Around the Mountains: Town queasy about sliding snow
February 23, 2008
OPHIR Few mountain towns in the West must entertain the prospect of avalanches as seriously as Ophir, a one-time mining town located about 10 miles from Telluride. Located at 9,678 feet, Ophir is hardly the highest mountain town. Colorado has seven other municipalities higher in elevation. But what other town has a ribbon of open space through its interior, the consequence of a long-ago snow slide?This winter, with the snowpack in the Telluride region at more than 160 percent of the 30-year average, the slopes near the town have been bombed with explosives to initiate avalanches when there are no cars on the road.For three out of four weeks during January, town administrator Rebecca Levy was unable to get to the town, because of slides either on the county road leading to the town or on the state highway. She lives at Rico, across Lizard Head Pass.However, one of the largest potential slide paths, Spring Gulch, which creates the towns interior open space, has not been bombed. Because of the potential damage to private property, none of the governmental agencies can afford insurance, let alone find a company willing to write such a policy, says Levy.There have been other problems as well. One woman had to be rescued from her snow-isolated home because she was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. The problem was caused by snow covering pipes that vented the exhausts from her heater.The towns road-maintenance man reportedly quit because of complaints from residents. Among their beefs: vehicles towed to allow snow removal, clearing that was too slow (even if there was no way to leave the town), and the noise of his clearing.Randy Barnes, the mayor, told The Telluride Watch that the social fabric of the community remains fine, but conceded that the snow is a challenge for some people.But if there have been problems, there has also been acceptance that life in a little mountain town will have its challenges even if Ophir is no longer the derelict mining town of even a decade or two ago. Lot prices now surpass $200,000.For the most part, life went on, says Levy of the isolating storms of January. The town never lost power, and most folks know to keep at least a weeks worth of food on hand.5 minutes earlier, they would have been toastSILVERTON Some people are in the right place at the right time. The inverse can also be true. Such was nearly the case with Dr. Bob Brokering and his wife, Terri, who own the Eureka Lodge, located 8 miles from Silverton which caters to ice climbers, backcountry skiers, and snowmobilers.It was about midnight, and the couple had started to hike from their parked car to the lodge. The route crosses the runout zone for an avalanche. The Brokerings tell the Silverton Standard that they had started across the runout zone when they heard a roar. Looking up, they could see a snow cloud. They tried to flee, but only partly succeeded. He was pushed over by the wind that precedes major avalanches, and then knocked over by the debris, although not covered. Luckily for the couple, though, they were only on the edge of the runoff, and he was not covered.Five minutes earlier, we would have been in the middle of that (avalanche) field, Brokering told the Standard. It was, he said, a more personal experience with avalanches than he had wanted.Powerful case made for removal of snowCRESTED BUTTE Snow in Crested Butte this winter is so deep that trash trucks in the alleys are in danger of hitting power lines.Out in the streets, the snow has compacted to about two feet deep in places. Crews will skim off the snow, but areas dedicated to snow storage are almost at capacity. But at homes running out of space, pitching it into the street isnt the answer, either, said town marshal Peter Daniels You just have to stack it higher; thats where it has to go, he explained.Failure to keep ahead of snow shoveling was illustrated in the painful lesson of the Crested Butte Brewery. Just hours ahead of the Super Bowl, a portion of the roof buckled. Eight to nine feet of snow had been allowed to accumulate. In Gunnison, located 29 miles down-valley, a roof on the library at Western State College collapsed. No one was hurt in either case.School called because of snow-clogged roadsTRUCKEE, Calif. In the Truckee-Lake Tahoe area of California, students have received three snow days so far this year, pushing classes into mid-June. The last two cancellations, school officials tell the Sierra Sun, have been caused by roads that had become too narrow for students to wait safely at bus stops. The buses also would not be able to travel on the narrow roadways, said Nanette Rondeau, director of transportation in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.If only Queen Victoria remained alive in Aspen!ASPEN