ATM: High-altitude research underway in Telluride
TELLURIDE – Peter Hackett aims to put Telluride on the map in yet another way. A physician, he has long specialized in research involving thin air. For a number of years he worked at the base camp for climbers of Denali, a.k.a. Mt. McKinley, ministering to climbers. More recently, he had the task of looking after Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones when they visited Mexico City, elevation 7,349 feet.Now, working in conjunction with the University of Colorado at Denver, he is directing the new Telluride-based Institute for Altitude Medicine. The goal is to not only treat people afflicted by the lack of oxygen, but also conduct research and offer education. “The idea is that there are medical and health issues specific to high altitude, and there is really a need for authoritative information and research on the subject,” Hackett told The Telluride Watch. At 5,280 feet, Denver has 17 percent less oxygen than is found at sea level. Telluride is even higher, 8,750 feet, and has 28 percent less than sea level. That lack of oxygen can stress bodies, particularly those not yet acclimated. That process can take a week.The stress is greater for some, who develop pulmonary edema, or filling of the lungs. The Telluride Medical Center each year sees about 30 cases of pulmonary edema. More rare, and often fatal, is fluid on the brain, called cerebral edema.Problems for visitors most commonly start at 8,000 feet, or about the elevations of Vail and Aspen. At 9,000 feet, problems increase substantially. A study done some years ago at Keystone, elevation 9,300 feet, found half of visitors get headaches. A companion study, done at Breckenridge, elevation 9,600 feet, showed that 30 percent did not do their usual activities.At Telluride, Hackett is conducting a similar study to see how thin air affects visitors to Mountain Village, which is located at 9,600 feet adjacent to Telluride’s ski slopes. He is also studying the precise cause of altitude-induced headaches. One hypothesis being tested is that they result from swollen brains.The Breckenridge study found that about 30 percent of visitors will not return because of the effects of thin air. Mt. Crested Butte is at about the same elevation.Hackett says people should not be put off coming to higher elevations. “I think that it is a lot like sea sickness,” he said. “Most aren’t afraid to go on a cruise, but those who get seasick will bring some form of medicine with them. The same goes for high altitude.”A drug called Diamox a day or two in advance, or once there are symptoms, works well, he says. He also advises those arriving from low elevations to avoid alcohol the first day and, more generally, take it easy.At Telluride, research will delve into the low birth-weight of infants carried at higher elevations and the connection between heart diseases and thin air.But thin air in high places is not strictly a downside. Hackett also intends to probe whether there is correlation between longevity and higher elevations. As well, age-adjusted data have shown less heart disease at high altitudes. Some studies elsewhere in the world have found lower blood pressure with long-term residence.Already, athletes seek out higher elevations for training. Hackett say he believes all Olympic athletes train at high altitudes.Altogether, Hackett sees the institute being a potential boon for Telluride’s tourism economy, drawing not only athletes but also doctors and others interested in high-altitude fitness.Already, the staffing a Telluride has grown. Hackett now has an associate, Dr. Jenny Hargrove, formerly of Stanford, as well as various residents and medical students.Towns begin tracking their carbon footprintsAVON – Mention a “carbon footprint” a decade ago, and you likely would have seen a blank face. A few old-timers might have thought it had to do with the outline of a shoe after walking in a coal bin.No longer – at least in mountain towns, and especially in local government operations. Many municipalities are now documenting their use of coal-, gas-, and oil-based energy, seeking to understand their own role in global heating.Aspen was among the first to complete a detailed inventory of energy use, both of city operations and estimates of private energy consumption – even including the energy used by people flying in on private jets.In Wyoming, officials from Jackson and Teton County during the last six months conducted a combined energy audit of their operations. The audit was done as part of a broader plan called 10 X 10, to reduce energy use and hence greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by the end of year 2010.The first task in Jackson Hole – and everywhere else – is to use existing energy more efficiently. To that effect, an advisory board recommends reducing use of energy in buildings by 18.6 percent. The board also calls for reduced use of government cars and trucks by 10 percent, an 8.4 percent decrease in commuting by employees, and a 10 percent reduction in energy used in streetlights.Perhaps surprisingly, the task force also called for 16 percent less energy used for water and sewage treatment. Water treatment plants use major amounts of energy. An action plan calls for new buildings to be more energy efficient, and greater use of biofuels. The town already uses biodiesel to the extent permitted by cold temperatures.While starting to “green” up its own operations, town and county officials plan to start creating a community plan for energy efficiency.In Colorado, Avon is using the same approach as that in Jackson Hole. Larry Brooks, the town manager, said that he once managed parks, and he noticed then that if area was littered, people were more likely to litter. The reverse is also true. He thinks the town can lead by example.To that end, the town commissioned a $20,000 energy audit by the consulting firm Schmueser Gordon Meyer. Even the mere knowledge that energy was being measured caused employees to be more conscious of their energy use, such as when idling vehicles.The audit showed that Avon is more or less average for resort towns of its size. But the town recreation center, which was built in the mid-1990s, uses 33 percent more energy as comparably sized recreation