Mountain Town News: A snowless turkey day? Not the first, but expect more hot days to come | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: A snowless turkey day? Not the first, but expect more hot days to come

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

In 1962, the ski area's inaugural year, it was dry, too. Ski area marketing boss Bob Parker got the bright idea of recruiting Ute Indians to conduct a snow dance. It did start snowing almost immediately. That was in December.

Since then, Vail has had more slow starts to winter, particularly in droughts in 1976-77 and 1980-81. Instead of recruiting Utes, though, Vail — like most ski areas — invested heavily in snowmaking.

Just one problem with this autumn. It's been too warm to make snow at many places. Vail delayed opening until the day after Thanksgiving. And at Beaver Creek, a few miles from Vail, World Cup races had to be punted. Mike Imhoff, the chief executive of the Vail Valley Foundation, the organization that puts on the races, said the venue has a "remarkably sophisticated snowmaking system. However, the cold weather did not come in time this year."

Warm weather was the problem at Telluride, too. Chief executive Bill Jensen announced a delayed opening until the Monday after Thanksgiving. "There aren't enough snowmaking hours over the next week to 10 days to make the quantity of snow necessary to achieve our planning opening day," he said.

Indeed, temperatures in Denver last week hit 80 degrees, a record for the date and tying the record high for November, which was set in 2006.

In Salt Lake City, it was warm, too. Even though it snowed, the temperature didn't fall below freezing. The Salt Lake Tribune noted that the city had been frost-free for 242 days, breaking a record set in 1915.

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Expect more temperature records to tumble, say scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. New research announced this week in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" says Americans will see, on average, about 15 daily maximum temperature records for every time that the mercury notches a record low.

This compares, during the last decade, with two record high temperatures for every record low temperature.

If temperatures were not warming, explained Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at NCAR and lead author of the paper, the ratio of record highs to record lows would average out to about one to one.

"An increase in average temperatures of a few degrees may not seem like much, but it correlates with a noticeable increase in days that are hotter than any in the records, and nights that will remain warmer than we've ever experienced in the past," he said.

"Even with much warmer temperatures on average, we will still have winter and we will still get record cold temperatures," he went on to explain. "But the numbers of those will be really small compared to record high temperatures.

The 15-to-1 ratio of record highs to lows assumes temperatures across the continental United States increase by slightly more than 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) above recent years. That's the amount of warming expected to occur by 2065 with the current pace of greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization reported that it is very likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record globally.

"Long-term climate change indicators are also record breaking," the organization said in a press release. "Concentrations of major greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase to new records. Arctic sea ice remained at very low levels, especially during early 2016 and the October re-freezing period, and there was significant and very early melting of the Greenland ice sheet."

Can we adapt to higher temperatures? To an extent, yes. Snowmaking was conducted at California's Boreal Mountain Resort in July even as temperatures rose above 80 degrees. It took a lot of energy to make the snow, but it can be done.

But as was noted in Telluride and Beaver Creek this past week, cold temperatures are needed to make snow with any great volume.

In Park City, National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney, looked through the crystal ball of increasing greenhouse gas emissions to predict even more rapid climate change.

"We're going to see areas that are (now) 100 percent snow-covered in December, January (and February) and are only going to be 50 percent snow-covered starting in 2035," he said at an event covered by The Park Record.

"The young people in the audience that are skiers, they're going to have a hard time getting to the base areas of Park City, Powder Mountain Beaver Mountain, some of these lower-elevation areas," he added.

That's in the future. This winter might still be a good one. Ryan Boudreau, a forecaster with aspen-weather.net, predicted plenty of snow in the Northern and Southern Rockies in December and January.

"It's going to hammer in December. It's just a little delayed," he told the Telluride Daily Planet.

But if we continue to dump carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases into the troposphere the way we have, ski season will get a lot shorter.

New summer activities, but no alpine coaster?

TELLURIDE – Telluride is getting ready to expand its on-mountain summer activities. There are to be family-friendly mountain bike trails, an aerial adventure park and canopy tours, too.

What about an alpine slide or mountain coasters? Both Vail Mountain and Heavenly, the first out of the chute to use new federal authority for on-mountain activities during summer, now have them. The federal law adopted in 2011 specifically bans amusement parks, but is silent about wheeled rides other than mountain bikes.

The Telluride Daily Planet's list of activities planned on the mountain makes no mention of an alpine coaster. Jeff Proteau, vice president of mountain operations at Telluride Ski Resort, told the newspaper that the company, locally called Telski, had chosen "organic activities that can blend in with the environment and are non-mechanical."

Bill Jensen, chief executive of the Telluride Ski Resort, said nothing about coasters, but did say this: "I don't think ski resorts in the summer should turn into theme parks. I'll leave it at that."

The ski area's new plan seeks to boost winter visitors, which run an average of 3,900 but with a maximum of 8,800 last year. An option is a new beginner area equipped with a Magic Carpet in place of an existing Nordic area.

Mixing pot & alcohol frowned on in Aspen

ASPEN – Denver voters decided to allow marijuana consumption in specific public places. Many voters thought that it would allow result in bars and restaurants allowing places to imbibe.

But in recent months, reports The Denver Post, state licensing officials adopted regulations that bans consumption of marijuana on the premises of businesses with liquor licenses.

