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Mountain News:

Utah beats old skier record by 12 per cent

PARK CITY, Utah — The moral of the story in Utah this winter was that nothing beats good, early season snow. That early snow boosted Utah to its second straight record, nearly 3.9 million skiers. That’s a 12 per cent increase from the year before.

Snow hit in October at about double the normal snow totals, and good snow continued through January.

The three ski resorts at Park City — Deer Valley, The Canyons, and Park City — were right in line with that gain. They did a total of 1.6 million skier days. That’s about what Breckenridge and Vail do, although individually.

Aspen hires sustainability director

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen’s city government has hired somebody to spearhead its Canary Initiative, the new multipronged global warming effort. The director, Dan Richardson, has a business called Sustainable Design Concepts, which specializes in environmental efficiency. "I can affect a lot of homes in the valley in my current position, but I can affect the world with this position," he told The Aspen Times.

Richardson sees two primary focuses of his new job: reducing Aspen’s greenhouse gas emissions and working regionally and nationally. The town plans to co-operate with other local organizations devoted to the cause to sponsor a major international conference next year. The coalition includes the Aspen Skiing Co., the Aspen Global Change Institute, and the Aspen Institute. The latter, a think tank, actually is based in suburban Washington D.C.

The perils of partying

VAIL, Colo. — Vail is rapidly gaining a reputation for bizarre, bumbling criminal capers.

First, two seasonal workers staged a hold-up of a bank, then fled to Denver International Airport with the proceeds, ready to spend spring break in Mexico with their booty. They had, however, failed to disguise their Australian accents. As well, the pair had brushed up against the law just a few weeks prior, making them quick suspects.

Now a local man has staged his own kidnapping. Apparently, the 35-year-old man intended to raid his wife’s credit cards. However, he did not even bother to leave the valley with the proceeds, but instead was seen at a party the next night. Once arrested, he told police that he was high on psychedelic mushrooms the night of his alleged abduction, which police say was staged with one accomplice.

Models predict less moisture

DENVER, Colo. — New computer models forecast 17 per cent less rain and snow in the American West in coming years as a result of global warming, even as the Canada Rockies gain more precipitation.

The two new studies link less precipitation in the storm track that delivers snow in Utah and Colorado as a result of the dwindling ice peak in the Arctic. About 20 per cent of ice in the Arctic is expected to melt by mid-century given current trends. With the ice gone, warmer temperatures will prevail toward the North Pole, changing regional pressure systems – causing jet streams to veer northward. That will be to the gain of the ski resorts near Banff, Revelstoke, and other towns along the TransCanada Highway.

The new projections, reports The Denver Post, are based on eight climate models done by researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Another bright idea

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. — Are construction workers so vulgar and crude that they’ll forsake bologna sandwiches and apples for women wearing tight T-shirts that say, "From our box to yours."

That’s the bet of a new company formed in Snowmass Village, where a building project that will ultimately see one million square feet of development is soon to get underway. The firm is called Toasty Chicks, and the chicks are being hired to take orders from the 600 construction workers expected for the project – orders of what kind of food they want from local restaurants.

The brainchild, Rodney Millspaugh, denies sexual double entendres. "We’re not selling sex or sluttiness or anything like that," he laughed, when asked by The Aspen Times.

Crested Butte wants say

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Crested Butte has completed work on a plan for land within three miles of its borders, in hopes that Gunnison County officials will agree to the plan. That way, if a development plan is submitted to county officials, the county officials will use the town’s regulations regarding open space, affordable housing, and transportation, notes the Crested Butte News.

‘Lodge’ finally to be disassembled

WINTER PARK, Colo. — The mid-1980s had several half-finished or not-really started building projects in ski towns. Vail, for example, had a concrete foundation that lasted so long – about 20 years – that it was officially called The Ruins. Avon, at the base of Beaver Creek, had a massive project that sat for nearly 15 years only 75 per cent complete, causing one of the ski magazines to joke about Avon’s municipal yard sale. By the way, it is now corporate headquarters for Vail Resorts.

Winter Park has had something similar in the late ’90s boom, a project called James Peak Lodge. It was to have had 80 condominiums and, in later phases, much, much more. But the $20 million project got no further than a three-storey steel skeleton, notes the Winter Park Manifest, which is how it has remained for more than four years. Now, town officials have reported with a sigh of relief that a deal has been worked out with the purchasers of the failed project’s assets, and the erector set is to be removed.

