Mountain Town News: Does it make any sense to build a new ski area based on the climate of 2065? |

Mountain Town News: Does it make any sense to build a new ski area based on the climate of 2065?

Going into Friday's monster snow, Loveland Ski Area had seen 8.5" in 24 hours, 13" in 48 hours. With that much powder, they will be opening up extensive new terrain throughout the weekend.
Dustin Schaefer / special to the daily |

WHISTLER, B.C. – In the last week, nearly everyone in Whistler got on their winter snow tires. The law in British Columbia requires snow tires by Oct. 1, but that law has widely been ignored in recent years as autumns have turned warmer. Snow in the valleys has been replaced by rain.

Rain also prevailed for most of last winter. It dumped — rain, especially below mid-mountain at Whistler Blackcomb. Skiers had to download to the base. It sometimes rained at the top of the mountain.

Will it get better this winter? Not necessarily. Michael Pidwirny, a climate scientist at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna, says the El Niño should deliver less snow to fall in southern British Columbia, Washington state and possibly Oregon this winter. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests above average snowfall for California, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

Computer forecast models suggest this winter will be warmer than average, but not as warm as the last in the West, says Pidwirny. That warming trend is here to stay. Pidwirny has analyzed the climate future of about 160 ski resorts in western Canada and the United States. Ski areas relatively close to the Pacific have their troubles ahead. So do resorts farther inland, just not as much.

Depending on the geographical location of the ski resort, the climate experienced in the winter of 2014-15 will become the average sometime between the years of 2050 to 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t curtailed.

This poses the question of whether a proposed new ski area called Garibaldi at Squamish should be permitted. Garibaldi is set in a spectacularly beautiful place about halfway between Whistler and Vancouver. But is skiing there realistic?

Pidwirny says it would have a slightly warmer climate than Whistler, because it’s a little bit closer to the Pacific Ocean. From the ski area, it would be possible to look down on Howe Sound, an arm of the Pacific.

The best-case scenario, says Pidwirny, is that global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, but more slowly than they have, until 2070, when they begin to drop. Even so, there would be a 50 percent chance of Garibaldi being warmer than last year. “I doubt the resort would be viable for skiing at that level of warmth,” he says.

If greenhouse gas emissions can’t be curtailed, it could be much warmer yet.

Jim Chu, vice president, special projects and partnerships at Aquilini Investment Group, the project proponent, told Whistler’s Pique that his group would diversify with year-round amenities. “We’re not having all our eggs in one basket,” he said.

Clare Ogilvie, editor of Pique Newsmagazine, says that Whistler understands its own vulnerabilities but, given the climate future, is skeptical about Garibaldi’s intentions.

“You have to ask yourself what is this all about? It is not really about creating a ski resort,” she says.

Real estate, not skiing, might be the real story, she says. She points out that it’s located between two of North America’s hottest real estate markets, Vancouver and Whistler. The proposal calls for 22,000 bed units and a permanent population of 8,000 people.

The Canada West Ski Areas Association argues that any new resorts built in British Columbia should be built in a manner that reflects the climate 50 years into the future instead of 50 years from the past. By that simple measure, says David Lynn, president of the trade group, it’s highly questionable whether the Garibaldi at Squamish resort should be built.

Telluride ski patrollers ratify a 3-year contract

TELLURIDE, Colo. – The Telluride Ski Patrol last week ratified a three-year contract by a 50-to-1 vote, giving patrollers wage increases across the board and a freeze on changes to benefits. The contract also puts into writing benefits for maternity and paternity leave, medical leave, a five-day work week, and other benefits, a union representative tells the Telluride Daily Planet. Precise numbers were not made available.

It’s the first contract for the patrollers, who in February voted to become unionized with representation by the Communications Workers of America. The same union represents ski patrollers at Steamboat Springs and Crested Butte, both in Colorado, and at the Canyons in Utah.

Ski patrollers in New Mexico at Taos Ski Valley also voted. Citing unspecified sources in Taos, the Vail Daily reports that the vote ended in a tie. This came after management sweetened the pot with a pay raise and an allowance for ski gear.

At Beaver Creek, ski instructors have been mulling union representation. Vail Resorts responded with a 55 cents/hour bump for beginning instructors lacking certification, giving them $10.50 an hour. Level 3 certified instructors will get a $4.05 pay increase, to $18 an hour, reported the Vail Daily, citing an e-mail circulated by the company.

Beaver Creek ski instructors have not yet voted to unionize, but if they do, all ski instructors will be required to pay a fee, instead of union dues, to the union. This is allowed by Colorado law.

