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Mountain News: Telluride real estate sales way down

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Expectations continue in Telluride of a hard winter, with real estate development and sales shuddering to a near stop and tourism acting like it has a tummy ache. Bookings are down 25 per cent from last winter, a stellar season.

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Expectations continue in Telluride of a hard winter, with real estate development and sales shuddering to a near stop and tourism acting like it has a tummy ache.

Bookings are down 25 per cent from last winter, a stellar season. The more apt comparison, says The Telluride Watch, is the 10 to 12 per cent drop of the longer-term average.

The bleak prospects have some lodges cutting rates, 10 per cent at one lodge and another willing to discount by 30 per cent. Such discounts do seem to be having some effect, says Scott McQuade, chief executive officer of the Telluride Tourism Board. “When people do call, it’s much easier to close the deals and get them to come here,” he said.

In common with other ski areas, Telluride has allocated extra money to advertising its charms to Phoenix, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, cities within a day’s drive or less.

The real estate market, which has become the dominant economic driver since the early 1990s, is a tougher nut to crack. Real estate sales were down 51 per cent for the year through October, as measured by dollar volume.

Possibly more severe yet is the drop in construction. “Nobody is walking in the door for a construction loan,” said Tim Cannon, president of the Bank of Telluride.

Bankers tell the newspaper that they have tightened their lending criteria. So far, however, none has foreclosed on any properties. Andrew Karow, president of the local Alpine Bank, said he’s optimistic that the ski resorts of Colorado’s Western Slope will be more resilient than other areas. “We’ll experience far fewer foreclosures than Denver, Las Vegas or Phoenix.”

But conditions may worsen. “We will get to the point, maybe a year out, when a lot of projects are underwater,” said Tricia Maxon, president of Community Bank. “It’s happening in other places, where the value of the property is less than the amount of the loan. Will that happen here? I think that’s probable.”

Already, many in the real-estate trades are scouting other jobs. Not many are to be had.

The lesson here, says Seth Cagin, publisher of The Watch, is that the aphorism about high-end resort towns being recession proof has been proven wrong.


Body count rising

JACKSON, Wyo. – The body counts from the shriveled economy continue in resort-anchored mountain valleys.

In Jackson Hole, architect John Carney reports cutting a quarter of his workforce. “It’s been brutal. We went from being as busy as I’ve ever been… to losing six major projects,” he told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

Another major firm, Hawtin Jorgensen Architects, reported no layoffs — yet. But this economic downturn seems to cut wider and deeper than others in the past 40 years, says co-owner Bruce Hawtin. “Many of our clients come from out of state, and if things aren’t going well there, then they won’t go well here.”

The upside of the downside is that agencies that sometimes have a hard time finding warm bodies for service-sector jobs are having no problems this year. The local bus agency, called START, had to turn away applicants, for a change, a familiar story in ski towns this winter.

Job listings are another barometer of the times. A year ago the newspaper had 121 individual classified ads seeking employees. Last week, there were only 40.


Sundance Festival boycott discussed

PARK CITY, Utah – There is chatter about a potential boycott of Park City’s ski areas and perhaps the Sundance Film Festival during January. So what has Park City done lately to offend anybody?

Call it guilt by association — something that Aspen and other Colorado ski areas know something about as the result of a constitutional amendment Colorado voters adopted in 1992. Called Amendment 2, the provision would have effectively prevented any laws banning discrimination against gays.

Soon, there was a national call for a boycott. The singer Barbra Streisand, who commonly vacationed in Aspen, announced she would not perform in Colorado. There was talk of canceling conventions. The boycott, however, seemed to fizzle out of the blocks. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the amendment unconstitutional.

In fact, voters in Aspen and most other ski towns had rejected the amendment by wide margins. What’s more, the state measure had been provoked by laws previously passed by Aspen, Denver, and the college town of Boulder that specifically made it illegal to discriminate against gays.

The current heartburn stems from the ban on legalization of gay marriages adopted by California voters in November. A major supporter of that measure was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a.k.a. the Mormons. The church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, 30 miles from Park City.

