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Mountain News: Denver talks Games with Vancouver

VANCOUVER, B.C. – A delegation of 165 people from Colorado — including Gov. Bill Ritter and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper — was scheduled to visit Vancouver, B.C.

VANCOUVER, B.C. – A delegation of 165 people from Colorado — including Gov. Bill Ritter and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper — was scheduled to visit Vancouver, B.C., this week to talk about renewable energy and other topics, but especially the Olympics.

Vancouver and Whistler are hosting the 2010 Olympics, and it will then be at Sochi, Russia, in 2014. But some in Denver have been talking about a bid for 2018.

John Furlong, chief executive of the Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee, said he would tell Coloradans that issues of logistics and financing should not take a back seat in Olympic planning.

“You want the Olympics to contribute to the city, but where it really contributes is to the human capital and as a nation builder,” Furlong told The Denver Post. “It has to be an event for everybody. You need to build unity around that vision and really make it shine out.”

Denver had won the right to host the 1976 Olympics, but Colorado voters in 1972 refused to continue subsidies, because of both rapid development then occurring but also because of fiscal mismanagement of the Olympic organizing committee.

“We won’t run from 1976 — it’s part of our history — but we’re much different now than we were in ’76, and the Olympic movement is much different now,” said Rob Cohen, executive chairman of the Metro Denver Sports Commission.

Dick Lamm, who later became Colorado governor and led the fight against the Olympics, says he is keeping an open mind about a new bid.

The Vancouver committee projects a budget of $1.6 billion, not counting such infrastructure improvements as the $600 million expansion of the Sea to Sky Highway that links Vancouver with Whistler.

Cohen told the newspaper he hopes the Olympics, if they come to Colorado, might stimulate public financing for improvements of Interstate 70. However, he doesn’t believe that absence of improvements on the congested highway between Denver and mountain resorts will preclude the Olympics.


Banff readies for cutbacks

BANFF, Alberta – Worries about the tourism economy are evident at Banff and Lake Louise. The concern is provoked by the collapse of a major tourist airline and travel agency, both in the United Kingdom, a major source for visitors to the Bow River Valley, and also the collapses on Wall Street.

Already, some hoteliers have cut back staffing. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has only 12 Jamaicans working in its laundry department, compared to 23 at this time last year. Visitors this year to the Fairmont hotels have stayed for shorter periods.

Tourism numbers are expected to return to 2003 levels, officials tell the Rocky Mountain Outlook, when the declining U.S. dollar dampened interest from Americans.

Declines in tourists from the United States are also reported in British Columbia. The decline in July continues a trend that began in late 2002, explains the Revelstoke Times Review. Two-thirds of B.C.’s tourism traditionally has been from south of the U.S.-Canada border.


Carbon footprint shrinking

ASPEN, Colo. – The Aspen Skiing Co. continues its efforts to shrink its carbon footprint.

The company’s every-other-year sustainability report says its carbon footprint shrank 1.6 per cent from 2006 to 2007. The tracking of the carbon emissions began in 1999, and even more substantial savings have occurred over that longer time span. The inventory tracks emissions per skier, the company’s core business.

Still, the gains are minor compared with the broader challenge taken up by the company.

“If you look at the only metric that matters, our carbon footprint, we’re not moving as fast as we’d like, or as the planet needs us to,” said Mike Kaplan, the company’s president and chief executive officer. “We’re not alone,” Kaplan continued. Most of the world is realizing just how hard it is to solve the climate challenge.”

To that end, the company is looking at more ambitiously investing in renewable energy production, perhaps including a wind farm in Nebraska. As well, the company this week placed instruments atop the Snowmass Ski Area, to measure the potential for placement of major wind generators.

Aspen Skiing is also considering augmenting its small-scale hydroelectric production, which now occurs at one site at Snowmass, to creeks located at all four of its ski areas.

But the company has also been taking small and large steps to reduce consumption. For example, at the company’s marquee base-area lodge, The Little Nell, swimming tool temperature was turned down from 102 degrees to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and with no complaints, reported the hotel’s engineer, Mark Fitzgerald.

As well, the snowmelt systems were turned down. They usually ran around the clock at 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, they were turned down to 80 to 100 degrees, and even turned off entirely for seven days during a no-snow period, “this saves big bucks,” noted the hotel’s engineer, Mark Fitzgerald.

With these and other changes, Fitzgerald estimated savings of $16,000 in three months.

