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Mountain News: Vail changes policy after avalanche death

VAIL, Colo. — Last year, little snow fell at Vail. But in January, after one of the very few dumps, locals took to the slopes with glee. Among those locals was an adolescent, 13-year-old Taft Conlin.
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VAIL, Colo. — Last year, little snow fell at Vail. But in January, after one of the very few dumps, locals took to the slopes with glee.

Among those locals was an adolescent, 13-year-old Taft Conlin. Skiing down the mountain that day, he and companions discovered that the lower portion of a ski run named Prima Cornice was open. The upper portion of the steep ski trail had been roped off, and although he and his companions may not have realized it, the reason it was roped off was because of the threat of avalanche.

Entering the trail below the steeper part, he and companions side-stepped up the closed portion of the trail 120 vertical feet. It had not been roped off from below. That's when tragedy occurred. An avalanche 200 feet across broke, burying him and his companions. The other boys were able to escape and ski out, but Conlin died.

At issue is whether Vail Resorts, the ski area operator, took proper precautions to prevent the boys from side-stepping up the slope.

Colorado several decades ago adopted legislation called the Safety Skier Act. In this and other cases of skier deaths at Steamboat's Howelsen Hill and at Winter Park Resort, there are questions whether the law provides too much protection to ski area operators from legal challenges.

Lawsuits were filed in all three cases. Meanwhile, Vail Resorts this past week announced it had adopted a new policy as a result of the fatality on Prima Cornice.

"Prior to the accident, our ski patrol had not anticipated that skiers or riders would hike into the closed terrain from the lower gate," said the company in a statement. "As a result, we continue to believe that our ski patrol had taken all appropriate actions regarding mitigation, closures and openings in this area."

Given what they now know about potential skier behavior in that area, said the company, "when the upper Prima Cornice gate is closed due to avalanche concerns, they will keep the lower Prima Cornice gate closed as well."

Conference aims to put a dent in the universe

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Aspen has the Ideas Festivals, and Whistler will soon have the TED conference. A new conference in Sun Valley vows to pick up where they leave off.

"Now that we live and work in an information economy, we have become surrounded by conferences that celebrate ideas," says the website for the Dent the Future conference.

"But the next phase of our economy requires more than ideas: it requires a kind of creative execution. You need more than a vision to put a dent in the universe. You need the tools and talents to make it happen."

The Idaho Mountain Express explains that the event is named after Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' famous statement: "We're here to put a dent in the universe."

Among the technologists scheduled to speak at the four-day conference this week are Dave Girouard, founder of Upstart and former president of Google Enterprise. His topic: "Team First: The Art and Science of Picking People," which is explained by a quote once again from Steve Jobs: "The best programmer in the world is 50 to 100 times more effective than the average programmer."

Scientific American columnist Maria Konnikova is to explain that careful observation, artful reasoning and keen understanding of human behavior can help put a dent in the universe.

And Harper Reed, chief technology officer for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, is to discuss what core strategies, tactics, and tools of the campaign can be utilized by organizations of all stripes to help drive engagement, conversion — and competitive advantage. You can ask Mitt Romney about that.

Does this conference aim big? The lessons of Dent can be "applied to all kinds of work, from nonprofit to Fortune 500, and from design to music and performance," said a press release issued in advance of the conference.

The conference website says it's a by-invitation-only, although it's easy enough to make a request to be included. Cost: $2,750.

The conference is being sponsored by Microsoft Bing, Scientific American and Southwest Airlines.

Actress Foster gets key to Sun Valley

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The actress Jodie Foster got the key to Sun Valley recently. She had appeared at the second annual Sun Valley Film Festival, an event that drew 2,500 people to watch more than 60 films described by the Idaho Mountain Express as cutting-edge, along with TV premiers.

"This key means you're always welcome in Sun Valley," the local mayor, Dewayne Briscoe, told Foster.

Playfully, Foster asked if the key meant she would be allowed to speed on city streets.

Has Foster been given municipal keys before? Just a guess.

Shocked disinvited from Telluride Bluegrass festival

TELLURIDE, Calif. — Michelle Shocked is off the lineup for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival after comments she made at a concert in San Francisco were interpreted by most people there as homophobic.

The Telluride Daily Planet reports she's being replaced in the lineup by the Drepung Monks.

Shocked mentioned a California law called Proposition 8 that defines marriage as a union between a woman and a man. Shocked said "when they stop Prop 8 and force priests at gunpoint to marry gays, it will be the downfall of civilization and Jesus will come back."

Various sources say that Shocked, 51, has become a born-again Christian. She is bisexual in her orientation, a declared lesbian when younger although she was later married to a man.

Was Shocked speaking ironically? That was her explanation later. She apologized and said her comments were meant to construe how some people feel about gay marriage, not how she feels.

