Mountain Town News: Not enough snow to create lucrative business in March |

Mountain Town News: Not enough snow to create lucrative business in March

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Western resorts got blanketed with snow during the weekend. Telluride rejoiced with 17 inches. In Vail, people were reporting the conditions were actually pretty good.

But Crested Butte got only 5 inches of snow, so skiing remains largely limited to those runs with manufactured snow. The extreme stuff, for which the resort is noted, is still thin.

“The 5 inches we picked up this weekend didn’t change the world here,” says John Norton.

Norton is the executive director of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association and a former executive at ski areas, both Crested Butte and Aspen.

Like many other ski towns this winter, Crested Butte’s bookings held up well through Christmas, despite the absence of snow. But in the last month the numbers have faltered significantly.

Norton recently issued a memo in which he reported that March bookings “continue to suck. It used to be the biggest and most reliable winter month. Now it’s falling out of bed. March continues to be a puzzle.”

In a phone conversation this week, Norton confirmed his continued confusion about why March is becoming the end of ski season, even in good snow years. People, even without children in schools, favored March because it was warmer, on some days pleasant enough to have a beer outside between runs.

Now, March is soft and February is the last strong month for bookings, reports Norton. He speculates that perhaps lodging during March has become too high for many people.

Others wonder whether March has been too warm. It’s not because of temperatures at ski areas. Ski areas still commonly lose customers long before they lose their snow. Rather, it’s the idea that spring is coming in places like Chicago and Atlanta earlier, causing people to stay home instead of flying to Crested Butte to ski

Aspen plans to experiment with dock-less bike program

ASPEN, Colo. – Dock-less bike programs have been sweeping the country in the last year, and Aspen will likely give the idea a fling this summer.

Seattle, Washington D.C., Dallas and several dozen other cities, mostly large ones, have embraced the dock-less bikes. So has the Denver suburb of Aurora. The idea comes from China and had spread to other Asian countries before arriving in the United States.

The idea is that bicycles are available for rental. But unlike other programs, there is no place where they have to be returned. When you’re finished using them, just leave them there.

With its three-month mobility lab, Aspen wants to experiment with ways to provide alternatives to the cars that pack the city’s streets, especially during summer. The basic idea was to encourage people to use an alternative to the personal car to get around.

The lab had been budgeted for $7 million, with the bulk of the money coming from automobile manufacturers and technology companies. Donations have been slow, although city officials say they’ve attracted enough interest for the mobility lab to be conducted in 2019.

This summer’s more limited program, called Aspen Shifts Gears, will also feature e-bikes that can be rented at the intercept lots 2 miles from the town’s core.

City staffers, subject to council approval, also wanted to create barrier-protected dedicated bikeways through the downtown core. In this way, there would be some greater constriction to cars.

California finally embraces roundabouts 20 years later

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – In some things, California is definitely at the lead of new trends and thinking. It is, for example, driving some of the changes in clean energy.

In other realms, though, it’s pokey. Consider roundabouts, the modern rethinking of the older traffic circles. They are circular in nature, but you approach the circle at a slant, improving the flow, instead of perpendicular to the circle.

In 1994, the town was desperate to create a better way to accommodate traffic flows at the town’s main four-way stop adjacent to Interstate 70. Roundabouts were new then. Without a ton of evidence to show that it would work, the town manager in 1994 agreed to go ahead with a roundabout instead of stop lights or other solutions. The first one debuted at Thanksgiving 1994. There was barely a grumble. It was as close to a home run as any public investment is likely to ever be. Since then, roundabouts have become ubiquitous in Colorado and elsewhere.

Now California is catching on. “After shying away from them for years, the California Department of Transportation is on a roundabout building spree,” reports the Sacramento Bee.

“We were just very cautious,” said John Lieu, a traffic operations official. “Now it’s proving to be one of the best tools in our toolbox.”

In Park City, talk about life beyond Harvey Weinstein

PARK CITY, Utah – If numbers were down, Women’s Marches were held at several ski towns of the Rocky Mountains.

In Wyoming, 300 people turned out in downtown Jackson where last year there were 1,000, according to the counts by the Jackson Hole News&Guide. In Colorado, however, the marchers in Durango numbered 500, or about the same as last year, reported the Durango Herald. In Carbondale, near Aspen, there were 500 marchers.

Park City, flush with participants of the Sundance Film Festival, had 2,500, this year, according to the counts of local police, down from 7,000 to 9,000 last year.

This year’s march ended with a star-studded cast of speakers, including the actress Jane Fonda. She drew cheers while urging grassroots activism. She likened the effort now to that of the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s.

