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Mountain News:

Whistler mayor hopes to get Canmore into Step

Compiled by Allen Best

CANMORE, Alberta — Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly was in Canmore recently to talk about the Natural Step, a way of defining and moving toward environmental sustainability. Whistler is the first government in Canada to embrace the Natural Step, and O’Reilly and allies think Canmore is a strong candidate to become the second.

"I think it’s the perfect place because we have a lot of really creative and bright people here," Dr. Melanie Watt, executive director of the Biosphere Institute, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook. "I think it attracts those kinds of people, those who are interested in sustainability." Her group has been investigating Natural Step for the last two years.

Natural Step was developed in 1989 by Dr. Karl-Henrik Robért, an oncologist from Sweden who linked a rise in leukemia among children to increased toxins stemming from human production processes. Working with a physicist, John Holmberg, Robért established a set of guiding principles for sustainability based on thermodyamics and natural cycles.

Whistler’s O’Reilly was scheduled to speak to eight businesses and organizations in Canmore. If they go forward, participants will attend a series of 10 workshops, and then become role models within the community. "We can be so much more energy efficient with minimal change," he said.

The Home Depot, McDonald’s, and the Bank of America have embraced the Natural Step, while many Western European communities have incorporated principles into their daily lives. Still, the ideals of the philosophy have been slow to catch on in North America. O’Reilly believes it’s only a matter of time before Canadians and Americans discard their wasteful ways. "It’s coming," he said. "We’re starting to see it, but we’ve had a sense of entitlement that comes with having these raw resources."

Drug use not as open

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Clearly, drug use is not as open now as it was 20 or even 30 years ago in ski towns. Then, people laid out lines of cocaine on restaurant tables in Winter Park, Breckenridge, and any number of other mountain towns. In Vail, 20 or more skiers would gather at a time at an on-mountain shack to puff pot. They don’t any more – gather at one place.

But has drug use declined since then? Statistics are scant, perhaps non-existent. What is clear is that attitudes have changed.

Until the early 1980s, cops gave drunk-drivers lifts to their homes instead of jail. More recently, the ski companies began making drug tests a prerequisite for employment. In addition, the demographics of ski towns have changed. Instead of being primarily people in their 20s, the median age is now in the 30s, and with plenty of grey hair at the high end. This new demographic dilutes the party scene, and maybe even makes it a minority, notes the Summit Daily News.

"I believe that in the ’70s there was a greater prevalence of drug use per capita because you didn’t have the same depth of community structure and involvement that you have now," said Terry Ruckriegle, a district court judge and a Breckenridge resident for 20 years.

Co-housing makes the ’hood

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Co-housing, a popular housing trend in Europe that is slowly gaining a foothold in the United States, is now being tried for a second time in Steamboat Springs with a project of 12 single-family homes and six townhomes.

In co-housing, explains The Steamboat Pilot, the spaces between homes in the project is an open area lined with walkways leading to one another’s homes. Garages and parking areas are on the perimeter, to encourage casual interaction among neighbours. Some amenities, such as workshops, are typically shared. Residents can collaboratively plan, design, and maintain the developments.

"We’re not just developing real estate. We’re creating communities and neighbourhoods and places for people to live," said Rob Dick, the project manager for the new Steamboat project, called River Place. Home prices range from $250,000 to $300,000. Sizes range from 1,200 to 1,725 square feet.

Dick was behind another co-housing project, Butcherknife, along with Ellen Høj, the former director of the Routt County Planning Department.

Tahoe to host gay ski week

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — First was Aspen with its Gay Ski Week, which annually draws 3,500 visitors while adding $12 million to the local economy. Then, during the last few years, both Telluride and Whistler have been reaching out to homosexuals with similar ski-oriented festivities.

Lake Tahoe now wants to get in on that action. An event, Ascent: the Winter Party, is planned for late February and early March. Organizers are planning for 700 to 1,500 participants. The gambling, ski, and general tourism industries all seem to back the event. "As a destination, to turn our eye or to make judgments on people would be horrible," said Don Marrandino, who heads the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance. Among the events will be drag races down ski slopes at Heavenly Mountain.

Vail Resorts stock surges

AVON, Colo. — Stock in Vail Resorts has surged in recent weeks based on the likelihood that Vail will sell some of its RockResorts hotels, which are located from Breckenridge to Jackson Hole to Lake Tahoe. After three years of dampened business travel, hotels are now doing better.

"It’s likely that certain of Vail’s hotel assets may trade hands at high prices in the coming months," wrote stock analyst Roger Miller of JMP Security. Although Vail has rarely turned a profit since it went public in 1997, earnings this year are projected to reach $150 million to $160 million.

