Mountain Town News: When ski companies donate to candidates |

Mountain Town News: When ski companies donate to candidates

The Indian paintbrush are on full display throughout Summit County as seen near one of our many high mountain lakes.
Bill Linfield / special to the Daily |

PARK CITY, Utah – What behooves a big ski company to give a few thousand dollars to various political candidates? That’s the core question in Park City, where the political action committee of Vail Resorts has tossed $2,500 into the campaign of U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop and $3,000 into the campaign of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

Both are Republicans who hew to more conservative thoughts about environmental matters and use of public lands.

Asked by The Park Record to explain itself, Vail Resorts offered a careful tip-toeing answer: “We view this as being a part of the local communities in which we operate where issues of tourism and recreation are paramount.”

Bishop suggested that the donation from Vail Resorts would never influence his voting. But Bishop’s Democratic opponent told the Record that Bishop’s stances are “incongruous” with the interests of Vail Resorts and other ski area operators. “It’s very surprising. I would think they would look at somebody like myself…. because I am not a climate-science denier,” said Peter Clemens.

Herbert, who has tended to be skeptical that climate change is an issue, has received contributions from a great number of ski companies doing business in Utah, the Record notes.

Obama celebrates parks with visit to Yosemite

MARIPOSA, Calif. – President Barack Obama and his family were at Yosemite National Park recently. He did some hiking, some waterfall viewing, and talked a bit.

Obama said he had first visited a national park, Yellowstone, in 1975, when he was an 11-year-old. He recalled seeing a moose in a lake, then a field of deer, and a bear with her cubs, according to an account by the Fresno Bee.

“That changes you. You are not the same after that,” he said.

He also talked about how climate is changing Yosemite. Meadows are drying up, the park’s largest glacier is in retreat, and the pika is heading to higher elevations in search of a livable habitat.

Teeming crowds in Banff National Park

BANFF, Alberta – As part of the 150th anniversary of Canada next year, admission to the national parks — including Banff National Park — will be free. The Rocky Mountain Outlook wonders whether Banff, the busy town within the eponymously named park, can absorb all the summer visitors. “Based on an already upward trend in tourism in Banff, free passes may well boost that number to the unmanageable,” opines the newspaper.

Close encounters of an ursine kind

WEST GLACIER, Mont. – Summer has brought several close encounters between humans and bears in the Rocky Mountains. Some have turned out better than others.

In Montana, a Forest Service employee mountain biking on a trail near the west entrance to Glacier National Park collided with a bear at a high rate of speed. Investigators, according to the Hungry Horse News, said they believe the victim had no time to react or avoid the collision. He was mauled to death. It’s not clear whether it was a grizzly or a black bear.

In Alberta, a surprise encounter turned out better for both a grizzly bear and hikers. Two hikers in Banff National Park came across the grizzly at fairly close range. As they backed away down the trail, picking up other hikers in their retreat, the grizzly followed, coming to within 10 to 15 metres (11 to 16 feet) before they set off a bear-banger, a flare with a loud bang. With that, the bear retreated.

The distinction between almost & falling off a cliff

ASPEN, Colo. – The quest for mountaineering superlatives among Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks continues, but not without controversy. The 54 to 57 peaks (depending upon how you define what constitutes a sub-peak on the same ridge) were all climbed many decades ago.

In recent years, the feats of first and fastest have moved into niches. Every year somebody climbs them in a shorter time. One individual bicycled his way all over Colorado in his quest to climb them all one summer. Another individual has the distinction of sleeping overnight on the summit of each and every one.

That sleepy-head is named Jon Kedrowski, who grew up near Vail and, in addition to having his Ph.D. in geography, is also a very, very good skier. Last winter he set out to ski down from the summit of each of the 14ers. That’s been done repeatedly but he set out to do it in one snow season. He started in January but didn’t get cranking until April and May. That left him descending some mountains that, according to people who keep track of such things, looked like they didn’t have that much snow left to ski.

But there are two mountains that The Aspen Times reports absolutely defied Kedrowski’s ambitions. Wetterhorn, located in the San Juan Mountains, near Durango, simply cannot be skied from the summit, Kedrowski says. Capitol Peak, near Aspen, can, but it’s steep and enormously difficult, and by June 12 snow had disappeared from the summit.

Still, Kedrowski skied the Secret Chute, what the Times says would be a hair-raising route for nearly every other skier. It’s not from the summit, though. So does it count?

Other mountaineers think that Kedrowski painted outside the lines on this and other mountains, making him ineligible to claim a first. Kedrowski tells the Aspen Times that he was “bummed out” by the amount of criticism but ultimately agrees. Aspen’s Chris Davenport, who skied the summits in one calendar year, retains the record.

“Does it really matter to the ordinary person that he down-climbed Pyramid (a 14er near Aspen)? Probably not,” said Ted Mahon, who has skied from all the summits, but not in one year. “But if everyone is allowed to dilute the task a little bit at a time, what are we all left with? Someone goes up and skis a strip of snow in June and calls it a mountain skied.”

Davenport was more succinct: “He got close, but like with rock climbs, you don’t claim you did it unless you did it,” he told the Times.

