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Mountain News: Brittle and artificial, like Whistler?

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Mountain towns are deathly afraid of growing up to become like… well, in Colorado, the usual citations are Aspen and Vail, although Steamboat, Summit County, and even Crested Butte crop up. Smaller don’t want to become bigger.

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Mountain towns are deathly afraid of growing up to become like… well, in Colorado, the usual citations are Aspen and Vail, although Steamboat, Summit County, and even Crested Butte crop up. Smaller don’t want to become bigger.

In British Columbia, between Banff and Whistler, Revelstoke is shaking the dust off its blue-collar boots as it primps itself for the big league of mountain resorts. In an editorial, the Times Review insists that the future can be guided. But in his ruminations about burying a 100-year time capsule, editor David Rooney sounds less sanguine.

“Will it still be friendly, rural community of people who work hard and who love their mountains and forests intensely? Or will it have evolved into something like Banff or Whistler — brittle and largely artificial communities that focus on parting tourists from their dollars.”

In Jackson Hole, Paul Cook sees little to like in the changes of the last 30 years. A neo-environmentalism prevails, he says, that is mostly intent on elevating property values. The result is a more stratified community, with various groups having little interaction. “So now we have created a “critical rich people habitat” where rich people are a dime a dozen,” he writes in the Jackson Hole News & Guide. It’s good hired hands, he adds, are hard to find.

And from the Eagle Valley comes this note: “Vail looks like Dubai with all the cranes. What happened to the little mountain town I moved to on Nov. 13, 1970?”


Just right

JASPER, Alberta – Size does matter, and for some people in Jasper, 4,700 people is just right.

“It’s a perfect size — not so small you know every single one of your neighbours, but small enough to offer support systems,” says Bob Covey, editor of a newspaper there. Others similarly agree that the smallness produces a stronger sense of community, especially because of the town’s isolation.

It’s located in Jasper National Park, north of Banff. The park is Canada’s largest, wildest and most remote, notes the Rocky Mountain Outlook. The park is 100 years old this summer. A celebration is planned Sept. 14.


Aspen says no to bottled water

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen is acutely aware of its fish-bowl status, especially now that it has suggested, through its Canary Initiative, how the rest of the world should live.

The Canary Initiative is Aspen’s global-warming plan that seeks to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

But walking that talk isn’t particularly easy. For example, the city council recently held an all-day retreat in one of the buildings promoted as among the Roaring Fork Valley’s most environmentally friendly. The food service, however, was not.

For example, says The Aspen Times, there were disposal paper cups from Starbucks, bottled water imported from the South Pacific, and bottled fruit juices imported from Massachusetts.

“If we are going to be environmental stewards, we are going to have to think a little deeper,” said Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss. “The irony is that as environmental stewards, we are renting a space that serves Fiji water bottles, and I don’t think that’s appropriate,” said City Councilman Jack Johnson. “You’ve got to start walking the talk, and it has to be part of our overall psyche,” said Councilman Dwayne Romer.

One possible rule: all food must come from within 500 miles for city functions. That will certainly quash the shrimp bowl.


LEED neighbourhood in works

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – Comes yet another announcement of plans for LEED-certified development at a ski area, this time at the base of the Snowmass ski area. The development had been launched by the Aspen Skiing Co. and Intrawest, and from the get-go the real estate had been relatively “green,” with energy efficiency standards far more stringent than required by the local building code.

Related/WestPac bought them out, and now has $2 billion in real-estate development underway or planned at Snowmass. The company plans to incorporate the LEED certification program for neighbourhoods. Vail Resorts is also planning to do the same thing at a project in Vail called Ever Vail. The certification program for LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, seeks to minimize environmental impacts.

Scheduled to attend ground-breaking ceremonies in Snowmass this week was George Pataki, a former governor of New York, He now operates a consulting company that concentrates on climate change, energy and the environment.


Assessed valuation tops $1 billion

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – The assessed valuation of Teton County, which is where Jackson Hole is located, has now topped $1 billion. This is nearly triple the value of 10 years ago. New construction is part of the story, officials tell the Jackson Hole News & Guide, but so are increasing values.

By way of Colorado comparisons, Eagle County (Vail) last year had an assessed valuation of $2.4 billion, followed by Pitkin (Aspen) $1.9 billion, and Summit (Breckenridge) $1.27 billion.

They were followed by the mere millionaires: Routt (Steamboat) at $813 million, San Miguel (Telluride) at $780 million, Grand (Winter Park) at $611 million, Gunnison (Crested Butte) at $540 million, and Chaffee (Salida) at $295 million. Also: Lake (Leadville) at $85 million and San Juan (Silverton) at $41 million.


Aspen market still growing

ASPEN, Colo. – For the fifth consecutive year the real estate market in the Aspen area continues to inflate.

From Aspen to Parachute, a distance of 84 miles, the dollar volume of residential real estate for the first half of the year increased 18 per cent compared to last year. This area also includes the booming oil and gas towns, but The Aspen Times reports that a majority of the $1.16 billion in sales occurred in Aspen and Snowmass.

The average sales prices this year in Aspen were $2.89 million, compared to $2.44 million last year. Increased average sales prices were also evident down-valley in Basalt and even more so in Carbondale.


