Mountain News: 

Polish students staff Four Seasons hotel

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — The new Four Seasons hotel in Jackson Hole aims for the top notch in customer service, and to do it staff members are recruiting workers from abroad. For summer, they are drawing students from Poland, For winter, the employees are going to Chile and Peru. About 50 foreign employees are hired during each season.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide explains that several agencies, such as the Student Adventures in Poland, arrange work placements with companies in the United States. Students can obtain work permits, called J1 visas, for four months for the first visit or for up to 18 months for subsequent employment.

For the Polish students, the work experience in Jackson Hole gives them an advantage in later securing employment with Four Seasons resorts in Europe. In Jackson Hole, the Polish students work up to 80 hours but get paid $10 an hour for work that might pay $2 an hour in Poland.

Ketchum honors second-home owner

KETCHUM, Idaho — Back in the mid-century, before "second-home owner" became a demonized phrase, Ernest Hemingway spent part of each year in Ketchum, the town made famous by the Sun Valley ski area. There, he fished and hunted and wrote the better part of several novels, including For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Finally, despondent by illness and mental illness, he killed himself in 1961. Since then, writers both famous and not have made pilgrimages to Ketchum to pay homage to his writing at a memorial erected along the banks of an irrigation ditch. "Best of all he loved the fall, the leaves on the cottonwoods, leavings floating in the trout streams and above the hills the high blue windless skies," the memorial says, quoting from one of Hemingway’s own novels.

Now, Ketchum is seeking to capitalize on the writer’s fame by holding the first Ernest Hemingway festival. Events include lectures and discussions by national scholars, a short-story contest, a tour of his old hangouts, and other ways of paying tribute and drawing visitors.

Ketchum often delves into its past for festival storylines. In early September, the town hosts Wagon Days, when a parade of more than 100 non-motorized vehicles recall the wagons used to haul ore from the mines of the region to smelters and railroad cars. Another festival, held in October, is called Trailing of the Sheep, recalling the era when sheepherders drove bands of sheep from the high mountain pastures to trains waiting to take them to markets.

Such festivals, explains the Idaho Mountain Express, are more than entertainment. "Communities that don’t know of their origins and the hardscrabble existence of those who carved out the first signs of a town have no sense of tradition or pride that goes along with honoring the past."

Recently, neighbors of the house that Hemingway owned prevailed in their wish to make it inaccessible to the public. That, declares the newspaper, was a mistake for Ketchum.

Banff launches new writing program

BANFF, Alberta — The Banff Centre has launched a new program, one designed to advance science communications. Beginning next year, Banff will host writers and broadcasters in science communications and others involved in scientific outreach. Scientists will also be drawn to the program.

Banff already hosts a program designed to encourage research into mathematical innovation and discovery, as well as one of Canada’s top programs for creative and non-fiction writers.

Mountain towns answer Katrina

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Even the most remote mountain hideaways seem to have been affected by Hurricane Katrina.

In Idaho, yoga instructors in the Hailey-Ketchum area near the Sun Valley ski area donated their fees to relief efforts. At Tamarack, the new ski resort near Donnelley, a family scrambled to begin life anew in their summer cabin after learning that water had risen to 12 feet at their house in New Orleans.

In Colorado, firefighters from Aspen, emergency service workers from Silverton, and the sheriff and deputies from Telluride were off at a moment’s notice to muck in the fetid waters of New Orleans. "What goes around comes around," San Miguel County sheriff Bill Masters told The Telluride Watch. "If we ever need help, they’ll come and help us."

Some schools took in students. Other people were planning to take in pets. A private jet provided by an anonymous woman from California flew 100 dogs to new homes in the Durango-Pagosa Springs. Similar pet-saving efforts were underway in the Park City, Vail, and Banff-Canmore areas.

Even the most dissimilar places have strong connections – perhaps because of their dissimilarities, noted Sky-Hi News publisher Patrick Brower. He points out that the Granby-Winter Park area is located nearly entirely above 8,000 feet and historically has had some of the most bone-chilling cold in the continental United States. Too, despite all the snow, it has very little native water left, as most of it is diverted to metropolitan Denver. One story in the Winter Park Manifest, about a transplant from New Orleans, was titled "From the Big Easy to the Big Chill."

Even before the hurricane, plans had been laid for a fund-raiser in the Winter Park area featuring popular Louisiana performer Tab Benoit, to draw awareness to the environmental problems of Louisiana that were partly responsible for the great destruction.

