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Mountain News:

Who will get the rest of Mammoth?

MAMMOTH, Calif. — At age 89, David McCoy is finally ready to liquidate his remaining stake in Mammoth Mountain, the ski area in the Sierra Nevada that he founded in 1937. The question is who will get it?

Possible buyers include Intrawest Corp., which owns a majority of the company but not a majority of voting shares. It is also developing three base villages there. Another potential bidder is arch-Intrawest rival Vail Resorts, which two years ago bought its first California ski resort and who has admitted to be interested in another. Other potential buyers reported by the Los Angeles Times include the Walt Disney Co., actor Robert Redford, and Mammoth’s chief executive, Rusty Gregory, who has been at the resort 27 years. He already owns 14 per cent of the company.

Analysts estimated the value of McCoy’s stake at $200 million to $300 million. The number of bidders have been reported at anywhere from three (serious) bidders to 30 possible. The sale is expected to take anywhere from four to six months.

Speaking in Mammoth Lakes recently at a session covered by The Sheet, a web-based publication, Gregory suggested McCoy wants to cash out in order to accelerate his philanthropy. He also said McCoy wants to cement direction for the resort while he’s still sharp. That vision is to make Mammoth a competitive destination resort along the lines of Vail and Whistler. McCoy can pull out of the sale if he doesn’t like what he sees.

Gregory also said that Intrawest is a buyer if the price is low, a seller if the bidding goes high. "They spent last year paying down debt, and a lot of their current strategies are inconsistent with paying a lot of money for the company," said Gregory.

Skiing seems to be becoming more profitable. In 1996, Mammoth grossed $50 million, said Gregory. Last year, it grossed $115 million. While it often led the nation in skier days in the early 1970s, despite the five- to six-hour drive to Los Angeles, it was overtaken by Vail and now routinely shares runner-up status with Breckenridge.

Suicide rate above average

ASPEN, Colo. — In addition to Hunter Thompson, three other people have shot themselves this year in the Roaring Fork Valley, where Aspen is located, and another person hanged herself.

In fact, Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, and adjoining Garfield County, where many of Aspen’s workers live, both have suicide rates well above state and national averages. Eagle County, where Vail is located, is in line with the national average.

"Everyone likes to talk about ‘quality of life’ around here, and the emphasis is on having fun, skiing partying, going to restaurants, arts, and music," Jeff Kremer, programming director for the Aspen Counseling Center, told The Aspen Times. "But the truth is there is a dark side that this community hasn’t been overly eager to talk about."

The Aspen Valley Medical Foundation is planning a conference in June to address substance abuse, depression, and suicide.

As for Thompson, his suicide provoked comment from across the world, as scores of writers revealed how his writing had strongly influenced them and motivated them to seek "truth" instead of merely operating a conveyor line of facts. As for the family members – he shot himself when his son, grandson, and daughter-in-law were nearby – they said they’re fine with his suicide and the manner in which he did it, if saddened by his absence. His widow said the same thing.

Half a mil no deterrent

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Can you imagine people for whom $500,000 is no more than a nuisance? That is the story described in Jackson Hole, where a couple surreptitiously built a house to a size 3,000 square feet more than allowed by county law. As such, it’s now 13,000 square feet.

Although a judge fined the homeowners $500,000, he allowed the illegal expansion to remain intact. Teton County is now appealing that decision, and the Jackson Hole News & Guide says it should. "A fine even as large as a few hundred thousand dollars is meaningless to the superwealthy," said the newspaper. The only message such folks will understand is when ordered to remove the illegal expansion, added the paper.

Banff studies Whistler’s parking

BANFF, Alberta — After a visit to Whistler, officials in Banff are thinking harder about charging for parking. The key, said Mayor John Stutz, is that Banff would have to provide more public transportation as well as free parking in outlying areas.

The story from Whistler is of success. "Main Street used to be free to park, but people would park there all day, and it was so jammed with people trying to find parking it would cause traffic flow problems," Whistler’s Sandra Smith, a municipal employee, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook. Free parking, and lots of it, still exists, but in outlying areas. The town collects nearly $500,000 annually in parking revenue.

Similar to Whistler, Aspen 10 years ago adopted paid parking as a way of freeing up spaces, using the booty to finance improved bus service. Even bitter opponents now concede the idea was a good one, even if somewhat unpleasant.

In contrast to Whistler and Aspen, the primary motivation for paid parking in Banff is to make money. As such, the idea would seem to require a strong sales effort. Five years ago town voters rejected paid parking by a four-to-one margin.

Canary Initiative considered

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen city officials are preparing something called the Canary Initiative, a three-prong strategy to respond to and publicize the threat of global warming.

