Mountain News: 

Steamboat jumping on plastic

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — A new era dawned in Steamboat Springs on Sunday with the baptism of a new 75-metre all-weather ski jump at Howelsen Hill, the city’s 90-year old ski jumping venue.

The Steamboat Pilot and Today’s Tom Ross reported a loud "thwack" as the first jumper, Davis Miller, touched down on the green plastic surface and skidded into the wet sod beyond, followed quickly by a dozen young ski jumpers.

Program director Todd Wilson, himself a product of the Winter Park jumping program, was philosophic. "Would Tiger Woods be the champion he is if he’d only played golf six months of the year?" he asked in justifying the creation of a plastic jump.

John Fetcher, the 93-year-old founder of the Steamboat ski area, reported mixed emotions. "I’m sort of mad at the Europeans for making it necessary," he said. "This is really a winter sport." He added that he thinks youngsters should not be pushed to specialize in one sport.

And what would Carl Howelsen, who introduced Colorado to ski jumping, have thought? Ross points out that Howelsen was an all-season jumper himself. Turning from his vocation of brick-laying, Howelsen got a job with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. There, working under the big tent, he demonstrated ski jumping from a 100-foot ramp greased with Vaseline – in all seasons.

How sustainable is that?

KETCHUM, Idaho — Ketchum recently was the site of a conference devoted to maintaining sustainable communities. While sustainability has been justified for everything under the sun, in this context it was about reducing environmental impacts.

After hearing former Aspen-area resident Hunter Lovins talk, one of the audience members, Steve Hogan, a restaurateur, was motivated to write an op-ed piece for the Idaho Mountain Express.

Noting the construction of a 30,000-square-foot house near Ketchum this year, he said it makes "absolutely no sense that we even consider allowing these types of non-sustainable homes in our high-desert valley." He added that builders, architects, and contractors he spoke with seemed to agree in their dislike of such extravagance, but that they must listen to what their customers want.

It’s not just a matter of private property rights, he went on to explain, but also of public pollution. "Consider that the average home produces three times more pollution than the average car," he explained. "Now multiply that times a home that’s 15 to 20 times larger than the average one."

He urged Ketchum and its suburbs consider mimicking the Green Points program adopted 15 years ago in the university city of Boulder, Colo.

Aspen a shining star

ASPEN, Colo. — "Cultural tourism" has been a buzz phrase in Colorado tourist circles during the last couple of years. It’s defined as attracting visitors to arts, festivals, and museums and the like. While this is nothing new, proponents say that Colorado tourist towns could gain more by promoting "mind" attractions instead of just "sweat" things.

One such proponent, Nancy Kramer, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, points to Aspen as a shining star of cultural tourism. Aspen’s post-war life as a resort was one equally planted in skiing and in summer festivals. Best known of the latter is the 56-year-old Aspen Music Festival and School, which has $13 million budget. It adds an estimated $52 million to the local economy.

Speaking at a conference reported by The Aspen Times, Kramer said Aspen enjoys an 85 per cent visitor return rate and a summer demographic of visitors who are older empty-nesters.

Cultural tourists have a higher income per capita than other travelers, on average spend up to 36 per cent more than other travelers per visit ($623 versus $457), and stay up to 50 per cent longer (more than five nights versus three nights), she explained.

Creede was also cited by Kramer. A one-time mining town snuggled in the San Juan Mountains, it has a population of only 400. But the Creede Repertory Theatre manages to support 60 artists and staff members during summer months.

The Durango area is also taking preliminary steps to promote its cultural tourism, as are Steamboat Springs and other towns in northwestern Colorado.

The struggle for balance

BANFF, Alberta — From Banff comes a report of rising tensions as a developer, Christian Dubois, proposes to build an array of apartments and duplexes in what is now an area of single-family homes. Dubois says he believes his project’s design acknowledges the existing character of the neighbourhood, but 60 neighbours turned out to disagree – some of them loudly.

