BANFF, Alberta - Some 25-ski patrol and snow-safety staffers at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort called in sick on a recent Wednesday.
The Rocky Mountain Outlook explained that the mass illness was a protest of working conditions after four senior staff members were dismissed in December. An unidentified group spokesman said the ski patrollers were upset that their friends and bosses were fired - and upset with the lack of a back-up plan.
"People have been working when they're sick, when they have frostbitten toes and they are working in the infirmary when they should be at home in bed."
The ski area kept a gondola and several lifts running during the day of protest, but offered discounted lift tickets for the day.
New school calendar elicits lively discussion
ASPEN, Colo. - Do reading, writing and 'rithmetic get parents riled? Not in Aspen. There, it's coaches and calendars.
That' s the summation of Fred Peirce, president of the school board, which has been hearing all sorts of opinions about proposed rejiggering of the school calendar. It is, said The Aspen Times , perhaps the biggest public controversy regarding Aspen's schools in years. And this week the school board rejected changes.
Instead, Aspen schools will stay the course of their traditional September-June school year. Under review had been a new schedule: nine weeks on, two weeks off, with a seven-week summer break. Impetus for this proposal was concern about the students regressing during their longer summer break, and a desire to better mesh the school calendar with the town's resort ebbs and flows.
Pickets, protests and people who wore black
PARK CITY, Utah - When you hear about Robert Redford, you're inclined to think of him in one of his starring roles, maybe the mountain man Jeremiah Johnson or the cowboy outlaw Sundance Kid.
Ironically, the film festival he launched at Park City 30 years ago has traditionally drawn urban sophisticates from Los Angeles and New York. For a time, they were called PIBs, short for People in Black.
Nan Chalat-Noaker, editor of The Park Record , now believes that PIBs no longer applies. "People are wearing different fashions," she said.
But whatever they wear, there's a bunch in Park City at the 10-day festival right now. It is, she said, about three times busier than during Christmas week, the traditional peak for ski towns.
Often, Sundance turns into a theater of protest. Representatives of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were there, as usual. But the most public theater this year has involved the movie called Red State , which satirizes Christian fundamentalists and radical conservatives.
Showing up to picket the showing were members of the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kan., who say God doesn't love many people and hates homosexuals. They have even picketed funerals of soldiers slain in Iraq.
In a way, said Chalat-Noaker, the movie director, Kevin Smith, and the church members have a symbiotic relationship, each needing the other side to gain broader attention.
But students from Park City High School stole the show, she reported. They picketed, too, but their signs were of absolute nonsense. "They were able -- in a sweet, nonsensical way -- to steal the show of the protestors," she said.
Climate action plans must be done carefully
TAOS, N.M. - How do you measure the success of a climate-action plan? In Taos, long-range planner Matthew Foster says his goal was if somebody who wasn't paid to read it actually did.
He succeeded - at least once.
Of course, the plan just came out. A 50-page document, it's called the Forest and Water Climate Plan. Foster hopes it's practical. Part of that practicality, he said, is in recognizing that many people in Taos think all the talk of a warming climate is nonsense.
Accordingly, the plan states a high priority should be outreach and education. But the plan also steers somewhat clear of phrases like global warming and climate change. Instead, said Fosters, it talks about what people like to do: hunt and fish, for example, and suggests that efforts must be made to ensure resiliency of those systems in the face of changes.
Underlying the plan is recognition by climate scientists that changes will be inevitable, even if emissions of greenhouse gases were stopped tomorrow. The legacy of those past greenhouse gas emissions will become more fully apparent in coming decades, according to dozens of climate models, which single out the American Southwest for more extensive heating than most parts of the world. That, in turn, will likely affect forests and water.
For example, the plan points to need for increased use of helicopters to fight fires in the surrounding Carson National Forest.
Foster said his intent in designing the document was to be "very specific, very timely, but not too lofty."
In his background research, Foster said he found many climate action plans that show explicitly what not to do. One town in British Columbia, for example, issued a 100-plus-page document full of actionable items, all of them to be done by the town government. A town itself surely doesn't have that much power, he believes.
In Durango, Colo., the La Plata Climate and Energy Action Plan is also headed toward the home stretch. While admitting much work remains to be done, energy activist Aileen Tracy believes the document is also practical. "This is not beyond us. The plan sets out very attainable goals," she told the Durango Telegraph .
