential candidate.

The Clintons, both Bill and Hillary, also passed through Aspen frequently last summer, while Mitt Romney has been something of a regular in Park City. Of course, he owns a house there, one of three identified recently by the New York Times. He also has digs in Boston and a palatial-looking weekend escape in New Hampshire.

Story about Breckenridge was thin on one element

BRECKERNDIGE, Colo. -- The New York Times recently had a travel piece about Breckenridge, but one reader, Rudolph Pick, from Florida, thought the story incomplete. That belief is based on his personal experience.

"My first night was a horrible experience -- I could not breathe. First thing in the morning, I went to he first-aid station, where it was determined that the oxygen content of my blood was 70 percent only. The high altitude of the resort -- almost 10,000 feet -- as the cause.

"They immediately put me on oxygen and that helped. I was able to ski during the day, but at night, I had to use a rented oxygen cylinder."

Visitors from sea level, he advised, should first stay at an intermediate level, take pills, or both.

Canmore mayor: Tourism no longer full enchilada

CANMORE, Alberta -- Canmore's mayor, Ron Casey, in his annual speech, said it's time for Canmore to more fully realize that it's no longer a tourist town, in the traditional sense.

"We are not like Banff. We are different," he said. "Here, the tourists own the property."

He pointed to a recent economic development report that described tourism as the primary industry within Canmore. "Are we really a tourist town? Is that the major economic driver in the community, or is it recreational property, or quality of life."

Casey said that the distinction does matter. How Canmore sees itself will alter its plan for development and where that development should happen.

In his speech, Casey also alluded to tensions with the new part-timers, the second-home owners. Canmore, he noted, has not yet engaged second-home owners in local issues. Susan Barry, who represents the development community, said the town and its government must pay more than lip service into being an inclusive community.

Canmore seems to be looking at the experience of Jackson Hole in understanding its own situation, and perhaps what it should be doing.

Button from Custer's last stand now in Red Lodge

RED LODGE, Mont. -- The local historical museum in Red Lodge now has possession of a very expensive button. The button came from the Little Bighorn battlefield, where Custer and half of his soldiers met their ends one very hot, dusty day in 1876.

Among them was a 21-year-old second lieutenant, John J. Crittenden. Although the descendent of high-ranking soldiers -- his father was a major general for the Union in the Civil War, while an uncle was a general in the Confederacy -- he had flunked out of the military academy at West Point, but instead joined the infantry.

The button that was later found was of a type used for infantry officers, and since Crittenden was the only infantry soldier to die at that particular battle site -- all the others were members of the cavalry -- it is presumed the button came from him.

It came from a larger collection of Little Bighorn artifacts, all of which were sold except for the button. It has an estimated value of $3,000 to $5,000.

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