Mountain News: The ridiculous weather ridge 

click to enlarge WWWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Snow Please Ketchum, Idaho is desperate the white stuff

KETCHUM, Idaho – It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Ketchum — but not the scenes found on holiday cards. Rather, it looks a lot like that of December 1936, the inaugural year for the Sun Valley Lodge.

Hillsides were brown that year at Christmas. Guests had to wait several days until a big storm arrived, noted the Idaho Mountain Express.

This year, save for what snowmakers so expertly can deliver, guests might have to wait longer.

The Weather Channel, in its 10-day outlook for Ketchum posted on Sunday, Dec. 17 sees no better than a 50-per-cent chance of snow through December. Most days, the chances are rated at 10 to 20 per cent.

In Colorado, Snowmass also was snow-shy as opening day approached 50 years ago. A dump arrived just before the Dec. 15 opening. This year, the 50th birthday party had no such miracle storm, only 93 acres of mostly manufactured snow for the 12,400 people who paid for commemoratively priced US$6.50 lift tickets.

The problem in Idaho, Colorado, and elsewhere is another manifestation of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge off the West Coast. The high-pressure ridge is acting like a hulking NFL lineman standing in a doorway, causing moisture to go around. The Sierra Nevada and the Rockies have been dry of late and, in November, uncommonly warm.

In the Tahoe Basin of California and Nevada, the snowpack this past week was described as "grim." If Heavenly and Squaw Valley can boast of snow somewhat close to average at high elevations, not much snow could be found below 2,400 metres, reported Jeff Anderson, water supply specialist with the Nevada Natural Resources Conservation Service. What is above average is rainfall.

This narrative can turn on a dime, and it often has in the past. "A cold storm would really help. We'll forget all this again next year if a big, cold storm comes through," Anderson told the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Last winter, the storms that pounded the Sierra Nevada, leaving it drenched, came in January.

But at least in California, the odds are against anything approaching normal. Michael Dettinger, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, reported last week that chances of a normal "water year" in northern California had fallen to about 30 per cent. In the southern half of the state, he put chances as low as 14 per cent. His findings were reported on a blog run by UC San Diego's Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes and reported by the Sacramento Bee.

Skiing milestones celebrated

WHITEFISH, Mont. — Several birthday parties have been held recently at ski areas in the West, most notably at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana and Snowmass in Colorado.

Big Mountain, as Whitefish was then known, opened on Dec. 14, 1947. Lift tickets were $2.

The ski area might best be seen as an echo of Sun Valley. Averill Harriman wanted to produce passengers for his Union Pacific trains, and Sun Valley was the answer in 1936. In 1940, Great Northern dispatched Al and Grace Carter Lindley, two skiers from the 1936 Olympic team, to scout out possibilities. About the same time, there were efforts underway in Aspen, another place at the end of a railroad line.

Both Big Mountain and Aspen had to wait out The Second World War. In both cases and many more, there were 10th Mountain Division veterans involved. Karl Hinderman, who had helped train army skiers on Mount Rainier in Washington state, fought in Italy's Apennine Mountains and Po River Valley, ran the ski school at Big Mountain. Another figure at Big Mountain was Ole Dalen, who lost his right arm to shrapnel, but returned to Whitefish for the skiing.

The Whitefish Pilot recounted the many financial struggles over the decades for the ski resort and also prices that now look incredible: a two-bedroom cottage renting for $30 a month.

The name Big Mountain was replaced by Whitefish Mountain in 2006, in an effort to improve the marketability and link the resort to its town. This change didn't go over well with everybody, the local heartburn evident in a spree of graffiti. But the long-discussed change now has taken hold even as Whitefish has thrived in recent years, said the Whitefish Pilot.

In Colorado, Snowmass turned 50 on Dec. 15. It's a few kilometres from Aspen but, in a way, the model for it was Vail, which had opened five years before. There was no town of Snowmass before the Snowmass ski area, just as there was no Vail before the Vail ski area. But 10th Mountain Division veterans had their fingers in both.

The Aspen Daily News described an NBC film made in 1967 that described with rapturous detail the glamour of skiing. A central figure was Stein Eriksen, the first director of skiing at Snowmass. "I stress beauty and grace as the most important things," he said in the film.

An audience that saw the film recently was taken yet again by Eriksen, ever ageless and dashing with his flowing golden locks, narrow stance, and extreme angulation. "His December 2015 death still feels recent," noted the News correspondent Madeleine Osberger.

Snowmass did not become the largest ski area in the world, as Ericksen predicted in 1967, but it did become the meal ticket for Aspen. Most people, when they go to Aspen, ski the more moderate slopes of Snowmass.

A commentator for the Aspen Daily News described it as the Rodney Dangerfield of ski areas. "It gets no respect, from Aspenites anyways," said the unidentified writer. "Snowmass has always been Aspen's punching bag, the brunt of endless jokes, like a relative who lives next door that never gets invited to the party."

But in the stable of four ski areas owned by The Aspen Skiing Co., "it's the Clydesdale workhorse... e the big numbers happen."

A cat fight in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. — Trophy hunting became the topic du jour in Jackson Hole recently when a hunter bagged a male mountain lion, strapped it atop the back of his pickup, then drove down slowly on a road through the National Wildlife Refuge.

The hunter, Mark Veilleux, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide he didn't drive slowly in an attempt to goad the photographers who had gathered along the road to see bighorn sheep.

"I guess if I see nine photographers on that freakin' road again, maybe I'll jam on my brakes and put something over it," he said. "I don't want to make people cry. I don't like to hurt people's feelings."

But he also had this to tell the newspaper: When driving on the road, he was "minding my own f---ing business."

Veilleux, a road grader who grew up in Jackson Hole and now lives across Teton Pass in Victor, Idaho, had hunted mountain lions in that same area for years. It's known as a place with a high density of lions. There are no grizzly bears there, and few wolves, because of the nature of the topography.

While he had treed other lions this year, he did not shoot them. This time his dogs chased the tomcat for two hours before it climbed a tree, then jumped from one tree to another. He harvested the meat, which he described as being like pork, and had the hide cured by a taxidermist.

The News&Guide reported the sometimes vitriolic and petty debate in online forums. One of the photographers that had seen the lion said she didn't think Veilleux is a horrible person. "Hopefully he won't go and shoot another cat."

The newspaper, in an editorial, didn't go that far, but it did quote Jim Posewitz, author of a 1994 book called Beyond Fair Chase: the Ethic and Tradition of Hunting, "Any dead animal in transport should be discreetly covered."

A push for the diversion of organic waste

CANMORE, Alta. — Banff, the town just inside the eponymously named national park, is diverting organics from its waste stream. Calgary is starting up. Why can't Canmore, the gateway town to Banff National Park, do the same?

A study conducted in 2016 found that 37 per cent of the landfill is organic material. Over half of that is food waste, and the rest comes from yards and such things as paper. Composting organic matter would reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also landfilling costs.

But if the other communities have mostly figured out how to compost organic material, Canmore is finding problems. A new community group is pushing elected officials to move forward, reported the Rocky Mountain Outlook, but those same elected officials are hearing words of caution from staff members.

Sierra Nevada grew 2.5 cm during four-year drought

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Sierra Nevada rose nearly 2.5 centimetres from October 2011 to October 2015, according to a new study by NASA. Scientists say that the drought caused loss of water in the rock.

But since that drought ended two years ago, the mountains have risen a half-inch.

"This suggests that the solid Earth has a greater capacity to store water than previously thought," said study leader Donald Argus of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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