"I do not, nor have I ever, said or believed that God hates homosexuals (or anyone else)," Shocked said. "I said that some of his followers believe that. I believe intolerance comes from fear, and these folks are genuinely scared."

The Daily Beast was unconvinced. The website says her explanation raised as many questions as it answers.

BUYER OF THIS RANCH WON'T FLY COMMERCIAL

JACKSON, Wyo. — With a price tag like this, you know it's more about the scenery than it is about the volume of hay production. A large ranch just west of Jackson now has a price tag of $68.7 million. The Walton Ranch, so-named because oil tycoon Paul Walton had purchased it in 1958, had previously been listed for $100 million.

Local real estate sources consulted by the Jackson Hole News&Guide indicated they believe the new price is more reasonable. But rest assured, the buyer is most likely somebody who doesn't fly commercial.

The newspaper notes that Walton had placed it under conservation easements in 1983, an agreement that was a milestone in conservation along the Teton Range. The only gesture larger was the gift by John D. Rockefeller Jr. of more than 12,141 hectares to the government, allowing creation of Grand Teton National Park.

Park City mayor wants to upgrade its schwag

PARK CITY, Utah — When Michelle Obama visited Park City, city officials loaded up a sack of schwag. They gave her four local books about Park City, a framed photograph of a local landmark, and a bottle of hooch from a local distillery.

But Mayor Dana Williams would like to go about this business of schwag more methodically. Often, he has hosted visiting dignitaries, and he has also travelled extensively himself, most recently to China, as a representative of Park City. Usually, the city gives pins marking the city's role in the Winter Olympics or posters of artwork, or the local picture books.

But cities outside the United States often offer nicer gifts than those they receive, at least from Park City. Williams would like to up the ante. The Park Record says he recently met with the local Public Art Advisory Board and suggested a contest of ideas. For example, he could imagine a small sculpture, mass produced, with a cost upward of $50.

BRECK MOVES TOWARD bag SURCHARGE

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — After carefully holding discussions with local retailers, elected officials in Breckenridge are moving toward a public policy that would dampen the distribution of plastic shopping bags. The Summit Daily News reports that three million bags are distributed annually.

Breckenridge, however, has in mind a different strategy than the blanket bans adopted in Aspen, Telluride and other Colorado resort towns. Those towns have targeted grocery stores.

The idea before the Breckenridge Town Council is to levy a 10 cent fee on plastic and paper bags, and to apply the fee to all shopping in Breckenridge.

The money would be split between retailers and the town government. The town would use its share to administer the fee program, inform residents and visitors of the policy, and also purchase and distribute reusable bags. The reusable bags would likely be designed in a way to market Breckenridge after visitors have returned home, assuming they have chosen to take the bags with them.

The Daily News reports that the town's largest store, City Market, has declined to comment on the issue, but several retailers have voiced support. A few in the community disdain the fee as a "sin tax."

In Park City, elected officials recently have also broached the subject of somehow limiting free dissemination of plastic bags.

Mammoth toys with how to diversify local economy

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — There's talk in Mammoth Lakes about carving out money for an economic development director. The job of this individual would be to focus on both attracting and retaining businesses.

"Businesses have vacancies. Some have shrunk. Some have closed or left," pointed out Marianna Marysheva-Martinez, the town manager. "This is about how do we bring in more, different types of businesses and keep the ones we have healthy, vibrant, thriving."

She and the town's mayor, Matthew Lehman, say the job is not strictly about marketing or tourism.

Lehman noted that a major data security firm had considered, but ultimately rejected, basing itself in Mammoth. Had it done so, he said, the company would have generated 80 jobs that paid $100,000 a year or more.

Among the reasons the company chose not to locate in Mammoth, he said, was the lack of high-speed Internet service and a perception that the town was not friendly enough.

Lehman said the goal is to diversify the tax base.

Aspen stays the course on 20 mph speed limit

ASPEN, Colo. — An out-of-the-box idea for calming traffic on Aspen's residential streets has been shelved in favor of the conventional approach.

Mayor Mick Ireland and other council member had suggested posting speed limits of 14 mph or 18 mph on the side streets, as a way of impressing upon drivers the need to slow down. Instead, reports the Aspen Daily News, the council decided to stick with 20 mph.

For the record, even on the state highway through Aspen, the maximum speed is 30 mph — and during morning and evening commutes, there's absolutely no danger of going faster.

Natural gas could power coal trains

WHITEFISH, Mont. — Will the big trains carrying coal to China to be burned be pulled and pushed by locomotives powered by burning liquefied natural gas? The Whitefish Pilot reports that the idea is being explored. If implemented, however, it wouldn't be the first. The former Burlington Northern, which has the railroad through Whitefish, previously used natural gas to power locomotives in the 1980s and 1990s.