REVELSTOKE, B.C. - Four snowmobilers sledding on wind-loaded slopes north of Revelstoke got unlucky - and then very lucky. All four survived, but it was a close one for Kerry Cooper. The drainage where they got hit was called Dead Man's Creek, and the name came close to foretelling their fate.
Cooper told the Revelstoke Times Review that after being buried under six feet of snow in a series of three avalanches, he was unable to move, even to wiggle a finger.
"I couldn't do anything - blink or move a finger or nothing," he told the newspaper. "You're just struggling to breathe, and then you really panic. I just thought to myself I had to get the breathing under control and breathe as slowly as possible, otherwise I'm going to expend everything right away. Then after a while, even with the slow breathing, your lungs start to burn and that gets painful. Then that goes away because you're asphyxiated and you lack oxygen in the brain."
One of Cooper's companions was buried within a few feet of him, and the two other snowmobilers were able to locate him because of transceiver signals. But when they had dug him partly out and turned off his beacon, they realized there was a still a signal. That's when they feverishly began digging for Cooper.
"You start to hallucinate, go in and out, and then it just goes to your mind, 'Well, I'll just go to sleep. It will be OK.' You think in your head at that time it's going to be OK, but the reality is it's the worst possible time. You actually want to close your eyes and go to sleep."
By then, he had been covered for 10 minutes. His companions saw a portion of balaclava, and dug down around his face. "He looked dead," said companion Randy Kaup. "I mean, he was blue. There was zero response. His pupils were totally dilated as big as saucers."
They kept digging and saw his eyes blink a little. They removed snow from around his chest and he finally took a small breath.
Empty storefronts plentiful
ASPEN, Colo.-Aspen's usually robust retail and restaurant sector has plenty of empty storefronts this year, by some estimates eight to 10 per cent.
It is, according to commercial broker Karen Setterfield, the highest vacancy rate she's seen in 23 years.
"When you are 100 per cent occupied and you all of a sudden see 7 per cent vacancy, it all looks like it's vacant," said Bill Small, a commercial real estate broker.
Retail stores seem harder hit than restaurants, but no sectors have been exempted. Architects and other offices have downscaled, with the result that office space, which once commanded $40 per square foot, now gets in the high $20s to mid-$30s.
Nobody seems to expect much to change this ski season, and perhaps not until 2011. But Marmot, the manufacturer of outdoor apparel and equipment, opened its first retail store in Colorado in Aspen, and The Aspen Times suggests that regional retailers might be the wave of the future in Aspen. The national retailers, it seems, have cold feet.
Landlords have been willing to negotiate with tenants in high-end venues over leases, but not prices. The commercial retail market still commands $75 to $150 a square foot.
Sun Valley gondola is news
KETCHUM, Idaho - A new gondola now operates on Bald Mountain, the marquee attraction of the Sun Valley Resort. Two years in the installation, it whisks riders 204 feet above the ground at one point, in compartments in which the walls are entirely transparent.
The Idaho Mountain Express credits the new gondola with causing Sun Valley to rise four spots in Ski Magazine's annual rankings of North American ski areas.
"New is news," said Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau.
"The gondola, in itself, isn't the be-all and end-all to get people here," she added, "but it's part of the big picture."
Sun Valley's hand-me-down lift found a second life at Discovery, a ski area near Missoula, Mont.
More to Wyoming than Jackson Hole
PINEDALE, Wyo. - Pinedale is well known as a natural gas boomtown, but ski writer Peter Shelton reports that there's also very good skiing at White Pine, just outside of Pinedale in the Wind River Range.
One of the oldest lift-served ski areas in the West, White Pine opened in1939, the same season as Alta - and Winter Park, for that matter. "We've got Deer Valley skiing, without Deer Valley prices," co-proprietor Stuart Thompson tells Shelton.
Shelton also found much to like at Grand Targhee, also located in Wyoming but on the sunset side of the Teton Range. He considers it in the same class for powder skiing as Alta and maybe Red Mountain, B.C.
In a travel piece published in the Denver Post, Shelton finds Jackson Hole's slopes intimidating for perhaps the wrong reasons. "I shared the lifts, and lift lines, with what seemed like the entire North American population of extreme skiers," he confides. Skiing in Laramie Bowl with them, he found that "at times it felt like swimming with sharks."
