Mountain News: Snow and ice just outside your door could kill 

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PARK CITY, Utah — That snow up on your roof? Yeah, it's dangerous stuff. In the 1990s, a woman in Vail was trying to pull down snow that had accumulated on the roof of her house. She succeeded more than she had intended. It avalanched and killed her.

Recently, 50-year-old Jon Henry was killed in Park City by a block of ice that firefighters estimated weighed a few hundred kilograms. The ice fell on him from a height of two storeys as he stood between houses washing windows in the city's Old Town neighbourhood.

Built during the mining era, the houses are close together, creating peril for those working between them in heavy snow years.

The Park Record said the victim was an active member of Toastmasters, the club for those who want to improve their public-speaking skills. He had recently won a regional competition for a story that a fellow member described as "poignant and funny at the same time."

Will Trump and Sessions clamp down on cannabis?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Jeff Sessions has become the U.S. attorney general, inviting the question of whether he will crack down on Colorado and other states that have approved sale of marijuana for recreational use.

Nobody really knows whether Sessions, formerly a U.S. senator from Alabama, and President Donald Trump will reverse the look-the-other-way policy of the Obama administration regarding enforcement of federal laws prohibiting use and sale of marijuana.

In Colorado, there is conflicting evidence about the economic impact if they do. The state now has 440 stores that sell marijuana for both recreational and medical use, 623 cultivation facilities, 240 product manufacturers, and 12 testing facilities, according to the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division. Annual sales of cannabis, both recreational and medical, last year topped US$1.1 billion, according to Brian Vicente, a Denver-based marijuana attorney.

Vicente tells the Glenwood Post-Independent to expect a recession in Denver that would reverberate throughout the state if the Trump administration reverses the Obama administration policy.

But the evidence in Steamboat Springs suggests something well short of a recession if marijuana sales dive underground. Although volume of sales in Steamboat grew 18 per cent last year, they remain just 1.8 per cent of the city's $23.4 million in sales tax revenue. By comparison, reported Steamboat Today, liquor store sales accounted for 3.6 per cent of the sales tax pie. July and August were the most lucrative for pot merchants.

Colorado voters in November 2012 approved legalized sales for recreational use beginning in January 2014. In Telluride and some other jurisdictions, sales began the very first day. But other towns and cities pushed the pause button, waiting to see results from this giant experiment in public policy.

Snowmass Village still has its thumb on pause. The moratorium on both medical and recreational marijuana businesses was recently extended until 2018 while town officials try to get a bead on what people want.

In many jurisdictions in Colorado, residents voted for legalization but local elected officials have interpreted that to mean that the residents didn't actually want it in their towns and cities. Sales remain banned in Vail, for example, although there are several shops in unincorporated Eagle County, just five kilometres from Vail Village. The pot shops send out vans for customers.

Two-thirds of Snowmass residents voted for legalization, reported the Aspen Daily News. Mayor Markey Butler said that's plenty close, but she also noted tartly that it's still against federal law.

Near both Snowmass and Aspen, a potter who lives on a rural property in an upscale but low-density home is calculating her options after Pitkin County rejected her application to open a marijuana grow-operation on her 31-acre property. She told the Daily News sardonically that she now plans to have a pig farm there.

The county commissioners said there were too many unanswered questions about water rights and other issues. But the woman, who has lived there for 30-plus years, told the Daily News that the real story is that many of her complaining neighbours harbour an anti-marijuana bias and "have far more resources than I do to hire lawyers and consultants."

Limits coming for chain retailers

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen's city council has agreed to take a more serious look at regulations that seek to prevent the downtown's shopping district from looking too much like what you'd find everywhere else.

The regulations being discussed would require special city approval for formula retail stores on the first-floor locations in the city's downtown. That area at the foot of the ski slopes has many 19th-century Victorian buildings erected during the city's mining heydays of the 1880s and 1890s.

The draft ordinance defines formula retail as a business with 11 more outlets anywhere in the United States that has two or more of the following: more than half of their stock merchandise from a single distributor; a standardized array of services; a standardized décor and colour scheme; uniform apparel; and standardized sign or trademark.

This definition was created after an Aspen group researched about 30 other municipalities, including Sonoma, Calif.; Nantucket, Mass.; McCall, Idaho; and the commercial core in downtown San Francisco. All have adopted legislation addressing the proliferation of chains in their downtown commercial cores. 

"The reason we are here now is because we have been chasing tax revenue from formula retail," said Councilman Bert Myrin, according to a story reported by the Aspen Times. That has been lucrative for the town government but unhealthy for the community, he added.

The regulations were proposed by two former mayors, John Bennett and Bill Stirling, along with high-tech investor Jerry Murdock. After two months of discussion, the idea has been moderated to exempt all existing buildings from the proposed regulation. This would include the 21 buildings now being redeveloped.

Murdock said at a recent council meeting that the regulation could reduce speculation. He said current redevelopment is geared toward new formula retail stores.

Councilman Art Daily said that making chain stores a conditional use in new development would send a message that "as a community we are going to be cautious as to how (the downtown) retail mix evolves."

Stirling told Mountain Town News that the proposed regulations intend to protect "community character (and) the small-town feeling and to promote economic diversity in the core."

"We hope that Aspen can project and protect its unique brand and not have it feel like an annex of the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver. There is a homogenization of shopping throughout the world now, which is a result of globalization, and we would like not to fall prey to that sameness." 

The proposed regulation would exempt the existing 15 retail outlets that have only two to six other locations. But at least two of the stores in Aspen that meet the definition of retail formula retail sprang up in Aspen, said Stirling.

Snowy and cold this year, but long-term trend clear

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — It's still snowing in the Sierra Nevada, and temperatures have chilled considerably compared to the last few years.

Still, the big trend is warmer. Scientists recently reported that the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces in 2016 was 0.94 degrees Celsius above the 20th-century average.

What does this warming mean for Lake Tahoe, that vast body of water that partially covers both California and Nevada?

Steve Sadro, a limnologist from the University of California-Davis, who studies lakes in the Sierra Nevada, points out that there's more variation in weather patterns at higher elevations. But what is known, he said, is that warming local temperatures are producing more extremes, and that includes greater climate variability in mountain environments.

"The frequency of drought is going up, and the severity of drought is increasing," Sadro told the Sierra Sun. "Does that mean we're never going to have wet years? No."

The 2016 State of the Lake report issued by the Tahoe Environmental Research Center shows that the days of below-freezing temperatures have declined by 30 days since record-keeping began in 1910. Since 1910, there's been a wide variation in the amount of precipitation that falls on the Tahoe area as snow. A century ago, snow was responsible for 51 per cent of precipitation. Lately, it's dropped to 33 per cent.

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