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Mountain News: High-speed, homogenized skiing coming

VAIL, Colo. – There’s some kickback in Vail to a proposal to replace an older lift, Chair 5, with a high-speed quad lift. The lift lines there are legendary, often 45 minutes on powder days.

VAIL, Colo. – There’s some kickback in Vail to a proposal to replace an older lift, Chair 5, with a high-speed quad lift. The lift lines there are legendary, often 45 minutes on powder days. The new high-speed lift will reduce or eliminate lift lines, allowing skiers to yo-yo in Vail’s famous Back Bowls far more rapidly.

But Tony Ryerson, in a letter published in the Vail Daily, maintains that faster is not always better. Lost, he says, will be one of the last areas on Vail Mountain of non-bump but expert-level terrain. More skiers, he says, will also cause less sense of serenity and the “feeling of one’s smallness relative to the area around you” that are “the very essence of skiing.”

“Sundown Express will destroy forever the kind of natural Back Bowl skiing that has set us apart from the rest of the country’s ski areas, and replace it with that homogenized, rushed skiing that requires us now to wear helmets and constantly check over our shoulders lest we get hit.”

 

Time to batten the hatches

HAILEY, Idaho – Susan McBryant, the outgoing mayor in Hailey, located 12 miles down-valley from Ketchum and Sun Valley, sees stormy weather ahead in the economy, which she believes means that local governments should reduce the supply of housing inventory coming through the pipeline.

Allowing too much new development, she tells the Idaho Mountain Express, is likely to result in too much inventory for the market to absorb, putting some projects at risk of defaulting on loans.

“It’s not a stretch to think that there could be default with current construction,” she said. “Denying the next ‘big project’ wouldn’t be to keep a developer from making a profit, but rather to ensure the health, safety and welfare of Hailey’s current residents.”

 

Copper puts trail maps, ads on lifts

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. – Copper Mountain is among the ski areas that are now putting maps of ski trails onto chair lifts, so that riders can study the maps on their way up the mountain. At Copper, those maps also contain advertising.

The advertisements were controversial when the Aspen Skiing Co. asked to experiment with them on chair lifts five years ago. Two years ago, the Forest Service issued a rule that said that the ads were within an “interior” space on the maps, similar to the interior of a mid-mountain restaurant, and hence would be permitted.

The Summit Daily News says that the chair lift maps results in less trash on the mountain at Copper Mountain, although ski area officials also acknowledge recycling bins at upper lift terminals help.

Vail Resorts has no policy about chair-lift advertisements, but “prefers” not to do so because of the type of experience we want to provide” on its ski mountains, says Kelly Ladyga, corporate spokeswoman.

 

Ripples from subprime mess

DURANGO, Colo. – The Durango Telegraph went looking for waves from the nation’s subprime mortgage fiasco, but could barely find ripples. The number of real estate sales in the area has dropped, but that’s been happening at resort areas across the West for a couple of years. Also similar to other resort areas, median home prices have increased, by about 5.5 per cent.

Samantha Gallant, president of the Durango Area Association of Realtors, said problems could yet develop as the result of harder-hit areas, such as Arizona, California, and Texas.

“We’re vulnerable, of course. If our feeder markets are suffering, we’ll feel the effects.”

The most immediate impact has been a curb to speculative homebuilding.   Russ Turpin, president of the Southwest Colorado Homebuilders Association, said some spec homes are still sitting empty. “Everyone decided it was a good idea to become a spec builder, but now they’re learning it’s not as easy as it looks.”

Still, there seemed to be no alarm. “After 29 years at this, I’ve learned there are always going to be adjustments,” said John Wells, a real estate broker.

 

Ratings frown on expansion

DRIGGS, Idaho – Grand Targhee is none too amused with the grade given to the ski area by the Ski Area Citizens Coalition. Targhee got a C.

It’s not that the coalition didn’t find a lot to like about Grand Targhee. Based on its on-mountain programs, the resort would be close to an A, Ben Doon, the coalition’s research director, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

But the annual coalition ratings are heavily weighted — 45 percent — by whether a ski area hopes to expand its trails outside the existing “footprint” of the ski area or build slope-side real estate. Those things, according to the coalition, are unacceptable. Targhee wants both terrain expansion and base-area real estate.

Under the rating system, a ski area can flunk one year but, with advancing years, become an A student, its past transgressions forgiven. Such is nearly the case at Telluride, which got a flunking grade in 2000 when it debuted an expansion area called Prospect Basin.

Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, said ski areas need to move beyond green marketing, which they are now doing very well, and actually do things that are more environmentally friendly.