Others mountain town employers explored providing jobs to displaced Gulf Coast residents. Vail Resorts investigated offering high-mountain jobs to New Orleans tourism industry workers. In the Steamboat area, coal mine operators ramping up for production of a new underground mine saw potential jobs for electricians, heavy-equipment operators, and mechanics. "We’re looking for people with good, strong values," said Ron Spangler, the human resources manager for Peabody Twentymile Coal Co., which has a mine about 20 miles from Steamboat. The Steamboat Pilot noted that the coal-mining jobs pay $60,000 a year.

A good time to buy?

ASPEN, Colo. — The real estate market continues to surge in Aspen and surrounding areas. The Aspen Times reports $1.35 billion in sales through August. At this rate, the Aspen area will surpass $2 billion in sales. Only twice before – in 2000 and in 2004 – has the Aspen area surpassed $1 billion.

Real estate agents monitoring sales also report that down-valley, Garfield County has been recording $1 million sales, reflecting the general ratcheting-up of prices.

A really good time to buy?

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Real estate prices in the various resort communities in the Lake Tahoe area have soared up to 30 per cent annually. This summer that pace has slowed.

"It’s not the feeding frenzy it was," one real estate agent, Carol Fromson, told Truckee’s Sierra Sun. There, home prices had appreciated 25 to 30 per cent, leaving few homes at less than $500,000.

In South Lake Tahoe, where the Heavenly ski area is located, the average selling price rose only 5 per cent this summer after a year in which prices lofted from $355,000 to an average of $425,000, reports the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Real estate agents seem not particularly worried. Real estate agent Deb Howard of The South Shore predicts appreciation of 7 to 12 per cent during the next year as retiring baby boomers and 1031 tax-deferred exchange continue to drive the resort market.

Lightning strikes dirt biker

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — You may have heard that you can’t get hit by lightning while driving a car – because of the insulation of the rubber tires.

Actually, you can get hit by lighting while in a car – or on a motorcycle. And that’s exactly what happened when two brothers from Texas were riding their dirt bikes in the Taylor Park area near Crested Butte in early September. The brother who was not hit told police that he saw his bother go straight up and then fall back on the road. He was treated at a hospital in Gunnison, about an hour away, and then flown to Grand Junction for further treatment. The Crested Butte News did not disclose the extent of his injuries.

Cozy relationship alleged

WOLF CREEK PASS, Colo. — For several years now, opponents of a giant new real estate development next to the Wolf Creek ski area have accused the developer of improper influence peddling. They now have filed an additional accusation.

Colorado Wild, the ski area watchdog group, says that correspondence now made public shows that an attorney for developer, Red McCombs, drafted a letter that the U.S. Forest Service eventually sent to the attorney’s client. A Colorado Wild representative told The Associated Press that the correspondence confirms that the Forest Service is rubber-stamping decisions for McCombs.

Bob Honts, the lead executive for McCombs on the project, denied the accusation. However, a spokesman for a Colorado congressman, Mark Udall, seemed to think the allegation is at least troubling. "It’s highly unusual for a federal agency to use letters that are ghostwritten by a lobbyist that benefits the client the lobbyist represents," said Lawrence Pacheco, the spokesman.

The practical implication of the letter was not reported.

The ski area currently has no housing or even temporary lodging, which is located at a base area of 10,300 feet on one of Colorado’s snowiest passes. McCombs wants to build housing that could ultimately house up to 10,500 people. He already has approval from county authorities, but must also get permission to cross U.S. Forest Service land. Owners of the ski area, while supporting a much smaller development many years ago, are trying to block the project.

Working under lights

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — It’s still just September and already construction workers are toiling under the lights in ski towns of the West. At Breckenridge, that night work extended to the ski mountain, where equipment failures have forced overtime work on a new lift that is being built. The lift is to go to 12,825 feet, the highest lift terminal in North America.

Wolves, bears killed in Banff

BANFF, Alberta — The Banff area not only has major migration corridors for wildlife, but also a transcontinental highway and railroad. Despite ambitious efforts to accommodate the wildlife that are often cited as the most advanced in North America, wildlife have been big losers this year.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that now three grizzly bears and two wolves have been killed by either trains, trucks, or cars this year. This leaves the local wolf pack perilously small. Meanwhile the grizzly population is also considered threatened. Further efforts to reinforce already extensive fences, to prevent the animals from digging below them, are being discussed.

School enrolments continue down

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — For several years now, the story has been much the same in the ski towns and resort valleys of the West. Despite rapid population growth, school enrolments have generally been flat or declining.

More of the same is being reported at Lake Tahoe, where the school district reported 4,200 students this fall, 188 less than last year. The school district superintendent, Dennis Williams, reported the slide in enrolment has been occurring for seven or eight years. "It is more extreme than we’ve been anticipating," he told the Tahoe World.

