Mountain Town News: Clintons and 1 percent in Rocky Mountain ski towns |

Mountain Town News: Clintons and 1 percent in Rocky Mountain ski towns

Onawa takes a walk with his grandpa along Sapphire Point.
SANDRA FLICKSTEIN / special to the Daily |

PARK CITY, Utah – Hillary and Bill Clinton are on the hustings in ski towns of the Rocky Mountains. But they’re out to collect donations, not sway voters at these private events in swank surroundings. Welcome to the world of the 1 percenters.

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton were expected to drop by Aspen on Tuesday for a fundraising dinner at a nearby ranch. The Aspen Times reported donation levels were $10,000, $33,400 and $50,000, according to an application to Pitkin County.

Bill Clinton is scheduled to be in Park City on Aug. 11 to pass the hat. Plates there cost $1,000 each.

Hillary Clinton had been to been both Aspen and Park City last year to press the flesh at private fundraising affairs. In Aspen and Glenwood Springs last year, county sheriffs objected that they shouldn’t be required to provide security for Clinton’s motorcade from the airport for free, as the event was private.

In Aspen, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo this week reaffirmed his reasoning. If Hillary Clinton “comes here and drives down Main Street and waves … that’s on us,” he told the Aspen Daily News. “It’s a chance for me and you to see possibly the next president of the United States.” But when the Democratic nominee and the former president are “cloistered away at a party with a $50,000 price tag and we don’t see them, I think the host should pay. It’s a private party.”

Hillary Clinton’s fundraiser in Aspen last year was held at the home of a former Goldman Sachs executive. Bill Clinton’s event in Park City is being held at a home in a gated community.

Aspen, Park City and Jackson Hole are all firmly established on the fundraising trails of presidential candidates. Aspen usually draws Democrats, while Republicans shake the money bushes of Jackson Hole. Park City has gotten both: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, Rudy Giuliani and Jon Huntsman. Romney, for a time, owned a house in Park City.

Camel noses in tents? Bikes in wilderness?

PARK CITY, Utah – Do you know what the inside of a tent looks like when a camel gets its nose under the edge?

That seems to be the way that conservationists in Utah see the bill recently introduced into Congress. The Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Act proposes to allow local land managers the discretion to allow mountain bikes into federally designated wilderness areas.

That would, as The Park Record notes, be a significant change. The Wilderness Act of 1964 specifically prohibits motorized or mechanized travel. The bill was introduced by Utah’s senators, Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch. “Utah is blessed with an abundance of beautiful wilderness, and Americans should be free to enjoy it,” Hatch said in a press release.

Peter Metcalf, a Park City resident for 25 years and founder of Black Diamond, a manufacturer of skiing, climbing and other gear, thinks the lifting of the mountain bike ban would be unwise. He tells the Park Record that architects of the 1964 Wilderness Act knew exactly what they were doing when they precluded mechanized vehicles. Metcalf further harbors suspicions that this, if adopted, would lead to further weakening of wilderness protections.

Metcalf also thinks there are enough mountain bike trails on public lands without weakening wilderness limits.

Scott Groene, director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, adopted much the same argument. He pointed to Moab, which now has hundreds of miles of singletrack.

“Right now less than 1 percent of the state of Utah is wilderness, so it doesn’t really make sense why you would try to push your way in there at the risk of undermining the Wilderness Act,” he told the Record.

In Colorado, there’s evidence that even without aid of mechanized equipment, hikers are leaving their mark on wilderness. New regulations governing the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, between Aspen and Crested Butte, prohibit campfires above 10,800 feet in elevation, to reduce firewood collecting in sensitive tree-lined forest stands.

Whistler backslides on greenhouse reduction

WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler has been backsliding a wee bit. The municipality in 2004 ambitiously set out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks in particular to a hydroelectric plant in Fitzsimmons Creek, located inside the ski area, some of those gains have been realized.

But emissions stopped decreasing in 2013. The next year they increased 1.2 percent and last year increased 4 percent.

