Mountain News: A glimmer of hope for an El Niño year 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ARINA P. HABICH / SHUTTERSTOCK - Vail Resort in Colorado
  • Photo by Arina P. Habich / shutterstock
  • Vail Resort in Colorado

On Monday, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., announced that prospects for El Niño weather this year and abundant snow, while fading in recent weeks, now offer a glimmer of hope.

Scientists warn that unless these developing weak-to-modest El Niño conditions strengthen, the drought-stricken American West shouldn't expect any relief.

This hope is premised in satellite images of eastward-moving waves of higher sea level, known as Kelvin waves. Now crossing the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, they are expected to arrive off the coast of Ecuador in late September and early October.

Climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says it's too early to know for sure, but he would not be surprised if the latest Kelvin waves are the "last hurrah" for this much-hoped-for El Niño.

"Since February 2014, the prospect of an El Niño has waxed and waned. This late in the season, the best we can expect is a weak-to-moderate event. What comes next is not yet clear. But for the drought-plagued American West, the possibility of a badly needed drenching is fading," said Patzert.

In Reno, Kelly Redmond of the Western Regional Climate Center said he believes winter could go either way. But even if it does snow a great deal, he told KOLO News, it won't be enough to dig California out of its water hole after two bad years of drought.

Vail arrives in Park City

PARK CITY, Utah — Blaise Carrig showed up in Park City last week to declare that his company, Vail Resorts, is not an 800-pound gorilla.

Carrig is now essentially the No. 2 person for ski area operations for Vail Resorts. He has previously managed ski areas in California and Utah and, during the next two months, will be the public face for Vail Resorts as the company takes the reins of Park City Mountain Resort.

In meeting with several groups, Carrig said nice things about the previous owners and managers of Park City Mountain Resort. More importantly, he also sought to assure the locals that his company doesn't have sharp elbows and the instinct to smother Park City with its corporate heft.

"We don't have 11 McDonald's resorts," he said. Changing Park City's small-town feel is "the last thing on our minds and in our hearts."

Carrig acknowledged the perception that Vail will attempt to take a big slice of the town's lodging and retail market. But Vail only operates real estate at the base of its resorts, and its retail offerings are not designed to push out local competitors, he said.

"We're not dominant," he told a meeting of the Park City Area Lodging Association. "This 800-pound gorilla thing doesn't exist. We totally respect the appeal of diversity for our guests."

Vail's only clear plans are to join Park City and Canyons Resort with a chairlift next year, to provide the foundation for a boast of having the largest ski area in the United States. Yet it will market the two ski areas separately, allowing Park City to lay claim to having three ski areas, with Deer Valley being the other.

The Park Record notes that many questions remain unanswered. For example, who gets the tax money from sale of Epic Pass ski passes? And what does Vail intend to do with the development rights it has purchased?

Jim Bizily, owner of Park City Rental Properties, told The Park Record that he was reassured.

"I think it's good, in general, for the whole community, because it sounds like they're going to build more infrastructure. I think it's going to bring more business to the town. It might take out a little bit of that local flair, but then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing, to be a little bit more like a Vail destination."

It takes 40 cars for Biden to make a trip

ASPEN, Colo. — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Aspen over the weekend, and other than the 40-vehicle entourage it took to get him from the airport, who'd have known?

Biden's visit to Aspen wasn't on the official White House website. It had him in Denver for a speech earlier in the day, but without a public appearance thereafter, reported the Aspen Daily News.

The vice president's plane landed at Eagle County Regional, located down-valley from Vail. From there, it's 113 kilometres into Aspen. There, he was believed to be interviewed by Charlie Rose at a conference sponsored by the private equity firm of Forstmann Little & Co.

Channel 9 News in Denver reported that two of the three sheriffs involved in providing security for the motorcade were not happy. Joe DiSalvo, the sheriff of Pitkin County, said the visit required him to have extra deputies on duty. And he planned to send an invoice to Forstmann Little.

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