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Mountain News: Telluride holds firm on new energy code

TELLURIDE, Colo. - Telluride in the last decade has twice taken very ambitious vows, pledging to reduce its carbon footprint as a community.

TELLURIDE, Colo. - Telluride in the last decade has twice taken very ambitious vows, pledging to reduce its carbon footprint as a community. Now, it's groping through the hard work of concrete action that will be necessary if the community has any hope, however faint, of achieving those great ambitions.

The first vow came circa 2005, with a sign-on to the Mayors' Agreement on Climate Change. That agreement specifies that communities will work to reduce their carbon emissions seven per cent below 1990 levels - by 2012. With the possible exception of Seattle and perhaps several others, it now appears that few of the more than 1,000 towns and cities that signed on will achieve that target .

Then, in 2009, Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser announced a goal of becoming carbon neutral in its electrical supply by 2020. He said improving energy efficiency was an important first step.

But the devil is in the details. After a half-dozen public meetings in the last year, the council reviewed a proposal to substantially tighten the community energy code. Following a model first created in Aspen a decade ago and then copied with revisions in the Eagle/Vail, Crested Butte and other areas, it creates a penalty for what is considered profligate energy use, such as for big houses, snowmelt systems, and outdoor tubs.

The Telluride Watch reports angry denunciations at a recent meeting. "You're driving your building costs up very substantially," said a builder. "Let's just make it so your average millionaire can't even build a house here," he said.

A hot tub vendor advocated the banning of heated sidewalks instead, which he said would achieve the same level of reductions.

A minority of council members wanted to delay action, to allow additional time for discussion with builders.

But the majority of council members voted to proceed immediately in adopting the energy/green building code. They also scrapped some exemptions that had been recommended.

"If Telluride really wants to reduce its carbon footprint like it says it does, it's time to stop making excuses and to begin reining in its energy use - even if it means higher costs or less convenience," said the Watch in summarizing the majority opinion.


Whitefish doing fine

WHITEFISH, Mont. - Once known as Big Mountain, the Whitefish Mountain Resort had another big year last winter. At 122,000 skier days, it's no rival to a Whistler or Breckenridge. But financially, it was a hit, reports the chief executive, Dan Graves.

Graves told the Whitefish Pilot that the ski area made money for the third straight year and cut its $8 million debt in half.

How can this be? Hasn't this been the Great Recession?

Graves, who became chief executive in 2007, said that Whitefish Mountain had become too reliant on real-estate sales. In fact, the resort hasn't sold a unit since December 2007.

"Real estate was such a key component within the ski industry that I think people forgot their way," he said. "At some point, you have to get back to your resort operations."

Well, that certainly sounds good now - especially since real estate has become such a clunker.

But how does he make resort operations pay? It seems to be by keeping expenses down. He shuns the expense of a high-speed quad. At $5.5 million, that would take 137,000 skier visits to pay for. Instead, he's going to buy a used fixed-grip lift.

Graves contends the name change, aligning the resort with the town, has also yielded more visitors.


Too much risk for X Games?

ASPEN, Colo. - "Improved safety" inevitably gets cited as the justification for making airports bigger and their runways longer. That's true - but most of the time the improved safety also allows bigger airplanes to use the airport. In other words, safety is really about money.

But in Aspen, that traditional argument was recently turned on its head. The Aspen Times reports a bevy of local residents say extending the runway 1,000 feet would increase the threat, in case of a crash, of people at the base of the Buttermilk ski area. Crowds of up to 10,000 people assemble there during the X Games.

Given that the X Games are all about risk-taking, maybe that's not the best example. Still, local developer and rancher John McBride warned that a crash at Buttermilk on a Saturday afternoon in the winter "could be the worst catastrophe in the history of Aspen."

Bill Tomcich, executive director of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a lodging reservations service, sees the runway extension as crucial in improving the economics of airline travel - and hence making Aspen more affordable as a destination.

Because of the airport's elevation, just shy of 8,000 feet, the air is thinner. Airplanes, particularly in summer, must leave seats empty, to avoid being so heavy they cannot gain loft in the thin air. This crimps long-distance non-stop jet travel between Aspen and such far-flung destinations as Atlanta. A jet from Aspen must stop in Denver on its way to Chicago.

Jim Elwood, the director of aviation at the airport, refuted insinuations that the airport would attempt to get bigger jets if the runway is extended. The airport's existing limits on wingspans and weight both preclude larger aircraft, he said.


Bigger, better emerges

VAIL, Colo. - In ski towns, as across America, buildings from the 1970s now seem quaintly dated. Such was the case in Vail, where a retail and housing complex called Crossroads Mall was razed two years ago.

