Mountain Town News: Snow and ice can kill just outside your door (column) |

Mountain Town News: Snow and ice can kill just outside your door (column)

PARK CITY, Utah – That snow up on your roof? Yeah, it’s dangerous stuff. In the 1990s, a woman in Vail was trying to pull down snow that had accumulated on the roof of her house. She succeeded more than she had intended. It avalanched and killed her.

Recently, 50-year-old Jon Henry was killed in Park City by a block of ice that firefighters estimated weighed several hundred pounds. The ice fell on him from a height of two stories as he washed windows between houses in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Built during the mining era, the houses are close together, creating peril for those working between them in heavy snow years.

The Park Record says the victim was an active member of Toastmasters, the club for those who want to improve their public-speaking skills. He had recently won a regional competition for a story that a fellow member described as “poignant and funny at the same time.”

Whistler intends to pay a few good poets

WHISTLER, B.C. – While everybody loves powder in a ski town, some people are even more thrilled by poetry. Whistler plays to the latter with its annual Poet’s Pause competition.

Poets are invited to submit a poem in this year’s competition. Winning poems are to be displayed amid the Poet’s Pause sculptures and must reflect the themes of those sculptures: listening and togetherness.

Winning poems will earn their authors a prize of $200 each. Poems will also be read at the municipal council meeting in April as part of National Poetry month.

The competition, unusual in ski towns, had its start with a public-arts project in 2007. The winning artist, Joan Baron, proposed larger-than-life furniture to showcase the way that Whistler creates larger-than-life memories.

Baron then proposed the ongoing poetry competition. The theme of togetherness was chosen for her sculpture involving two giant chairs, and the theme of listening was chosen for her sculpture involving large chimes.

Submissions have come from Whistler, the Vancouver area, the United States, and even the United Kingdom.

Aspen moving toward limits on chain retailers

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen’s city council has agreed to take a more serious look at regulations that seek to prevent the downtown’s shopping district from looking too much like what you’d find everywhere else.

The regulations being discussed would require special city approval for formula retail stores on the first-floor locations in the city’s downtown. That area at the foot of the ski slopes has many 19th century Victorian buildings erected during the city’s mining heydays of the 1880s and 1890s.

The draft ordinance defines formula retail as a business with 11 or more outlets anywhere in the United States that has two or more of the following: more than half of their stock merchandise from a single distributor; a standardized array of services; a standardized décor and color scheme; uniform apparel; and standardized sign or trademark.

This definition was created after an Aspen group researched 30-some other municipalities, including Sonoma, California; Nantucket, Massachusetts; McCall, Idaho; and the commercial core in downtown San Francisco. All have adopted legislation addressing the proliferation of chains in their downtown commercial cores. 

“The reason we are here now is because we have been chasing tax revenue from formula retail,” said Councilman Bert Myrin, according to a story reported by the Aspen Times. That has been lucrative for the town government but unhealthy for the community, he added.

The regulations were proposed by two former mayors, John Bennett and Bill Stirling, along with high-tech investor Jerry Murdock. After two months of discussion, the idea has been moderated to exempt all existing buildings from the proposed regulation. This would include the 21 buildings now being redeveloped.

Murdock said at a recent council meeting that the regulation could reduce speculation. He said current redevelopment is geared toward new formula retail stores.

Councilman Art Daily said that making chain stores a conditional use in new development would send a message that “as a community we are going to be cautious as to how (the downtown) retail mix evolves.”

Stirling tells Mountain Town News that the proposed regulations intend to protect “community character (and) the small-town feeling and to promote economic diversity in the core.

“We hope that Aspen can project and protect its unique brand and not have it feel like an annex of the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver.  There is a homogenization of shopping throughout the world now, which is a result of globalization, and we would like not to fall prey to that sameness.” 

 The proposed regulation would exempt the existing 15 retail outlets that have only 2-6 other locations. But at least two of the stores in Aspen that meet the definition of the retail formula sprang up in Aspen, says Stirling.

Growing lettuce amid snow during February

DURANGO, Colo. – Five restaurants in Durango are being given fresh lettuce, arugula, kale, and other greens grown locally in a former shipping container surrounded by snow.

The Durango Herald explains that Wendy Wyatt bought the winter-time greenhouse from a Boston-based maker of the Leafy Green Machines. The containers sell for $85,000 each.

Wyatt heard about the product at a venture capital conference, but didn’t give it deep thought until moving to the Durango area and talking with a restaurant owner.

“He was complaining about the quality of produce, and that’s when the light bulb went off,” she told the Herald. The local production extends the shelf-life of the greens by several weeks.

“That’s always been one of my pet peeves: You go to the grocery store and buy something and in two days you’re throwing it out,” she said.

The containers can accommodate up to 4,000 plants. Seedlings must still be planted with tweezers. However, from her smart phone, Wyatt can control the lights, carbon dioxide and humidity in the container. Sensors monitor the water quality and nutrients and trigger adjustments.

Snowy and cold this year, but long-term trend clear

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – It’s still snowing in the Sierra Nevada, and temperatures have chilled considerably compared to the last few years.

Still, the big trend is warmer. Scientists recently reported that the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces in 2016 was 1.69 degrees (0.94 Celsius) above the 20th century average.

What does this warming mean for Lake Tahoe, that vast body of water that partially covers both California and Nevada?

Steve Sadro, a limnologist from the University of California-Davis, who studies lakes in the Sierra Nevada, points out that there’s more variation in weather patterns at higher elevations. But what is known, he said, is that warming local temperatures are producing more extremes, and that includes greater climate variability in mountain environments.

“The frequency of drought is going up, and the severity of drought is increasing,” Sadro told the Sierra Sun. “Does that mean we’re never going to have wet years? No.”

The 2016 State of the Lake report issued by the Tahoe Environmental Research Center shows that the days of below-freezing temperatures have declined by 30 days since record-keeping began in 1910.

Since 1910, there’s been a wide variation in the amount of precipitation that falls on the Tahoe area as snow. A century ago, snow was responsible for 51 percent of precipitation. Lately, it’s dropped to 33 percent.

Ketchum worries state may restrict locals again

KETCHUM, Idaho – Idaho’s right-thinking legislators last year adopted a law that prohibits Ketchum and other local jurisdictions from banning plastic grocery bags. Will legislators this year decide that Ketchum can’t restrict vacation rentals through Airbnb and other websites from residential neighborhoods?

The Idaho Mountain Express explains that a state law adopted in 2016 ties the hands of homeowner associations who want to restrict owners from renting properties on a short-term basis unless such restrictions are imposed at time of sale.

Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas tells the newspaper that the proposed law, if adopted, would allow somebody to purchase a condominium expressly to use as a boutique hotel, even if the condo is in a residential neighborhood.

A survey by the city finds 300 to 400 short-term rentals in the city.

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