Mason Tvert, a marijuana legalization activist, called the new state liquor rule "absurd." He said the state agency was "openly fighting a turf battle on behalf of the liquor industry. They seem to think it's fine for patrons of bars and concert venues to get blackout drunk, but unacceptable for them to instead use a far less harmful substance like marijuana."

But was Tvert missing the point? Even before the Denver Post story, local officials in Aspen said that they didn't like mixing alcohol and marijuana. "It's a whole other monster we are not ready for," Linda Manning, the city clerk in Aspen, told the Aspen Daily News.

Joe DiSalvo, the Pitkin County sheriff, favored legalized use of marijuana for recreational use but also opposed the mixing of the two intoxicants.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Valley Marijuana Council found few examples of accidental ingestion of edibles causing a problem in the Aspen area. Edibles constitute only 12 to 14 percent of total sales.

The same study, reports the Daily News, found no uptick in teen marijuana use since sales began in 2014. However, there's been a reduction among both teens and adults of perception of cannabis as harmful.

Park City's ambitions to become net-zero energy

PARK CITY, Utah – At last report, both Park City and Aspen were at the top of Georgetown University Energy Prize rankings, with Jackson Hole down the list among the 50 national finalists.

In January the winner will be declared. At stake is $5 million in prize money — but also reduced energy and hence fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Park City had put great muscle into this effort. It now gets 15 percent of power from renewable sources but expects to ramp that up to 67 percent by the end of next year because of a substantial increase in utility-scale solar provided by Rocky Mountain Power, the utility that serves Park City.

"We think it is impossible with current technology to produce no carbon," said Andy Beerman, a city council member. "So we're looking at ways as a city that we can produce enough renewable energy that we can offset what we use"

The city government has articulated a goal of have a net-zero energy use for municipal operations by 2022.

At an event covered by the Park Record, Beerman also reported that Park City will soon be getting six electric buses, the first of what will be about 50 electric buses in the next decade.

Meanwhile, Park City and Summit County energy strategies are using elementary school students to communicate the idea of switching to low-energy LED bulbs.

"The students have pestered their parents into switching over 10,000 light bulbs we've documented so far," said Mary Christa Smith, project manager for Summit Community Power Works.

In addition to switching to LED bulbs, 95 families installed solar panels through the Mountain Town Community Solar Program. Many more are making the move to weatherize their home, Smith told ABC 4 in Salt Lake City.

"Already our community has saved $5 million on their utility bills in the first 18 months," said Smith.

Learning sustainability while still in high school

WHITEFISH, Mont. – Two-thirds of the $1.7 million needed to build the Center for Applied Sustainability at Whitefish High School has been secured from private sources. Construction is expected to begin next spring.

The Whitefish Pilot explains that the center is to include a greenhouse, laboratories, gardens and an experimental forest.

Energy for the three-acre campus is to come from passive solar, solar photovoltaic and geothermal/geoexchange. While unable to provide enough energy to meet demand mid-winter, over the course of a year it is to be net-zero in its demands for external energy.

Mark Van Everen, of Bridgewater Builders, told the Pilot that achieving that net-zero goal won't be easy. "It's difficult to do in Montana," he said. "We live in a harsh climate."

Scott Elden, of Montana Creative Architecture + Design, said investing too much in current technology is to be avoided, given the rapid rate of change in solar technology.

"If tech goes the way we hope it does, then it's reasonable that the amount of space required to be covered by solar panels would go down," he said.

The Green Schools Alliance, an international organization, hopes that the Whitefish school takes a lead among several Montana schools in helping other schools get sustainability projects started.

Drilling claims retired in Montana and Colorado

CARBONDALE, Colo. – in the waning days of the Obama administration come the wrap-up of various efforts to curtail oil-and-gas drilling and other mineral extraction on public lands.

In Montana, the Hungry Horse News reports that an energy company has announced it will voluntarily relinquish 22,900 acres of leases in the Badger-Two Medicine region, south of Glacier National Park. The area is known for its elk herd and is prime grizzly bear habitat, the newspaper said, and is also considered sacred by the Blackfeet Tribe. Leases on 3,000 acres owned by another energy company remain.

In Colorado, many hunters and recreationists considered the Thompson Divide area sacred, despite a few existing oil and gas wells there. Now, the Department of Interior canceled 25 leases there. This is near Carbondale, but about 40 miles west of Aspen.

The federal agency cited improper procedures at the time of the original leasing. Companies that held the leases have promised to fight the cancellation, reports the Aspen Daily News. They see it as a taking of their private property rights.

Lease-holders will be reimbursed, but the Denver Post doubts they will be made whole, "given the protracted battle they have waged …" Still, the newspaper, in an editorial, sided with Interior Secretary Sally Jewel in the belief that this and other adjustments in the balance between extraction and preservation "will stand the test of time."

At Crested Butte, there's some concern that retirement of mining claims on Mt. Emmons won't get done yet this year. The retirement of claims is supported by town, county and state officials and, very importantly, mining company Freeport McMoRan.

"Without those thousands of acres of claims, a mine could never realistically be developed on Mt. Emmons, also known as Red Lady, because there would be no place to construct infrastructure or place tailings," explained the Crested Butte News.

Local voters approved a $2-million bond to help extinguish the threat of molybdenum mining that has dogged Crested Butte since the 1970s. Molybdenum is now being extracted at many places in the world, devaluing the Crested Butte deposit.