The Aspen Daily News reported that a document it obtained outlined three strategies. First, it would aim to further reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions, likely by requiring improved energy efficiencies of homes. A second goal would be to study the likely effect on the skiing economy of shorter and warmer winters. And third, the initiative proposes to link with national and international campaigns to bring more attention to the issue of global warming.

Although Aspen’s contribution of greenhouse gases is huge, as is the case with any resort that depends upon airplane flights to bring in the world’s wealthiest residents, city and county officials there have taken the lead in trying to rein in some of their impacts. For example, 57 per cent of the city’s power supply comes form wind and hydroelectric sources.

On becoming the next Banff

GOLDEN, B.C. — Golden, a town along the TransCanada Highway just west of the Continental Divide, needs to do a better job of telling the outside world of its considerable virtues, says a prominent tourism promoter there.

"We need someone who can get the word out to the world and market us properly," said Barbara Friedli. She also wants an expanded funding for tourism promotion. The Golden Transcript notes that an existing bed tax is levied, but only a minor amount is funnelled back to local promotional efforts, with the bulk instead going to regional and provincial promotions.

Can Golden be more like Banff and Canmore without becoming more like them? In response to that question, Friedli says yes – Golden won’t be like them, but just the same, she wants to make Golden one of Canada’s premier tourist destinations and put the town on the world map.

Door opens to base lodging

BANFF, Alberta — Parks Canada appears to have opened the door a crack for ski resorts such as Lake Louise, Norquay, and Sunshine Village to build base-area lodging, the better to compete with other ski resorts across North America.

A policy that is decades old precludes ski resorts from building such on-hill lodging, but high-ranking officials from Parks Canada now say policy exemptions could be considered if significant environmental gains are proven.

Ski industry representatives haven’t come out and said they want base-area lodging, but Crosbie Cotton, who is director of the National Parks Ski Area Association, stresses what he insists will be dire economic consequences to local communities if ski resorts are not "sustainable."

Environmentalists said they do not want to shut down ski resorts in Alberta’s national parks but made it clear they will not entertain expansions, withdrawals for water, or on-site lodging.

More brokers than listings

EAGLE VALLEY, Colo. — The real estate boom is of such magnitude in the Vail-dominated Eagle Valley that there are now more real estate brokers, 670, than there are residential listings, 569. That’s only a third of the normal inventory.

"Properties don’t stay on the market very long at all. Sometimes it’s a matter of hours," said Jim McVey of Slifer, Smith & Frampton, the valley’s largest real estate firm. Another broker, Michael Slevin, said some buyers are so eager that they make offers without actually setting foot on the properties – Internet virtual tours are enough. The average sales price during January was $687,000, reports the Vail Daily. Last year, more than $2.2 billion in real estate was sold in Eagle County.

Woods buys in Jackson Hole

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Professional golfer Tiger Woods and his wife, Elin, have purchased land in a gated community in Jackson Hole, spurring new interest in the project, which is called South Park. Lots there list for $1.2 million to $4.5 million.

A prerequisite for Woods was a good airport, but he also was drawn by the flyfishing as well as the privacy afforded by the layout of the golf course adjacent to his property. His wife is drawn to the skiing, real estate representatives told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

Live bodies wanted

KETCHUM, Idaho — Worries about a potentially lifeless high-end second-home project were voiced during a recent meeting of the Ketchum City Council. There, a developer is promising to convert a hotel at the base of the ski area into 17 condominiums. But the city council is hesitant. If that is to occur, said one council member, the condos must be livable – not just a means to getting parking passes.

The council went so far as to ask the developer, Bruce Barsotti, if he would be willing to sell the condominiums to the Blaine County-Ketchum Affordable Housing Authority. He said he would.

Lot sizes could be reduced

HAILEY, Idaho — Want to minimize urban sprawl? The trick is to do infill development, as vacant lots among existing neighbourhoods are commonly called.

With that in mind, planning commissioners in Hailey, a town down-valley from Ketchum and Sun Valley, propose to allow building on smaller lots. The existing minimum width of residential lots is 75 feet and of business lots 50 feet. The proposed minimum will be 37.5 feet, if the town’s officials go along with this idea. The Idaho Mountain Express reports that the idea is being championed by Citizens for Smart Growth.

Growth limits contentious

BANFF, Alberta — Banff continues to tango with that strange concept called sustainable limits to growth. The town is an island within a national park, and as such Parks Canada officials in 1998 said the expansion would have to be capped. Only 350,000 square feet of commercial space remain up for grabs.

The mayor, John Stutz, wants the federal government that capped the increase to accommodate services he considers essential to a tourism-based economy. For example, the town has no car wash, no dry cleaners, and no propane delivery.

But the mayor misses the point, says Dave Campbell, a conservationist. He told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that Banff lacked these things even before there were growth limits. "This reminds me of a child in a candy store – more, more, more, cries the child, rather than saving the sweets beyond a single, gluttonous afternoon," Campbell said.