“The story here is pretty clear to me,” he told the Durango Telegraph. “Cleaning up your act, and improving your score, is very possible. But it does require more than lip service and marketing rhetoric. Being a green ski area requires a shift in ideology and an honest commitment of resources.”

 

Call for impeachment considered

TELLURIDE, Colo. – The San Miguel County commissioners are talking about a resolution that would call for the impeachment of President George W. Bush. Faced with a petition from residents of Telluride to that same effect, the Telluride Town Council adopted a similar resolution earlier this year.

The county’s talk was initiated by County Commissioner Art Goodtimes. He said he wants to adopt the impeachment resolution because of the apparent lack of effective “protest to blunt this administration’s push toward war” with Iran, reports The Telluride Watch.

“I know it’s not our purview, but I would like us to take a solid look at what’s being claimed or alleged,” Goodtimes said.

The commissioners are talking about public hearings, in both the ultra-liberal Telluride area and conservative-leaning Norwood.

In addition to adopting budgets, reviewing ambulance equipment and other such things that county commissioners normally do, the San Miguel Commissioners at a recent meeting also adopted resolutions regarding the rights of indigenous peoples and another one in remembrance of the genocide of Armenians during World War I.

 

Students enchanted with stars

KREMMLING, Colo. – West of Kremmling, an old ranching town between Steamboat Springs and Summit County, a gated-ranch community has been configured as a retreat for Hollywood stars and others of wealth. But inside the old logging, ranching, and mining town, local high school students are taking aim at stars of another nature, those found in the sky.

A 14-inch telescope is housed in an old observatory building donated by the White Sands Missile Range in Las Cruces, N.M.

“I really like science, and I think it’s cool seeing what’s out there in the sky,” Ricky Gambling, a junior, told the Sky-Hi Daily News.

But the Internet had already made the universe only finger tips away. Students at the high school’s geology and astronomy classes are using an automated telescope in New Mexico to view deep-space objects via computer terminals.

 

Prince sells house for $36.5 million

ASPEN, Colo. – Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan has taken his 56,000-square-foot-home near Aspen off the market. The price tag had been $135 million.

But he has sold an ancillary property, a 14,000-square-foot house located on 66.5 acres. The sale price was $36.5 million. The Aspen Times says that may be the highest price ever paid for a single-family home in the Aspen area.

Two much larger sales have been recorded in recent years, says the Times, but for larger properties: $47 million for a 949-acre ranch and $46 million for a 650-acre ranch.

The Aspen Times reports that documents link the sale to the Soffers, a prominent family in Florida that has developed a Florida project called Aventura, as well as a high-rise condo community in Las Vegas.

 

Coal being eliminated

OAK CREEK, Colo. – In Oak Creek, a town founded in 1907 because of its coal deposits, plans are being drawn up to end the burning of coal to heat local schools. Instead, ground-source heat pumps are to be installed, supplemented by propane gas.

The school district, South Routt, is among only two of Colorado’s 179 districts to still use coal.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today explains that the coal is messy, but also labour intensive. Somebody must shovel the ashes from the boiler morning, noon, and night, and again at bedtime — altogether about five hours per day, resulting in enough ashes to fill three to five 55-gallon barrels.

 

Mining town returns to its roots

LEADVILLE, Colo. – Hosannas are in the air in Leadville, a one-time mining town soon to resume its mining ways. This time, however, townspeople are less innocent.

Production at the Climax Mine, once the world’s largest producer of molybdenum, is to resume in 2010, announced the owner, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Golde Inc. The company intends to invest $500 million into a modern ore-processing mill and other infrastructure.

Employment, after construction ends, will be 350 people. In contrast, the mine employed more than 3,000 people in the late 1970s, some of them commuting from the Frisco, Salida, and Vail areas.

The Leadville Herald-Democrat reports ebullience, but also caution.

“This gives us our identity back as a mining community,” said Ken Chlouber, who worked at Climax before becoming a state senator.

Carl Miller, a Climax worker of 27 years and also a retired state legislator, said renewed mining will give Leadville jobs, a tax base, and some stability.

But the current mayor, Bud Elliott, who owns a motel, never knew Leadville’s rip-roaring mining past except by reputation. These will, he says, be exciting times.

The mine closed in 1981 because of a glut of molybdenum — which strengthens steel, among dozens of other uses — on the world market. In 2001, prices still remained depressed.

But then demand surged. The story is partly told in China, which until 2002 exported molybdenum. Now it imports it.

