Around the Mountains: Storms both a joy and test of fortitude
February 15, 2008
PARK CITY, Utah – And on into February the blustery storms continued, a source of both frolicking joy for many who choose to live in mountain towns – if also more and more, with each new storm, a cause of growing weary to those who think that summer, not winter, is the best part of mountain life.In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the roads in and out of Silverton were closed last week for the third time this season. Only slightly less isolation was experienced in Wyoming’s Jackson Hole as winds blew the snow with a fierceness and persistence described as “rare.” With avalanches blocking several roads used by long-distance commuters, many businesses operated with skeleton staffs.Blowing snow closed even the road between the big ski area, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and the town of Jackson, for awhile. The ski area has received 400 inches so far this year, compared to a season’s end average of 465.Wind was also the story in Vail and the Eagle Valley, where the first “snow day” since the early 1980s was called for local schools. That there are now far more people trying to drive local roads may have also been part of the story, as the Vail area is increasingly like the cities to which most mountain dwellers like to feel smugly superior.It has been an uncommon winter, particularly in the more southerly locations. The Gunnison Basin, where Crested Butte is located, has registered more than 150 percent of average in snow depths. That, however, has been brutal to deer herds, leading some wildlife biologists to conjecture that more than half of Colorado deer herds will die this winter.Building officials have also been fretting about snow loads. In Aspen, city officials warned that storms thus far could be loading roofs with 58 pounds per square foot of snow. Modern building codes mandate strength sufficient to hold 75 pounds, but older buildings may be designed to hold only 45, and some manufactured homes Aspen still has dozens of trailers are designed for only 30 pounds.In Durango, city officials were concerned enough about reports of cracks at a local big-box store that they demanded the store owner summon a structural engineer. It checked out OK, reports the Durango Herald.Not so in Park City. There, a section of ceiling trusses over the dressing rooms in a middle school gymnasium collapsed on Saturday, crushing lockers and causing a sprinkler system to activate.All of this snow has city crews working overtime. City crews had removed about four times the average amount of snow from downtown Park City. Pace Erickson, who manages municipal snowplow operations, told The Park Record that snowplowers are becoming weary. “You can just tell by the body language,” he said.In Steamboat Springs, it’s not been a particularly epic winter. Still, to many it is getting old, old, old. Joanne Palmer, writing in the Steamboat Pilot & Today, confides imagining ways to loft the snow from her driveway into her neighbors’ yards. And as for the next person who says “We need the moisture,” she vows a claim of temporary insanity.In Park City, the Record lauded the professional snow movers for their work in a very difficult storm sequence. “Most cities across the country would have been crippled by the amount of snow our mountains received this week,” noted the newspaper, but the local economy barely skipped a beat.Another way of saying this is that in places like Denver or Salt Lake City, it’s a disaster when it snows. In ski towns, it’s a disaster if it doesn’t.Mountain towns thick with Obama supportersKETCHUM, Idaho – Barack Obama came out the clear winner in ski-anchored mountain valleys of Colorado and Idaho during the Super Tuesday caucuses.In Idaho’s Blaine County, home to Ketchum and Sun Valley, a record turnout of nearly 1,200 Democrats was reported, with large numbers of people turned away because they failed to arrive by the 7 p.m. start. The assembled partisans gave 86 percent of their votes to Obama, leaving Hillary without so much as a delegate to the state convention.Elsewhere in Idaho, the story was similar in Donnelly, at the foot of the Tamarack ski area. “Good evening,” said Marilyn Arp, chair of Democrats in Valley County, scanning the crowd of 233 people. “And they say there are no Democrats in Valley County.” Only 56 people showed up the year that John Kerry got the Democratic nomination, notes The Star-News.Obama also got the hosannas in Colorado’s Eagle County. There, reports the Vail Daily, Obama got 74 percent of local votes in a gathering boisterous with excitement. In Gunnison County, reports the Crested Butte News, he got two-thirds of votes.Meanwhile, in Wyoming, there is some amusement that when caucuses are held in Jackson Hole during March, the race between Clinton and Obama may not yet be resolved, meaning there might actually be a purpose in going to the caucuses.Same-sex weddings on the increase in WhistlerWHISTLER, B. C. – British Columbia in 