In its place has come Solaris. It's bigger, and at more than 100 feet, the tallest building in Vail. It's also expensive. Two years ago, during the height of the real estate boom, the project set what appeared to be a benchmark for resort real estate prices at more than $3,000 per square foot, surpassing anything in Aspen, Park City or Jackson Hole by a considerable margin.

Solaris will be coming on line in coming months, revealing both old and new. The movie theatre will simply replace what was there before, but the new complex will also have a bowling alley, a first for Vail.

Adopting a now familiar theme in winter resorts, the new complex will also have an outdoor skating rink that will double, with modifications, for other purposes, particularly concerts. Parking will all be underground.


Aspen remains pricey

ASPEN, Colo. - Another bankruptcy has made the news in Aspen, although it remains a very expensive sort of place.

The owner of a trio of parcels in downtown has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. At the height of the real estate book, the parcels had been advertised for $41.5 million. The price now is $28 million.

It was the third time since March that a landlord in downtown Aspen has filed for bankruptcy, notes The Aspen Times, although in one case the judge rejected the petition.

But elsewhere comes news that a spec home near Aspen completed last year has sold for $24.5 million. The house sits on about nine acres and has 13,000 square feet.

And then there are the 19 units of affordable housing that the local school district expects to complete by Sept. 1 - after the school year has already started. The school officials have budgeted $19,000 to put up teachers and in some cases their families at a local hotel for a month.


Pesticide ban likely extended

REVELSTOKE, B.C. - Municipal councillors in Revelstoke will likely expand an existing ban on cosmetic pesticides in public parks and fields to include private properties.

Cosmetic pesticides are chemical or biological substances used to destroy insects, plants, and fungi to enhance the appearance of a lawn or garden, according to the Canadian Lung Associate website.

The Revelstoke Times Review reports controversy about how deep and pervasive the ban should be. Mayor David Raven said people were "polarized very, very significantly" on the issue. "Unfortunately, it's not clean science in some cases," he said.

An advisory environmental committee wants the existing ban on parks and playing fields extended to include private properties. But members note that older people, who grew up with the idea of "better living through chemicals," will more likely resist the ban.


Geothermal controversial

GUNNISON, Colo. - Interest continues in developing high underground heat in the mountains of Colorado to produce electricity.

The Crested Butte News reports the potential for leasing 9,000 acres of federal government lands near Tomichi Dome, between the Monarch and Crested Butte ski areas. That underground heat is already manifested in a surface expression called the Waunita Hot Springs.

Some of the same lands had been leased to Mobile Oil Corp. in 1974, but the leases lapsed in 1991 with nothing ever having come of it. Now, there is new interest in geothermal heat, as it has the potential to provide round-the-clock electrical production, unlike wind and solar.

Renewable energy is not without its controversies, however. At issue in the Gunnison-area will be whether geothermal development will impact long-held water rights and the Gunnison sage grouse, a species considered for protection under the federal government's Endangered Species Act.


Wild West perpetuated

JACKSON, Wyo. - Every summer for the last 54 years, actors have taken to the antler-festooned town square in Jackson for some Old West shoot-em-up. This year the tradition continues with skits that only the most naïve could confuse with history.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide explains that the skit has two protagonists, Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill, along with a snake-oil sarsaparilla salesman and a Sioux maiden named Yellow Feather.

The play is based roughly on Buffalo Bill's Old West Show, which toured cities and even foreign countries for several decades. Like that one, the main thing you need to know about this show is that there is plenty of shooting - some 55 bangs in all, notes the News & Guide.


Thin air tough

VAIL, Colo. - Unlike many ailments, breathing difficulties from lack of oxygen don't necessarily exempt the young and stouter individuals. Such is the case of high-altitude pulmonary edema, in which the lungs of people ascending in elevation fill with fluid, in effect drowning the person. That affliction disabled a would-be climber of 14,005-foot Mount of the Holy Cross. The Vail Daily reports the 27-year-old climber was removed by helicopter from his camping spot at a lake located at about 11,500 feet in elevation, near the bottom of the snow-filled couloirs and gullies that give the mountain its name.


Too many softball players

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - City officials in Steamboat Springs were planning to extend their contract with Triple Crown Sports, which has put on softball and baseball tournaments since 1982. The new contract would make Steamboat a host until 2020, but at a reduced level. Instead, Triple Crown will be staging more events at such places as Park City, Utah, and Lake Tahoe, Calif.

The softball tournament was seen by many in Steamboat as a mixed blessing. While providing a stronger summer economy, the softball players were noisy and created crowded streets, sidewalks and restaurants.

To swing the deal, reports the Steamboat Pilot, Steamboat pays Triple Crown $65,000 to $80,000 per year and promises to invest $75,000 per year in maintenance and upgrade of the softball fields.