Food at the company’s Montagna restaurant also is increasingly locally sourced. In summer, half of produce comes from local sources. In winter, it’s 15 per cent. As well, all of its beef comes from local ranges.

Of the company’s 95 snowmobiles, 70 will have high-efficient four-stroke motors or direct- injection motors.


City’s proximity hinders Park City   PARK CITY, Utah – Park City is in a curious position unlike that of any other destination resort areas in the West. It’s located just off an interstate highway and within a half-hour commuting time to downtown Salt Lake City.

That position has advantages, giving Park City a large labour pool to draw from in the Salt Lake Valley. Because of that, the average hourly wage just three years ago was less than $9 an hour.

But that proximity has also made Summit County, where Park City is located, a de facto suburb of Salt Lake City. The latest wrinkle in this is a proposed 564-home subdivision in what is called the Snyderville Basin, located a few miles from Park City but along Interstate 80.

The newspaper suggests the students from the development might likely be expected to attend the highly-rated school in Park City.


Steamboat gets more airline seats

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Steamboat has been expanding its flight program rapidly in recent years. Last winter, however, there were too many empty seats on incoming planes. In response, ski area and other officials decided to scale back by 7 per cent.

But instead, Steamboat will have an 8 per cent increase in passenger seats this winter, owing to the advent of new Frontier Airlines shuttles from Denver with its new fleet of Lynx Aviation Q400 turboprops. Scheduled are 24,000 round-trip seats, reports The Steamboat Pilot & Today. What happened?

Steamboat Springs is expanding its bed base, but that expansion won’t come on line for several years. The worry, says Andy Wirth, chief marketing officer for Intrawest, the ski area operator, is that expanded airline capacity will exceed the bed base this year. Later, when the new lodges are open for business, the air carriers may not all be around.


Aspen runway extension OK

ASPEN, Colo. – In the mid-1990s, the Aspen Skiing Co. and others wanted to extend the runway at the Pitkin County Airport by 1,000 feet. Hunter S. Thompson, the writer, was still very much in his prime then, and he led an effort to defeat the idea.

But the idea is back, and this time the Pitkin County commissioners unanimously support the runway lengthening. The first step is preparation of an environmental assessment as prescribed by federal law when federal funds are involved. The federal government would pay 95 per cent of the bill, which would cost upwards of $20 million.

The major argument for the extension, reports The Aspen Times, is that the longer runway will allow jets to fly in and out with more passengers. Currently, the CRJ700 aircraft must leave 11 seats empty when departing Aspen for Denver on those days when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. Flights to Chicago must leave five seats empty during winter and seven in summer.

County commissioner Rachel Richards said the idea of fewer but fuller airplanes appeals to her.

Airport staff and consultants say that the runway will not allow larger aircraft to use the airport because of restrictions on aircraft wingspans and weight.


Real estate economy the issue

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. – Population growth and development are at the top of issues in the county commissioner races in Eagle County. The county is bisected by I-70 from Vail Pass to Glenwood Canyon, but also includes a portion of Aspen’s mid-valley commutershed.

An incumbent, Peter Runyon, says the current population growth is alarming. There are 29,000 dwelling units in Vail, Avon, and other towns as well as unincorporated areas, plus current zoning allows another nearly 18,000 units. The upshot: a 60 per cent increase in housing — virtually all of it unaffordable to the average local, he claims.

“This isn’t some cheesy scare tactic,” he insists in an item published in the Vail Daily. “This is reality. The cautionary tale is one of increased traffic, increased stress on our infrastructure, increasing minimum wage jobs, increasing crime, and decreasing quality of life.”

His opponent, Dick Gustafson, sees this growth as good. He notes that 65 per cent of the county’s economy is premised on the real estate sector. “Intelligent growth is essential to our economy.”

He objects to the county building what he calls “socialized housing,” for middle to low-income wage earners. He also accuses current county commissioners, all of them Democrats, of extorting revenue from second-home owners.

When he was a county commissioner 20 years ago, Gustafson was instrumental in advocating development of the Eagle County Regional Airport, a key stimulus to growth. The development was partially created with tax revenues.

For some reason, lower-cost housing is seen as a province of the private sector, but economic development is not.


Cindy McCain passes hat

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, was supposed to show up to pass the campaign hat in the Teton Pines neighbourhood of Jackson Hole. This neighbourhood contains the full-time home of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Instead, Palin was called to New York City to improve her foreign policy credentials by meeting with various foreign leaders.