Courthouse location fallout from 9/11

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Airports in ski valleys of the West were almost immediately affected by the 9/11 attacks. For example, 35 federal agents were hired to ensure no utility knives got on board planes departing Eagle County Regional Airport, a major portal to Vail and Aspen. Meanwhile, other airports have expanded their terminals, to accommodate the increased security needs.

But the most bizarre ripple yet has now hit Steamboat Springs. There, the same considerations considered necessary to make federal buildings more secure from terrorists are being employed at new county court facilities.

County officials had been ordered by the district court to improve the aging courtroom facilities at the courthouse, which is located downtown. However, voters in 2002 rejected the proposal. Seeking a path of lesser resistance, the county officials relocated the project to cheaper land on the edge of town. City partisans objected, afraid that losing court facilities will erode the vitality of the old downtown shopping district. Already, Steamboat is struggling to cope with economic changes found in most towns, with shoppers fleeing to the resort-style suburbs or even megastores in other towns for purchasers.

The key decision maker ended up being the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which must grant permits for incursions into wetlands. It did so, and the story dug out by The Steamboat Pilot is a fascinating one. The existing location downtown had too little room for the sort of security requirements required of federal buildings. It is not a federal building, of course, but the Corps of Engineers decided it could not require the county government to do something that the federal agency itself could not do.

Four lanes to Breckenridge

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — The busy-ness of a ski town in the West can usually be predicted by A) the size and proximity of the closest airport; B) the proximity of a four-lane highway, and C) the proximity of a nearby metropolitan area.

Vail, of course, has all three, with Denver 100 miles away, a major airport 35 miles away, and an interstate highway slicing through the town. Aspen now has a four-lane highway and a significant airport on the edge of town.

Breckenridge has relative proximity to both Denver and to major airports, and it may soon be getting a four-lane highway. A proposal to go to Colorado voters in November to authorize expansion of the state budget would see $20 million going to the four-laning of the highway from Frisco, a distance of nine miles. More funding would be necessary to complete the link, however.

Demographic shifts analyzed

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Although casinos and that big, blue lake are a major part of the allure at Tahoe, and skiing a much lesser part of the story, the demographic wrinkles there are similar to ski towns. A major concern in recent years has been the proliferation of second homes, which constitute up to 75 per cent of homes in some areas of South Lake Tahoe.

To a forum devoted to this and similar economic issues, Joel Kotkin, author of "The City: A Global History," came to report that the population decline is probably only temporary. He predicts the exodus from Tahoe could reverse as people move permanently to vacation spots.

Kotkin urged city leaders in South Lake Tahoe to target young families, a group that has shied away from resort towns, at least in ski resorts of the Rocky Mountains. He also urged them to key on "downshifting boomers," which he defined as people in their 50s who are ready to move for improved quality-of-life reasons.

He also noted a job shift. While San Francisco has lost 8 per cent in jobs, Sacramento has gained 2.44 per cent and the Reno area has gained 4.81 per cent during the last five years. Kotkin surmised people will move to smaller towns, and as they do the affordable housing issue will accelerate there even as immigrants move to the suburbs of cities.

Wind power does brisk business

DURANGO, Colo. — The amount of wind power purchased by customers of La Plata Energy Association, the Durango-based electrical co-operative, has nearly tripled in the last year and a half. The average additional cost to the households is $17.50 per month. The wind comes from Wyoming, notes the Durango Herald.

Can bears unscrew trash cans?

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A volunteer group called the Bear League is promoting the use of cans that they claim are bear proof. They have screw-on lids and cost only $70. Locals in the group say bear-proof cans normally cost $800 to $1,200, although other towns with longer history of problems with bears report much less cost for such cans. A representative of a trash company reserved judgment. The Tahoe Daily Tribune notes that residents were alarmed after three bears were killed after vandalizing a vacation cabin.

The water we drink reveals much

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — Police still do not know the name of a woman whose body was found near Mammoth Lakes, but they know an amazing amount about her. Indeed, the case has drawn national attention, notes the Mammoth Times.

The body was found two years ago by a dog belonging to a hiker. Although decomposed, investigators had a relatively easy time figure out that she was female, aged 30 to 50, and an American Indian. A physical anthropologist who specializes in DNA work in aboriginal American populations further isolated her genetic background to that of the Zapotec Indians from far southern Mexico.

Forensic anthropologist then did an isotopic examine of the victim’s bones, teeth, and hair. That’s when they discovered she had probably been born in Mexico or the U.S. Southwest and lived on a very meager diet based mostly on corn. They also learned the water she drank was consistent with the isotopic signature of the water in the American Southwest or northern Mexico, or even in Los Angeles.