Adolescent concussions studied
ASPEN, Colo. - The effects of concussions on adolescent skiers and snowboarders will be studied at Aspen this winter.
Project leader Zach Stutzman said the knowledge gained in the study will fill a big gap. Literature on skier concussions is scarce, and that on young athletes even more so, he told The Aspen Times.
"Injury reports at ski resorts track (emergency room) visits, but there's not much on concussions and not much on adolescents," Stutzman explained.
Members in the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club who were identified as being at greater risk - particularly those participating in park and various freestyle disciplines - were chosen for the study. The balance, memory, and problem-solving skills of the study members are tested, among other functions.
Then, if one of the adolescents suffers a perceived concussion, he or she will be re-tested, to see if the scores have changed.
The Times explains that a state-of-the-art wireless system placed inside helmets will document the number and severity of impacts that occur on the slopes.
Grizzly curious, not aggressive
BANFF, Alberta - Two mothers from Canmore, out for a stroll with their toddlers, got a scary reminder that grizzly bears don't den up just because there's snow on the ground. A large bear trailed them for about five minutes at a distance of 45 to 60 feet before it wandered off toward a nearby creek. They told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that the bear showed no signs of aggression.
"I've never seen a bear that big," said Crista-Lee Mitchell. "I felt very overwhelmed. You could almost hear it breathing."
Parks Canada wildlife officials noted that grizzly bears, particularly large males, can remain out well into fall. The latest report last year was on Dec. 24, and the earliest sighting was in early March.
Bear takes bullet between eyes
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - A 700-pound bear that has been roaming around Incline Village, a town along the shores of Lake Tahoe, has been gaining a reputation. It's not all good.
The bear has caused damage estimated to be worth $70,000 this year, the Sierra Sun reports. The most recent pillaging was during Thanksgiving in a church, where the bear dispensed with 22 jars of peanut butter but barely touched the corn flakes.
The newspaper reports that the pastor of the Village Church requested a prayer for the bear to be relocated - and not return to the church.
Last summer, a homeowner shot the bear in the face with a .44 magnum handgun, but the bullet bounced off the skull. The homeowner shot the bear again, this time causing extensive bleeding but no mortal wound. Within a few weeks, the bear was back to breaking and entering.
Animal-rights activists protest
PARK CITY, Utah - About 20 animal-rights activists took to the shopping district in Park City on the Friday after Thanksgiving to protest the selling of animal hides and furs at several stores.
"Fur is sin. Wear your own skin," they chanted. And, "Forty dead animals, one fur coat."
The Park Record spoke with Teresa Platt, executive director of the Fur Commission USA. She said products made from animals biodegrade, unlike synthetic materials, making them better.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals encourages such protests in the days after Thanksgiving each year.
Water use a problem
SUN VALLEY, Idaho - Sun Valley officials want to reduce the water use per capita, primarily by discouraging expensive lawns. Water use in the town ranges up to 8 million gallons per day in summer, compared to 1.5 to 2 million gallons per day during winter.
Compared to the national average, Sun Valley's per-capita water use is "pretty high," said Pat McMahon, manager of the Sun Valley Water and Sewer District.
The district and city are considering a pricing schedule that rewards more conservative water use, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.
Rules drawn up for renewables
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. - Planners in Summit County have been drawing up regulations governing solar panels, wind turbines, and other types of small-scale renewable energy in unincorporated areas.
The general rule seems to be no solar collectors in front yards, and nothing more than 10 per cent higher than the building height.
Ditto for wind turbines. Whether this is enough to attract much wind might be debatable, as generally wind turbines need to stand much taller than other obstructions, including houses and trees, in order to be effective. But, in any event, mapping done by experts shows that Summit County isn't all that windy a place in its lower elevations, where people live.
The regulations would also govern placement of microhydro units in creeks on private property.
Heat plentiful but still expensive
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. - That the subterranean below Mammoth Lakes is hot has never been disputed. Even now, portions of the ski area can be dangerous, because of vents that spew poisonous gases.
But can that heat be tapped to warm homes and businesses, which now rely primarily on propane, an expensive fuel.
The Sheet reports that a 46-page report finds a central geothermal heating system is very doable. But the high up-front capital costs would make the heat 20 per cent more expensive than propane. "It needs to be 20 to 30 per cent less," said Rick Phelps, executive director of the High Sierra Energy Foundation.