Mountain News: Getting across the need to respect these mountains 

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Knifes Edge Capitol Peak in Colorado proved deadly last summer. This summer, mountaineers are trying to caution the public against dangerous behaviour.
  • Photo submitted
  • Knifes Edge Capitol Peak in Colorado proved deadly last summer. This summer, mountaineers are trying to caution the public against dangerous behaviour.

ASPEN, Colo.—Eight people died in the Elk Range near Aspen last summer, five of them while climbing or descending 4,300-metre Capitol Peak and two more on the pair of peaks called Maroon Bells, which are also above 4,270 metres in elevation.

This summer, a consortium of local and state organizations and a non-profit are trying to spread the message that these lovely mountains can, in fact, be deadly.

This perhaps isn't news. A popular climbing guide to Colorado's 4,270-metre mountains published in the 1970s described the Elk Range as "red, rugged, and rotten." That description certainly fits the Maroon Bells, often called the "Deadly Bells" because of their unstable rock. Capitol Peak has sturdier rock but can tempt strong but inexperienced climbers to attempt routes requiring technical skills.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said that last summer was the worst for backcountry fatalities in his 32 years of Aspen-area law enforcement. He told The Aspen Times that he and partnering organizations agreed the educational campaign needed to be blunt. "We're not at all afraid to say, 'This is deadly; this can kill you,'" he said.

Why so many deaths in one year? Just rotten bad luck is one theory. Another theory reported by the Times' Scott Condon holds that alluring video, pictures, and descriptions of exploits on the big peaks plastered all over social media are drawing novices in over their heads.

Lloyd Athearn, executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to helping the ecosystems of the high peaks weather the heavy use, thinks he detects a new mentality. Perhaps in older days, he speculates, there was an apprenticeship in climbing with more experienced hands.

"Nowadays, whether it's our culture of immediacy or social media, there seems to be this (attitude of), 'I'm just going to skip that apprenticeship period and just go straight into climbing hardier mountains,'" Athearn said. "I think that comes with some pretty serious risks. I'm not even sure some of these people know what they're biting off."

The awareness effort will include several events in Aspen and elsewhere, websites, and pamphlets.

The U.S. Forest Service has considered marking the conventional safest routes, but so far it isn't willing to go there. There's worry that this will lull hikers into complacency.

Also a consideration: The peaks are in a designated wilderness area, created under authority of a 1964 federal law that spoke to the need to keep places substantially natural, "with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable."

Teton Range peak claims 6th victim in last decade

JACKSON, Wyo.—A 27-year-old man died while descending a peak in the Teton Range, the sixth to die on the same mountain in the last decade.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide said that the body of Burak Akil, a 27-year-old nurse at the hospital in Jackson, was found at the bottom of a steep snowfield on the 3,800-metre high peak. He had been mountaineering alone. Rangers in Teton National Park said they believe he lost his footing while descending a steep snow field.

The death occurred on the most accessible route up the mountain. A park ranger described the Class 4 route as "fairly inviting," but with snowfields that often persist into the summer. The snowfields are perilously steep and not recommended for hikers and climbers who lack experience and gear.

"Falls here are tough to impossible to stop, even with an ice ax," said Scott Guenther chief ranger. He said snow slopes typically have 50 degrees or more of steepness. "It's what I would consider a no-fall zone. To self-arrest on 50-plus is tough."

Vail Resort's purchase boosting interest in real estate sales

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo.—Anecdotal evidence suggests the impending purchase of Crested Butte Mountain Resort by Vail Resorts has caused a mild jolt in the real estate market.

Real estate agents tell The Crested Butte News that they've had more inquiries than normal since early June, when the impending sale was announced. They expect a big bump to come after the deal is closed in August and capital investments by Vail Resorts are announced.

Bud Bush of Bluebird Real Estate said the impact is most clear in the lower-end of the market, the $250,000-to-$500,000 properties. Dan McElroy of Coldwell Banker Bighorn Realty said that the announcement has also caused sellers to see stars in their eyes, jacking up prices or holding firm to their list prices.