Then, in the last 10 to 12 years of her life, she moved to southern Mexico, where she had a much better diet. Finally, in the last two years, she moved to California, although there were no isotopic fingerprints to suggest she had lived any length of time in the Mammoth area.

But who is she? Police still don’t know, but they think the woman was seen by two people working at a Forest Service station in 2002. A very thin woman, she was with a very heavy Caucasian man. The two workers thought she was Asian, but their description very closely fits the reconstruction of her face. They say she indicated she was frightened of the man, and the workers observed that he was abrasive and mean-spirited.

Swans return to Bow Valley

CANMORE, Alberta — Just as the swallows always return to Capistrano, each spring hundreds of tundra and trumpeter swans return to Canmore on their path north.

The trumpeters, the largest swan in the world, with wingspans of up to eight feet, spend winters in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, where thermal vents keep some bodies of water open year-round. The tundra swans are smaller and are believed to winter in California, but return to Alaska and the high Arctic.

Along the way, both species of swans stop by in the Bow River Valley, sometimes in congregations of 1,300. On their stop-over they eat and often indulge in a little whoopee, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. But the birds aren’t promiscuous, adds the newspaper, as both species of swans mate for life.

Aspen bar says no to smoking

ASPEN, Colo. — Slowly, steadily, the non-smoking movement is moving across the ski world. The latest place to erect "no smoking" signs is Aspen’s famous bar, The Red Onion.

"I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I’m going to do it," declared "Wabs" Walbert, the owner. Aspen years ago banned smoking in restaurants, workplaces, and other public places, but exempts bars and taverns. The potential for a blanket ban on smoking in public places in Colorado spurred Walbert to adopt the ban. Business may decline, he said, but it’s worth the risk for the sake of his employees and the restaurant part of the business.

The Aspen Times reports a dwindling number of bars that allow smoking in other than outdoor courtyards or patios. Some bars also have designated smoking rooms.

Meanwhile, Steamboat has an even more far-reaching policy come July. The new law bans burning tobacco in bars, as well as restaurants and workplaces. It also says "no fumarola" in athletic fields and outdoor amphitheaters.

Steamboat’s law requires motels and hotels to have 80 per cent of their rooms smoke free. As well, the council toyed with banning smoking in condominiums rented to the public but decided it would be too hard to enforce, as owners of the condos could use them for smoking.

More difficult yet was the exemption for private clubs. Would paying $1 for membership constitute a private club? No, the council decided. Instead, council members said it must be one whose membership dues or annual fees substantially defray the costs of operation. As such, the VFW bar will continue to be a smoky place.

Avalanche death at A-Basin

ARAPAHOE BASIN, Colo. — A mid-morning wet-snow avalanche on Arapahoe Basin’s famous Pallavicini Trail killed a skier on May 20. It was the first avalanche-caused death of a paying customer on a commercial ski trail in Colorado in 30 years.

It had been abnormally warm in Colorado the day before the slide, and the snow that night at A-Basin, located at an elevation of 10,800 to 13,000 feet, had not frozen. The snowslide occurred at 10:30 a.m. The victim, a 53-year-old skier from Boulder, was not completely covered, allowing ski patrollers to find him quickly, but he was declared dead when removed to the bottom of the mountain.

The last fatal avalanche during operating hours at a ski area was in 1975, at Crested Butte. However, six ski patrollers have died of avalanches since 1980 while doing control work: one at Snowmass in 1981, a second at Copper Mountain in 1983, three at Aspen Highlands in 1984, and then one in 1993 at Crested Butte.

As well, a woman was buried on a ski run at Copper Mountain in 1994 by an avalanche, but she was rescued.

Police say rape story was phoney

ASPEN, Colo. — A dental hygienist in Aspen who alleged she was raped has instead been charged with possession of cocaine. She was bleeding from her vagina not because of a rape, say prosecutors, but because she had stowed three bindles of cocaine there.

The woman, who is 49, had gone to the Aspen Valley Hospital because of her vaginal bleeding. The doctor who removed the plastic baggie containing the cocaine from her vagina said the woman told her several stories. The first story was the story that police say was closest to the truth. She stowed the cocaine up her crotch when the car she was in was stopped by police.

The rape story fell apart at several turns, including the part where she says her rapist abducted her and forced her to go get cash from a bank cash machine. The movie sequence taken at the ATM showed her alone and, it would seem, without a sense of fright.