Mountain Town News: Roof caves in under weight of snow, ice (column) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: Roof caves in under weight of snow, ice (column)

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

JACKSON, Wyo. – Heavy ice and snow caused a roof over three businesses in downtown Jackson to buckle. At least 80 people were in the building when the roof began giving way, but none were hurt, as the buckling occurred slowly.

"It came down 3 feet," Mike Pacheco, owner of the Sears store, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. "We went outside and then it came down another 2 feet." The roof also covered two other businesses, a gymnastics center and a bowling alley.

Steve Haines, the town's chief building inspector, said that the configuration of the roof made it more vulnerable to ice buildup "Once it became ice like that, it just stayed put," he told the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

He also pointed to the building's age. It was constructed in the 1970s, before building codes required roofs that could support more weight. Jackson's building code now mandates new roofs that can withstand pressure of up to 75 pounds per square foot.

In Teton Village, at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the code requires 175 pounds. But mobile or modular homes may be built to withstand no more than 30 pounds per square foot.

"If you hear a pop or snap or something in the building, go outside, do a 360-degree look around," advised Rich Ochs, the Teton County emergency management coordinator. "Are you seeing walls buckling or cracks in the walls? That's stress on the structure."

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Snow turns to rain in

the middle of winter

ASPEN, Colo. – It rained again in Aspen recently, the kind of rain that Aspen might normally expect in late spring or fall. But it's deep winter, notes Mick Ireland, a former long-time elected official and journalist who has been in Aspen since the late 1970s.

"What once we disdained as 'Sierra Cement' suffered by the California resorts has become the Aspen norm," he writes in the Aspen Daily News. "Gone in recent years are the snowfalls produced by the clash of cold, dry air with warm moisture, the overnight dump followed by cold, dry, sunny powder days. Skis no longer float so well, shovels are too heavy to lift, snowstorms are followed by warm, cloudy and too-often rainy days."

None of this is "proof" of climate change or global warming any more than throwing a snowball on the floor of the U.S. Senate is "proof" to the contrary, Ireland adds, a reference to the antic of Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who rejects the conclusions of climate scientists about the human role in warming temperatures.

But the trend is clear: "In the past two years, I have had more running miles in shorts and T-shirt during the heart of winter than in the previous 35 years," Ireland writes. "One can hear the crunch of dense snow under foot everywhere."

Even in the absence of federal policy to address climate change, efforts to tamp down greenhouse gas emissions continue in mountain towns of the West.

In Colorado's Gunnison County, located across the Elk Range from Aspen, local officials are renewing focus on a dormant climate action plan. But the difficulties were apparent at a recent meeting covered by the Crested Butte News. While much of the environmental community remains steadfastly opposed to hydraulic fracturing, the technique used to create the bonanza of natural gas, a local official promoted it as preferable to using electricity to heat homes and businesses. "Using electricity for heat is the least efficient way to heat," said John Cattles, the director of facilities and grounds.

In Montana, a steering committee has been created to put some energy behind the local climate action plan with the hope of mirroring work already accomplished in Missoula, Helena, and other Montana cities.

The Whitefish school district is finalizing designs for a Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship that is to have a greenhouse to provide food. The building is to use solar and geothermal sources of energy in an effort to be zero-net, also called net-zero. In either case, the goal is to generate as much energy as is consumed. The $2.1 million cost is being paid through private donations.

For inspiration about the need to adopt new building technologies, local students need look no further than nearby Glacier National Park. "The glaciers are melting," Glacier deputy superintendent Eric Smith said at a recent forum covered by the Flathead Beacon.

Another avy death on day of moderate danger

ASPEN, Colo. – Again comes testimony that a slope with moderate danger can be a dangerous place indeed. The example this time comes from Maroon Bowl, which is adjacent to Aspen Highlands ski area.

The Aspen Times explains that three snowboarders were caught in an avalanche there on a north-facing, convex slope several hundred feet below the ridgeline. All three survived, but one of the three riders was turning blue before his companions reached him. He suffered a broken rib and a strained back and was pinned against a tree.

"Sear those characteristics into your brain so your spidery senses tingle and you reflexively avoid similar slopes," wrote Blasé Reardon, forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, in a posting on the agency's website.

The Times notes that both Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands had problems with snowslides, as temperatures stayed above freezing three nights in a row and climbed into the 40s and 50s during the day.

Moderate avalanche danger had also been the warning in the Flattops Wilderness Area, between Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs. Two men were riding snowbikes when caught in a slide that ran only 200 feet and was just 2 feet deep. One man died but the other was uninjured.

Snowbikes are off-road motorcycles with snowmobile-like tracks replacing the rear wheels and a ski in lieu of the front wheel. They have been growing rapidly in popularity, The Denver Post reports. This was the second death in an avalanche in Colorado by a snow-biker.

"It is a new challenge that we are going to have to spend some time on addressing," said Ethan Greene, the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. "Why people are being attracted to different places because of this new mode of transport?"

Holocaust-denier says music is another matter

JASPER, Alberta – Monika Schaefer plays the violin, and she applied last year for a municipal permit to play on local sidewalks in the townsite of Jasper for tips. The practice is called busking. She was rejected.

Screechy violin playing can be hard on the ears, of course, but her skill apparently wasn't in question. Her off-the-edge-of-the-world beliefs were. In a video, she had denied that the Holocaust occurred.

