Smaller snowpacks are silver lining in the cloud of recent drought years |

Smaller snowpacks are silver lining in the cloud of recent drought years


BOULDER – It turns out that even drought can have a silver lining, one that reduces global warming.Scientists from the University of Colorado-Boulder say thinner snowpacks, such as those experienced in recent years in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, result in less insulation of forest soils, cooling them and slowing the metabolism of microbes within the soils.With larger snowpacks, those microbes are working harder and release large amounts of carbon dioxide, one of the key greenhouse gases attributed to the world’s warming climate.”I view this as a small amount of good news in a large cloud of bad news,” said Russell Monson, a professor in the university’s ecology and evolutionary biology department. Results of the study appeared in the journal Nature. The experiments were conducted on Niwot Ridge, which is located on the Front Range between Boulder and Granby.Additional research at Niwot Ridge by other scientists finds that spring has been arriving up to a month earlier due to warmer temperatures. Increased heat and less moisture stresses the trees, resulting in them being able to absorb less carbon dioxide. Monson noted that more carbon is stored in forests, in hilly or mountainous terrain, than other ecosystems.Carbon dioxide levels hovered at around 250 parts per million for thousands of years, but began climbing rapidly with the Industrial Revolution which began in the 1700s. Current levels are at 380 parts per million. Good and better ski times return to B.C.WHISTLER, B.C. – Good times, more or less, have returned to the ski industry in British Columbia. Nearly all ski areas are tracking to do as well or better than in previous years in terms of skier days.Whistler-Blackcomb is expected to again exceed two million skier visits, the sixth time in the last eight years. The string was broken last year, when torrential rains in January doused skiing ambitions. To get its numbers back, Whistler marketed heavily to the Vancouver area. Still down are visits from destination travelers, especially those from the United States. Revealing are hotel tax revenues, which last year were down 13 percent compared to the previous year. This year, room rates are down, and tax revenues are trending at a 6 percent decline.Elsewhere in the province, Silver Star Resort and Big White are both up. Vastly improved snow is a major part of the story, explains Pique newsmagazine, but so is expansion of the airport at Kelowna. That airport can now accept larger aircraft and international flights. This allows more traffic from the important Ontario market, but also flights from Hawaii. In the same area, Sun Peaks is also expecting to break records.Jimmy Spencer, CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, states that one of the decisions ahead is how to capitalize on the extra exposure during the next four years prior to the 2010 Winter Games, which will be held in Vancouver and Whistler.Meanwhile, a growing problem is the lack of labor. The energy boom in Alberta is drawing Canadians to high-paying jobs, and so the ski industry would like a revised immigration policy that allows a less complicated way of getting more people on a temporary basis.Banff hoteliers up tax devoted to marketingBANFF, Alberta – Banff hoteliers have approved an increased bed tax of 2 percent, and provincial officials in Alberta are also chipping in money for an expanded marketing campaign. Marketing will be devoted to the rapidly growing population in Calgary, but also in the bordering provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Also to be targeted are New Yorkers, as there are now direct flights to Calgary, notes the Banff Crag & Canyon. Following the United States, the United Kingdom is the biggest foreign market, followed by Japan, Australia and – soon – Mexico.Frosty weather causes ski lull at Sun ValleyKETCHUM, Idaho – Only 94 skiers were counted at Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain resorts on one recent day, the fewest in at least 28 years. Almost all lifts were closed due to 40 mph winds that gusted to 64 mph. And if that wasn’t enough, there were lightning strikes and a soggy combination of rain and snow.Despite the lull, Sun Valley was on pace to the busiest ski season since the 1996-97 season, when 436,000 skier days were recorded. Ski area officials expect this season’s final count to fall at between 410,000 and 415,000, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.Two ways to measure snow in SteamboatSTEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The 447 inches of snow received at Steamboat Springs this season fell 18 inches short of breaking the record set in 1996-97, and also snowfalls received in the 1983-84 and 1995-96 seasons, reports The Steamboat Pilot & Today.But those in Steamboat long enough to know told the newspaper that the consistent quality of snow this year made it better than a fourth-place showing.”To me, what made it stand out was that it was soft, cold, winter snow, and that feels so good on old knees,” said Jeff Hirschboeck, a 37-year ski patrol veteran. “We had days where 4 inches fell on top of snow the previous day followed by 3 inches the next day and 7 inches the next. That’s what people come to Colorado for.””It seemed like the first 80 days of the season it was face shots every day,” said Jeremy Johnston, a ski shop worker.The sun also rises in the west in the Tahoe BasinINCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – It was a cold, cloudy night in January when astronomer Paul Guttman returned from Reno to Incline Village. Cresting the hill, the Tahoe Basin below him, he was surprised to see what appeared to be the sun rising over Squaw Valley, to the west.The “sunrise” was, in fact, the reflection of Squaw’s nighttime slope lights, yet more lights in an array that is causing diminished visibility of the night sky.”The problem just keeps being compounded,” Guttman told the Tahoe Daily Tribune. “We’re just at this point where we have this knee jerk impulse that we need to illuminate everything.”Jackson Hole tram makes last trip (for the public)JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – With AC/DC’s song “It’s a Long Way to the Top” blaring on the loudspeaker, the tart smell of marijuana in the air, and beers and a bottle of whisky PASSING around, the last tram car open to the general public went up Jackson Hole’s major ski mountain on the final Sunday in March.Aboard the car were former Olympian and Jackson Hole ski school founder Pepi Steigler, who had been on hand when the tram debuted in 1966, as well as various other long-timers.The ski company announced last fall that this would be the last year of full-time service for the tram, which many believe is key to Jackson Hole’s identity as a ski resort. Safety issues were cited.For now, a double-passenger chairlift will be installed with extra heavy cable, the better to withstand gale-force winds. Where the $25 million for a replacement has been the ongoing story in Jackson Hole. Owners, who say they have essentially made no money from the ski operation, have said they will pay $5 million. They sought money from Wyoming’s Legislature, but were rejected. In turn, they rejected lining up private partners.Meanwhile, the Jackson Hole News & Guide offers a clue of how the owners may be rustling together money. The company has secured a $15 million bank loan. It is building a modest-sized on-mountain restaurant, which ski area president Jerry Blann says should improve the cash flow. Finally, the company has sold a three-acre lot at the base to a developer who plans to build a 50-unit five-star condo-hotel. Although terms were not divulged, the company had advertised the property at a cost of $10 million.The developer, Crescent Mountain Resources, is a newly formed subsidiary of Crescent Resources, of Charlotte, N.C., which itself was formed more than 40 years ago by Duke Energy. Crescent Resources has developed everything from country clubs to shopping centers to industrial parks, notes the newspaper. This is the company’s first foray into developing property in a ski valley in the West.

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