Mountain Town News: Getting across the need to respect these mountains |

Mountain Town News: Getting across the need to respect these mountains

ASPEN, Colo. – Eight people died in the Elk Range near Aspen last summer, five of them while climbing or descending 14,131-foot Capitol Peak and two more on the pair of peaks called Maroon Bells, which are also above 14,000 feet in elevation.

This summer a consortium of local and state organizations and a nonprofit are trying to spread the message that these lovely mountains can, in fact, be deadly.

This perhaps isn’t news. A popular climbing guide to Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains published in the 1970s described the Elk Range as “red, rugged, and rotten.” That description certainly fits the Maroon Bells, often called the “Deadly Bells” because of their unstable rock. Capitol Peak has sturdier rock but can tempt strong but inexperienced climbers to attempt routes requiring technical skills.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said that last summer was the worst for backcountry fatalities in his 32 years of Aspen-area law enforcement. He told The Aspen Times that he and partnering organizations agreed the educational campaign needed to be blunt. “We’re not at all afraid to say, ‘This is deadly; this can kill you,’” he said.

Why so many deaths in one year? Just rotten bad luck is one theory. Another theory reported by the Times’ Scott Condon holds that alluring video, pictures and descriptions of exploits on the big peaks plastered all over social media are drawing novices in over their heads.

Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the ecosystems of the high peaks weather the heavy use, thinks he detects a new mentality. Perhaps in older days, he speculates, there was an apprenticeship in climbing with more experienced hands.

“Nowadays, whether it’s our culture of immediacy or social media, there seems to be this (attitude of) ‘I’m just going to skip that apprenticeship period and just go straight into climbing hardier mountains,’” Athearn said. “I think that comes with some pretty serious risks. I’m not even sure some of these people know what they’re biting off.”

The awareness effort will include several events in Aspen and elsewhere, websites and pamphlets.

The U.S. Forest Service has considered marking the conventional safest routes, but so far it isn’t willing to go there. There’s worry that this will lull hikers into complacency.

Also a consideration: The peaks are in a designated wilderness area, created under authority of a 1964 federal law that spoke to the need to keep places substantially natural, “with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.”

Teton Range peak claims 6th victim in last decade

JACKSON, Wyo. – A 27-year-old man died while descending a peak in the Teton Range, the sixth to die on the same mountain in the last decade.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide said that the body of Burak Akil, a 27-year-old nurse at the hospital in Jackson, was found at the bottom of a steep snowfield on the 12,326-foot high peak. He had been mountaineering alone. Rangers in Teton National Park said they believe he lost his footing while descending a steep snow field.

The death occurred on the most accessible route up the mountain. A park ranger described the class 4 route as “fairly inviting,” but with snowfields that often persist into the summer. The snowfields are perilously steep and not recommended for hikers and climbers who lack experience and gear.

“Falls here are tough to impossible to stop, even with an ice ax,” said chief ranger Scott Guenther. He said snow slopes typically have 50 degrees or more of steepness. “It’s what I would consider a no-fall zone. To self-arrest on 50-plus is tough.”

Vail’s purchase boosting interest in real estate sales

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Anecdotal evidence suggests the impending purchase of Crested Butte Mountain Resort by Vail Resorts has caused a mild jolt in the real estate market.

Real estate agents tell the Crested Butte News that they’ve had more inquiries than normal since early June, when the impending sale was announced. They expect a big bump to come after the deal is closed in August and capital investments by Vail Resorts are announced.

Bud Bush of Bluebird Real Estate says the impact is most clear in the lower-end of the market, the $250,000 to $500,000 properties. Dan McElroy of Coldwell Banker Bighorn Realty said that the announcement has also caused sellers to see stars in their eyes, jacking up prices or holding firm to their list prices.

Even without the infusion of Vail Resorts into the community, the local economy has been vigorous. Summer is the busiest season in Crested Butte, as reflected by sales tax receipts, cars on the streets and other metrics. One of those metrics is the lack of employees.

The Crested Butte reports that one prominent restaurant this summer announced it would only be open Thursday through Mondays, not seven days a week, because of staff shortages.

“The supply of seasonal workers seems lower, with fewer responses than ever to our employment ads,” says Chris Ladoulis, of Django’s Restaurant. “We can speculate as to why. Certainly, housing is a factor, but I don’t know if that is the only explanation. It’s more accurate in the summer, because the resort draws fewer workers into town to work daytime on the mountain. There are a number of J1 visa student workers in town, willing to work double shifts, and that has helped tremendously.”

He said that he has increased base wages 10 to 20 percent and will likely raise menu prices to correlate.

“Our interview process used to last a week or more with multiple interviews. Now, decisions are made in seconds. Employee retention will not be a top priority for the survival of our business.”

Millenials worse tippers than their elders? Jury is still out

ASPEN, Colo. – Are millennials more likely to stiff wait staff at restaurants than their elders? That’s the take-away from a survey conducted and published by that has been drawing attention.

The survey of 1,000 American adults found that 10 percent of Americans ages 18 to 37 routinely leave no tip at all. One-third leave less than 15 percent. People in older age brackets leave more.

