Mountain Town News: And now the snowpack has finally started to roar |

Mountain Town News: And now the snowpack has finally started to roar

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — And now the water roars, as the giant snowpack of winter, augmented by an uncommonly cold and wet spring, begins to melt.

Parts of California got up to 400% of average snowfall in “Mayuary.”

“That monster snowpack is about to come melting down the slopes thorough rivers and streams with ferocity, pushing an already fast water flow into a furious rage,” according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

In Colorado, where snow still blankets the San Juan Mountains, the Durango Telegraph has proclaimed El Niño as the winner of this year’s Hardrock 100. The race was scheduled for mid-July.

Organizers canceled the 100-mile foot race among the peaks of the San Juans around Silverton owing to “unprecedented avalanche debris, unstable snow bridges and high water” that compromised 40 miles of the race course.

It was the third time in 27 years that the race had been canceled, the first being in 1995 because of too much snow and then in 2002 because of forest fires.

At the California Weather Blog, meteorologist Daniel Swain suggests a big view of weather extremes across North America: floods in Nebraska, tornadoes in Oklahoma, a massive forest fire in Canada and record heat in the Arctic. They’re all connected, he points out.

Emerging evidence suggests that such weather extremes may be occurring with greater frequency and intensity as the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the planet.

“Interestingly, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the impacts we experienced in 2019 will be exactly the same the next time this pattern repeats,” Swain wrote on his blog. Every iteration of the “wavy jet stream” produces new patterns of warmth vs. coolness and very wet vs. very dry.

Lively competition in utility board election

EDWARDS — Larissa Read’s election to the board of directors of Holy Cross Energy was unusual in that she had to top three other candidates. The Vail Daily reports she got 39% of the votes compared with 27% for the first runner up.

Elections of directors for Holy Cross and other rural electrical co-operatives traditionally have attracted little notice. This one was no exception in that only 6.9% of members voted. In co-ops, members are also customers.

But often there is no more than one candidate and rarely more than two for any spot. The difference may lie in the emerging prominence of Holy Cross in its concerted effort to decarbonize the electricity that it delivers to the Vail and Aspen areas in addition to other communities along Interstate 70 in western Colorado.

Adam Palmer, a director who has been on the board since 2009, suggests the greater awareness of the role of greenhouse gas emissions in causing climatic changes had a role in the number of candidates.

Also, a wildfire last summer in Basalt raised questions about resilience of delivery for electricity. The fire took out three transmission lines and very nearly eliminated a fourth transmission line. Had it done so, portions of Aspen and all of Snowmass would have been without power on the Fourth of July weekend last year.

The co-op also is pushing ahead in the broader “beneficial electrification” to replace fossil fuels in transportation and ultimately in heating of buildings.

Read — a consultant who provides planning, facilitation and project management services to environmental, nonprofit and governmental organizations — helped facilitate creation of the Climate Action Plan for Eagle County.

In response to questions from the Vail Daily, Read said she wanted to continue her service role and “help guide a leading regional utility into a low-carbon future.”

Vail mum about plans for Crested Butte expansion

CRESTED BUTTE — Crested Butte Mountain Resort has the final approval it needs for a major expansion of ski terrain. The U.S. Forest Service OK’d the addition of 500 acres plus three new lifts to service intermediate and advanced terrain. The Crested Butte News reports that Vail Resorts, the ski area owner, has not yet disclosed what it intends to do with this expansion, which had been initiated by the previous owners.

Uranium mining unlikely in area west of Telluride

TELLURIDE — About an hour and a half west of Telluride, where the San Juan Mountains give way to sandstone canyons, uranium mining occurred in the 1950s and ’60s. Then, it went away, leaving a number of messes.

It does not look to resume again any time soon. There had been considerable worry among environmental groups in Telluride, and the town itself, about potential for resumption of uranium mining and processing. The most significant worry was about creation of a new Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, with the possibility for radioactive dust to blow into the town’s watershed.