2003 legalized same-sex marriages. Since then, the province has become a popular destination for weddings by Americans. It has also made Whistler a place with increasing numbers of same-sex marriages – 36 last year, compared to 14 the first year such marriages were legal.Linda Seifred, who performs same-sex marriages in Whistler, told Pique newsmagazine that such weddings tend to be smaller affairs. “The guests tend to be true long-time friends of the couple.”Whistler annually hosts an event called WinterPride, which was expected this year to draw more than 3,000 people, about half from the United Sates, with a fifth from Australian and New Zealand, and smaller percentages from Europe and South America.Economic slow down noted in Crested ButteCRESTED BUTTE – There are indications that the softened economy is affecting Crested Butte and Gunnison. At recent forum, there were reports that the airport business was down, indicating sluggishness in the tourism economy, despite abundant snow. As well, reports the Crested Butte News, there was testimony that the real estate market has softened.The conventional wisdom is that the more high-end the market, the more insulated it is to economic swings. That may be true, but real-estate developer Dan Fitchett sees people holding property they’d rather not be holding onto. “The problem with the Crested Butte market is a lot of people were speculating after the ski area changed hands (in 2004),” he said. More mature markets, such as Aspen and Vail, haven’t fluctuated all that much, because people buying vacation homes there intend to hang onto them for several years.Telluride compromise to result in backup powerTELLURIDE – The news from Telluride is that a third power line may be strung – and dug – to serve the community. The story goes back about 10 years, and is of considerable importance to Telluridians, given how important electricity is to the tourist economy and how vulnerable existing lines are.One existing line comes from the Durango area, loping across various passes in the San Juan Mountains. It is vulnerable, as was proven several years ago in March, when an avalanche knocked down poles, forcing brownouts during the peak of ski season. The other power line comes in from the west, but it is aging.A new and taller power line was planned from the west, but landowners on the scenic mesas over which it would cross have resisted. Now, a compromise has been forged. As demanded by San Miguel County, the line will be buried as it crosses the scenic mesas, elevating the cost. The total cost of $16.4 million is to be absorbed among various users and beneficiaries, plus the electrical provider. However, many details are yet to be worked out, officials tell The Telluride Watch.Lynx Q-400 flights seen as increasingly unlikelySTEAMBAOT SPRINGS – A year ago many in ski towns of the Rocky Mountains were hoping for new lower-cost shuttles of the new Bombardier Q-400 turboprop to the Frontier Airlines hub in Denver.Now, at least in the case of Steamboat, hopes are dwindling, reports the Steamboat Pilot & Today.Andy Wirth is the chief marketing officer for Intrawest, which operates the Steamboat ski area. Wirth told the newspaper that Frontier is struggling because of increasing competition, especially Southwest Airlines, and rapidly escalating fuel costs. Frontier, through its new subsidiary, Lynx Aviation, had planned to start offering flights in summer 2007. He said those flights connecting Denver to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport now seem ever more unlikely.Just the same, Steamboat’s airline connections are improving. It has added 50,000 new ski season seats in the last few years. In addition, the resort is trying to upgrade electronic controls, to cut the interval between landings of aircraft, now at 15 minutes, down to two minutes. The technology that will make this possible is called WAM, or wide-area multilateration. It is expected to be in place for the 2010-11 ski season.Wolf Creek agreement about new EIS reportedWOLF CREEK PASS – The Durango Herald reports that developers who want to build a base-village at the foot of the Wolf Creek ski area have agreed to resubmit a proposal to cross U.S. Forest Service land with an access road. Preparing a new EIS could take several years, the newspaper notes.Opponents, who had filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service, had argued that the EIS issued by the Forest Service was inadequate in that it failed to disclose the full consequences of building the road.Colorado leads U.S. in avalanche deathsSUMMIT COUNTY – In 1987, four young men died in an avalanche adjacent to the Breckenridge ski area. After that, Summit County Sheriff Delbert Ewoldt announced a new policy, one limiting access to the backcountry from ski areas.Possibly for that reason, Summit County has fallen to No. 2 among Colorado counties in avalanche deaths recorded since 1950, reports the Summit Daily News. It has had 36 avalanche fatalities, compared to 37 in Pitkin County, where