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Mountain News: Hotels object to ‘free’ skiing offer

KETCHUM, Idaho - Sun Valley Co., the operator of the Sun Valley ski area and the major hotel operator, has ruffled feathers among other hoteliers with its special pitch.

KETCHUM, Idaho - Sun Valley Co., the operator of the Sun Valley ski area and the major hotel operator, has ruffled feathers among other hoteliers with its special pitch.

Through March 25, people who book rooms at a cost of at least $189 per night for two will get a lift ticket as well. The room rates have been discounted from $299 to $219 and the offer of a free ticket is something normally dangled during early and late seasons.

Some hoteliers, reports the Idaho Mountain Express , are miffed, because they cannot similarly offer free tickets unless they buy them. The ski company countered that the lift ticket isn't really free, but rather part of the bigger package.


Mayor defends real estate

TELLURIDE, Colo. - It's a tradition in Telluride for the mayor to deliver a state-of-the-town address in January. This year, Mayor Stu Fraser used the occasion to make a spirited defense of the real estate and second-home segments of the economy.

"Without all of us, our school system would not be as vital, our affordable housing not as important, our economy not as varied, our nonprofits not as diverse and our ski area not as dynamic," Fraser said.

"Each one of us plays into the future of our community. Some who want town to be the same as in the '70s are frustrated because the town has grown up around them and in some cases in spite of them.

"Those who arrived later see Telluride as the answer to their dreams and aspirations. They are no different than those who arrived earlier. Telluride is an exceptional community. We are all fortunate to have shared time here..."

Fraser also said that Telluride has an opportunity to become a "new and unique destination in the otherwise cookie-cutter world of mountain resorts."

He also reiterated the desire for Telluride to step up efforts to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy.


Knuckleheads most likely to find trouble

EAGLE, Colo. - The New York Times last week had a piece entitled Seeing Old Age as a Never-Ending Adventure.

The story told about Tom Lackey, 89, who lost his wife 10 years ago, and since then has "walked" on the wings of flying airplanes many times. It told about Ilse Telesmanich, 90, who sprained her ankle while hiking in South Africa last summer. And it told about Charles Smith, 89, who was heading for the South Pole a few years ago when a woman got off the plane at base camp and started bragging about being 80. But, she was soon informed, there were three in the group older than she was.

These stories may remind you a little bit of ski towns, with their robust but aging populations. In fact, a sheriff's deputy in Eagle County, which is where Vail and Beaver Creek are located, was interviewed for the story.

Sgt. Bob Silva told the newspaper that older people, contrary to what you might think, are safer in these adventurous, high-exertion activities. "It's still the same knuckleheads getting in trouble or coming unprepared: young people, mostly," he said.


Uphillers & downhillers sparring

KETCHUM, Idaho - Those going uphill and downhill on the ski runs of Sun Valley's Bald Mountain have been flinging words back and forth - in the columns of the local newspaper.

"Hiking during operating hours is a dangerous activity, even on the sides of the runs," wrote one person in the classifieds section of the Idaho Mountain Express . "If you really want a thrill, go walk in the middle of the highway."

And then this, from an uphill hiker: "If a person hiking up Baldy gets in your way, then the snow guns and ski lift towers and even pine trees must really drive you nuts..."

The words parallel those in Colorado and elsewhere, where people in the late 1990s increasingly began hiking up the ski runs instead of Stairmasters. In some cases, the Forest Service has stepped in to specify rules for where and when hikers are allowed.

Hikers are permitted at Sun Valley, although Forest Service winter sports specialist Joe Miczulski said the unspoken agreement limits uphillers to trekking in mornings and on the sides of runs. But now, uphillers have moved to the middle of the day and middle of runs.

"There seems to be a sense of entitlement - I can go anywhere I want on public land," he told the Express .


Aspen plays reality myth

ASPEN, Colo. - There has been much squawking of late about a so-called reality television show that purports to show what Aspen is really like. Ain't even close, say Aspen locals.

