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Mountain News:

Banff hospital hopes to explore ‘wellness’

BANFF, Alberta — With its hot springs and enchanting scenery, Banff began as a resort to those seeking to regain their physical health and revitalize their spirits. While that has always been a component of the resort’s existence, there’s a renewed emphasis evident in several ways.

First, a major real-estate driven development called Three Sisters, located about 15 miles west of Banff, at Canmore, is using wellness as the central attraction, instead of the more traditional golf. Three Sisters has already selected a health and wellness provider, but has not announced the name.

Now, Mineral Springs Hospital in Banff is looking to augment its reputation for orthopedic surgeries and certain types of plastic surgeries with what is being called a "wellness component."

"Essentially, people would come here to rejuvenate the mind, body, spirit," explained Andy Thomas, the hospital’s officer of finance and business development. "We’re not really sure how it’s going to look. We just wanted to start exploring the opportunity."

Directors of the hospital have been thinking in terms of this expansion for a while, he said, but now have better resources for doing so.

Telluride Rugged. Refined. Real.

TELLURIDE, Colo. — The Telluride Ski and Golf Co., has unveiled a new "brand." This latest message to the outside world is not easily explained, but it does frequently repeat the following phrase: "Rugged. Refined. Real."

The Telluride Watch reports that this latest brand was delivered after a more methodical approach than those used in the past when selecting the resort’s message. Ski area officials hope it helps deliver 385,000 skier days. Last year, the ski area registered 411,000 skier days, but Telluride enjoyed both locally wonderful snow conditions and national booming economic conditions, which may not necessarily be repeated this coming winter.

Blessings for new resort

DONNELLY, Idaho — Tamarack Resort, the new ski area and real estate development project about 100 miles north of Boise, got two major boosts last week.

First, President George W. Bush spent two days at the resort, mountain biking and cruising the waters of Cascade Lake while talking about such things as access to public lands, potential revisions to the Endangered Species Act and, of course, the war in Iraq. He was reported to be in excellent condition. But then, just the week before, he was pedaling with Lance Armstrong.

The other "bright" for Tamarack was an announcement by a development group that includes former tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf of plans to build a 175-room hotel. The brand of the hotel has not yet been identified, but a consultant from San Francisco told the Idaho Stateman that the quality of the hotel would put it in the same league as Aspen, Vail-Beaver Creek, and Deer Valley as well as Whistler, Jackson Hole, and Sun Valley.

To keep pace with these resorts, the hotel had better be a Ritz-Carlton or a Four-Seasons, said Bill Drake, president of a Boise, Idaho, based advertising and marketing company called es/drake Inc.

Squaw Pass to reopen

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. —The long-closed Squaw Pass Ski Area is now firmly scheduled for re-opening this year. The ski area is located 35 miles west of downtown Denver and a few miles south of Interstate 70, not far from the road to Mt. Evans.

It will be the closest ski area to Denver, although Loveland is only 53 miles from downtown. However, the ski area will be close to about 30,000 to 40,000 people in the rapidly growing Evergreen-Conifer area.

This re-opening represents the continued expansion of the ski industry after about 20 years of consolidation and even contraction. Nationally, several ski areas – most of them small and at lower elevations – have closed since the 1970s even as skier days stuck at a little more than 50 million. However, as baby boomers remain on their skis and a new population bulge of snowboarders in the echo boom come of age, the ski industry has been growing modestly again toward 60 million.

Doing particularly well have been smaller ski areas close to cities. A model for other ski areas – apparently, including Squaw Pass – is California’s Mountain High. Located 90 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, Mountain High has been able to post 500,000 skier days annually while appealing to teens and 20somethings.

What’s astounding is how little terrain they use. With lots of terrain parks, Mountain High has only 220 acres, the same as at Squaw Pass. That’s 30 per cent of the business of Vail but with just 4 per cent of the terrain.