The background for this story is that Banff cannot expand laterally, as it has used up its space within the Banff National Park. As such, it can expand only vertically. Plus, like all other pretty places, people want to move there. Some 40 to 100 single-family homes have been razed in the last several years, replaced with condominiums, row houses, and other joint-walled living structures.

All this has some people warning that the economy may erode, because talented managers may take their talents to places where they can live in single-family houses.

Down-valley in Canmore is presumably one of those places, but there the story is of town officials trying to increase density along New Urbanist lines, in which homes are mixed with shops and offices. In one area of Canmore, called Teepee Town, the rezoning could result in 900 residents, compared to the 600 maximum permissible under existing zoning.

In downtown Canmore, city planners propose to nudge developers into providing more housing – especially lower-cost housing. Town officials are split in whether they agree with the goal. Some agree that the town core would benefit from more people, while others think there are enough tourists and residents already. Beyond the goal, there is also debate about the tools – whether fees should be waived.

Looking for bus fare

GUNNISON, Colo. — In terms of getting from point A to point B, buses cost less than any other type of fuel-burning transportation. Ditto for the environmental impact. Cars, planes – none produce less pollution, assuming average riderships.

Still, few people ride buses any more, except those on the margins of society – students, the elderly, and immigrants. Greyhound increasingly confines its routes to those linking bigger cities, bypassing the more out-of-the-way rural areas.

Among those out-of-the-way rural areas is Gunnison, near Crested Butte. Lately, local transportation officials have discussed subsidizing bus operations as they already do for airlines. But it could cost $80 per passenger in subsidy, according to the estimate of Scott Truex, director of the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Association.

The agency has $950,000 in tax revenues to spend, and it spends $750,000 on airlines. Of course, people flying from Houston to go skiing can be expected to drop a chunk of change, unlike bus riders.

Anticipating fire threat

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta — While U.S. President George W. Bush and others remain skeptical of global warming theories, doubts seem to be dissipating at the grassroots level.

A case in point is the Emerald Lake Lodge, which is located north of Banff in Yoho National Park. There, crews in January will thin the aging spruce-and-fir forest that surrounds the lodge in order to reduce the potential for fire.

Two years ago, fire roared in the region, but did not come close to the lodge. Last year, abundant rains kept the vegetation damp. But Martain Cloutier, general manager of Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, believes that global warming will ensure that dryness will return – exposing the forest to risk of fire.

Even without global warming, the forest near the lodge is at risk, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. That particular type of forest has low-intensity fires every 30 years. High-intensity fires are believed to occur every 300 to 350 years. But, partly due to fire suppression for the last century, the most recent low-intensity fire occurred in 1851, while the last high-intensity blaze was in 1652.

Boulders roll, law doesn’t

GUNNISON, Colo. — Mountain towns in Colorado, as well as others, have been busily trying to add to their all-around appeal – as well as their economies – by building whitewater parks that appeal to kayakers. But doing so involves more than manoeuvring boulders in the creek. To ensure water remains in the creek involves lawyers, and legal manoeuvring always costs money.

For example, Gunnison town officials report spending $300,000 to build the park, but the legal bill has hit $500,000, says The Denver Post.

Part of the reason for the high cost is that laws governing allocation of Colorado water originally did not see recreation as a beneficial use. Although they have been modified in recent decades, both farmers and cities fear the revisions will harm their interests.

Biomass problems heat up

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Interest is growing in Colorado and other states in the West about an evolving technology that converts trees and other vegetation into heat, electricity and other useful commodities.

Epidemics of bark beetles that, in Colorado, surpass even the previous epidemics of the 1970s and 1980s, are spurring the interest.

One potential biomass project is in Colorado’s Summit County, where the county commissioners want to invest $2 million into a plant that will burn wood chips to heat county offices as well as a hospital now under construction. The goal, in addition to reducing heating costs, is to find a way to deal with the beetle-kill trees and reduce the threat of forest fires, said Steve Hill, special projects manager for Summit County.

