By Allen Best
ASPEN, Colo. – It was a somewhat typical week in Aspen. Funkmaster musician George Clinton was coming to town. Also on the agenda were comedian George Carlin and Comedy Channel newsman Stephen Colbert.
But for sheer volume, local politics is the steadiest source of entertainment.
The latest chapter is the coming mayor election in May. The incumbent, Helen Klanderud, is term-limited. In a race characterized as one of “the rich versus the poor,” two candidates so far are vying to replace her.
Best known is Mick Ireland, a former newspaper reporter in Aspen and also a lawyer. Brash and opinionated, he is known to wear skintight cycling gear to meetings in Pitkin County, where he was a commissioner for 12 years, surviving several recall attempts.
Ireland argues powerfully for Aspen’s version of the proletariat, and he wants not only expanded affordable housing, but also lower-cost housing in the city’s commercial core.
Facing him is a former Aspen council member, Tim Semrau, who expects to be called a “dirt pimp,” as real estate agents are often called, and “growth advocate.” But, trying to draw distinctions between himself and Ireland in favorable ways, he calls himself a “problem-solver and a doer,” while he characterizes Ireland as a “career politician.”
The Aspen Times also distinguishes the two candidates by what they drive: a slick road bicycle and beat-up Volkswagen Rabbit for Ireland, and an antique Porsche convertible and a BMW motorcycle for Semrau.
But what the two candidates do have in common is a decision to consult public relations firms. Ireland’s firm has advised podcasts, such as that of a question-and-answer session, that can be posted at YouTube and other Internet sites.
Other potential candidates include Bonnie Behrend, the anchor of a local television news program. In her capacity as news anchor, she asked to interview Semrau. That request drew an annoyed response from the candidate’s PR firm, which said it was not “journalistically appropriate” for a potential candidate. The TV anchor responded that a disclosure of a potential candidacy was the only requirement for journalism ethics.
Jackson tram to be biggest
JACKSON HOLE, Colo. – The old tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort remains in use, but only by the ski patrol. Meanwhile, the new $25 million tram planned is now taking shape on paper.
“This is the biggest, largest, the most money spent on a tram in North America,” says Jerry Blann, the president of the resort.
Instead of 62 passengers, the capacity of the old tram cars, the new cars will carry 100 passengers, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Most of the tram towers will be 30 to 60 feet higher than existing towers.
The tram is designed to operate in winds of up to 75 mph.
Some new tram cars will also be able to carry freight in compartments below, including water and sewage occasioned by a restaurant toward the top of the mountain. A snowgroomer can also be carried up the tram.
Steel for the project is expected to arrive in spring 2008.
School of hard knocks
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – If you follow professional basketball, you probably know that some of the top hoops prospects get vetted at special high-school academies on their way to the National Basketball Association.
Several schools, including one in Crested Butte, do the same for snowboarders who aspire to the X Games and the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Wall Street Journal profiled one of the 14-year-olds at the school, Zeppelin Zeerip.
He has, says the newspaper, a stocking cap, sagging jeans, and a broken bone, as do a fourth of the 67 students at Crested Butte Academy. They practice tricks before school in the morning. In fact, it’s formal school policy to allow three powder days per year of the students’ choosing.
The tuition normally runs to $30,000, although the profiled student gets a sharply reduced rate. Even then, he can afford to be at the academy only from Thanksgiving to April, returning then to Michigan.
Squaw considers Olympic museum
TRUCKEE, Calif. – Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960, but the history of that event is not commemorated in one place. There is now talk in California of consolidating that Olympic history with an existing history that commemorates the history of West Coast snow sports. One official, Placer County supervisor Bruce Kranz, estimates the cost would be no less than $10 million.
Public art has them talking
CANMORE, Alberta – Canmore has been a place of drama and furled fists in recent months, says the Rocky Mountain Outlook. The cause has been a 23-foot piece of abstract art, called the Chinook, that was placed last October along the banks of the Bow River.
The sculpture has been so controversial that a petition signed by 500 people, calling for the art’s removal, was forwarded to the municipal council. In a hectoring, unruly session, the council split on the issue, leaving the art in place.
The Outlook saw too much hullabaloo about something of too little consequence. But the newspaper did seem to think that the location, intruding into a scene of naturalness, was not well chosen.
“It’s the location that grates, and the entrenched position of the artists who insist it must be there and nowhere else — that to move it would destroy its very artistic sensibilities — that’s a tough one for we ignorant Philistines to overcome.”
Wryly, the newspaper noted the community’s public art policy intends for the public art to “provide citizens with the opportunity for the exchange of ideas and expression …”
Concluded the Outlook, “It does that alright.”
CB mandates energy efficiency
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – LEED building standards are being mandated for larger buildings in Crested Butte.
The new law requires any building of more than 20,000-square-feet must meet the minimum certification for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designated building.
