Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mountain Town News


Avalanche air bag saves rider

DILLON, Colo.—After virtually no snow, Colorado last week got dumped on. Naturally, the backcountry beckoned.

The Summit County News reports the case of a snowboarder who skirted death. The rider, a professional snowboarder, was caught in an avalanche on a slope near Loveland Pass. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center rated the avalanche a Class 2 on a scale of 5. Even this smaller-intensity avalanche produces many fatalities, according to Ben Slivka, of the local rescue group. A Class 5 means almost certain death.

Despite warnings of the considerable danger of avalanches that day, the professional snow rider set down the slope. What may have saved her was an air bag manufactured by Backcountry Access that inflated.

"I felt like it [or I] was riding a mattress down the stairs," said the rider, Meesh Hytner.

She also managed to keep her feet headed downhill and swam in the snow.

Slivka said the late snowpack has produced avalanches in areas that normally don't slide.

Heartburn as school layoffs soon to begin

VAIL, Colo.—The sharp falloff in the real-estate economy is taking its toll on schools in Vail and the Eagle Valley. The public school system has shed 100 jobs in the last two years as teachers have retired and not been replaced. Now, layoffs will begin and benefits cut as officials try to shave $5.5 million from next year's budget.

Some fingerpointing has been going on. One point of contention is that even as teaching staff has been reduced, the administrative staff has grown. So have salaries. The school district superintendent, who already had a salary of $184,000, accepted a $15,000 bonus last year, reports the Vail Daily.


Homebuilding spurts at Montana resort

WHITEFISH, Mont.—Strong evidence of a strengthening real-estate market is reported in Whitefish.

Citing a study by local real estate appraiser Jim Kelley, the Whitefish Pilot reports 43 building permits for single-family homes in Whitefish last year, more than double the number from the year before. That figure hasn't been surpassed since 2006.

Median home price sales have also increased, 7.3 percent within the town and 9.1 percent in rural areas.

Whistler makes it on short list for X Games

WHISTLER, B.C.—Whistler Blackcomb has made it to the short list of hosts for the expanded X Games in 2013-2015. ESPN intends to add six X events to the annual calendar, though it's yet to be decided whether two or three of those will be in winter.

Existing winter games are held at Aspen and in France.

Pique Newsmagazine explains that it costs $16 million to $18 million to put on the X Games, and Whistler hopes to pony up $5 million to sweeten its bid. That means support from local, provincial and federal governments, plus donations from the ski company and others. Sponsorships sales could go for $1 million.

Also on the list are three places in Brazil: Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Foz do Iguacu, plus Barcelona, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; and Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Why didn't wolverine cross the road?

LAKE LOUSIE, Alberta—The TransCanada Highway through Banff National Park now has six overpasses created specifically to allow safe passage by wildlife. But until last November, no wolverine had ever used one. They had used the smaller, more narrow underpasses. But not those with the more scenic views.

How do they know, and why does it matter?

Both overpasses and underpasses are monitored by cameras that record the passage of wildlife big enough to trigger them. More than 200,000 crossings of grizzly and black bears, elk and other animals have been recorded.

It matters because, according to conservation biologists, wildlife species—like humans—fare best when they can roam a bit. Too much isolation weakens the genetic pool and makes those isolated populations more vulnerable to disease. Think of an inter-related family in a small town.

But the overpasses have been around for more than a decade. Why did it take so long for a wolverine to use it?

"We don't know a lot about wolverines, but we do know there's a learning curve, which we've seen for grizzly bears and black bears as well," explains Tony Clevenger, a wildlife research biologist with the Western Transportation Institute. He notes that half of the 10 documented crossings—all but one in underpasses—have occurred in the last two years.

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