Miller projects the share price, after hovering round the IPO of $16, might hit $28 by the company’s year end next summer. It is now at $22. Even the Motley Fool, which earlier this year disparaged the company for its difficulty in turning a profit, now sings its praises, reports the Vail Daily.

Snowmaking takes power

PARK CITY, Utah — If not for snowmaking, many ski areas would have remained closed this year going into the Thanksgiving weekend. That’s often the case.

But if snowmaking allows an unnaturally early start to ski season, it comes at a high price. At Deer Valley, for example, the snowmaking system consumes more electricity than all the lifts operating at one time. The electric bill for a month of snowmaking comes out to $100,000.

Water needs are similarly huge, notes The Park Record. Deer Valley’s snowmaking guns have a capacity for 7,000 gallons a minute.

The irony of all this, of course, is that most ski resorts end the season with their deepest snow depths of the year. Come the warm weather of spring, the snow remains but most skiers are off to other things.

Fluoridation an issue

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — A citizens group called Citizens for Safe Drinking Water have begun a signature-gathering process that they hope will put the issue of fluoridation onto a public ballot. They want to end the practice of putting fluoride into the public drinking water. The manager of the local water district, Gary Sisso, told the Mammoth Times that he intends to continue plans to put fluoride into the drinking water.

The same issue has been argued previously in Telluride, where opponents said that fluoride poses risks to human health, despite the benefit to the teeth of children.

Jackson debates expansion

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Merchants in the town of Jackson, the traditional gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, are getting riled. Major expansions at the base of the Jackson Hole ski area are proposed, with 458 homes, a golf course, and 81,000 square feet of commercial space. The ski area base is 12 miles from the town.

A business owner, Alberta Kucharski, said the business owners are concerned that expansion of the base area, called Teton Village, will divert tourists, who will do all their shopping there, instead of in Jackson. They could, according to this theory, fly into Jackson Hole, go to the base area, and never spend time – or money – in the town of Jackson.

However, one town planning commissioner says that business owners he contacted favoured the competing commercial hub, because they could also locate businesses there.

Bronze elk nailed

FRISCO, Colo. — Roadkill rarely makes the front page of a newspaper. But then, the elk hit by a motorist at the roundabout in Frisco was no ordinarily elk, but instead a $38,000 bronze sculpture. The Summit Daily News said no motorist had been nabbed for downing the elk statue. Still standing in Frisco were bronze bears and bighorn sheep.

Ketchum may get YMCA

KETCHUM, Idaho — Ketchum is moving forward with plans for a YMCA recreational complex and community centre. The 85,000-square-foot facility is to include an ice rink that converts to an indoor event centre, two indoor pools, a gymnasium, and so forth. Total cost is estimated at $16 million, of which $6 million has so far been raised. The land is free.

Guardrails an aesthetic issue

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Even the aesthetic of highway guardrails matters at Lake Tahoe. There, the California transportation agency, called Caltrans, installed shiny, acid-etched guardrails on the highway between Truckee and Kings Beach. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency wants brownish guard rail, which seems to be more expensive but blends into the scenery. The local agency is suing to get its way.

Ice climbers risk all

SILVERTON, Colo. — An ice-climbing route near Silverton is called Stairway to Heaven. It almost became something else recently when, during a heavy snow storm, an avalanche knocked a climber 200 feet down the gully.

As a companion went for help, the climber lay huddled in a sleeping bag when a second and then a third avalanche roared down. He was evacuated to safety, reports the Silverton Standard, but even as rescuers wrapped up their work, another batch of climbers made their way to confront the challenge, and risk, of the ice and unstable snow.

Avon limits light pollution

AVON, Colo. — Add Avon to the list of towns with an ordinance restricting light pollution. However, it might not be immediately obvious. The new law allows five years for offending fixtures to be modified. Among the most substantial offenders is the town itself, which expects to spend upward of $300,000 over the next several years changing fixtures on street lights. Unregulated will be light bulbs of 60 watts or less.

Many ripples from airport

LIJIAN, China — Can there be any doubt about the way that transportation, even if in the name of eco-tourism, can transform a region environmentally and culturally?

The New York Times tells about a recent jump in tourism to Lijian, China. Until the mid-1990s, this region of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain saw only a trickle of backpackers, those willing to take a three-day bus trip. The trickle became a flood after 1995, when an airport was opened with direct flights to several Chinese cities.

Locals customs have been affected by this influx, says The Times. For example, with swelled demand, some of the locals are willing to risk fines to log local forests, so that they can build bigger homes. The old culture was that only the big trees could be cut, and the small ones must be protected. The Times suggested that an eco-lodge that the writer stayed in was exempt from the process of ramped-up consumption.