Ketchum real estate ho-hum

KETCHUM, Idaho – Unlike other major resort areas, the real-estate market in the Ketchum and Sun Valley area continues to be ho-hum. Not only has the number of sales declined, but prices for single-family homes are flat. Condo and townhomes, however, continue to rise in price, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.


Not real, but spectacular

FRISCO, Colo. – Did you know that women who have breast implants sometimes have uncomfortable sensations accompanied by swishing sounds in their chests when visiting higher elevations?

That was the discovery some years ago by Jim Bachman, a physician since 1981 in Frisco. In addition to delivering babies and other ministrations expected of a small-town doctor, he avidly studied effects of the thinner air found at 9,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation.

“Patients complained about the implants sloshing much like your potato chip bag,” Dr. Bachman told the Summit Daily News. Pressurized implants, he explained, expand with a decrease in air pressure, similar to shampoo bottles. He was the first to report on that phenomenon.

Bachman also coined a new word while studying high-altitude medicine: bilanders. These are the people who live part-time at low elevations, particularly sea level, and part time at high elevations. Blood-pressure of these bilanders fluctuates up and down as they travel back and forth, he discovered.

Although continuing to live in Summit County, Bachman is giving up his medical practice there, because of his frustration of working with insurance companies. Instead, he’ll be commuting about 70 miles to metropolitan Denver, where he will work in occupational medicine.


Free access once again

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Although people tend to think of Colorado’s highest mountains as all being public lands, that’s hardly the case. Several of the 14,000-foot peaks are privately owned, while at others the trails commonly used to reach the peaks are on private land.

Such was the case in a trio of 14ers near Telluride, where a landowner had blocked access for the last several years across his 220 acres, which happens to include the popular Silver Pick Trail that accesses Mount Wilson, El Diente and Wilson Peak. Last year he charged hikers $100 to cross the property, but had shut off access entirely this summer.

The quandary was resolved when a consortium of interests led by the Trust for Public Land purchased the property. The Telluride Foundation, which contributed $150,000, had valued the property at $3 million, or $136,000 an acre.

The owner, Rusty Nichols had tried to get the Forest Service to trade him more easily developed land, but the Forest Service — which had been loudly criticized for being too generous in previous land exchanges near Telluride — firmly said no. Nichols had also talked about resuming mining operations on the land, but had no local authority to do so.


Officer upset about killing bruins

ASPEN, Colo. – A game warden, forced to kill a bear after it had repeatedly broken into a school near Aspen, was not in the least bit happy about the deed. “I have been turned into the executioner,” he told The Aspen Times.

This is the second bear killed this summer by the state wildlife officer, Kevin Wright, although it is not expected to be the last.

He maintains that bears are breaking into buildings around Aspen because they have come to associate humans with food — a dangerous connection in a year in which the natural food sources are not present. “People need to take some responsibility for where they live.”

Aspen and neighbouring Snowmass were among the first towns in Colorado to insist that people place their garbage in bear-proof containers. However, there have been questions as to how well the laws have been enforced.

Whether the school in this particular incident had any responsibility was not clear. The director of the last 24 years, Becky Helmus, said the school has long had bear-proof garbage containers, and staff and students are careful about food and garbage.


Durango to save water

DURANGO, Colo. – Nowhere in the West is the story of water scarcity told with such drama as in Las Vegas. Despite the jungle waterfalls, Venetian-type canals and ooh-ahh Bellagio waterworks, the story in the suburbs is of bone-dry front yards and marginal grass even in the backyards. In fact, the water district has been paying homeowners to pull up their sod.

The situation is nowhere nearly as dramatic in Durango, but just the same, city officials hope to stretch existing supplies by 10 per cent by mandating landscaping techniques that will use less water, reports the Durango Telegraph. Kentucky bluegrass won’t be banned outright, but new developments will be encouraged to adopt the principles of xeriscaping, integrating more drought-tolerant plants into the landscape.

The city water-treatment plant is running at half capacity, but the population is projected to triple.


A rare combination

ASPEN, Colo. – Anita Thompson has a book out about her late husband, the writer Hunter Thompson. She tells The Aspen Times that the book is in response to the hundreds and hundreds of letters she received after his death in 2005. “They looked at Hunter’s lifestyle as a primary factor in his work, and I just wanted to correct that.”

She began working for Thompson in 1999 and married him in 2003, helping him produce his final book, “Kingdom of Fear.”

In her preface, she writes that being married to Thompson was like “living with a teenage girl trapped in the body of an elderly dope fiend.… Hunter had the energy, the vitality and the curiosity of a young girl (and the) depth of wisdom… that came with his age and experience.”


Bear breaks into house

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – A bear estimated to weigh 600 pounds was shot and killed after it broke into a home in the early morning. The family locked itself into a bedroom and called police. The arriving cop said the bear charged him, and he shot at it, but only grazed it. The bear fled, and after a search was found under a neighborhood balcony. It was killed, authorities tell the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Bear activists report that fire, drought, and poor food crops have resulted in a large number of bears being killed in California this year. The old record of 20 will be doubled if current trends continue, they say.