Aspen continues to argue about what it means to be Aspen. Larry Rosenfield, writing a letter published in The Aspen Times, maintains that Aspen is defined fundamentally by the Victorian architecture of its silver-mining era of the 1880s and early 1890s. In his mind, the post-World War II architecture was an aberration, and the new bigger, taller structures even more hideously so.How wonderful it would have been if, years ago, the town leaders and residents would have mandated that all the structures in the core city maintain a Victorian motif, he says. Periodic motifs have worked well in historic places like Savannah, Ga.; Charlotte, N.C.; Nantucket, Mass; and the villages of Normandy, France.The specific issue for his comments was redevelopment of the Wienerstube, one of Aspens venerated post-World War II restaurants. If you want to construct a building that is 42 feet high, please build it in Vail, not in Aspen. Step by painful step we have been destroying the quality of our beautiful village, he says and later adds: We dont live in NYC. We live in the mountains.Maybe not, but its worth adding that among Aspens largest and tallest buildings are Victorian relics, among them the Hotel Jerome, the Wheeler Opera House, and the Elks Lodge.Telluride claims first LEED house in Western ColoradoTELLURIDE Certification by LEED, as in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was expanded last year to include single-family homes. Before, it had been limited to offices, schools, and other public buildings, but also to residential complexes, such as a base village at Californias Northstar ski area and an on-mountain restaurant at Aspen.Only three homes have been certified in Colorado under the new program, and the first one on the Western Slope, where nearly all the ski areas are located, is at Telluride. The home has a silver rating, which is the second highest of four categories.The home has a deck made of mahogany wood certified as sustainability harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council. It has blown-foam insulation, reducing heat loss, and most appliances are Energy Star-rated for efficiency.Yet LEED is still not-quite mainstream, even in places like Telluride, where the lowest single-family home sold last year fetched nearly $1.1 million.LEED is a great idea, said Ben Humphrey of One Architects, but the weakest link is the subcontractors and the contractors. It comes down to communication with the contractors and their excitement about being part of the green building movement.Tackling the same subject, a magazine called Ski Area Management found that experts discount the notion that green building are more expensive. A LEED-certified building designed to minimize its environmental impact need cost no more than about 3 percent than more than other buildings, building experts said. What is undeniable is that green homes cost less in following years, because of generally improved energy efficiency.Important in designing a green home, experts told the magazine, is for the architects, builders and developers to hold meetings at the outset, as the most important aspects of green building must be incorporated into building design.Gunnison unsure it wants thin-air testingGUNNISON At 8,000 feet, the Gunnison/Crested Butte Regional Airport is attractive to aeronautical companies wanting to test aircraft in thinner air. The valley is broad and the air is mostly calm.Boeing has tested there in the past, and last summer QuinetiQ, a London-based defense contractor, tested a new rendition of its Sea King helicopter. The blades being tested may well be used in military operations in Afghanistan.That recent testing resulted in $1.6 million being infused into the local economy by testers and support personnel. Still, county officials are questioning whether they want to market the county airport as a venue for high-altitude testing.One issue, reports the Crested Butte News, is noise. While some have argued that people who move close to airports should expect noise, County Commissioner Hap Channell says it may be another thing to expect helicopter testing at 6 a.m.Another issue, according to some local residents, is whether Gunnison wants to accommodate aircraft used in military operations. It really turns me off that our community is part of the war machine, said one activist, Vikki Roach Archuleta.Others, however, see that as a positive. If you want to put a patriotic spin on it, what we are testing here will have a direct effect in Afghanistan, said test pilot Mark Purvis.New air links to Denver expected to drop pricesDENVER The long wait is over. Frontier Airlines, the Denver-based airline known for its discounted air fares, has announced the mountain towns that will get flights offered by Frontiers new subsidiary, Lynx Airlines.Aspen is a big winner. But so are