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It’s still not 1999, but labour market tightens

Compiled by Allen Best VAIL, Colo.

Compiled by Allen Best

VAIL, Colo. — The "help wanted" sections are still looking anemic in ski towns, very much unlike the story about five years ago when the common joke was that the primary qualification for most positions was merely a pulse – and even that was negotiable.

However, there is some evidence that the employee market is tightening, reports the Vail Daily. Indeed, while the newspaper did not say so, the surprise would be if the labour market were still loose. Real estate sales in the Vail area are skyrocketing once again, and redevelopment that will eventually cost $1 billion has commenced at the base areas for Vail Mountain.

Still, the human resources director for Vail Resorts, which is both the ski area operator and the largest real estate developer, sees recruitment this year being similar to last year. "I think we’re still in for a pretty good recruiting season," said Rick Smith. "It won’t be like five years ago."

Vail Resorts has 1,200 full-time employees and 4,800 part-time employees locally.

Bears getting aggressive

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Bruins are getting unruly in the Crested Butte area in what officials say is fast becoming one of the worst bear seasons on record.

A bear in the town of Mt. Crested Butte charged a police officer, who had been shooting at it with rubber bullets. Elsewhere, a shed door was torn off by a bear after garbage that was being stored.

While it’s not unusual for bears to descend to residential areas, they’re doing so early this year because their traditional food sources such as berries have been inadequate due to the cool summer, reports the Crested Butte News.

So far, nobody has been hurt in all this, but officials suggest it could be just a matter of time. Unlike in the old days, the bears don’t seem to scamper off when they see people. Police are considering responding to complaints as a team because of this new aggressiveness.

Still, the situation does not seem to be as frayed as across the Elk Range at Aspen, where wildlife officers have suggested that people put bells on their doors to alert them when bears invite themselves in.

Record number of bears killed

ASPEN, Colo. — Colorado voters in 1992 ordered an end to the hunting of bears during spring, when sows are still nursing cubs. Since then, there has been an increase in the number of bear-people interactions. Some people argue that the bears have lost their fear of people.

But the numbers defy that logic, reports the Colorado Division of Wildlife. In fact, a record number of bears, 856, were killed by hunters during 2002.

That same year, a time of little rain or snow, 404 other bears were killed, either by wildlife officers, land owners, or by traffic. The next year, when precipitation improved, the non-hunt bear kill had dropped to 113.

Forests driest in 30 years

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — It’s snap, crackle and pop time in the Sierra Nevada, where weather stations are reporting the driest forests in 30 years.

The Tahoe Daily Tribune also notes that Lake Tahoe will probably drop down to its natural rim (it also has a dam) by the end of September, something it did not do last year until shortly before Thanksgiving. Like elsewhere in the West, it’s the fifth or sixth years of drought for the Sierra Nevada. At least some experts are predicting another one.

Bigfoot, Jackalope, and single women

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Every year there is another article or three in ski town newspapers about the imbalance of men to women. But hand it to the Sierra Sun for the best headline: "Bigfoot, Jackalope, and single Truckee women."

If the Sun has its numbers right, there are 100 single women for every 183 men aged 20 through 34. That leads to the well-worn phrase, one certainly not unique to Truckee, that "she’s not your girlfriend; it’s just your turn."

One bartender – who is married – says the competition among Truckee men for single women is like tigers fighting over meat.

Some women like the attention, primping themselves knowing there will be lookers, but others don’t see the men who they’d like attention from. A single mother said the choices are mostly young party-hearty snowboarders or older second-home owners from the Bay Area. More of the mid-range, local guys with careers, would be nice, she said.

As for meeting single women? Against all odds, young guys still troop to the bars. Much better odds, noted one female, would be yoga classes.

Memorial bike racks next

BANFF, Alberta — After great success selling memorial benches, the Town of Banff may now try to sell memorial bike racks.

"Banff is an outdoor, athletic community, and people could buy the chance to put a plaque on the bike rack and customize the rack as well," Mayor Dennis Shuler said in proposing the idea.

Memorial benches, complete with plaques to honour departed loved ones, cost $2,000, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. So far, 33 have been installed.

Kerry, spouse ketchup on rest

KETCHUM, Idaho — Presidential candidate John Kerry and his wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry, were back in Ketchum, this time for some rest and relaxation. Both had vacation homes in the Ketchum area even before they married.

Last month, though, it was a business trip for Heinz Kerry. She spoke at a fundraiser that raised $300,000, a record haul in Idaho politics. The previous week, Democrats in Jackson Hole set a state record for Wyoming by flipping $410,000 into the kitty. Also, singer and composer Carole King, who lives in the Ketchum area, has been stumping the region for Kerry.

Heinz Kerry, as heiress to her late-husband’s ketchup fortune, has given generously to local causes, notes the Idaho Mountain Express. She gave $750,000 to upgrade emergency services in the area, $325,000 to help Blaine County buy a popular cross-country ski lodge, and has contributed to other medical and cultural projects.

