Friday, December 25, 2009

Mountain Town News


Did newspaper cave to Vail Resorts?

FRISCO, Colo.—Undisputed in a well-publicized fray revolving around the Summit Daily News is that Vail Resorts was unhappy with what former reporter Bob Berwyn wrote in a Nov. 19 column. The question is whether the newspaper caved in to pressure from the company in firing Berwyn.

The story begins in October, when the Front Range of Colorado was hit by an extremely hard snowstorm. As Berwyn told the story, an industry PR person (not specifically identified with Vail Resorts) posed on the Weather Channel just west of Denver in the furious snowstorm, but made no mention that in Keystone and Breckenridge, on the other side of the Continental Divide, it was mild and dry. The two ski areas are owned by Vail Resorts.

However, elsewhere in the column he did mention Broomfield, a suburb of Boulder, Colo., that is headquarters for Vail Resorts.

Berwyn ended the column this way: "I sometimes wonder whether the ski industry wouldn't benefit more from being completely transparent about weather and snowfall with its customers, but when snow equals money, perhaps that's expecting too much."

This is a decades-old complaint, and it might well have blended in with all the others, except that Rob Katz, chief executive of Vail Resorts, called the newspaper to complain. And, says Berwyn, Vail Resorts threatened to remove its advertising, a contention disputed by the company.

What happened next is also disputed, and it might have been ignored—except that Susan Greene, a columnist for The Denver Post, wrote a column about the affair, calling the newspaper "spineless."

Berwyn told her he was instructed by the newspaper's publisher, Jim Morgan, to "grovel."

Not true, Morgan says.

"The Summit Daily News, at least so far as I know in my six-year tenure, has never terminated an employee over a column or a story—and never will. We have, in fact, many, many times defended our writers in the face of significant pressure."

In that column, he wrote that Berwyn's firing was due to "circumstances symptomatic of a pattern of behavior documented in reviews over the course of time ... That's what occurred here.

So, who's telling the full truth here? We don't know. There may be more to the story. But in no way does Vail Resorts look good, and the newspaper doesn't look much better.

Tahoe pillaging bear given a death sentence

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev.—Wildlife officials in Incline Village, on the north side of Lake Tahoe, continue to look for a 700-pound black bear that they say has caused $70,000 of destruction in the last three years.

The bear, reports the Sierra Sun, has become expert at breaking into garages in pursuit of food. Wildlife officials fear that someday a homeowner will walk into the garage, the bear will feel cornered and will attack the person.

The wildlife officials believe it's impossible to find a sanctuary for the bear, and so they believe their only recourse is to kill the animal. Not everybody agrees, notes the newspaper, even those whose quarters have been pillaged by the bruin.

Mexican bison transplant inspires hope in Banff

BANFF, Alberta—Wildlife officials in the Mexican state of Chihuahua recently transplanted 23 genetically pure bison from South Dakota. And if the Mexicans, with not the best of resources, can accomplish that, why can't the same be done in Banff National Park?

That was the question in Banff, where Parks Canada, the agency that administers the national park, had been considering a plan to reintroduce bison. It could be one of several reintroductions in North America, notes the Rocky Mountain Outlook. Other reintroduction efforts are underway in Iowa and Kansas.

Chihuahua had not had bison since the late 19th century, the same as for most of the rest of North America. The species once numbered in the millions. When explorer John C. Fremont returned from one of his trips to California in the 1840s, he described following buffalo trails through what is now Colorado's Summit County.

The herd, from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, is considered especially valuable, as the animals come from a genetically pure strain of bison, because they have not been bred with cattle. As such, they are free of brucellosis and tuberculosis.

Will los lobos yet romp in Four Corners region?

DURANGO, Colo.—Will the Mexican wolf someday resume loping in the canyons and mesas adjacent to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado? That was a distinct possibility some time ago, when reintroduction efforts began in 1998. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had expected 102 wolves to be living in New Mexico and Arizona by now, and only half that many do. However, the Durango Telegraph reports that the federal government has taken new steps that improve the odds that Mexican gray wolves will expand their populations and expand into other areas.

Canyon country folks tell T'ride to butt out

TELLURIDE, Colo.—Although an old mining town, Telluride has little to no deposits of uranium. West of Telluride about an hour, in the Paradox Valley, the story is very different.

