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Mountain News:

Banff power consumption up 32 per cent

BANFF, Alberta — Now that the Kyoto Protocol is in effect, Banff has the task of following through on its commitment to reduce the consumption of energy created by burning fossil fuels.

It won’t be easy to cut back these greenhouse gases. A new study shows that energy consumption during the 1990s in Banff rose 32 per cent. The community is committed to reducing energy use by 6 per cent during the current decade.

At 45 per cent, the biggest jump during that previous decade was in the energy used by visitors in transportation, while use of natural gas, primarily to heat homes and businesses, rose 35 per cent.

The Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, which prepared the report, proposes several priorities, among them tolerating idling vehicles for shorter periods and also promoting energy efficient products. As well, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, there is talk about nudging visitors, as well as locals, onto public transportation by creating interceptor lots on the town’s edge.

It’s not all pain, however. Saving energy can be seen as a way of economic development, points out the town’s environmental manager, Jake Pryor. Most of the money spent on energy leaves the community, so paring energy consumption actually leaves more money in local pockets, he says.

Make it flat

KETCHUM, Idaho — The Ketchum-Sun Valley area needs a new or at least improved airport in order to keep up with the ski town Jones of the West. That has caused airport and other local officials to study sites up to an hour away.

Think outside of the box, said one local man, who proposed to shave off some hills, fill in some valleys and – presto, an airport site closer to the resort strip. So, reports the Idaho Mountain Express, at long last the airport officials agreed to give his idea closer scrutiny.

No dice, they said. All of this cutting and filling would cost $100 million to $150 million, not counting the cost of the airport, and even so it wouldn’t be quite large enough. So it’s back inside the box of looking at flat places farther away, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

Thompson still making news

ASPEN, Colo. — Local newspapers in Aspen are free, as they are in most larger ski towns, but the Aspen papers that announced the death of Hunter S. Thompson actually seem to be worth something on eBay. A set of four papers, two of The Aspen Times and two of the Aspen Daily News, were running $31 after attracting 10 bids.

Public art in the eye of beholder

VAIL, Colo. — But is it art? That’s the question that town officials and community members in Vail have been getting bantering about in regards to sculptures in Seibert Circle.

Seibert Circle, located at the head of Bridge Street, a stone’s throw from Vail’s dominant ski lift, the Vista Bahn, was named after Pete Seibert, who in 1957 skied up what is now Vail Mountain and basically said, "This is the place."

As the Brigham Young of Vail, many people thought that Seibert deserved special hero-type recognition in the circle bearing his name. Some envisioned a statue. But the town’s Art in Public Places Board had other ideas. The board finally chose a renowned sculptor from Texas, Jesus Morales, who created objects in stone intended to suggest the cliffs, creek, and other aspects of where Vail is located.

After five years, some love it, others detest it but, most important, many pedestrians are utterly indifferent. The stark plaza never became a popular gathering place. One reason is that, running short of money, the town did not install the "water feature" that the art board had thought essential.

What to do? The town council has heard several options, including spending money at this later day for a water feature or, perhaps, gas utilities to create a fire pit. Others want to move the Moroles sculptures elsewhere in the town, going back to the blackboard on this. And a few say just leave it alone.

As for Seibert, he succumbed to cancer in 2002, although not until after a statue in his honour was erected. It’s a rather ordinary affair, not at all like one local jeweler had suggested. The jeweler propsed using the miracles of modern electrical gimmickry to create a mini-newsreel for children (and others) who crawled up to peer inside of Seibert’s eyes, to see what he saw in his "This is the place" moment.

More than nature can handle

SILVERTON, Colo. — Even as engineers tinker at laboratories in Minnesota, trying to make snowmobiles more powerful yet, Skip Conrad can see the fruits of their previous work among the willow bushes around Silverton. Those willows, he explains, writing in a letter published in the Silverton Standard, look differently after being crossed by a 700-pound snowmobile.

Unlike a cross-country skier, weighing perhaps 180 pounds and covering 10 to 15 miles in a day, "The machine moves at speeds up to 80 mph, and can cover many miles. The treads go over small trees under the snow, breaking tops and stunting growth. A bush in the way can be gone through… so they look like broken rabbit ears sticking out of the snow."

That is not his only complaint with the new generations of motorized sleds, ATVs, and four-wheel drive vehicles, but the story can be summarized neatly, as he did in his conclusion: "Nature can’t speak for itself. When machines and nature meet, nature always loses."

Summit rejoins billionaires’ club

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Summit County last year rejoined the billionaire club in real estate. Total dollar volume for the county was $1.1 billion, 29 per cent more than the previous year – although still behind the record set in 2000. Busiest of all was Breckenridge.

