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Mountain News:

Banff ski areas losing business to B.C.

Compiled by Allen Best

BANFF, Alberta — The ski areas in Banff National Park have been losing business even as those on the western side of the Rockies in British Columbia have been gaining.

"The Interior of B.C. saw a growth of 100,000 skiers last year; our decline was 80,0000 said Crosbie Cotton, director of the National Parks Ski Association. In all, he said, skier days in Banff have dropped 35 per cent in the last five years. "Panorama, Kicking Horse, Sun Peaks, Silverstar… B.C.’s open for business," he said.

Cotton gave several reasons for the slide in Banff, which is located in Alberta. The B.C. government has set out to aggressively grow the tourism component of the economy. Transportation is improving, with the Cranbrook airport potentially being expanded to accommodate charter jets. As well, increasing numbers of Canadians are heading to the U.S. to ski. At least in Alberta, the belief is that American ski operators are using real estate sales to subsidize the ski product.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that, at a Banff National Park Planning Forum held in late November, the financial picture of the ski areas in Banff was portrayed as weak or worse. Marmot Basin in Jasper has lost money in the last two years, Lake Louise is just emerging from bankruptcy protection, and Sunshine has taken on more debt. Operators of Norquay, which was created in 1926, making it the oldest ski resort in Banff, "have not taken a penny out of the operation and cannot recapitalize." It is described as the most at-risk resort.

Also blamed for the financial instability of the resorts are regulations imposed four years ago that mandate 15-year long-range plans. Cotton said that each ski area could spend $500,000 to $1 million "to do a plan with unknown results."

Deal reported to be near

REVELSTOKE, B.C. — A deal that could result in a major destinations ski resort at Revelstoke is reported to be near. "I'm extremely optimistic that we'll have a deal," Revelstoke Mayor Mark McKee told the Revelstoke Times Review.

Three parties have been negotiating for months over rights to develop the city’s existing ski area, Mount MacKenzie. British Columbia’s provincial agency in charge of natural resources granted conditional approval. Full approval depends upon agreement among the existing operator of a Sno-cat skiing operation, the would-be developer, and the city itself, which owns 69 acres on the mountain.

The role of a mediator was believed to be instrumental in unkinking the stalled negotiations.

Gates lead to affordable housing

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Here’s a new argument for gated communities. By erecting gates, developers can charge more for the real estate they build. By charging more for real estate, they can more readily subsidize affordable housing.

That’s the logic in a nutshell in the Truckee-North Shore area where the issue of gated communities has, at least temporarily, hit the flashpoint. The Tahoe World explains that the local planning commissioners want to deny the developer of a project called Highlands Village the right to erect a gate. The developer, T. Nahas Co., is appealing the decision to the county supervisors. But in something of an unusual twist, the homeowners association is also intervening – against the developer.

As in most resort areas, gated communities are becoming abundant around Lake Tahoe, and more are planned. Among the new projects where gates are permitted is the 462-unit, golf-course subdivision called Eaglewood. Also scheduled to get gates is the Siller Ranch, which includes two golf courses and 726 residential units.

Transceivers, shovels required

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Ski areas continue to diversify their portfolio of skiing experiences. Consider Telluride, where ski area managers expect in January to bring on line a trail called Mountain Quail.

To get to the trail requires a 30-minute hike from the nearest lift. Those getting there will be led by experts from the ski school and ski patrol. Those partaking of the experience will be required to wear avalanche beacons and carry shovels as well as go through a 10- to 15-minute orientation.

The reward for all this is virtually guaranteed face shots, an experience that is gone on many ski mountains by noon even on powder days.

In other words, the new Telluride experience sounds an awful lot like skiing at Silverton Mountain, Colorado’s newest ski area. There, on almost uniformly double-black-diamond terrain, guides and avalanche transceivers are mandatory.

Proof of cloud-seeding sought

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars during the last several years in cloud-seeding, officials with various agencies in the Gunnison-Crested Butte area are starting to ask for good scientific proof that cloud-seeding works.

To that end, a member of the board of directors for a water conservancy district there recently suggested that scientists at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, which is located near Crested Butte at the old mining town of Gothic, be enlisted to look for silver iodide in snow. Silver iodide is the most commonly used nuclei put into the atmosphere in an attempt to induce snowfall.

Alas, scientists at the lab say that they don’t have the equipment to do this, and even if they did the presence of silver iodide would not necessarily prove that cloud seeding has increased snowfall.