The new code also has other mandates: at least 50 per cent of all light sources must use compact fluorescent or light-emoting diode (LED) lights. The insulation standards for roofs have also been boosted.
The town council is still debating what kind of limitations to enact on outdoor snowmelting systems.
Low snow ends streak
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – The airport in Jackson Hole had been on quite a streak, 27 continuous months with increasing numbers of airport passengers. But that streak ended in January, owing to so-so or worse snow conditions. Snowfall in January was only 34 inches, less than half the 40-year average, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Still, it may be a measure of Jackson Hole’s broadened economy that the number of passengers dropped by only 5 per cent as compared with last year, a steller year.
California ski area closes
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – Snow conditions have been so marginal in the Sierra Nevada this year that that June Mountain, an ancillary area to Mammoth Mountain, was closed in late January. Only one other season, the 1976-77 drought, had a season as short as this one. The resort has been open since 1961.
Even with good snow, June Mountain is a marginal operation. The owner had proposed keeping it open only on weekends. The Sheet reports some fear in Mammoth Lakes that the ski area won’t be re-opened. Not so, say company officials, who report it is scheduled to reopen on Dec. 15.
Lack of snow helps builders
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – At Lake Tahoe, it only snowed eight inches between Dec. 1 and Presidents’ Weekend. While a bust for ski areas, it’s mostly a boon for construction contractors. “It’s the coldest summer we’ve ever experienced,” said building contractor Curtis McLachlan.
Contractors tell the Tahoe Daily Tribune that little snow saves them time, because they don’t have to spend a half-day after a storm digging out.
But this winter has been both cold and dry, and cold has its own consequences. The lack of snow for insulation has led to many burst water pipes. Further, at 20 degrees and colder, working outside becomes inefficient, says James Costaluipes, a contractor. “You spend more time trying to keep warm than getting work done.”
Presidents’ Weekend full of wind
FRASER, Colo. – The big wind story of Presidents’ Day Weekend of 2007 is likely to be remembered well into the future. It shut down ski lifts from Aspen to Winter Park and on to Steamboat Springs.
The winds also closed many highways, and made those that remained open among the most hazardous in several decades. “Horrendous,” is how Ken Kowynia, a winter sports program manager for the Forest Service, who drove from Crested Butte to Steamboat Springs that day, described the highways north from Fremont Pass, near Copper Mountain.
The gondola and several upper-mountain lifts were closed at Steamboat, where a maximum wind speed of 107 mph was recorded atop Mt. Werner.
The Winter Park-Granby area was among the most severely hit areas. Winds of 40 to 60 mph are not exceptional there, but nobody could recall them being sustained for six hours, as was the case on the Friday going into the weekend.
Ski lifts at Winter Park were necessarily closed down just before noon that Friday, and soon after the highway across Berthoud Pass, the valley’s link to I-70 and Denver, was also closed. Berthoud Pass remained closed mostly until late Saturday afternoon, when winds had calmed and the avalanche chutes, heavily loaded with snow by the wind, had been blasted loose of potential slides.
Highway 40 between Fraser and Granby was so dangerous that it was closed because of the blowing snow. Ironically, only a few inches of snow had fallen.
More than 200 people were sheltered overnight at schools in Fraser and Granby.
Andy Miller, a long-time Fraser resident, said that even when Winter Park got 72 inches of snow in 72 hours, several years ago, travel in the valley did not shut down. “We were still getting around,” he recalls. Not so during the big wind storm of ’07.
Snow caused Laker’s big crash
PARK CITY, Utah – Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Vladimir Radmanovic went to Park City during Presidents’ Weekend, which also happens to be during the weekend of the all-star game. He’s not an all-star.
Back in Los Angeles, he disclosed he had suffered a dislocated shoulder in Park City. He attributed the injury to slipping on ice, but his coach, Phil Jackson, jokingly suggested disbelief. And after several days, the 6-foot-10 Radmanovic confirmed Jackson’s suspicions.
He had, he admitted, tried snowboarding — despite a clause in his five-year, $30.2 million contract specifically banning it. He flipped, landed on his shoulder, and will be out for eight weeks. The Los Angeles Times suggests he will barely be missed, as he has posted only 6.9 points and 3.4 rebounds a game this season.
‘Carbon footprint’ understood
PARK CITY, Utah – How quickly things are changing. Two years ago, had you talked about a “carbon footprint,” somebody likely would have thought you were alluding to a mussed carpet.
But in Park City, a workshop on Carbon Footprints was announced with nary an explanation. One website, however, defines a carbon footprint as a “measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.”
The catalyst for the workshop was the county public works director, who is concerned about the rapid filling of the landfill for which he is responsible.
Airports, like diamonds, are forever
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Steamboat Springs has two airports. One accommodates the big planes that tourists most generally arrive on, and it’s 25 miles west. The other smaller airport is strictly for private use, and it’s located on the edge of town.
