Mountain News: Snow getting deep even for tall moose 

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FRASER, Colo. — Snow, blessed snow, continues to be uncommonly plentiful in northern Colorado, creating tunnels of highways across mountain passes and causing even long-legged moose to seek out snowmobile and other backcountry trails.

All has not ended well. In one case, a moose calf had to be killed because it had two broken legs. State wildlife officer Jeromy Huntington tells the Sky-Hi News that the moose may have broken its front legs while running in deep snow, but he suspects the calf wouldn't get off a trail and was bumped by a snowmobile.

In another case, however, a snowmobiler trying to sidle past a moose got rammed by the animal. The moose dented the machine and the rider fled to the relative safety of trees.

Moose were transplanted into Colorado beginning in 1978 and have since then become tolerably common. In northwest Wyoming, Bert Raynes would take exception to that description.

"'Common' is one of those wishy-washy words, flexible to the max, that perpetrators of checklists throw around, especially when data are lacking," he writes in the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

He reports that the moose population in Jackson Hole peaked in the early 1980s and since has declined steadily. In recent years, volunteers have gathered on March 1, which they now call Moose Day, to count those that remain. It's a challenge, even if moose stand seven feet tall at the shoulder and are nine feet long.

"There's a lot of terrain in Jackson Hole that moose like, and for all their bigness, moose can be really hard to find. They are, somehow, pretty good at hiding out in otherwise plain sight."

Stay off that phone

JACKSON, Wyo. — The gloves are coming off in Jackson. Or maybe it's the hands. After a two-month grace period, town police last Saturday were scheduled to begin enforcing the ban on holding a cell phone while driving.

It's still illegal to use a cell phone, however, and the local Radio Shack dealer tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide that hands-free devices such as Bluetooth have been flying off the shelves.

The law, said Reid Squyres, store manager, has "probably increased our business in Bluetooth and any other hands-free 15 or 20 fold," he said. The most popular has been a voice-activated speaker that can be clipped onto the visor of a car.

Many states have banned texting while driving and some jurisdictions, like Jackson, have banned holding a cell phone while driving. But nobody seems to ban talking on a cell phone altogether while driving. But the "Harvard Mental Health Letter" in 2010 suggested that maybe they should be.

"A review of studies concluded that hands-free cell phones are just as distracting as handheld models," says the publication.

It's not against the law to talk to a passenger while driving. Why is it any more dangerous to talk into a speaker?

The Harvard researchers point to studies that found that cell phone conversations do not vary much in response to changing traffic conditions. In contrast, drivers and passengers both tend to stop talking when a traffic problem develops. Too, passengers often become another set of eyes and ears, helping the driver navigate.

"Even the smartest of 'smart phones' can't do that," added the report.

Weighing the cost of updating rooms

ASPEN, Colo. — The Aspen City Council wants the city's lodging stock updated and expanded. But how much will it give in to get it?

That was the critical question in the case of Hotel Aspen, a prominent property that the developer proposes to expand into 54 300-square-foot rooms with the pot sweetened by three three-storey homes on the backside of the property on Bleeker Street.

Two of the four councillors at the meeting were ready to vote yes, but just as many — including Mayor Steve Skadron — were ready to vote it down because they see it as just too much bulk. The developer was ready to walk. "I don't want to waste your time and I can't waste ours anymore," said Michael Brown, the hotel co-owner.

Skadron was just as firm. He said that incentivizing small lodge developments by allowing new spec homes is a dangerous and slippery slope. "We have a policy that seems to, by its very nature, turn hoteliers into real estate developers... this city is co-opted by the lure of speculative development," he said. "And I think that development chisels away at this community's soul."

In the end, Councillman Dwayne Romero, who develops real estate at Snowmass Village, persuaded both sides to put off the final decision to a later meeting, to see if the bulk can be shaved just enough to satisfy the concerns of Skadron and Councilman Art Daily.

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