Mountain Town News: Hard to make a go of museums in Colorado |

Mountain Town News: Hard to make a go of museums in Colorado

Loveland Ski Area received 13" of new snow as of Saturday afternoon bringing the 2015-16 season total to 375". Loveland's closing day is set for May 8.
Dustin Schaefer / Special to the Daily |

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – Museums seem to be a tough thing to pull off and sustain, as is evident in two Colorado mountain towns.

In Ignacio, located in southwest Colorado, the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum is being emptied. Tribal officials announced in March that the museum was losing its nonprofit designation because it failed to uphold a contractual agreement to become financially independent.

Last week, according to the Durango Herald, representatives of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian were boxing up items loaned to the tribe for return to Washington D.C.

True West magazine had named the Ute facility one of the best museums to visit. The high quality of exhibits matched that of the building telling of the history and ways of the Ute people who populated much of Colorado prior to American settlement.

At Snowmass Village, community leaders still are trying to figure out how to leverage the amazing ice age fossils discovered there in October 2010. Paleontologists say that the finds rank among the most important in North America from the last interglacial period, roughly 135,000 to 50,000 years ago, before the last wave of glaciers in North America.

The bones of mastodons were so well preserved that they are indeed bones, not fossils. Insects recovered from the peat glowed brightly if briefly when exposed to oxygen. The site is unique in that it’s at 9,000 feet in elevation, far higher than other sites.

A group called Snowmass Discovery has been formed to try to figure out whether a science center or museum could be created using the paleontological dig as the centerpiece. That’s been several years, and movement forward has been – well, it’s been glacial.

The Aspen Daily News reports that a consultant hired to help sort out the future found that there has been a perceived lack of consensus by local elected officials. This has hampered development and fundraising efforts. In response, the town council voted unanimously that it does indeed support the effort. However, a council member also pointed to the financial contributions already made.

Whistler looks to China for growth

WHISTLER, B.C. – Although Whistler Blackcomb as of February was on track to a record season for skier visits, what about the long haul?

Pique Newsmagazine presents evidence why the resort will have to look off-shore, especially to China, with little hope for Canadian or American skiers.

Since the late-1990s, skier visits at Whistler Blackcomb have plateaued at about two million annually. This year, however, everything came together: lots of snow and a bottom-diving Canadian dollar that made vacations at Whistler 40 percent less expensive than at comparable resorts in the United States. As of early-February, the resort had recorded 1.14 million skiers, a record pace.

Still, the ski market has stagnated in North America, especially in Canada. The percentage of Canadians regularly engaging in alpine skiing and snowboarding has fallen from 8.6 percent in 2002-03 to 5.9 percent last season.

“It’s no secret that Canadian skiing has been flat, and the number of core skiers in Canada has been flat as well,” says Paul Pinchbeck, president of the Canadian Ski Council.

Here’s another challenge: Baby boomers have averaged around 12 skiing visits a year, compared to six visits a season by younger generations, according to the Canadian Ski Council.

Whistler is looking at a couple of growth strategies. One of them was revealed recently when the company announced $345 million in upgrades. The centerpiece is an indoor water park with slides, a bowling alley and food concessions that is to be called Watershed. Company officials indicated they believe the indoor waterpark can be used to introduce people to the great outdoors, including skiing.

The other strategy involves recruitment of skiers from Pacific Rim countries, especially China.

Currently, roughly 75 percent of Whistler skier days come from the United States or Canada. The other 25 percent come from other countries, mostly outside North America.

China’s skiers expanded from 10,000 a year to 12.5 million in the last 20 years, according to Vanke, a residential real estate developer in China. That’s still just 1 percent of China’s population. But the growth seems to be explosive. Vanke counted 568 ski resorts by the end of 2015, a 25 percent jump from the previous year.

This bodes well for Whistler. “We’ve always done well with some of the more developed markets there, like Hong Kong and Singapore,” says Rob McSkimming, the vice president of business development for Whistler Blackcomb.

“As the actual Chinese mainland market develops, we think again that’s an area where we’re looking for some opportunity for growth in the future.”

Whistler has already been responding to the potential by recruiting 30 ski instructors who speak Mandarin, Cantonese or both.

What’s on minds of the millenials?

WHISTLER, B.C. – So, what exactly can we say about millenials, those people born from the early-1980s to the early-2000s? They’re now starting to walk onto the main stage, taking the place of baby boomers. Some have money to spend.

Where will they spend that money? And will they spend it differently than gen Xers and baby boomers?

That question is being asked in lots of forums. This week, a session was scheduled in South Lake Tahoe.

“If we don’t connect with the millenials, then we won’t be competitive in 10 years,” Carl Ribaudo, of Strategic Marketing Group, told the Sierra Sun. “Those destinations that do will have a leg up.”

In Whistler, according to Pique, at a session called the “Millennial Mindset,” speakers tried to define motivations and thought processes of those now coming of age.

