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Mountain News: Drug testing for students near resort

AVON, Colo. – Students at Battle Mountain High School who participate in extracurricular activities next year will be subjected to random drug and alcohol testing.

AVON, Colo. – Students at Battle Mountain High School who participate in extracurricular activities next year will be subjected to random drug and alcohol testing. More than 75 per cent of students are involved in after-school activities such as sports, music and speech.

The school is located between Vail and Avon. Officials with the Eagle County School District say they believe there is stronger peer-pressure in a resort area to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana. While most of it is confined to weekends, some of it is spilling into the school week, including the high school itself, said Mike Gass, executive director of secondary education.

Officials are also seeing increased incidence as revealed by the number of minors caught possessing alcohol, for example.

“We are not seeing improvement. This is an attempt to change that,” said Gass.

The new policy was instigated partly by parents, some of whom have designated their homes as “safe” ones, where alcohol will not be provided.

The program will not be unique. One other high school in Colorado, Ignacio, located in the state’s southwest corner, has had drug and alcohol testing for 10 years. Eagle County school officials have also communicated with counterparts at schools in Georgia.

Because of its proximity to the Vail and Beaver Creek-based tourism economy, Battle Mountain has long had a reputation as a place of greater drug and alcohol use. Greater transience is also part of the story, says Gass.

No drug testing, however, will be done at Eagle Valley High School, located at Gypsum, about 30 miles west


Slides on hold

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Plans for alpine slides at both the Beaver Creek and Vail ski areas are on hold.

The slide at Beaver Creek proposed by the resort operator, Vail Resorts, has been blocked by homeowners, who say the noise and appearance are inappropriate for the resort.

An alpine coaster on Vail Mountain is on the back burner at U.S. Forest Service offices as agency employees pay attention first to proposals for new chairlifts and snowmaking. That coaster would have steel rails that carry two-person sleds on a 3,000-foot track at Adventure Ridge, the mountain-top entertainment complex. Night tubing and other amusements are also offered at the centre, which is located at the top of the gondola.

The Vail plan is something of a low-level battleground for competing ideologies about how public lands should be used. Colorado Wild, an activist group, objects to the coaster as an “urban-type recreation.”

Colorado Ski Country USA, the trade group of which Vail Resorts is a dominant member, argues that the coaster “will appeal to a broader, youthful population and get more kids ‘in the woods.’” a reference to the book called “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder."


Aspen Skiing Co. takes sides

ASPEN, Colo.—The Aspen Skiing Co. is now more broadly advancing its environmental agenda, taking sides in the election of directors of the local electrical utility that serves the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys.

Aspen, worried about continued growth in greenhouse gases, wants to see a greater push for renewable energy sources. Of the electricity distributed by Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy, 94 per cent is produced by burning either coal or natural gas. While it is considered progressive as compared to most rural electrical co-ops, Aspen Skiing feels a sense of urgency to take sides and prod production of electricity from renewable sources.

As such, it is endorsing two candidates who are opposing incumbents from the Vail-dominated Eagle Valley.

“We want to see more, faster,” said Auden Schendler, the company’s executive director of community and environmental responsibility.

Schendler said Aspen Skiing was dismayed by Holy Cross’s investment in a new coal-fired power plant at Pueblo, Colo.

The Vail Daily interviewed one of the incumbents, George Schaefer, a builder, who argues that while renewables are important, there are other considerations.


Vail Resorts to cut energy use

BROOMFIELD, Colo. – Vail Resorts has launched an effort to reduce energy use by 10 per cent during the next two years at its ski areas, hotels, restaurants and other operations. Rob Katz, the chief executive officer, calls it an “energy layoff,” and predicts it will become the norm for businesses that want to stay profitable and environmentally sustainable.

The company last November launched an energy belt-tightening program called “Use Less. Do More.” But a broader, more urgent program was necessitated by what Katz called “a perfect storm, so to speak.” He cited a trio of reasons: the slowed economy, the rising price of oil, and the continued need to reduce global-warming carbon emissions.

“Now, when you waste energy, you are not only impacting the environment and squandering resources, but you are literally burning huge amounts of energy,” said Katz in a memo distributed to employees last week. He said Vail spends more than $25 million on gasoline, electricity and other forms of energy.

Without mentioning climate change specifically, he also made it clear that energy use is an environmental, as well as economic, issue. “For a growing number of us, when we see energy being wasted, we see the environment being damaged,” he said.

