Mountain News: Thin snow in Idaho, worse in California 

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KETCHUM, Idaho — Talk about the haves and the have-nots. Ski resorts in the West this winter mostly fall into two different camps, those with good snow and those who, if not for snowmaking operations, would be kicking dirt.

Colorado has been blessed, even if the wet, heavy snowstorm on Sunday, Feb. 9 caused avalanches that closed highways across Berthoud and Monarch passes. The snowpack even before this weekend's storm had left Colorado in good shape. On Feb.1, before the big storms, the upper Colorado River Basin — where roughly half of Colorado's ski areas are located — was at 116 per cent of the median. Notably, it was 177 per cent above last year at the same time.

In Wyoming, at Jackson Hole, the snowpack of the upper Snake River Basin was roughly average. But downstream a few miles, the Palisade Reservoir was only a quarter full. As the reservoir generates electricity, it is holding back as much as possible, to be able to produce juice for the center-pivot sprinklers used on the potato and other farms in Idaho's Snake River Plain.

But parts of Idaho really are hurting. Sun Valley and Ketchum aren't that far from Jackson Hole, yet the snow-water equivalent is just half of average. Plus, the top of Sun Valley's Bald Mountain had just 74 centimetres of snow; the fourth lowest measurement for the date since record keeping began back in the late 1940's.

It could be worse. The California Department of Water Resources last week said the state's snowpack was only 12 per cent of normal for this time of winter. The Tahoe area got snow over the weekend. Still, it's a pretty thin story in the Sierra Nevada.

Beaver entices wolverines up trees

BANFF, Alberta — For a wolverine, just about any piece of meat will do. With that in mind, researchers in Alberta have been nailing the unskinned carcasses of beavers to trees, but lacing the tree trunks with wire. To get the meat, the wolverine probably leaves some hair behind on the wire.

The point of the exercise in Banff and Yoho national parks, explains the Rocky Mountain Outlook, is to get hair that can then be analyzed for its DNA component. In this way, researchers can get a better handle on how many wolverines there are.

Wolverines are not common anywhere. Reclusive by nature, they are sometimes mistaken for small bears but are snarly fighters when cornered.

After one year of testing in the parks, the hair samples revealed 12 males and seven females.

That's not many, but it's far more than in the United States, where there are believed to be just 35 breeding females among the 300 or so animals thought to exist, primarily in Montana, Idaho and other border states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to give the species greater protections under the Endangered Species Act, but has not made a decision to do so. Part of the delay is due to disagreement about the impacts of climate change.

In Colorado, state wildlife officials have been working with the ski industry, ranchers and others stakeholders in wolverine habitat, which consists primarily of high mountain terrain near treeline.

The state and federal wildlife officials would like to reintroduce wolverine into Colorado, reasoning that the state has plenty of high terrain that will retain the snow shelters that wolverines desperately need for denning during spring months, long after warming temperatures cause snow to disappear in lower elevations.

State officials tell the Denver Post that because of industry anxieties that protected status could cramp skiing and snowmobiling, they won't restart stakeholder talks about wolverines until after the federal decision is made.

Sharp rise in heroin in mountain towns

The Denver Post reports a sharp upswing in use of heroin in mountain towns, as well as elsewhere in Colorado, as revealed by the number of overdose victims.

The Roaring Fork Valley — where Aspen, Basalt and Glenwood Springs are located — has had three deaths from heroin overdoses in the past year. Two young men died in Durango, and two people overdosed in Crested Butte. Plus, there was an overdose death in Steamboat Springs a year and a half ago.

"Six or seven years ago, we would have occasional use of heroin in these towns. Now it is regular," Jim Schrant, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, said.

The newspaper noted that the heroin overdoses are not restricted to ski towns, as there has been an uptick in heroin use in other communities as well.

Tasty goat and other high-cuisine themes

VAIL, Colo. — A food columnist for the Vail Daily says that cauliflower is among the trends in local fine-dining places. "Often ignored as broccoli's less colorful cousin, cauliflower is coming into its own as this year's cruciferous star," notes the newspaper.

"The veggie is incredibly versatile and can be mashed, grilled, broiled, cut lengthwise and barbecued like a steak, eaten alone or in salads, pickled or even turned into a gluten-free crust for pizzas."

Also coming on are exotic species such as asafoetida, a pungent powder used widely in Indian and the Middle East, tealeaves for both cooking and cocktails, and ice cream sandwiches.

"Expect to see gourmet, hand-crafted ice cream sandwiches on menus once the weather warms up here in Colorado," the paper notes.

As for meat, Iowa rabbit is on the menu at one of the local French-themed restaurants, while another has braised goat, and crispy pig ears can be had at still another.

Pig ears. Yummy.

Who to blame, Obama or resort health costs?

VAIL, Colo. — That danged Obama! No doubt, something of that sort or worse has been said in several of Colorado's mountain towns since Obamacare took effect.

