More cats purr through the night in San Juans

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DURANGO – Like most other resorts, the Durango and Telluride ski areas are spending more money this year to groom slopes. Durango spent $850,000 to upgrade its ability to groom most of the beginner and intermediate terrain every night, while Telluride has invested $1 million in four snow groomers.Although larger destination ski areas have been conspicuously improving their grooming steadily during the last 15 years, the pace has picked up in the last three years. The goal is to retain the lucrative baby boomers, who are now aged 41 to 60, a time frame when skiers have typically left the sport.At Telluride, where destination guests are the bread and butter, a ski company spokesman tells the Durango Telegraph that the average age of customers is now 43.9. Improved grooming – along with superlative snow and a booming economy – is credited with pushing Telluride’s skier days last winter to a record.Minimum wage rises to $9.50 in Santa Fe SANTA FE, N.M. – The minimum wage in Santa Fe will rise to $9.50 an hour in January, and is tentatively scheduled to rise to $10.50 in 2008.The Associated press notes that the city’s previous law, which went into effect 18 months ago, required most companies with 25 or more workers to pay $8.50 an hour. Among those testifying in favor of the increase was a developer, Dennis Branch, who said people need to make at least $15.50 an hour to afford the least expensive houses in town.Telluride filmmaker dies at the age of 49TELLURIDE – Part-time Telluride resident Robert F. Newmyer, who produced the movie “sex, lies and videotape,” has died of the age of 49. His death was caused by a heart attack provoked by asthma. His other movies included “Training Day” and “The Santa Clause.”Newmyer was a student at Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College when he vacationed at Telluride. He vowed a quick returned, and immediately upon graduation in 1978 did so.The Telluride Watch reports that he had recently mortgaged his homes in both Telluride and Los Angeles in order to finance the independent film “Phat Girlz,” a romantic comedy about an overweight woman. It is to be released next year.Newmyer was also working on a feature film about young Sudanese refugees of genocide called “The Lost Boys of the Sudan.” The cause, said friends, had become very nearly an obsession with him. He had personally been involved in bringing many of the Sudanese refugees to the U.S. and re-uniting them, in some cases using his own home.One long-time friend described him as “maybe the most passionate and generous person I’ve ever known.” Added the friend, college classmate Neal Marlens, “He was a guy you wanted on your side, and once he was there, he was there forever.” Construction craftsman in high demand in B.C.WHISTLER, B.C. – The lead contractor for a new library in Whistler earlier this year asked for bids from companies interested in pouring the concrete. Only one company actually submitted a bid on time. It was 50 percent over budget.That story illustrates the pinch that Whistler and British Columbia are in as they head into a major construction period. Some $900 million ($780 US) worth of work is planned in Whistler during the next three years as the community gears up to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. Additional projects are also underway or planned in nearby areas.But, after a period of little construction, few carpenters and other tradesmen remain, reports the newsmagazine Pique. Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed calls it a potential crisis. Tradesmen are in high demand across booming British Columbia. Government officials have been talking about this for at least two years. In looking out to 2015, they predict 70 percent of the demand for contractors and supervisors will not be met.One idea being discussed is to import workers from Australia and elsewhere on three-year work visas.In addition to a new library, employee housing projects and condominiums, there is the athletes’ village, the bob/luge tracks, and possibly an arena for the Paralympics. As well, a $600 million ($520 US) expansion of the Sea to Sky highway is underway, and a $45 million gondola is likely at the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area.Heavenly Valley ski area now 50 years oldLAKE TAHOE, Calif. – It’s birthday time at Lake Tahoe. Heavenly Valley, one of North America’s largest ski areas, with 4,800 acres, is now 50 years old.While 8,000 skiers once was a big, big crowd, now even 16,000 visitors doesn’t seem like much of a deal, said Malcom Tibbets, the long-time mountain manager at Heavenly, told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.South Lake Tahoe, the city at the base of the ski area, is celebrating its 40th birthday.Pikas and other critters going up in YosemiteYOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. – Maybe the little critters of Yosemite National Park have been reading Mountain Gazette.Motto of the Colorado-based magazine is, “When in doubt, go higher.” And that’s exactly what the rodents and other creatures have been doing, scientists tell the Seattle Times. They suspect the upward flight is a response to global warming.Among the most provocative discoveries is that of pikas. Once found as low as 7,800 feet, the pike now cannot be found below 9,500 in Yosemite.James Patton, curator at the University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, told the newspaper that a team of scientists from the museum were retracing the research of Joseph Grinnell, a biologist who 90 years ago catalogued the mammals, birds, and reptiles of the park. In retracing his steps during the last three summers, they found an environment that has seen a remarkable shift.The Yosemite Valley, they said, has had a 50 percent turnover in types of birds it harbors. And several species of rodents have shifted their range by as much as 3,000 feet. For example, the rare Inyo shrew, once found no higher than 8,000 feet, now ranges as high as 10,000While some species have merely expanded their range uphill, others have moved uphill. Such is the case with pikas.It’s the good cold days again in Fraser ValleyFRASER – A good number of people in Fraser are wondering where all this talk about global warming came from.The town, once called the “Icebox of the Nation,’ has seen 44 below, according to unofficial but widespread readings, and it was still below zero on a recent December morning.To long-time resident Kirk Klancke, it’s just like the “good, old days” of 30 to 40 years ago. “We’re having a really good winter,” he told Mountain Town News. “We have tons of snow and lots of cold to preserve it. We went a couple of weeks without seeing the stripes on the highway.”The Winter Park ski area reported 142 inches of snow midway through December, the most snowfall since a phenomenal streak of 41 straight days of snow that was recorded in 1983.Crested Butte records a dubious superlativeCRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte recorded a dubious superlative on Dec. 8. The temperature that night dropped to 39 below, officially the lowest reading in the nation.”We haven’t had that much serious cold for about 20 years,” said Larry Adams, the town utilities manager.And it’s fair to speculate that plumbers haven’t worked on as many frozen pipes in 20 years. “Do you want to be a plumber?” asked Ron Chlipala, owner of Timberline Mechanical Contracting.”We’ve been very busy, but this is overload,” he told the Crested Butte News.Alberta gaining income as site of major moviesCANMORE, Alberta – Alberta is starting to make good money from hosting movie-makers. The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that the province generated an estimated $200 million this year, and hopes to double that within three years.Among the headline productions this year was “The Assassination of Jesse James,” starring Brad Pitt. The history-based film is set in Colorado, but Alberta pocketed $30 million.Last year the province hosted the filming of “Brokeback Mountain” in a valley south of Canmore and Banff. Director Ang Lee recently confided to an audience in Jackson Hole that he would have preferred to film the movie in Northern Wyoming, where writer Annie Proulx had set it, but was constrained by his $13 million budget. He jokingly called Alberta, where the film was shot, a “cheap imitation Wyoming.”Sculptor’s peaks not a generic airport mementoCANMORE, Alberta – What a Canmore sculptor is selling is definitely a step up from rubber tomahawks, or even the models of moose and elk that are so commonly purchased as vacation mementoes.Instead, Jason Hoerle has sculpted models of several of the most notable peaks found in the Bow River Valley, where Canmore and Banff are located. “They’re unique,” he tells the Rocky Mountain Outlook. “It’s not a generic product you see in airports all over North America.”Producers of “Brokeback Mountain” seem to agree. An assistant purchased 15 of Hoerle’s Cascade Mountain sculpture, to be relabeled as Brokeback Mountain, and given to the movie’s stars, director and other key players.

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