TELLURIDE, Colo. — There's a saying in the ski industry that good snow can make lots of people look like geniuses. In other words, it's mostly about what nature bestows, not the great cleverness of humans.
And so it may be with bears, which during the last 20 years have increasingly become a problem in ski towns of Colorado. The bruins wander into town, filching from birdfeeders, trashcans and sometimes even brazenly breaking into cars and even homes.
So far this year, bears have been conspicuously absent in Crested Butte. Police chiefs in both Crested Butte and the adjacent town of Mt. Crested Butte credit people in their businesses and homes with being careful in not providing any tempting food for bears.
"We haven't had to write a ticket for a wildlife infraction yet this summer," said Tom Martin, the chief marshal in Crested Butte.
But something else is also going on, which they also acknowledge: natural food sources — primarily berries and nuts —have been good this year.
But 240 kilometres away in Telluride, bears have now emerged to create some wariness. The Daily Planet reports that both houses and vehicles have been broken into, trashcans upended, and one bear ripped off a house's siding at 1:30 in the morning.
"The whole house started shaking and there was this bear outside," explained a resident. The bear apparently smelled something in the pantry.
More rattling and shaking can be expected as summer merges into fall and bears start loading up with 20,000 calories per day before hibernation.
Rattlesnake nips dog on nose at Steamboat
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Perhaps alone among ski towns in the west Steamboat Springs has rattlesnakes. You don't need to fend them off while walking down the street. But they can be found occasionally just outside town.
Recently, a 57-kilogram English black Labrador was bit on the nose by a large rattlesnake at a house south of the town. The Steamboat Pilot reports the dog was administered an antivenom and seemed to be recovering, if not its usual perky self.
One town, two places for skiing at night
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Steamboat Springs is one of the few towns in Colorado with night alpine skiing. Howelsen Hill, a town-owned ski area, has had skiing under the lights since at least the mid-70s.
Now, the big ski area, Steamboat, wants to have lighted skiing until 9:30 p.m. on several trails. While some residents appear concerned about the lighting, Doug Allen, the resort's vice president of mountain operations, said lighting for night skiing has become sophisticated. Ultra-Tech has been chosen to implement the lighting, if the town government approves.
Steamboat Pilot says that Howelsen historically has not attracted large crowds at night, and the Steamboat ski area similarly expects no large influx.
Never-ending quest to find elusive Sasquatch
KETCHUM, Idaho — A university professor from Idaho was in Ketchum recently to talk about Bigfoot, otherwise known as Sasquatch, the mythical beast thought by some to inhabit forests of the Pacific Northwest and perhaps other regions.
Jeffrey Meldrum, from Idaho State University, told the Idaho Mountain Express that advances in film and other technology mean he can go back and dissect previous evidence in the goal determining whether the mythic beast exists.
Meanwhile, The Falcon Project intends to use a drone to conduct flyovers in regions thought to be inhabited by Bigfoot in order to gather more conclusive evidence.
Meldrum was in Ketchum and Sun Valley to drum up believers and pass the hat.
Canmore seeks to curb flood threat
CANMORE, Alberta — In an effort to control its own destiny, Canmore's municipal council has approved $600,000 to study what happened during the floods of June and create a plan for mitigating future rainfalls.
In June, during torrential rainfalls in Alberta, Cougar Creek flooded. Damage was relatively minor, but the surge of water threatened to tear dozens of houses from their foundations.
This isn't the first time the hydrology of Cougar Creek has been studied. In 2008, a report recommended $6.5 million in mitigation. But neither the provincial government nor CP Rail, which has a bridge that constricts flows, contributed.
The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that several elected officials wanted to see more robust participation this time around, but Councilor Joanna McCallum said it was not time to lollygag. "It won't happen on its own," she said.
Mathias Jakob, the town's project manager, said the problem is solvable, but the outcome depends on the entire process.
Sex and drugs and Widespread Panic
DRIGGS, Idaho — When the band Widespread Panic played at Grand Targhee Resort in early June, the entire concert venue filled with 10,000 people smelling of burning marijuana.
Local police had a dog trained to detect drugs, but she never left the patrol car.
"There's really no point," said detective Chad Sashse. "She'd be turning circles no matter where she went."
What do you do if you're a cop in such a place? The Jackson Hole News&Guide says that police — there were 15 from Wyoming's Teton County and the U.S. Forest Service — were selectively assigned to keep order.
"They knew from the start they were only going to catch the unruly, the unlucky and the unobservant," says the newspaper.
Those who blazed blatantly in front of the cops got caught. At the end of the night, just 11 people had been arrested and 22 more had been issued citations. The cops also confiscated three tanks of nitrous oxide, also called laughing gas.
Among those with "slapped hands" was a father-son combination. The 21-year old had a joint in his pocket. The father, 54, admitted to doing a "few grams" of psilocybin mushrooms. A few more grams were found in his pocket.
"Your mother is going to be so pissed," the father said to his less-amused son.
"To be honest, I've been doing this shit since 1974. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, right?"
Crested Butte moves toward arts centre
MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — The dollar trees are starting to shake loose their fruit in Mt. Crested Butte, the sibling municipality to the eponymously named Crested Butte. There, local boosters want to create a performing arts center comparable to what the big destination resorts like Beaver Creek, Jackson, and Aspen have.
They are trying to raise $23 million. So far, the effort has produced $15 million in pledges.
The center, if it gets built, will bear the name the Biery-Witt Performing Arts Center at Mt. Crested Butte. The names come from the president of the organization and a board member.