There, on the road to Moab, Utah, itself a uranium boomtown in the 1950s, an energy company wants to build a uranium-processing mill. It has a conditional approval from the Montrose County commissioners.

Uranium hasn't necessarily treated residents of Naturita and Nucla, located west of Telluride, kindly. Many suffered lung cancer and other illnesses resulting from radioactive exposure. Still, in hearings before public officials, residents of the two towns expressed their support—and, notes the Telluride Daily Planet, essentially told Telluride residents who had showed up in opposition to "butt out." Unlike Telluride, they said, they need some good-paying jobs for a change.

Fresh snow starting to put butts in beds

ASPEN, Colo.—With the snows finally arriving, bookings in Aspen have been picking up. It's still not going to be a traditional Aspen Christmas, with nary a spare bed to be found. But lodging occupancy should surpass 80 percent during Christmas week, experts tell the Aspen Times.

A couple of months ago, 80 percent occupancy was "looking like a distant fantasy," said Bill Tomcich, the president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a reservations agency. He credited the uptick to lots of swell deals on lodging but also to that traditional marketing genius: snow.

Vail Resorts last week had less encouraging news. Advance bookings for the season at its five resorts were down 13 percent through November. However, sales of season passes were up 11 percent.


Telluride hopes to get attention of Euros

TELLURIDE, Colo.—Telluride ski area continues to see dividends ahead for its latest investment in the adventure component of the skiing market. Its Palmyra Peak and Revelation Bowl additions of recent years have plenty of outback, big-bowl skiing.

"While not all skiers can ski that terrain, they may aspire to ski it, and it has that sex appeal people like to see in adventure vacations," said Dave Riley, chief executive of Telluride Ski & Golf. "There's an old saying in the ski business, 'It takes about three years before people realize you've built a new lift.'" He predicts that Europeans and Australians will be flocking to Telluride once they recognize its new skiing dimensions.

Lot more shakin' to go on at Gunnison airport

GUNNISON, Colo.—Some residents of Gunnison are girding for another summer of disruption. Last year Boeing arrived to test a hybrid helicopter called the Osprey in the thin air of almost 8,000 feet. Another summer of testing is expected, with a payoff of $250,000 into the local economy, reports the Crested Butte News.

Not everybody is pleased. Don Janney spoke at a recent meeting, and he said testing of the aircraft was annoying. It was the vibration, not the noise.

"We are being shaken up and disturbed," Janney said.

Jackson talks about keeping downtown lit

JACKSON, Wyo.—Jackson continues to talk about what its famous downtown district should look like beyond the well-known gateways of antlers in the town square. What planning commissioners seem to agree upon is that they want a place that is more fully lived in, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

"Planning commissioners say they want to see buildings and businesses in town whose liveliness is indicated by lit rooms at night, and they want a community that fosters interaction between visitors and year-round residents."

This used to be called mixed-use development, though the phrase of late has been adulterated to mean pretty much whatever anybody wants it to mean.

But whatever you call it, not everybody in Jackson agrees with this drift of thinking. Save Historic Jackson Hole, an organization, contends that many of the ideas are not rooted in hard data.

Every couch being staked during Olympics weeks

WHISTLER, B.C.—With less than two months left, Olympic organizers are urging Whistler to get excited—and also provide some beds for volunteers. Organizers still want to secure places for 700 volunteers to say.

"Every bed, every pillow, every couch—we need everything we can get," said John Furlong, the chief executive of the 2010 Games to be held in Vancouver and Whistler.

But not all in Whistler are excited about having the Olympics. Among those writing a letter in Pique Newsmagazine recently was Grant Lamont, a municipal council member. He said that it is important that differing views be tolerated and respected. He indicated he believes that that it's possible to care a great deal about Whistler without supporting the Olympics.

"I have always been a big supporter of sport; it is the sport bureaucracy that I don't trust," he wrote.

Gas appliances need to be tweaked at 10,000 ft.

TELLURIDE, Colo.—Most human bodies can adapt to the thinner air of higher elevations, notes The Telluride Watch. Not so, many gas appliances.

The newspaper notes that the gas appliances are designed to function at sea level. Thus, at 8,000 to 10,000 feet, the elevation of most ski towns in Colorado, there is less air for combustion, which means natural gas or propane gets wasted

A company called Rocky Mountain Energy Conservation has offered to readjust the appliances, saving money and eliminating potential health hazards.

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