Indeed, the scientific evidence is slim that cloud-seeding is effective, noted Salida-based Colorado Central magazine last year. A national report issued a year ago concluded that evidence for summer cloud-seeding is marginal, at best. Much better evidence exists for the effectiveness of seeding clouds to induce snow. Most of that evidence, however, comes from a series of experiments conducted near Leadville, Colo., in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those federally funded experiments had control groups, whereas most "evidence" collected since then has been gathered from cloud-seeding operations that lack control groups. Atmospheric scientists are lobbying for broader, watershed-scale research into the effectiveness of winter cloud-seeding.

It better be good

ASPEN, Colo. — A bowl of soup for $20? That’s the price at Aspen’s newest, and most expensive, restaurant. A filet mignon at the same restaurant, Manrico by Massimo Masciaga, fetches $58. There are two set menus, from five courses for $175 per person to eight courses for $275. Wine is included.

"It's probably the most expensive menu in town, but you get what you're paying for. The food is world-class," sommelier Tim Morseon told The Aspen Times. The menu is described as "fine dining Italian with French influence."

Also from The Aspen Times comes news that new fractional shares at the St. Regis Residence Club have been selling rapidly. The cost of a four-week membership ranges from $300,000 to $1.5 million. About half of the 275 fractional shares have been sold so far at the five-start hotel, which is located in downtown Aspen just a few blocks form the gondola.

Lawsuit filed to block village

WOLF CREEK PASS, Colo. — Yet a third lawsuit has been filed in an attempt to block construction of a base-area village at the Wolf Creek ski area.

The village is proposed by Red McCombs and other investors. McCombs is a co-founder of Clear Channel Communications and also owner of the Minnesota Vikings. After a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service during the 1980s that environmental groups say was questionable, McCombs now has 287 acres that he proposes to develop. The vision, says Colorado Wild, one of the dissenting environmental groups, is of a city of 8,000 people in one of Colorado’s snowiest passes. The ski area in many years has the deepest snow depths of any resort in Colorado.

But the ski area itself, after at first cutting a deal with McCombs, is now suing in attempt to block his proposal for 2,172 housing units, 12 restaurants, and several hotels. So is Colorado Wild and a parallel group, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. These groups claim that the county commissioners in Mineral County, where the ski area is located, violated the law on both procedural and substantive grounds, failing to consider sufficiency of water and impacts to wetlands.

Premier touting LegaciesNow

GOLDEN, B.C. — British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell was in Golden recently to help outline support for 2010 LegaciesNow, which is portrayed as a way for the Interior of British Columbia to maximize benefits from the Olympics scheduled for Vancouver and Whistler in 2010.

The 2010 LegaciesNow program is responsible for working with the Spirit of B.C. Community Committees, keeping them up-to-date and assisting them in exploring Olympic and non-Olympic opportunities for their communities in the areas of sport, culture, and tourism, as well as other endeavours, explains the Golden Star.

Spanish pushed

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Several years ago a group of parents volunteered to pay for instruction of Spanish to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders at two elementary schools in Steamboat Springs. Now, the school board is being asked to consider comprehensive, seamless kindergarten-through-12th grade foreign language instruction. Spanish seems to be front and centre in this discussion, although there is also some instruction of students in French even at the sixth-grade level.

Why the push? A school official, Kelly Stanford, said second-language instruction improves critical-thinking skills and also teaches a respect for other languages. But the changing demographics of the Steamboat area, where Latinos are starting to move in large numbers, underscores the relevance of an expanded foreign language program. "When you look at our community and our country, there’s a greater need for bilingual people," said teacher Jud Ross.

Bighorn roadkill on rise

RADIUM HOT SPRINGS, B.C. — Bighorn sheep are being killed in collisions with vehicles on roads near Radium Hot Springs rapidly this year, and a new record for roadkill may be set.

Five sheep have been killed in a recent 2.5-week period on a stretch of highway south of the village called Mile Hill. That means at least 14 so far, putting a new record of 19 within reach, reports the Invermere Valley Echo.

A government task force has gone to work to find strategies to reduce the highway carnage. In the meantime, authorities are asking drivers to slow down and be cautious. No theories were offered in the story as to why more sheep are being killed this year.

Tax increase to save energy

BOULDER, Colo. — Boulder is taking global warming seriously. The city council is nearly tripling the tax on trash collection. More than half the added money, $468,000 per year, will be allocated to efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, primarily reducing energy consumption in commercial buildings. The balance of the money will go toward traditional recycling programs.

