Mountain Town News: Water, snow fuel the town of Truckee |

Mountain Town News: Water, snow fuel the town of Truckee

A bald eagle looking for a new nest. The tower nest near Everist Materials was recently relocated making sightings even more rare and impressive.
Ruth Carroll / Special to the Daily |

Skis and snowboards were amply evident last week at Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl and other ski areas along the crest of the Sierra Nevada. Unlike last year at this time, ski season continues for resorts in the Tahoe Basin.

It’s been a good year for water, too, especially after two years of drought and dust.

When it snows in the Sierra Nevada, it can fall heavily and fast. Resorts in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming can brag about powder. In the Tahoe Basin, elevations are lower, the ocean that much closer, and the snow more akin to cement than champagne.

You can see the difference in Truckee, which has an elevation of 5,800 feet, or about the same as Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Truckee was born as a railroad stop along the transcontinental railroad line completed in 1869. Union Pacific freight trains still rumble through the middle of town about two-dozen times a day as do a couple of Amtrak passenger trains.

In the wake of nearby Squaw Valley hosting the Olympics in 1960, Truckee changed. New ski areas were opened. About the same time, Interstate 80 opened, putting Sacramento within a 90-minute drive and San Francisco another hour away.

Today, Truckee is a sprawling mountain town of 16,000 people, four downhill ski areas within a 10- or 15-minute drive and Lake Tahoe itself not much farther. Snow was mostly gone last week from downtown Truckee, but conspicuous were the overhangs shielding the front doors of stores and restaurants across from the former train station. New Orleans has such overhangs, because of the heavy downpours, and Tucson because of the searing sun. Presumably, in Truckee, the overhangs protect shoppers from the dumping snow.

Truckee has no easy comparisons among other ski towns. It’s a bit like the lake-front Idaho resort town of McCall, which has two ski areas nearby. It has some parallels with Frisco, in Summit County. Locals think their vibe is similar to that of Utah’s Park City.

In a similar way, there are no easy comparisons to the Truckee River. It originates above South Lake Tahoe, not far from the Heavenly Ski Area, and then flows into Lake Tahoe. It doesn’t leave quickly. The lake is giant. It takes three hours to drive around it on spectacular, two-lane roads with hairpin turns and 10 mph speed limits. The lake is also 1,644 feet deep.

That depth and circumference together mean that Tahoe has a huge amount of water. Scientists have calculated that water entering the lake stays there an average 700 years. In other words, water now leaving the lake arrived there about the time that Marco Polo was hoofing his way back to Italy after his adventures in China.

Water doesn’t always leave Lake Tahoe, though. Last year, in drought, whatever water entered the lake was lost to evaporation. In big water years, though, the lake overpours into the next segment of the Truckee River. It wasn’t doing that yet last week.

Still, even without water from Lake Tahoe, melting snow at Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley help create a rushing, even roaring river that soon rushes through the town of Truckee and then down toward Reno, 33 miles away.

Most rivers empty into oceans. But the Truckee is an oddity in that it pours into an Pyramid Lake, located about a half-hour northeast of Reno. The lake, located on the Paiute Reservation, is also deep, more than 300 feet, and almost as big as Tahoe. Everything about it feels entirely different from Squaw Valley, located not much more than an hour away.

Will coaster sully the Steamboat ambiance?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – There’s at least a small bit of anxiety in Steamboat Springs as the ski area there prepares to spruce up its summer attractions with an alpine coaster.

Unlike alpine slides, which are like toboggan paths made of concrete, beveled into the landscape, the rails for alpine coasters are elevated. They’re different from roller coasters, however, in scale. They don’t soar into the sky, like those found in urban amusement parks. Also different from roller coasters, riders can control the speed.

Other U.S. ski areas have installed such coasters on private land. New federal authority permits them on federal lands used by ski areas. The first rollout of an alpine coaster on federal land will occur sometime in June on Vail Mountain. Breckenridge will get the same thing next year along with ropes courses, zip lines and other activities.

At Steamboat, the alpine coaster would be located on private land. The application submitted to city officials says the ride would be between 4 feet and 30 feet above the ground, up to 4,000 feet long, with a total vertical of 450 to 500 vertical feet on the mountain. In other words, there will be a lot of curves on the descent. It is to operate in both rain and snow.

Not everybody is supportive. In a letter published in Steamboat Today, Alissa Merage says an alpine coaster does not belong at the base of the ski area.