The company owns four ski areas in Colorado and one in California, plus dozens of hotels, stores, and other operations.

Katz called for the company to reduce energy use by 5 per cent during fiscal 2009, and then another 5 per cent the following year.

“Everything is on the table,” he wrote. He said that many day-to-day practices were instituted when gasoline cost 90 cents a gallon. As well, the increased fuel costs may justify different investments. “With oil over $130 per barrel, projects that may have been ‘iffy’ before may be very compelling today,” he said in the memo.

One of the most energy-costly aspects of operating ski areas is in snowmaking and snow grooming. Some have even suggested that ski areas need to cease shooting for Thanksgiving openings.

Katz mentioned this “snow surface” that is at the “core part of our experience in the mountains. This is an area that will require significant thought and discussion to make sure we consider every possible alternative to improve efficiency, but without detracting from one of our core strengths in any way.”


Liquor flows in Minturn

MINTURN, Colo. – Despite being sandwiched by two of the nation’s glossiest, most affluent mountain resorts, Vail and Beaver Creek, the community of Minturn still has an element of the grime accumulated from its 90 years as a railroad and mining centre.

Soon, there may be gloss in a third direction. Town residents, by a margin of 87 per cent to 13 per cent, last week affirmed the annexation and approved development proposed by Ginn Resorts, a Florida-based company.

This is the company’s first foray into the Rocky Mountains — but it is a very big one. Tentatively approved are 1,700 homes, from condominiums located in a former Superfund mining area along the Eagle River to mansions that are high-end in both the economic and literal elevational sense. Connecting the two will be a gondola. As well, there is to be a semi-private ski area and also a golf course built atop mine tailings.

Although housing prices in Minturn have inflated relative to those of the nearby resorts, it remains a small town with a population that is interrelated in the way that many small towns are. There are, in other words, plenty of second and third cousins.

Ginn never pretended that there would be no impacts. Traffic will get worse. Housing prices are likely to rise. But the company also contracted, in its annexation agreement, to build a recreation centre, create sidewalks, and do other things that Minturn, with a thin sales tax base, could not afford to do.

Helping boost his company’s image was Bobby Ginn, the company’s drawling, cowboy-boot-wearing principal. The 59-year-old Ginn was in town two weeks, and helped hump trash at the town’s community cleanup day the week before.

After the vote, Ginn paid for the drinks at a local bar until the booze was completely gone.

Elsewhere in the Eagle Valley, the vote was seen as no reason for celebration. One blogger on the Vail Daily website charged that it will turn Minturn “into a rich man’s paradise at the expense of regular folks.” Said another, bemoaning increased traffic on the town’s thin-as-a-whisp (and with no alternative routes) main street: “You made your bed Minturn, now lie in it.”

But another blogger took a longer perspective. “Mountainpilot” on the Vail Daily website said that Minturn had waited too many years to institute changes, to actively embrace economic changes.

“There should have been a balance. Instead there was a void... and a savior has come to Minturn. Hopefully it will work out as the voters planned.”

One thing worth observing as the development moves forward is Ginn’s oft-stated promise that it will not only develop, but then operate what has now been approved.

That, says Cliff Thompson, the project’s spokesman, will make a difference in many ways. As such, he says, the project at Battle Mountain will become a model for mountain resort development. The company has been studying green architecture and renewable energy technologies.


‘Car beds’ are costly

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – There is no such thing as free parking. It’s just a matter of who pays for it.

That was the message in Mammoth Lakes from Jason Shrieber, a transportation expert with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates. The community there is looking at its mobility options as it becomes more densely redeveloped and also more affluent.

Automobiles are commonly subsidized, but subsidizing mass transit may well be less costly, he said. At Stanford University, officials estimated that each parking space built to accommodate commuting employees cost $156 per month. Parking passes were being sold for $8 a month.

Instead, the university decided to pay $2 per day for use of public transportation by each employee. That subsidy works out to about $40 per month, as compared to $148 a month per car.

Mammoth, said Shreiber, needs to figure out to do with what he calls “car bed.” For now, the added, “they sleep in very expensive concrete bunkers.”


Trash police to bear down

EAGLE VALLEY, Colo. – Bears are out. Soon, employees of Eagle County will be instructed to police how people protect their trash against bears and other animals.