A university town as well as one of the world’s leading centres for climate change research, Boulder adopted the Kyoto Treaty in 2002, one of the few U.S. cities to do so. The treaty seeks to phase in reductions in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The United States rejected the treaty.

Dissenters said the city needed to worry first about restoring city services that have been cut significantly in the last several years when sales tax revenues slackened.

Cold enough?

ASPEN, Colo. — Global warming? Not in late November, when cold-weather records tumbled in mountain towns of Colorado, provoking lots of stories that inevitably carried the expression "brrr." If not a record, Aspen’s temperature slid to 12 below zero. Meanwhile, people started using the phrase "ice box" once again to describe Gunnison, located the next valley over. Probably some well-worn comparisons, mostly unused in recent years, were also heard, as in "colder than a banker’s heart."

Roomy plots in CB

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — The Crested Butte area is well known for its wide-open spaces. That seems to include the cemetery, where plot sizes for singles measure 22 by 11 feet, about three-quarters larger than at most cemeteries in Colorado. Quoting cemetery officials, the Crested Butte News also reports that the cemetery is starting to get non-locals as customers. The ultimate in second homes?

Winds bring change, dust

SILVERTON, Colo. — Even high and isolated mountain valleys are not remote from the winds of change. The winds in this case deliver dust from both near and distant deserts to the San Juan Mountains. The dust, landing on snow, may reduce the amount of reflection, causing the snow to melt more rapidly.

This issue of reflectivity will be tested in a National Science Foundation-funded study being carried out by the Silverton Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies.

Meanwhile, dust from deserts is not all that hits the San Juan snowpack. The Silverton Standard explains that two coal-burning power plants in the nearby Four Corners area are blamed for deteriorating air quality across the region and damaging of water quality. One of the power plants last year spewed 680 pounds of mercury, among other chemicals, into the air. Elevated levels of mercury in some lakes in the San Juans are blamed, at least in part, on the power plants.

Meanwhile, a passel of new power plants are being proposed for the region.

It may cost to sprinkle

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Houses are getting bigger everywhere, including Lake Tahoe. There, a South Shore utility district is preparing to tack on a one-time fee of $1,600 to homes of 5,000 square feet or more to supply water to the sprinkler systems commonly found in larger homes. That, reports the Tahoe Daily Tribune, is what utility officials believes the cost is over the life of a house.

Rewards for leaving trees

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Landowners who leave forests standing will be rewarded by California. The goal in this program of the California Climate Action Registry seeks to keep carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, in trees and out of the atmosphere.

The Associated Press notes that California loses 60,000 acres of forest to development annually. That’s the equivalent to 2.5 million new cars going on the roads every year. The article did not say how the landowners will be rewarded.

Money for melting pot

ROARING FORK VALLEY, Colo. — A coalition of 80 groups has been given seed money to boost efforts to help immigrants adapt to life in the United States and participate more fully in the communities where they live.

The mission is relatively simple, explained Steve Kaufman, speaking for various groups from Aspen to Parachute, a distance of about 90 miles. Immigrants are there, so how do they and everybody else live together? The project isn’t meant to tackle tougher, broader issues, such as federal immigration policy.

Aspen’s economic sphere during the 1990s gained immigrants at a much more rapid pace than many other regions. Census Bureau data suggests a 283 per cent increase in legal immigrants into the valley during the decade, compared to 160 per cent overall in Colorado.

The Colorado Trust has given the coalition of groups a $5,000 grant, with the potential that funding could reach $305,000. The coalition of groups are starting smart, meeting with individuals, then small groups such as city councils before eventually conducting community-wide meetings. Five of the 18 people who regularly show up for steering committee meetings are Latinos.

Main Street hazardous

EAGLE VALLEY, Colo. — Interstate 70, sometimes called the Main Street of the Colorado Rockies, has been a dangerous place lately. First there was the massive rockslide that rained down on the highway in Glenwood Canyon on Thanksgiving Day. Then, during the first Saturday in December, a tanker. overturned near Edwards before exploding. The Vail Daily reports a thick layer of smoke from the diesel fuel darkened the upper Eagle Valley for most of the day.

AIDS cases increasing

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — The Summit Daily News reports that 30 Summit County residents have been diagnosed with AIDS since Colorado officials began tracking the disease in 1985, and of those 11 have died. HIV infection rates are reported to be surging in Western Colorado, although the numbers are not large. Jeff Basinger of the Western Colorado AIDS Project says his group has been getting 50 new cases a year, compared to 20 previously.