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Mountain News:

From no-growth to smart growth, and back

WINTER PARK, Colo. — Harry Williamson is moving on after 11 years as editor of the Winter Park Manifest, and in a swan-song column he recalled his evolution – one that should be familiar to many.

When first in the Fraser Valley, he recalls, he teamed with gee-whiz-it’s-gorgeous enthusiasms for the peaks, forests, and streams. That gush of enthusiasm made him a borderline no-growther, until he was born again as a smart-growther. As a smart-growther, he championed the arrival of Intrawest to manage the ski area and build real estate. But after seeing the drought of 2002 and its aftermath, Williamson is back to square one.

"I’ve come to realize that all smart growth does is destroy the environment at a somewhat slower rate than with dumb growth," he writes. "Further, the concept of sustainable growth, at least if defined in economic terms, is an oxymoron. It is impossible for growth, no matter how well planned, to sustain our environment better than no growth."

Winter Park has several serious pickles. First, people have built among the forests that, after all, are prone to fire, all the while taking pride in the fact that their homes were hidden from public view. More immediately is the problem of water. There’s lots of water, but not much left for the taking. Denver diverts more than 60 per cent, and wants to take more just as the real-estate industry is cranking up.

Bigger numbers, but not dollars

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Crested Butte posted a big 12.8 per cent gain in skier days this year, among the best in Colorado. Still, don’t think the ski resort was rolling in the cash, says John Norton, a consultant and former president at the ski area.

Being open this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, something that has not occurred for several years, accounted for about three-fourths of the increase, but it didn’t really produce all that much revenue as compared to expenses. Increased use of season passes, because of the good snow, was responsible for much of the rest.

The bottom line didn’t improve much, says Norton, writing in the Crested Butte News, but the alarm bells haven’t sounded. Tim and Diane Mueller know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, he adds.

Airport traffic up 8 per cent

GYPSUM, Colo. — Traffic at Eagle County Regional Airport, a major portal for visitors to Vail-Beaver Creek but also Aspen-Snowmass, was up 8 per cent last winter, the second busiest winter on record. The only busier winter was 1999-2000.

However, winter is not the only story at the airport. Summer traffic is now building, with direct daily flights during the last two summers from Dallas, and daily flights to begin in June from Chicago.

First Nations want to be heard

REVELSTOKE, B.C. — Clearing of ski trails is scheduled to begin on Mount MacKenzie, where developers plan to expand a tiny ski resort into one featuring North America’s greatest vertical descent and, not coincidentally, a large amount of base area real estate.

However, even as town officials put the finishing touches on studies documenting social and other impacts of the long-awaited project, two First Nations groups with historic ties to the area have complained that they were not consulted.

The Revelstoke Times Review says that both the Okanagan Nation and the Shuswap Nation have called for meaningful consultation, and until that is done, they "cannot agree with our contemplated development activity."

Revelstoke Mayor Mark McGee said the issue must be addressed by the province and the developers.

Party turns toward violent

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta — An end-of-season bash for Lake Louise ski hill employees turned exceptionally rowdy, as the crowd of 150 took to throwing items off a third-storey balcony and burning a couch. As well, there were assaults. Police from as far away as Calgary were called in to disperse the crowd. The Rocky Mountain Outlook reported no good theories of why this gathering turned violent when others had not.

Bear shocks electrician

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Todd Leishman, a 37-year-old electrician from Rexburg, Idaho, has a good, scary story for the campfire, but it almost cost him a heart attack. He was hunting for elk antlers in Jackson Hole at mid-afternoon when he noticed crows above him, followed by a roar that "sounded like a rocket ship." About 20 yards away, staring at him, was a 300- to 400-pound bear.

The bear didn’t run, but Leishman did. First one branch snapped, then another, before he finally hiked himself up the tree trunk, the bear lunging close behind. The bear then stalked around the base of the tree for several minutes before leaving. Or so it seemed.

While in the tree, Leishman’s brother called on a cell phone. Leishman had a global positioning system device, and he relayed his coordinates to this brother, who called for help. After an hour, Leishman thought it was safe to descend. Bad choice.

Just before he jumped to the ground, the bear bounded toward him, and this time began clawing up the tree. They climbed 10, 20, 30 feet until finally, more than 40 feet above the ground, there was no place left to climb. The treetop was bowing under the combined weight of man and bruin, the hunter and the hunter-hunter.

"I just remember, I was at the top of the tree, that it was bending," Leishman recalled later. "Boy, that time I just thought, ‘This is it.… I don’t have no gun, no anything.’ And I was top of the tree."

The bear was so close that Leishman could see the white hair on his face. He even considered jumping to another tree, like a squirrel. But then, after staring at the man for a while, the bear descended and then left. This time, Leishman stayed in the tree until researchers arrived just before nightfall, five hours after all this had begun. Having made his point, the bear was nowhere in sight.