Appearing before local authorities last week, she made clear her wishes to be a street musician while rejecting what she calls the "thought police." According to the Jasper Fitzhugh, she said that "historical" thoughts should be considered separately from her musical aptitude. "These are irrelevant to busking," she said.

The Fitzhugh reports the comments of just one councillor, who called Schaefer's denial of the Holocaust "poison." "You present an interesting dilemma to me and the community on a bunch of different planes," Gilbert Wall told her. "There is a time, I think (when) you can't pick and choose how you want to be judged."

Jasper councilors also have to sort through the contention of some business owners that there's not enough room for both pedestrians and buskers during busy season. An added concern is that the musicians are drowning out the talks given by Parks Canada interpreters outside the post office.

Massive beast soon to greet Snowmass visitors

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – A massive beast larger than an African bull elephant of today, which can weigh over 15,000 pounds, will greet visitors to Snowmass Village by 2019.

The beast will be a replica of a mastodon whose bones were found nearby when a reservoir was being excavated in 2010-11.

The Aspen Daily News reports that the replica has been nicknamed Portaleu, because it was found near portable toilets at the paleontological excavation. The replica is also being fashioned based on the bones of one particular mastodon, of whom 85 percent of the animal's bones were found. The excavation turned up remains of more than 40 mastodons.

The replica will stand 13-feet tall at the neck. In contrast, a horse stands about 6-feet tall at the neck.

The paleontological site, called Snowmastodon, was described by scientists as the best site for mastodons in the world as well as the highest-elevation site in which they had ever been found: almost 9,000 feet. In addition to mastodons, mammoths were also found at the site along with several other extinct species from the last interglacial period, from about 150,000 to 50,000 years ago, when much of North America slipped back into the deep freeze.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science hired Rob Gaston, a paleontologist and artist, to create the replica skeleton. Because of the cost, the museum is paying only half but granting Gaston the right to build smaller replicas to sell, but only if they don't get used within 500 miles of Snowmass.

The replica mastodon will be placed at what is described as a "big public space" in Base Village, the real estate project now being completed at Snowmass Village. Snowmass Discovery, as the museum-type exhibit is being called, will open there in 2019.

Plains bison returned

to Banff National Park

BANFF, Alberta – Bison have returned to Banff National Park after an absence of 140 years, bringing tears of joys to the eyes of some local residents.

Sixteen animals — six bulls and 10 pregnant cows — were transplanted in late January into an enclosure 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Banff. In 2018, they will be allowed to begin spreading throughout the park and wherever else they may choose to go.

"We did something very wrong when we eliminated bison from the landscape, and now we are doing something very right, and that is deeply satisfying," said Harvey Locke, the author of "The Last of the Buffalo Return to the Wild."

One of the first superintendents of Banff National Park helped preserve the very last 86 plains bison left in existence in 1907. Those genetically pure animals were purchased by the Canadian government and relocated to Elk Island National Park near Edmonton. It is from that herd that these new bison have been relocated to Banff, the Rocky Mountain Outlook explains.

A captive herd of bison had existed in Banff, but they were woodland bison, not plains bison.

A plan for Banff National Park approved in 2010 outlined plans for the reintroduction. An added element was the Bison Treaty between the Canadian government and 20 First Nations, including those with historic ties to Banff. The treaty called for cooperation, renewal and restoration while recognizing the cultural significance of the bison to indigenous cultures.

Bill Hunt, the resource conservation manager for Parks Canada, said many people think of grizzlies, wolves and other large carnivores as keystone species. But a keystone species can be a prey of carnivores. The key criterion is the extent of ecological impact.

"What we are finding out about bison is that they have (a) similar role to play. They in effect modify and change the landscape they live in by their grazing and the way in which they dig holes or create hollows; all of it contributes to the food chain."

Want to see the bison on your visit to Banff this summer? Get out your backpack, and even then it will take two days of walking to get to the newbies.

Why so few porcupines?

Scientists want to know

PABLO, Mont. – Wildlife biologists for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which is headquartered near Flathead Lake, between Whitefish and Missoula, are asking for people to keep track of whatever porcupines they see. Fewer porcupines have been noticed in recent years, but nobody knows why.

"It's one of the great ecological mysteries," Germaine White, education specialist for the tribes, told the Flathead Beacon.

Dale Becker, the wildlife program manager, said people may have been killing porcupines, such as to prevent dogs from getting quilled. Another possibility is that abundant mountain lions are killing them. The big cats know how to flip over the porcupines to get at the soft underbelly. A third possibility is that an unknown disease has affected the population. But those are just guesses, Becker told the Beacon.

"A lot of research done 30 or 40 years ago was focused on eagles or rare animals," he said. "There's not a lot of historic data because porcupines are not very high on the interesting animal research totem pole."

Immigrant day honored

by brewery in Park City

PARK CITY, Utah – Some French fries stayed unfried last Thursday in Park City. Employees of multiple businesses participated in the national "Day Without Immigrants," which called for immigrants to stay home from work to show how important their contributions are to the U.S. economy.

Wasatch Brewery, for example had 15 employees stay away – and with the blessing of general manager Doug Lavasseur.

"Ninety percent of our kitchen staff are immigrants," he told The Park Record. "They are the backbone, I would say, of the restaurant. We deal with front-of-house and customer service, but they're the guys that are cranking out the food and putting out a really good product. We rely on them pretty heavily."

He added that the business and many employees have grown increasingly concerned about the rhetoric of the Trump administration.

Allen Best is a Denver-based writer. His column appears in the Sunday edition of the Summit Daily News.

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