Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mountain Town News


More summer activities, fewer expansions

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams painted a picture of the White River National Forest with broad strokes when he met with representatives of Colorado ski towns last month in Glenwood Springs. 

The forest contains 12 ski areas in Colorado, from Arapahoe Basin to Aspen, from Keystone to Sunlight, and is one of the most heavily used in the United States for recreation.

It also features a rare amount of urban life along the forest boundaries. Vail, for example, is nearly encircled by forest lands, with many homes abutting the forests, even designated wilderness. In Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, 79 percent of land is administered by the federal government, most of it by the U.S. Forest Service. Summit County is close behind at 78 percent.

The broad sweeps that Fitzwilliams pointed to involve forest management, ski area expansion and broader summer use of ski areas.

In the future, Fitzwilliams said, ski areas can expect to see more in-fill work and fewer large-scale terrain expansions.

“Back in the day, a 400-acre expansion was nothing. Now, it’s a pretty big thing,” he said.

In recent months, Fitzwilliams approved a 550-acre expansion at Breckenridge ski area, and a long-delayed 250-acre expansion at Snowmass is finally moving forward after a failed legal challenge posed by an opponent. Arapahoe Basin is also moving forward on planning for minor expansion. 

The larger story now unfolding is greater summer use of ski hills. Previous legislation, adopted by Congress in the 1980s, gave the Forest Service limited authority to allow activities beyond skiing and other sliding sports. Even mountain bike trails were somewhat questionable.

Legislation adopted by Congress last year, and signed into law by President Obama, gives the Forest Service permission to allow a far broader swath of activities. All ski areas that operate on federal land—nearly all of them in the West—have indicated plans for ziplines and other attractions that have little or nothing to do with snow. But the law also specifically prohibits water parks or other overtly amusement park-type activities.

But where do you draw the line? The three key criteria, said Fitzwilliams are:

( The activities must be directly connected to the outdoor world.

( The new activities must avoid what he called “kitsch.” “It’s poorly defined, I recognize that.”

( Messages at the new activities must inform visitors and users about natural resources.

If not necessarily the first out of the chute, perhaps the most closely watched will be Vail’s plan. Fitzwilliams has accepted the plan, meaning that the Forest Service generally agrees with the ideas, but will soon begin the process of public scoping, to see what a closer examination reveals.

More difficult is the potential for significant wildfires in national forests, particularly in areas close to settlements. In the early 1990s, there was significant opposition to any management that involved a chainsaw. That was true in Vail, and probably every other ski town. Now, as trees have died because of the bark beetle epidemic, there’s broader acceptance of management. But, from Fitzwilliams’ perspective, this is a problem that will take “decades and decades” to address.

Foresters are heartened by recent news that sawmills in Montrose, Colo., and Saratoga, Wyo., have or will soon be reopened, providing markets for trees. Also probable is a 11.5-megawatt electrical generating power plant at Gypsum. In addition, Fitzwilliams is intrigued by a process called biochar, which is being advocated by some renewable energy advocates as a way to sequester carbon. Some limited work is being done adjacent to the White River National Forest at Carbondale.

Whistler gas emissions drop ever so slightly.

WHISTLER, B.C.—In 2007, British Columbia adopted a climate action plan that led the province to adopt the first carbon tax in North America. Whistler’s government, for its part, has set out to become carbon neutral.

Pique Newsmagazine notes that the municipality has achieved that goal, though by the dubious strategy of buying carbon offsets. Also, it should be noted that the municipality is responsible for only 2 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the community.

But the community overall has fewer carbon emissions, owing to a project that captures methane from the former landfill and by switching from propane to natural gas, among other strategies.

British Columbia altogether has reduced its green house gas emissions 4.5 percent from 2007 to 2010 even as population has grown and gross domestic product increased.

The conclusion of the provincial report was that “a strong carbon pricing policy that is neutral can coexist with a growing economy.”

Fingers itch as hunters sight elk herd

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo.—Three Crested Butte men were charged with various offenses stemming from shooting into an elk herd across from a local golf course.
“When multiple animals are on the ground, it shows the hunters weren’t really paying attention to what they were shooting at,” said Joe Lewandowski, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.
“Sometimes people get pumped up when they see a bunch of animals, but these guys all seem to be experienced hunters. They aren’t rookies. But they were shooting toward houses and toward (a highway).”

