Mountain News: Profit margins very good for ski areas 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ARINA P. HABICH / SHUTTERSTOCK - BIG MONEY Vail Mountain Resort, pictured above, topped the list of Colorado ski resorts in terms of revenue for the 2013/2014 ski season.
  • Photo by Arina P. Habich / Shutterstock
  • BIG MONEY Vail Mountain Resort, pictured above, topped the list of Colorado ski resorts in terms of revenue for the 2013/2014 ski season.

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Studying the payments made by ski areas to operate on U.S. Forest Service land in Colorado last year, The Denver Post concludes that ski area operators made out handsomely last ski season.

All but four of the state's 22 ski areas counted the 2013-14 as their highest-grossing year, reports The Denver Post. Their payments to the Forest Service are based on their revenues.

Vail ski area paid the most, at $5.4 million, followed by Breckenridge at $3.5 million, then Keystone at $2.9 million, Steamboat at $1.5 million, and Snowmass at $1.4 million.

But Arapahoe Basin led the state in terms of growth, a 45 per cent increase in revenue.

The Post also points out that Vail Resorts has surpassed Intrawest as the nation's leading ski company, and that 75 per cent of Vail's income is coming from on-mountain operations, and just four per cent from real estate.

In the 1990s, environmental critics argued that ski areas had become the means to leverage real estate profits on adjacent private lands. About a decade ago, it was becoming clear that that was not true, as ski area managers had said all along.

Vail latest to put a kabosh on plastic

VAIL, Colo. — Plastic shopping bags have become non grata in Vail. In a 4-to-3 vote last week, the Vail Council agreed to ban dispensing of single-use plastic bags altogether at the town's grocery stores and to assess a fee of 10 cents for paper bags.

In doing this, Vail follows on the heels of Telluride and then Aspen, Carbondale, and Breckenridge, among other mountain towns.

Dick Cleveland, a former mayor and long-time resident, said it's time for the curtain to fall on the bags. "The bags barely make it home," he said. "You can't re-use them, so it's time to get rid of them."

The Vail Daily reports no single reason for dissenting votes. One council member argued that paper bags pose a greater environmental cost than plastic. Another said he was skeptical about "consciousness-raising by law."

Grocers will be allowed to keep 20 per cent of the money from sale of paper bags. The town, in turn, will create a reusable "Vail bag," similar to what is sold in Breckenridge and Telluride after they instituted bans.

Next year, Vail will take up the issue of how to discourage use of disposable bags at other retail stores.

Too much of idling rich?

PARK CITY, Utah — Time to give idlers in Park City a nudge? We're talking about people in stationary cars, not rich people making small talk at cocktail parties.

City staffers in Park City say a lot of drivers are still idling, especially during the Sundance Film Festival, in violation of the city's three-minute cap on idling cars.

That law allows unlimited idling when temperatures reach below freezing or above 32 degree Celsius. The city staff wants elected officials to lower the idling cap to one-minute and eliminate temperature exemptions.

The Park Record reports that no violators have been fined since the law was adopted in 2010.

Ski patrollers now part of union

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Ski patrollers at Telluride have voted 47-1 to join the Communications Workers of America.

Ski patrollers, according to the Telluride Daily Planet, say they want a structure for effectively communicating to management their needs and to establish economic compensation that is equitable and predictable.

The statement issued by ski patrollers also said they want to ensure that every employee "works in an environment that is free from fear and where everyone is treated fairly with dignity and respect and where an equitable system exists to resolve complaints through arbitration, if necessary."

The same union also represents ski patrollers at Steamboat, Crested Butte, and The Canyons.

Can ski patrollers afford Park City?

PARK CITY, Utah — A two-year contract between ski patrollers and management at The Canyons is ending, and this time the patrollers will negotiate with Vail Resorts.

Pete Earle, president of the Canyons Professional Ski Patrol Association, tells The Park Record that one consideration for ski patrollers is being able to afford to live in Park City.

"I moved here 11 years ago, and one of the reasons I chose Park City is it was one of the few ski towns in the West that I could afford to live and work in the same town," he said.

People are now getting priced out, he added. "We have more and more people moving every year to Salt Lake or to Heber (both located about 30 minutes away). We want to be a part of the community. That's a big thing for us."

Still not much snow in the Sierra Nevada

TRUCKEE, Calif. — The snow story in the Sierra Nevada continues to be glum. A snowstorm in late February and early March barely moved the needle on snow readings.

"We're kind of hovering... nudging up against the lowest snowpack on record," said Frank Gehrke of the California Department of Water Resources.

South Lake Tahoe, home to the Heavenly Resort, got just 0.25 centimetres of precipitation in January, and then in February 11 centimetres. It's a little better in the southern Sierra Nevada, notes the Sierra Sun.

The Associated Press reports that the long anticipated El Niño has finally arrived but it is "weak, weird and late," in the words of Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center.

"This is not the answer for California," he said.

Family Dollar and the ghost of Georgia O'Keeffe

ABIQUIU, N.M. — Plans for a Family Dollar store in Abiquiú are moving forward despite the objections of newer residents in the town of about 600 residents in northern New Mexico.

KRQE reports that the Rio Arriba County Planning and Zoning Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval for the 773-square-metre store.

Located an hour from Taos and Santa Fe, Abiquiú was made famous by the residency of the artist Georgia O'Keeffe. She lived nearby at the Ghost Ranch from 1949 until shortly before her death in 1986.

"Steeped in culture and tradition, Abiquiú is a centuries-old community where it's not unusual to see a tractor on the highway, cows grazing or relatives chit-chatting at the post office," reported the Santa Fe New Mexican's Daniel J. Chacón in a recent story. "There are no street lights, and most of the roads are dirt."

Chacón further explains that Family Dollar's plans have exposed existing racial and economic tensions between the locals, who are primarily Hispanic, and newer residents, who are usually Anglo.

"I think most of the Hispanic people who have lived here for generations seem to want it, and they're saying that only the Anglo outsiders and newcomers don't want it," said Jeffrey Beeman, an opponent who arrived from California a decade ago and operates a bed and breakfast.

"They're saying that they want an affordable place to shop. We're saying, 'Well, why can't you just go down the road to Hernández, where there's another Family Dollar and a Dollar General?'"

He added: "Once we start getting these types of stores here, it's going to disrupt the landscape."

Hernández, of course, has a famous landscape of its own. The photographer Ansel Adams in 1941 just happened to be passing by when he noticed the setting sun illuminating the headstones of the cemetery as a full moon arose over the Sangre de Cristo Range to the east. The masterpiece is called "Moonrise over Hernández."

Dogs love marijuana, but cats more picky

DURANGO, Colo. — Tiffin, a four-year-old Schnauzer-Yorkie, ate an apple in a backyard, but it was no ordinary apple. The apple had been used as an improvised marijuana pipe. The dog, veterinarian Stacee Santi told the Durango Herald, exhibited the symptoms of cannabis poisoning.

Amounts of marijuana that would be fine in adult humans can be fatal in dogs, she said. "It's a dosing issue," she said. "That dog is 10 pounds."

Marijuana can depress a dog's heart rate and blood pressure enough that it can become hypothermic and even slip into a coma-like state, the veterinarian said.

Tiffin seems to have survived, but the Herald notes that veterinarians have seen a dramatic increase in cases of marijuana poisoning in the past two years.

"We see about one a week," said Santi, echoing estimates from Telluride.

While dogs are strongly drawn to marijuana, cats are more selective, she said.

Non-recyclers urged to emulate Halifax

CANMORE, Alberta — This town at the gateway to Banff National Park has a recycling rate of just 30 per cent, despite great efforts to make recycling easy for residents.

"Shame," says the Rocky Mountain Outlook while pointing to a 68 per cent diversion rate in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The newspaper also points to Vancouver, B.C., where it became illegal on Jan. 1 to put organic waste and food scraps into the garbage streams. That includes grass clippings, fall leaves, coffee grounds, and egg shells.

The Outlook goes on to conclude: "Get on board, Canmorites, before recycling and organic diversions need to be backed by laws."

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