Durango and Jackson Hole, as well as two towns in Montana, Missoula and Bozeman.Not making the cut at least for now were Ketchum/Sun Valley, Steamboat Springs, and Vail/Eagle Valley. The decision was perhaps the hardest for Ketchum, which had hoped to improve connections to Denver, in that way becoming more attractive to people from the east. Most of its current air connections are to West Coast cities.In Jackson Hole, Lynx is to offer three flights daily year-round. Because of Frontiers reputation as a discount air carrier, the Lynx flights may cause the primary carrier from Denver, United, to lower its fares.The new 70-seat Q400 turboprop aircraft is expected to be a good fit for Jackson and other mountain valleys. Its much better at the higher altitudes and shorter runways, said Ray Bishop, the airport manager. Temperatures and runway conditions such as are found regularly at Jackson Hole Airport have resulted in problems for use of a new regional jet, the CRJ-700.Compared to Frontiers 210 departure seats daily, Jackson Hole has 2,800 departure seats per day during the summer, notes the Jackson Hole News & Guide.The impact in Aspen may be even larger. Industry observers tell The Aspen Times that the Lynx flights five times daily could reduce the average fare by as much as 50 percent.United Airlines has had virtually no competition in the Aspen market for 13 years, when Continental Airlines pulled out. It currently offers between 6 and 16 flights daily into Aspen, depending upon season and the day of the week.The Times says that airfare to Chicago on United flights is $761 for United compared to $375 for the new Lynx flights. Delta Airlines is also expected to reduce fares for flights between Aspen and Salt Lake City.To encourage Frontiers interest in Aspen, the local business community offered $100,00 in cash to aid in marketing of the flights. Frontier is expected to announce additional destinations in early summer. Still possible are flights to the Vail, Steamboat and Crested Butte areas.LA-Mammoth flights now considered highly likelyMAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. The Sheet reports that it now seems highly probable that the Federal Aviation Administration will clear commercial air service between Los Angeles and Mammoth for next winter.Horizon Airlines, which also services Ketchum/Sun Valley, wants to begin twice daily flights. The FAAs Chuck Cox, who is overseeing the environmental impact statement, said there appear to be no significant environmental issues.Mammoth, located five to six hours from Los Angles via mostly two-lane highway, has for years wanted to boost its air link to major cities, similar to what Aspen, Vail, Steamboat and other destination resorts have done. However, environmentalists have fought expansion of the airport and its intrusions on nearby Yosemite National Park.What has emerged is a compromise. Horizon is proposing to use the Bombardier Q-400 Dash 8 turbo-prop plane. Thats the same plane as is to be used by Frontiers Lynx Aviation for flights form Denver. It can be configured for 70 to 78 passengers.Turbo props like the Q400 are much more effective at high altitudes than piston-driven planes, Cox said. He said that a Piper Cherokee can climb 500 feet per minute. But the Q400 can fly 3,000 feet per minute. Heck, it can climb at 1,500 per minute with one engine. Its just an excellent aircraft for this airport.While direct flights from Chicago and Houston are unlikely any time soon, flights form Las Vegas or San Francisco remain possible.New Whistler home sale record is $17.5 millionWHISTLER, B.C. A home in Whistler originally designed for the singer Seal is expected to sell soon for $17.5 million. The price will eclipse the resort communitys previous record, which was set a year ago, of $13.3 million. Real estate agent Pat Kelly, who is representing the buyer, said the sale proves that although theres some uncertainty in the North American economy, it doesnt affect the higher end luxury market. that market is strong and, in fact, appears to be strengthening.Eagle County real estate sales nearing $3 billionEAGLE COUNTY The real estate market in some mountain towns quit panting last year, but not so Eagle County. There, anchored by Vail and Beaver Creek, another record, $2.96 billion, was registered in real-estate sales last year. The old record, $2.8 billion, had been set in 2005, reports the Rocky Mountain News.Pitkin County, home to Aspen, last year had sales of $2.52 billion, down slightly from the previous year. In both cases, the push is coming in the very high end. Len Gardner, a real estate salesman in Vail, points out that condos in the Arabelle project, located at the base of Vail Mountain, that initially sold for $1,100 have been reselling at between $1,500 and $2,000 per square foot.Steamboat area real estate sales