“It happens through organizing,” she said, according to a report in The Park Record. “That’s how all the important changes in this country have come about. Rosa Parks wasn’t just any black woman who decided not to give up her seat. She was a trained organizer with the NAACP.”

At a Sundance session, founder Robert Redford lauded the changes now underway. “What this period of change is doing is bringing more opportunity for women in film to have their own voices heard and do their own project.”

He also talked directly about Harvey Weinstein, the heavy-weight Hollywood producer accused by many women of being a sexual predator. As a Sundance visitor, he marched in last year’s parade.

“I think Harvey Weinstein was a moment in time, and we’re going to move past that,” Redford said. “When we had people who came to the festival like Harvey, they came to the festival with one thing in mind. They looked at what they could cherry-pick for their own use. The festival will go on, (because) our purpose was to make sure that the festival is making sure to show the work of the artist.”

Cannabis retailer wants to get closer to the ski slopes

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Steamboat had three marijuana shops to begin with, all located on the western edge of the town amid service and light-industrial uses, well away from other retailers selling skis, clothing and so forth.

But one by one, they’re moving toward the middle of things.

Steamboat Today reports that the latest proposal, from Rocky Mountain Remedies, would put it between the town’s downtown and the base of the Steamboat Ski Area.

In its application, the company notes changed public attitudes concerning the visibility of retail marijuana operations. It, too, wants to be a “more accessible location for its patients and clients,” the application says.

Colorado law shields ski company from damages

DENVER, Colo. – Colorado’s law that shields ski areas from lawsuits has been upheld again in a case involving a doctor who broke her leg while learning to ski at Keystone.

The Vail Daily reports that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Dr. Teresa Brigance could not sue Vail Resorts. By signing her ski school waiver and by buying a lift ticket, she was barred from suing the ski company as a result of the broken femur she suffered.

The doctor broke her femur while trying to unload from a beginner chair.

Citing legal precedents, the court ruled that skiing is “recreational” and not “practically necessary” and therefore does “not rise to the level of essential public service contemplated by Colorado law.”

Jackson Hole happy to stay as independent ski resort

JACKSON, Wyo. – Jackson Hole Mountain Resorts remains a major, independent ski company. It’s not part of the Vail Resorts stable, nor is it part of the new Alterra Mountain Company.

Jay Kemmerer, representative of the family that owns the resort, says it’s not because he hasn’t been asked to sell.

“They all call me,” Kemmerer told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. “We have nice chats. I thank them for the visit, and life moves on. We want to be our own identity and remain neutral in this active acquisition period.”

In the past 25 years that the Kemmerers have owned Jackson Hole, they have invested $200 million in infrastructure. “We’ve spent 3.2 times the amount of net profit,” he said. “The family never took a dime out for 20 years. We are proud of the resort and focused on expanding it.”

Kemmerer recently chose Mary Kate Buckley to replace Jerry Blann as manager of the ski area. She comes to the ski area with experience in brand management and business development first with the Walt Disney Co. and then with Nike, the shoe company.

Blann arrived at Jackson Hole after running the Aspen Skiing Co. in the 1980s. Mark Barron, a former mayor in Jackson, credited Blann and the Kemmerers with giving Jackson and Teton County a much stronger winter economy.

In Aspen, Lester Crown, 92, was honored Saturday night at a community banquet. He and his family bought into the Aspen Skiing Co. in 1984, but knew nothing of the ski business at the time. In 1993, they became the sole owners of the ski company, which has four ski areas, including Aspen and Snowmass.

The Crowns last year partnered with KSL Capital Partners to create the new company, Alterra Mountain, which now has 12 ski areas in the United States and Canada. The Aspen Skiing Co. is not part of the new company, but there is a link. Lester Crown told the Aspen Times’ Scott Condon that the new company was a matter of survival.

“It was a question of whether the (Aspen Skiing Co.) could stand alone and attract the clientele it needed and deserved,” he said.

Electric co-op plans study of its non-coal options

DURANGO, Colo. – Electricity products and costs are changing so terribly fast. Solar, especially, but even wind used to be considered expensive. They were.

But that was then. Prices of renewables have been tumbling so rapidly that more and more utilities are sizing up their options.

The latest to make a move is La Plata Electric Association. The Durango-based electrical co-operative is one of 43 co-ops from New Mexico to Wyoming supplied by Tri-State Generation & Transmission. Tri-State transmits electricity from the big federal dams of the West and, to a lesser extent, other renewable resources: 26 percent altogether. Most of the rest comes from coal-fired power plants.