Steamboat considers nuances of nanny state
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - The five people and five dogs who live at a home in Steamboat Springs are legal. But the two goats and most of the 40-plus chickens are not.
The case is a test of city regulations, which were liberalized in 2009 to allow up to five hens in some residential districts and up to five goats on lots a half-acre or larger. The city staff is now drawing up regulations that would allow fewer goats but in larger areas.
The homeowners, John and Holly Fielding, are adamant about the benefits of being locovores within 150 feet of their house. One of their children is lactose intolerant, but can drink goats' milk. It is not sold at stores.
"The ability to produce one's own food is not simply an economic advantage nor a resourcefulness advantage, but the food that one is able to produce and consume in its unprocessed condition is far, far healthier," John told the Pilot , citing the enzymes found in raw goats' milk.
The lot also has 23 laying hens, which produce about a dozen eggs a day. "We eat about a dozen eggs a day," he said. "Two growing boys, you know."
One problem for Steamboat as it revaluates where and how to allow goats is that they are, if tethered, vulnerable to roaming dogs. The Fieldings don't have that problem, as they keep their animals in a greenhouse-type facility.
Ketchum considers how far to raise energy bar
KETCHUM, Idaho - Ketchum officials are mulling just how much they should raise the energy bar for new construction.
The International Building Code being adopted by most government jurisdictions seals the cracks of energy use substantially, although far less than most people worried about accumulating greenhouse gases think is necessary. Some, such as Ketchum, are talking about raising the bar a little more yet.
If adopted, the code would require third-party verification of designs and also mandate blower-door tests, to reveal where air heat or cool air loss occurs.
Other municipalities in the Sun Valley area have already adopted stiffer building codes or are considering doing so, reported the Idaho Mountain Express .
The newspaper quoted architect Steve Kearns, who assisted in drawing up the proposed sustainable building code, as saying that most potential developers of hotels in Ketchum favor the new code. "We're already doing a lot of this stuff anyway," he said.
But a representative of local real-estate sales agents, Bob Crosby, points to shifting public opinion that is more skeptical of so-called green building codes.
Pitkin County board adopts land swap policy
ASPEN, Colo. - A policy governing how to evaluate proposed land exchanges involving federal lands has won support from directors of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.
"We've set a very high bar," said Tim McFlynn, chairman of the board.
Among other provision, the policy said land trades should result in no net loss of publicly owned land in Pitkin County or, somewhat more broadly, the Roaring Fork River watershed. Also, no net loss in public access to local public lands.
Pitkin County during the last year went through a long discussion about a land exchange proposed to Congress by the billionaire owners of a ranch at the foot of Mt. Sopris, a majestic mountain located about 30 miles west of Aspen near the town of Carbondale.
The ranch owners, Leslie and Abigail Wexner, who own Victoria's Secret and other businesses, wanted to get a Bureau of Land Management parcel that is an island within their ranch. To accomplish this, they offered to give the federal government another ranch of comparable size near Carbondale.
The conservation community in the Roaring Fork Valley was split by the proposal. But in a valley where open space is next to godliness, the county commissioners were unwilling to lend support. As such, no member of Congress was willing to carry the proposal.
Such land-exchange proposals have been floated often in resort valleys of Colorado. In 1990, an investment banker tried to get ownership of an acre of slope-side real estate at Vail by offering more than 2,000 acres of land sought by conservation groups adjacent to national monuments and other locations - but far from Vail. The Vail Town Council dismissed the idea as a bad precedent, and the idea never went anywhere.
A few years later, another massive land exchange was proposed by the wealthy part-time owner of a ranch north of Avon and Beaver Creek. This time, there were more local benefits from the exchange, but not enough to convince a skeptical public - and their elected representatives.
Most recently, the wealthy owner of a ranch between Carbondale and Paonia proposed a land exchange that BLM officials opposed. But with virtually no public announcement of what was being considered, a congressman - turned out in the recent election - agreed to sponsor a bill to authorize the swap.
Exceptional snow at Vail, but not down in valley
VAIL, Colo. - It's been a healthy snow winter in Vail, with the ski company there bragging about having the fourth highest mid-mountain snow levels since the ski area started in 1962. That may be, but 30 miles down valley in Eagle, there's less snow than on an average year. Go figure.