Ski towns mostly stay on blue side |

Ski towns mostly stay on blue side

FILE - In this June 19, 2014, file photo, bison graze near a stream in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Almost a decade after they were first captured from Yellowstone National Park, a group of wild bison that has spent years in limbo after government officials could find no place to relocate the animals were due to be shipped from a ranch near Bozeman Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 for placement on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. (AP Photo/Robert Graves, File)

Ski towns and resort mountain valleys of the West have usually tilted Democratic, at least in recent years. This year was no exception.

Despite major Republican gains across the United States, mountain towns favored Democrats.

In Colorado, Aspen and Telluride have been the most reliable of Democratic strongholds for decades. For others, this liberalness is more recent.

Vail, for example, was a place of Gerald Ford Republicans. But as the Republican Party turned socially conservative, Vail has turned Democratic. That trend continued this year as two candidates for the county commission, both Democrats, again triumphed at the Eagle County courthouse.

This means that for at least two more years Eagle County will have three female Democrats on the three-member commission. For most of the last century, Democrats were rare and female commissioners were, until the 1990s, entirely absent.

The margins were thinner for Democrats, however. Kathy Heicher, a long-time journalist, attributes it to the lingering effects of the recession.

“A lot of people lost their houses, and a lot of people are working jobs that pay less money and probably provide fewer benefits,” she says. As elsewhere, she perceived a frustration with a deadlocked Congress that hurt Democrats more than Republican challengers.

Elsewhere in Colorado, Steamboat Springs and Routt County remained generally Democratic. But Grand County — home to Winter Park and Fraser and a strong ranching community — swung to its Republican roots after flirting with Democrats in recent elections.

But for a true test of liberal politics in Colorado, Proposition 105 was perhaps the most revealing. Had it been adopted, food providers would have been required to identify products with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Farm organizations and allies poured money into television advertising against the GMO proposal. Denver and Boulder, reliably Democratic, heeded the warnings and cast a plurality of votes against the measure.

Aspen’s Pitkin County and Telluride’s San Miguel swam against this tide, but among Colorado’s 64 counties there was a third dissident: Durango’s La Plata County.

What is happening in Durango to push it into the über-liberal camp in Colorado?

“Mostly we are liberal here in Durango — to a fault,” says Missy Votel, editor of the Telegraph. She also notes a great many organic farms near Durango.

Greg Hoch, Durango’s long-time planning director, observes that La Plata County has a “multitude of educated athletes, who care about what they eat a lot more than the average Joe, because how they eat affects their performance.”

But Durango’s geographic isolation from the rest of Colorado may have been a factor. It gets TV reception from Albuquerque, not Denver. As such, local TV viewers were spared the advertising blitz warning about high costs of the GMO-labeling requirement.

Banff gateway town adopts idling limits

CANMORE, Alberta — Councilors in Canmore, at the entrance to Banff National Park, have agreed to impose a 5-minute limit on idling cars and trucks.

Officials said the limit was partly meant to be symbolic of the community’s effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The town staff had recommended a 2-minute limit, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, but councilors said that would be entirely too difficult to enforce.

Wildlife-only corridors draw hikers and bikers

CANMORE, Alberta — Three Sisters Mountain Village, a major real estate project in Canmore, has several designated corridors for wildlife. But many local residents see it as open space, to be used for recreational purposes.

Biologists working on behalf of the real estate project report that three times as many mountain bikers and hikers, many with unleashed dogs, have been using the wildlife corridors, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

“It is no longer about how you get the animals to move through the valley,” said Chris Ollenberger, principal planner, with QuantumPlace, which is working on behalf of the project owners. “It is how do we stop the humans from getting in the way.”

Whistler environmental questions more global

WHISTLER, B.C. — Back in the day, the environmental debate in Whistler centered on a local issue of development vs. preservation. But at recent candidate forums, says Pique Newsmagazine, the questions have revealed a broader context for concerns.

The questions from Whistler residents have had to do with preparing their community for climate change and a plant proposed at the nearby deep-sea port in Howe Sound for export of liquid natural gas. Affordability and relations with First Nations were also themes at the forums.

Tahoe ski industry boosts direct flights

RENO, Nev. — For years, Andy Wirth put together a direct flight program for Steamboat Springs to make it easier for destination skiers. Transplanted to Squaw Valley, he vowed to do the same there.

True to his word, Wirth this past week helped announce new twice-weekly flights from London’s Gatwick Airport to the airport in Reno through ski season. Last month, non-stop service from Guadalajara, Mexico, was announced.

The ski industry of Lake Tahoe teamed with the casinos to secure the flights. There was no mention of revenue guarantees in the story in the Sierra Sun, but such financial backstops are common in other mountain towns.

For students of irony, the two primary ski area operators in the Lake Tahoe Basin of California are from the Denver area. Vail Resorts has three ski areas (Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Northstar), while KSL Capital Partners has two (Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows). Also part of the ski industry consortium are two smaller ski areas, Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe and Sierra-at-Tahoe.

Jackson Hole’s robust direct flight program

JACKSON, Wyo. — This winter, Jackson Hole will have non-stop flights from 14 U.S. metropolitan areas on a weekly and in some cases daily basis.