Matriach of Taos Ski Valley dies at age 97

TAOS, N.M. – Rhoda Blake died recently at the age of 97, and while she can be identified as the widow of Taos Ski Valley founder Ernie Blake, an obituary in the Taos News reveals she was plenty interesting in her own right.

“She was a 50-year cancer survivor, smoked for over 80 years, and was quick-witted to the end. Without her strength and her backing my father, Ernie, there would be no Taos Ski Valley,” said her son, Peter Blake.

The story in the Taos News borrowed frequently from a 1992 book, “Ski Pioneers,” written by Rick Richards. She was born in London but adopted by a New York City couple, who educated her at the finest schools, including Bryn Mawr, a women’s liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.

The couple met on a Christmas ski trip to Stowe, Vermont, in 1940, met up again at Santa Fe in 1941 and got married 1942. They honeymooned at Sun Valley — and Rhoda later said that they almost got divorced because of their ski experience. Ernie was the better skier — and impatient. She was not so good.

But when Ernie decided he wanted to create a ski area at Taos, she was the one that told him to go for it.

Suicides jitters in Jackson and along the San Juan

JACKSON, Wyo. – Mental health counselors in Jackson Hole report they have been seeing one to two cases a week of kids and teens in severe mental crisis, up from one to two cases a month.

A spike after school starts is normal, said Diedre Ashley, executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. “This is more intense.”

Professionals tell the Jackson Hole News&Guide that they cannot explain the trend.

In New Mexico, leaders of the Navajo Nation say they think a spike in suicides is explained by pollution of the San Juan River as the result of a mining discharge in Colorado in early August. But the Associated Press talked with a number of Navajos who remain skeptical about any link of the pollution to the suicides.

Jasper to welcome a Syrian refugee family

JASPER, Alberta – By next year, refugees from Syria may be living in Jasper. A local group has been passing the hat, assuming it will cost $30,000 to help the family of three to get their feet on the Canadian ground.

The patriarch of the Syrian family is a 64-yeaer-old civil engineer whose building was bombed. His 60-year-old wife was a teacher, and their 30-year-old daughter graduated from Damaascus University in 2009 and worked as a lawyer at the Syrian International Islamic Bank until last April.

They lately have been living in the mountains of Lebanon, explains Jasper’s Fitzhugh.

A key conduit to Jasper’s helping hand are a couple, Dave and Eness Hamdi. His family has roots in Egypt and he speaks Arabic, as do the Syrians.

“Every night we would watch the news. We would see and listen to the problems and wondered how we would help, but we didn’t know how,” he told the Fitzhugh. The Anglican Diocese of Edmonton, which has been sponsoring refugees for more than 30 years, was a vital conduit.

The Canadian government has has said it will accept 25,000 Syrian refugees in coming months.

Surprising effect of low oil prices in these towns

EMPIRE, Colo. – Even in the little towns along the Continental Divide west of Denver, jobs are being shed as a result of the global glut in oil. And school districts in both Idaho Springs and Kremmling now must confront the possibility that their sugar-daddy of property assessments, the Henderson Mine and Mill, will close in just 5 years, not 10, as previously predicted.

Molybdenum has been extracted from the mine since 1976. It lies just east of the Continental Divide, at the foot of Berthoud Pass. The grayish molybdenite ore is hauled through a tunnel under the Continental Divide, where a processing mill about 35 miles from Kremmling extracts the molybdenum from the rock.

Among scores of uses, molybdenum strengthens steel. The demand for steel has fallen off sharply as drilling rigs have been laid down in response to the glut of world oil supplies. The International Energy Agency last week reported a global stockpile of three billion barrels.

Production of molybdenum from Henderson was 27 million pounds per year but Freeport-McMoRan, the mining company, now plans 10 million pounds. The price for molybdenum is now the lowest in 12 years, company officials tell the Clear Creek Courant.

With these cutbacks, fewer employees are needed. The 540 employees at the mine and mill will be trimmed by 130 in January. This comes on the heels of 80 layoffs in August.

Many of the mine’s employees live in metropolitan Denver, less than an hour away. But the taxes go to primarily Clear Creek and Grand counties. Officials from both had been advised by company representatives in April of the need to begin planning for when the mine closes.

At that time, Freeport-McMoRan stressed that while a precise date couldn’t be guaranteed, local officials needed to assume a maximum of 10 years of continued mining. But that assumed expectation of continued higher oil prices. Now, with lower prices, some of the final ore body might not be mined economically. In that case, the mine might now close in five years, officials tell the Clear Creek Courant.

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