Apples and oranges and test scores

JACKSON HOLE, Colo. — Although it may have been an apples-and-oranges comparison, the Jackson Hole News & Guide set out to determine how the students in local public schools fared in tests compared to their counterparts in other ski town schools.

Aspen came out looking by far the best, followed by Steamboat Springs. Jackson Hole and Eagle Valley (Vail, etc) schools were most comparable. The newspaper also tried to compare scores from the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, but Idaho tests are much less difficult than those in Colorado and Wyoming, so the comparison may not be apt.

In fact, the comparisons look flawed from the get-go. Aspen’s school district includes very few of the lower income and especially the immigrant children, who tend to drag test scores down. Those children are educated at different, down-valley school districts. Ditto for Steamboat Springs. Vail’s school district, which is actually called Eagle County, does include a large portion of its worker-bee population, and so does Jackson Hole’s.

The Sturgis of skateboards

CARBONDALE, Colo. — What Sturgis, S.D., is to big, noisy, obnoxious motorcycles, the Carbondale Run could become to skateboarding.

That, at least, is the ambition of Thrasher magazine, which is promoting the new event with slogans such as "Be There Or Screw You."

Event co-ordinator Chris "Woodsie" Woods told The Aspen Times he expects upwards of 1,500 people. Among them will be "the finest skaters this valley has ever seen," says the Times, including Danny Way, a gold medal winner in the inaugural X Big Air contest in Los Angeles.

Air pollution reduces snow

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — If the weatherman is wrong next winter and the big snowstorm turns out to be just a so-so thing, don’t blame the weatherman. Blame pollution, say scientists from the Desert Research Institute.

Based on experiments near the top of the Steamboat Springs ski area, Dr. Randy Borys believes his team has established a link between the emissions of power plants and reduced snowfalls. Polluted air can reduce snowfall by as much as 50 per cent, and the moisture continent of the remaining snow can be reduced by as much as 25 per cent.

The pollution is not responsible for the drought that has plagued much of the West of the last five years, but it does worsen the drought. "In normal years, you might not notice a decrease in snow's water content, but after five years of drought, every drop counts," he said.

The Desert Research Institute linked the problem to particles formed as the byproduct of combustion. In polluted air, the particles attract moisture and hold it. "This action prevents the water from gathering into droplets large enough to be removed from the sky by falling rain or snow," Borys said. "Instead, they just disperse and evaporate."

Steamboat Springs is down-wind 20 to 40 miles from several power plants. Durango, meanwhile, is down-wind from several power plants, and three more are being proposed.

Investors bring green

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — The developer of a controversial golf-course and residential development along the banks of the Snake River has sold the project to a group of investors from Ketchum and Aspen.

The price, $90 million, will allow the project, called the Canyon Club, to move out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, repay creditors, and move the property one step closer to the real estate magazines.

The new organization, called Valley Blue Sky, is being led by David Hutchinson, a real estate developer and former politician from Ketchum. Among the new investors are R.J. Gallagher, who owns a marketing and design firm in Aspen.

The plan, if approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court, is for the new investors to spend $6 million to finish the golf course and prepare the land for sale, $27 million to pay off credits, $12.4 million for a line of credit to investors who can then buy lots and golf course memberships, and $45.2 million to Edgcomb, the original developer.

The project was three years and 30 public meetings in the making before getting approved in April 2003. However, that approval was loaded with 76 conditions, notes the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

Wal-Mart rumour sparks moratorium

PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. — Worries about Wal-Mart moving in to do business has caused existing businesses to push for, and get, a moratorium in both Pagosa Springs and surrounding Archuleta County on new retail superstores.

Set in the San Juan Mountains, Pagosa Springs is located halfway between Durango and the Wolf Creek ski area and is among Colorado’s most rapidly growing second-home areas.

The moratorium even more specifically targets Wal-Mart, capping stores that are 18,000 square feet and larger unless they are principally food retailers, reports the Durango Herald.

Meanwhile, a task force called the Pagosa Springs Alliance for Responsible Growth has been appointed to evaluate the pros and cons of superstores. The process will include research to evaluate the impact of superstores on tourism in similar communities, but is to also assess the benefits of having lower-priced goods that many believe Wal-Mart offers.

Locals lose discount on grave

SILVERTON, Colo. — One of the fringe benefits – sort of – from living in Silverton was that when you died, you were eligible for a free cemetery plot. No more. The town board has imposed a price of $250 for plots in the town’s Hillside Cemetery even for locals, reports the Silverton Standard.

A town official explained that the cost remains much less than at other locations. Maybe that’s because the money is earmarked for maintenance. With snow lying on the ground at Silverton about seven months a year, not much maintenance is necessary.

Fence to keep humans out

CANMORE, Alberta — By standards of Colorado, developers in the Bow River Valley have to jump through all manner of hoops in order to reduce their impact to wildlife species, many of which are in decline anyway.