surge to $1.58 billionSTEAMBOAT SPRINGS Real estate sales continued to swell last year in Steamboat Springs and Routt County. Total sales were $1.58 billion, a 141 percent increase from the previous year. At the same time, there were fewer sales.The Steamboat Pilot & Today reports that the largest number of sales were in the $300,000 to $500,000 range. However, the median sale price of townhomes jumped from $450,000 to $630,000 last year. Ketchum sweetens pot for developers of hotelKETCHUM, Idaho Ketchum wants a hotel badly enough that it has agreed to partially waive the affordable housing requirement for a project to be called Hotel Ketchum. In addition to 73 hotel rooms, the building as proposed would include six penthouse residences.Theres been a change in the political and community climate, said Lisa Horowitz, Ketchum community and economic development director. Theres been a recognition of a need and support for hotels.Last fall, five developers were in line with proposals, but one of them, Mark Masater, who has a major proposal in Vail, withdrew from Ketchum. Only two are now before town officials.The Ketchum Hotel, described as a four-star property, would cost $60 million to $65 million to develop, and would be operated by the Piazza Hotel group, which operates the Hotel Healdsburg in California.The developer, Jack Bariteau, told the Idaho Mountain Express that the collapse of the debt market in recent months is changing everything as it relates to the potential debt financing of hotel properties nationwide. The high capital costs of entry for a hotel such as Hotel Ketchum will create significant barriers to getting the project out of the ground and open.While that project is more than three years away from opening, another and even larger project called Warm Springs Ranch Resort is even further from happening. The proposal calls for 77 hotel rooms, 45 condominium suites, 30 fractional ownership units, and up to 35 additional residences. All of this is to be included on an expansive plot of 77 acres at the base of Bald Mountain, where additional market and affordable housing are planned. The property is envisioned as a five-star hotel operation. Developer is Park City-based DDRM Greatplace.Sun Valley dining to be aided by new gondolaKETCHUM, Idaho Sun Valley is launching into its upgrade of its mountain operation. The first phase is to gussy up its on-mountain restaurant, Roadhouse, which was built in 1939. Now only open for lunch during ski seasons, it will be open at nights and in summer. All of this will be enabled by the addition of a new eight-passenger gondola car to be built this summer, part of the new master plan recently approved by the U.S. Forest Service.Town, developer spar about housing timelinePARK CITY, Utah City officials and developers of high-end housing at Deer Valley are reported to be at odds. The cause of the friction is the citys requirement for affordable housing. The developer, Talisker Deer Valley, took over the property at an old mining site called Empire Pass in 2003. City building officials have stopped issuing permits based on the insufficiency of worker housing. The city planning commission wants Talisker to post $2.2 million to guaranteed the worker housing gets built, and it also wants a hastened effort to deliver affordable housing, reports The Park Record.The strongest criticism of Talisker on the planning board came from Rory Murphy, a developer who spent much of his Park City career at Empire Pass. The firm he was formerly involved with, United Park City Mines, sold the property to Talisker in 2003. He told the developers they should have realized the work force housing was required.It takes a lot to impress skiers at Jackson HoleJACKSON HOLE, Wyo. Colorado-based ski writer Brian Metzler recently visited Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. While others may have more lifts, greater expanses of terrain, and better base facilities, Jackson Hole is almost without rival in the lower 48 states when it comes to pure vertical exhilaration.Because there is so much vertical, he says in a report published in a Denver newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, Jackson Hole has some very good skiers. He illustrates his point by telling about watching a skier launch off a road in the Alta Chutes, smoothly landing a 30-footer.It was an impressive display of skill and bravado that not only made my stomach drop, but also put my own ski thrills into perspective, he writes. Amazingly, no one on the string of chairs who witnessed it clapped, cheered, or so much as uttered a peep.A local skier explained why. This is Jackson, and people have seen some pretty wild stuff up here, explained Jay Bruener. That was a nice effort, but youve got to do something pretty extraordinary to get a round of applause from these people.