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Mountain News: Real estate stabilizes, below 2001 prices

JACKSON, Wyo. - Number-crunching economic analyst Jonathan Schechter finds that real estate prices in Jackson Hole have bottomed out at prices below those of 2001. "...

JACKSON, Wyo. - Number-crunching economic analyst Jonathan Schechter finds that real estate prices in Jackson Hole have bottomed out at prices below those of 2001.

"... the crash has been so great that, corrected for information, it wiped out nine years' worth of gains in mean prices," he writes in the Jackson Hole News & Guide .

Studying numbers provided by ReMax, the realty firm, Schechter found that mean prices in Teton County, Wyo., have stabilized at 38 per cent below peak. West of the Teton Range, in Teton County, Idaho, prices are down 28 per cent from their peak.

Similar to the observations of real-estate agents in several resort valleys of the West, he finds that sales bottomed out late last year and since then have been slowly rebounding. But, at the current rates, it won't be until sometime in 2011 that sales volume attains the same level as in 2002.


Aspen business so-so

ASPEN, Colo. - Last year, ski season in Aspen ended economically in a thud. March seemed like April.

Although a resurgence predicted for late in the ski season this year failed to materialize, at least the downward spiral ended.

And there are expectations of improvements, reports the Aspen Times . The newspaper notes a survey by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. Of respondents, 45 per cent expected to improve this year, compared to 15 per cent at the same time last year.

William Small of Frias Commercial Real Estate concluded that the worst is behind Aspen in terms of both residential and commercial real estate. But Kurt Adam, president of Community Banks of Colorado, said he doesn't expect 2010 to be anything but flat.

Meanwhile, the Aspen Skiing Co. reports that it expected a flat winter this year, but results were actually a little bit better. David Perry, the company's senior vice president, described the results as a "slight improvement and stabilization."

"We're not celebrating by any stretch of the imagination," he told The Aspen Times.

Visits increased slightly, business in ski school was stronger and travelers' wallets altogether "have loosened up," he said.

He also said that the company's special marketing programs "appear to have paid off." Attendance at World Cup ski races was the best in years, and attendance at the Winter X Games set a record.


Grandma: keep your distance

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. - Millie Chang, 77 and a grandmother, has skied at Mammoth Mountain for the last seven years. In early March, she was struck by an out-of-control snowboarder who broke both her ankles.

The snowboarder did not try to flee. Indeed, he stuck around and apologized repeatedly. And, in a letter published in the Sheet, she notes his contrition.

"However," she adds, "I think that it is important for me to tell how this careless run over the back of my skis has impacted my life. I am now confined to a wheel-chair until the ankle bones heal in six weeks.

"In your snowboarding future, remember that the person in front always has the right of way and that you must avoid any possible contact with that person. Keep your distance and stay under control."


Vail Resorts sees health benefits

BRECKENIRDGE, Colo. - Taking a measured view of the new national health care legislation, Vail Resorts has concluded that it's good for the company - and should be good for tourism-based communities with seasonal economies.

In an essay printed in the Summit Daily News , company chief executive Rob Katz notes that the new law allows young adults to remain on the health care plans of their parents until they are 26. That, he notes, covers a large portion of the entry-level seasonal population.

But the plan also gives seasonal workers affordable options to off-season coverage beyond expensive COBRA coverage.

And it also mandates people carry coverage year round. "This latter point eliminates the incentive for employees to squeeze all their medical costs into one season," he notes.

"The new health care laws, while imperfect, will help provide affordable coverage options to Colorado's seasonal workforce, who represents the lifeblood of a key industry in our state."


New talk of train to Vail area

AVON, Colo. - In 1997, Union Pacific announced they had stopped running trains from Glenwood Springs, past Beaver Creek and Vail and over the Continental Divide at Tennessee Pass. It's a steep route and the railroad figured it could move freight across the Rocky Mountains more cheaply by sending trains - about 20 daily now - through the Moffat Tunnel, near Winter Park.

Implications were obvious: What if locals could use this rail route? Union Pacific hasn't formally abandoned the rail, but local eyes have continued to covet the rail.

The Vail Daily reports a new spurt of interest led by Vince Cook, a resident of Beaver Creek who had careers with both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and IBM, the corporation.

Working with other former executives, he has been pounding the pavement to sell a vision of a local train service, with 11 stations between Dotsero and Minturn, and possibly an extension across the Continental Divide to Leadville.

In turn, more housing would be built up along the train tracks, near the stations.

A local transportation agency in Eagle County, called ECO Transit, has had the same idea, but with a vision of implementing it in about 2030, by which time Interstate 70 will get intolerably congested.

But, as is always the case, the question remains of where the money will come from for this train service, either sooner or later. Meanwhile, ridership on the buses that connect the Eagle Valley and Vail has dropped off by about 40 per cent.