Writing in The Aspen Times, Barbara Platts says she doubts millennials deserve such a bum rap. “If anything, I thought millennials, as a generation, were more generous than our predecessors,” she writes.

In response, she conducted her own less-than-scientific survey of friends and others on social media. Perhaps not surprisingly, those millennials who chose to respond said that, yes indeed, they’re pretty good tippers. But she does acknowledge that in Aspen, where so many people work in the service sector, there may be more sensitivity to tipping, skewing the results.

More rolling hills, fewer spikes in Telluride lodging

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Telluride was expecting a full house for the Fourth of July this year. Based on bookings, Michael Martelon, the president of the Telluride Tourism Board, expected 23,000 people, or about the same as during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Christmas.

Martelon told the Telluride Daily Planet that he believes occupancy has been evening out over the course of seasons. “We are beginning to be more rolling hills than spiky mountains in our occupancy, which is the objective,” he said. “It’s staying away from the peaks and valleys and having something that’s more rolling.”

Another resort in Utah for Alterra and Ikon pass-holders

PARK CITY, Utah – Alterra Mountain Co. continues to buy more ski areas. In recent weeks it first purchased Utah’s Solitude Mountain Resort, just across the crest of the Wasatch Range from Deer Valley, which it also owns. It also announced a partnership with Thredbo, a ski area in Australia about 300 miles from Sydney.

All told, that will give buyers of Alterra’s Ikon Pass access to 27 destinations in North America, plus the one in Australia.

Rusty Gregory, the chief executive of Alterra, told the Park Record that the ski company had its eyes on gaining a stronghold in Utah since its beginning a year ago.

“If you are going to be skiing in the United States and you don’t have a big, high-quality footprint for your pass-holders in Utah, you are not really in the ski business,” he said.

Gregory said Solitude offers a different and hence complementary ski experience to Deer Valley. Solitude has an “very local, easy-going and inclusive vibe for all levels of skiers and members of the family,” he said. “Deer Valley is a great spot for somebody who wants a five-star luxury ski experience.”

Wildfire and water woes in the Rio Grande Basin

SANTA FE, N.M. – A fire roared in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains last week, spreading to 41,000 acres by Saturday. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. The string of 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado and New Mexico got almost no snow last winter, which was also true of the San Juan Mountains to the west.

America’s fourth-longest river, the Rio Grande, originates in this area, just north of the Wolf Creek Ski Area. This year it’s not much of a river. The Denver Post recently detailed the woes of the river. The problems of too much agriculture have been a challenge for some years. But agriculture leaders told the newspaper that low flows may accelerate the loss of 100,000 acres of irrigated land, a fifth of the food production in the valley.

Water volumes in the river are less than 20 percent of the 120-year average, the Post reported in a June story.

The river won’t be a river by sometime this summer as it goes into New Mexico. There, farmers are having their own problems, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican. The newspaper reported that for many of the 140 vendors at the farmers market in Santa Fe, the nearly snowless winter and a nearly rainless spring are causing fields to be fallowed. In those fields that remain in productions, yields are down in some cases by 30 to 40 percent.

Canmore hoteliers all in on bid for 2026 Olympics

CANMORE, Alberta – The group preparing the bid for Calgary to host the 2026 Winter Olympics has been securing commitments from hoteliers in Canmore, at the entrance to Banff National Park. Organizers expect to submit the bid in January.

The International Olympic Committee has indicated it requires 21,330 hotel rooms in Calgary and 8,355 in the mountains. Canmore hosted the Nordic events in the 1988 Winter Olympics. Deeper in the mountains are Banff and Lake Louise.

One of the ski areas near Banff, Sunshine, wants to add a second gondola and more lifts to enable daily skier capacity to be expanded to 8,500 from the current 6,000. The Rocky Mountain Outlook says that one of the most contentious issues is whether the base area can be expanded to accommodate more than the current 1,700 vehicles.

50 people spend night on gondola after power surge

JASPER, Alberta – The storm toppled trees in Jasper but also produced a surge of electricity that stopped the gondola that was ferrying 160 people to the alpine zone of Whistler Mountain. Helicopters had to be deployed to rescue the stranded customers, five at a time. But at 11 p.m., as light disappeared, the rescues had to be suspended, reports the Jasper Fitzhugh. That left 50 people to spend the night in the gondola cars. They were given food, water, blankets, and pillows for the night. By mid-morning the last of them had been evacuated, giving them a holiday experience that few, if any, will soon forget.

Fraser hopes to pick up recycling at The Drop

FRASER, Colo. – A pay-as-you-throw garbage and recycling facility, called The Drop, opens this week in Fraser. It’s part of Fraser’s efforts to step up recycling.

“Studies have shown that based on current pay-as-you-throw programs across the United States that this could result in a 10 to 20 percent reduction in waste going into a landfill,” Mike Brack, assistant town manager, told the Sky Hi News.

“Then you take that along with the 25 percent of people who aren’t recycling right now, and that’s a lot of waste that’s not going to a landfill.”

Jeff Durbin, the town manager, said it’s cheaper on average to use the pay-as-you-throw facility than to use the dumpster service of Waste Management, the private company.

The facility cost $250,000, of which $200,000 was paid for by a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.

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