Mountain Town News: Innovation is at center of Whistler conference (column) |

Mountain Town News: Innovation is at center of Whistler conference (column)

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

WHISTLER, B.C. – If skiing still mostly pays the bills, mature ski towns long ago set out to be something more.

Aspen, from the start of its post-World War II career as a resort, has had a triangle of aspirations called the Aspen Idea: mind, body and spirit. The summer talk season began in 1949 at a festival at which Albert Schweitzer appeared in his only U.S. appearance. From the start, talk about big ideas was just as important to Aspen’s DNA as opening day of ski season.

Vail, if not known as the intellectual center of the universe, nonetheless it has had its fair share of talking about the big issues of the day since at least the 1970s. It still does, although there are usually empty seats.

Whistler in late October had a brain-stretching session built around seven speakers about innovation.

Innovation, observes Pique newsmagazine, is an apt topic for a ski town, “which can’t be (or shouldn’t be) shy of a transformation in the face of a changing world economy and climate.

“Whistler has already expanded dramatically into summer mountain biking, perhaps in part to cushion the blow if winter snows start to fail. Now there’s an effort to fill in the calm shoulder seasons too — to take the autumn gap and stuff it full of culture and intellectual pursuits.”

The Walrus, which is kind of the Canadian version of The Atlantic, the magazine that cosponsors the Aspen Ideas Festival, sponsored the gathering at Whistler. It was among 60 such sessions in Whistler focused on ideas “big and small, heavy and light,” in the words of the magazine’s David Leonard.

“Whistler is going through some changes in how it views itself and is viewed by the world: as more than just a ski town. It’s already a center for ideas,” Leonard told Pique.

“Innovation isn’t a specific thing. It’s more of an energy. It’s about environmentalism and social justice and arts and culture. Whistler has that.”

Maureen Douglas, the new executive director of Arts Whistler, told the newspaper about the need to diversify, as Whistler has begun to do with its climate-divorced indoor waterpark called Watershed.

“They’re doing what they can to work with Mother Nature, but it’s smart to realize they don’t ultimately have control.”

Telluride concerts too loud for ears of many

TELLURIDE – How loud is too loud? In Telluride, one resident says music from a concert four-tenths of a mile away from her home last summer was loud enough to cause a glass cup to fall off a table.

“It got to a point where it was physically affecting our well-being,” Janie Goldberg told town council members at a recent meeting covered by the Telluride Daily Planet.

In other words, this loud was too loud.

The town council hired an audio technician to conduct a comprehensive sound study during four music events in Telluride this summer. The technician, Ted Pyper, of K2 Audio, found decibel levels of 75 to 85 at all four major concerts up to a mile away.

The council intends to work with K2 Audio to develop new regulations governing sound levels at the festivals.

Sociologist seeks to find what makes Aspen tick

ASPEN – Journalists have been having a field day with their examinations of the extraordinary petri dish of Aspen for decades. Why not an academic?

The Aspen Times reports that Jenny Stuber, a sociologist at the University of North Florida, has been conducting interviews in Aspen. Her core question is how do Aspen residents see their relationship to the so-called American dream.

Of particular interest is why Aspen has such fierce arguments about its environment. Every few years — if not every few months — there are arguments about the height of buildings allowed in the downtown area and whether any free-market residences should be allowed downtown.

Places don’t merely exist, she told the Times. They are ongoing accomplishments that are shaped every day. She wants to understand what drives so much of this passion.

She also wants to understand what vacation-home owners believe they are buying when they spend millions on local real estate.

The Times says that Stuber has found, after about 30 hours of interviews, that many locals reject the importance of the traditional markers of middle-class success as they relate to career, home and family. A lifestyle that places a high value on outdoor recreation — the number of ski days notched in a winter is a form of currency, she observes — is often an acceptable trade-off for lower earning potential and limited housing options.

Some of this may have been summarized more succinctly about a decade ago by a then-Aspen Times editor. Taking stock of their options, she and her husband had decided to raise a family in a deed-restricted affordable housing unit in Aspen. The alternatives, including an expansive but traditional suburban home elsewhere, just weren’t nearly as appealing.

Water activists oppose Aspen’s plans for dams

ASPEN – Aspen is a place noted for its embrace of environmental goals. Just one example: the current mayor, Steve Skadron, last November went to Paris to participate in the gestating of the international agreement about climate change.