Park City doesn’t know how to measure the impact of a boycott, reports The Park Record, although the Sundance Film Festival, a lucrative event for hoteliers and restaurateurs, has a “significant gay presence.”

Mayor Dana Williams clearly smells an injustice. “It’s too bad that we could potentially take the run of an issue we didn’t participate in,” he told the newspaper.

Park City, from its inception as a silver-mining camp, has been a minority in a state where even coffee is sometimes not served, because it is verboten in the Mormon faith. Typically, it votes contrary to the state-wide votes — as does, ironically, Salt Lake City.

If the boycott does materialize, there is a circular irony. After all, the largest throngs at Sundance come from California, where the disputed vote was conducted.


Baldy needs a toupee of snow

KETCHUM, Idaho – It was a quiet Thanksgiving on the Sun Valley ski area’s Bald Mountain, as there was too little snow to open. This is not all that unusual, notes the Idaho Mountain Express, as the ski area has been open by Thanksgiving only half of the last 14 years.


This Bud’s for Aspen

ASPEN, Colo. – If you were drawing lines between alcoholic beverages and ski towns, Budweiser and Aspen probably wouldn’t be your first pairing. But Anheuser-Busch, which makes Bud, is one of the biggest event sponsors at Aspen, which is glad to have it.

Given the tougher economy, sponsorships are becoming more difficult to secure for events, observes The Aspen Times.

“In general, yes, I think, inevitably, people are going to look under every rock to save any money they can,” said John Rigney, the Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president for sales and events. “It’s going to be a tough go until the economy turns.”

The newspaper notes that Jeep King of the Mountain Series ended this year after 16 years, owing to the loss of its title sponsor. An endurance race at nearby Glenwood Springs called 24 Hours of Sunlight nearly folded because of sponsorship problems. And Chevrolet recently walked away from a partnership with the U.S. Ski Team after 14 years.


Olympic aspirations continue

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – Talk continues about whether Denver might have a shot at the 2018 or even the 2022 Olympics.

The city is scheduled to host an international sports conference called SportAccord next summer. Cities hosting that conference have, in the past, gone on to host the Olympics, sources tell the Summit Daily News.

“If you looked at a list of the cities that have hosted this event, it’s almost like a precursor to having the Olympics,” said Sharon Russell, director of the Summit Chamber of Commerce.

What could Summit County’s role be in the Olympics? Summit County, which is mostly 9,000 feet and above, is higher than the elevational limits imposed by the International Ski Federation for Nordic events.

Also doubtful are the downhill and giant-slalom events, because of limitations of the county’s four ski areas. But slalom races, as well as short-course contests like freestyle, half-pipe and mogul skiing, could conceivably be held at venues in Summit County. Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Keystone are all located within the county.

The conventional wisdom is that if Chicago gets the 2016 Summer Olympics, as is hoped, then Denver and Colorado are out until at least 2022.


Gates can’t keep banks away

BIG SKY, Mont. –The Yellowstone Club, founded in 1999, soon became a metaphor for high-end exclusivity in the mountain valleys of the West. The ski trails were immaculate and private. Homes cost up to $20 million. Members and their guests flew into nearby Bozeman, about an hour away, on private jets.

Now, in the wake of the club’s bankruptcy filing in November, the Yellowstone Club is becoming a different metaphor, observes the New York Times, proving that even big gates can’t keep out broader economic forces.

“The sense of refuge was an illusion,” says the newspaper’s Kirk Johnson. “The global financial crises have stormed even these gilded confines.”

Johnson describes the Yellowstone Club as a “cloistered and cosseted mountain retreat,” words similar to those he used to describe Aspen several years ago. But while Aspen has plenty of billionaires, Yellowstone has Bill and Melinda Gates and a passel of others with pockets deep enough for just a few hundred people to have their own private preserve of 13,500 acres of hitherto pristine land.