The extent of Canadian concerns is illustrated in a case reported by the Rocky Mountain Outlook. The newspaper reports that Michael Raine of Golder Associates has recommended that a development proposed for wildlife habitat be enclosed in a fence. "There are negative wildlife human interactions occurring currently and the fencing will substantially reduce impacts of human use adjacent to the hamlet on surrounding wildlife habitat," Rain states in his report.

What does dress code reveal about pop icon?

PARK CITY, Utah — Britney Spears would seem to be the inspiration, in a negative way, for the dress code at Park City schools. "Extreme" clothing is banned, but the main target seems to be girls who emulate the twentysomething pop singer by being too revealing, reveals The Park Record. However, the dress code mailed to students and parents also specifically bans other distractions such as unusual hair colours or styles as well as such things as flashing lights on shoes.

What’s the rationale on all of this hyper-control? School administrators seem to think these things are distractions. Given that logic it’s a wonder girls – and probably boys – are not required to wear burkas. After all, what’s more distracting than a pretty or handsome face?

Dopey Dozer maniac still seen as a martyr

GRANBY, Colo. — Marvin Heemeyer, the guy who dozed his way through Granby’s main street before putting a bullet through his own head, was almost immediately glorified as a martyr by many who, devoid of facts, concluded he had been the victim of an unyielding government bureaucracy.

This phenomenon is dissected in an article in the Los Angles Times under the headline of "The Man, The Myth, The Bulldozer … How the Struggling U.S. Patriot Movement Conjured a Western ‘Hero’ from One Man’s Sad Tantrum."

The reporter, Martin J. Smith, found no evidence of any bureaucratic tyranny, and newspaper publisher Patrick Brower, who had been chased out of his office by Heemeyer’s bulldozer, says Smith got the story right and the "patriots" have it wrong.

"Heemeyer was treated fairly by the town, even with deference," says Brower, writing in the Sky-Hi News. "He just didn’t get his way."

Hybrids get thumbs-up from more in California

EL DORADO COUNTY, Calif. — Hybrid gas-electric cars are being seen in an increasingly positive light in California, where 55 per cent of residents who were recently polled reported that they believe air pollution is "somewhat" of a threat to their health, reports the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Two-thirds say they would consider buying or leasing hybrid vehicles.

It’s Mayberry time once more for Eagle

EAGLE, Colo. — When the big-city reporters first showed up in Eagle last year to report the story of basketball star Kobe Bryant being accused of rape, many resorted to Mayberry RFD descriptions. It was nearly portrayed as the sort of place where people married their sisters, never mind that this is part of the same demographic fabric that includes Vail and Aspen, which are among the most affluent and best educated places on the planet.

Now, after a series of embarrassing judicial miscues in the case that have even made the front page of the New York Times, Eagle County is being cast once again as the fiefdom of Barney Fife, Opie, and Floyd the Barber.

"In the recorded annals of American justice, perhaps only Mayberry RFD has surpassed the Eagle County Justice Center in pure competence and efficiency," writes Dave Krieger of the Rocky Mountain News. Presumably he meant incompetence and inefficiency.

"Our court system is full of grand, egalitarian verbiage on which it cannot deliver," writes Krieger. "In this case, a small-town courthouse tried to conduct a trial of great public interest on a big stage and it couldn’t even get to the beginning.... In the end, these guys made (O.J. Simpson trial judge) Lance Ito look good, and that’s hard to do."

Of course, Krieger is a sports-writer, and last year he dourly predicted the Denver Nuggets would win only 28 games. They won 43.

Telluride cranky about OHVs in high country

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Off-highway vehicles, such as motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, that shuttle on the roads across the above-timberline passes between Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton, continue to be the source of a loud debate in the San Juan Mountains.

The debate is strongest in Telluride, where a large number of people would rather see the countryside rid altogether of the vehicles. In addition to their noise and pollution, the recreational vehicles are used by some to explore off-road areas that are, by their nature, very easily damaged.

But who should regulate their use? That’s part of the issue, as reported by The Telluride Watch. The federal lands that dominate the high country there are checkered with private land. San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters has made it clear he won’t try to enforce the law until this issue of who has jurisdiction and where is cleared up. In response, some people have accused Masters of shirking his duty.

Others, led by County Commissioner Art Goodtimes, say that framing the debate in absolute terms is unhelpful. They advocate seeking resolution in the middle ground of smartly accommodating what they believe is an inevitable increase of OHVs.

I do, I do, I do, I’m due, says oft-married couple

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A couple from Nashville, Tenn., got married for the 81 st time at the Hard Rock Café in South Lake Tahoe. Already in the Guinness Book of World Records, David and Lauren Blair are shooting for 100. Leaving Tahoe, they planned to get married again in Reno.

"The first time I saw her, it was love at first sight," David, 51, told the Tahoe Daly Tribune. "He loves honeymoons," said Lauren, 53.

They first married 20 years ago, and have travelled at various places in the English-speaking world to get their nuptials renewed. They estimate they have spent $50,000 on wedding trips.