In 2005, with global demand for molybdenum doubled from 1981, the owner of Climax — then Phelps Dodge, since acquired by Freeport-McMoRan — began taking a long, hard look at a potential reopening. The company also mines molybdenum at Henderson, north of the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Writing in Central Colorado Magazine, mining expert Steve Voynick explained that even a few years ago the price of "moly" wallowed at $2.50 per pound, but the world-wide boom of the last four years has pushed the price to sustained prices of more than $30 per pound. Production costs are estimated at $3.50 a pound, according to a press release from the company.

Annual production of 30 million pounds is expected, but with the potential doubling of production.

But remembering Leadville’s shell-shocked ways after the 1981 closing, even many people who welcome the mine reopening caution against too warm of an embrace. An undiversified town, points out Voynick and others, is vulnerable to the same jolt as occurred 25 years ago.

That crash in 1981 hammered Leadville. Housing prices plummeted as families fled to jobs elsewhere. Those who arrived in their wake largely worked in the resort sectors along the Interstate 70 corridor.

When it operated, Climax paid enormous amounts of property taxes. Leadville had one of the best-financed school districts in the state. In recent years it has been one of the poorest, unable at times even to repair leaking roofs. Too, with a large immigrant population, it has struggled to educate in two languages.

Efforts to develop a tourism economy based on Ski Copper or other attractions have only partially succeeded. For a time, snowshoes were manufactured there, but then shifted to a location with lower operating costs. Proposals to host calling centers or other ancillary services to the I-70 resorts never amounted to much.

 

Lines of battle being drawn

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – The line of battle in Crested Butte about a proposed molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons is becoming clearer. Some 60 groups — towns, homeowners’ associations, and environmental organizations — have coalesced into something called the Red Lady Coalition. Red Lady is the informal name for the mountain.

The coalition, led by John Norton, a special consultant to Crested Butte Mountain Resort, is asking for a review of the full potential of the mine over 70 years, what it calls the “big bite.”

The owner of the mineral deposit, U.S. Energy Corp. and Kobex, wants to submit a 10-year plan that envisions extraction of only the highest-grade ore at a rate of 6,000 tons per day. If, after 10 years, the company wants to expand mining operations, it would then need additional approval from the U.S. Forest Service.

“A 70-year mining operation would have significantly greater socio-economic and environmental impacts than a mine lasting 10 years,” said Norton.

The coalition is drawing attention to concerns that the Gunnison River and its tributaries might be sullied.

Molybdenum mine tailings from the Climax Mine are also found at the headwaters areas for Vail, Beaver Creek, and Frisco.

While Crested Butte seems to teem with over-my-dead-body opposition, there’s also a more moderate stance in the Gunnison Valley among those aware that it takes molybdenum to build ski lifts as well as steel edges on skis and snowboards.

Yet another touch of irony is in Crested Butte’s economic past. It is often described as a “real town,” as distinguished from a Vail or Snowmass Village. But the key physical difference is a result of its mining history. Before scenery started being a bankable commodity, Crested Butte was a coal-mining town, a vocation it continued until the 1950s.

 

More houses in Roaring Fork

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – The urban-, suburban-, and exurbanization of the Roaring Fork Valley is, for all practical intents and purposes, a done deal. Yet another of the dominoes between Aspen and Glenwood Springs has now fallen with approval of a new 577-unit project in the Spring Valley area southeast of Glenwood springs.

The project will go on 6,000 acres, giving it a density of about 10 acres per lot. The project will include two golf courses, one of them a 9-hole, par-3 affair, plus 75 deed-restricted affordable housing units, reports the Glenwood springs Post Independent.

The project has been before Garfield County since the mid-1980s, but it’s no better now than before, says the dissenting commissioner, Jim Martin. “We are not preserving agriculture and our heritage. What we have done is create a new gated community,” he said.

 

Dual-language students move up

EAGLE VALLEY, Colo. – The dual-immersion program that began at an elementary school in the Vail area will produce its first students at Battle Mountain High School next year.

The students in the program are split evenly between native English speakers and native Spanish speakers, and the students learn from each other as well as the teachers, explains the Vail Daily. Reading, math, science and social studies classes are conducted in Spanish and English.

School officials tell the newspaper that the challenge will be to keep the students challenged academically. To do that, they need to find teachers who are not only bilingual, but can teach, for example, a Spanish and English literature class.

As well, with so many bi-literate students now arriving in the pipeline, school officials hope to expand their language offerings. In addition to Spanish, French and German, high school principal Brian Hester says he would be interested in someday finding teachers of Chinese and Arabic. He said studies have shown that once a person has learned a second language, it’s easier to learn third and fourth languages.

The school district is now nearly 50 per cent Hispanic, many of them immigrants.

The Roaring Fork School District, down-valley from Aspen, also is about half Hispanic, and it now has two schools with dual-immersion language programs, although neither is a high school.




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