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Mountain News: Vail Resorts has social media option

Rafting death poses theme-park question

BUENA VISTA, Colo. - What's fair? That has long been the question in outdoor pursuits. Mountain bikes in wilderness areas? Permanent bolts on rock faces to improve safety?

Most people that climb Mt. Everest use supplemental oxygen. But Reinhold Messner, the famous Italian mountain climber, championed what he called "by fair means," twice summiting the mountain without oxygen.

Now, that same question is being asked in connection with a hidden but dangerous water feature in Colorado's Arkansas River. The Summit Daily News explains that at higher volumes of water, the obstruction called Frog Rock gets washed out, posing no threat. But at flows below 1,000 cubic feet per second, as are common in late summer, an underwater sieve becomes dangerous.

Several people died there a decade ago, so river rangers posted signs alerting rafting guides how to avoid trouble. They thought they had taken care of the problem. But again this summer, a 23-year-old rafting guide from Breckenridge died. Her body still has not been recovered and is believed to be lodged within the underwater rocks.

Should the rocks in the river be rearranged to gut the danger? The Daily News reports support for the change, but also opposition.

"How many people have fallen off one of the climbing faces at Rocky Mountain National Park or Yosemite?" asked Stew Pappenfort, senior ranger in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. He said the general opinion in the rafting industry is that "we don't take wild places and turn them into Disneyland scenarios."

But it's not an absolute. Checking with other river managers, he finds some features in both U.S. and Canadian rivers have been altered "for public safety."

River managers, however, also are assessing what liability they may incur if they modify the river flow - and the alternative results in injury or death.


Tibetans return

RED CLIFF, Colo. - Many people in the post-World War II ski industry spent time at Camp Hale, a valley at 9,300 feet near what later became Vail. The valley was used to train the 10 th Mountain Division.

But although most of the buildings were quickly torn down after the 10 th Mountain soldiers left in 1944, sporadic use of the camp was made for another 20 years. Most intriguingly, the Central Intelligence Agency clandestinely trained several hundred Tibetan guerillas there in the 1950s and early 1960s. This was after China had invaded Tibet, forcing the Dali Lama to flee across the Himalaya and into India.

After being trained in sabotage, the guerillas were parachuted into Tibet or filtered across the border to harass the Chinese.

While this training has been mentioned in several books through the years, there was no official recognition of it at Camp Hale itself. That has now been rectified with a plaque and ceremony. The Vail Daily reports that U.S. Senator Mark Udall, plus various former guerillas and their CIA trainers, attended.

"I'm happy. This is like coming to my home," said former guerilla Tashi Poljor.

The Daily reports that the guerillas learned more than just about shooting and killing. From the English, the Tibetans had acquired the habit of snuff. But from their American trainers, they acquired a taste for Copenhagen.

Heaven knows how they satisfied that habit in Tibet.


C02 footprint tough to shrink

ASPEN, Colo. - Often lauded for its environmental activism, the Aspen Skiing Co. continues to struggle to reduce its carbon emissions at its four ski areas and other properties.

In an extraordinarily blunt self-assessment, the company's new sustainability report asks whether it is succeeding. In a terse front-page statement, the company says: "Not yet."

Aspen Skiing aims to reduce its carbon emission 10 per cent by 2012 from its 2000 baseline. As of last year, it had pared 4.1 per cent.

Why all the difficulty? After all, hasn't Aspen been at this for a while?

It has succeeded, in many large and small ways. But the company's operations have been growing. Snowmaking, which is very energy intensive, has expanded. Summer business has grown. And reducing energy use, particularly on existing operations commonly requires substantial capital investment.

"We think we can do it," said Auden Schendler, the company's vice president of environmental and corporate responsibility, "but it's going to take a big capital investment."

Schendler said one way Aspen can shrink its carbon footprint is replacing all the boilers used in the Little Nell Hotel. That would take a $500,000 investment.

Another major problem for Aspen Skiing is that it buys most of its power from Holy Cross Energy, the local electrical co-operative, which also supplies the Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas.

Holy Cross Energy is an owner of the new Comanche 3 power plant, Colorado's largest. Schendler tells Colorado Biz Magazine that Comanche 3 "takes us in the wrong direction" because it will increase the carbon intensity of Aspen's energy.

But Del Worley, the co-op's general manager, defends the $110 million investment in the $1.3 billion plant. The investment will save Holy Cross between $100 million and $400 million over the next 30 years, depending on several factors, including whether a federal carbon tax is applied to greenhouse gas emissions.

Separately, Mike Kaplan, president of the Aspen Skiing Co., told 250 business people recently that Aspen continues efforts to lobby for limits on carbon emissions. "We really do need to put a price on carbon if our kids and grandkids are going to enjoy skiing and snowboarding in this valley," he said. "We can't continue as we are."


Additional lodging tax not on

KETCHUM, Idaho - Unlike several other mountain resort towns in the West, voters in Ketchum won't be asked at the November elections for an increase in the lodging sales tax. The Idaho Mountain Express explains that dissent from hoteliers persuaded the city council to hold off.

The town, located at the base of the Sun Valley ski area, currently levies two per cent. Two other local towns, Hailey and Sun Valley, levy three per cent.

Elsewhere in the West, officials in Aspen and Breckenridge, both in Colorado, and Jackson/Teton County, in Wyoming, are being asked to ratchet up the lodging tax, with the proceeds going primarily to enhanced tourism promotion.