What’s going on? Williams surmises that at least partly it’s a matter of fewer younger families moving into the area or staying in the area because of rising housing costs. That’s been the conclusion in other mountain valleys of the West. As well, the Gen X generation, which is now in its 20s and 30s, was substantially smaller than either the Baby Boomers or their off-spring, the Echo Boomers. The latter is just now entering their child-rearing years.

However, in some areas, the story is starting to change. In Colorado’s East Grand School District, where Winter Park and Granby are located, enrolment this fall was up 3 per cent after being flat or declining since 2000. Officials in a district near Steamboat Springs also reported a minor increase after several years of enrolment declines.

Ski area addition contemplated

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Twenty-year old plans for Crested Butte’s proposed ski area expansion onto nearby Snodgrass Mountain are now being mulled anew by local as well as federal officials.

The expansion (technically, it’s a new ski area, because it’s separated by a short distance from the existing ski area) would provide 300 acres of mostly intermediate terrain. Ski area officials have identified intermediate terrain as the most pressing need to attract destination visitors and get them to return for a second year. Crested Butte officials say they have a relatively low return rate as compared to other ski areas, because there is so little diversity of terrain.

However, a new group called Friends of Snodgrass have an alternate plan for Snodgrass Mountain: nothing new.

Wolves could be "lethal reduction"

GRAND LAKE, Colo. — Reintroduction of wolves into Rocky Mountain National Park remains a possibility. For several decades, the park has been troubled by too many elk. Without predators – or human hunters – the elk are damaging the vegetation of the park. A recent study identifies several options, including killing of elk – called "lethal reduction" in the study – by National Park Service personnel or contractors, and also using birth-control mechanisms. Wolves are considered one form of lethal reduction.

Eminent domain action considered

SILVERTON, Colo. — The issue of when governments should be able to use the power of eminent domain continues to be debated in San Juan County in a case directly tied to operations of the double-black-diamond Silverton Mountain Ski Area.

Jim Jackson of Aspen owns land located among the federal lands used by skiers and snowboarders at Silverton Mountain. Jackson had staged speed-skiing championship there in the 1980s and had long talked about creating a ski area.

But in 1999, Aaron Brill arrived, buying private land and eventually installing a ski lift. With the ski area’s famous steeps comes a huge threat of avalanches. Jackson complains that not only are Silverton Mountain’s skiers trespassing on his property, but that the avalanches that Silverton Mountain sets off to reduce the risk trespass his property. He has filed a lawsuit seeking an end.

The county government has stepped in to condemn Jackson’s land, using money that Brill has agreed to pay. Brill would not get the land, but it would instead be held by the county or exchanged with the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the property Brill uses for skiing.

The county commissioners contend they have an interest in public safety, hence their interest in minimizing the threat of avalanches on the county road. As such, they reason, Brill’s needs are also their needs.

"We’re not pursuing this on an economic-development basis," San Juan County administrator Willy Tookey told the Durango Herald. "I just don’t understand the argument that just because somebody’s paying to ski, you shouldn’t make the road safe for them," he said.

Brill also argues that others benefit from avalanche control, as there is a mine, several homes and a power line that would also be served by improved avalanche control. However, until Brill’s work began, there was no avalanche control along the road.

Still, particularly in the wake of decisions around the country involving what many believe to be arrogant use of eminent domain for unjustified reasons, the case has drawn increased scrutiny.

Thomas Johnson, a lawyer for Jackson, argues that the ski area will still be the big winner. "The most egregious instances of trespass have occurred for the purpose of recreational skiing not for avalanche control," he told a judge. He filed a lawsuit against Brill on behalf of Jackson last December.

A state legislator, Mark Larson, a Republican from southwest Colorado, told the Durango Herald that a key is that San Juan County does not intend to sell the land to Brill. "They’re doing it for the public good, which is pretty much the traditional use of condemnation," he said.

The Herald also noted a memorandum issued by the Colorado Office of Legislative Legal Services. That memo declares the Colorado Constitution "arguably provides more protection for private property owners than the federal constitution." In Colorado, judges can rule that a condemnation wasn’t primarily for public use, the memo notes.

Births at Leadville hospital end

LEADVILLE- Colo. — Administrators at Leadville’s St. Vincent Hospital have pulled the plug after all on the hospital’s obstetric services. While the hospital, the nation’s highest, will continue to perform ultra sound and some other aspects of prenatal care, the decision effectively shifts delivery of babies from Leadville to hospitals in adjoining areas, particularly in Frisco and Vail.

Latest in Mountain News

More by Allen Best

© 1994-2019 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation