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Mountain News: Vail Resorts has social media option

BROOMFIELD, Colo. - Vail Resorts this winter will introduce a new technology called EpicMix for use at all of the 89 chairlifts at its four resorts in Colorado and also Heavenly, at Lake Tahoe.

BROOMFIELD, Colo. - Vail Resorts this winter will introduce a new technology called EpicMix for use at all of the 89 chairlifts at its four resorts in Colorado and also Heavenly, at Lake Tahoe.

The technology allows skiers and riders to monitor their lift rides, vertical feet skied and number of ski days with chips embedded in their season passes and lift tickets. This information will be collected with radio-frequency scanners at each of the 89 lifts at the company's five resorts.

The Denver Post explains that skiers, using smartphones or personal computers, can track their runs - sharing their information on Facebook and Twitter, if they want.

The technology also will alert skiers if their Facebook friends are skiing and show their location on the mountain.

"Talking about the day becomes a big part of the ski vacation and the ski experience," Rob Katz, chief executive officer of Vail Resorts, told the Vail Daily. "We've been trying to find ways to let people engage in that dialogue, but not interfere with the experience."

He presents EpicMix as a way to extend the ski experience beyond the ski day, but also beyond the ski vacation. "People will be able to look at the runs they did weeks later, just like looking at photographs.


Durango's exceptions stand out

DURANGO, Colo. - Numbers remain squishy, but all evidence points toward an increasingly diverse population in Durango and its hinterlands. Four-fifths of people are white non-Hispanics, which may not seem all that terribly diverse. After all, Durango was once part of Mexico and even now sits relatively close to both the Ute and Navajo tribal lands.

Still, the evidence turned up by the Durango Telegraph suggests a greater melting pot - or at least a stew. Many of those who would count as being minorities in Durango stand out in that crowd, but they don't seem to object.

Consider Kathy Huntsinger, a native of the Dominican Republic, who arrived in Durango after a stint in New York City. "I never feel uncomfortable. People are always curious and interested in where I'm from," she said. "I think there's only one other Dominican person here."

Another person who stands out, despite this increasing diversity, is Amita Nathwami, who practices a form of medicine native to India, from which he comes.

"Some people go out of their way to pretend they don't notice that I'm not American. I sound American, but I do have a different colour of skin, my culture is different, the way I think is different. It's not something to ignore. We are different. We need to embrace our cultures."


Dog penalties hit the fan

TELLURIDE, Colo. - Dog-owners can get their snoots into plenty of trouble in Telluride for letting Annapurna and Denali run free.

For letting their dogs run free, the new penalties will be $100 and four hours of mandatory community service on first offense. Failure to remove pet poop from public places is worth $250 and another four hours of community service. Repeat offenses escalate the punishment.

The Telluride Watch says town council members weren't unanimous about upping the ante. Speakers from the public were likewise divided. "I think these fines are awful, but that's the point," said one person in support. "You're casting a big net out," warned another.

The most vehement person in Telluride about loose dogs has wrapped excrement found on his lawn in bacon. But The Watch says he had little to say at the hearing. "If there's not an issue with dog defection around here, then I'll keep my mouth shut for the rest of the time I live here, which will be for the rest of my life," said Shawn Smith.


Mountain-valley exodus?

VAIL, Colo. - When will the exodus begin? That was the immediate question posed when the real-estate economy began its freefall two years ago in Vail and the Eagle Valley. But there's still no clear evidence of a massive exodus.

School enrollment provides hard numbers, and there the numbers have stayed flat, reports the Vail Daily, with 6,185 students enrolled in public schools this year. Private schools also report flat enrollment.

This is in contrast with the economic slowdown after 9/11. At that time, enrollment in most mountain valleys showed a decline, although it wasn't entirely clear then what caused it. One theory of the time was that Gen X families were leaving mountain towns for cities, which they found more affordable.

For whatever reason, the two high schools in the area between Winter Park and Steamboat Springs have reported enrollment dips this year, according to Granby's Sky-Hi News .