But Squaw Pass has several major challenges. While Mountain High can draw on a population of 18 million residents in the Los Angeles Basin, Squaw Valley can draw on 2.4 million people in metropolitan Denver. Moreover, while LA snowboarders have few close-in options, Denver residents are within an hour or two of some of the continent’s best ski areas.

Squaw Pass last operated in 1975, two years after the 1973 opening of Eisenhower Tunnel made the ski areas of Summit County more accessible.

Squaw Pass must also compete in prices. Skiing has become exorbitantly inexpensive in the last few years as Intrawest and Vail Resorts have battled for customer loyalty with season passes that only cost $300 while offering great variety. Remaining independents have similar dropped their rates.

Finally, Squaw Pass must prove to have dependable snow, another Achilles heel that led to its closing more than 25 years ago. While the ski area is high enough, with a base area at 9,300 feet, or the same as Keystone, it is located on the Eastern Slope, far from the Continental Divide. As such, snow tends to be sparse and uneven. The new owner, Les Pettit, who purchased the ski area for $200,000, has installed snowmaking. Remaining to be seen is whether it’s enough.

Squaw Pass will have a new name, to be announced later this week.

Ski insurance taking off

ASPEN, Colo. — Ski insurance is gaining fans in Aspen and elsewhere. At Aspen and a projected 21 other ski areas this winter, customers can buy insurance on lift tickets, whether for one day or for season passes. The cost is a flat rate of 6 per cent.

If the pass cannot be used, whether because of medical injury on or off the slopes, the value of the remaining use of the pass is returned, as are any evacuation fees provoked by a skiing injury.

Several dozen people purchased the insurance when it was first offered three years ago at Aspen, but this year 500 purchasers are expected. The average age is 52. The insurance is offered to recreation skiers 70 and younger.

$12 million for open space

EDWARDS, Colo. — The Vail Valley Foundation has come up with the $12 million necessary to preclude development of a 72-acre parcel at Edwards. The property, some of which was formerly used as a gravel pit operation, is the largest undeveloped portion of land along Interstate 70 in the upper Eagle Valley.

Half of the money comes from the coffers of Eagle County government, with the balance from private donations secured by the foundation, a group traditionally known for its role in landing and hosting World Cup and other ski races. A key figure in the foundation is Harry Frampton, the managing partner in East West Partners, a Beaver Creek-based developer of high-end homes from Summit County to Truckee.

The property is to be given a new name, Eagle River Preserve. A few trails, picnic grounds and perhaps a shelter will be allowed on the site, but ball fields and other such improvements will not.

Some observers thought $12 million was far too much for the property, and urged the money instead be used for purchases of outlying areas. But Bobby Warner, a developer in Edwards, said in retrospect it will be viewed as the right thing to do, similar to a major open space purchase in Vail called Ford Park that was done in the late 1970s.

Squaw Valley agrees to fine

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Squaw Valley Ski Corporation has agreed to pay the state of California $900,000 because of construction work that violated local, state, and federal environmental laws.

California officials claimed that Squaw Valley built ski lifts and ski trails without permits, and that the company illegally dynamited an area to create a ski trail. The various activities caused the discharge of soil into a creek, altering two of its tributaries.

The Sierra Sun reports a decade of bad blood between the ski area managers and government water-quality watchdogs. Since 1994, the company has been raided by armed federal agents, sued by the Sierra Club and the late billionaire William Hewlett, and repeatedly penalized by a regional water quality body. In 2002, that group, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board partnered with state government to take legal action against Squaw Valley. That action, which is rare, was provoked by what governmental officials said was a pattern of violations.

It’s not clear where the $900,000 will be used, although the Sierra Sun suggested it could be used for water quality projects in the Squaw Valley and Truckee areas.

The agreement further outlines a schedule of fines if the ski area operator fails to monitor water quality and revegetate the resort.