At home, though, he and other councilmembers are hammered by environmental water activists. The city last week filed papers to maintain its right to potentially store water behind two still-unbuilt dams outside the town, next to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

These plans aren’t new. Aspen first filed rights in 1965 and, as required by Colorado water laws, has continued to do the paperwork periodically to maintain the option. Colorado law requires continued work in exercising such rights, which doesn’t mean dirt has to be moved. Rather, it can be legal work. The city in its recent filing said it has spent $600,000 on legal fees since 2010, reports Aspen Journalism.

City officials maintain it’s best to keep their options open.

“Without knowing more about viable alternatives for water storage, it simply would not be prudent water management on our part to give up these water rights,” Skadron wrote in a letter published last week. “After all, climate and other changes in this region are uncertain, and what our needs will look like in 2066 is not something we are poised to gamble with by letting this storage right go.”

Alerted to the city’s plans in 2012, environmental groups have been waiting warily. American Rivers insists that the dams on Castle and Maroon creeks are “inappropriate now or anytime in the future.”

Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams, a county-sanctioned citizens’ group, also wants Aspen to drop any rights to dam the two creeks.

Finally, Vailites have a place to get old & frail

EAGLE – Finally, people who arrived in Vail when the town was new have a place where they can linger when they can no longer live without assistance.

The complex at Eagle, Castle Peak Senior Care, located 30 miles down-valley from Vail, has 22 skilled nursing beds, 20 assisted living apartments, 12 memory care beds and 10 transitional care units.

Among the new residents of the just-finished 62,000-square-foot building are a couple from Avon, Chuck and Pearl Taylor. Married now for 71 years, they bought a second home in Vail in the 1970s and then moved permanently to a home across from Beaver Creek in the 1990s.

Chuck played golf regularly until a year ago and Pearl gardened extensively in her own yard until a few months ago. They are now in their 90s. But they decided it was time to make what is likely to be their last move. “I don’t have to go to the grocery store and carry heavy sacks or climb the stairs any more,” Pearl said. “It’s also fun to be with people at meals and when there’s entertainment.”

That itchy time of year between fall and skiing

DILLON — It’s that itchy time of November, ski season just around the corner but snow still thin if not absent altogether on the slopes.

In Colorado, it has been an uncommonly dry and warm autumn. Loveland Ski Area, located an hour west and 6,000 feet above Denver, had bragging rights most years as the first U.S. ski area to open, thanks to its investment in snowmaking. This year, as of election day, it was still not open.

Across 11,991-foot Loveland Pass, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area did open on Oct. 21, but the snow there as of late last week consisted of one run, thin and icy. No surprise there given the weather, which the Summit Daily observed was more conducive to beach parties than slalom.

High Noon, being the only lift-served ski run in the United States, had riders. At least a half-dozen youth clubs and several international teams had arrived. Among them was a delegation from Lake Louise. The trip, noted the Daily News, had been pre-planned. Had the Lake Louise skiers stayed home, they could have had far better snow at Sunshine Village, which had just opened after a cold, snowy October in Alberta.

Time to panic? The Aspen Times posed that question while noting that temperatures through October averaged about 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the historic average.

“No,” responded the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Jeff Hanle. “We always like to see colder temperatures at this point in the season, but this isn’t unusual. We’re not panicking.”

Some years, people are skiing by Halloween. Others not until Thanksgiving.

Aspen Skiing has snowmaking at all four of its resorts. There was no such thing in the 1930s when Aspen’s first boat-tow began operations. Then, as now, skiing at Thanksgiving could be marginal. If not in recent decades, there were years of no real snow until Christmas or even later.

A-Basin, started in 1946, the same year as Aspen, and didn’t have snowmaking until 2002, one of the last in Colorado.

Writing in the Telluride Daily Planet, Barbara Platts argues that the race to become the first to open is a farce. “We became spoiled with a snow-on-demand kind of approach,” she writes.

She further argues that “opening prematurely” gives the impression that the resort prioritizes quantity over quality. “You won’t see world-class resorts like Telluride or Aspen/Snowmass opening before the premium terrain is there,” she continues.

Hmmm, maybe no. After all, Aspen and Telluride both have snowmaking and scheduled opening dates just before Thanksgiving. This week, two snow country meteorologists issued reports predicting significant snow and cold in Colorado finally around Nov. 17-18.

In the meantime, there are always the mountain biking trails around Moab. Aspen’s Hanle said he was there last weekend, and he saw lots of mountain town residents.

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