Mountain News: KSL up against Vail's Epic pass 

click to enlarge WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - The Aspen Skiing Co., which has partenered with KSL, has the bigger name and it also has four ski resorts, all in or near Aspen. Snowmass, pictured, is by far the largest.
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  • The Aspen Skiing Co., which has partenered with KSL, has the bigger name and it also has four ski resorts, all in or near Aspen. Snowmass, pictured, is by far the largest.

DENVER, Colo. — The announcement April 10 that KSL Capital Partners has joined forces with the Aspen Skiing Co. to buy Intrawest for about US$1.5 billion vaguely resembles the Ford versus Chevrolet battle of automaking giants of the mid-20th century.

KSL Capital Partners is led by former ski executives from Vail, and the major question is whether they can put together a season-pass program that can go head-to-head with the powerful Epic brand of Vail Resorts.

The Aspen Skiing Co. has the bigger name and it also has four ski resorts, all in or near Aspen. Snowmass is by far the largest.

In 2005, Shannon and Eric Resnick, a former top hand at Vail, formed KSL Capital Partners, and they have now raised $7.5 billion in equity capital commitments.

They've plowed that into purchase of two ski areas, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in the Truckee-Tahoe area of California, and a 24-per-cent stake in Whistler Blackcomb. Skiing, however, remains just a small fraction of the company's investments.

The four Aspen ski areas and the two Tahoe-Truckee ski areas will now be augmented by the two biggest ski areas in eastern Canada: Mont Tremblant and Blue Mountain, Stratton in Vermont, plus Steamboat in Colorado and a long-term management to contract the City of Denver's Winter Park.

Can they do battle with the Epic brand of Vail Resorts? That's the big question.

How these two copanies will compete during the next two years has yet to be defined, but this move continues to make Denver the centre of the North American ski world.

The headquarters for KSL and Vail Resorts are located just 48 kilometres apart.

Affordable housing woes

JACKSON, Wyo. — Everywhere in the ski towns, the mismatch between the demand and supply for cheaper housing remains a source of anguish, sometimes anger, and even more rarely answers.

One answer may be found in a law being considered by the Jackson town council. It would govern apartment complexes with 20 or more rental units designed to cater to the lower-income renters by relieving the developer of affordable housing requirements. The exemption would apply to those with smaller units ranging between 550-square-foot (51 square metre) studio apartments and 1,350-sq.ft. three-bedroom apartments, reported the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

The thinking is that the regulations might encourage developers to build apartment complexes with units affordable to those in the local service industry instead of allocating the land to building relatively giant houses, often called McMansions, that local residents working in the local economy almost assuredly cannot afford.

A new report cited by the News&Guide concludes that people will move to Jackson whether there is housing available — or not. Both population growth and job growth, especially for seasonal workers, has far outpaced residential and commercial development.

Jim Stanford, a town councillor and former reporter for the News&Guide, said he remains concerned about affordability over the long haul. What used to be affordable housing has been converted into housing that is no longer affordable, he noted. "It's not as simple as just increasing supply. That's not the way it works in Jackson."

In Crested Butte, it's the same story. Not that many years ago, the sort of dilapidated housing left over from Crested Butte's mining era was relatively cheap — renting for a few hundred bucks a month or less, said Mark Reaman, editor of the Crested Butte News. But those shacks have been gussied up to the point that local service workers cannot afford them.

Will government now step in with more deed-restricted housing? The newspaper said local officials in Crested Butte and other jurisdictions appear poised to seek voter approval for new taxes on lodging or property to raise $80 million. The money would deliver 400 new "affordable" units all over Gunnison County by 2020. A public official said the private sector can be expected to deliver another 500 units.

And in the Aspen-dominated Roaring Fork Valley, two men with a lively interest in the affordable housing problem are trying to persuade local governments from Aspen to Glenwood Springs of the value for a taxpayer-funded regional housing authority.

Bill Lamont, a former planning director in both Denver and Boulder, and attorney Dave Myler told the Aspen Daily News that the housing authority could generate enough money to significantly address the valley's long-standing housing problem. They cite just one other comparable multi-jurisdiction authority in Colorado, that being in Summit County.

Would-be mayor fights Aspen Skiing in court

ASPEN, Colo. — Former ski instructor Lee Mulcahy, who is campaigning to be mayor of Aspen, has a reputation in the town of being a pebble in a shoe or, as he prefers, a David trying to get the better of Goliath.

Goliath, in his eyes, is the Aspen Skiing Co., which has declared him persona non grata in company offices or any of the four ski areas it operates since he was fired as an instructor seven years ago. Company representatives said he was dismissed because of substandard work. He asserted it was because he led an effort to unionize ski instructors. His efforts included distributing pro-unionization flyers to ski area patrons and to guests at the company's The Little Nell hotel.

Local district court judge Chris Seldin has issued a ruling that draws flesh from both parties. The company can rightfully refuse him the right to darken the doorways of its hotels, restaurants, and other accommodations, and it can even refuse to sell him lift tickets.

But they can't refuse him access to the ski slopes that the company leases from the U.S. government. Seldin said that goes too far. Mulcahy's access to the slopes is subject to "reasonable time, place and manner limitations" that is to be defined later.

Mulcahy said he's been ostracized because of the ski company's power, forced to get by as a substitute teacher and taxi driver. Even the town government won't hire him to be a janitor, he told the Aspen Daily News.

Crested Butte hears pitch for backcountry policing

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — By many accounts, the situation on the gravel and dirt roads around Crested Butte two years ago was a real mess. Lots of cars and trucks, lots of people camped out in places they maybe shouldn't have been camping, and even at least one case of a truck ducking around traffic congestion on a Forest Service road through a field of skunk cabbage.

If last year was a little better, the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association believes there needs to be a direct response. The organization wants to create a Crested Butte Conservation Corps, with crews on duty six days a week, doing everything from picking up trash and handing out doggie bags to removing tree blow-downs.

They promise to intervene at bandit campsites and provide guidance to drivers at heavily congested sites. The Crested Butte News reported that town officials support the idea but have not yet allocated money.

A worrisome progression

NEDERLAND, Colo. — Much as a physician's assistant will take your blood pressure every time you visit a doctor, researchers at Colorado's Niwot Ridge routinely measure the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the mountain air.

Results of the most recent checkup? A worrisome 414 parts per million of CO2.

The research station is located on a wind-swept spur of the Continental Divide, between the mountain town of Grand Lake and the college town of Boulder. It was established in 1967 for varied high-mountain research, including CO2 sampling.

Jim White, director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said one detail of that big picture will emerge this summer, after the snow is mostly gone, when researchers again sample the air for CO2.

In the Northern Hemisphere, plants draw C02 from the atmosphere, and White suspects the reading will drop to about 398 ppm. The average for the year will be somewhere between — but part of a rapid rise in the last several hundred years.

In the mid-1700s, at the start of the industrial age, the atmosphere level of C02 probably stood at around 280 ppm.

In the last few years the rate of emissions seems to have slowed for reasons not entirely clear to scientists. "But CO2 is still going up, and rapidly," added White.

Consider that at even the current, somewhat lower rate, global atmospheric concentrations will hit 450 ppm by the time that a baby born this year graduates from high school.

Atmospheric scientists have long said that climate systems would more seriously destabilize at around 450 ppm, prompting environmentalists to call for dramatic action to roll back global CO2 levles to 350 ppm.

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