But yet the city, by the nature of its business, sort of plays to the same myth. Consider where the city council has decided to spend special seed money for special events. A new event, called Fall in Love in Aspen, is to get $10,000. The event, explains the Aspen Times , will target singles in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who will visit during a three-day event in October with the goal of meeting mates.

Then there's Aspen Fashion Week, an existing event, which will include slopeside runway events, fashion shows, and parties.

And then there will be Outside in Aspen, scheduled for mid-June, which intends to draw weekend warriors to compete in rafting, rock-climbing and other outdoor events. The event sounds like it is intended to compete with Vail's much bigger Teva Mountain Games - itself partly a response to Aspen's X Games.

Behind the green curtain, the reality of Aspen is a lot of eight to five, just like everyplace else, and a lot of questions about next month's mortgage payment.


House sells for $8.25 million

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - A 6,565-square-foot house has sold in a subdivision located adjacent to the Breckenridge Ski Area for $8.25 million. That far and away is the most money ever paid for a house in Summit County, breaking the previous record of $5.6 million.

The home reports the Summit Daily News , has seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms, and four fireplaces - plus three laundry rooms. As well, the home has a 2,000 square-foot heated patio.

Realty agents tell the newspaper that sales have picked up in recent months - and that transactions in the market segment for $2 million-plus homes actually accelerated from 2008. Dan Corwin, spokesman for Breckenridge Associates Real Estate, said a few homes sold for 65 to 70 per cent of their original asking price. Many sold for 88 to 90 per cent. A few, he said, got the asking price - and possibly even more.

In neighbouring Eagle County, prices have dropped - but some neighbourhoods still remain extremely expensive. Such is the case at Bachelor Gulch, a part of Beaver Creek, where the average sales price in November was $6.35 million.


Machine guns once kept miners at bay

TELLURIDE, Colo. - The above-timberline country of Colorado has at least two spots commemorating modern warfare. Between Vail and Copper Mountain is a ridge called Machine Gun Hill, a reflection that 10 th Mountain Division soldiers trained nearby at Camp Hale from 1942 to 1944.

But machine guns were also used early in the 20 th century in the labour wars that afflicted Telluride and many other mining towns. A nest for militia with machine guns was erected at 13,365 feet in elevation at a site overlooking Imogene Pass, to control who crossed it. This is between Ouray and Telluride, both of them former mining towns.

Striking miners had escorted replacement workers across the pass and away from Telluride. Then, after martial law had been declared and the Colorado National Guard arrived to aid mine owners, the striking miners had been ordered out of the area.

Andrew Guilliford, a professor of Southwest Studies and History at Fort Lewis College, explains that the fort - called Peabody, to honour the governor, who was friendly to the mine owners - was built between November 1903 and February 1904.

Writing in the Telluride Watch , Guilliford explains that workers were striking for better conditions.

"As more miners and mill workers died from cave-ins, explosions from dangerous gases, and silicosis in their lungs, they demanded better working conditions and something we take for granted: the eight-hour workday," he says.

The fort was small, made of wood, and today about 60 per cent of it remains, the names of soldiers stationed there in 1904 carved into the wood.

Everyone from 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern to Pulitzer Prize-winning J. Anthony Lucas have written about the labour wars that wracked the West, but undoubtedly the best account of Telluride's unique troubles is "The Corpse at Boomerang Road" by Maryjoy Martin. That book is now under option for a major motion picture.

Guilliford agrees with Martin that the site should be commemorated, to remind people of the injustices committed on behalf of mine owners.

Hostilities lingered even after the labour war ended. Several years later, there were massive avalanches in the San Juan Mountains, killing scores of miners. The then-head of the National Guard declared that the avalanches were divine retribution.


First baby also first Chassidic Jew

JACKSON, Wyo. - The first baby of the year in Teton County was the first child ever born to a Chassidic Jewish couple in Wyoming, as best could be determined.

