Mountain town news: Curiosity may have killed the bear |

Mountain town news: Curiosity may have killed the bear

An up-close look at a snow gun as it prepped to cover the hills last week. Most of Summit's ski resorts have now started making snow for the winter, with many predicting opening day on Nov. 6.
JENISE JENSEN / special to the daily |

STANLEY, Idaho – Curiosity killed the cat, and it may have also been the undoing of a black bear in Idaho.

The Idaho Mountain Express tells of a trio of hunters who had been rafting down the Middle Fork of the Salmon in search of bighorn sheep. They were sleeping in the River of No Return Wilderness one night when one of the three men awoke to feel something pulling on his hair. He felt blood. Then he heard breathing.

The 29-year-old man frantically reached for his .357-magnum pistol, but could not find it. When the bear fell backwards and sat down, another of the hunters fired a gun loaded with birdshot into the bear’s chest and neck.

The bear scrambled up a nearby tree. Bad decision. The hunters killed it.

Injuries to the man’s head required no stitches, but they did show marks of canines both top and bottom.

A predatory attack? Not likely, says Jon Rachael, a state wildlife manager in Idaho. Perhaps the bear had become conditioned to people by finding food around them. Or, just possibly, the bear was curious about the hunter’s head and was trying to figure out what it was.

No consensus yet on mandating helmets

WHISTLER, B.C. – In November 2013, a teenaged visitor from Brazil set out on his board on a rainy, foggy day on Grouse Mountain, located in North Vancouver. He did not return. When the body was found, it had evidence of blunt force head trauma.

The Brazilian was not wearing a helmet at the time. Should he have been required to wear one? And would it have saved his life?

Timothy Wiles, a coroner, issued a statement saying that use of helmets can reduce the risk of serious injury in certain scenarios. But, he said, “there are currently no regulations mandating helmet use in the Province of British Columbia.”

The ski industry in western Canada, including Whistler Blackcomb, has resisted mandates while encouraging helmet use. The Canadian Ski Council points out that snow sports helmet use in British Columbia increased from 32 percent to 86 percent over the last dozen years.

Head injuries were responsible for 26 percent of all ski-related deaths and 20 percent of all snowboard related deaths in British Columbia between 2007 and 2013.

Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine says opinions vary greatly on how much value helmets provide in preventing head injuries. One researcher, Dr. Natalie Yanchar, in 2012, issued an opinion that “without question” helmets lower the risk of serious head injuries.

However, Dr. Jasper Shealey of the Rochester Institute of Technology, described by Pique as perhaps the world’s preeminent researcher on snow-sport helmets, has previously stated that there is a lack of any “clear evidence” that helmets are effective in reducing alpine sports fatalities.

Then there’s the issue of helmet standards. Some think that standards must be adopted, to ensure that helmets truly afford protection. One source told Pique that some helmets being sold offer little more protection than an ordinary hat.

Another brick in the Aspen malls

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen has started thinking about where it can get its next ton of bricks, for occasional use in its two downtown pedestrian malls.

In the early 1970s, the pedestrian malls were created, replacing streets. The bricks, 500,000 of them, came from St. Louis, where they had been manufactured around 1900. More than 60 percent of the bricks were used to create the malls. Since then, reserve bricks have been needed here and there to replace broken bricks.

Now, just 20,000 remain, which will suffice for the needs of the next three to five years. After that? Aspen’s historical preservation office advises buying bricks that are “sympathetic” to the originals, but not necessarily replicas.

Ski area livened up Durango’s economy

DURANGO, Colo. – One of the founders of the Purgatory ski area has died. Raymond Twomey Duncan had moved to Durango in 1958 and founded an oil company. A few years later he noticed that the local youth ski team, while winning awards, had no good local place to ski.

The result was a ski area, and several names were suggested: Hermosa, Columbia, and Purgatory, all relating to local geography. The latter was chosen, because it was spicier.

“The impact of Purgatory on Durango was greater than providing a place to ski,” notes the Durango Herald. “Durango’s tourist season essentially lasted from Memorial Day to Labor Day before 1965, so the addition of five months of revenues ramped up all kinds of businesses. Having a ski area nearby also turned out to be a good recruiting tool, both for students and faculty, for Fort Lewis College.

Tech leg needed to create sturdy stool

JACKSON, Wyo. – Wyoming has a three-legged stool for an economy. It needs a fourth leg on that stool says Bob Grady.

Grady is a partner in a private equity firm called Gryphon Investors and also has his finger in national politics, telling the Jackson Hole News&Guide that he’s “quite friendly” with about half the Republican candidates for president.

Wyoming, he says, needs to diversify its economy, as Gov. Matt Mead proposes to do.

“If we want to take advantage of the tremendous energy wealth that’s been generated to prepare ourselves for the next couple decades, and if we want to give Wyoming students another pathway to have other careers when they come back to Wyoming, we need some additional legs to the stool. “He (Mead) always says that in Wyoming energy is the biggest employer, tourism is second, agriculture is the third big industry. He would like technology to be the fourth leg of the stool.”

How is that possible? Wyoming is remote, Grady acknowledges, but he thinks that the investment in a 100-gigabyte fiber loop around Wyoming has addressed that remoteness.

Another mine spill, same old arguments

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – If not for the spill of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine near Silverton in early August, last week’s spill from a mine above Crested Butte might not have been noticed.

The spill from the Standard Mine was small, 2,000 gallons compared to the 3 million gallons that turned the Animas River in Durango mustard orange. Nobody appeared to be terribly concerned about the spill at Crested Butte, even though the contaminated water got into Coal Creek, which flows through the middle of Crested Butte and is in fact the town’s primary source of drinking water. The impact was described by town officials as “negligible.”

But U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents both areas in Congress, saw a disturbing trend. Both spills had been caused by contractors working for the Environmental Protection Agency. Republicans — including Tipton, who was elected with strong Tea Party support — have been attacking the EPA as an out-of-control federal agency that needs to be reined in.

In the Animas River Valley, debate continues about how to best address long-term pollution from the Gold King and other abandoned mines. The spill in August was colorful and dramatic, but the same amount of pollution gets discharged from the mines every 10 days.

In a recent editorial, The Durango Herald pointed out that while there are disagreements about the best way to get there, nobody disputes the need for a permanent water-treatment facility that captures drainage from the four worst-offending mines, including Gold King.

“That facility will be costly — to build, and then to operate and maintain in perpetuity — and the conversation should now shift to how to pay for it,” says the Herald.

The EPA would provide funding, if the site were designated under the U.S. government’s superfund program. But Silverton and San Juan County have resisted such a designation for the last decade, and Tipton, in testimony before a Congressional committee, recently explained why: “Designating Silverton a Superfund site could severely damage the town’s reputation and prove costly to the local economy.”

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