Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mountain town news


It was the best of times, and the worst of times

DENVER, Colo. -- Snow is so good and deep in British Columbia that Whistler-Blackcomb has already announced an extended ski season, to May 28.

In Colorado, two small ski areas—Cooper and Monarch—announced they are closing early. Others are sticking it out, but like a teenager with acne, trying desperately to cover their blemishes. Vail had huge swaths of dirt even high on the mountain, and crews were moving snow from forested areas to cover the ski runs. Steamboat had closed 20 percent of its trails. These are surely not alone.

A strange winter keeps getting stranger.

Fire is on many people's minds. West of Denver, embers from a prescribed fire were whipped by strong winds into tinder-dry forests, yielding a wildfire that killed two people.

Near Crested Butte, at the hamlet of Gothic, scientists reported one temperature that was 12 degrees higher than ever recorded for that date, according to the Crested Butte News. Another record was also within sight: the least amount of precipitation ever in March.

It's feast or famine. Whistler-Blackcomb received 135 inches of snow during March alone, Crested Butte hasn't surpassed 200 inches for the winter.

Last year, an already healthy winter motored through April and then May. At Steamboat Springs, the Yampa River didn't see a peak runoff until July. This year, the peak seems to have already occurred, water officials tell the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

Of course, winter could conceivably return. Or this could be like 2002, the extraordinary drought year to which this one so far has strong parallels. That year, three huge fires erupted in Colorado during June.

Moving forward on climate change

ASPEN, Colo. -- Aspen and Pitkin County continue to debate how to be most effective in steering the politics of climate change.

Pitkin County commissioners last week unanimously endorsed a resolution that pledges the county to look at land-use policies that reduce energy consumption, development sprawl and travel by car. The Aspen Daily News reports that the resolution also pledges the county to favor development of renewable energy sources.

But in the sticky issue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the commissioners are not yet ready to take a stand. The Aspen Skiing Co. has been pushing the local chamber to withdraw from the national group because of the national group's resistance to policies that would harm fossil fuel interests. The ski company alleges that the national group gets much of its money anonymously from oil and other groups that are covertly fighting climate-change policies.

This is mostly an issue of symbolism. The local chamber pays only $800 to the national group, but local chamber members have so far agreed they wish to lobby for changes while remaining in the national organization.

Aspen Skiing Co. representatives argue that in quitting the national chamber, Aspen can draw national attention to the position of the U.S. Chamber in regards to climate change. The skiing company has been lobbying members of the local chamber to see things in that light.

A minority of county commissioners agrees with the skiing company, but the majority isn't ready to call on the local chamber to quit the national group.

Jackson Hole sets sights on more foreign visitors

JACKSON, Wyo. -- Like many other mountain communities, Jackson Hole is looking to expand its appeal to the world's wealthiest residents.

With a $44,000 grant from new lodging tax proceeds, local chamber delegates plan to visit large international trade shows in Berlin and London this fall. Also, airport officials are seeking to improve airline connections so that Jackson Hole is only "one stop away" from any airport in the world, according to Mike Gierau, president of the Jackson Hole Air Improvement Resource.


In 2011, according to the U.S. Commerce Department, the number of international visitors visiting the United States increased by 2.4 million.

In other news reported by the Jackson Hole News&Guide, Teton County was named one of only seven destinations in the world selected for the Sustainable Tourism Destination Early Adopters Program. If the county pays $30,000, it will be evaluated by United Nations-affiliated group for its efforts to conserve resources and reduce pollution.

With an increasing number of travelers selecting their destinations based on sustainable practices, being a part of this group could be a boon for the valley, says Tim O'Donoghue, executive director of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.

Unsaid, at least in the published version, is a risk: What if Jackson Hole aims to be designated a model for tourism sustainability, but the evaluation by the international organization reveals green flaws? After all, while the valley has remarkable scenery, much of its built environment isn't much different than a suburb of Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Jackson has also directed some of its new lodging tax dollars in another direction. The community allocated some hotel rooms and $70,000 in lodging-tax proceeds to help underwrite filing of a so-called reality TV show called "Modern Family." Some in Jackson Hole question the expense. While the TV show may have an audience, it's unlikely to attract anyone with values aligned with those of people in the outdoors environment-anchored valley.

Jasper mayor to visit China

JASPER, Alberta. -- Richard Ireland, mayor of the resort community of Jasper, is to visit China this month to help promote Jasper as a destination resort. The trip is costing Jasper $74,000, the Fitzhugh newspaper reports.

Beacon not enough to save San Juan skier

OPHIR, Colo. -- This winter's avalanche toll on Friday reached 30 in the United States when an avalanche, described by The Telluride Watch as massive, killed a skier in Paradise Basin, near Ophir Pass.

The 34-year-old victim was from Crested Butte. Though he was wearing a beacon, conditions were so treacherous that his three companions were unable to reach him for 45 minutes. Studies have shown that an avalanche victim has only a 30 percent chance of survival when buried for 35 minutes or more.

In Telluride, speakers at a forum warned about getting too complacent about the dangers of avalanches just because the snow is firming up into corn, reports the Telluride Daily Planet.

"We've had fatalities in April before," said Ian Havlick, a guide for Helitrax, a helicopter skiing company. "Just because February is the biggest month for avalanches and it kind of tapers off, [the danger is] not to be ignored."

He and others noted many wet-slide avalanches.

Elsewhere in Colorado, a 27-year-old backcountry skier died on Buffalo Mountain near Frisco after falling nearly 1,500 feet in a couloir and hitting rocks.

Real estate resurgence is a story of highs, lows

VAIL, Colo. -- Real estate through February was sold in the Vail area at the greatest volume since 2008, before the recession hit it and other destination resort communities in the West.

Dollar volume for the two months was $197 million. That compares with $331 million in 2008, reports Land Title Guarantee Co. Nearly a quarter of sales volume occurred at the valley's high end, in Vail Village. One sale, in the new Solaris project, was for $2,218 per square foot.

In the lower valley, in the Eagle and Gypsum communities, there's also considerable activity, but more of it is due to bank sales.

In Aspen's down-valley communities, sales activity occurred at a furious pace. But, reports the Aspen Times, much of this breathless pace was spurred by foreclosures and short sales.

Prices are down 30 to 40 percent in the Basalt and Carbondale areas, but the newspaper reports a sense among real estate agents that the tide has now turned in Basalt, which is a little closer to Aspen but not quite in Carbondale.

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