But the causes of the Yellowstone Club’s bankruptcy are more complex than just a battering economy. There’s also the divorce of Yellowstone Club founder Tim Blixseth, and his wife, Edna. She gained control of the club, then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing the club’s inability to restructure $399 million in debt.

A loan of $20 million will keep the club running until next April. A bankruptcy court in Montana chose a plan by Sam Byrne’s Boston-based hedge fund, CrossHarbor Capital Partners. Credit Suisse, with a greater stake in the resort, $311 million, had wanted the club closed and its assets sold off as quickly as possible.

Laura Bell, the editor of the Big Sky Weekly, said that Tim Blixseth tried to do too much too soon. Then, the Blixseths were sued by former Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, who claimed to have been wronged. Earlier in the year, the lawsuit was settled in his favour.

People who buy into the Yellowstone Club were promised privacy, says Bell, and believed they were getting it. Now, that privacy has been compromised. “The owners’ dirty laundry is getting aired, and they are not happy about it,” Bell told Mountain Town News.

The Times wondered how locals in nearby Bozeman had reacted to the bankruptcy. Comments revealed ambivalence. “It’s pretty grotesque and ridiculous, but at the same time, a lot of people depend on going up there for jobs,” said Greg Thomas, a 31-year-old construction worker.

Bill Hopkins, who is 51 and works in Yellowstone National Park, said he can “kind of gloat on one hand, but I’m not really happy about it.” The land is developed, and so the resort should at least be operational, he explained.


Aspen’s emissions drop

ASPEN, Colo. – For the third year running, Aspen’s city government has made good on its vow to reduce its responsibility for emissions of greenhouse gases.

The reduction so far is 23.7 per cent, of which 8.8 per cent occurred in the last year. All the efforts are being measured against a 2004-2005 inventory.

The larger part of the most recent cutback resulted from less coal and natural gas being burned to produce electricity, city officials tell The Aspen Times. The city government gets electricity from two utilities, Holy Cross Energy and the city’s own utility department. Both have been buying more wind-generated electricity.

City employees are flying less often, and less natural gas is being used to heat buildings. As well, energy-saving improvements were made to the Aspen Recreation Center and solar panels have been added to a water treatment plant, reducing the need for coal-fired electricity.

The recorded reductions are for city operations, but not for the broader community. Through various forums, including the Mayors’ Agreement on Climate Change and the Canary Initiative, Aspen has vowed dramatic reductions for the community overall.


Keeping uphillers between the lines

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – In the 1990s, gyms got StairMasters. About the same time, ski areas started becoming giant outdoor StairMasters, as those seeking aerobic fitness began trekking up the ski slopes at first light and many times at night, under the moon and stars.

For the most part, ski areas tolerate the uphillers, as long as they don’t get in the way. Those slapping on a set of skins as a morning ritual have sometimes included ski area employees, including former Crested Butte manager John Norton.

But the rough edges of such relations at Breckenridge were such that some 60 people showed up at a recent town council meeting to chew on proposed changes. The problem there, reports the Summit Daily News, was parking. Ski area officials said too many parking spaces needed by construction hands working on a base-area real estate project were being monopolized by the uphill crowd.

As well, ski area officials were irritated by uphillers — sometimes simply called “skinners,” although many use snowshoes — venturing onto runs that had been closed for grooming. Especially dangerous are those trails where winches, which are used on the steepest trails, are operating, with cables up to 3,500 feet long.

Three of the self-propelled were recently removed from the ski area after ascending a trail marked for winch use.

Another problem is the poop left on freshly groomed slopes by dogs accompanying the uphillers.

Climbing mountains is as old as skiing itself, even older. Ski lifts didn’t arrive until the 1930s. Waxes and the “skins” affixed to the bottom of skis to provide uphill traction have been around for centuries.

Fibers and plastic long ago replaced the seal skins originally used for uphill traction. The name remains, though, and has even become a verb, as in to “skin” up the mountain and those who use skins have, says the Summit Daily, become “skinners.”