As a result, the marquee attraction for 200 people was Cindy McCain, wife of the Republican nominee. To break bread with her they paid $250, and for another $750 they also got a photo. To talk politics with McCain and Alan Simpson, the former U.S. senator from Wyoming, attendees paid $2,500.


New ski lift puts area within reach

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Always a ski area noted for its steeps, the Telluride Ski Area has been on an expansion mode during this decade. It added four lifts in 2001, and then last winter opened up new terrain for those willing to hike. This year yet another chairlift is taking shape.

But this latest lift in Revelation Bowl will eliminate much of the hiking previously needed to reach the Bear Creek Valley, an area long-favoured by hard-core skiers. “It’s an area that is spectacular to ski, but equally dangerous,” says The Telluride Watch’s Martinique Davis, who is also a ski patroller.

Four avalanche deaths occurred in the canyon during the 1986-87 season, and several more have occurred since then. For about a decade, the canyon was closed to skiers from the ski area.

Davie Riley, chief executive of the Telluride Ski and Golf Co., told the newspaper he is open to exploring the possibility of expanding the ski area’s boundary to include portions of Bear Creek, but not until the Telluride community members give a “reasonable indication” they want the company to manage the canyon.

How likely is that? The Watch observes that the notion of using explosives in Bear Creek for avalanche control makes some locals bristle, as does the idea of seeing even more people in an area designated as a Nature Preserve.

Tellingly, the newspaper’s website had 39 comments on the story, both for and against. Usually, there are none. After all, Telluride is a ski town, said one commentator.


Avon makes connection

AVON, Colo. – By several very different measures, the opening of a new $500 million hotel in Avon last week at the base of Beaver Creek was a big deal.

The Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa is physically big and tall, with 210 rooms that range in size from studios to three-bedroom condominiums.

It is also being branded as green. The developer, East West Partners, has applied to be certified under the lowest of four levels in the LEED (for Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design) program. If so certified, it will be the first hotel in Colorado to get a LEED designation.

Not least, the hotel directly links Avon — via a new gondola — to the ski slopes of Beaver Creek. With that link, Avon now claims itself as “beachfront” property, which boosters and planners think will add punch to redevelopment efforts in the town.

The “green” measures at the Westin are sometimes obvious, as in the VIP parking spaces for hybrid vehicles. There will be recycling stations for guests on every floor. Less obvious is that more than half of construction waste was recycled or salvaged.

Helping add points to the LEED designation are transportation connections that reduce the need for cars. Adjacent to the hotel is a new bus hub for Avon.

“One of Vail’s greatest strengths is its bus system, and now Avon’s getting there,” Harry Frampton, the managing director of East West Partners, told the Vail Daily.

As well, the hotel is along currently unused railroad tracks that transportation planners hope will be used for passenger traffic by 2030.

Avon was incorporated in 1979, or 13 years after Vail. It struggled at the outset. A massive condominium project was stalled by the real-estate bust from the mid-1980s well into the 1990s. Development was heavily car-centric. Instead, the sheen of resort development leapfrogged to Edwards, which became the centre of activity for the emerging community of well-heeled locals but also second-home owners.

Avon, though, intends to stay in the game with a major redevelopment that will create a pedestrian-friendly collection of businesses called Main Street in an area adjacent to the new Westin and other tall lodging properties.


DeVilbiss, 73, helped defeat Marble ski area

ASPEN, Colo. – J.E. DeVilbiss, a retired district court judge, has died at the age of 73. He was an Aspen City Council member at the time of his death, but The Aspen Times says one of his most notable accomplishments may have occurred in the early 1970s, when an ill-advised ski area was being promoted at the old mining town of Marble. Marble is relatively close to Aspen, but because of Colorado’s often nonsensical county boundaries, it is instead located in Gunnison County. The courthouse is located two to three hours away. Friends say that Gunnison County might well have approved the ski area were it not for the tag-team work of DeVilbiss, then an attorney in Carbondale, and other activists.


BASE jumper breaks leg

CANMORE, Alberta   – A man from Calgary who parachuted off the top of a mountain in a provincial park near Banff and Canmore got off with a broken leg when his parachute malfunctioned, causing him to spiral into the side of Mount Yamnuska, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. Although Alberta laws allow for fines for this type of activity, called BASE jumping, the individuals were not charged.