As Chassidic Jews, the men wear beards and yarmulkes, and the women dress conservatively in dresses and skirts. When the baby was born, her parents were observing the Sabbath, which starts on Friday night and lasts through Saturday. During that time, lights were not turned on or off. Visitors were banned. And the mother didn't adjust her electric bed, nor did the father travel between their home and the hospital. All stayed as it was, explains the Jackson Hole News & Guide .


Soft stance against idling

PARK CITY, Utah - The Park City council has adopted a resolution that seeks to discourage idling of cars and trucks.

The resolution levies no penalties for those who do idle their vehicles, but 15 signs will be erected announcing the wishes of the council. Particularly at issue are places where people congregate, such as the downtown district. The resolution also acknowledges that idling is sometimes warranted, including times when temperatures drop below 32 degrees or above 48 degrees.

The Park Record reports that the council may later adopt penalties for idling, as Aspen, Colo., Ketchum, Idaho, and Revelstoke, B.C., have done.



Sun Valley goes dark

SUN VALLEY, Idaho - For years, Idaho Power had been warning that Sun Valley, Ketchum and other towns in the Wood River Valley were at risk of failing power. Late on Christmas Eve, it happened.

Very little was unaffected. Some people thought to flee, but the gas station pumps weren't working. Similarly, tap water was unavailable in places, because of the lack of pumping. Homes that were electrified rapidly got cold. Albertsons, the community's largest grocery store, opened the door to the cold to prevent frozen items from warming.

Sometime the next day, the electricity returned to portions, but not soon enough for the ski lifts at Bald and Dollar mountains to begin operations. At Sun Valley Resort, guests were slipped notes under their doors during the night to advise them that staying in bed was the best recourse for the time being. At some point, though, gas grills used in the summer were fired up to heat coffee and cook a make-shift buffet.

There were a few exceptions. The local hospital has a backup generator able to sustain operations for up to two weeks. And one bar in Ketchum had anticipated just such an occurrence with its own backup generator, which kept on the lights and doubled the business. Not so down valley in Hailey, where actor and bar owner Bruce Willis and his band were cutoff in mid-song by the loss of electricity.

The Idaho Mountain Express, after reporting all this, observed that local officials had failed to use new technology, the Internet, which remained accessible to people with smartphones, in informing people where they could get warm if temperatures in homes and lodges continued to drop, and where to get gasoline if they needed to leave, and where to get water or food.

The outage was caused by a combination of cold, iced power lines, and high demand.


Eagle rejects big box, again

EAGLE, Colo. - Voters in Eagle last week again shook their collective finger at big-box stores and franchise developments. What happens next in this town 30 miles west of Vail is anybody's guess.

By a 53 to 47 per cent margin, the town's citizenry rejected a massive real estate development that would have included 581 homes and 552,000 square feet of commercial space. The commercial complex would have been anchored by a Target store.

Eagle, population 6,400 people, has grown rapidly in the last decade. Out along the interstate, it's fast-food city. Across the river and beyond the original town are new subdivisions, a mix of New Urbanist clusters and golf course-anchored mini-mansions.

What the town doesn't have is revenue commensurate with its population growth. Much of the traffic through the town goes to the Costco in a neighbouring town. In Eagle, as in most Colorado towns, taxes on retail sales pay for such things as parks, bike paths, and open space acquisition.

Ironically, Eagle voters in 2005 rejected a project that would have accommodated the Costco.

While some people insist they want nothing to change, even the most ardent foes concede something will eventually be developed. Interviews in the Vail Daily and elsewhere suggest that a pared-down project might succeed.

But the fundamental issue for Eagle is how it can make money without being part of corporate America. A few places have succeeded, but they're almost entirely at the base of ski mountains. And, if you examine who owns what, there's plenty of corporate America in places like Aspen, Vail, and Telluride.