Mountain News: Beginning to look a lot like last year 

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - snow wish for Christmas Resorts like Steamboat Springs in Colorado are open thanks to their abailigty to produce man-made snow.
  • file Photo
  • snow wish for Christmas Resorts like Steamboat Springs in Colorado are open thanks to their abailigty to produce man-made snow.

DENVER, Colo. — It's finger-crossing time at the National Ski Areas Association headquarters in suburban Denver. Unlike last year at this time, California is getting snow. But New Mexico and Colorado have been hot, or at least warm, and dry.

It's too soon to get excited, says Michael Berry, president of NSAA, but he admits to some anxiety. If snow arrives by Christmas, everybody will be much calmer.

Winter often takes its leisure during December, but it's hard not to remember last year. Ski areas in Colorado got enough snow to operate by Christmas, but only through prodigious efforts by snowmakers and expert grooming by trail crews. Skiing was pretty good considering the circumstances, said the charitable.

But in some places, there was no skiing. None. Squaw Valley was bone dry well into January. Idaho's Bogus Basin didn't open until Jan. 19, the latest effort since the ski area outside Boise opened in 1941.

Lodging reservations are starting to take a hit. Rob LeVine, general manager of the Antlers Lodge, told the Vail Daily that the week before Christmas would normally be 80 per cent booked. This year, it's at 30 to 40 per cent.

In Aspen, hotel bookings were also down. "The weather is having an impact," said Bill Tomcich, president of a central reservations agency.

What does the weatherman say? Don't expect much in the short term, said Ryan Boudreau, forecaster at aspenweather.net, in an interview with the Aspen Daily News. The same high-pressure system that pushed most of the moisture from the Pacific Ocean to the north last spring is still in place, he said.

Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the official forecast sees equal chances of a wet or dry winter. But don't give up hope. Twenty per cent of storms make up 80 per cent of the weather, meaning that a few heavy dumps will change everything, he told the Daily News.

For now, most ski areas are open, but it's only because of human-created snow. Such was the case at Howelsen Hill, the 98-year-old ski area near Steamboat Springs, reports Steamboat Today. "The conditions are pretty good considering there isn't a lot of natural snow anywhere in the area," said Craig Robinson, a supervisor of the city's parks and open space department, which operates the ski area.

"We can all do snow dances, take our snow tires back off or, for those so inclined, pray," said the Vail Daily's Scott Miller. "The skies will bring when it happens to come."

Plastic bag options examined

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – A task force in Breckenridge has recommended that plastic bags be banned at large grocery stores and that paper bags be given out for a fee. The group also recommends a voluntary approach with smaller retailers. The town council will likely take up the matter in January.

A report on the municipality's website lays out the research of the task force composed of representatives from retail stores, restaurants and lodges. Both plastic and paper bags have adverse consequences. Paper bags come from trees, and plastic from fossil fuels. Paper eventually biodegrades, whereas plastic simply breaks into smaller and smaller particles and can end up in the food chain. But plastic bags require less energy to manufacture and hence create less air and water pollution.

As for recycling, only one to three per cent of plastic bags in the United States are recycled, compared to 10 to 15 per cent of paper bags.

In cost, plastic beats paper. City Market, the largest grocer in Breckenridge, says plastic bags cost one cent each compared to five to 10 cents for paper. However, sturdier, and thicker plastic bags can cost as much as 25 cents a bag.

The task force recommends a voluntary program for smaller retail stores with the goal of reducing bags by 40 per cent within two years and 60 per cent in three years. If those targets are not met, says the task force, the town council should consider what mandates would be necessary to achieve them.

Whistler is also taking up the issue of plastic bags. Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden brought up the issue with the municipal council after meeting with grade-school students. "It's something that I think is worthwhile looking at again," she said. Pique notes that two years ago the council nixed a proposal to ban plastic bags.

Vail Arsonist surrenders

PORTLAND, Ore. — One of three remaining refugees blamed for the 1998 arson of a cafeteria and other ski infrastructure on Vail Mountain has surrendered to authorities.

