Friday, February 25, 2011

Mountain Town News


Doctor challenges ban at Jackson on uphilling

JACKSON, Wyo.—Both outrage and a few smiles have been evident in Jackson Hole since 78-year-old Roland Fleck was arrested after refusing to stop skiing up the slopes of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Ski patrollers said they tried for three and a half hours to persuade him to stop skiing uphill and instead go with the flow on Feb. 5. They even offered to give him a free lift ticket.

But Fleck, a physician, defiantly told them he was skiing to his granddaughter's ski race on the mountain and then told them to "just give me a ticket."

At length, they did more, detaining him with two sets of handcuffs and then hauling him down the mountain in a toboggan. He was in jail for more than seven hours.

"I thought Aspen was crazy, but it sounds like Jackson Hole has its claim to the same," wrote Ward Hauenstein, of Aspen, in a letter published the following week in the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Jackson Hole, wrote a local in the same paper, "markets itself as a big-mountain, extreme, helmet-cam ready destination resort. Now they have declared hiking up a cat track on skins a hazard that cannot be tolerated under any circumstances."

At resorts across the West, the issue of "uphilling" has become an occasional thorn in recent decades, as people have increasingly taken to the slopes to improve cardiovascular conditioning. But while resorts mostly operate on public land, they have special-use permits that allow them to place restrictions on use.

Earlier this winter, Montana's Whitefish Mountain Resort annoyed many locals when it announced that people heading uphill, using skins on skis or snowshoes, would have to hew to a restricted route.

Ray Spencer, winter sports administrator for the Forest Service, told the newspaper that circumstances at different ski areas require different policies. While Colorado's Buttermilk ski area has hundreds of people skiing or snowshoeing up its slopes each day, Jackson Hole is different in that significant avalanche work occurs almost daily.

Perhaps a middle perspective was provided to the paper by Jim McCarthy, a retired liability attorney, formerly of Jackson and now of Ridgway, Colo. While the resort probably fears liability, he said, Jackson Hole is "probably missing the boat on setting up an uphill travel corridor."

The News&Guide seemed to tip its editorial hat at both Fleck's obvious stubbornness, calling him "mulish," but also at the nature of the dispute, which only in a ski town could be understood as important. "Free Fleck," the editorial said.

A flurry of mansion sales in Aspen area

ASPEN, Colo.—The Aspen Times reports a recent run on very expensive houses. Five homes with sales prices of between $13.75 million and $20 million have been sold since late December, with contracts out on two more.

The message seems to be that high-end buyers who had been sitting on the sidelines have decided that prices have hit bottom.

"People have been hesitant to pull the trigger. Now that's changing," said Brian Hazen, vice president at Mason Morse Real Estate.

In some cases, those sitting on the sidelines were well rewarded for their hesitancy. A home that sold for $16 million in the recent flurry had originally been listed for $32 million.

There are still 49 homes listed at $10 million and more in the Aspen area.

Ouray officials split on more wilderness

OURAY, Colo.—Ouray County commissioners are presenting less than a united front in support of enlarging a designated wilderness in the San Juan Mountains.

The Telluride Watch reports that one of the three commissioners dissented at a recent forum, arguing that wilderness will handcuff potential mining for rare-earth minerals and development of small hydro projects.

The commissioner, Mike Fidel, who worked at one of the local mines for some years, said he was very uncomfortable relying on a single industry—tourism—for the local economy.

"I'm afraid we're going to lock everything up," he said.

But Commissioner Lynn Padgett, a geologist, said rare-earth minerals are actually not all that rare. What is rare, she added, is the alpine tundra and water-filtering ecosystem found in the proposed wilderness addition, located on the north slope of the Sneffels Range between Telluride and Ridgway.

"Mining has always been boom-and-bust," she said. "Tourism has sustained us and will continue to sustain us."

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