Aspen and Snowmass are located. Clear Creek County, on the eastern slope, ranks third, and Gunnison County, with 17 deaths, ranks fourth.Colorado leads the nation in avalanche deaths since 1950 with 216, followed by Alaska with 118 and Utah with 88.Gilletts finally get OK for Targhee real estateTETON VALLEY, Idaho – After more than 15 years, two ski area owners, and countless hearings, the die has been cast for real estate development at the base of the Grand Targhee ski area. Mori Bergmeyer, formerly an architect from Boston, had initiated the process of a land exchange, but finally threw in the towel in the face of opposition and sold the ski area to the George Gillett-led Booth Creek Ski Holdings.Gillett, the one-time owner of Vail, and his family then continued to press for a land exchange, which was finally consummated several years ago. The Gilletts then proposed more than 800 housing units. The proposal has been contentious, spurred by fears that this would be the beginning of the end for what is called the quiet side of the Tetons. Jackson Hole is on the other side of the range.But last week, the Teton County commissioners – the ski area is in Wyoming’s Teton County, but is located within the geographical basin of Idaho’s Teton Valley – finally approved a scaled-down plan calling for 450 units. A county commissioner representing that area, Leland Christiansen, called it a start in the wrong direction. “I don’t know how many people in 20 to 30 years are going to applaud the work we’ve done.”But while Christiansen might have wanted to see a Rockefeller family arrive to preserve the land, as has been done on the other side of the Teton Range, Commissioner Andy Schwartz noted that the Rockefellers also built resorts, where visitors can enjoy those lands. It was, he said, a good compromise, and Geordie Gillett, son of George and the Gillett in charge at Grand Targhee, said he was also persuaded of the value of down-sizing. “I have come to be convinced that less is more,” he said.Physicists wagering on the global thermometerDURANGO – Most bets are spur of the moment things, with outcomes decided in short order. Not so a bet being discussed in Durango.There, Roger Cohen issued a challenge, betting $5,000 that the globe’s average temperature will be cooler in 2017 than in 2007. He has a doctorate in physics and retired five years ago from Exxon.He has two possible takers: Paul Bendt, who also has a doctorate in physics, and who now works on energy efficiency testing for state agencies and utilities, and Bill Butler, a data-processing manager.What all seem to agree on is that a one-year comparison, as Cohen originally proposed, is unsatisfactory. To get climate trends, not weather, they need longer-term comparisons such as between 1998-2007 and 2008-2017. Still to be negotiated is what authority will be used for the global measurements.Button from Custer’s last stand now in Red LodgeRED LODGE, Mont. – The local historical museum in Red Lodge now has possession of a very expensive button. The button came from the Little Bighorn battlefield, where Custer and half of his soldiers met their ends one very hot, dusty day in 1876.Among them was a 21-year-old second lieutenant, John J. Crittenden. Although the descendent of high-ranking soldiers his father was a major general for the Union in the Civil War, while an uncle was a general in the Confederacy he had flunked out of the military academy at West Point, but instead joined the infantry.The button that was later found was of a type used for infantry officers, and since Crittenden was the only infantry soldier to die at that particular battle site all the others were members of the cavalry it is presumed the button came from him.It came from a larger collection of Little Bighorn artifacts, all of which were sold except for the button. It has an estimated value of $3,000 to $5,000.Canmore mayor: tourism no longer full enchiladaCANMORE, Alberta – Canmore’s mayor, Ron Casey, in his annual speech, said it’s time for Canmore to more fully realize that it’s no longer a tourist town, in the traditional sense.”We are not like Banff. We are different,” he said. “Here, the tourists own the property.”He pointed to a recent economic development report that described tourism as the primary industry within Canmore. “Are we really a tourist town? Is that the major economic driver in the community, or is it recreational property, or quality of life.”Casey said that the distinction does matter. How Canmore sees itself will alter its plan for development and where that development should happen.In his speech, Casey also alluded to tensions with the new part-timers, the second-home owners. Canmore, he noted, has not yet engaged second-home owners in local issues. Susan Barry, who represents the development community, said the town and its government must pay more than lip service into being an inclusive community.Canmore seems to be looking at the experience of Jackson Hole in understanding its own situation, and perhaps what it should be doing.