Even without the infusion of Vail Resorts into the community, the local economy has been vigourous. Summer is the busiest season in Crested Butte, as reflected by sales tax receipts but also cars on the streets and other metrics. One of those metrics is the lack of employees.

The Crested Butte News reports that one prominent restaurant this summer announced it would be open only Thursday through Mondays, not seven days a week, because of staff shortages.

"The supply of seasonal workers seems lower, with fewer responses than ever to our employment ads," says Chris Ladoulis, of Django's Restaurant. "We can speculate as to why. Certainly, housing is a factor, but I don't know if that is the only explanation. It's more accute in the summer, because the resort draws fewer workers into town to work daytime on the mountain. There are a number of J1 visa student workers in town, willing to work double shifts, and that has helped tremendously."

He said that he has increased base wages 10 to 20 per cent, and will likely raise menu prices to correlate.

"Our interview process used to last a week or more with multiple interviews. Now, decisions are made in seconds. Employee retention will not be a top priority for the survival of our business."

More rolling hills, fewer spikes in lodging

TELLURIDE, Colo.—Telluride was expecting a full house for the Fourth of July this year. Based on bookings, Michael Martelon, the president of the Telluride Tourism Board, expected 23,000 people, or about the same as during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Christmas.

Martelon told the Telluride Daily Planet that he believed occupancy has been evening out over the course of seasons. "We are beginning to be more rolling hills than spiky mountains in our occupancy, which is the objective," he said. "It's staying away from the peaks and valleys and having something that's more rolling."

Millennials worse tippers than their elders?

ASPEN, Colo.—Are millennials more likely to stiff wait staff at restaurants than their elders? That's the take-away from a survey conducted and published by CreditCards.com that has been drawing attention.

The survey of 1,000 American adults found that 10 per cent of Americans ages 18 to 37 routinely leave no tip at all. One-third leave less than 15 per cent. People in older age brackets leave more.

Writing in The Aspen Times, Barbara Platts said she doubts millennials deserve such a bum rap. "If anything, I thought millennials, as a generation, were more generous than our predecessors," she wrote.

In response, she conducted her own less-than-scientific survey of friends and others on social media. Perhaps not surprisingly, those millennials who chose to respond said that, yes indeed, they're pretty good tippers. But she does acknowledge that in Aspen, where so many people work in the service sector, there may be more sensitivity to tipping, skewing the results.

Another resort in Utah for Alterra and Ikon pass-holders

PARK CITY, Utah —Alterra Mountain Co. continues to buy more ski areas. In recent weeks it first purchased Utah's Solitude Mountain Resort, just across the crest of the Wasatch Range from Deer Valley, which it also owns. It also announced a partnership with Thredbo, a ski area in Australia about 480 kilometres from Sydney.

All told, that will give buyers of Alterra's Ikon Pass access to 27 destinations in North America, plus the one in Australia.

Rusty Gregory, the chief executive of Alterra, told The Park Record that the ski company has had its eyes on gaining a stronghold in Utah since its beginning a year ago.

"If you are going to be skiing in the United States and you don't have a big, high-quality footprint for your pass holders in Utah, you are not really in the ski business," he said.

Gregory said Solitude offers a different and hence complementary ski experience to Deer Valley. Solitude has a "very local, easy-going and inclusive vibe for all levels of skiers and members of the family," he said. "Deer Valley is a great spot for somebody who wants a five-star luxury ski experience."

50 people spend night on gondola after power surge

JASPER, Alta.—The storm toppled trees in Jasper but also produced a surge of electricity that stopped the gondola that was ferrying 160 people to the alpine zone of Whistler Mountain. Helicopters had to be deployed to rescue the stranded customers, five at a time. But at 11 p.m., as light disappeared, the rescues had to be suspended, reported the Jasper Fitzhugh. That left 50 people to spend the night in the gondola cars. They were given food, water, blankets, and pillows for the night. By mid-morning, the last of them had been evacuated, giving them a holiday experience that few, if any, will soon forget.

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