Insurance premiums in Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties under the Affordable Health Care Act are the most expensive in the country, an average $483 a month. (Those are, respectively, the locations of Vail, Aspen and Glenwood Springs).

Summit County (Breckenridge) is only slightly behind, at $462 a month.

But a Kaiser Family Foundation report also offers this not-surprising observation: health care in those counties was expensive before the new federal law. Also relevant, officials told the Vail Daily, is that local residents seem to go to doctors more often.

"The mountain and resort communities have had higher premiums than the Front Range (of Colorado) on average, over the past 25 years," Marguerite Salazar, Colorado Division of Insurance commissioner, told the newspaper.

Carrying heat into the town meetings

CRESTED BUTE, Colo. – Crested Butte, the municipality, bans openly carrying guns in the town, a violation of both state and federal laws.

To comply with the state, Crested Butte is now wondering whether it should allow guns altogether, except in specifically designated areas, such as town hall meetings and the community park?

Council members Shaun Matusewicz and Roland Mason, according to a report in the Crested Butte News, say they'd like to make no exceptions: guns everywhere would be allowed. But Councilman Jim Schmidt isn't. "You're OK with someone coming in here during a meeting with a weapon?" asked Schmidt.

The discussion is to be continued.

Aspen Gay Ski Week holds expensive party

ASPEN, Colo. — "It's expensive to throw a party in Aspen."

That's the report from The Roaring Fork Gay and Lesbian Fund, which puts on the annual Gay Ski Week in Aspen. The event, started in the late 1970s, remains the only non-profit gay ski week in the world, says the Aspen Daily News.

This year, the eight-day event produced $550,000 in revenues, up from $400,000 last year. Expenses were large, organizers tell the Daily News. For instance, it cost $15,000 to rent a restaurant where one event is held.

Still, after expenses, the organization last year was able to devote nine per cent of revenues to grants. Of that $36,000, $2,000 went to each of the Gay Straight Alliances at the four local public high schools. The single largest grant last year was $7,000 for a diversity training group founded by staffers at the Roaring Fork School district.

The event drew an estimated 5,000 people this year, up 20 per cent from last year.

Will scientists replace artists in powerhouse?

ASPEN, Colo. — Will scientists and mathematicians move into the Aspen Art Museum after the current paintings and other works are removed? The museum is leaving the building, which once housed a hydroelectric plant, in favor of new quarters. The Aspen Daily News reports that city officials have launched a conversation about the next use. One idea is a center to help reignite interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Aspen has a long history of interest in those areas. It is home to the Aspen

Center for Physics, which sponsors a weekly lecture series during winter at the Wheeler Opera House.

MJ sellers, banks both waiting for money rules

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Yikes! Can you imagine how much money the stores selling marijuana in Colorado must have on hand? Lots of greenbacks, because selling marijuana remains a federal crime. As such, banks that are part of the federal banking system — virtually of them — don't want to touch marijuana retailers, for fear of suffering federal sanctions.

Time Magazine recounted all of this in a recent story from Denver, but lately comes a statement from Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, that federal regulators may soon allow state-sanctioned marijuana dispensaries access to federally-insured banking services.

That news is welcomed in the Telluride area by both retail stores and at least one of the local banks. But so far, it has made no difference, one local banker tells The Telluride Watch.

"As a locally owned and operated bank, our mission is to serve the needs of the entire community," said Chris Maughan, branch manager of the Alpine Bank. "The attorney general's comments are encouraging, but because we are a federally regulated institution, our policy on this issue is dictated by the FDIC. A this point, we have received no guidance from the FDIC that would allow us to bank marijuana businesses."

Telluride pays in hopes of favorable TV show

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Despite some discontent in the community, town governments for both Telluride and Mountain Village are chipping in $20,000 each to producers of something called "Music Voyager" which promises to make an episode about Telluride's music scene. The half-hour program can then be marketed to such electronic shows as BBC Travel, Travel Channel South America and others.

Also donating $10,000 each were Telluride Ski & Golf, the ski area operator, and the Telluride Tourism Board.

Stu Fraser, mayor of Telluride, defended the contribution. "It allows us to get a substantial bang for the buck. To have exposure in France, to have exposure in Japan..." he told the Telluride Daily Planet.

Michael Martelon, chief executive of Telluride Tourism, similarly defended the contribution as a way to advertise Telluride to international audiences.

Big ranch sale notable for what it doesn't have

TELLURIDE, Colo. — A 2,379-acre ranch on a mesa about 20 minutes from Telluride was sold recently for $17 million. That's a lot of money, but the most notable element about the sale may be what it doesn't include.

"There aren't any structures on the property, which is very unusual," George Harvey, the real estate agent who brokered the sale, tells the Telluride Daily Planet. "And that's exactly what the buyer is looking for. He did not want anything that was improved, and that means no house or barn, any of those things."

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