Mountain Town News: Beacons don’t guarantee safety, but they’re vital in avalanche country |

Mountain Town News: Beacons don’t guarantee safety, but they’re vital in avalanche country

Allen Best

GEORGETOWN, Colo. — Again comes evidence that having an avalanche beacon in your pack won’t necessarily allow you to survive an avalanche.

The story comes from Kelso Peak, located 50 miles west of Denver and 20 miles east of Frisco. Three people on snowshoes were walking at the foot of Kelso with the intent of climbing Torrey’s, a 14,000-foot peak on the Continental Divide.

A report on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website says the three followed an a previous skier’s track with some misgiving, as it crossed a slope with several avalanche tracks. Bad decision. The first snowshoer made it safely across, but the second one was caught in a slide.

Using beacons, the companions were able to find the trapped individual under 1.5 meters (5 feet) of snow debris, but it was too late.

At ski resorts in the West, there were other deaths and near deaths. In Utah, outside the boundary of Canyons Resort, near Park City, a skier triggered a 300-foot wide avalanche the day after Christmas. He ended up being buried to his neck in avalanche debris that was 15 feet deep. The skier, described as highly experienced in backcountry travel, was dug out by companions, reports the Park Record.

In Wyoming, a 54-year-old lawyer from Cleveland ran out of luck when skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The body of Marc Krantz was found in a somewhat inverted position, his head buried in the powdery snow, in a steep ravine. While the corner’s report had not been released, it appeared he was asphyxiated, unable to free himself in the deep snow.



ASPEN – What’s the most popular ski area in North America? That question is the bread-and-butter for the ski magazines, who use all sorts of measuring sticks to come up with their rankings.

One measure, however, is how much a ski area can get for its lift tickets. Yes, yes —hardly anybody pays the full price and mostly then just during the busy holidays.

That top-dollar price again this year has been at Vail and Beaver Creek, at least so far. The Aspen Daily News, which tracks such things, reports that the resorts were charging $159 one day last week, while Breckenridge had upped its rate to $145.

Aspen kept its lid at $129, up $5 from last season. Deer Valley was charging $120 and Whistler/Blackcomb $119.

Those numbers may have shifted somewhat after the Daily News report, but they give a flavor of this particular pecking order.

The Daily News also notes that Aspen’s top price has gone up 65 percent since 2005. That should tell you about income levels for the world’s wealthiest 1 percent, the Christmas week bread-and-butter for Aspen and many of the other destination resorts.


TRUCKEE, Calif. — How much of a threat is climate change to ski areas? At California’s Squaw Valley, chief executive Andy Wirth describes it as “most certainly a real threat,” but “not a direct threat to our existence as a viable business.”

How so? Squaw Valley has invested millions in expanding its snowmaking capacity since drought began hammering the Sierra Nevada three years ago. “Since the mid-‘80s, the length of ski seasons has actually materially increased with the advent of snowmaking,” he tells the Sierra Sun.

He suggested that ski areas can use other tools to leverage their businesses even as temperatures rise.

The ski area recently released “Environmental & Community Report 2014,” its first such document. It has strong language.

“For our part, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows now stands with 99 percent of the scientific community and publicly recognizes that climate change is both human caused… and utterly irrefutable,” writes Michael Gross, director of environmental initiatives, in the report. “Our glaciers are melting, sea levels rising, temperatures soaring.”

He also points to the changing condition of Lake Tahoe, which has had reduced clarity even after cleanup efforts. The problem is growth of algae, a product of warmer temperatures.

A good snowmelt might seem like the answer, but research by University of California-Davis scientists points to a long-term trend: Snow decreased from an average of 51 percent of total precipitation getting into the lake in 1910 to just 36 percent in 2012.

“As a world-renowned resort, our intention is to lead the fight against climate change – not merely follow the paths of others,” Gross writes in the report.

Tellingly, the report urges readers to check out some of the more fierce advocacy organizations, including Bill McKibben’s and Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates a carbon tax and fee on emissions.

“We have the resources and technology to change the destructive path we are on,” the report says.


ASPEN — Most of Aspen’s guests arrive by jet, and the weekend after Christmas was a very busy time for the skies over the resort. One commercial flight from Denver zoomed around in the sky for several hours while awaiting its turn to land at the airport near Aspen, finally returning to Denver when fuel ran low.

Bill Tomcich, president of the reservations agency, Stay Aspen Snowmass, told the Aspen Times that it was one of the busiest days in the history of the airport, with 312 aircraft flying in and out of the airport. Airport officials said private airplanes were responsible for 85 percent of the traffic seeking to use the single runway.

“There’s no denying that we had a problem that forced a number of diversions along with a lot of delays,” Tomcich wrote in an e-mail distributed Dec. 31. “But to put this problem into perspective, out of 34 commercial flights scheduled into (the airport) last Saturday, only four total were forced to divert. And of those four, three were able to continue on to Aspen after refueling.”



ASPEN — The Aspen Times reports 16 bankruptcy filings by Pitkin County residents and businesses last year, the lowest total since 2008, when there were 8. An average of 41 had occurred in the intervening years. Attorney John LaSalle tells the newspaper that it’s all about the real estate bubble that burst.


STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – The Steamboat Pilot & Today says that one of the major challenges facing its community this year is the scarcity of affordable rental housing.

“The increasingly tight rental market has caused rents to rise, and more and more people living here on moderate incomes are finding it extremely difficult to secure housing.”

The newspaper applauds plans by the local Yampa Valley Housing Authority to pursue a public-private partnership to develop affordable housing on 10 acres of land owned by the non-profit.



JASPER, Alberta — The Jasper Fitzhugh newspaper objects to arguments made by neighborhood opponents of a rezoning that could produce 10 apartments in the community’s tight-as-a-drum rental market.

“Most troubling of the arguments was the idea that renters are less respectful of their homes and neighborhoods than homeowners,” notes the newspaper. If there’s truth to that perception, it paints with entirely too broad a brush, the newspaper says.

“By crying ‘not in my backyard’ and pointing fingers at lowly renters, homeowners are depriving many of Jasper’s residents of the healthy, happy homes they deserve.”

Impacts of CP train

derailment unclear

BANFF, Alberta – A Canadian Pacific freight train derailed about 400 metres from the Banff Train Station and 15 cars spilled into the adjoining 40 Mile Creek.

A conservation manager for the Banff National Park tells the Rocky Mountain Outlook that the rail has done a good job of keeping the water relatively clean.

Fly ash, derived from coal combustion and used in making concrete, was spilled, but the impacts to aquatic life are unknown because the river is covered in ice. Also spilled were soybeans, which may draw grizzly bears come spring thaw.

A solution to illegal

short-term rentals?

WHISTLER, B.C. – Might a centralized database of available short-term accommodations in Whistler reduce the black market economy in rentals in Whistler?

Sue Chappel, chief executive of a resort vacation rental website called alluraDirect, said such a central database would vet and list all legitimate rental properties available in the resort.

Whistler has a severe rental crunch, and the finger is being pointed at least partly at homeowners illegally renting out units to vacationers that had been previously rented to local employees.

This is not a new issue in Whistler or, for that matter, anywhere else. But in Whistler, as elsewhere, the perceived problem has grown in recent years with the advent of Airbnb, VRBO, and other web-based accommodation-listing services. In renting illegally, such services also avoid paying community lodging and other taxes.

The Pique Newsmagazine reports that some 45 of 65 illegal rental properties have been brought into compliance.

When can water be

used for pot plants?

BASALT, Colo. – Marijuana plants need water to grow, but can water from federal dams be used to irrigate cannabis grow operations?

Marijuana became de facto illegal in the United State in 1937, when Congress began requiring permits for sales. The government, however, didn’t issue permits. In 1970, Congress more clearly made it illegal. Colorado, in 2012, legalized the use, sale, and cultivation of marijuana for recreational purposes.

To grow marijuana requires water, and in Colorado much of the water comes from reservoirs, tunnels, and other delivery infrastructure financed, built, and managed by the federal government. Can water from those dams and other infrastructure now be used to grow marijuana?

That was the question last year in Pueblo County, and now the same question has come up in a different way in the Aspen area.

The question arose in Pueblo because water for several agencies is stored in Pueblo Reservoir, which was built by the federal government in the 1970s. Among those agencies is Pueblo Water Works, a semi-independent water provider obligated to provide water to homes and businesses in the city.

“We are caught between being required by the city to provide water to these businesses and being banned by the feds from providing the water,” says Paul Fanning, Pueblo Water Works representative,.

So far, Pueblo has figured out a balancing act. It had a water delivery system out of the Arkansas River before the reservoir was built. It can claim that the federal dam is only incidental to the delivery of that water.

“As always with water issues, it gets to be complex,” says Fanning.

The reservoir at Pueblo was built to store water diverted across the Continental Divide from the Aspen area in the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. Another dam, Ruedi, was built near Aspen as part of the same project. The question in the Aspen-Glenwood Springs area is whether water from that reservoir can be used to grow marijuana.

Aspen Journalism reports a further wrinkle in that a marijuana-grow operation called High Valley Farms has applied for a water right. The marijuana would be sold in Aspen. But Alan Martellaro, the Division of Water Resources engineer, says he’s unsure whether the water right would be legal if awarded by the state.

On the other hand, he tells Aspen Journalism, he recognizes that if Colorado allows marijuana plants to be grown, then it also should be legal to water them.

“We’re not coming down one way or the other. We just want an answer,” Martellaro said.

Water has long been a source of friction between Colorado and the federal government. That friction has almost always been about the role of water on federal lands.

For many years, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management asserted that they should have some control over water on federal lands. After all, what good is a national forest without water? Public lands were set aside as national forests in the 1880s and later decades in part because of the impact of logging operations and other activities on creeks and rivers.

Colorado, however, has pushed back just as hard. The state insists that it controls water use and adjudication.

The reality has been something of a compromise. Colorado grudgingly concedes some authority of federal agencies for bypass flow requirements, but insists strictly upon water allocation.

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