Not many new lifts this year

DENVER, Colo. - While Canyons, the slightly renamed ski area at Park City, has pledged a major investment in infrastructure, Colorado ski areas this year have gone lightly, reports the Aspen Times .

Vail and Arapahoe Basin will have new high-speed quads, and Crested Butte has a small amount of intermediate-level terrain. But beyond that, the upgrades are less capital intensive, such as more free parking at Copper Mountain, and a "magic carpet" conveyor at Eldora Mountain.

Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, takes the long view. He said that ski areas spent a huge amount of money between 1990 and 2008. Now, he expects ski areas to concentrate on "invisible investments" like snowmaking for another three or four years, then return to more eye-catching projects as the first generation of high-speed chairlifts needs replacing.


St. Regis to be sold, updated

ASPEN, Colo. - Another hotel upgrade is on the way in Aspen. The 179-room St. Regis Aspen will be sold by Starwood Hotels and Resorts to a Thailand-based investor, OptAsia Capital Co. The Aspen Times reported a purchase price of $70 million in the deal, which is to be consummated near the end of September.

The buyer has agreed to a $30 million renovation of the rooms. With conference, ballroom and other venues, the property has 24,000 square feet. Starwood will continue to manage the hotel.

The Times notes that this will be the third major hotel renovation in Aspen in recent years. The Aspen Skiing Co. spent $18 million to renovate rooms at the Little Nell Hotel last year. And the owners of the Hotel Jerome have been authorized to spend between $45 million and $50 million, although that project is on hold.

As for the sales price, sources told the Times that the St. Regis sale was not made under distress, although the recession did affect the sales price to some degree.

For the record, the price was $391,000 per room for the property, located at the base of the ski mountain. The price per room paid for the Limelight, just a bit farther from the ski runs, was $301,000 per room.


Hotel facing foreclosure

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. - The real estate fallout continues in Jackson Hole. There, at the base of the ski area by the same name, steps have been taken to foreclose on a hotel, the Inn at Jackson Hole, because of $17.6 million in unpaid debt to Wells Fargo.

This is the third high-profile, multimillion-dollar property to face financial troubles in the last two years at the base of the ski area. The other two, however, are lots where hotels were planned, notes the Jackson Hole News & Guide .

The Inn at Jackson Hole was developed in the late 1960s, one of the first properties at the ski area. It remains a mid-range property. But plans had been formulated to raze the property and replace it with a condo-hotel.

But condo-hotels at Jackson Hole haven't necessarily done any better. Bank of America has been taking steps to claim a one-acre parcel where a hotel had been planned. The bank bid $12.5 million to take back the land, and the developer, Tramline Development, has until late November to repay the debt or lose the property.

Real estate expert David Veihman tells the newspaper that the scheduled foreclosure auction of the Inn at Jackson Hole may not be the last. "Especially people that bought in 2005 through 2008, when we had that run on condo hotels and hotels," he said.


Solar farms everywhere

RIDGWAY, Colo. - The high country of Colorado is awash with news of solar farms under construction or pending.

In Ridgway, near Telluride, comes the story of a solar farm now authorized for 20 acres that will produce two megawatts, or about enough for 40 average-sized homes. The Telluride Watch said it will be the largest solar farm yet by a rural electrical co-operative in the United States.

Meanwhile, in the Aspen-Glenwood-Vail area, Colorado Mountain College has started $3.7 million in energy upgrades. The program will include more efficient lighting and other energy saving retrofits, plus the more sexy solar farms.

Also being installed is a geoexchange system, which draws upon the steady 56 degree temperature about 10 feet below ground to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer. The goal of the upgrades is a 15 per cent savings in energy.


Yet another big box

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. - The Interstate 70 corridor will pick up another big-box store. The Silverthorne Town Council approved a site plan for Lowe's, the hardware chain, according to the Summit Daily News.

The town already has a Target and has been in discussions with The Home Depot. Farther west along I-70 is a Super Wal-Mart at Frisco, both a Home Depot and Wal-Mart in Avon, and then a bunch more at Glenwood Springs. The mountain towns are becoming mainstream America.


Kidney be close to heart

AVON, Colo. - It must be true love. Joy Birmingham, 29, agreed to give her spare kidney to her new boyfriend, Brian Gilbertson, 35, who suffers from a disease that has caused his kidney to deteriorate to just 14 per cent of its functional use. Without the new kidney, he'd have to soon go on dialysis.

She tells the Vail Daily she would have done the same for anybody close to her heart.

He had gone to Alaska several years ago for a summer river-rafting job but felt crummy. Getting a biopsy in Anchorage, he discovered why.


Was this kitty house trained?

KETCHUM, Idaho - A family returned to their home south of Ketchum recently to find a mountain lion inside. The lion had entered through open doors, and upon the arrival of people, leapt across a fence and disappeared. The local wildlife officer told the Idaho Mountain Express that the lion reacted as people think it should. But the sighting was no surprise as lions - also called cougars and pumas - have often been seen in that area during the last year.


Spec house rising

HAILEY, Idaho - Going against the grain, a real estate agent and builder in the Ketchum/Sun Valley resort market have teamed up to build a spec house. The house is priced at $825,000.

"Of course, people think we're nuts," real estate agent Kris Halley told the Idaho Mountain Express. "But sometimes the best thing to do is what no one else is doing."

The context for this audacity is a housing market that remains sluggish. Just 81 houses were sold in the three months of summer this year, same as last year's summer months - but paltry compared to the 251 average during the last decade. The average sales price this year rose slightly, but then the number of foreclosures in Blaine County quadrupled compared to last year.