Cops need affordable housing

MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — The real estate market is going crazy in Crested Butte. Agents are making money hand over fist. Town governments are ladling in transfer taxes.

And now comes the other side of that sword – the affordability of housing for key personnel, like town cops. Hank Smith, who is the police chief in Mt. Crested butte, the slope-side town located two miles from Crested Butte, the old mining town, told his town council that people making $30,000 to $45,000 per year – the pay range for cops in the two towns – cannot afford to move there. "When you hire an outside person, he can’t come here and buy a $600,000 home," he said. The alternative is to hire people already living locally, and then train them – an expensive proposition in its own right.

Chris Morgan, the mayor of Mr. Crested Butte, told Smith that the town council is aware of the problem and may earmark some of the 16 units of affordable housing being built in conjunction with a new second-home project to be set side for crucial town employees.

Bathing trunks all the rage

LAS ALAMOS, N.M. — Whatever in the world can be happening? Not that long ago you could skinny-dip your way across hot springs of the West. Maybe still can.

But for whatever reason, bathing suits seem to have become de rigueur at a well-known hot springs in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, reports Durango Telegraph publisher Will Sands.

"This isn’t that kind of hot springs," he informed his wife as she prepared to put on her bathing suit. But after hiking up to the hot springs, where the hot mineral water bubbles straight out of the rock and into a series of natural pools, he found things had changed since his last visit. What followed, he reports, were 20 minutes of only-naked-man-in-the-room paranoia.

Slinking back to the parking lot, he found another would-be lobster. "Is it crowded today?" the man wanted to know.

"Is it ever," Sands replied. "There are probably eight bodies floating up there.

The man flashed a knowing grin, held up his swimsuit and chuckled, "Eight, eh? Things are different these days. You’re just lucky you missed the big family reunion last weekend."

Hemingway house to close

KETCHUM, Idaho — Ernest Hemingway did some sports writing along the way, so it may be fair to summarize the story from Ketchum as this: Neighbours 1, Hemingway fans 0.

Hemingway spent portions of his later years in Ketchum, where he committed suicide in 1961. In 1986, his fourth and last wife, Mary, willed their house there and the 13-acre property to the Nature Conservancy of Idaho. The plan was to renovate the house, turn it over to another non-profit group called the Idaho Hemingway House Foundation, and open it for public tours.

However, neighbours raised a ruckus, arguing the public house would violate zoning as well as their privacy, and in the end the Nature Conservancy capitulated. The group decided that managing the Hemingway house cost too much and was outside its mission of protecting wild lands, reports the Idaho Mountain Express. Furthermore, the controversial case threatened to draw resources from the group’s conservation projects around the state.

Without public access, generating funds to restore the house to its conditions of the early 1960s will be difficult, say officials. Restoration costs are estimated at $500,000.

Bear hit by train

BANFF, Alberta — For an animal known by a number, Bear 66 seemed to be awfully close to a community pet. A 10-year-old sow, she spent much time near the town of Banff, particularly the golf course, and was often seen using the highway crossing structures. She even strolled down Banff’s main street three summers ago, sending tourists and locals alike scurrying for safety. And while this summer she did nip the butt of a youngster while he was sleeping in an area off-limits to campers, that was the extent of her threat to people.

But Bear 66 is no more. She was killed recently by a train on the Canadian-Pacific tracks as she grazed in an area thick with berry bushes. It was the fourth bear to be killed by trains in the Banff-Canmore area during the last five years.

Newspapers there report that the bear’s death, at a time when biologists think the grizzly population is endangered, caused local shock and provoked questions about responsibility. Bruce Pissot, the executive director of Defenders of Wildlife Canada, proposed that Canadian Pacific Rail trains slow down or that advance cars be dispatched to fire rubber bullet to scare bears.

"These could be crazy ideas but clearly the ideas that Canadian Pacific Railway are using right now are inadequate and it’s clear Parks Canada’s methods of addressing human-caused grizzly bear deaths are inadequate," Pissot said.

