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Mountain News: Beacons useful in locating corpse

GEORGETOWN, Colo. — Again comes evidence that having an avalanche beacon in your pack won't necessarily allow you to survive an avalanche. The story comes from Kelso Peak, located 80 kilometres west of Denver and 32 kilometres east of Frisco.
AVALANCHE DANGERS The victim of a recent snow slide in Colorado was discovered by a group of hikers with the help of an avalance beacon. Shutterstock image

GEORGETOWN, Colo. — Again comes evidence that having an avalanche beacon in your pack won't necessarily allow you to survive an avalanche.

The story comes from Kelso Peak, located 80 kilometres west of Denver and 32 kilometres east of Frisco. Three people on snowshoes were walking at the foot of Kelso with the intent of climbing Torrey's, a 4,300-metre peak on the Continental Divide.

A report on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website says the three followed an a previous skier's track with some misgiving, as it crossed a slope with several avalanche tracks. Bad decision. The first snowshoer made it safely across, but the second one was caught in a slide.

Using beacons, the companions were able to find the trapped individual under 1.5 metres (five feet) of snow debris, but it was too late.

At ski resorts in the West, there were other deaths and near deaths. In Utah, outside the boundary of Canyons Resort, near Park City, a skier triggered a 90-metre wide avalanche the day after Christmas. He ended up being buried to his neck in avalanche debris that was 4.5-metres deep. The skier, described as highly experienced in backcountry travel, was dug out by companions, reports the Park Record.

In Wyoming, a 54-year-old lawyer from Cleveland ran out of luck when skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The body of Marc Krantz was found in a somewhat inverted position, his head buried in the powdery snow, in a steep ravine. While the corner's report had not been released, it appeared he was asphyxiated, unable to free himself in the deep snow.

By the walk-up price, Vail still No. 1 ski area

ASPEN, Colo. — What's the most popular ski area in North America? That question is the bread-and-butter for the ski magazines, who use all sorts of measuring sticks to come up with their rankings.

One measure, however, is how much a ski area can get for its lift tickets. Yes, yes — hardly anybody pays the full price and mostly then just during the busy holidays.

That top-dollar price again this year has been at Vail and Beaver Creek, at least so far. The Aspen Daily News, which tracks such things, reports that the resorts were charging $159 one day last week, while Breckenridge had upped its rate to $145.

Aspen kept its lid at $129, up five dollars from last season. Deer Valley was charging $120 and Whistler/Blackcomb $119.

Those numbers may have shifted somewhat after the Daily News report, but they give a flavour of this particular pecking order.

The Daily News also notes that Aspen's top price has gone up 65 per cent since 2005. That should tell you about income levels for the world's wealthiest one per cent, the Christmas week bread-and-butter for Aspen and many of the other destination resorts.

Squaw Valley adopts strong climate stance

TRUCKEE, Calif. – How much of a threat is climate change to ski areas? At California's Squaw Valley, chief executive Andy Wirth describes it as "most certainly a real threat," but "not a direct threat to our existence as a viable business."

How so? Squaw Valley has invested millions in expanding its snowmaking capacity since drought began hammering the Sierra Nevada three years ago. "Since the mid-'80s, the length of ski seasons has actually materially increased with the advent of snowmaking," he tells the Sierra Sun.

He suggested that ski areas can use other tools to leverage their businesses even as temperatures rise.

The ski area recently released "Environmental & Community Report 2014," its first such document. It has strong language.

"For our part, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows now stands with 99 per cent of the scientific community and publicly recognizes that climate change is both human caused... and utterly irrefutable," writes Michael Gross, director of environmental initiatives, in the report. "Our glaciers are melting, sea levels rising, temperatures soaring."

He also points to the changing condition of Lake Tahoe, which has had reduced clarity even after cleanup efforts. The problem is growth of algae, a product of warmer temperatures.

A good snowmelt might seem like the answer, but research by University of California-Davis scientists points to a long-term trend: Snow decreased from an average of 51 per cent of total precipitation getting into the lake in 1910 to just 36 per cent in 2012.

"As a world-renowned resort, our intention is to lead the fight against climate change — not merely follow the paths of others," Gross writes in the report.

Tellingly, the report urges readers to check out some of the more fierce advocacy organizations, including Bill McKibben's and Citizens' Climate Lobby, which advocates a carbon tax and fee on emissions.