Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mountain Town News


Olympics broke even, or maybe not

WHISTLER, B.C. -- Organizers of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games say the games broke even. Critics, however, see smoke screening the true bookkeeping.

John Furlong, former chief executive of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, the sponsoring agency, reported that the Olympics cost $1.9 billion to put on. About a third of that was invested directly in creating venues.

That figure left out plenty of investments that may have been needed anyway but were specifically justified by the Olympics. For example, three- and four-laning the Sea to Sky Highway, between Vancouver and Whistler, cost $600 million. The new Vancouver Convention Centre cost $883 million. And the Canada Line, a new electric train in Vancouver, cost $2 billion.

And then security cost $854 million, most of which was picked up by Canada's federal government. Other costs were picked up by the provincial government in British Columbia.

"I don't know which kind of math they used to break even, but I know it involved a large number of unexpected subsidies," said David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Eby told Whistler's Pique Newsmagazine that the organizing committee was exempt from Freedom of Information rules that normally govern federal and provincial affairs.

Olympic organizers had expected to make money from the games, but the economic recession dashed cold water on that notion.

But then, PricewaterhouseCoopers, which conducted the economic impact studies, estimates the Games resulted in $500 million in additional tourism—with more to come in additional years.

"Canada's tourism brand is now No.1 in the world," Furlong said.


Madoff mess continues in flurry of lawsuits

ASPEN, Colo. -- At least four Aspen-area clients of disgraced money manager Bernard Madoff have sued the Securities and Exchange Commission, claiming the agency should have recognized "any of the smoking guns provided by credible third parties and industry experts."

The four people collectively seek more than $47 million in damages. The Aspen Times notes that a U.S. Bankruptcy Court filing in 2009 revealed at least 30 people in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley who had lost money to Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Meanwhile, federal bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard has sued six people in the Aspen area—including several who are suing the SEC. He claims that these took more money from Madoff's funds than they invested—and hence need to fork over money to pay the true victims.

In Vail, meanwhile, an auction of Madoff's fine art, jewelry and other valuables was held at a hotel before Christmas. Real Vail, a website news agency, reported that the auction was to include paintings by Henry Matisse, Norman Rockwell, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Peter Max.

Ski instructor annoys Aspen Skiing Co.

ASPEN, Colo. -- Is the Aspen Skiing Co. a benevolent and quietly malicious monopolist when it comes to ski instructors? Arguments have been waged both ways in Aspen since a ski instructor named Lee Mulcahy leveled charges that the company was a corporate bum for paying its instructors $69 per day for lessons for which it charges $625 per day.

Mulcahy has now created an organization called People for a Living Wage.

"Corporations rarely enjoy transparency. Skico (the Aspen shorthand for the Aspen Skiing Co.) is no different," Mulcahy wrote in his Dec. 15 letter published in local newspapers.

The Aspen Times reports a flurry of letters in response, including one from the ski company, which seems to object as much to what Mulcahy failed to mention as to what he did say.

Jim Laing, vice president of human resources, said Mulcahy focused on the lowest of 396 pay grades for the 1,200 ski instructors, and those making $69 per day are less than two-tenths of 1 percent, he said. Laing also said that Mulcahy's presentation fails to acknowledge the entire compensation package.

"We know we have the best package in the industry," he said.

Ski instructors have no union, though an effort was made to unionize in 1993.

In a filing with the National Labor Relations Board, Mulcahy claims that the company retaliated to his public letters and communications with other ski instructors by picking him out of an illustrious club of upper-level ski pros and by trying to muzzle him.

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