Still, Parks Canada has not summarily rejected the mayor’s call.

Real estate plays scuttled

TRUCKEE, Calif. — A district court judge in California has at least temporarily scuttled plans for massive Colorado-style resort development in the Martis Valley, located between Truckee and Lake Tahoe.

The plan approved by Placer County in 2003 "builds in opportunities to create environmental mischief," said Judge James. D. Garbolino. He faulted the plan on several counts, saying it failed to adequately consider new traffic, offered little affordable housing and strayed from the county’s principle to encourage growth in existing cities.

The lawsuit had been filed by a coalition of environmental groups and aided the Town of Truckee. On the other side was Placer County, aided by land owners and development firms, including Eat West Partners. Roger Lessman, managing partner for East West Partners Tahoe, told the Sacramento Bee that he expects the county and his projects will eventually prevail. The case ultimately could go to the California State Supreme Court.

It’s not clear how the ruling might affect projects approved by the county but not built.

Among those approvals was one just days prior to the ruling. In that case, Placer County gave the green light for the first 252 units of what East West Partners expects will ultimately be 1,450 condominiums and townhomes at Northstar-at-Tahoe, a resort owned by Booth Creek. Both Booth Creek and East West Partners are based in Colorado’s Vail Valley.

Unless there are challenges, construction on that Northstar project, called Highlands, is set to go. No challenges are expected, says the Sierra Sun, because East West Partners has already worked out deals. First, as environmentalists wish, the company has agreed to levy real estate transfer taxes on the sales of properties, with the money to be allocated to buying open space. Second, East West has agreed to build 96 employee housing units, alleviating concerns by the Town of Truckee. And third, after the Washoe Indian Tribe worried about disturbance of prehistoric sites, East West agreed to avoid those sites when feasible during construction.

The project is considered a key in shifting Northstar away from being a ski area that caters to only day skiers to one that competes for destination skiers.

Granby wants dozer destroyed

GRANBY, Colo. — It’s now two to one. Joining Grand County officials, the Granby Town Board wants to destroy the bulldozer used in the rampage that gutted or damaged 13 buildings last June. The only dissenting voice is the local historical association, which urges a longer view.

"I think it should be destroyed," said one trustee at a recent meeting. "I think it should be destroyed," said another. "Get rid of it, destroy it," said another as the Granby town trustees worked their way toward a unanimous vote.

Marvin Heemeyer had encased the seating area of the 70-ton bulldozer with plate steel and concrete, then outfitted himself with three guns, video cameras, firing ports, and a ventilator. In all, it took him seven months to build. He culminated his rampage against his supposed enemies by committing suicide.

Down-valley going up-town

BASALT, Colo. — The New York Times got the story at least half right. In profiling Basalt, a town about 18 miles down-valley from Aspen, the newspaper noted that it is attracting the same type of outdoorsy people that Aspen lured 20 years ago. In fact, Basalt is attracting many of exact same people who moved to Aspen 20 years ago, added The Aspen Times parenthetically.

But another echo has also begun. Basalt is also attracting New Yorkers who don’t want to bump into the same New Yorkers in Aspen that they bump into while on the elevators in Manhattan.

‘Aesthetics’ in discussions

SILVERTON, Colo. — Silverton is steadily making its way from being a dried-up-and-ready-to-blow-away former mining supply centre and becoming a gussied-up amenity-laden mountain town where words like "aesthetics" are the stuff of public meetings.

To wit is a plan to build a 350-seat theatre complex. The first construction is at least two years away, but the story in the Silverton Standard was rife with a new sensibility becoming evident in the town.

For example, designers mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright as their inspiration in trying to make the complex "fit into the landscape." Just as notable was the cautious reaction of a planning commissioner, who wondered if this was compatible with the town’s future look. Because of the land’s location at the gateway to the community, "many people are concerned abut the aesthetic direction development might take there," explained the Standard.

Biodiesel still a priority

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Town officials in Breckenridge say they have not given up on a 20 per cent biodiesel fuel, despite two batches that caused them to revert back to more conventional full-petroleum-based diesel.

"We operate on the premise that the use of biodiesel is a priority in Breckenridge, and that we can – and should – maintain a leadership position and make every effort to continue with its use," Dan Bell, the assistant public works director, told the Summit Daily News.

Added Jim Lamb, a town councilman, "It’s a bump in the road. We will get it straightened out."

Bark beetles waxing and waning

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Populations of bark beetles that feed on spruce trees appear to be waning and those that feed on lodgepole pine appear to be waxing in the Routt National Forest.

What this means for the Steamboat Ski Area is that the threat to trees in the upper elevations, where spruce trees are generally found, now appear to be diminished, but the lower slopes are more vulnerable. However, the Forest Service and ski area have been working at improving the health of the forests since 1999, reports The Steamboat Pilot.