New terrain park possible near Denver
December 10, 2005
ST. MARY’S GLACIER – Another small ski area near a major metropolitan area is back on the drafting table.Mike Coors, the 24-year-old son of the chief executive officer of Coors Tek, and two other investors are trying to rev up operations at St. Mary’s Glacier, which is located 9 miles from Interstate 70. They are proposing a terrain park that they believe could attract up to 250 snowboarders on any given day.No plans have formally been submitted to officials in Clear Creek County, although neighbors tell the Rocky Mountain News that they are up in arms about the proposal, fearing impacts of traffic congestion, the noise of snowmaking machines, and even the loss of water. Coors told newspapers of plans for a 270-acre terrain park. His group paid $1.65 million for the property.St. Mary’s Glacier was used for commercial skiing sporadically from the 1930s to 1984. It had a T-bar but little else. A permanent snowfield and not a true glacier, it has been shrinking rapidly in recent years.This is the second small ski area being revised within an hour’s drive of metropolitan Denver. Echo Mountain Park, previously called Squaw Pass, has opened for business after an investment of $4.7 million.In both cases, the model seems to be Mountain High, a small ski area in the San Gabriel Mountains overlooking the Los Angeles Basin that has been doing big numbers during the last several years. Mountain High appeals to younger Gen X and Echo generation snowboarders who need less space for tricks in half-pipes and other terrain park features. Mountain High also features an unusually large number of ethnic minorities as compared to most ski areas, reflecting the trends of the general population.Superlative skiing is a double-edged swordCARBONDALE – While memories do tend to be suspect when forced to examine the minutiae of decades past, the skiing of early season is being described as among the best ever in Vail, Steamboat and several other resorts in Colorado.A more empirical test, amount of snowfall, would suggest the memories could be correct. Vail, for example, was reporting 141 cumulative inches of snow atop Vail Mountain as of Dec. 5, surpassing the previous record set in autumn 1985.School closings also seem to confirm the unusualness of this winter’s start. Mountain districts rarely close, but schools closed for the first time in eight years in the Roaring Fork School District, located down-valley from Aspen. Schools also closed in the South Routt School District, south of Steamboat Springs.Unlike eight years ago, when the internet was not yet in broad use, parents this time got explanations of the closings by e-mail. The advance notice was by radio.Because there are no radio broadcasts in Spanish in the very early mornings, school officials are trying to figure out how to inform parents in the burgeoning Spanish-speaking community of the closings. Well more than half of student bodies in some schools in the district are composed of students for whom English is a second language.Silverton tries extreme route to life after miningSILVERTON – By several measures, San Juan County was an extreme place even before Aron Brill showed up with his ambition for a new ski area.First, it’s Colorado’s least populated county, with only 600 or so year-round residents. Second, the county has absolutely no – zip, none – tilled acres for agriculture production, the only Colorado county with that distinction.Finally, while not the superlative, it has among the state’s highest county courthouses. The elevation of Silverton is 9,318 feet, lower than the courthouses located in Cripple Creek, Breckenridge and Fairplay – but still high.So, it all fits together that “extreme” sports are the premise for Silverton’s post-mining economic resurgence. In addition to Brill’s Silverton Mountain Ski Area, there is the Hardrock 100 running race of summer and several other races for the hardy and hard core.Still, it’s not a wealthy place – at least not yet. The Rocky Mountain News reports that about two-thirds of public school students qualify for free or reduced-price hot lunches. Reflecting the pattern of other resort towns, the school is also becoming increasingly diverse, with Spanish-speaking students now constituting 30 percent of enrollment.Public officials tell the Denver newspaper that they believe they can remain unique and will not hew to paths followed by other former mining towns such as Aspen and Telluride.Meanwhile, one retiree who has chosen to live in Silverton points to the attraction of small towns everywhere. “It’s a community you can easily become invested in,” said Everett Lyons, speaking of sociology and not finances. “I don’t know if you can become invested in Denver or Aurora, at least not in the same way.”Buses back to regular diesel after bum biodieselCRESTED BUTTE – Everyone likes the idea of diluting regular diesel with a 20 percent component of plant-based biodiesel. It produces less pollution, improves gas mileage, and causes less wear on engines.But the devil is in the details, as operators of bus fleets both in Crested Butte and the Roaring Fork Valley can testify.For the second straight winter, Mountain Express buses are returning to full-strength petroleum-based diesel because of problems with biodiesel. The cause of the problem is unclear – perhaps the buses, the fuel blend, or even the 30-year-old storage tank being used to hold the biodiesel, Ron Clipala, a director of the bus service, told the Crested Butte News. In Aspen, the biodiesel problem that plagued three buses was traced to a green, algae-like substance clogging the fuel tank. The problem had already been remedied by the fuel supplier, a firm from the Greeley area. The buses in the Roaring Fork fleet have been using a 5 percent portion of biodiesel for the last 13 months. To prevent this problem from recurring, all fuel will be treated with a “biocide.”Planners advise rejection of Grand Targhee projectDRIGGS, Idaho – Planners in Teton County have recommended denial of plans for a major base-area expansion at Grand Targhee Resort. The plans by the family of George Gillett call for the 96 existing housing and lodging units to be supplemented by 779 units.The Jackson