Snow researchers soon to go looking for dust
SILVERTON It will soon be time for Chris Landry to start looking for dust in the mountains of Colorado.Already, a layer of dust was deposited on the snow in the San Juan Mountains and some other areas of Colorado. That was in mid-December, but the dustiest months are during spring, when storms lift dirt from the deserts of the Southwest and carry them several hundred miles.Landry runs the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, which recently held a grand opening in new digs in Silverton. Unlike most of the Victorian-era mining town, the building is relatively new, constructed in 2000 by a custom furniture and cabinet-maker.At 4,400 square feet, its big enough for an office, with space for workshops and even living quarters for Landry. In the past, Landry sometimes held workshops in a shed that was neither heated nor lit. Looking back, its amazing how much we got done in that shed, he says.Landry, who is in his 50s, is tall and lanky and absolutely comfortable in snow. July is another matter. Summer is to be endured, he muttered in the midst of one heat spell in Silverton when the temperature got into steel yourself for this the mid 80s.Landry grew up at Whitefish, Mont., where his father, a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division, and his mother managed Whitefish Mountain Resort, then called Big Mountain. Later, living in Carbondale and working in Aspen, he became known as one of the nations top extreme skiers, although this was long before extreme skiing became a branding category.Nearly a decade ago, he returned to college, getting a masters degree from Montana State in snow studies, and then in 2002 set up shop in Silverton. What he and his boosters had in mind was a research station that could assist scientists. To that end, he got permission from the U.S. Forest Service to establish what amounts to an outdoor laboratory, to take measurements at two sites in the surrounding San Juan Mountains relatively unaffected by localized sources, such as roads or snowmobiles.One of his first major clients and collaborators was Tom Painter, now from the University of Utah, who wanted to test the proposition of how snow blown in by storms affects the rate of runoff of the snowpack. His conclusions: a lot. The dirt in the snow absorbs heat, melting the snow. Pure snow reflects the suns rays to a much greater extent. Painters study found that runoff may come several weeks earlier because of the dust.Landry and associates now have contracts with eight major water agencies in Colorado from Durango to Denver, and from Glenwood Springs to Loveland to look for layers of dust in the snowpack to better predict the runoff. They will be sampling sites in the Front Range at Loveland and Berthoud passes; plus other sites near Taylor Park Reservoir (near Crested Butte); Wolf Creek Pass and Slumgullion Pass (near Lake City); at McClure Pass (near Aspen), and in northern Colorado in the area between Winter Park and Steamboat Springs.Were quite excited about how this has evolved. It has gone from basic research to a fully applied science in a very short time, Landry said.At the grand opening, he was asked why snow is white. He explained that it isnt always white that if you peer into a hole of snow, its likely to have a bluish hue, the result of the light-transmitting properties of snow.Of course, dig down into a snowpack in spring, and the snow might be brown or black. Theres likely to be a layer of dust under that carpet of white.
CRESTED BUTTE Why do those lights on the main street need to be on all night? That was the question from Alan Bernholtz, mayor of Crested Butte. We are always talking about trying to save energy and being green, and when I am out early in the morning, all the street lights along Elk Avenue (the main street) are blazing away all night, he told fellow council members recently. It seems weird. Can we turn half of them off?Probably not, town manager Susan Parker responded, as the lights are all on the same circuit. But she promised to look into the matter.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS The story of a black-widow bite of a Steamboat Springs High School student in 2007 could be made into a documentary production for television. The Steamboat Pilot & Today explains that although black-widow bites are seldom fatal, Mike Amsden was writhing on the floor in pain within five minutes of the spider strike. An antivenin is available commercially in the United States, but with potential side effects, including that allergic reactions can be fatal in children. As a result, the boys family decided to seek an antivenin available in Mexico that has minimal side effects.In a scene out of a Hollywood film, the purchase was made at the airport in Mexico City. After it was administered to the boy in Steamboat Springs, the pain that had afflicted him for two weeks was gone within an hour.
WHISTLER, B.C. Seasonal workers are now fleeing ski towns, the jobs they expected unavailable and their savings rapidly being depleted. Whistlers Pique Newsmagazine in late January had only 26 job listings in late January, compared to 140 for the same week a year ago.Until November, jobs were easy to find, especially in the tourism sector. Chefs and retail workers had been lured away by high-paying construction jobs as the community prepared for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The floundering U.S. economy has spread to Canada, and in Whistlers case, a sub-par winter for snow hasnt helped anything. A decline of 15 to 20 percent in visitors was forecast this winter for Whistler.There are many solemn looks on the faces of those newly arrived 20-somethings, as they learn that there are no good jobs and not many jobs whatsoever.One 23-year-old woman confided to Pique that she worked for an architectural firm last year, and hoped for something similar this year. Now, shes beginning to think shell take just whatever she can get. I am 23, and I have a degree, and Ive never had to do that kind of a job. Ive never had to work at a fast-food restaurant. But now, Im starting to think that housekeeping would be really sweet, she said.
ASPEN It could be a much, much worse winter namely one with no snow. Instead, records for December snowfall from Telluride to Aspen Highlands tumbled. And the holiday schedule this year allowed for people to excuse two weeks of vacation. That said, how are the ski towns doing economically?If you can ignore the giant vacuum that used to be the real-estate sector, spot evidence suggests ski towns are doing reasonably well. Vail, Aspen and other ski towns have been packed at times, if spending is clearly more measured and restrained.The Aspen Times reports that Christmas week lodging occupancy this year was 67 percent, compared with 87 percent for the same period last year.Aspen Skiing Co. reported strong business at its ski areas over the holidays. More than 20,000 skier and snowboarder visits were recorded at its four skier mountains on one day, plus visits exceeding 18,000 on four consecutive days. Vail Resorts, which has four ski areas in Colorado and one on the California-Nevada border, reported a 6 percent decline in skier visits through the early season. Lift-ticket revenue was down 7.5 percent.The bright side was that lodging wasnt down as much as some had feared, just 15 percent at the companys hotels and condominiums, compared with the 23 percent drop that had been projected as recently as November. The uptick was credited, in part, to aggressive promotional offers.Aspen is also more aggressively offering deals. This week it announced package deals with Frontier Airlines and other partners that will shave $1,000 off the cost of a five-day ski vacation. January bookings have been at 58 percent capacity, compared with 72 percent last year.Overall, Aspen Skiing projects 5 to 15 percent fewer skier visits this season as compared with last year.
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