"Our study showed it looked feasible from a technical as well as an economic viewpoint," he told the Vail Daily.

The Vail Daily also reports interest in other places. For example, plans are afoot to heat a middle school in Leadville. It is being talked about in Grand County, where the Winter Park and Grand Lake areas are among the hardest hit in Colorado by pine beetles.

However, the Summit Daily News reports that the bio-mass project in Nederland, located west of Boulder, is a royal bio-mess. The town’s administrator, Jim Stevens, said the town, after three years, is ready to get out.

"It’s the third year into this thing, and now, it’s like, let’s just cut our losses," he told the newspaper. "We’re going back to a natural gas boiler."

The Nederland project is different than what is being proposed in Summit County, both smaller in size and, with its plan to generate electricity, larger in ambition. Stevens said the electricity never materialized, the heat was spotty, and as for the automation – it requires two of three people to tend it.

In turn, plant designer Delta Dynamics blames the town with providing wood that is too high in water content and for poorly maintaining the plant. "All of the stoppages were due to fuel quality and maintenance issues," said the firm’s vice president, Sev Bonnie.

Spreading west

TRUCKEE, Calif. — People in the Rocky Mountains have long feared "Californication," as sprawl-type development is often called. In the resort world, it’s the other way around. The Sierra Nevada is being changed in ways that could be called "Coloradification." Trends 10 to 20 years old in the resorts along the I-70 corridor of Colorado are now playing out in the Truckee-Lake Tahoe area.

For example, 10 years after Vail got a modern traffic roundabout, work is being completed on a Truckee’s first roundabout.

Next, finishing touches are being applied to a pedestrian base village at Northstar-at-Tahoe, a ski area. As was done at Beaver Creek, it will have an ice-skating rink (using synthetic ice in summer) and many places to spend money. Over two-thirds of the 60,000 square feet of commercial space has been leased. As well, 100 condominiums are going on line in the first of several phases.

Project developers Booth Creek Ski Holdings and East West Partners both originated in the Vail area of Colorado.

Helicopter skiing at Silverton?

SILVERTON, Colo. — It’s funny how one thing can lead to another. Consider how Silverton Mountain Ski Area began, where the original goal was to have great powder snow skiing at a cost of only $25 lift tickets.

But great powder snow skiing often comes in tandem with avalanche threats. To quell the avalanche danger, ski area developer Aron Brill has to drop explosives into the snowpack. It can be done by shooting howitzers, but it’s actually less expensive to drop charges from a helicopter. And since you’re operating helicopters anyway, why not take some paying guests, to help pay the overhead?

Following this curious path, Silverton Mountain could go from the lowest-end, no-frills type of downhill skiing to the most expensive, exclusive kind.

Still, while the permit from the Bureau of Land Management provisionally authorizes helicopter skiing, Brill tells the Durango Telegraph that helicopter skiing remains "highly conceptual." Richard Speegle, the federal agent processing Silverton Mountain’s affairs, similarly reports a cautious approach involving a trial period.

He predicts backcountry skiers may object to the noise, Of lesser issue is that another helicopter skiing operation, Telluride’s Helitrax, has a permit to use public lands in the area, although it rarely does.

Rico makes big commitment

RICO, Colo. — Tiny Rico, located across Lizard Head Pass from Telluride, has been booming of late, with land prices reported to be four, five, or six times as high as only a year ago.

All other things being equal, they can be expected to shoot up even more. Town voters, in the largest turnout in decades, approved construction of a sewage treatment plant and extension of sewage lines. State and federal grants cover well more than half of the estimated $4.4 million cost.

While the sewage improvements are expected to induce more development and population growth, Rico Bugle editor Eric Heil contends that the project is a good one. For all its growth, Rico hasn’t returned to the rich diversity of its mining days, and businesses barely hold on, he notes.

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