How to get sidewalk scofflaws to shovel

MISSOULA, Mont.—Why build sidewalks if homeowners let them fill up with snow and ice during winter? That is the question asked by the city government in Missoula.
The current policy, reports the Missoulian, is to notify people who haven’t shoveled their walks. Three-quarters of people then get after it themselves. For scofflaws, the city then dispatches its own crews to scoop the snow, and then sends out a bill of at least $62. Some elected officials would like to tack on fines, to up the rate of compliance.

Ice Castle to rise in Steamboat area

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo.–An ice castle will soon start rising in the base area of Mount Werner, the iconic big mountain at Steamboat Springs.
Brent Christiansen and Ryan Davis, who have a company called Ice Castles, had a castle in Silverthorne last winter, although repeated days of warm, sunny weather didn’t exactly help.
This year, they hoped to have a castle at Breckenridge, 1,000 feet higher, but that didn’t pan out. Instead, Steamboat solicited the pair to create something interesting, to round out the guest experience, a representative of the Steamboat Ski Corp told Steamboat Today.

Real estate building picks up in Whitefish

WHITEFISH, Mont.—Like other resort communities, Whitefish is seeing an uptick in real estate sales and construction. The Whitefish Pilot reports 45 permits for new homes, compared to 33 for the same period last year and 14 during the depths of the depression.
Home prices are also rising, the median being $270,000 during the third quarter, a 7 percent gain from the same quarter last year. The market surge is attributed especially to visitors from Texas and Canada.

Banff biz up, and new flights may help more

BANFF, Alberta—Tourism in Banff and in Banff National Park rose last summer, although not to the banner year of 2007-2008. The number of guests visiting the park from April through September increased 2.3 percent compared to the previous year. 
With the ski areas from Lake Louise to Norquay now open or soon to open, winter tourism boosters also remain hopeful. Buoying their hope, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, is increased frequency of flights from Sydney, Australia, to Vancouver, and also flights from Tokyo to Calgary.

Utah companies move dispute to court room

PARK CITY, Utah—Two of the three ski area operators at Park City, Talisker and Park City Mountain Resort, have taken their legal sniping into court.
Talisker, which operates The Canyons, a ski resort down the road, owns the land under which Park City Mountain Resort, owned by the Powdr Corp., operates at least a portion of its ski area. Park City contends the leases were extended until 2015. Talisker says that Park City didn’t do it on time and hence could be booted from the property.
The disagreement has caused quite a stink in Park City. Talisker accuses its rival of using “scare tactics and spin,” according to a report in The Park Record. A lawyer for Park City Mountain Resort told the judge that the breach of contract by his company, if one occurred, was not significant.

Ski companies move dispute into court

WHISTLER, B.C.—With a proposal for three new backcountry huts helping frame the issue, Whistlerites recently debated the merits of expanded access to the backcountry.
Several speakers at a recent forum said no, that too many people disrespect what they have. One of the complaints is specifically against snowmobilers. One speaker mentioned that he used to see grizzly bear tracks at the Pemberton Ice Cap, but now finds abandoned snowmobiles, gas cans and belts, reports Pique Newsmagazine
But it’s not just the motorheads. Granola types have done some trashing of their own: Beer cans, food wrappers and bags of salt were noted in one sidecountry area adjacent to the Blackcomb ski area where skiers and riders build jumps.
“I feel that we’ve already given lots of access to the backcountry and people aren’t respecting that,” said veteran ski patroller Wayne Flann.
The flip argument is that providing more access, combined with “education,” will result in a greater appreciation for the specialness of the backcountry.

Just who is that nerd in the back row?

GYPSUM, Colo.—Teachers and students are accustomed to observers sitting in the classrooms of Eagle Valley High School, so many thought nothing of it when a middle-aged couple stopped by one day in October.
Having read the assigned essays about the Middle East, one student discussed the subject with the strangers for eight minutes. He didn’t recognize the man.
The student was floored when informed later that he had been discussing world affairs with Bill Gates. Gates and his wife, Melinda, visit one school per year. This year it was Eagle Valley, one of 13 school districts across Colorado to benefit from a $900,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The school is 37 miles down-valley from Vail.
The Vail Daily explains that the couple arrived at 8 a.m. and left just before the final bell, after finally identifying themselves through the school intercom to students and staff.
Save for school personnel and local police, who were sworn to secrecy, none had been informed of the visit. But word soon leaked out via Facebook postings and other devices.
The system funded by the Gates evaluates how well teachers are presenting curriculum and how well students are absorbing it, measured through data from standardized testing, explains the Vail Daily.

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