Mountain Town News: Drones authorized for use at Lake Tahoe ski areas |

Mountain Town News: Drones authorized for use at Lake Tahoe ski areas

The moonset over the Gore Range as seen from Willowbrook on Tuesday, Jan. 26.
Tim Nolan / special to the daily |

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Use of drones on ski slopes in California will soon begin, and a San Francisco-based company said it will expand operations to resorts in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon and Utah later this season.

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved new rules that will allow Cape Productions to fly at least 30 feet off the ground when taking videos of skiers who want to record their flowing ski runs. In the United States, the company will offer the service first at Squaw Valley and Homewood Mountain, both located above Lake Tahoe.

Later this season, reports the Lake Tahoe News, the company plans to expand the service to Winter Park in Colorado, Powder Mountain in Utah, Timberline and Mount Hood Meadows in Oregon, Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho and Mountain Creek in New Jersey.

Cape Productions has been recording skiers since December 2014 at the Fernie Alpine Resort in British Columbia, where regulations made it easier to fly drones. The company also recorded the U.S. Ski Team in New Zealand.

“We’re basically the first consumer drone video service to do what it does legally,” said Louis Gresham, president and a co-founder of the company.

The company maps a resort’s slopes and then programs its drones to fly down a specified path, called a rail.

The company will offer packages of $50 to $150. They typically include two or three runs, recorded at angles from the front, the back, and perhaps off to the side.

$5,000 vet bill for dog high on weed

WHISTLER, B.C. – A terrier named Ozzy got terribly, terribly sick before Christmas. The dog had eaten something off the ground in Whistler. The next morning Ozzy’s owner found the dog swaying and then falling over, shuddering violently and twitching.

A veterinarian also found a weak pulse, low temperatures, and plummeting glucose levels, all consistent with ingestion of marijuana. At another clinic, an MRI on the dog revealed evidence of minor brain damage — although, given Ozzy’s age, it could have been a pre-existing condition. All this expertise came at a cost of $5,000.

Dr. Loridawn Gordon, of the Whistler Veterinary Clinic, told Pique that marijuana poisoning is “very common” in Whistler. “I get a lot of calls at least two or three times a month, I would say.”

Similar reports of an uptick in canine intoxication have come out of Colorado mountain towns since legalization of recreational use began in 2014.

In Oregon, which has also legalized recreational sale of marijuana, one Portland vet clinic had treated 65 pets for marijuana ingestion by July of last year, compared to only 6 cases the year before.

All that said, with dogs, as with humans, there is some evidence that specific strains of cannabis that have no THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis, can aid in relief of arthritis, pain, and anxiety.

Science still sketchy on impact on young minds

ASPEN, Colo. — What effect will cannabis legalization have on adolescents? That’s been a central question in Colorado’s liberalized laws, but the answer isn’t in.

However, in a recent talk in Aspen, Dr. Amir Levine, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, said that the longer adolescents wait to use cannabis, the healthier it is for their minds.

During the teen years, the brain is activating many aspects of thought, including the understanding of abstract ideas, he said, according to an account in the Aspen Daily News. “The brain awakens to new possibilities,” he said.

While cannabis likely has medicinal value, the adolescent brain is “exquisitely sensitive” to the drug. But many questions remain unanswered, including: What is the mechanism by which cannabis harms the adolescent brain? Is there a particular age at which the brain is most susceptible? Can the harm be prevented or reversed?

At Aspen High School, where the talk was given, there is no statistical evidence that Colorado’s legalization has spurred increased use.

Plastic bottles booted from two Sierra resorts

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have ceased to sell bottled water. Instead, guests may buy reusable water bottles and will have access to 20 water refill stations.

In a press release, the two resorts — both owned by Denver-based KSL Capital Partners — said they want to inspire their customers to rethink their daily habits by choosing reusable products.

Andy Wirth, chief executive of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, said the company seeks to “lead by example to show businesses that these kinds of changes are environmentally as well as fiscally viable.”

Squaw estimates that the program, called Drink Mountain Tap, will remove 28,000 plastic bottles from the annual waste stream of the two resorts while also removing a significant carbon footprint.

No other U.S. ski resort has undertaken an initiative of this kind, but the resorts hope that others will follow suit.

To help sell the idea of using ordinary tap water, the resorts point out that tap water from local water districts that supply them have won several best-tasting water awards in California competitions.