“No mountain with the ambiance of Steamboat is installing an alpine coaster front and center in its main village area,” she writes.

Vail Mountain’s alpine coaster will be near the top of the ski mountain. “You don’t see any coaster rides infringing upon Jackson Hole’s majestic mountain base,” she adds, although a “Cowboy Coaster” did open last October at Snow King Mountain, the smaller in-town ski resort in Jackson. “And I’m guessing that beautiful Deer Valley wasn’t about to give the thumbs up to such a project, but the local in-town Park City mountain added it as an attraction,” she adds.

The coasters at Park City and Jackson’s Snow King are both located on private land.

She concludes that a roller coaster at the Steamboat ski area would be “comparable to putting a Ferris wheel next to Banff’s Lake Louise. There are very few pristine and glorious settings left in the world. Let’s preserve our local treasure.”

Indoor gateway to the great outdoors

WHISTLER, B.C. – When does a ski area cross the line? That seems to be the essential question in Whistler, where ski area executives recently announced ambitions to invest $345 million in coming years in a wide array of upgrades.

Plans call for a major expansion of the mountain bike park, new lifts, night skiing, and some pricey base-area real estate.

But the big enchilada in this proposal is Watershed, an indoor water park with a bowling alley, places to eat and so forth. Watershed would be a year-round attraction but an alternative to the slopes on those soggy winter days when rain replaces snow.

Whistler’s shift into a business focused on the great outdoors has provoked concerns in locals. Dave Brownlie, the chief executive of the ski company, seemed to anticipate that concern when he spoke to the municipal council. By diversifying what is offered, he said, Whistler can appeal to every type of guest, providing “another reason to bring some folks into the mountains that may be tentative to come here.”

“It may be the first step in a longer relationship that gets them outdoors and gets them on skis and gets them on mountain bikes,” he added. “We’re looking at this as a way to offer a broader experience to ultimately showcase some of the other experiences that people don’t get to. It’s actually a way of building our core business in the future.”

Studying the conversations on social media and following up with interviews, Pique Newsmagazine found hesitancy. What will the new mountain bikes do to bear habitat?

And then there’s the issue of affordable housing. The company estimates that Renaissance, as the multi-offerings are called, will produce 407,000 new visitor days annually by the third year of operations along with 122,000 room nights.

Whistler Blackcomb estimates the new offering will require a maximum of 150 to 200 new employees. “Where are all the employees for these new projects going to live?” asked one Facebook user.

Do farmers’ markets cut into shop business?

BANFF, Alberta – Town officials in Banff are considering capping the number of festivals and special events. Farmers’ markets seem to be a focus of concern.

One of the concerns, as explained to the Rocky Mountain Outlook by a town councilor, is the siphoning of tourist dollars from merchants who pay rent and taxes for prime locations.

“If you spend $100 at the markets, you’re not going to spend it on Banff Avenue,” said Councilor Ted Christensen. “That’s going to take away from discretionary spending from our established businesses in town.”

Others on the council don’t see farmers’ markets as a threat.

“I do believe farmers’ markets are an opportunity for people to seek new ideas with lower risk. Is that a good thing? Is that unfair to people who pay higher rents in a commercial landscape? Maybe,” said Stavros Karlos, another councilor – who also happens to be a merchant himself.

“I don’t for a second think that these market vendors are somehow making a killing or destroying retail enterprises within the community. I don’t see anybody buying Mercedes by running a farmers market. I think it’s a lot of hard work and their margins are slim.”

Another councilor, also a Banff merchant, said he had had concerns about a farmers’ market that was planned near his coffee shop. In fact, he said, it had a negligible impact. That said, he does understand why grocers would be concerned.

Goods sold in Banff’s farmers’ markets must be produced or grown in Alberta by the seller or immediate family member, or by a member of a producer-owned cooperative. A proposed change would require the good come from within 500 kilometers of Banff. That would put the fruit-growing regions of British Columbia within reach.

Warnings but no fines for emissions

PARK CITY, Utah – Park City since 2010 has prohibited leaving a car idling for more than a minute when it is parked, such as when waiting for someone. The law was adopted in an attempt to reduce air pollution and to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Police tell The Park Record that they gave out several dozen warnings this past winter, but no tickets. A driver must receive three warnings before being ticketed. Delivery and taxi drivers were among those getting the warnings.

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