Mountain Town News: Whistler betting big on resort weatherization |

Mountain Town News: Whistler betting big on resort weatherization

Despite a potentially hefty price tag, the residents around Telluride hope to restore the Pandora Mill instead of razing the building.
Allen Best / special to the Daily |

WHISTLER, B.C. – Owners of Whistler Blackcomb are ready to sink $345 million into their product, some of it in on-mountain improvements but also in base-area additions that reflect a desire to “weatherproof” the resort offerings.

Plans include a new indoor adventure center called Watershed, which is to have slides, a surf zone, a kids’ splash area, and hot and cold pools. The facility would also include a a family entertainment center, food and beverage operations, and an eight-lane bowling alley.

Other plans for the next seven years include a new lift, winter tubing, and, for the first time at Whistler Blackcomb, night skiing.

Summer upgrades will also be significant: an expansion of mountain bike trails by nearly 50 percent along with an adventure park. The adventure park is to have a mountain or alpine coaster and a ropes course.

Driving the plans for more indoor offerings is a reckoning of where Whistler’s weather is headed. Already, it sometimes has weeks of drenching rains on the lower portions of the mountain. With a warming climate, even more winter-time rain can be expected.

“We’ve talked a lot in the past couple years in particular, about weather independent attractions, about diversifying our customer base and filling the shoulder season, and I think that’s something that’s really important,” said Dave Brownlie, the chief executive of the ski company, in a rare appearance before elected officials in Whistler.

“Although we’re coming off one of the best winters in our history, we know that’s not always going to be the case, and we have to look at ways to strengthen our tourism economy for the long term.”

To finance these upgrades, the resort company wants to develop several high-end real estate projects.

Taking stock of all this, Pique editor Clare Ogilvie is cautiously supportive. The ski area has had more than two million visitors annually since the late 1990s, and this year will likely set a record. Brownlie, she points out, has said the twin ski areas can accommodate up to 2.8 million.

This has occurred even as the snow sports industry in North America has largely plateaued. That includes Canada. “While Canada’s population has grown, the percentage of those regularly engaging in alpine skiing and snowboarding has declined, falling from 8.6 percent in 2002-2003 to 5.9 percent of Canadians last season,” she writes.

She points to other challenges, too: traffic congestion already plagues Whistler, and the municipality has a cap on residential growth. The ski company’s plans would require the cap be raised.

There’s also the basic question of whether this new business model goes in the wrong direction. The community’s basic product is the pristine nature of the surroundings.

“Too much glitz could spoil a good thing,” she writes.

On the fence about pot retailers in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Should marijuana be treated the same as alcohol in Colorado now that the state has legalized recreational sales? Colorado altogether is still unsure. In Steamboat Springs, elected officials recently had a case that framed concerns.

Unlike some Colorado mountain towns, Steamboat Springs allows sales of cannabis. It has three stores, all located in the town’s outskirts, amid mostly service-oriented businesses. These are not the places visitors normally go.

But one of them wanted to move to a more visible location, between a restaurant and a liquor store and close to a hardware store, closer to the town center. In the 4-to-3 vote, the city council effectively denied permission, reports Steamboat Today. The message, added the newspaper, was that “a majority of the council thinks marijuana businesses here should not yet be regulated in the same way as liquor stores.”

One councilman favors a continued “slow-go approach.” That contrasts with Aspen and Telluride, which treat cannabis stores similar to liquor stores. Vail and Winter Park have said flatly no. Side-by-side towns have usually flip-flopped: Crested Butte said yes but Mt. Crested Butte, located at the base of the ski area, said no.

In Steamboat, one council member objected to the location near the hardware store. “I don’t want marijuana being sold next to Girl Scouts selling hot dogs at Ace (Hardware),” she said. But another pointed to the liquor store and asked: what’s different?

What is the effect on children? In his 2015 book, “Weed the People,” Bruce Barcott finds evidence that it’s best to delay any consumption of marijuana until about age 25 or 26. No prude in the matter of marijuana but also the father of two teenagers, Barcott cites evidence of harmful effects on still-developing minds.

That concern was at the heart of a motion to table the vote. One lingering question is whether the introduction of marijuana stores in Steamboat has resulted in greater access to marijuana by local adolescents.

Elite group of skiers got in 100 days this season

JACKSON, Wyo. – Retirees, home-school kids, seasonal workers and entrepreneurs all belong to this elite list: the 100 Day Club at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

The list is created by the ski area, which was open 130 days this season. One of the members, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide, is a 30-year-old native of Jackson, Nick Londy. He works for his father, who operates the local theater.

While he doesn’t describe himself as one of the best skiers on the mountain, he believes being a 100-dayer puts him in good company. “Being part of the 100 Club doesn’t meant you’re a great skier, but it’s definitely good to be in the club,” he says.