Meth found in resort areas

ROARING FORK VALLEY, Colo. – Methamphetamines, if the scourge of many places, have remained largely absent from the ski towns. Cocaine? Yes. Marijuana? Absolutely. But not meth.

But drug agents in Aspen report an increase in meth-related crime. It is still small compared to that of down-valley locations, where many of Aspen’s workers live alongside people employed in the oil and gas fields of northwestern Colorado.

There has been some speculation of gang-related drug dealing among Latino immigrants. A drug agent, speaking anonymously, did not deny that connection, and suggested that drug cartels and gangs from Mexico are the new source for the methamphetamine. Cocaine and meth are now being sold together, he said.


Half-mile fire break needed

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Nothing short of a half-mile-wide clear cut would have stopped the Angora fire from torching the homes near Lake Tahoe in late June, according to a Forest Service study released last week.

The report says fire danger conditions were some of the most severe experienced in the last 20 years, with the air dry and trees parched. Winds gusted to an estimated 40 mph.

But the Forest Service report does not suggest clear cutting as a way to tame wildfires, reports the Sacramento Bee. Instead, the report found that most thinning projects worked as intended, reducing the intensity of the blaze.

But thinning alone is not enough, said Matt Mathews, a Forest Service spokesman, and neither is creating defensible space around homes. “Either one by itself is not enough.”


12,000 year old evidence

KREMMLING, Colo. – Reporter Will Bublitz parked himself this summer at an archaeological site along the Colorado River, volunteering to sift through the dirt for two days to see what it held.

In a way, he found very little — a few dozen flakes of rock, not even a full projectile point, which is what most people call an arrowhead.

Just the same, he was plenty awed. “Holding that first tiny stone flake up to the light, it struck me that I was probably the first human to have seen this object in more than 12,000 years,” he writes in the Sky-Hi News. Looking across the ages, he wondered about that prior person’s dreams, loves and hates, and more generally what his life was like.

It was a nomadic one, say archaeologists from the University of Wyoming, and this site near Kremmling — which is equidistant from Steamboat Springs, Winter Park, and Breckenridge — was rare in that it was used for several weeks.

The occupation 10,000 to 12,000 years ago occurred soon after the last major ice age ended. The people, called the Folsom, were the earliest confirmed in the Western Hemisphere (although speculation abounds of much older arrivals). Evidence of the Folsom people is rare altogether, and even more rare in mountainous areas.

Some of the larger animals of the ice age, called Pleistocene megafauna, still were around at this time. Among them was a species of bison that was 15 per cent larger than bison of today. Bones of those bison are found at the campsite.

Some of the stones at the site manufactured into weapons and tools came from a nearby quarry, but other types of rock came from near Castle Rock and Salida, both in Colorado, and the Green River Valley of Wyoming and Utah.


Presidential candidates in Park City

PARK CITY, Utah – Presidential candidates are getting to be a regular thing at Park City: Republican contender Mitt Romney owns a home there, and Rudy Giuliani was scheduled this week to press the flesh and solicit donations. One party activist predicted Mr. Giuliani would bank $500,000. Democrat Barak Obama was also scheduled to visit, says The Park Record.


Baby growing up very green

VAIL, Colo. – Avid television viewers in 2002 watched as former professional football player Ryan Sutter, by then a firefighter in Vail, met and then wooed Trista Rehn on the show called “The Bachelorette.” They married very publicly in 2003, again on national television, and then settled in to the Eagle Valley.

Mr. Sutter, it turns out, is very much into environmental preservation. Although still a firefighter, he has become certified to construct LEED buildings, and lately demonstrated some of his knowledge for a television program called “The Eco Zone Project. He also writes a column about environmental matters for the Vail Daily, and capably so.

Now, the couple have had a child, Maxwell Alston Sutter, and he is growing up in a ‘green’ crib,” reports the Vail Daily. The Sutters enlisted the help of a consultant to make sure the wee one isn’t unduly influenced by toxic chemicals in the house.


Rafting deaths questioned

BUENA VISTA, Colo. – Five whitewater boaters have died this year in Colorado, all after spills on the Arkansas River between Leadville and Salida. Although whitewater deaths are not unusual, the total is high enough to draw the interest of The Denver Post, which raises the question of whether commercial rafters screen their customers sufficiently.

“I think a lot of these deaths are really preventable,” Kit Davidson, of Gunnison, a former guide, told the newspaper. “It’s a tough call on how to make the tourists understand the power of the river and respect it without insulting them by telling them they are not allowed to go.”

The suggestion is that some commercial passengers are physically unfit, and others do not seem to take the mental challenge seriously.

Colorado’s whitewater boating industry is relatively recent. Until the mid-1980s, it was unregulated. After a string of drownings in the rapidly growing industry, the Colorado River Outfitters persuaded the state Legislature to establish minimum training and other safety standards, to give the public more confidence.

However, at the same, time, rafting companies have been taking on more adventurous whitewater segments. Two of the commercial fatalities this year, for example, occurred in the Numbers, a section of the Arkansas River between Leadville and Buena Vista that even private risk-takers seldom boated 25 years ago.