Colorado lynx trots north of Banff

SILVERTON, Colo. - Wildlife researchers were surprised to learn recently that a male Canada lynx that had spent several years in Colorado's San Juan Mountains had been found in a trap in Alberta, north of Banff National Park.

The lynx was among 218 that had been trapped in Canada and Alaska and then released in Colorado from 1999 through 2007. This particular lynx was caught in 2003 near Kamloops, B.C.

Released near Creede, Colo., it wandered farther into the San Juan Mountains and mated with the same female at least two successive years, in 2005 and 2006, producing six kittens. Biologists knew this because they had installed a radio-transmitting collar around the lynx's neck before it was released in Colorado.

Then, in April 2007, the radio collar unit stopped transmitting signals. After that, it's anybody's guess where it went - until a trapper in Alberta found the lynx in his trap. This was near Nordegg, north of Banff National Park.

Tanya Schenck, the lead lynx researcher for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, told the Telluride Watch that while lynx have wandered widely, none have gone so far as this one. Why it left can only be conjectured. She told the newspaper she wonders whether the same thing that caused lynx in Colorado to apparently stop having kittens for a couple of years caused the lynx to begin trotting northward.

The agency's website shows that lynx have trotted in all directions after being released in Colorado, even if most have stayed relatively close by in the San Juan Mountains. Some have gone even to Nebraska and Kansas.


Aspen die-off tapering off

DURANGO, Colo. - The die-off of aspen trees that began splotching giant swaths of forests in the San Juan Mountains four or five years ago seems to be slowing.

While mortality among aspen trees has always occurred, in 2006 foresters noted large swaths of aspen forests dying. By 2008, they were calling attention to the phenomenon, even giving it a name: sudden aspen decline, or SAD. The die-off was most pronounced in the San Juan Mountains, but evident elsewhere in Colorado and the West.

Now, all this is tapering off. "I think we've seen the worst of it," said Mark Krabath, supervisory forester with the San Juan Public Lands.

Scientists at the time said the massive die-offs confounded them. Now, they point to a correlation with the severe drought of the early 21 st century, possibly combined with warmer temperatures. That weakened the aspen trees, making them more vulnerable to a variety of insects and diseases.

Land managers have concluded that aspen need adverse conditions such as fire to thrive, reports the Durango Telegraph . But Ryan Bidwell, director of Colorado Wild, warns against public land agencies trying to log aspen forests or set prescribed burns.

Too often, he says, well-intentioned forest management techniques produce unintended consequences.


Tall fence reduces roadkill

CARBONDALE, Colo. - An eight-foot-high fence erected along the highway between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale has dramatically reduced road kill and collisions this winter.

The Aspen Times reports that only one elk has been killed since the four-mile segment of fence was completed, compared to 10 to 15 per winter previously.


Whatchamacallit keeps people busy

WINTER PARK, Colo. - People sure do get attached to names. Consider two cases from the Winter Park area.

In one case, the Grand County Road & Bridge Department took down the signs in Winter Park Highlands, Sunset Ridge and other semi-rural developments, such as dominate that part of the country.

Those roads had been given names such as Lions Lane and Fox Trail and... well, you get the drift. The problem is that it's hard to keep the cutesy names straight. For example, Grand County has 22 roads that start with the word "elk." Instead, the county installed a numeric system, such as Country Road 85 and Country Road 856.

People, at least some, took great umbrage. "People have a feeling of ownership of the street names in their neighbourhoods," explained Lurline Underbrink Curran, the county manager.

The Solomon-like justice rendered by the county commissioners allows homeowners' associates to post their signs, but only below the numeric designation. Non-compliant wooden signs can be posted off the right-of-way.

Also drawing comment in pages of the Sky-High News during recent weeks was the name of a crossing of the Continental Divide just east of Winter Park. At least by white people, it was first called Rollins Pass, after John Quincy Adams Rollins, the road builder who blasted enough rocks to make it passable to horse-drawn wagons.

But then, railroad tracks followed for about 23 years, and during that time a station at the summit operated. It was called Corona. Railroads probably began calling it Corona Pass, and a Forest Service sign that still exists in Winter Park further spread the colloquialism. Further, say some with undeniable truth, Corona is altogether a more poetic name than Rollins.

Corona has various meanings, but in this case probably refers to the outermost part of the sun's atmosphere. The elevation of the pass is 11,660 feet.

The Sky-Hi Daily News insists it will use Corona Pass, in deference to dominant local use, even if the U.S. Board of Geographic Names (and hence most maps) calls it Rollins Pass. Jean Miller, a local resident and former teacher, suggests a compromise of sorts: "Rollins Pass (Corona)."