The Associated Press reports that Rebecca Jeanette Rubin, 39, a Canadian citizen, turned herself into the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the Canadian border in Blaine, Wash.

She is accused of helping set the fires on Vail Mountain and at federal wild horse corrals in Oregon and California as a member of a cell of animal-rights activists that came together in Eugene, Ore.

School calendar has a lot of openings

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — The school calendar and rapid expansion of outdoor lighting in the business district were in the public discussion in Crested Butte.

The Crested Butte News reports that students in the local schools now get 37 days away from class during the school year, including a week in October and a week at Thanksgiving, but also including days off for staff preparation.

Some parents are objecting. "Especially that October break. That's got to go," asserted one parent. A school official responded that some breaks are scheduled because few kids show up. The days before Thanksgiving, for example, some classes were seeing 40 per cent absentee rates.

As for the lighting, the town council made it clear that winter lighting is acceptable from Nov. 15 to April 13. However, the dimmer switch is needed for the businesses that have been stringing up ever-brighter strings of lights in their outdoor dining areas during summer in what was described as an escalating arms race of brightness. The council also wants businesses to point their lights downward, instead of into the sky.

Salt Lake wants Olympics again

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Salt Lake City has thrown its hat into the ring once again in bidding for the Winter Olympics in 2026 or after.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Utah leaders emphasize not only their willingness to host the Olympics, but also their argument that they're the best choice.

"You can't do this on the cheap. It's an expensive proposition," said Gov. Gary Herbert. "Utah is the smart and fiscally responsible place — we already have venues in place."

The Associated Press also reports that in announcing its intentions early, Utah hopes to scare off rivals. Also remaining interested are Denver, Reno and Bozeman.

Utah's exploratory committee estimated that it would cost $1 million to bid to become the U.S. candidate and, if that is secured, another $25 million to pursue the international competition.

Shake it however you want, but Vail works

VAIL, Colo. — From its start 50 years ago, Vail has been dismissed as being artificial. It wasn't an old mining town or ranch town. It was a new town, based on what its visionary, Peter Seibert, had seen after World War II in the Alps. It didn't hurt that some of the original business people in Vail also came from the Alps. Still, it has often been dismissed as a shake-and-bake village.

But Vail Village, the original commercial enclave at the base of the ski mountain, works both commercially and aesthetically.

Why does it work? That's the key question as the town contemplates continued redevelopment. To answer that question, the town has hired a local planning consultant charged with formulating recommendations about how to retain that successful character.

The Vail Daily reports a friendly if somewhat skeptical reaction from the town council. Said one: It ain't broke. And another: was it municipal regulation or individual entrepreneurialism?

Mayor Pro tem Ludwig Kurz, a native of Austria, cautioned against too much resistance to change. "I would caution ourselves to not be so locked into what we have at the moment that we can't look at new and exciting and interesting things," he said.

At least one skier offended by Jesus

WHITEFISH, Mont. — A group representing atheists and agnostics has been allowed to move forward with its lawsuit that seeks to remove a Jesus statute near the Whitefish ski area.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation filed the lawsuit in February, reports the Associated Press. It argues that the U.S. Forest Service is unconstitutionally sanctioning the 57-year-old statue maintained by the Knights of Columbus. The statue, says AP, was originally conceived by World War II veterans who saw similar shrines while fighting in the mountains of Europe.

To move forward with the lawsuit, the group had to name somebody who could claim actual harm. To clear this legal hurdle, the group enlisted a self-proclaimed local atheist who says he has frequently skied past the statue, which he considers religious and hence offensive.

Whitefish trumpets home-grown virtues

WHITEFISH, Mont. — It's Whitefish vs. Whistler in Powder magazine's "Ski Town Throwdown."

Whitefish Mountain Resort's marketing team has been priming voters for the past month with reasons for local favor: their town is more authentic because Whitefish built the ski hill, while in Whistler, the ski hill built the town. Whistler is crowded, and Whitefish is not. And so on.

Whoever wins this first round, explains the Whitefish Pilot, then faces Rossland and Nelson.

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