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Mountain News:

Saving energy to improve economy

BANFF, Alberta — Banff’s council is being urged to make a major investment in energy savings, one way of improving the economy.

A 2000 audit showed the community spending $50 million in energy – all of it money that leaves Banff, points out Chip Olver, a councilwoman. Especially with costs of energy rising, improving energy conservation means that residents will save money. It also could reduce the need for a major expense of a new, larger-capacity electrical transformer.

A report last year showed that energy consumption in Banff rose 32 per cent from 1990 and 2000, far outpacing the growth in population. Commercial and transportation sectors were the biggest users of energy.

One idea being proposed is to hire or contract with an energy advisor to work with businesses interested in reducing energy consumption.

Vail still studying wind energy

VAIL, Colo. —Vail Resorts is still studying the potential of installing wind turbines atop Vail Mountain to generate the electricity needed to operate three ski lifts.

The company, which already is a major purchaser of wind power from Holy Cross Electric, began pursuing the idea in 2003. An environmental assessment shows no major problems, despite some minor concerns about effects on birds and the visual impact of additional fixtures on the ridge. Elevation of the ridge is about 10,000 feet, or more than two thirds of the way up the ski mountain.

The next year or two will be spent studying how environmentally and economically sound the idea is. Preliminary estimates pegged the payback at 10 years.

A cap in Canmore?

CANMORE, Alberta — That delicate balance between growth and stagnation came up in Canmore recently after tourism expert Ted Manning suggested that Canmore could cap the number of tourists it admits into town in an effort to protect the very assets that draw in visits.

But John Samms, director of Tourism Canmore, said there’s no need to talk like that. "In terms of occupancies, they’re climbing and daily rates (cost of renting per room) are climbing, but we’re a long way from pushing or burgeoning out what’s available," he told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Samms further warned town officials against falling into a culture of fear. What he meant by that was not evident.

Fewer but bigger jets

ASPEN, Colo. — In a trend that seems to parallel real estate and many others, there are fewer private jets flying in and out of Aspen’s airport, called Sardy Field, but the fewer ones are guzzling more gas.

That’s the upshot from a story in The Aspen Times, which reviewed changes upon the recent sale of the fixed-base operation. The newspaper said that almost 37,000 planes landed and took off in 1990, compared to 30,000 in 2001. However, the amount of fuel sold by the FBO increased significantly, because the bigger planes use a lot more fuel.

"The Lear (jet) can park beneath the wing of a Gulfstream, and nobody wants to be in a place like that (the Lear jet) anymore," said Cliff Runge, the long-time manager of the FBO.

He said the fractional ownership in luxury jets has brought private planes to the masses – the wealthy masses, at least.

Biomass boiler now burning

REVELSTOKE, B.C. — Revelstoke now has a 1.5-megawatt biomass boiler up and burning. The boiler will consume 6,600 tons of wood residue annually while producing hot water that is used to heat schools, city buildings, an aquatic centre and other buildings in the city core.

The project cost $5.3 million (Cdn) and was some years in the making, notes the Revelstoke Times Review. In addition to providing heat, the biomass boiler reduces the burning of wood waste from the sawmill that produces the air pollution to which many in Revelstoke object. The biomass boiler is more self-contained.

First avalanche fatality

BERTHOUD PASS, Colo. — The first avalanche fatality of the season in Colorado occurred on Sunday near Berthoud Pass. The slide was both massive and somewhat predictable.

The path was an obvious avalanche path that is known to run one or more times per year. Furthermore, snow conditions were ripe for an avalanche. A foot of new snow sat on a much weaker base of old powder. An avalanche forecaster likened it to sticking two-by-fours on Dixie cups. " There’s nothing in the snowpack to support that weight," Spencer Logan told The Associated Press.

Early newspaper stories dwelled upon the fact that the victim, a 32-year-old snowboarder from Denver, did not have what one reporter described as a "crucial" piece of safety equipment, an avalanche beacon. Others with beacons can pick up the signal issued from the beacon of a buried skier or snowboarder.

How crucial was the beacon in this case? Statistics indicate that broadly speaking, an avalanche beacon improves chances of survival, but by no means ensures it. First, about 25 per cent of avalanche victims die of trauma, after being flung into trees, rocks, or the sheer weight of the snow.

Beyond that, a beacon is useless unless there are others nearby – and close nearby – that know how to use it. And finally, locating your presence may not be of much value if they lack avalanche shovels and you are buried four to six feet below the surface.

As avalanche professional Cynthia Hickey writes in, even snow that seemed like bottomless powder can, after an avalanche, set up like concrete in a matter of seconds. That’s why people rarely can dig themselves out of avalanches even if they are only inches from the surface. Water bottles, ski tips, and fingernails don’t cut it.

Assuming you weren’t battered to death, your chances are fairly good of surviving if your skiing or snowboarding buddies were there, within a matter of just minutes. But 15 minutes after the snow has settled, the odds of survival begin dropping substantially. Within a half-hour, the survival rate is at 50 per cent. An hour after the snow stops chances of survival are down to 20 per cent.

What happened in this case is not entirely clear. No autopsy report has been issued that would pinpoint the cause of this death, but other skiers with beacons were in the area. The local sheriff, Rod Johnson, theorized that a beacon would have made a difference.

Even more important yet than a $300 piece of high-tech gear would have been the inexpensive knowledge of assessing the risk of snowboarding in an avalanche chute the day after a storm.

Ski area possible near Salt Lake

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A new ski area is being considered, if ever so tentatively, in the Oquirrh Mountain Range southwest of Salt Lake City.