The municipality’s Ted Battiston tells Pique Newsmagazine that Whistler must address transportation within the municipality, the source of 58 percent of community emissions. Of those emissions from passenger vehicles, 30 to 50 percent come from permanent or seasonal residents.

Unlike some other ski towns, Whistler does not include the jet travel of its guests in its accounting of community greenhouse gases. Also unlike most ski towns in the Rocky Mountains, British Columbia altogether depends much more heavily on hydro sources for electricity than on coal or natural gas.

Despite this stalled progress, Whistler has adopted an even more ambitious goal of a 33-percent reduction by 2020. No clear pathway for achieving that reduction was identified, although the plan does see the need to expand access to mass transportation and increased electrification of cars. The plan also calls for improving energy efficiency of the built environment.

Battiston says he is asked why not lower the goals? Because, he responds, the goals are grounded in the reduction that climate scientists have identified as necessary.

Whistler’s climate plan also offers a peek into the future. During the next 25 to 55 years, it says, Whistler can expect more frequent and intense heavy-rain events, but also longer, hotter and drier summers. Winters will be more mild. But snow in the town will more often be replaced by rain, while snow will remain on the top portion of the mountain.

Ski areas and the future of whitebark pine trees

WHITEFISH, Mont. – The Whitefish Mountain Ski Area got a pat on the back for its effort to help whitebark pine trees survive, while across the international border, Lake Louise is getting a kick in the rump.

The tree species, if hard to pick out in a stands of trees, plays a large role in mountain ecology. Grizzly bears gorge on the nutrient-rich and high-calorie seeds, making them the equivalent of a Big Mac to grizzly bears. Clark’s Nutcrackers ferry the seeds, up to a 100 at a time —but in the process distributing them across a forest, so that new trees can grow, explains the Flathead Valley Beacon.

But whitebark pine has been struggling. It’s the victim of something called blister rust, an invasive fungus that followed western settlement of the Rocky Mountains, wiping out much of the whitebark stands in Glacier National Park a century ago. Bark beetles and climate change are also blamed for the struggles of the species.

At one time, 13 percent of the Flathead National Forest was covered by whitebark pine, but today only about a tenth of those trees remain, Melissa Jenkins, a Forest Service silviculturist, tells the newspaper.

Several national forests are responding by trying to accelerate the process by which the trees bear cones. The trees normally don’t start producing cones until they’re 50 to 70 years old. This new process, which involves the Whitefish Mountain ski area, speeds up that process.

Across the border and about 300 miles north in Lake Louise, Parks Canada is filing charges that the ski area in 2013 was guilty of what is called “brushing,” or cutting down the trees. The agency told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that it was unable to comment on the case.

New Colorado law makes it OK to have rain barrels

DURANGO, Colo. – Colorado will have a new law take effect Aug. 11, and it will be a curious one indeed to many people across North America. On that date, people will be allowed to places two rain barrels, with a combined capacity of 110 gallons, at drip-lines along roofs or anywhere else to capture snow, rain and other precipitation.

If you live in a rainy climate, there’s an obvious question here. Add to that this question: Why was this even opposed? It took several years for the law to be adopted by the Colorado Legislature.

The answer, as the Durango Telegraph observes, lies in the laws governing water use in Colorado and, with variations, other generally arid states of the American West. It’s called the doctrine of prior appropriation, something called first-in-time, first-in-right. Under this doctrine, all water is owned, based on the date of filing. So, even though it falls on your roof or your lawn, it’s not yours.

Opponents were worried about the weakening of this doctrine. But a study from Colorado State University found that the water collected in the rain barrels and applied to gardens and other outdoor landscaping would not be missed from Colorado’s streams and rivers.

What about the flipside? Will it really help gardeners out all that much? Probably not, but as Brad Udall, a water researcher at Colorado State University pointed out at a lecture in January, the value of rain barrels is that they reinforce the scarcity of water. As such, they cause people to be more conscious of conservation.

