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Mountain News:

Sun Valley wants flights from Denver

SUN VALLEY, Colo. — If the secret to real estate is location, location, location, then most certainly the key to skier numbers is access, access, access. With that in mind, the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau is spearheading an effort to raise funds to guarantee minimum revenues for flights from Denver to the Sun Valley area.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports that the chamber hopes to raise $50,000, giving it $100,000 to dangle in front of an airline. Sun Valley/Ketchum currently have direct flights from Seattle, Los Angeles and other West Coast cities.

Bones working on Revelstoke

REVELSTOKE, B.C. — The Revelstoke Times Review reports that efforts to build a major new ski resort at Mount MacKenzie shows evidence of traction. The newspaper says only minor glitches hindering an agreement between the developers, Robert Powaduk and Hunter Milbourn, and the city of Revelstoke. The city is selling them 69 acres, thereby enabling the base-area development.

The Times Review also reports that Paul "Bones" Skelton, the manager of ski operations for Intrawest at Whistler, has a three-year contract to work on the runs and other components of the ski operation. Michael Hurdzman has been retained to design the golf course.

Independent grocer closing

CANMORE, Alberta — The last independent grocery store in Canmore is closing its doors. Marra’s Grocery store has been open for four generations, employing four generations of family members.

It’s not purely a matter of money, although that plays into the picture. More grocery dollars are going down-valley to Calgary. In Canmore, chain retailers have opened or expanded. The grocers also report that, as Canmore has grown in population, getting help they can afford has become more difficult, as has parking.

"It’s not because we can’t make a living doing what we’re doing. We’re just tired of doing what we’re doing," explained Phil Marra. "There has to be more to life than working 60 to 70 hours a week," added his father, Ron. "If you don’t get a monetary return for it, why bother?"

They had thought about creating a specialized food market, but concluded that Canmore, with its population of 11,000, just isn’t big enough.

Vail sales revenues up

VAIL, Colo. — Vail’s overall sales tax receipts are up 6 per cent this year after about 13 years of flat and even declining sales. Even better, these gains are amidst the beginning of $1 billion in construction. That construction will ultimately result in 574 lodging units within four years.

On the other hand, notes the Vail Daily, retail sales – coffee mugs, T-shirts, and fur coats, for example – are no better than flat, causing town officials to scratch their heads as to why.

Mine cleanup continues

SILVERTON, Colo. — Work is proceeding this summer on cleanup of four mine areas in the Animas River watershed, most of them near Silverton. The river drains from Silverton down through Durango.

Most difficult among the projects, reports the Durango Telegraph, is cleanup of the Pride of the West Mine. The mine is located on a steep slope at 12,000 feet, and the task there is to redirect two streams from going through the old mine, where they pick up heavy metals from the exposed rock. To do this, 180,000 pounds of steel are being flown in by helicopter.

Altogether, the Animas River Stakeholders Group has designated 67 projects as priorities. The group has been at this effort of reducing the contamination of metals into the Animas River for 15 years.

Bill Simon, group co-ordinator, complains that work at other projects is being sullied by ATV and four-wheel-drive vehicles that are chewing up the sites, apparently unaware of what they are doing. He has appealed to the Bureau of Land Management to take steps to educate the public and restrict access by creating mounds.

Vail buying water rights

EAGLE VALLEY, Colo. — A deal is close to being signed that will result in a major purchase of water rights by two water organizations in the Vail-Beaver Creek areas of the Eagle Valley. Cost of the purchase is estimated at $5 million.

The water is being diverted from the headwaters of the Yampa River drainage, which would otherwise flow through Steamboat Springs. The water won’t actually be diverted to the Vail area, but will instead be used to meet senior downstream rights such as those belonging to a power plant in Glenwood Canyon and peach farmers near Grand Junction. Steamboat and other downstream users initially fought the sale, but relented after being satisfied they would not be injured by the trans-basin diversions.

The amount of water, 1,250 acre-feet, is roughly enough to meet the needs of 5,000 people. The water districts currently serve 22,000 people, notes the Vail Daily.

Appropriate for pig pens?

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Visions of the landscape — and how people live in it — are clashing in Jackson Hole. At issue is the architecture of a new housing complex that contains free-market and deed-restricted employee housing.

Following a current architectural theme, the homes in the complex called 810 West are sheathed in shiny corrugated metal. Such metal is better reserved for use in pigpens, said one letter writer to the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Another woman, faced with the alternative of living in those homes or moving to Montana, chose the latter. Yet another woman accused planners of being at a cocktail party when the development was approved.

To some of these critics, housing should look "Western." In the vernacular of Jackson Hole, a land of Lincoln Log homes, that seems to be wooden or at least stone, but not metal or anything else overtly synthetic.

The architect, Stephen Dynia, accuses critics of being frozen in "Disneyland, Jackson — the Frontier Land." He suggests the reality of Western architecture is something different than the myth – that needs for functionality have often directed use of corrugated metal, such as for grain silos and Quonset huts.

