Mountain News: Park City tops Aspen, Jackson, Vail in big-bucks metric 

click to enlarge WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Which ski towns have the biggest bucks? Using the metric of county statistics, the answer is Colorado's Aspen (pictured here) and Wyoming's Jackson (Pitkin and Teton counties respectively).
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  • Which ski towns have the biggest bucks? Using the metric of county statistics, the answer is Colorado's Aspen (pictured here) and Wyoming's Jackson (Pitkin and Teton counties respectively).

JACKSON, WYO. — Which ski towns have the biggest bucks? (And no, this isn't a joke about masculinity).

Using the metric of county statistics, the answer is Colorado's Aspen and Wyoming's Jackson (Pitkin and Teton counties respectively).

But there's another metric, called a micropolitan. Using that measure and arbitrarily picking several metrics relative to wealth, Bloomberg concludes that Utah's Summit Park, i.e. Park City, to be the No. 1 micropolitan in the U.S. for wealth.

Following it is Colorado's Edwards micropolitan, home to Vail and Beaver Creek, and Wyoming's Jackson. Aspen lags down the list at eighth, behind Colorado's Summit County and Steamboat Springs at fifth and sixth.

Of the top 10 most affluent micropolitan areas, six are in ski areas of the West. Following them are Heber, Utah, which is near Park City, and Durango, Colo., and a bit down the list are Truckee and Grass Valley in California, and Hailey-Ketchum-Sun Valley in Idaho.

The U.S. Census Bureau introduced micropolitans after the 2000 census as a way of distinguishing smaller areas, of 10,000 to 50,000 population, that better describe an economic, geographic unit. They're almost always big enough to have a Wal-Mart Supercenter. They're not strictly defined by incorporated areas or county boundaries.

The Bloomberg index is based on four equally weighted metrics: median household income, the percentage of households with at least US$200,000 in income, median home value and the percentage of homes worth $1,000,000 or more.

An 8,000-metre peak in winter — without oxygen!

ASPEN, Colo. — By day, Mike Marolt is an accountant and, at age 52, at least on the cusp of what most people consider middle age. But don't mistake him for anybody remotely ordinary.

Together with his identical twin, Steve Marolt and fellow adventurer Jim Gile, he plans to travel in January 2018 to Tibet. There, on the world's sixth tallest mountain, Cho Oyu, they hope to do something unique in the human experience. The trio hopes to ski from above 8,000 metres or, failing that, at least 7,000 metres — and without supplemental oxygen.

They also plan to do this without assistance of Sherpa guides, part of what he calls the modern climbing "infrastructure." Mike called this "pure climbing," bringing to mind the words of the famous Italian climber Reinhold Messner, who was the first to climb Everest without oxygen, what he called "fair means."

Mike recently spoke to a business group in Aspen, where he lives and where he grew up, at a gathering covered by the Aspen Daily News.

The trio began skiing from the world's highest peaks in 1997. By then, alpine touring equipment had become advanced enough that skis could be used not just to get to a peak, but also to have fun while descending, he said. In Pakistan, they skied from 8,000 metres on Broad Peak, the world's 12th highest mountain. That was in summer.

"Immediately, we knew we wanted to take it to the next level," he said, and by that he meant Everest, the very highest. But by then, Everest was becoming a problem for even good climbers, as was evident the year before. Eight people died one day in May 1996, and the deaths were at least partly attributable to the bottlenecks on the mountain route. There were just too many people.

Climbing without supplemental oxygen elevates risks. It requires moving rapidly. Stopping even briefly — particularly in the alpine touring boots, as opposed to warmer, climbing boots — is too risky.

"The thing about climbing without supplemental oxygen and without infrastructure is that you can't stop moving; you have to continue moving because your circulation is so impaired from the lack of oxygen," Mike said.

He and his companions have tried climbing Everest without oxygen, first in 2003 and again in 2007, skiing from high elevations, but not the summit. "We nearly lost our feet," he said. Even turning around short of the summit, his feet were numb for six months afterward.