Move over boomers to make room for millennials

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Let’s just call it The Story. Every place with a thriving economy has been feeling the pains of too little housing for people of modest means. Housing prices keep rising, but not so much wages.

Consider South Lake Tahoe, astride the California-Nevada border. The Tahoe Daily Tribune reports that the median price of a single-family has ballooned 50 percent from 2013. The new median is now $384,000, compared to the median family income of $41,380. The Tribune points out that it would take 60 percent of household net income to make the mortgage payment.

Things are better for commuters to Carson City, about a half-hour away, where the median house price is $240,200.

Buyers of second homes, many of them from the San Francisco Bay area, are driving the rapid appreciation in prices. “Buyers come to Tahoe to purchase a vacation home and often pay cash,” says Jennifer Fortune, an agent with Chase International South Tahoe Realty.

In Colorado, a median income is of little help in Aspen, where there’s an even greater gap between home prices and incomes. Nearly half the town’s population lives in deed-restricted affordable housing, including a former mayor, Mick Ireland.

In a recent column in the Aspen Daily News, Ireland notes a recent call for people of a certain age, sometimes called the “Anasazi,” to give up their large units and extra bedrooms in the affordable housing complexes and make do with a studio unit.

“At age 66, I am still working three jobs, as are many of my peers, hardly the ‘retirement’ class some would like to relocate or be rid of,” he writes. “I am hardly the only one who started here in the ’70s and ’80s sleeping on floors (euphemistically known as couch surfing), living in closets and paying half of my income for the privilege.”

Rather than a zero-sum game, taking from one to give to another, the pie must be grown, says Ireland, an ardent Democrat, using a very Republican argument.

But housing is a problem in big cities, too. The Wall Street Journal reports that cities from Seattle to New York have been tweaking zoning to allow greater density in city cores to allow lower-income residents to remain.

“The push to add density without sacrificing diversity comes as an influx of professionals are driving up prices and rents in many cities, a force expected to intensify in coming years,” the Journal reports. “The issue has become more severe as large numbers of millennials, putting off marriage and children, eschew suburban living for amenity-rich urban areas.”

Council members take tour of Aspen pot shops

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen has seven stores that sell marijuana and two more planned. Too many?

Before taking up that question, Aspen city council members decided to actually visit some of the existing stores. Several had never set foot in them since they first opened in January 2014.

Now, they have — and the reports from local newspapers are that they were very, very impressed. “These are the best-run businesses in town,” City Clerk Linda Manning told the council members.

At least part of that is because they have to be. Colorado has imposed exacting regulations on cannabis stores, said to be more rigorous than applied to the sale of liquor.

Mayor Steve Skadron told The Aspen Times that he was impressed by the knowledge of the shop-keepers.

So far, the council has let the free market decide how many cannabis stores Aspen can support. Zoning is similar to that of liquor stores, unlike that of many mountain towns, which have tended to exclude marijuana from areas where tourists spend time.

There’s no clear indication that Aspen will change that, although there seems to be at least a little support for requiring new stores to have second-floor locations.

Aspen hoping for third hotel in Limelight chain

ASPEN, Colo. – With a Limelight hotel in Aspen and another being built in Ketchum, Idaho, the Aspen Skiing Co. is pushing to get a third one started. This would be in Snowmass Village.

The proposed hotel in Snowmass Village has been part of the ski company’s long-standing argument that the lodging product in Aspen and Snowmass needs to be upgraded and expanded, as so many hotel rooms have been lost over the years. Limelight represents an upper mid-level product, by standards of Aspen, and Snowmass is by far the busiest of the company’s four ski areas in and around Aspen.

Company officials, at a recent community event covered by the Aspen Daily News, also drew attention to the airport. The new generation of regional jets favored by airlines are wider than can be accommodated on the current runway, and company officials say it needs to be a community priority to expand the airport.

“This airport is maxed out,” said Mike Kaplan, chief executive of the ski company. Flights into the airport last year offered 202,000 commercial seats, the Daily News notes.

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