"It has something to do with place, and it’s based on usefulness," he told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. "It’s not trying to look like an Arts and Crafts house during the turn of the century."

Cost is a part of function, and affordability is at the essence of the function of these units; they are selling for $196,000. "What is Western character?" asked one of the project’s residents, Mark Berry, who is executive director for the Center for the Arts. "If the town had imposed split-log siding and shake singles on that project, there is no way there could have been affordable housing in that development. In my mind, Western characteristic are born out of necessity, having materials that last a really long time, age well, and require little maintenance. Those are core Western values."

The project has attracted a large number of what is often called the cultural creatives, including one who was drawn by the design, as well as the aesthetics. "It’s built so that resources are efficient," said Amy Larinkin, an artist. "There are not a lot of wasted trees."

Big sales at Crested Butte

MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — A major redevelopment project at the base of the Crested Butte ski area has been approved, and so the real estate sales have begun. They are impressive.

Some 89 units in a project called Mountaineer Square went under contract in a six-hour flurry during one Saturday in July. Sales of the units are ultimately expected to yield $80 million for the developers, Tim and Diane Mueller, who are owners of the ski area. The units range from studios to four-bedroom condos, with prices ranging from $325,000 to $1.9 million.

Meanwhile, home prices continue to escalate briskly at Crested Butte, substantially outstripping even the startling gains elsewhere in the nation. This continues the trend since the Muellers, with their deep pockets and lofty ambitions, purchased the ski area last year. The average sales price of single-family homes in the town of Crested Butte this year is $976,000, well more than double the $430,000 of two years ago. Down-valley in Gunnison, the increase has been far more subdued, with the average single-family home this year selling for $190,000, compared to $160,000 two years ago.

Real estate sales top $1.2 billion

VAIL, Colo. — Like most of the nation, the real estate sales in the Eagle Valley just keep getting hotter, with $275 million in property passing hands in June alone. That puts Eagle County at $1.2 billion in sales for the first half of the year.

Still, some real estate agents insist there’s no real estate bubble about to deflate. Jim Flaum, who directs operations for the biggest realty agency in the valley, Slifer, Smith & Frampton, notes that Southern California property is appreciating even more rapidly, 15 to 20 per cent a year. In the case of Vail and its suburbs, the appreciation is strictly the result of a big bubble of baby boomers buying second homes. "There’s no sign of that bubble deflating," he told the Vail Daily.

The average price of property selling so far this year has been $722,000.

Biodiesel for Lake O’Hara

GOLDEN, B.C. — The Lake O’Hara Lodge, located inside Yoho National Park, has decided to use biodiesel fuel for the bus it uses to transport people from the TransCanada Highway.

"Our primary mandate at Lake O’Hara is to help people experience this pristine wilderness setting while instilling in them an appreciation for the sensitivity of alpine regions," says Bruce Millar, co-owner and operator. "Given our ongoing goal of achieving a greater degree of sustainability, and in keeping with Parks Canada’s mandate, we felt it was hypocritical for us not to investigate alternative fuels."

Walking that talk, however, hasn’t been easy. The fuel is not readily available in western Canada. Miller says he hopes Parks Canada adopts use of biodiesel.

The fuel has gained steadily increasing favor in the ski towns of the U.S. West during the last two years, invariably blended at a 20 per cent ratio with carbon-based diesel, to avoid gelling in cooler temperatures.

Architects document old mill

SILVERTON, Colo. — A small team of young architects has gathered at Silverton this summer for what might seem a puzzling task, given the ultimate ambitions of some of these architects. Funded by a variety of state, federal and private grants, the team is documenting an industrial beast of mining called the Mayflower Mill.

Indeed, the architects may be spending more time studying the structure than was originally used to construct it in 1929. It was later modified and used until the early 1990s, when the last mine in the Silverton area closed.

One of the architects, a graduate student from California, ultimately hopes to create skyscrapers. Another student, from India, told the Silverton Standard that he has never worked on such a new building – other buildings he has helped document were built in 929 A.D. and in 1529.

The mill is being re-created on paper. This, along with a written history and large-format photographs, will be archived at the Library of Congress. The goal is "preservation through documentation," part of an invigorated attention to preserving Silverton’s old buildings even as momentum builds for an economy based on recreation and amenities.

Aspen cracking down on blowers

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen’s city government is preparing to crack down on gasoline-powered leaf blowers. The council enacted a ban against gas leaf blowers in 2003, in response to a citizen's petition, but it has not been aggressively enforced.

"Brooms and rakes used to be fine with landscapers, but blowers now are a tool," senior health specialist Jannette Murison told the Rocky Mountain News. "We just want them to use electric blowers. It's incredible what some people will use them for. They blow dirt and even grass off sidewalks and driveways and decks and anything else they can think of."