It didn’t happen by accident. A group called the Jackson Hole Air Improvement Resources has worked hard at this for more than a decade. About 20 percent of the flights have backstops of revenue guarantees, money posted to reduce or eliminate losses by airlines.

Mike Gireau, the co-chair, tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide, that the group’s exposure two years ago was $1.4 million had it paid every nickel to every airline for every contract. In fact, the group paid only $247,000. The state of Wyoming paid another $100,000-plus.

Some years, he added, Jackson Hole pays out more in revenue guarantees.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the largest of the local ski areas, provides funding buttressed by contributions from Grand Targhee and Snow King and, according to a 2012 story in the News&Guide, some 200 organizations.

The big pickups in recent years? Gireau points to new flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now Seattle. “That’s very important to us, based on just the fact that now we’ve got three gateways to the entire Pacific Rim, whether it be China or southeast Asia,” he said. Jackson Hole also has direct flights this winter to Washington, D.C.

Jackson Hole does not yet have a link to Phoenix. Gireau says he’s confident if an opportunity arose, the local group would jump on it.

Tom Cruise selling his digs in Telluride

TELLURIDE, Colo. — The actor Tom Cruise has put his digs near Telluride up for sale with an asking price of $59 million. The reason given is that he just doesn’t use the home all that much.

Cruise got married to actress Nicole Kidman in 1990 at Telluride and in 1992 began acquiring property. He designed and built a 10,000-square-foot mansion as well as a 1,600-square-foot guesthouse. All of this is located on a 300-acre estate that is a 12-minute drive from downtown Telluride.

Busy Aspen girds for sprouting of lodges

ASPEN, Colo. — As defined by the total valuation of building permits, construction in Aspen this year is up 60 to 70 percent over 2013. It could get much busier yet.

The Aspen Daily News reports that the city council there can expect to review five major hotel and lodging proposals during coming months.

Mayor Steve Skadron hopes to moderate the building boom. “I’m frustrated really as a local, outside of being the mayor, about the livability of town during these construction booms,” he told The Aspen Times.

“It’s becoming apparent to me that we’re not simply in a boom but in a long-time redevelopment cycle, and it isn’t as if one building is getting built and construction stops. We’re going to have two or three or four or five years or a decade of constant building.”

The word “pacing” has been used to describe how the city might modulate the activity, but Skadron said he understands why builders and developers would dislike the word.

Wood from homes making electricity

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — FireWise Communities is a program designed to help create defensible space around homes and neighbors, to make them less vulnerable to wildfire. By the simple metric of how many such designations it has, Summit County is among the most successful in the Rocky Mountains in averting future wildfire threat.

Now comes a new effort. This year, 1,810 household participated in an effort to remove trees and bushes close to their homes. Altogether this woody material yielded 747 tons of chips that were trucked to a biomass plant in Gypsum, about 60 miles away, where it is being burned to produce electricity.

“The program was successful beyond our wildest expectations,” County Commissioner Dan Gibbs told the Summit Daily News. A firefighter by profession, he also chairs the local wildlife council.

The program was supported in part by a $62,500 grant from state government and will be continued again next year with another state grant, this one for $100,000.

Random kindness scheduled Friday

BANFF, Alberta — The Banff Community Foundation last Friday sponsored its first Random Act of Kindness Day. Residents were urged to go out of their way to be nice to family members or friends. Randomly, of course.

Telluride down to just one newspaper

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Telluride has become a one-newspaper town, more or less. The Watch, published since 1996, mostly as a weekly, has been purchased by the Daily Planet, a daily.

On its website, the Daily Planet announced that the Watch would continue to be published, but likely with a greater emphasis on features of a regional nature.

Newspapers, of course, have had a tough time of it in recent years. In 1985, Colorado’s Eagle Valley had four newspapers, two edited and produced in Vail and two more in down-valley towns. Now it has one daily and a door-stopper publication, designed to be a repository for legal notices.

In Wyoming, Jackson Hole had two strong and healthy weeklies that merged a number of years ago. Across the Teton Range in Idaho, the Teton Valley had two weeklies, but one of them, the Valley Citizen, closed its doors in September. Mammoth Lakes, California, also has two newspapers, both weeklies.

Only in Aspen do you see a strong battle with two relatively vibrant daily newspapers, the Daily News and the Times.

Art Goodtimes has been writing for the local newspapers in Telluride since his arrival in 1980. Even after he was elected San Miguel County commissioner in the 1990s, he has penned a weekly column.

He says Telluride was a two-newspaper town for much of its existence. It began as a robust mining town, and around the start of the 20th century was the scene of a violent labor war between mine owners and union miners. Newspapers of the time tended to align with one or the other camp.

But while Telluride was able to make a smooth transition from a mining town to a mountain resort in the early 1970s, newspapers in recent years have had their own choppy waters. The Internet has sucked advertising sales from newspapers. Then came the recession that drew the wind from behind the sails of real estate.

The Watch tried to recreate itself as a regional newspaper with news from nearby Montrose and Ouray. To a certain extent, it may have succeeded. But Andrew Mirrington, publisher of the Daily Planet, said the Watch had not been profitable for years. In the announcement published in the Planet, he said he is confident it can be made profitable. The Daily Planet was struggling in 2008 when his ownership group purchased it in 2008, and he implied it is now successful.

He did not respond to a request for clarification.

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