By a 6-to-5- vote, directors of La Plata have agreed to “evaluate likely scenarios” for the co-op’s “energy needs for the next 10 to 15 years.” For each scenario, the committee is to “account for possible costs, risks, benefits and legal and contractual obligations…”

Nowhere is there specific mention of Tri-State, but a press release notes that there have been discussions among directors and the Durango-area altogether about the value of the co-op’s remaining 33-year contract with Tri-State. The subcommittee is expected to research various options by March 21.

The Durango City Council last September received a petition with 1,000 signatures calling for the city government to ensure that 100 percent of its electricity comes from local, renewable sources by 2050.

The contract with Tri-State to 2040 obligates La Plata to get 95 percent of its power from the wholesale provider.

One other electrical co-op has already bailed from Tri-State, although the 2016 divorce cost Taos-based Kit Carson Electric $35 million. Kit Carson has set out to achieve 100 percent renewable generation during daylight hours by 2020. Further, directors believe this can be done while actually saving ratepayers money. They are working with a new company, Guzman Energy, which has an office in Denver.

Another co-op, Delta-Montrose Electric, may be leaving. Minutes of the board of directors meeting for January 2017 say that the board adopted a resolution directing the co-op’s chief executive to “negotiate the terms of an exit from Tri-State.”

The current contract calls for Tri-State to supply up to 95 percent of the co-op’s power through 2040. However, in what many saw as a decision with regional if not national implications, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission several years ago sided with the local co-op in a fight with Tri-State. The disagreement was whether the local co-op had latitude to get more than 5 percent of its power from local sources. The electricity in question comes from harnessing of fast-moving water in an irrigation canal.

The background story is that renewables, coupled with natural gas, time and again, are undercutting prices of coal-generated electricity.

A case in point: Xcel Energy announced its plans last August to close two coal plants in Colorado early and replace the lost electrical generation with renewables and natural gas. It said it could do so while keeping the rates flat or possibly even reducing the costs to consumers.

If that change is approved by state regulators, 55 percent of Xcel’s power within Colorado will come from renewable sources.

Xcel provides electricity for Breckenridge and other Summit county towns and is a wholesale provider for various other electrical co-ops, including those that serve Steamboat Springs, Vail, and portions of Aspen.

Even so, the bids of independent power producers announced in late December surprised many, drawing national attention. They are low, low, low. Forget about the reputation of renewables being like Perrier.

A familiar objection to a proposed housing project

WHISTLER, B.C. – Every ski town of the West has stories at least monthly about the pain of too little housing affordable to people with incomes shy of $100,000. Just as common are stories about efforts to meet those needs.

But the work of getting affordable housing done is littered with snags. Witness a story out of Whistler, where a 74-unit employee housing unit has drawn the ire of prospective neighbors on the quiet cul-de-sac. The project would have 122 underground parking spaces.

Dave Brownlie, formerly the chief executive at the ski area, is representing the developer. He argues that the project is exactly what the municipality has been wanting. “There is a commitment to quality, there is a commitment to green building … that was all in the municipal guidelines (that came out of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing),” he said. He also points out that the municipal vision calls for high-density development.

The one-bedroom units would rent for $1,971. Two-bedroom units would fetch $2,487 a month.

Another proposed five-story employee rental building would get about $1,000 for a one-bedroom unit. The developer of that latter project makes a point that they’re likely to rent the units through the community housing authority and not to businesses.

“The whole notion of employers controlling accommodations for their employees, I’ve been dead set again that from the first time it was suggested 20 to 30 years ago,” said Rod Nadeau, the managing partner of Innovation Building Group. “We don’t need to go back to the coal mine days.”

In Telluride, a new affordable complex called Virginia Placer has been completed. Now, a lottery is to be held for the 18 units. More weight is given those applicants who graduated from a local school, if they are active emergency personnel, and if they have lived in Telluride for an extended time, reports the Telluride Daily Planet.

Heartburn in Jasper about vandalism of its rainbows

JASPER, Alberta – Jasper has a rainbow crosswalk, a symbol of acceptance to the lesbian, gay, bi, transexual community. But the rainbow flag stickers, mounted on various businesses as a sign of acceptance, have been ripped down in several cases recently, causing some concern in the local community.

“It’s repulsive to see this,” OUT Jasper executive director Mychol Ormandy told the Jasper Fitzhugh. “We’ve struggled to get the rainbow crosswalk. Now for an individual to feel it’s their right to rip a rainbow sticker off a building—why bring unhappiness to people?”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.