Tax bill disagreement

SILVERTON, Colo. — Durango Mountain Resort, a ski area with now a large and growing housing project, is in neither Durango nor Silverton, but rather straddles the line between their respective counties, La Plata and San Juan. And San Juan County has a bone to pick with the resort.

Using an exemption under Colorado law, the resort several years ago claimed 153 acres as forest-agriculture. As such, the resort only has to pay $153 in taxes to San Juan County on that land.

The county argues that the resort should be paying $55,000 – a big difference is the budget of tiny San Juan County. That’s what the resort would pay if the land were classified as commercial, developable real estate. That, after all, is the plan for the parcel.

At issue is the intent of a 1990 law in Colorado that was designed to provide a tax break for owners of land who produce wood products for profit. Durango, it would seem, has not been trying to make money from the land, but instead grooming it for development of high-end homes.

Whether this case ends up in the courts is unclear, although it would seem to be one certainly headed to the Colorado Legislature for clarification of when the exemption can be used. The Silverton Standard reports the case is being watched closely around the state, particularly in school districts, which are the biggest beneficiaries of property taxes.

Heating coils considered for road

ASPEN, Colo. — A road that links Aspen with some of the priciest homes in the nation is getting a major overhaul next year. If homeowners are willing to foot the bill, that overhaul could include installation of heating coils to deice one of the road’s steepest spots.

Some homeowners may not be willing. Although the road closes many times each winter because of use by two-wheel drive cars without winter tires, some residents of the area, called Red Mountain, like their road narrow, steep, and sometimes impassable. But Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director, said some of the newer residents want the road wider, with more of an urban setting. "We have to balance the two, and that’s a challenge," he told The Aspen Times.

Retailer celebrates 100

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Even today, the sagebrush along the highways leading to Steamboat Springs are thick with signs for a clothing retailer, F.M. Light & Sons. The signs are now curiosities, as the Stetson hats and Pendleton shirts sold by the company surely cost more than the $4.98 advertised by the signs.

The company, however, continues to operate from downtown Steamboat Springs, and this year marks its 100 th birthday. The Steamboat Pilot reports that to observe the company’s centennial, a 100-foot-long birthday cake was delivered for community consumption. The cake, said the newspaper, was so large that it took 35 gallons of frosting to slather across it. Among those diving into the confection were a number of old-timers, who in this case were defined as those who could recall when F.M. Light & Sons turned 50.

Durango adds to housing

DURANGO, Colo. — Durango has added 46 rentals to the stock of dedicated affordable housing. A single-bedroom apartment rents for between $308 and $643 per month depending on a resident's income. Greg Hoch, the city’s planning director, told the Durango Herald that the city may not deserve an A for its affordable housing program, but it’s not far behind.

Bus rapid transit okayed

ASPEN, Colo. — Ambitions to build what is called a bus/rapid-transit system in the Roaring Fork Valley have cleared an important but early hurdle in Washington D.C.

Congress approved a bill that theoretically earmarks $128 million for the system; the actual appropriation has yet to be made. However, Dan Blankenship, CEO of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, told The Aspen Times that this step will make the ultimate appropriation easier. After that, his organization must still get $64 million in state and local funds.

As proposed, the system would upgrade buses to those with low floors and wider doors, to allow for quicker loading and unloading, as well as a fare system that won’t cause delays. Fewer stops are also envisioned with the goal of dramatically reducing the time it takes to move up and down the valley.

Glowing highways?

GUNNISON, Colo. — Going to Salida, Crested Butte or Telluride? If so, you could be sharing a highway with a truck carrying uranium. Activists are not speaking glowingly about the possibility.

They point out that the steepening uranium prices have provoked renewed mining west of Telluride. From there, the ore is trucked to a processing mill about 300 miles to the east, near Cañon City. Two activist groups based in Grand Junction are protesting, partly because they claim that 44 per cent of uranium is being used in production of new weapons.

But a representative of the Cotter Corporation dismisses the threat to public safety as broadly overstated. The amount of radioactivity in the ore is minimal, said the company’s Jerry Powers. "We had one accident years ago in Colorado Springs," he told the Gunnison Country Times. "Basically, we used a front-end loader to get the ore back on the truck. That was that."

Helicopter tours offered at Lake Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A helicopter pilot has begun offering scenic tours from the Lake Tahoe Airport. The cost is $89 for 20 minutes, while the hour-long sunset flight costs $259.

"We had never flown with the doors off. It’s nothing to be afraid of," said one customer, Gail McKay, who proclaimed the cost was well worth it as a way to celebrate her 56th wedding anniversary.

The helicopters are required to stay below 80 decibels, which is roughly the sound of a pickup truck driving by on a highway. The Tahoe Daily Tribune reports that the operation has resort owners and environmental groups concerned, because of the intrusion of the helicopters into otherwise serene places.

A similar proposal for helicopter tours over Colorado’s Summit County was denied several years ago after a surge of opposition from people who believed it was plenty noisy already.