Kennecott Land, which also owns a huge open-pit copper mine carved out of the range, is planning how it wants to develop its 93,000 acres. The Park Record reports that Kennecott staff members say that the Oquirrh Range will be opened up as never before to skiing, hiking, camping and mountain biking. Studies are being conducted to determine whether the Oquirrhs have enough snow to support the ski area.

Hispanics fear leniency in murder case

EAGLE, Colo. — Hispanic activists were protesting at the Justice Center in Eagle after hearing rumors – false – that the accused murderer of a Latino immigrant was going to be let off the hook.

Many were reminded of the 2001 case when a man shot and killed four Latino immigrants in Rifle. While many believed those murders were racially motivated, the murderer was found not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered removed to a mental hospital.

In the more recent case near Dotsero, located about 55 miles east along the I-70 corridor, Maria Madrid, who emigrated to the United States in 1991, and her husband and their child had been having a picnic at a campground. Charles Anthony Gross appeared, began screaming about them not picking up after themselves, and then began shooting even as Maria Madrid’s husband began wheeling the pickup backwards. However, she was hit and killed.

The Vail Daily says that the 10 protestors held signs proclaiming their solidarity with the victim, and asking for equal rights and protection from violence. One of the protestors, Mara Palma said she believes it’s a "hate crime," against Hispanics, based on the belief that Hispanics steal jobs, don’t pay taxes, are illegal residents, and deal drugs.

English Christians give new hope

ASPEN, Colo. — In Aspen, two men are walking around, looking forward to life thanks to two people in England. Both men had failing kidneys that, short of transplants, would have doomed them to premature deaths.

But first one of the Aspen men, and then the second man, learned about a group called Jesus Christians who believe that becoming organ donors is one of the ultimate acts of their faith, doing "what Jesus would have done." As it turns out, both the organ donors also happened to be from England, although there are also people in Aspen itself who were willing to donate kidneys.

For one of the two men, Brian Wilson, age 60, the choices were to find a "cadaver, a family member, or getting on a list." Usually, it takes three to five years. Learning of the group, he made contact, and after a few months an operation was arranged.

"It’s difficult for me, because it was a stranger, and it was a stranger doing one of the most selfless things for me," he told The Aspen Times.

Equality of sexes

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Look at what has happened in the last 20 years. Before, women were definitely in a minority in many professions. Now, it’s 50-50.

Such, for example, is the case with physicians in Jackson Hole. One physician, Martha Stearn, recalled that when she was in medical school in the mid-1970s, 10 per cent of students were female. Now it’s 50-50 there, so the numbers in Jackson Hole are in line with national figures.

That same 50-50 split also holds true in the Teton County Board of Realtors, which has 565 members. The Jackson Hole News & Guide found that men still dominate in the number-crunching specialty of commercial real estate, for reasons not clear.

The numbers were contained in a special section called "Working Women." It was all about women, written by women, with about the only token male being a dog named Max, the pet of one of the realty agents.

Mayor mum on bankruptcy

KETCHUM, Idaho — Ever had to file for bankruptcy? The mayor of Ketchum, who was going into this week seeking reelection, has – but he says he can’t fully remember the circumstances.

"It was 21 years ago," Ed Simon told the Idaho Mountain Express. "It was a long time ago. I do a lot of things differently now."

Simon’s opponent, Randy Hall, also had financial troubles when he closed his restaurant three years ago, but did not file for bankruptcy. Instead, he negotiated a $95,000 federal tax lien, of which all but $5,000 was paid.

Taco Bell sign approved

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Truckee has a strict sign code that requires earth tone color. So, when Taco Bell came in with wood signs featuring the fast food company’s purple and magenta colors, the local planning commission said no way. But the town council used its prerogative and overruled the planning commission, reports the Sierra Sun. Town officials also noted that the Taco Bell now being built for Truckee has been tailored specifically for the town.

Air pollution a concern

WHITEFISH, Mont. — The old part of Whitefish looks like a somewhat typical town in the Midwest. Houses are relatively small, set back 20 to 30 feet from the street.

But as is happening everywhere, the houses on the fringe in this scenic part of Montana – it’s near Glacier National Park and the Big Mountain ski area – are different. The Whitefish Pilot tells of two homes that recently were before city officials, one with a 200-foot driveway, the other with an 800-foot driveway.

The length of the driveways matters because Whitefish, as well as two other nearby towns, has been violating federal air quality standards for more than a decade. One of the primary problems is due not to those old bugaboos of the West, sawmills and factories, but instead the dispersed living patterns of exurbia. People are causing a lot of dust by driving back and forth from their homes. The length of the unpaved driveways alone matters in the total accumulation of air pollution.

One residential lot creates 10 vehicle trips per day, according to standards cited by the Whitefish Pilot. If roads are paved, that’s one thing. But gravel roads get muddy, and once the mud dries a SUV charging into the dust can churn up a cloud of particulates, which are known to be a threat to public health.

The Flathead County Health Board is reported to be considering expanding the municipal non-attainment districts that were created when the federal government found the three towns – Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia Falls – were violating clean air standards. That would mean imposing the more strict city air quality standards on county residents.

As well, Flathead County is considering whether to mandate efficient wood-burning stoves that emit far fewer particulates than old-fashioned wood-burning stoves, a change-out begun 10 to 15 years ago in most Colorado resort counties.

Hardware design team leaving

SILVERTON, Colo. — All year the news from Silverton has been of growth and expansion. Now comes a significant downturn. A company called Masco Design West that had at times employed up to 12 people is cutting its payroll and eventually will remove all jobs to Durango and elsewhere.

The firm’s business was an unusual one, seemingly out of place for scenery-heavy but isolated Silverton. The local design team for the firm designed faucets, cabinets pulls, and other such hardware that were later manufacturer in China and sold at outlets such as Lowes, The Home Depot, and Target.