The special-use permits given ski areas to operate on national forest land give them authority to close sections. But as a practical matter, says Ken Kowynia, winter sports program manager in Colorado for the U.S. Forest Service, the rules depend upon each ski area’s circumstances.

“It’s really on a ski area-by-ski area basis. We could agree to prohibit, but that’s not my first instinct,” he told Mountain Town News. “It depends upon the location, the traditional uses, and what the realistic use is. In places where people have been doing it forever, we are more inclined to try to make it work.

“Basically, we try to accommodate the use in a way that it’s not going to interfere with downhill skier traffic,” he added.

A measure of just how difficult ski area operators find the self-propelled is revealed in a press release issued by operators of the Telluride ski area on Monday. The resort noted that hiking, skiing, or snowboarding on closed areas of the mountain is prohibited, although the opened ski runs remained available to the uphillers. The resort company noted the presence of high-voltage and high-pressure cords and hoses and also the use of explosives by ski patrollers in an attempt to reduce avalanche potential.

In the case of Breckenridge, refinements of the rules governing uphill use are being worked out. There will be no effort to ban the skinners and snowshoers, but only to keep them between the white lines, so to speak.


Coyotes to be targeted in Canmore

CANMORE, Alberta – Coyotes bit three children in Canmore last year. To prevent nipping this winter, wildlife officials intend to live-trap coyotes suspected of harassing people or preying on pets.

Coyotes which are just moving through the town, snagging a few rabbits along the way, will be left alone, fish and wildlife officer Dave Dickson told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Why the coyotes bit the children was never determined. None had rabies. One theory is that the coyotes bit the kids because they were making noise, the same as dogs will sometimes do. Coyotes and dogs, after all, are cousins.

To reduce the potential for incidents, parents are asked to accompany their young children to bus stops, particularly those in wooded areas.

The coyotes are drawn to Canmore because of the rabbits, but also the garbage hauled out of canisters by ravens. While there are no more than a dozen coyotes in the town now, up to 50 are expected by January.

Also seen in Canmore recently was a cougar. Dickson believes the cougar was drawn by deer, which in turn were drawn by salt licks placed by residents who may not have realized that deer draw the big cats. Two years ago, an emaciated cougar killed two dogs in Canmore.


Rough summer for black bears

BANFF, Alberta – Black bears are now presumably snuggled away for winter in the Canadian Rockies. But nine were killed this year at the hands — and wheels — of people.

Four were killed by the Canadian Pacific Railway, two were killed on roads, and three were killed by wildlife officers in the Banff and Lake Louise areas because they were aggressive toward people or were too comfortable being around people, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Another seven bears were hit by cars, trucks, or trains, but their bodies were never found.

Grizzly bears fared better, although two were killed on roads west of the Continental Divide, on the Kootenay parkway.


Power customers split

RIDGWAY, Colo. – San Miguel Power Association is among the 44 rural electrical co-operatives in Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Wyoming that together form Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Tri-State has been under fire for several years because of its plans to build two coal-fired power plants in Kansas, a move that critics and some members say is financially risky and environmentally a disaster.

So what do members of San Miguel Power — who live in the Telluride, Silverton and Ouray area — think about their options? According to a recent survey, there is a definite split. While nearly three-quarters hope for renewable energy, little more than half appear willing to pay more to achieve that goal. About half say they favor nuclear energy. Whether that is any cheaper is still unclear.


Doctors used to take roosters for payments

DURANGO, Colo. – Do doctors still occasionally accept payment in other than greenbacks, Visa and MasterCard? Dr. Alfred Bedford, a doctor based in Durango, apparently did so, at times in his career taking as payment a barnyard of animals: a donkey, a goat, and chickens. As well, he accepted tamales as payment.

Although born in Paris, France, and reared in the exurbs of New York City, the doctor spent his adult life based in Durango as a general surgeon and family practitioner with a small farm and ranch out in the country. He also had a clinic in Silverton, notes the Silverton Standard, who reported his recent death at an advanced age.