Plastic for grads, not cash

PARK CITY, Utah — Some graduating seniors are asking for plastic – and not just a credit card. They want new noses, bigger chests, and other products of cosmetic surgery.

"I’ve done a lot of kids," says Park City-based surgeon Dr. Renalto Saltz. "You’re finishing high school, you’re focusing on your career. If that person has good reasons, then I’ll do it."

Cosmetic surgeries have increased by 20 per cent since 2000. Saltz credits the increase to "the culture of beauty." One young woman interviewed by The Park Record said she got the slight Italian bump in her nose removed, while another young woman had a congenital problem with the shape of her breasts addressed. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons says people aged 18 or younger last year had nearly 52,000 nose reshaping procedures, 13,000 ear surgeries, and nearly 4,000 had breast augmentations.

But Saltz says he does not do every plastic surgery that is requested. "You want to be sure somebody doesn’t have false expectations," he said. "Surgery will never make you look or feel like Britney Spears."

Vacancy rate still dropping

VAIL, Colo. — Numbers are scare, but anecdotal reports all indicate that the housing market in Vail and the Eagle Valley is fast returning to drum status – as in very tight.

"If you’ve got a good rental situation, I’d look to keep it," said Nina Timm, Vail’s municipal housing co-ordinator. "The vacancy rate has dropped dramatically, and I believe it will continue to drop."

Just three years ago, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, speculative building of second homes had all but stopped and tourism was dampened. As a result, the rental market was loose as a goose and there was some opposition to building new affordable housing projects. Still, a great deal of affordable housing got built. Guess what? It’s nearly filled, and we’re back to the roaring 1990s, a boom that economists predict will continue for several decades more unless oil supplies decline.

Major projects continue from one end of the 50-mile long valley to the other. Among the largest projects is a major housing and commercial complex in Avon, but even bigger is the $1 billion redevelopment now getting underway in Vail. Even after the construction workers are gone, the rebuffed real estate and tourism economic engine is projected to produce an additional 1,000 to 1,500 jobs.

Corporate jets que for Dalai Lama

KETCHUM, Idaho — The Dalai Lama has certainly become a trendy item. The Idaho Mountain Express reports that a traffic jam is expected at the local airport near Ketchum on the fourth anniversary of 9/11 as corporate executives and high financers gather for a private audience with the high holiness of Tibetian Buddhists.

The event is being sponsored by investment guru Kiril Sokoloff, whose company, 13D, is based in Boca Raton, Fla. However, his home is in Ketchum, and there he expects to host up to 500 attendees for a semi-private audience. There will also be a more public gathering for a spiritual presentation. Unlike original plans, the down-sized event is to accommodate 10,000 people.

Second-home owner pilloried

SILVERTON, Colo. — Second-home owners have been the whipping boy in mountain towns for a number of years now. But what could be worse than a second-home owner from Aspen?

That’s one of the undercurrents in a case in Silverton. Jim Jackson lives in Aspen but has a cabin and other property north of Silverton across the road from the new Silverton Mountain Ski Area. Because the ski area has such steep runs, avalanche control is a high priority. But setting off the avalanches has been causing the snow to pile up on Jackson’s property.

Jackson, who once aspired to create a ski area in the same vicinity, has filed a lawsuit to end the avalanches, even as he has refused offers to sell his land. Now, working on behalf of the developer of the ski area, Aron Brill, the county commissioners are preparing to condemn Jackson’s property.

The commissioners cite two justifications for taking Jackson’s land. First, the new ski area is producing jobs in Silverton, which is otherwise deadly dull in winter. Second, the commissioners wonder if a private property owner can prevent avalanche control work, what might this idea do to efforts to control avalanches along highways and roads?

The Silverton Standard reports that the developer, Brill, is characterizing Jackson’s lawsuit as an assault by an absentee landowner on the county as a whole. "It’s an Aspen guy trying to put the screws to San Juan County," echoed a local businessman, George Foster.

Cocaine deaths continue

ASPEN, Colo. — Bars in Aspen have holes drilled in the tops of toilet-paper holders to prevent users of cocaine from spreading out lines of the white powder. In places, Vaseline is smeared on bathroom counters.

Still, cocaine use remains big in Aspen, reports The Denver Post. Pitkin County Corner Steven Ayers told that newspaper that 5 or 6 of his 30 annual coroner cases are cocaine-related, a figure that has remained steady during the past decade.

This year has been no different, as cocaine has been a factor in the deaths of at least four people. Several young people have died of cocaine-induced heart attacks during the last year.

Local law enforcement officers say that, unlike during the 1980s, the Roaring Fork Valley has no big dealers. Instead, cocaine is distributed almost exclusively by Mexican nationals, who can make $150,000 a year selling grams on a mom-and-pop-type basis in the bars and nightclubs.