“They embrace social equality, authenticity, innovation and environmental consciousness as general themes, and that translates into the kind of experiences they seek,” said Maya Lange, vice president of global marketing for Destination BC, the primary tourism organization in British Columbia.

Danielle Kristmanson, creative director for Origin Design + Communications, says the mindset consists of a lot of things.

“Probably one of the key definers is that they prioritize travel and they view travel as a birthright, and are more likely to spend their disposal income on travel and unique experiences versus possessions,” she explained. “They’re also the healthiest, fittest, most environmentally-conscious generation ever, which also lends itself to outdoor sport and outdoor travel.”

But Kristmanson also warned about too many generalizations about one generation. “Everybody is saying now that we have bridged that gap between the generations — technology has largely done it — in such a way that age differences don’t matter as much.”

Yellowstone’s paradox of the cultivated wild

BOZEMAN, Mont. – David Quammen, long a writer for Outside, two years ago got the plum job of writing an entire issue about National Geography about Yellowstone National Park. Todd Wilkinson, writing in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, says Quammen did a fine job of it. The Yellowstone issue began showing up in mail boxes late last week.

“Quammen’s challenge was moving beyond predictable platitudes and banalities — distilling complicated wildlife issues, natural resource conflicts, clashes of divergent cultures — and making clear as why Greater Yellowstone is now a hopeful planetary model for landscape conservation.”

In talking with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, Quammen explained the challenge of Yellowstone in this way:

“I call it the paradox of the cultivated wild. It’s paradoxical because we’re taking a place and we’re saying, ‘We want this place to continue to be wild, but in order for it to seem wild, to appear wild, to give people the experience of what the wild in the Northern Rockies is, we’ve got to do some thinking, we’ve got to do some management. We have to have some rules and some boundaries.’”

Advises Wilkinson: “Read this important piece: It’ll make you smarter.”

Ski train plans rolling forward

WINTER PARK, Colo. – Hope lingers that the Ski Train, which operated between downtown Denver and Winter Park from 1940 to 2009, will be reinstated by January.

The Colorado Transportation Commission recently approved a $1.5 million grant to install a boarding platform and rail improvements.

Steve Hurlbert, a Winter Park spokesman, said the platform was the first major hurdle. The resort had the first major program for people with disabilities, and it just wouldn’t work to have that barrier of getting off and on the train without a platform, he said.

But numerous other details also remain to be worked out. They include ticket prices and decisions about where to park the train during the ski day.

Denver looks closer to home for water

LOVELAND, Colo. – Denver Water still has a lingering reputation in headwater valleys of western Colorado and it’s not necessarily a good one. The agency is the largest water provider in Colorado, with 1.3 million customers in Denver and adjoining suburbs at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

About half of its water comes from near Winter Park and Keystone, west of the Continental Divide, on the Colorado River drainage. Two tunnels deliver the water under the mountains to rivers in the Denver area.

Now, it’s trying to wrap up a proposal to draw yet more water through the Moffat Tunnel from the Winter Park area by enlarging a reservoir in the foothills northwest of Denver. The project has the support of Grand County and other affected jurisdictions form the Western Slope. Still, some see this latest increment as part of a long tradition of Denver grabbing water that morally it does not own, despite legal ownership.

This, says Mike King, the agency’s new director of water planning, may well be Denver’s last new diversion from Colorado’s Western Slope. The permitting and regulatory barriers are just too high, he said recently in response to a question from Aspen Journalism. “If there is water available, it’s going to be a last resort.”

To get Western Slope consent to its proposed expansion of diversions from the Winter Park area, Denver Water entered into a broad, long-ranging agreement with many Western Slope governments. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, first reported by Mountain Town News in 2010 and formally adopted in 2013, substantially shifts the onus of impacts from diversions onto Denver.

That said, the agreement does not extend to other growing cities along Colorado’s Front Range.

Already, major cities in Colorado — but also in other places of the West — have begun stepping up water conservation efforts. Denver, in particular, has embarked on water reuse. The agency, at its new 35-acre headquarters now being planned, will attempt to reuse all of its water, as reported by the Denver Post last week.

Water experts say that other growing cities in Colorado will likely explore agreements that allow them to effectively use water owned by local farmers in dry years rather than build expensive multi-billion dollar pipelines hundreds of miles.

Said King, in his recent comments: “I think anybody who manages natural resources, and water in particular, will never say ‘never’ to anything, but I think its I certainly not on our radar.”

Lake Tahoe overdue for shake and rattle

INCLNE VILLAGE, Nev. – There’s a fault line along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, and there were seven quakes of magnitude 6.5 or larger from 1915 to 1954.

Since then? Not much shaking has been going on. This means the region is overdue for another earthquake, reports The Associated Press, quoting Graham Kent, director of the Nevada Seismology Laboratory.

A quake of magnitude 6 could cause up to $490 million in damages in the populated area of South Lake Tahoe plus $1.9 billion in damage to the Reno-Sparks area.

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