Mountain News: What goes well with eight or 10 drinks? 

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CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — So, this 21-year-old guy has five or six drinks at one bar near Crested Butte and then hitches a ride into town, and has another five or six drinks at another bar. Then, he pulls a handgun from his pocket.

Can you imagine any good outcome from this story?

Well no, there wasn't. The gun went off, sending a bullet into the pelvic area of his drinking buddy. The drinking buddy survived but has been treated at least two hospitals, reports the Crested Butte News.

Witnesses told police no anger or malice was evident. The shooter claims an accident. Why he lit out from the bar after the accident wasn't explained, other than things "went fuzzy."

As they tend to do after 10 or 12 drinks.

Age, altitude yield less healthy sleep

ASPEN, Colo. — Two rooms of the expanded Aspen Valley Hospital will be devoted to sleep studies, in which the blood oxygen levels, brain waves, and breathing rates of sleeping patients will be recorded.

It is, hospital officials tell the Aspen Daily News, another way in which the hospital is trying to accommodate the needs of the Aspen area's aging population.

Sleep apnea is a problem prevalent among people as they age and those who are overweight. It is also more pronounced at higher elevations. When apnea occurs, people breathe sporadically. The resulting intermittent loss of oxygen cumulatively leads to heart and other problems.

Christian Prayer references nixed

JACKSON, Wyo. — "Jesus doesn't have a prayer at the Jackson Hole Rodeo," reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

The story began last summer. An operator allowed to use municipal property for the twice-weekly rodeos began them with prayers that often included Biblical verses and other overt mentions of Christian belief. Some of those attending objected, as they felt forced to join.

In response, town officials asked the rodeo promoter to make the prayer nonsectarian, saying the town could not legally endorse a specific religion. The rodeo operator did, but then reverted back to a prayer rooted in the Bible.

All of this comes down to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech..."

What does this mean in practice? Many people have argued that framers of the Constitution, who were mostly Christian, meant only that a specific type of Christian religion — say a Presbyterian or Baptist — could not be made the state religion, as had existed in England.

The Jackson town government makes the case that the prayer needs to be of the sort that somebody of another religion could live with. "Those of us who honour Christianity will do so in our hearts, as we always have," said Jackson Mayor Mark Barron. And those who honour Islam, Judaism or another faith will do so in their hearts as well, he added. This is, he said, a "unifying opportunity."

But some local Christians said they believe this is an erosion of freedom of speech and expression.

Further muddying the waters is that the town does allow some specific faith-based events, such as Christmas caroling and a menorah, on town property. The difference, said Barron, is that the applications were specifically for faith-based purposes. The rodeo application was for a rodeo.

Heli-beacon helps in rescues

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — The odds of survival have gone up just a little bit for people who get caught in avalanches in the Breckenridge-Vail area.

The Denver Post reports that Flight for Life, a helicopter-shuttle medical service, now has a high-powered beacon detector that can be dangled from a hovering helicopter over a slide area. Within minutes, the service believes it can assemble a ski patroller from a nearby resort, a dog trained in avalanche searching, and a snow technician and shuttle them to the site.

The technology isn't entirely new. It's been used at Park City, Utah, as well as in Washington, Alaska and Oregon — and most certainly across Europe, where the technology was developed by Manuel Genswein, a Swiss avalanche expert who consulted with beacon maker Barryvox.

Of course, you do have to be wearing a beacon when buried. Also keep in mind that even when the helicopter gets there, your odds aren't good. Avalanches are violent things.

Lou Dawson, of WildSnow.com, wrote this in 2006, and it undoubtedly still applies: "I can testify that if you're swept away by anything but the smallest slide, your avalanche beacon is of little concern compared to your tearing ligaments and snapping bones."

Just the same, always wear a beacon, added Dawson.

headwaters requires great balance

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Even at the very headwaters of major rivers, the balance of water and competing needs can be precarious.

Consider Telluride and its box-canyon of loveliness in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The headwaters of the San Miguel River originate there in various above-timberline basins, and in one of those basins is a big bucket of pristine mountain water called Blue Lake. It's 100 metres deep.

Water from the lake flows over the canyon lip at Bridal Veil Falls. But before it thunders to the canyon floor, the power of the falling water is harnessed by a hydroelectric plant.

This system dates back to Telluride's era as a mining town, and it is now being reconfigured to best meet needs of Telluride's modern existence as a resort town. An agreement was recently reached between the municipality and Idarado, the former mine operator, a subsidiary of Newmont Mining.

The agreement, reports The Telluride Watch, gives Idarado the water it needs to avoid unhealthy levels of zinc contamination in the San Miguel River from mine tailings, as required by a legal settlement.

But the town also gets the water it needs, even in drought years. The town was close to exhausting its supply in June.

"If we had had a big fire during Bluegrass, it could have been a very dangerous situation," said Kevin Geiger, alluding to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which draws 10,000 to 12,000 people. "That's the advantage of Blue Lake. It is a large vessel of water that is there if we need to call on it at a certain time."

A bonus for Telluride is that it can also use the former mining company's water rights in its hydroelectric plant planned in conjunction with the new Pandora Water Treatment Plant. This will help the town reduce its dependency on fossil fuels.

Bear outwits trash container

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen municipal employees thought they had outsmarted local bears in the design of trash containers.

They were wrong.

In mid-November, long after bears were believed to have retired for the winter to various shelters in the forest, a bear plucked a bag from a trash container in front of the Aspen City Hall.

The bear-proof containers had been in place for a decade. "After 10 years, we finally got a bear that was bright — brighter than we are," said Jeff Woods, director of the city parks department.

The long and short of it is that we are looking to modify the trash cans to be more bear resistant," Woods said.

The Aspen Daily News reports that nine bears were killed in Aspen and close-by areas this year, and another six were trapped and moved to other areas.

Meanwhile, says the paper, studies continue of bears in and around Aspen. One study resulted in 50 bears being collared and their locations tracked by GPS every half hour. In years in which berries and nuts were plentiful in the forest and meadows, they tended to feed there, sometimes in places just a 10-minute walk from the town. When natural food is absent, as has occurred every second or third year, they hit the town itself.

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