A task force has been appointed with the responsibility of evaluating options for the smaller airport, including whether to expand it or to shut it down. But a Federal Aviation Administration official has made it clear that the federal government will resist any effort to close the airport, according to the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
The community has accepted $9.5 million in grants over the years, said Craig Sparks, an FAA official from the Denver office. And in doing so, it made a commitment to keep the airport open. “This obligation runs in perpetuity,” he added.
Reached later by a reporter, Sparks softened his stance a bit, saying that it’s possible the city could repay the money to get off the hook.
Why are airports, like diamonds, forever? Sparks told the newspaper that congressmen don’t like to see airports closed. “We want you to look at ways to keep the airport open and increase revenue,” he said.
Anal retentiveness urged
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – Among the more popular trails in Summit County is the old railroad grade to Boreas Pass, which begins several miles outside of Breckenridge. Snowmobilers, skiers, and snowshoers use it, as do people just out for a stroll with their dogs.
But dog poop so badly clutters the road that people have to watch their step, writes Vera “Gromova” Gesse in a letter published in the Summit Daily News. “It reminded me of a lab at the veterinary clinic,” she reported after a recent trip.
Given the proclivity of local residents to have dogs, she figures the tourists are not to blame in this case. She advises either greater anal retentiveness or a sort of pay-in-lieu: a donation to the local animal shelter.
Ground-floor offices banned
TRUCKEE, Calif. – Truckee is on its way to banning new real estate and other offices on the ground floor of its central business district, called Commercial Row. Banned are businesses that are not retail, restaurants or bars. Existing non-conforming uses are to be allowed to continue.
A temporary ban was first adopted last fall by town authorities. The Sierra Sun reports no large opposition to the permanent ban.
Vail banned ground-floor offices in 1973. Aspen and Steamboat Springs have followed suit in the last few years. Crested Butte adopted such a ban, but then withdrew it, and Park City twice considered such a ban but rejected it. Telluride is still talking about it.
Costco swells town treasury
GYPSUM, Colo. – The treasury of Gypsum, an erstwhile blue-collar community located 37 miles down-valley from Vail, is positively bulging owing to tax collections from a new Costco.
The Eagle Valley Enterprise reports the town is preparing a $9 million budget this year. “When I started with the town in 1994, our budget was about $100,000,” joked Jeff Shroll, the town manager. In fact, the budget was about $1 million.
Estimated sales tax collections this year of $3.25 million. It is rebating $1.3 million in tax collections to Costco. And, as per a revenue-sharing plan with neighboring Eagle, which is absorbing most of the traffic impacts from the Costco, will give that community $231,000.
Real estate transfer tax collections are also yielding a pretty penny, $1 million. Among Gypsum’s newest additions is a gated community called Brightwater.
Project facing greater scrutiny
MINTURN, Colo. – Plans for a huge, high-end housing development between the towns of Minturn and Red Cliff and the Vail ski area are being reviewed by Minturn, which is considering annexation.
The Ginn Co. proposes 1,700 housing units in a project that has been estimated at anywhere from $1 billion to $4 billion. Project plans include a golf area built on reclaimed mining wastes and a small ski area, all of this on about 5,400 acres of one-time mining properties.
In Minturn, the sentiment last year seemed to be that it was time for Minturn to have its own high-end development. A sampling of opinion reported by the Vail Daily and others now suggests rougher sledding ahead for the Ginn development on Battle Mountain. Some of the dissension concerns a 150-foot-tall building planned at the base of the project, near the golf course. This rivals and even exceeds some of the buildings in Vail and Avon.
Too tall for Ketchum?
KETCHUM, Idaho – Despite being at the base of the Sun Valley ski area and the site of the first destination ski resort in North America, Ketchum is a quiet place at night. It’s not a particularly busy resort these days.
As is true at resorts across the West, Ketchum has had declining hotel rooms. Condominiums once used by visitors have been withdrawn from rental pools. Like so many ski towns, it has become a place where skiing is an amenity for home owners. Tourism has been flat or declined.
Several years ago a developer proposed to build a hotel on Ketchum’s Main Street, and finally got approval. He could not, however, get financing. Hotels alone, said the financiers, were not enough.
In response, the city liberalized its rules, allowing some of the hotel units to be sold as condominiums, including the popular fractionalized format. That has yielded a new proposal for a condo-hotel, but hotel developers say it may not be enough. They also want taller buildings.
Hotels developers believe the public doesn’t fully appreciation the risks of building hotels. “It’s scary doing a hotel,” says Brian Barsotti, the developer who tried — and failed — to build at the Main Street location previously. He now may try to build at the base of the ski area.
The current proposal before the city council, reports the Idaho Mountain Express, is to allow development rights elsewhere, such as on the town’s periphery, to be transferred to suitable locations. The problem is that there are always objections to density no matter the receiving area.
The current restriction on heights is four floors. One developer, Steve Burnstead, proposes a five-story structure. It would 58 feet on Main Street, and 68 feet at its maximum, stepped-back location.