Mountain Town News: Records tumbling at Lake Tahoe, Whistler |

Mountain Town News: Records tumbling at Lake Tahoe, Whistler

Warm weather brought a smile to the face of this fox last week.
Richard Seeley / special to the daily |

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Snow has been great, the economy has been humming, and ski areas on the West Coast have been reporting record business.

Whistler Blackcomb had recorded 1.14 million skier visits as of early February, the best ever.

In California, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows isn’t over the million skier market yet, but it expects to get there before the season’s end. That would be a first for the Tahoe resort.

“In the context of the past four years, it’s as good as it gets,” Andy Wirth, president and chief executive of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, told the Wall Street Journal.

“The pent-up demand of the last four years has made more people come up here,” said John “JT” Thompson, tourism director of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. Demand has been strong from the San Francisco Bay area, 200 miles away.

Ski officials tell the Journal that climate change is likely to make snowfall all the more unpredictable, prompting them to make changes — such as slides and more mountain bicycle trails — to make the destinations less reliant on snow.

Rain replaces snow over the long term

TRUCKEE, Calif. – More rain instead of snow. That was the trend that Climate Central found when it examined winter precipitation data since 1949 from the 2,121 U.S. weather stations that generally get snow.

Oregon saw the biggest drop in snow with 86 percent of its stations reporting a decline, and Washington state has had an 80-percent decline and Idaho a 78-percent decrease.

More interior states had less change. Wyoming had 49 percent less, Colorado 46 percent, and Utah 42 percent.

Climate Central says last winter’s “wet drought” in the Pacific Northwest is a prime example of the phenomenon. The region was only slightly drier than average, but much of the precipitation that did fall came as rain, thanks to the second-mildest November-to-April on record.

This is, notes the website, a “bummer for ski resorts and the people who love them.”

It’s obviously a problem for resorts. “No amount of grooming can make a rainy day go away,” said Elizabeth Burakowski, a post-doctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Colorado county launches climate action planning

EAGLE, Colo. – Eagle County commissioners have appropriated $52,000 for creation of a climate action plan. The money will be used to collect hard data about the local role of producing greenhouse gases and then outline steps to reduce those emissions.

The Vail Daily reports that the local Walking Mountains Science Center will be paid to create the plan, with a due date of November.

County officials said that the Paris climate negotiations in December showed that greenhouse gas reductions must be driven from the grassroots.

“What we saw in Paris is that nations are probably not going to act. If they’re not, it’s up to local entities to act,” said Commissioner Jill Ryan. But even without a climate plan, Eagle County has been pushing forward with renewable energy installations and energy efficiency projects.

Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins have also adopted climate action plans, as have Carbondale and New Castle, towns adjacent to Eagle County; Aspen, with its Canary Initiative, was among the first.

In Montana, city officials in Whitefish are also considering creation of a climate action plan. The plan could be done solely for the city, or as part of a cooperative process with adjoining communities, including Columbia Falls and Glacier National Park.

The Whitefish Pilot reports that Helena, Red Lodge, Bozeman, Billings and Missoula — all in Montana — have also adopted plans. Helena’s 2009 plan focuses on mitigation through reducing its carbon footprint and protection of its municipal watershed. Red Lodge incorporated its climate action strategies into its growth policy. Bozeman’s 2011 plan looks at clean energy, food, water and transportation.

Idaho county expects to ban poisonous trees

KETCHUM, Idaho – Yew trees may be banned in Blaine County. The ornamental evergreen is poisonous to elk and other wildlife, and 20 elk died recently while eating yew plants in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area. All parts of the small tree, except for the berries, are also poisonous to humans.

County commissioners were initially leery of an outright ban, explains the Idaho Mountain Express, instead preferring education. But with a ban, they decided, they can have better leverage when talking with homeowners. Several of the local nurseries support the ban.

Most people who commented supported the ban, but Mickey Garcia, a local contrarian, said property owners should have the right to plant whatever they want. “We don’t need these do-gooders making another law,” he said.

Study finds people had hand in half of attacks

CANMORE, Alberta – A new study looking at the causes of 700 attacks by bears and other carnivores in North America and Europe finds that about half the cases were the result of “risk-enhancing human behaviours (sic),” most commonly leaving children unattended.