centers elsewhere in the mountains. A more site-specific energy audit is expected to explain exactly how the energy is being lost.Brooks said that the town so far has used gentle pressure in efforts to get developers to build greener, less energy-intensive buildings. One hotel now under construction will be seeking LEED certification, although only at the bottom of four increments.Should the town demand better buildings? Brooks is unsure. “I am not sure how much carrot and how much stick I’d like to do,” he said.To the west in Glenwood Springs, private citizens spent hundreds of hours combing through electric and gas bills for city-owned buildings and operations. Doing so provided a baseline for energy use for 2006. More shaky, because records were often absent, was a similar baseline for 1990. The latter is the benchmark year established by the Kyoto Protocol.As in Avon, the study in Glenwood Springs found the recreation center to be a major user of energy, with the swimming pool (not to be confused with the Yampah Hot Springs) alone responsible for about 43 percent of the city’s consumption of natural gas. The cost of that energy is $100,000 per year. Glenwood’s committee is scheduled to return to the city council in March with a climate action plan, to reduce the city’s complicity in global warming. Aspen’s ground-breaking has influenced the other projects a great deal. In Avon, for example, Brooks said he heard Dan Richardson, the first director of Aspen’s Canary Initiative, give a program.As part of its Canary Initiative, Aspen also held a conference in October 2006 that was attended by a large number of people from ski towns, including a large contingent from Jackson Hole. They returned to Jackson Hole committed to launching changes.Telluride is also setting out to inventory its greenhouse gas emissions. It is using a software program developed by Local Governments for Sustainability.Ski route from Vail to Winter Park identifiedFRASER, Colo. – While some people have been scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to install a monorail or some other train up the Interstate 70 corridor, Jean Vives of Fraser has been confronting another challenge: How to ski it.Formerly of Aspen, where he was co-director of Aspen Alpine Guides, he now lives in Fraser, near Winter Park, and from that base has laid out a base ski trip from Vail to Winter Park. He thinks it can be done in 7 to 10 days, without once spending the night in a tent.It goes like this: Vail to a backcountry ski hut near Vail Pass, then Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Loveland Basin. Then to the Henderson Mine, and the final leg to Winter Park. Altogether, that’s not quite 63 miles.It sounds daunting, and it would take skill, Vives, 56, told the Middle Park Times. But there is only one spot where an ice ax and crampons might be handy. Otherwise, it’s all just basic backcountry skiing.Affordable housing ante upped in UtahPARK CITY, Utah – Like it or not, residents of the Snyderville Basin, an area of higher-end real estate along Interstate 80, south of Park City, will henceforth be required to have affordable housing as 20 percent of all development approved.The Park Record explains that the median home price of condominiums and townhouses in Park City and Snyderville is $465,000. By comparison, the average hourly wage as of two years ago was $9.The newspaper reports considerable dissent about the new housing requirement. Kimberly Gabryszak, a county planner, responded that no housing-mitigation requirement is perfect.A-students like Ski Area Report Card; others don’tLAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Seven years since its inception, the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition continues to pass out grades, A through F, to resorts in the West. The report card seeks to assess the environmental performance of the ski area operator, addressing not only the skiing component but also base-area operations controlled by the company, including hotels, condos, and restaurants.Based on stories in various newspapers, ski areas which got A’s tend to defend the report card. Those who flunk dismiss it as irrelevant or unfair.Squaw Valley is among the A students. “Squaw has put a huge focus on the environment in the last 10 years,” Squaw Valley spokesperson Savannah Cowley told the Sierra Sun.Down the road, Northstar got a D this year – mostly because of what it plans to do. The ski area operator Booth Creek, working in conjunction with East West Partners, plans to develop 800 acres of land. It is also building a Ritz Carlton hotel along the ski slopes. As well, it recently completed a large amount of housing at the base.”It’s unfairly biased against any kind of growth, and there is no accountability,” said Jessica VanPernis, a spokeswoman for Northstar.California’s Kirkwood, which got an F for the second-straight year, similarly dismisses a criterion in the report card. “There is a very strong bias against growth,” said David Likins, the chief executive officer. In Colorado, there are other complaints about the report card. Copper Mountain got an F, partly because of projects approved, but not executed – and which may never happen, said Jan Schenk, the environmental program manager.She tells the Summit Daily News that she also disagrees with the report card because so much, about 45 percent of weighting, depends on whether a ski area expands terrain or builds real estate.A far more important issue, she says, is energy use.”To me, global warming is the most pressing environmental issue,” she said. Importantly, she said, Copper spent $150,000 this year doing a lighting retrofit, to use less energy.A similar charge is leveled from Northstar. There, the base-area real-estate product was certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Program, the first mountain resort village to qualify for that distinction. It was at the base level, the lowest of four possible levels.Squaw a few years ago was ranking low, but has more recently put into place geoexchange systems, to reduce use of fossil fuels to heat buildings, among other initiatives. Pointedly, it has not done any expansions, either of real estate or terrain, for several years.
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