In the Vail area, if school enrollment doesn't show outward migration, anecdotal reports do.

"What I've noticed is all of those people that were construction workers - drywallers, framers, roofers - those guys are no longer in town, and it's notable," said Dr. Stephen Warren, a veterinarian. "I've talked to a lot of those guys over the last few years who have been leaving town. There's just no work.

Volumes of wastewater at Gypsum, located 37 miles west of Vail, where many of those in construction trades lived, also suggest people leaving, as do the browned lawns of foreclosed houses. Wastewater treatment in the Vail-Beaver Creek areas, however, has not declined.

The Vail Valley Salvation Army reports delivering food to 200 to 300 families every month, compared to 30 or 40 in former days.


Aspen real estate hits bump

ASPEN, Colo. - Aspen, always the bellwether for high-end real estate in mountain towns, hit a bump in July. Sales volume dropped by 41 per cent as compared with last year. However, dollar volume for the year remains up by 8 per cent as compared to last year.

The Aspen Times reports that many real estate agents earlier this summer were cautiously optimistic that the Aspen-area market was slowly turning around. That still might be the case, as there were plenty of shoppers - just not as many sales.


Exurbs continue price decline

JACKSON, Wyo. - Studying statistics from the Idaho side of the Teton Range, Jackson Hole News & Guide economics columnist Jonathan Schechter finds the economy of Idaho's Teton Valley to be a wreck. Even in the last year, while home prices have dropped 5 per cent, the average price of undeveloped lot has dropped 39 per cent.

The two valleys that share a common border of the Tetons are both wondrously beautiful, but Jackson Hole had the national parks and a stronger economy. In the last 60 years, that economy blossomed from an agricultural base into tourism and then second-home and other real estate development.

Until recently, Idaho's Teton Valley remained primarily a place of farms and ranches, if also increasingly becoming a bedroom community for workers in Jackson Hole who were willing to have long commutes for single-family homes they could afford and sometimes the exurban large-lot living.

But in the last decade, the real-estate market began getting feverish. In response, landowners wanted to subdivide. And the conservative county commissioners liberally allowed subdivisions, the number of lots more than doubling in the last nine years. This fast outpaced population growth, 56 per cent.

Real estate sales and dollar volume have both fallen about 80 per cent from the 2007 peak.

"This, of course, is classic boom-bust, a cycle that would have been mitigated - not avoided, but mitigated - had the county shown some restraint in approving subdivisions during the last decade," Schechter writes.

In Wyoming's Teton County, he says, construction-related jobs and payroll were down around a third from the peak of the boom. But in Idaho's Teton County, construction jobs and payroll have shrunk by three-quarters.


Karl Rove has them nodding

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - Karl Rove, a key strategist in the Republic successes of a decade ago, was speaking in Steamboat Springs recently at what was called the Freedom Conference.

Republicans, he predicted, will do fine this November, but he warned that they have work to do. "There's no single national (figure). No vivid personality. No dynamic personality that's captured the imagination of the American people," he said. The Steamboat Pilot reports that bookstore owners expected to sell all 125 of Rove's new book that they had taken to the conference.


Aspen grappling with deaths

ASPEN, Colo. - Aspen and Pitkin County officials have been examining how they can protect themselves legally in the wake of grand jury indictments against its building inspectors.

The indictments - accusations that have not yet been heard in court - say that the two building inspectors, one for the county and one for the city, committed errors that led to the carbon monoxide death of a family of four at Thanksgiving 2008. Also indicted is a plumbing contractor. The charges have had a chilling affect on both city and county governments.

The Aspen Times reports that officials have discussed several ideas. One might be to video-tape inspections of mechanical systems, railings on stairs and other features of buildings that are connected to what Tony Fasaro, the chief building official in Pitkin County, calls "life-safety issues."

Another idea would be to expand the check-off form used by inspectors when conducting buildings.

One inspector has been accused of criminally negligent homicide, a felony, and four misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, while the other inspector faces only the misdemeanor charges. The plumbing contractor has been charged with four felony counts and four misdemeanors.