Aspen contingent calls for slowed construction
ASPEN – About four-dozen people in Aspen turned out at a recent meeting to condemn what many described as “character-killing” growth and development. Tourists, they said, do not want to see construction cranes.Among those calling for a break on redevelopment was Phil Sterling, who called on the council to “save the heart and soul that defined this funky mountain town before it became a commodity.”The Aspen Times reports that another speaker, James March, called for a ban on construction work during Saturdays. “If we cut that back to five days, there would be less road rage, because the construction workers would have two days off instead of one.” Less construction would be more peace for not only Aspen residents, but also weekend visitors, he added.”We have lost our way in the calculus of redevelopment,” said Mike Ireland, a Pitkin County commissioner. “We ask ourselves how much things will cost, and how much sales tax projects will generate. We prospered in the past by not defining life totally by market strategies.”Jackson Hole suburbs growing fast in IdahoJACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Jackson Hole’s fastest-growing neighborhood is actually in another state, Idaho.Wyoming’s Teton County, i.e. Jackson Hole, has grown 4.3 percent annually during this decade. But to the west of the Tetons, Idaho’s Teton County – including the towns of Driggs and Victor – grew 24.5 percent. And to the southwest, Alpine and other communities in Lincoln County grew at a rate of 9.8 percent. Many new residents from Driggs, Victor and Alpine commute to Jackson, and some also take their children to schools in Jackson.But while most of these commuters relocated to these outlying, exurban areas to get more real estate for their dollar, the real estate market is catching up with them. There is now talk in the Driggs-Victor area of the need for affordable housing.Still, many are happy to have the problems of growth. “When I moved to this valley 25 years ago, there was one dentist that was starving to death,” Mark Trupp, a commissioner in Idaho’s Teton County told the Jackson Hole News & Guide “I now know of three dental clinics. It’s an exciting challenge to be dealing with growth. The opportunities now are endless.”Silverton launches into new era of free skiingSILVERTON – Silverton Mountain, one of the nation’s newest ski areas, in early April got permission from the Bureau of Land Management, whose vertically rich property it uses to offer unguided skiing for up to 500 skiers. For several years, only skied accompanied by guides was permitted, because of the great potential for avalanches.”Huge smiles, everywhere,” reported the Silverton Standard of the opening weekend for the new, unguided, ski area. “There was also a sort of conspiratorial glee zinging through the air. Everybody was in on the thrilling secret that together, they were making history, as the scrappy ‘little’ ski area jettisoned itself, and quite likely the town for which it is named, into a whole new era.”As in everything, noted the paper, there are winners and losers. Clear winners are the ski area developers, Jen and Aron Brill, as well as their names and the “lovable wild thangs” like runs named “Pants Pooper,” “Nightmare” and “Hell’s Gate.”The most clear loser is a nearby property owner, Jim Jackson, who 25 years ago staged speed-skiing events in the area and always talked about someday creating a ski area of his own. San Juan County is now condemning his property located within the new ski area, and the Standard notes that this rural county, the highest and among the least populated in Colorado, is now seen by many even in liberal enclaves as a “bastion of government-backed thievery,” to use words from The Aspen Times. Jackson lives in Aspen.Coalition opposes ski expansion at SnowmassSNOWMASS – The Aspen Skiing Co. has received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to proceed with a “backcountry lite” ski area expansion. The company plans to thin trees on 500 acres of Burnt Mountain and add roughly 200 acres of skiable terrain in order to provide a semi-backcountry experience.Such backcountry lite expansions have been the dominant theme of the ski industry during the last decade. Vail, Keystone and Breckenridge have also had expansions that suggest a slightly more wild and remote skiing experience. While of a more extreme nature, the new Silverton Mountain Ski Area also is in somewhat the same category of backcountry lite, or at least backcountry without the uphill grunt.But a coalition of backcountry skiers and an environmental group is challenging the Forest Service decision, reports The Aspen Times. Coalition members, including Wyoming-based Ark Initiative, argue the expansion will ruin the character of a roadless area and have a detrimental effect on endangered and threatened species such as the lynx.Meanwhile, at Telluride, skiers at the end of this season were permitted to explore chutes along Prospect Ridge without guides. Avalanche shovels and beacons were recommended, but not required. The ski area is looking at incorporating the area into more regular use in coming years, reported The Telluride Watch.Crested Butte continues to get back on its feetCRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte gained in skier days this winter as the resort continues to get back on its feet after some painfully difficult years.In the mid-1990s, Crested Butte recorded up to 560,000 skier days, although many came from the resort’s ski-for-free program in December. Drought, a shrunken direct-flight program, and national woes combined to pull the numbers down to around 300,000 in recent years.This year, they’re up to 412,000, moving in the right direction of the 600,000 target that ski area operators believe is necessary to achieve an environmentally sustainable skiing operation. Part of that gain has been attributed to a 20 percent increase in direct-flight seats into the nearby Crested Butte-Gunnison Airport. As well, numbers of Front Range skiers has increased, owing to sales of the X-Pass, which offered four days of skiing for $119. Sales of season passes also increased, reported the Crested Butte News.Crested Butte revisits offices in retail sectorCRESTED BUTTE – Offices and now homes have been replacing retail shops in Crested Butte’s business district, called Elk Avenue. All of this is producing some fear that eventually all the shopping that helps produce a vibrant downtown will move to the base of the ski area, two miles away.Other ski towns have also been carefully monitoring the vibrancy of their old downtowns. The point is usually wagged at real estate offices, and Park City, Steamboat Springs, and others have considered banning new ground-level offices. So did Crested Butte two years ago, but decided against it.But at least one town councilman, Bill Coburn, thinks the time has arrived for intervention: “I think we could be on a cusp of a time where we could lose Elk Avenue,” he said. “If we don’t have a good shopping experience, it will happen on the mountain, and we will not have the restaurants and stores anymore.” At least among ski towns, Vail pioneered this particular form of marketplace meddling. In 1973, the town banned real estate and other offices from ground-floor locations in Vail Village and Lionshead, although by then a number of offices already existed. Aspen adopted similar regulations in 2004, but again allowed existing uses.The largest part of the concern in Crested Butte is that with retail and restaurant sales declining, town revenues will shrink. In Colorado, most towns use sales tax proceeds to pay for bus shuttles, parks and snowplowing.Crested Butte’s finance director, Liz Rozman, said the town’s fiscal numbers confirm the loss of retail stores on Elk Avenue. As well, there’s a different “feeling,” she said. “We’ve lost a lot of businesses to service-type businesses,” she explained. “It has hurt the vibrancy of downtown.”Where real-estate offices and service-related businesses should be located will be taken up by the Crested Butte council in mid-May.
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