Aboriginals honored in sculpture in Jasper

JASPER, Alberta – Jasperites were not the first residents of Jasper National Park. Before 1907, when the Canadian government established the park, the Aseniwuche Winewak, or Rocky Mountain People, lived there at least seasonally. They now live in the Grande Cache area, located just to the north of the park.

The Jasper Fitzhugh says a four-foot bronze sculpture to commemorate the residency of the aboriginals will be erected this year at a museum in Jasper. The newspaper says Parks Canada has spent the last decade working toward reconciliation with the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation and other aboriginal groups with connections to the area.

This collaborative project is another step in rebuilding that trust. Parks Canada has also entered into agreements with some groups to allow collection of medicinal plants growing within the park.

Uber vs. taxis: more heartburn at Sundance

PARK CITY, Utah – While movie critics analyze the latest offerings at the Sundance Film Festival, taxi drivers continue to stew about the new competition from Uber, the car-sharing alternative.

One taxi service owner, Jack Fenton, has printed up 50 bumper stickers: “Get lost in the mountains. Take Uber,” the stickers say.

Fenton, a 35-year resident of the area, told The Park Record he questions whether Uber drivers know their way around Park City’s often-confusing geography. However, he didn’t provide evidence for that insinuation.

All this matters because the 11-day Sundance is the year’s best payday for taxi drivers. During Sundance, the going taxi rate within Park City increases by 25 percent, from $20 per ride to $25 per ride.

Fenton also sought to portray Uber as a big, multinational organization. “The film festival is all about independent films. We should all be embracing independent taxi services as well,” he said.

Uber, meanwhile, announced plans to start offering helicopter shuttles from the film festival to the airport in Salt Lake City, just over the hill, about 45 minutes away by car. But town and county officials tell The Record the company had not submitted a proposal for a helipad, as required by their laws.

Steamboat Springs to get a higher-fiber diet

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — First rate Internet connectivity has been a central driver of local economic development goals in many mountain towns. In Steamboat Springs, the local newspaper reports a $758,000 grant from state government that the local newspaper calls out as one of “the first major news stories” of the year.

“The installation of fiber optic trunk line between the two sides of Steamboat has huge potential to positively impact the local broadband landscape,” Steamboat Today says. “Redundant broadband service and reliable, fast Internet access are essential to doing business in the modern world,” the paper noted.

Coal miners reeling in Steamboat area

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Steamboat Springs calls itself Ski Town USA, but in a round-about way, it’s a coal town, too.

From the top of Mt. Werner, you can see plumes of steam coming from four coal-fired generating stations in the distance. You can’t see the coal mines, but there are three, and one of them, Twentymile Mine, owned by Peabody Energy, pays 6 percent of property taxes in Routt County. The coal miners and power plants also create a significant payroll, with average wages in excess of $100,000, far better than the ski town norm.

But it’s not a good time for coal mining. Six coal companies have filed for bankruptcy in the last year, their stock prices tumbling. Why?

The Wall Street Journal on Saturday talked about coal producers “staggering” under environmental regulations and low natural gas prices.

The New York Times on Sunday had a more nuanced story. It pointed to Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, which was trading at $1,000 a share as recently as 2011. Now, it’s down to $4.

These same arguments have been playing out in the pages of Steamboat Today.

Recently, Gary Burkholder, a local coal-miner of the last 33 years, shared his frustrations and wagged his finger at the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. effort designed to reduce greenhouse gases. The policy, he charges, was designed to “destroy an industry.” And it will, he predicts, double electricity prices.

Paul Bonnifield, a former college history instructor and one-time railroad brakeman, sees different dynamics. Natural gas burns more cleanly and efficiently than coal and — owing to the revolution in drilling techniques — has become less expensive than coal, says Bonnifield, who lives among coal miners in Yampa.

“In the fall elections, Republicans who promise to reverse President Barack Obama’s energy policy may win the White House and reverse the policy, or the U.S. Supreme Court may throw out his energy programs. That will not help Western coal mining,” he writes in response to his neighbor’s letter. “The principles of competitive markets are against coal. Coal is more expensive than gas.”

But the Twentymile Mine has another problem, Bonnifield explained last October: It’s running out of coal. In the 1980s, it was a strip mine. But that easy-to-scoop deposit is now gone, and mining has gone underground. Bonnifield says that coal, too, will soon be gone.

“The Twentymile Mine is not yet on life support, but within a decade, it will be applying for assisted living.”

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