"I think shrugging our shoulders and saying, ‘well, this is inevitable,’ is nonsense and is a dereliction of responsibility that borders on criminal," he said.

The CPR already takes what some would say are extraordinary measures to reduce the number of bears killed by passing trains. For example, the railway has sent out a vacuuming operation, to remove grain spilled onto the tracks, thus reducing an attraction for bears. Also, fences may be erected along the railroad tracks near Lake Louise, an area of frequent bear activity.

Moreover, Canadian Pacific spokesman Ed Greenberg pointed out that the railroad’s footprint in the Bow River Valley has changed little in the last 100 years, while the surrounding community has. "This is a bigger issue, not just a railway issue," he said. "It’s the entire growth of human activity in that area."

Water worries

INVEREMRE, B.C. — Adequacy of Invermere’s water supply to accommodate additional development is being examined. Administrators have been pushing for a cap on development to ensure water supplies are not taxed beyond their ability to deliver. At issue, explains the Invermere Valley Echo, is the ability of three major developers — Octagon Properties, Grizzly Ridge Properties, and Pointe of View — to get water for new projects.

Colorado a peach state?

CARBONDALE, Colo. — The Roaring Fork Valley chapter of Slow Food USA celebrated Colorado-grown peaches. The Aspen Times says that the 160 participants enjoyed peach salsa, organic peach fuzz pie and the fermented juices of peaches and other fruits at an event held at a place called the Sustainable Settings experimental farm.

The newspaper explains that the day was spent celebrating both the featured fruit and the philosophy of growing, preparing, and enjoying foods in a leisurely style.

Dalai Lama to bless prayer wheel

KETCHUM, Idaho — The Dalai Lama is to visit Idaho’s Wood River Valley for several days to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. He is scheduled to speak to up to 10,000 people at a local school and then, in a private ceremony the next day with local Buddhists, bless a new prayer wheel.

The 800-pound bronze prayer wheel was made in India during the last several months and shipped to Ketchum, where it is being located in a new "Garden of Compassion" in the Sawtooth Botanical Garden. Flowing water is to power the turning of the temple-sized prayer wheel. In the theology of Tibetan Buddhism, prayer wheels – most of them little larger than a kitchen utensil – are turned in a constant appeal for healing light to energize the planet.

CNN, the cable television company, plans to broadcast the Dalai Lama’s address.

More Leadville natives expected

LEADVILLE, Colo. — A frequently misused word is "native." Many people use it to mean the place where they grew up, or even the place they have lived a long time.

Both are wrong. A person is native to the place where he or she was born. And, since at least 1879, when St. Vincent Hospital opened for business, there have been natives in Leadville, the old mining town located at 10,152 feet in the Colorado Rockies.

But since Climax, the last big mine, closed in1981, Leadville has been suffering through shrinkages of various kinds. The latest threat was the suspension of obstetrics at the hospitals. Without an obstetrics department, the hospital could deliver no babies and hence, the only Leadville natives would be those born in homes or in dire emergencies, like the back seat of cars speeding to hospitals. However, for the time being, hospital directors have chosen to keep the obstetrics department operating.

The fear seems to be that if obstetrics disappeared from the hospital it would be hard to recruit a physician to deliver babies. Once that happens, the hospital’s services might further erode.

As is, more and more Leadville patients are going to hospitals in nearby towns, particularly along the I-70 corridor. The hospital in Vail has been delivering bumper crops of babies from Leadville for years, and now Frisco, just 25 miles to the east of Vail, is gaining a hospital, and that new hospital will be even more convenient for Leadville patients.

Frisco is 1,000 feet lower in elevation than Leadville, and Vail is 2,000 feet. Given the fact that there’s a strong correlation between low-weight babies and high elevations, won’t these alternative hospitals be better for deliveries? No, not really. New study finds that the correlation is more between lower income families and low-weight babies.