Saving something old

KETCHUM, Idaho — Ketchum is noodling about how to preserve the disappearing historic structures in the town. One proposal now on the table is to allow owners of the older and typically shorter historic buildings development rights. The development rights could then be transferred to the city’s commercial core.

"Trading historic preservation entitlement for height limits – I don’t know whether that’s the right use of historic preservation," said Ned Hogan, a member of the Ketchum Historic Preservation Commission. But the proponent, Jack Rutherford, said it might be the only bargaining chip the city has.

Keeping downtown alive

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — City and business officials in Steamboat Springs have been fretting for several years about whether their downtown is losing its vitality.

No doubt it is changing, gaining more galleries and the like over time even as those selling clothes, hardware and other items needed in a working community have disappeared in the face of new competition from Wal-Mart and other such stores found elsewhere.

How to keep downtown vital? On one front, the city tried to block county officials from fleeing to the suburbs. They have now lost that battle. While some county functions will remain downtown, others will move.

The reason the county officials wanted to leave was at least partly because of how tight parking is in downtown Steamboat. A study done several years ago comes up with a Li’l Abner conclusion. Of the 2,806 parking spaces identified, employees used 1,800 of them.

A new task force now proposes to turn more eight-hour or unregulated parking in the downtown area into four-hour, two-hour or 15-minute parking spaces. The group also wants stepped-up parking enforcement.

There’s plenty of parking still for employees, says the task force, but they will have to walk a block or three, they say.

Road to remain dusty and bumpy

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — For at least a few years more, the shortest way between Colorado’s Front Range and Crested Butte will remain a bumpy, dusty one.

The federal government since the early 1990s has been chomping at the bit to pave a Continental Divide crossing called Cottonwood Pass, connecting Buena Vista with Crested Butte. The road is already paved on the east side to the summit, although none of it is plowed in winter. The Forest Service and the Federal Highway Administration have both wanted to pave the road on the west side down to Taylor Park, located near Crested Butte. All but a few bumpy, dusty miles are now paved.

Gunnison County successfully resisted the idea in 1998, and it has again effectively vetoed the project once more owing to an odd-fellow coalition. Environmentalists fear more traffic into the region, while ranchers think a bumpy road will result in fewer collisions with elk, and the business operators in Gunnison benefit from traffic that uses the longer route through their town.

Paving has been relegated to the distant future, although some work will get done on the road between Taylor Park Reservoir and the hamlet of Almont, located near Crested Butte.

Bigger and better in Ketchum area

KETCHUM, Idaho — While the Ketchum-Sun Valley community continues to squabble and negotiate where a new airport should get built, the Idaho Mountain Express is calling for a more broad, long-term vision for Highway 75, the valley’s main street.

Idaho state officials are contemplating bonds that would allow more up-front cash for highway improvements. While light-rail might be ideal, notes the newspaper, it might be too expensive. The newspaper suggests creation of high-occupancy vehicle lanes in a widened highway.

Durangans moving to Mancos

MANCOS, Colo. — Moving down-valley is a time-honored tradition in ski valleys. At Durango, something a little bit different is occurring. There, a growing number of people are moving up to Mancos, which is 500 feet higher in elevation and also 30 miles west, near the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.

Mancos (pronounced MAN-cuss by the long-term locals) has several advantages, émigrés tell the Durango Telegraph. Real estate is much cheaper, sometimes only half as much as in Durango. Moreover, the town of 1,110 people reminds them of when they moved to Durango 20 years ago. A community garden and a Waldorf School are part of this small-town atmosphere, as is the slower pace.

"We like to joke that being in Mancos is like being in an episode of ‘Northern Exposure Meets Mayberry,’" said one former Durangan, Tammy Graham.

And what do people do for a living in Mancos? Some are retirees, but others commute to Durango, at least until we get serious about curbing greenhouse gases.

Trash total doubles

AVON, Colo. — Every May, volunteers in Vail and other communities in the Eagle Valley grab orange plastic bags and walk along local roads and streets, looking for trash. The greatest amount of trash usually comes from along Interstate 70, and this year the 900 volunteers found more than 89,000 pounds, double that of last year. Items ranged from a full bottle of Grand Marnier to plastic bags of lumber, reports the Vail Daily. Volunteers had no particular theory about why so much more trash this year.

Summits likely to get hospitals

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah — Colorado’s Summit County expects to have its first hospital open by Christmas, and Utah’s Summit County may have one under construction by then. Intermountain Health Care plans a 90,000-square-foot facility, or about the size of a large grocery store, at a cost of $40 million to $60 million. The hospital will have 26 beds, offering services about midway on the range of hospitals.