Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mountain Town News


A robust schedule in store at Mountainfilm

TELLURIDE, Colo.—Mountainfilm in Telluride, a four-day festival over Memorial Day weekend, has always sought to have an edge to it, an engagement with the broader world somewhat belied by the title or the setting. This year, however, the edge was painful.

One of the guests that organizers had hoped to honor was Tim Hetherington, the director and producer of a film about U.S. soldiers in a remote valley in Afghanistan. The film, "Restrepo," named after a soldier in the company killed in fighting, was screened at last year's session.

Hetherington himself was killed recently in Libya while trying to photograph fighting at Misurata.

"That there is one less person out there striving to tell the truth about some of the most difficult stories of our time is a loss for all of us," said David Holbrooke, festival director, on the website.

Too, Greg Mortenson seems to be absent from the lineup of guests. He had been a featured speaker several times at the festival, most recently last year.

Climate activist Bill McKibben of will return, as will Tim DeChristopher, who was convicted March by a federal jury of making false bids on natural gas leases in Utah, an act of monkey-wrenching that he described as an effort to bring attention to global warming. And there will be a focus on mountaintop mining in West Virginia, and dozens of other causes from across the planet.

Altogether, 60 films will be shown at this year's festival, among them the premiere of "Cold." In an interview with The Telluride Watch, Holbrooke described it as an "unbelievable mountaineering film."

Quintessential Colorado may soon be carved up

FRASER, Colo. -- The Byers Peak Ranch has one of the most iconic views in the West. As seen from Fraser, the 12,804-foot peak has a classic profile, and in the foreground is the meadow, velvety green in summer, the scene altogether constituting what one writer described as "quintessential Colorado."

Might another scene that has become quintessential Colorado soon appear? The Sky-Hi Daily News reports that developers propose 1,436 housing units and 350 short-term rental units on the 295-acre parcel, which they seek to annex into Fraser. And if Fraser refuses? A Grand County planner tells the newspaper that the land only has entitlement to 8 units under Colorado law.

The newspaper reports considerable statements of opposition at this still-early stage of review.

Which "old normal" will prevail in future?

ASPEN, Colo.—With everybody trying to get a grip on what constitutes the "new normal," the question lingers: could ski towns revert to the old normal? And, if so, which normal of old?

The old normal of the 15 or 20 years prior to the Great Recession was an economy crazed by real estate sales. Sales of condominiums in ski towns go back at least to the 1960s. But after changes in tax laws in 1987, the real estate economy picked up its pace, fueled by what now was obviously a mass delusion about ever-escalating prices.

Even in the old, old days, construction was part of the game. In the winter, people worked on the ski hill. And in summer, they ran backhoes or pounded nails.

But, eventually, construction continued year round. Building, selling, and then servicing houses overshadowed the pure tourism economy in Aspen, Vail and several other resorts. A 2004 study found that 41 percent of all jobs in Aspen and Pitkin County were related to real estate.

What does the future hold? Jim Weskott, Colorado's former state demographer, didn't exactly forecast the burst of the real estate bubble. But now that it has occurred, he doesn't foresee a resumption anytime soon. Instead, he sees tourism and a more pared appetite for vacation homes, reports The Aspen Times.

Mick Ireland, Aspen's mayor, disagrees. He says national tax policy could result in extended cuts for the wealthy or even an overhaul of the tax rate. And, in all cases, that means a further concentration of wealth in Aspen—and perhaps a return to the speculative real estate bubble.

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