Carnivore attacks on people remain rare, but they have been increasing significantly, according to the study published in the online journal

Researchers analyzed the circumstances of the 700 reported attacks by brown and grizzly bears, black bears, polar bears, cougars, wolves and coyotes from 1955 to 2015.

In about half the cases, the risk was posed by living with the carnivores, such as accidentally walking close to a mother with young, or near a carcass with a bear nearby. Food-conditioned carnivores — animals that had associated people with food, such as when garbage is left outside houses — were also a cause of encounters.

But the other half of the attacks occurred when parents left children unattended, people walked dogs off-leash, or went searching for a wounded large carnivore while hunting, or doing outdoor activities at night or twilight.

In North America, coyotes were responsible for 31 percent of attacks and cougars 25 percent of attacks, followed by brown bears at 13 percent, black bears at 12 percent and wolves at 7 percent.

Researchers reported a remarkable increase in attacks by coyotes. They say it may be related to both the recent substantial expansion of the coyote range in eastern North America and increased conflicts in suburban residential areas.

Wolves, ironically, were the only species to show a decreasing trend in the number of attacks after 1985.

In reporting these findings, the Rocky Mountain Outlook took special note of encounters in its own backyard, Banff National Park and adjoining areas. There was one fatal attack by a mountain lion, aka a cougar, in 2001, and a fatal attack by a grizzly bear in Canmore at the entrance to the park, in 2005.

Avy bags work, but here are asterisks

JACKSON, Wyo. – How about those avalanche air bags? Molly Absolon, an avid backcountry skier, sifts through the evidence and comes up with a mixed perspective. They work, but not in all situations, and they just might encourage users to take greater risks than they would otherwise after lugging the expensive, heavy devices into the backcountry.

“The consensus among most avalanche experts these days is that they reduce avalanche mortality by about 41 percent,” she writes in the Jackson Hole News&Guide. “But the picture gets more complex when you start talking about the psychological effects of wearing one. Does having that device on your back cause you to take more risks? Are people caught in avalanches because they are wearing air bags?”

Absolon explains that when safety devices reduce risk exposure, people tend to engage in riskier behavior, something called risk compensation.

Another consideration is this: they do not protect the wearer from trauma, especially if the avalanche goes over a cliff or through trees.

In January, two skiers who went into the backcountry from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort without any of the basic equipment, such as transceivers, probe poles and shovels, were killed. But none of this — nor the bags that can be deployed once an avalanche starts — probably would have saved them. The Teton County coroner said that the two skiers probably had died of trauma after they were swept over a cliff and before they were buried by snow at the base of the slide. One was buried only a foot under the snow, and the other victim was three feet under the surface.

Preying on the poor to pay for Aspen’s luxury

ASPEN, Colo. – The U.S. government says a race-car driver used his ill-gotten gains by preying on poor people to buy a 5-bedroom, 6-bath house in Aspen along with five Ferraris, four Porsches and a Learjet.

Kansas-based Scott Tucker, according to the four-count indictment, had various payday firms which would make short-term loans and then charge interest rates as high as 700 percent using deceptive and misleading communications and contracts.

But here’s a twist: Tucker put one of his companies, AMG Services, in the hands of Native American tribes, that the federal indictment calls “sham business relationships.” The tribes — the Miami in Oklahoma and the Santee Sioux in Nebraska — have general immunity from state laws and shielded him from many lawsuits, prosecutors contend.

John Suthers, the former state attorney general in Colorado, told the Aspen Daily News that the federal indictment was gratifying. “I’m very heartened that not only this indictment has come around, but at its essence, when I read the language of the indictment, the feds have figured it out. He shouldn’t be able to hide behind native sovereignty.”

Tahoe-Truckee now has ride-sharing companies

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Lyft has joined the crowd in the Truckee-Tahoe-Reno area. The Tahoe Daily Tribune reports that the ride-sharing company has announced its service is available throughout Lake Tahoe and Truckee.

Lyft’s launch at Tahoe comes less than two months after ride-sharing competitor Uber revved up its services in the region after getting a green light to operate in Nevada.

Lake Tahoe is bisected by the California-Nevada border. That dividing line creates some wrinkles for drivers. They can drop off passengers in either state, but they can only do pickups in the state in which they have a driver’s license.

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