A law passed by Eagle County officials last year specifies that people outside of Vail and other towns must have wildlife-resistant garbage containers or, if they use larger Dumpster-type receptacles, they must be wildlife proof.

What’s the difference between wildlife-resistant and wildlife-proof? According to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, wildlife resistant containers need to keep bears at bay for 90 minutes. A wildlife-proofed container typically has more heavy metal and will frustrate a bear for even longer.

Vail has its own, even more demanding ordinance, as does Beaver Creek.


Carbon cycle in dispute

AMADOR, Calif. – Logging companies see a silver lining in global warming. If accumulations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are truly a serious problem, they say, then efforts to keep forests young and gulping in carbon should be rewarded. That would mean frequent cuttings, what the industry calls intensive forest management.

That’s the gist of a four-year study produced on behalf of Sierra Pacific Industries, which owns 1.6 million acres of forests in California. The study, reports the Amador Ledger Dispatch, claims that California forests are “undermanaged” with the result of unnaturally large-buildup in the forests.

“By following intensive management practices to harvest and replant most of our lands over the course of 80 to 100 years, we found we can actually increase the ability of our forests to store carbon by about 150 per cent,” said Cajun James, the company’s research and monitoring managers.

The study examined four scenarios, and found that the intensive model of harvesting and replanting about 1.25 per cent of forest lands each year most successfully sequestered carbon.

Environmental groups think the science justifying these conclusions is, at best, sloppy. Chris Wright, executive director of the Foothills Conservancy, said the study only concentrates on carbon in trees, and overlooks how much carbon is emitted into the atmosphere while transporting workers, harvesting the wood, and hauling the felled trees.

A group called ForestWatch, which produced its own study, asks builders to steer clear of Sierra Pacific Industry products until the company reforms its forest management polices. The company last year paid a fine of $13 million for falsifying emission reports and tempering with monitoring equipment.

Bottom line is that it is a flawed study and a transparent effort by SPI to justify its economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable clearcutting timber practices,” said Wright.


Aspen remembers est

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen had a chance to review its navel-gazing past with the showing of a film called “Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard.” Erhard was the founder of a movement called est, short for Erhard System Training.

As explained by Wikipedia, the purpose of the training was to “allow participants to achieve a sense of personal transformation and enhanced power in their lives, concepts that resonated with many during the socially turbulent and war-weary 1970s.”

In Aspen, it was estimated that half of residents had taken est, reports The Aspen Times. The other half called graduates “est-holes” and vowed never to be taken in by such a huckster.


The treatment for what ails

BASALT, Colo. – Just how much money is going into health care in the ski-anchored mountain valleys of the West is revealed in a story from Aspen. The story in The Aspen Times tells about operations at the Win HBO Rapid Healing Center, a new operation in Basalt, 18 miles down-valley from Aspen.

Among other advanced medical equipment, the centre is to have the first hyperbaric oxygen chamber between Denver and Salt Lake City.

Most ski towns in the thin-aired Rocky Mountains have the somewhat simpler hyperbaric chambers that allow people with high-altitude pulmonary edema to be treated by, in effect, reducing the atmospheric pressure to between sea level and 5,000 feet.

The hypberbaric oxygen chamber, however, can increase the oxygen to pressures found at below sea level. David Jensen, cofounder of the Win Institute, told The Times that such chambers are used for treatment of sports-specific rehabilitation, anti-aging and multiple sclerosis.

The oxygen concentration of dry air is 20.93 per cent oxygen. Hyperbaric treatment provides pressurized oxygen that can be dissolved into the bloodstream. Delivered to damaged tissue or infected areas, the increased oxygen can help carry away infection or more rapidly repair damage.

A person undergoing treatment spends a prescribed length of time lying in the cylindrical, body-length chamber where pure oxygen is administered.

Michael Jackson is among the users of hyperbaric oxygen chambers, believing that an hour a day keeps advanced aging at bay.

Telluride-based Peter Hackett, one of the nation’s leading high-altitude physicians, tells Mountain Town News that he is open minded about the potential uses of hyperbaric oxygen chambers, but notes that research has not yet documented all the claims.

“Hyperbaric oxygen has established a place for treatment of a few specified conditions. It is, however, being use for an expanded list of conditions by alternative practitioners. Whether it is truly useful for such things as anti-aging has yet to be validated.