Crowds will be absent on Cho Oyu, but the conditions he described to his Aspen audience sound nearly impossible. The jet stream sinks to 7,000 to 8,000 metres, or the tops of the peak, producing harsh winds, and temperatures can drop below minus 37 C.

For winter training, they've tested themselves in Peru on a 6,400-metre peak, going from a base camp in one day at 1,500 metres. They did a 2,700-metres day on a 6,400-metre peak in Bolivia.

Obviously, these are guys without pudgy, middle-age bellies.

Trump vows to bring back coal, but tide is against him

CRAIG, Colo. — With coal miners at his side, U.S. President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order that seeks to undo the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

In coal towns, there was rejoicing. The plan requires a gradual bending of power sources to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 32 per cent by 2030. Unless carbon capture and storage technology advances rapidly, this puts coal at a great disadvantage.

Coal plants were already closing in droves. They've been losing out to cheaper natural gas, which has fewer greenhouse-gas emissions and can be dispatched in a matter of minutes, unlike coal plants, which take about a day to crank up. This makes natural gas a better fit with renewables, whose prices have tumbled dramatically in the last five years.

But coal plants in the Rocky Mountains have also been closing because of their dirty environmental footprint, not even considering greenhouse-gas emissions. The sulfur dioxide and other emissions contribute heavily to regional haze.

For example, PacifiCorp announced it would close one of the generating units at its power plant at Kemmerer, Wyo., located south of Jackson Hole. The plant provides power for Park City. The reason: the electricity wasn't needed, because of improved energy efficiency, and to upgrade the plants to reduce pollutants was too expensive.

In northwest Colorado, Tri-State Generation and Transmission and other electrical providers have agreed to shut down a 427-megawatt power plant at Craig by 2025. This is 68 kilometres west of Steamboat Springs. Again, the problem is regional haze and other environmental pollutants.

In New Mexico, it's the same story. There, two units of the San Juan Generating Station are to be shut down by the end of this year, notes the Durango Herald (Colorado).

The Herald reported that the Public Service Co. of New Mexico is deciding whether the remaining units at the San Juan complex will operate beyond 2022.

At the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association conference, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter pointed to action at state and local levels, along with that of private companies, all aiming to clean up energy sources. Among those pushing are a variety of Republican governors in an organization called the Conservative Energy Network.

"What this makes me believe is that no matter what happens at the federal level for the time being, there are opportunities," said Ritter.

Wyoming didn't join that coalition, even if Gov. Matt Mead continues to prod his state into making changes.

Jonathan Schechter, writing in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, while pondering his own mortality, wants Wyoming to similarly quit denying that the day for the end of coal is drawing nigh. Wyoming has been living high with its go-to source for low-sulfur coal since the 1980s. You can still see mile-long coal trains grinding their way through Denver's booming LoDo section on their way to plants as distant as Texas, Mississippi, and even, for a time, Florida.

But nearly 40 per cent of the nation's coal-fired power plants closed between 2006 and 2016, and most remaining plants are on the verge of functional obsolescence. In 20 years, Schechter observes, nearly 90 per cent of the plants will be 40 years old or older. As these plants close down — likely to be replaced by natural gas and renewables — "so too will the market for Wyoming's coal, and with it the economic benefits coal has bestowed upon our state."

Wyoming has no income tax. That simple fact, as much as the amazing sight of the Teton Range, may explain why Jackson Hole rivals Aspen for billionaires per capita. "When the day comes that income is taxed, Jackson Hole will start to become home to a much different demographic," Schechter concluded.

Wow, what a lot of snow in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. — The Teton County fairgrounds in Jackson are looking pretty ugly right now after being the dumping ground for streets plowed through the winter in Jackson. The snow is piled 17 metres high, the tallest seen in at least 20 years. And it's dense snow, too, packed down to make room, reported the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

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