In comparison, neighbouring Eagle County, where Vail is located, tallied twice as much real estate volume, at $2.2 billion. Eagle County has a population about twice as big (and includes some Aspen suburbs), and prices are also marginally higher. The Aspen area is also in what might be called the billionaire club, with sales last year surpassing $1.6 billion.

Sales in both I-70 corridor communities continued to sizzle early in the year. At Vail, for example, pre-sales of condominiums were so hot that the company decided to auction units that are slated to be finished in 2007, notes the Summit Daily News.

Copper markets through Gravity

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. — The name of the game for ski areas right now is to snag the attention of the echo boomers, a.k.a. Generation Y, while still not alienating their parents, the baby boomers. Nearly everybody has some festival going that targets those 18 to 25 years old in hopes that at some point they, too, will actually have lots of disposable income.

At Copper Mountain, ski area owners this past weekend hosted the Gravity Games, one of the various answers to the X Games at Aspen. The Outdoor Life Network is broadcasting eight hours of the events. Meanwhile, Copper Mountain has signed up to host it again next year, reports The Denver Post.

Assisted-living facility reconsidered

EAGLE, Colo. — County commissioners are revisiting the idea of building an assisted-living facility in Eagle County.

They had talked about doing so four years ago, but an expert said the cost was more than the county could handle. Typically, Medicaid pays $500 to $600 less than the actual cost of keeping a person in assisted living.

The Eagle Valley Enterprise also reports that demographics are a factor. Between 7 per cent and 12 per cent of the population must be 75 or older to support an assisted living centre, and the last census showed fewer than 3 per cent in Eagle County.

However, county commissioners wonder the increasing number of affluent, middle-aged people who now live in the Vail area might want to bring their aging parents closer to them, helping make it more affordable for lower-income locals.

Deadly vermiculite used in Banff

CANMORE, Alberta — The wretched story of pollution that has killed more than 200 people in the mining town of Libby, Mont., is finding its way out across the continent, including the mountain towns of Canmore and Banff.

The vermiculite ore produced in Libby was naturally contaminated with tremolite, an extremely carcinogenic form of asbestos. Now, those who handled this vermiculite, sold under the trade name of Zonolite from the 1950s through the 1980s, are wondering about their risks.

One such person is Steve Smith, who a decade ago moved a home from Banff to Canmore. He and his father donned dust masks, and then tackled the job of removing a layer of crumbling vermiculite ceiling insulation. Five years ago, the father developed the same sort of lung cancer as is caused by exposure to asbestos. Although he survives, and it does not appear that his cancer was connected to vermiculite, as there is a 10-year lag period, the younger Smith cannot help but wonder. Especially when renovating older homes, says a Canmore development officer, the No. 1 thing workers should have is a dust mask.

Legal battle expected

KETCHUM, Idaho — A legal scrap is expected over the final home of the novelist Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway’s widow, Mary, gave the house to The Nature Conservancy, and that group now has decided to turn the 13-acre property into a literary library and museum. The property would be taken over and maintained by the Idaho Hemingway House Foundation.

Neighbours, however, do not want to see it turned into an attraction, and have offered to pay the market value, which is estimated at $5 million – on the condition that the house be moved. They are expected to file suit to block the library and museum plans, reports The Associated Press.

Telluride joins hybrid brigade

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Governments are adding hybrid vehicles to their fleets. In Telluride, town officials purchased two Ford Escapes, while in nearby Mountain Village, two Silverado hybrid trucks are now being used. Hybrids can be powered by either electric power or gasoline, and usually both in the same trip. They get improved mileage as compared with their gas-only breathen.

Monarch adds expert slopes

MONARCH PASS, Colo. — Nearly every ski area is attempting to strengthen its portfolio of terrain. Gotta have enough gentle stuff, enough moderate and advanced slopes – and, since we’re in the age of extreme, a healthy dose of experts-only slopes.

Monarch, a ski area located between Crested Butte and Salida that is best known for catering to church groups from Oklahoma, figures it is now in the running as one of those all-round ski areas. It has moved 170 acres of steeps that were previously used for Sno-cat skiing into the area accessed by lifts.

This expansion will help make Monarch the "the best ski area in Colorado," the ski area’s majority owner, Bob Nicolls, told the Crested Butte News. He acknowledged that his ambition raises eyebrows, as Monarch is relatively small, but insists that the resort will get there in "two or three more years."

Steamboat goes plastic

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Tired of soggy or snow-covered soccer fields, Steamboat Springs appears ready to commit to artificial turf this summer at a cost of $300,000 to $350,000, reports The Steamboat Pilot. The Vail area already has two of them, and Aspen was thinking about it as of last report.