The organization had said it would take $1.5 million to name the performance hall, but officials tell the Crested Butte News that details of the donation are still being worked out. For the time being, the staff is calling the donation a "generous gift to secure the naming rights."
The time when all of us lived lives of gods
Need light? Turn it on. There's the switch.
Running out of gas? Find a service station. Shouldn't be hard.
Chilly? Turn up the thermostat.
This vast infrastructure based on the cheap, dense energy of fossil fuels is easily taken for granted. The late Randy Udall didn't. Udall, who died in June while backpacking in Wyoming's Wind River Range, told his many listeners through the years that we live in exceptional times.
"We're living like gods right now," he would say in his lectures, which he delivered to dozens, perhaps hundreds of audiences in Colorado and beyond, usually accompanied by powerful PowerPoint presentations.
In sometimes laugh-out-loud ways, he would then demonstrate how remarkable our modern times have been because of the abundance of fossil fuels and their liberal use. In one, a nude Lance Armstrong bicycled, his legs in rapid motion, to produce the energy needed to keep an ordinary light bulb lit.
In another, he had us imagining 60 oarsmen rowing furiously on the Nile River to give the empress Cleopatra a pleasant repast. It was the energy equivalent to six horses, which is now manifested in an ordinary lawnmower.
Then, he would show a woman unloading groceries from a sport-utility vehicle, with six times more power yet at her fingertips than existed anywhere on the planet just 200 years ago. Even soccer moms, he would say, live exceptional lives.
"In an energy sense, we're not living like royalty," he said. "We're not living like Cleopatra. We're living like gods."
Udall didn't think this could continue. Even if oil and gas supplies existed to meet the expanding needs of a world population sprinting toward nine billion at mid-century, we couldn't afford to burn them as we have during the last half-century. The dangers of greenhouse gases were too great.
More imminently, though, he believed he saw a civilization pressing down on the gas pedal to go 150 kilometres even as the gas tank neared empty.
The revolution in drilling technology has taken the wind out of the sails of this peak-oil argument. With advanced fracking techniques, 3D seismology, and horizontal drilling, the gas and oil found in microscopic pore spaces of shale rocks can be extracted. With new production in North Dakota, Montana and Texas, the United States is now poised to surpass Saudi Arabia in oil production. And instead of importing natural gas, the big talk is now of exports.
It's phenomenal, but while Udall acknowledged the technological prowess and extolled the new generation of fossil fuel explorers, he didn't back down. "The pore throats in shale rocks are 20,000 times smaller than a human hair. On these rocks, we've bet our energy future," he said.
We need to shift our energy foundation to renewable sources, he believed, and toward more broadly distributed sources, not just big coal plants or even big wind farms.
In the Wood River Valley of Idaho, that same discussion is going on. Writing in Idaho Mountain Express of Ketchum, local resident Kiki Tidwell, a clean tech angel investor, makes the case for greater investment in local generation.
Idaho Power, the utility serving the area, has announced it may need to start rolling brownouts and blackouts unless new transmission is created to import more power. A substantial amount of power comes from hydroelectric generation, but drought has made that a less reliable source. A new transmission line likely means additional electricity produced by coal plants in Montana or Oregon.
Tidwell offers a different vision: "The cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley can take the same $14 million (the local component for the transmission) and accomplish a lot more toward energy security for their communities through distributed generation (including solar) and battery storage."
At Telluride, there's also talk about increased distributed generation. In Mountain Village, the newer town located along the ski slopes, the town council recently entertained a proposal to levy a two per cent fee on electricity bills. The fee would generate $137,000 per year, with the money going to various projects intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But while the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise have had vacation homes in the town, a majority of councillors rejected the idea. Mayor Dan Jansen said that electricity costs are projected to rise five to seven per cent next year. "That's starting to add up to a significant amount for some people," he said.
Jansen holds the view that greenhouse gas reduction efforts are best formulated in concert with other local governments. He thinks some money can be set aside for reduction projects next year. Among the ideas is purchase of more solar panels at an installation in the Paradox Valley, 130 kilometres to the west.
In Aspen, town officials in 2008 set out to explore the idea of whether the heat of the earth can be tapped to produce heat for buildings in lieu of natural gas. The idea was premised on the fact that miners of the 19th century had noticed that some mines had more heat than others.
But an exploratory well that reached 457 metres revealed temperatures of just 32C degrees. That's the lowest temperature for which a geothermal heating utility might be worthwhile. And to generate electricity, temperatures would have to be closer to 82C degrees, said Jeff Rice, utilities energy efficiency manager.
More analysis will be required during coming months before the city considers the viability of a geothermal utility district, city officials say.
'Redskins' continue to be the face of Teton High
DRIGGS, Idaho — For the time being, the face of the Teton High School is formally a Redskin. Monte Woolstenhulme, who grew up in Teton Valley and graduated from the school, had decided to replace the mascot with something that wasn't offensive to Native Americas.
The current mascot is kind of crudely drawn. And perhaps similar to other names, it suggests a racial stereotyping.
But the public would have none of it. The Teton Valley News reports that the school board entertained public testimony for more than three hours in July, with just three people favoring the change, two remaining neutral, and 62 testifying that pride, tradition and heritage all would best be served by retaining the name Redskins.
In the end, Woolstenhulme recommended taking more time to review the issues.
That sounds like an argument postponed to a different day. But then, the Declaration of Independence from The British Empire issued in 1776 declared that "all men are created equal," but it wasn't until 1954 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate was not equal. And with the Trayvon Martin murder in Florida, we're still arguing about race, stereotypes, and justice.