Hole News & Guide says planners find too many uncertainties remain about employee and affordable housing, as well as traffic and affects on public lands. Grand Targhee representatives did not appear to be taken aback by the recommendation, but said they were not yet ready to submit ideas to “mitigate” their plans. The story suggested the terms of the debate are at this stage being defined without any real prospect of ultimate rejection.Jackson Hole outlines options for post-tramJACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – The 40-year-old tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is scheduled to be disassembled next spring, and it’s unclear what will replace it.Officials at the ski area say their first option is to spend a $25 million replacement tram. That tram would carry up to 520 skiers per hour, 160 more than the existing tram. A second option is a shorter, smaller capacity tram with a somewhat smaller price tag of $16.6 million.A third option is a gondola at a cost of $15.6 million. While it would reach the top of the 10,450-foot summit of Rendezvous Peak, high winds would prevent its use 20 percent of the time.But key to any of this, says the Kemmerer family, which has owned Jackson Hole for the last 13 years, is outside, public funding. The family does not want to take on private investors because of what a resort spokesman described as operational reasons. Instead, Jackson Hole has enlisted local business and government leaders, as well as a lobbyist in Washington D.C., to solicit possible money from local, state, and federal governments. The resort is willing to spend only $5 million of its own money.Jerry Blann, president of the ski area, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that the ski area has been a major loss for the Kemmerers. They have invested $56 million for improvements, getting an annual return that has averaged only $27,000. The resort is selling a three-acre parcel at the ski area base for $10 million in order to proceed with a tram replacement and other on-mountain improvements. Park City bars toy with evening of no smokingPARK CITY, Utah – Because of the Mormon influence, Utah has a reputation for the straight-laced and narrow. Liquor, while available, is tightly prescribed. Ironically, when it comes to tobacco use, Utah seems to be more libertine than others.To wit, several Park City bars and restaurants are tepidly experimenting with the concept of a smoke-free evening. No, not a smoke-free day, but a smoke-free evening.One bar owner, Jesse Shetler, told The Park Record what while his business is participating in the smoke-free evening, that doesn’t mean it’s headed in that direction. Curiously, he also owns a restaurant that is smoke-free. He insists on the right of self-determination.The trend elsewhere goes in the opposite direction. In Colorado’s Summit County, smoking is banned at all bars and restaurants. Voters in Eagle County also banned smoking, although the individual towns have not. Ten states have banned smoking in bars and restaurants, as have Italy, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand.Aspen bar upends ban on smokingASPEN – One bar in Aspen is reversing course, allowing smoking. A new owner, Heather Kent, said it’s just a matter of business. She plans to appeal to Aspen’s blue-collar-type crowd with Irish food and such deals as Pabst Blue Ribbon for $2 a pint.Before the bar banned smoking in January, it had attracted a lot of lift-operators. “There were Russians, Argentines, a lot of internationals – and a high percentage of them smoked,” she told The Aspen Timers. Some of those smokers, however, said they were happy she also installed a ventilating system.Great smokeout annoys people near Winter ParkWINTER PARK – The bark beetles that are munching their way through the lodgepole pine forests of the Fraser Valley are having a secondary affect: smoke.After property owners cut down trees, to reduce the fire danger, they are burning the slash in 15- by 15-foot piles. After one such big burn, public officials were besieged with phone calls from people who felt they had been smoked out.Grand County officials reported 400 such slash piles in 2000. This year they expect upwards of 5,000. Burning is permitted during winter, when danger of spreading fire is low. The trick is to burn when weather conditions will allow the smoke to be blown out. However, a ring of mountains creates temperature inversions that often create a lid on smoke.Just how can people get rid of the excess wood? County officials have talked about a biomass plant, which would burn the wood with controls on emissions in order to produce electricity. However, biomass plants can be enormously expensive, in this case running $100 million to $120 million – hard to justify if the source of wood is temporary.While the Fraser Valley has never had particularly good air, owing to a century of railroad locomotives, sawmills, and stoves and fireplaces of residents, the Winter Park Manifest sees a similarity to the valley’s pollution and the skyline of Denver, Los Angeles and other cities.Man slips, drowns in Glacier National ParkGLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Mont. – While Glacier National Park may be more famous for its stories of grizzly bears attacking hikers, the leading cause of death is drowning.Another victim was added to that roll recently when a 40-year old hiker, Dennis Brooks, fell into McDonald Creek and drowned. The Whitefish Pilot explains that the man, ignoring several signs that warned of the danger, had been hopping from boulder to boulder when a small bit of moisture caused him to lose his balance. Since 1913, at least 52 people have drowned in Glacier, according to Park Service records.40 is the pivotal age for wild and crazy skiing guysLAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Who do you think has the highest risk for getting injured when skiing and snowboarding? Would you say old people, what a newspaper in Vail once called “skeezers.” Or how about testosterone-driven young guys?Neither, reports a physical therapist at Lake Tahoe, who cites a recent study that shows 40-year-old males are most at risk. They have the desire to take risks, but their joints won’t hold up.