March snow so good that skiing extended

WINTER PARK, Colo. – March was such a good snow month in Colorado that several ski areas have extended operations.

At Winter Park Resort, 101 inches fell, the second most in the history of the ski area, which was opened in the late 1930s. With that much snow, the portion of the ski area called Mary Jane — famous for its towering bumps — will remain open through May 7.

Vail Mountain, meanwhile, has extended its season until April 17. Some other ski areas have also extended their seasons.

Wolves at the door, or at least close, to Banff

BANFF, Alberta – An uncommonly bold wolf pack in Banff National Park has been approaching people at what the Rocky Mountain Outlook describes as a dangerously close range. The wolves approached a cyclist and also a person walking a dog.

Officials weren’t immediately concerned. The wolves may have simply been curious. They may have even been trying to keep people away from den sites. But the wolves may have come to associate people with food.

“Wolves aren’t typically scavengers, but they’re interested and curious and sometimes will investigate where people have been. And if food is available, it becomes a reward and they come back and investigate again,” said Paul Paquet, one of the world’s leading wolf experts, who was an investigator in a major study of wolves in Banff in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Outlook says a wolf pack hasn’t been hunting so close to Banff, the town, for many, many years. In one case, a pack was seen taking down an elk in a dramatic hunt that was witnessed by many on the edge of the town.

In Telluride, derelict mill a piece of history

TELLURIDE, Colo. – In Cleveland or Detroit or even Denver, the Pandora Mill would be considered just another piece of derelict industrial infrastructure. Made of corrugated metal siding, it’s five stories tall, its windows boarded up, its sloping roof rusting.

It’s in Telluride, though, and locals favor restoring this decaying piece of mining infrastructure because, as the website for the Telluride Historical Museum says, “it’s an impressive visual reminder of why Telluride exists.”

The mill has a remarkable setting at the end of Telluride’s wonderfully scenic box-end canyon. Ingraham Falls and Bridal Veil Falls close by splash down to the valley floor. Above, snow lingers on 13,000-foot peaks into July.

Built in 1920, the mill was used to process gold, silver, lead and other ores until the adjacent Idarado Mine closed in 1978, five years after the Telluride ski area opened.

The Telluride Daily Planet reports that the town council and the San Miguel County commissioners — this is outside the town limits of Telluride — agree with the overwhelming public sentiment, as expressed at a recent meeting, that the structure should be saved.

“We’re hearing loud and clear that the community wants this building stabilized and not demolished,” said Joan May, a county commissioner.

Reclamation work is still being done at the site, so other uses — such as housing or businesses — could not be accommodated, at least not yet.

The simpler course of action would be to raze the rusting structure. In fact, that is the obligation of the owner, Newmont Mining Corp., under the permit from Colorado for reclamation. But since 2013, the company has been working with local governments to try to salvage the building as a historical landmark. Preservation, as Greg Clifton, the town manager, pointed out, is the “harder task.”

It’s also likely to be the more expensive choice. The Daily Planet made no mention of cost, other than a mandate to the staffs of the local governments to investigate costs of rehabilitation and maintenance.

In Silverton area, plan to clean up old mines

SILVERTON, Colo. – Close to Telluride, if many highway miles away, the abandoned mines around Silverton continue to pollute the Animas River. Most infamously, 3 million gallons of water laced with cadmium, arsenic, copper, and other substances surged out of the Gold King Mine last August and turned the Animas River orange for a few days.

Chastened by what had happened, local officials have finally agreed to a Superfund listing. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sent a letter to federal officials in February backing the designation at Silverton.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency has formally proposed a Superfund listing. The listing, explains the Denver Post, would add 58 mining sites to the National Priorities List.

The listing, says the Durango Herald would inject large amounts of federal dollars into permanent restoration efforts, although the Post says there’s no guarantee of funding.

Restoration efforts would likely include a permanent water-treatment facility as well as long-term water quality monitoring.

Lemonade from real estate bust’s lemons?

GRANBY, Colo. –While mining towns sort out the good and bad of their mining legacies, Granby has been working on the legacy of the sky’s-the-limit real estate boom of the last decade.

One of the more fanciful ideas was a fly-fishing and golf-oriented real estate development along the Colorado River called Shorefox. Developers bought the cattle ranch but couldn’t get traction before the real estate market crashed.

Now, according to the Sky-Hi Daily News, the town board is mulling ideas. Even before being elected mayor, Paul Chavoustie, a developer, was urging town officials to purchase the 1,553-acre property and turn it into a community park and recreation area. He argues it could draw more tourists to Granby.

Chavoustie said he has begun talking about what-might-be’s with conservation and land preservation groups, who might be able to reimburse Granby if it buys the parcel. Income might be generated from sale of access to fly fishing. The plot has one mile of river access and five ponds.

The original development had more than $60 million invested in the property, he told the Sky-Hi News, but says the land could now be secured for less than $10 million.

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