Mountain Town News: A really strange and rainy winter in Telluride (column) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: A really strange and rainy winter in Telluride (column)

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

TELLURIDE, Colo. – People were scratching their heads in Telluride on Monday. And some were rubbing their banged-up knees.

The town sits at 8,750 feet in elevation. That's high enough to be cold. But the front end of the pineapple express that deluged California resorts over the weekend was delivering rain to Telluride, at least the town.

Greg Clifton, the town manager, has a corner office in one of the town's old red-bricked Victorian buildings. Looking out his window Monday, he reported he could see the snow line, which began 300 to 400 feet above the town on the ski mountain.

But in town, it was rain. "It's the third anomaly we've had this year in terms of rainy weather," he said. "This is incredible. There are puddles all over."

Rain falling on snow can also produce slippery conditions. As the temperature slides to freezing, rain can turn to ice and create havoc. Even before Monday's rain, there had been plenty of falls on the sidewalks and streets. Not much of Telluride is on anything called flat.

"It's been a really strange winter," said Clifton.

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Elsewhere in Colorado, that same observation was made in Minturn, around the corner from Vail. "We shoveled the roofs at my mom and dad's house during a rainstorm," reported Jim Gonzales on a Facebook posting.

"This is the craziest winter ever — rain in January, warm December, then below zero last Saturday and now rain today," said Gonzales, a resident of the town for 63 years.

Rainfall level rising in the Sierra Nevada

RENO, Nev. – The Pineapple Express delivered torrenntial rain and flooding last weekend. Such storms have hit the Sierra Nevada roughly once every decade. The last one was in 2005 and the big storm year before that was in 1997.

The drenching was expected to be followed this week by heavy, heavy snow: four to eight feet above 7,000 feet, according to the Sierra Sun, and two to five feet possible at Lake Tahoe, which is a little over 6,000 feet.

But is more precipitation falling as rain as compared to snow?

Last year about this time, the Reno Gazette-Journal explored that question and concluded: Yes. After consulting with scientists, it pointed to something called the "mean freezing level." That's the elevation where the air temperature reaches the freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit so snow can form.

Records from the North American Freezing Level Tracker for 1980 to 2010 show that the 10-year average level at Lake Tahoe from December through March rose from 7,500 feet to 8,000 feet..

"It has been creeping up, and it has been doing so for close to 25 or 30 years now," said Kelly Redmond, a professor of climatology at Desert Research Institute in Reno.

Making a dent in housing at hub of Sierra resorts

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Truckee is not a ski town in the same way that an Aspen, a Vail or a Ketchum is. You have to drive several miles to get to a ski lift. But within a few miles are Northwood, Squaw, and Alpine Meadows, among others, most of which have been rapidly expanding in the 21st century under the ownership of Colorado-based ski companies.

Can Truckee provide lower-cost housing for all these surrounding ski areas and their associated real estate projects? That's been the increasing challenge for Truckee, identified by its long-time manager, Tony Lashbrook.

Lashbrook arrived at Truckee in 1993 just after it had incorporated. Located along I-80, it's about a half-hour from Reno and a similar distance from Lake Tahoe. He was first community planning director but later became town manager, a position he has announced he intends to relinquish in July.

But before he retires, Lashbrook wants to make a dent in the housing situation. In an interview with the Sierra Sun, he pointed to a recent housing-needs study for Truckee and North Lake Tahoe that identified demand for 12,000 new units during the next 20 years to support employment growth. Truckee's current plan envisions no more than 6,000 units in Truckee itself, and only a small portion of them obligated to be affordable to lower-income workers.

"That's obviously not enough," he told the Sun. "What we need to start doing is figuring out how to get a higher percentage of the units we're building to be maybe affordable by design, to locals." That, he added, would mean smaller, higher-density units.

Truckee's birth was as a railroad stop. It began growing rapidly in the 1970s as a resort community. The large-lot homes were built for the second-home and weekend crowd. San Francisco is about two hours away.

Under Lashbrook's direction, Truckee has become more engaged in decisions made in surrounding resorts. Last year, for example, he weighed in on the proposal by the Village at Squaw Valley to significantly expand. The resort is owned by Colorado-based KSL Capital Partners.

"I think government can do some stuff, but there's got to be a shift in the private sector thinking, too. It's got to be part of our business model. That's why the regional housing discussion is important."

Microapartments proposed in Steamboat Springs

STEASMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – A new development proposal has emerged in Steamboat Springs that tries to provide an answer for that community's growing demand for lower-cost housing.

The 104,000-square-foot building being proposed would include a first-floor parking area and eight incubator office spaces. Three additional floors would house 42 to 48 apartments of 450 to 500 square feet.

The Steamboat Today editorially endorses the project, noting also a recent community report that identified the need for 250 beds for seasonal workers and, altogether, 700 new units, all of this by 2020.

$20 an hour? Not enough for Whistler homebuyers

WHISTLER, B.C. – Property assessments in Whistler increased 20.27 percent in the year ending last June. This follows increases of 11.71 percent and 6 percent in prior years.

Most rapid were price increases in the lower echelons of the Whistler housing market, those properties priced $1.5 million and less, reports Pique Newsmagazine.

But as brisk as that rise was, it paled in comparison with some of those in the Vancouver area. There, assessments for single-family detached houses jumped 30 percent to 50 percent in value from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016. Condos and townhomes rose 15 to 30 percent.

In Whistler, the escalation at the lower end of the market puts home ownership beyond reach for many workers. "I just don't see any scenario going forward where the first-time homebuyer making $20 an hour is going to find real estate more affordable in the future," said Pat Kelly of Whistler Regal Estate Co. This, he added in an interview with Pique, makes the Whistler Housing Authority, a government agency overseeing development and management of resident-restricted housing, all the more essential.

Fat-tire race to debut in Jasper National Park

JASPER, Alberta – Frosty's Fat Bike Race Series debuted in Canada on Jan. 12 in Jasper National Park.

"A lot of cycling enthusiasts like myself never like putting their bikes away for winter, and I think a lot of people are starting to realize that riding on groomed snow is actually, in some ways, more fun than riding on dirt in the summer," said Randal Gibb, the race's creator.

Gibb's crew has organized several biker races since 2014, most of them in Utah. In Jasper, there was a downhill slalom race at the Marmot Basin ski area on Friday, and then a 50-kilometer course for advanced and intermediate riders on Saturday, reports the Jasper Fitzhugh.

Tourism Jasper expected about 540 participants, some from neighboring British Columbia but also the states. "We really want to build on the fat biking trend and make sure that Jasper is recognized as an international fat bike destination," said Myriam Bolduc, product development specialist with Tourism Jasper.

Out into the cold world with just your pajamas

BANFF, Alberta – Some 297 hotel guests, some without shoes or jackets and others still in pajamas, were forced to flee the historic 135-room Mount Royal Hotel in downtown Banff during a late-night fire in the latter days of December.

Ten rooms of the top floor were completely destroyed, but remaining rooms sustained smoke and water damage sufficient that the hotel will remain closed through summer, representatives of Brewster Travel Canada, the hotel owner, tell the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

The fire was blamed on a propane torch used in construction work on the hotel's roof. It ignited combustible material that smoldered for hours before growing into a fire with flames that reached 15 to 20 feet.

The Outlook talked with one couple from London, England, who were staying at the hotel. They fled without their wallets or passports even as flames streaked into the sky. "We didn't even get our socks on," said Carolyn Bryan, as she shivered on Banff Avenue at 9:30 a.m. later that morning. "We're not used to this temperature."

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