Mountain News: As with soap boxes, bigger is better 

click to enlarge BIGGER IS BETTER The U.S. Forest Service has approved expansion of expert terrain at the Taos Ski Valley by 60 per cent.
  • BIGGER IS BETTER The U.S. Forest Service has approved expansion of expert terrain at the Taos Ski Valley by 60 per cent.

TAOS, N.M. — Bigger and better. That's the perennial quest of ski areas. It's also a good marketing angle, near as good as having excellent snow.

Now, the Taos Ski Valley has a lot to talk about. The Taos News reports that the U.S. Forest Service has approved expansion of expert terrain at the resort by 60 per cent.

Maybe this will improve business. Taos has had good snow two of the last three years. Four years ago, it dropped the ropes to snowboarders. But while skier visits increased, they weren't as much as was hoped, said Gordon Briner, chief operating officer. "That's why we think these improvements are important."

A Forest Service official said the improvements are needed to allow Taos to compete with other ski areas in the Rocky Mountains.

"I am confident that, collectively, the projects approved will help Taos Ski Valley to reclaim its competitive standing in the Rocky Mountain Region," said Diane Trujillo, acting supervisor of the Carson National Forest.

"Taos Ski Valley is unique in the ski industry, where it is renowned for steep, adventurous terrain and uncrowded slopes."

Other expansions of ski areas are also going forward on federal lands. Aspen Skiing Co. is expanding 250 acres at Snowmass, the busiest of its four resorts.

Vail Resorts, meanwhile, now has the authority to move forward with an even larger expansion — 550 acres at Breckenridge. Unlike Taos, which the Forest Service says has uncluttered slopes, the Forest Service justified the Breckenridge expansion because of how many people are already skiing there.

In a column published in The Denver Post, local resident Steve Lipsher finds the justification for the expansion wanting. "More mediocre skiing at a resort that already offers a ton of mediocre skiing," he writes.

Lipsher says he's skeptical the expansion will thin out crowds. That, he says, would require new lifts. Rather than spreading out the crowds, each new expansion attracts only more people, the result of the resort's marketing efforts and the public's constant desire for newer, bigger, better.

Using special events to fill beds

It's the shoulder season, the time when ski towns attempt to put butts in beds with themed special events.

While Crested Butte hosted a somewhat conventional Chili and Beer Festival this past weekend, Aspen held its Mac 'N' Cheese Festival. Last year, the event's first, drew 1,500 people. Some 4,000 were expected this year. It's believed to be the only such festival in the country.

Some local restaurants in this high-end town last year were skeptical about a special event built around a pasta dish generally considered at the lower end of the food order. Not so Tico Starr, chef at Rustique Bistrow, who won first place last year. This year he ordered 65 pounds of pasta, 45 pounds of mushrooms, 50 pounds of gruyére cheese, six gallons of cream and three bottles of truffle oil. The mushrooms are to be soaked in herbs and flavorings like garlic and lemon zest.

Mammoth sees strong summer

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — It's not how low you drop; it's how high you bounce. That expression comes to mind in California after the nearly snowless winter created an economic thud at Mammoth. December remained average but then the economic slide was precipitous.

But the summer has been very strong, as it has in almost all of the mountain resorts of the West. The Sheet reports the expression, "Best Summer Ever," July sizzled to an all-time record for sales tax revenues after giant surges in May and June. Businesses reported 15 to 20 per cent boosts in business, reports The Sheet.

Why the big success? A local marketing official credited stepped-up e-mail and social media campaigns. Maybe so, but everybody else is doing the same thing and, it would appear, with equal success. Could rising waters be lifting all boats?

Aspen girds for debate about hydro diversion

ASPEN, Colo. — The debate is heating up in Aspen about whether to move forward with diversion of two local creeks into a small hydroelectric plant.

Electricity produced by the plant would allow the municipal utility, which provides power for half the town, to displace carbon from its portfolio. Currently, according to city officials, 75 per cent of their electricity comes from dams, wind turbines and other non-carbon sources. Putting the local hydroelectric sources on line would bump that figure to 83 per cent.

A group of residents and others interested in the issue of impacts to rivers and creeks have argued the diversions would harm local creeks. They have filed a lawsuit in an effort to block the plans.

The city council has now agreed to put the issue to a vote in November. Seventy eight per cent approved issuing millions in bonds for the project in 2007.

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