The Telluride Daily Planet points to a paradox. A federal judge recently issued a decision that ends a seven-year ban on uranium mining in the Naturita-Paradox Valley west of Telluride. But this also means that the Department of Energy can get to work on stalled-out reclamation plans in the area.

Energy Fuels, the proponent of the Piñon Ridge mill, has shifted its focus to other projects and no longer has much stake in its leases from the Department of Energy in the area directly west of Telluride.

“They are really not in our short- or medium-term plans,” Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said. “There are some resources out there, and a lot of those are former mines operated in the 1950s and ’60s. The mines could still operate, but it would take a lot of work to bring them into compliance with modern regulations. It’s not a priority for us.”

After another narrow miss, concern about worker safety

JACKSON, Wyo. — Recently a dump truck carrying roofing supplies lost its brakes while descending Teton Pass into Jackson Hole. Nobody was hurt, no cars were forced off the road, but it was yet another close call.

But why were the two workers not better trained and equipped? The Jackson Hole News&Guide sees a pattern. Employers need to be more accountable, it declares.

Two men were killed last year in a trench. The developer that ultimately employed them was fined $19,532 by Wyoming’s Occupation Safety and Health Administration.

As for the recent rollover, the newspaper notes, the employer’s punishment might be limited to the lost roofing supplies strewn across the highway and the totaled truck. So far, investigators have been unable to pin down the construction site where the men were working. The truck had Oklahoma plates and was not registered to a business.

“With a hot economy, the construction industry is humming, but at what price?” the newspaper asked in an editorial.

“We’re calling on emp general loyers — from homeowners to contractors — to quit cutting corners, recognize the legitimate cost of licensed and bonded subcontractors and keep our workers and community safe.”

In Park City, a dump truck’s brakes also failed. The 36-year-old driver avoided catastrophe by steering the truck as it speeded down the road onto a runaway truck ramp. This is between Deer Valley and the Old Town portion of Park City. The Park Record said police found that four of the truck’s 10 brakes were ineffective.

Robust economy produces hotel proposal in Ketchum

KETCHUM, Idaho – A four-story, 100-room hotel has been proposed for downtown Ketchum. Utah-based PEG Companies has purchased the property, which is called the Gateway parcel, and hopes to begin construction next spring. It would be part of the Marriot Autograph Collection, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

The hotel, if it goes forward, would be across the street from Aspen Skiing Co.’s Limelight Hotel. Ketchum officials approved four or five potential hotels before the real estate recession 11 years ago, but the Limelight — recreated from another hotel plan — has been the only one to go forward.

Meanwhile, in the Aspen area, Ski Co. has been working for several years to build more affordable housing in Basalt, which is 18 miles down valley from the ski company’s marquee Aspen and Snowmass ski areas. The current iteration calls for 36 units with 148 bedrooms.

But the Basalt Town Council has deadlocked on whether to approve it. One stickler of a problem is parking spaces, reports the Aspen Daily News. Options seem to be narrowing.

David Corbin, the senior vice president for planning and development for Ski Co., told Basalt officials that costs have increased 17% since December. Rising costs and the changes Basalt wants would push the costs 32% higher. That, he suggested, kills the project.

From highest to lowest airports in record time

LEADVILLE — On June 2, Kent Holsinger broke the record in one of those categories that might be called dubious superlative. He set a record for the fastest flight between the highest airport in the continental United States to the lowest.

The highest is in Leadville, where the airport lies at an elevation of 9,993 feet in the shadows of Mounts Elbert and Massive, Colorado’s two highest peaks. The lowest airport in the United States lies 530 miles away in California’s Death Valley. There, the Furnace Creek airport is 210 feet below sea level.

The flight took Holsinger, an attorney, 3 hours and 13 minutes. He flew at an average speed of 164 mph.

Allen Best has never strayed far from mountain towns in his journalism since his first newspapering job in 1977. That was at a town hard along the banks of the Colorado River. More of his writing can be found at

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