Or, as the impatient father told his teenage daughter who got home 10 minutes past the Saturday night curfew: “There’s a big difference between ‘almost’ and ‘falling off a cliff.’”

Even servers need to show their IDs

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – As usual, the sideline talk at the Allen & Co. conference at Sun Valley seemed to be entirely about who’s getting married and who’s getting divorced. No, this isn’t about celebrity hookups, but rather the latest machinations from the corporate world.

The invitation-only annual conference attracts a broad array of movers-and-shakers from the business world. Apple chief executive Tim Cook was there, and so was former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley interviewed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

What did he say? That was off the record, notes the Idaho Mountain Express, as was everything else inside the conference center at Sun Valley.

To ensure that media and other scalawags didn’t sneak in, the Sun Valley employees who wheeled carts of food and dishes through security checkpoints were asked for employment IDs even though they wore Sun Valley clothing.

Wages rising, but it’s still tough in Jackson

JACKSON, Wyo. – It’s high-season in Jackson Hole, and the Jackson Hole News&Guide is rife with stories about the community’s continued agonizing about insufficient housing at low enough prices to satisfy the needs of all those who want to live and work there.

Wages are rising, but not enough. A local ski hill, Snow King Mountain Resort, has upped entry-level wages from $9 an hour to $12.50 an hour in just the last year and a half. The Snake River Lodge and Spa is offering $14.50 an hour for bellhops and valets, $16 an hour for front-desk agents, and upwards of $20 an hour for managers. This is in addition to a healthy benefits package.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology study of Jackson Hole says that $22.25 an hour is a living wage for one adult and one child.

In the town elections, income disparity is one of the issues highlighted by the newspaper. But a columnist, writing from the perspective of senior citizens, suggests that today’s news looks an awful lot like that of 50 years ago.

“When I arrived in Jackson Hole in 1957,” one senior says, “it was a great place but, you know, it was kind of expensive. Even though I had a good job I couldn’t find a place to live, and the winters were so cold I thought I should just say the heck with it and get out of here.”

That’s almost 60 years ago. Obviously, the leaving part never happened.

Reckoning with the certainty of wildfire

WHISTLER, B.C. – Like a lot of ski towns in the West, Whistler once thought of its surrounding trees as being akin to asbestos: impervious to fire.

Drought and fires — including this year’s inferno that touched 80 percent of Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta — have disabused Whistler of that notion. But the community is more slow to fully embrace the idea that trees next to houses will eventually burn.

Arthur DeJong, the mountain planner at Whistler Blackcomb, is very concerned about the risk of a massive wildfire. “People ask me all the time what the single thing I could do to make this place more sustainable,” he said, while walking to a house in one of Whistler’s housing subdivisions recently. “I tell them that the best thing I could do was prevent all these houses from burning down.”

The house was typical of many in Whistler, with trees standing immediately adjacent instead of the minimum distance of 10 metres (33 feet) advised by fire experts.

Whistler has a generally wet climate, with forests that have in the past burned on a roughly 400-year cycle. But they do burn, and whether the changing climate will make them more susceptible to fire is a major question touched on at a recent symposium covered by Pique Newsmagazine.

“Really, what we’re seeing across North America and almost across the globe is that the size and intensity of wildfires has increased substantially over the last 20 years, and particularly in B.C.,” said Bruce Blackwell, professional forester and biologist, using the abbreviation for British Columbia.

Whistler was among the first B.C. communities to complete a community wildlife protection plan. That was in 2006, but the work has been slow, Blackwell acknowledged. Whistler only recently has started doing controlled burns.

“At the current rate we’re going, we’re not going to be in a meaningful place for about 20 years,” he said.

“More people need to be talking about it, more people need to be protecting their own properties,” he said.

A 2014 assessment found a quarter of homes were at moderate risk, half were at high risk and a quarter at extreme risk.

“Where I think the community completely falls down, and I’ll be blunt about it, is that we have not embraced FireSmart in this community,” said Blackwell, referring to a protocol for minimizing risk to homes in fire-prone settings. In Colorado, many subdivisions in Breckenridge and other mountain towns have embraced FireSmart specifications for creating defensible spaces.

“There are way too many homes that have materials and or vegetation too close to their structures that, in the event of a fire, are not going to survive,” said Blackwell of the Whistler dangers.

Even more explicitly, he said that “if you’re leaving vegetation around your house, growing into your decks and your windows, we’re not going to save your house in one of these (fire) events.”

Speakers at the symposium said that getting homeowners and condominium associations to switch from cedar shake shingles to steel roofs would go a long way to minimizing wildfire risk. In B.C., though, municipalities lack the authority to impose the regulation. In Colorado, many towns such as Vail now allow only shake-shingles that have been processed to make them fire resistant.

Deteriorated air quality caused by forest fires is also a concern. Air quality is measured by something called particulate matter. The lungs can expel larger particulate matters, but the smaller ones, of 2.5 microns or less, get lodged in the lungs, permanently damaging the tissues. The average reading for these tiny particles in Whistler is less than 6 micrograms per cubic-metre but a fire that blew smoke into Whistler last year elevated readings to 150 to 200 micrograms.

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