Mountain News 

Steamboat bookings shoot up

By Allen Best

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Bookings for ski vacations continue to be well ahead of last year’s pace in Steamboat Springs.

Bob Milne, whose company manages 875 units, reports phone call volume of 30 per cent and bookings of 20 per cent ahead of last year. He tells the Steamboat Pilot & Today that a 10 per cent increase over last year will be realistic when all is said and done. Milne also reports an increase in visitor days, up to 5.7 days per visit, compared to 5.5 days last year.

His report jibes with others from elsewhere in Steamboat Springs, which had uncommonly good snow early last year. Both trends — earlier bookings and longer stays — are also in synch with what is being reported elsewhere in the ski industry this year in Colorado, and the travel industry even more generally.

Steamboat also is benefiting from an expanded program of direct flights that was announced last spring. The number of booked passengers is up 7.8 per cent compared to last year, and 20 per cent ahead of two years ago.

   

Jackson feels labour pinch

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – One bagel shop in Jackson is closing on weekends until December, due to a labour shortage. At the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the annual job fair this year attracted 10 per cent fewer applicants. And the Jackson Hole News & Guide help-wanted listings have thickened to seven pages.

All these are indicative of a tightening labour market in Jackson Hole that concerns business officials.

“There are real concerns that are starting to become apparent on quantity and quality of work force,” said Tim O’Donoghue, executive director of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. “It’s anecdotal, but the concerns are growing. The trend is not a good one.”

Various causes of the shortage are cited. Outlying communities west of Teton Pass, where many workers live, are starting to generate their own jobs. The energy boom is offering better paying jobs. And the loss of the ski area’s tram had reduced the luster of a ski pass that is the general inducement for many low-paying service jobs.

Scott Horn, vice president of human resources at the ski area, said the largest story is the general economy.

“When the economy gets difficult, our hiring gets better. The economy is doing fairly well now, so I’m not surprised that we’re struggling a little bit with applicants,” Horn told the newspaper. The company is hiring 20 winter employees from South American as part of its first international recruiting effort.

 

Avalanches analyzed

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Four winters ago was a devastating one for avalanches in Canada. Some 29 people died, 14 of them near Revelstoke,

In response, avalanche experts Pascal Haegli and Ian McCammon analyzed 1,400 avalanche accidents in North America, looking for patterns — and hoping to find ways to reduce future deaths.

“The data revealed that, despite a wide range of training and backcountry experience, there were distinct patterns in the crucial decisions made by the victims,” Haegeli says. “Essentially, the number of fatalities could have been vastly reduced if a simple and consistent decision-making system has been applied. That system has become the Avaluator.”

The Avaluator consists of small, color-coded cards to help assess avalanche conditions. “This is the most important project we have ever undertaken,” said Clair Israelson, the executive director of the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

 

A ‘Green’ Silicon Valley?

CARBONDALE, Colo. – Carbondale has become an informal hub for thinkers and activists involved in various environmental causes. A forum four years ago foresaw an even bolder vision for the Roaring Fork Valley, as a “green” Silicon Valley.

That dream is coalescing into a coalition of 10 existing non-profit groups, who have optioned a 5.6-acre parcel on the edge of town for what they hope will become the Sustainability Center of the Rockies. There, organizations focused on conservation, renewable energy, and social justice can share conference rooms and reference libraries, receptionists and food.

The campus, if it is created, is expected to attract national and regional conservation organizations like The Wilderness Society and The Nature Conservancy, said Tim McFlynn, co-director of the new organization.

“We’re on the cusp of a good thing here,” Doug Graybeal, an architect who is president of the center’s board of directors, told The Aspen Times.

Such shared non-profit centers are also found in Boulder, Denver, and San Francisco.

Located 30 miles down-valley from Aspen, Carbondale enjoys a more temperate climate yet still extraordinary beauty. Too, the setting is of a small town little removed from its past as a centre for potato farming and coal mining, but close enough to tap Aspen’s cosmopolitan sophistication and great wealth. And, at least until recently, Carbondale could be considered affordable.

Randy Udall, who is a prominent lecturer about energy (and also director of the trend-setting Community Office for Resource Efficiency), is based there, as is a business called Solar Energy International. Yet another business is Global Economy Outfitters, which sells such things as organic teas, hemp clothing, and energy efficient light bulbs.

 

Size matters less

PARK CITY, Utah –The 1990s were the decade of “Biggie-size” applied to everything from French fries to homes. Now, that trend is ebbing.

“People were going bigger, bigger, bigger,” says Scott Jaffa of Jaffa Group Architects in Park City. “Now I see a trend where they want to go smaller and more efficient.”

Another Park City architect agrees. “The mega-home is going to become more rare, but people are still going to spend on what they consider quality items,” says Bill Mammen.

Both architects detect a stronger demand for “green building,” in which homes reduce their needs for energy, water and other resources.

“One of the trends I see now is more clients are asking for green building materials and tankless water heaters,” Jaffa told The Park Record. “We are retrofitting a client’s heated driveway with a solar hot-water system versus using a boiler.”

Mammen said he has been trying to improve operating efficiencies of homes in Park City since he arrived in 1978. “In the ’90s, people didn’t care at all,” he said. “Now people are asking for it.”

Added Jaffa, “Whether you believe in global warming or not, we need to conserve. We just can’t keep throwing away everything.”

Metals, which call to mind the historic mining structures in Park City, and reused wood, such as from old barns, are also being employed more frequently, even in new homes, Jaffa says.

“One of the biggest things I’ve seen is they want a new house to look older vs. new, highly polished, highly-sleek finish,” he said. “I think what‘s important in looking at architecture is finding the things that are timeless and won’t have to be renovated in 5 to 10 years.”

 

Jackson reducing emissions

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Add the Town of Jackson to the list of municipalities that have committed to taking action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Like Frisco, Park City, and several other mountain towns in the west, Jackson is joining the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Initiative.

The town, in the words of public information officer Shelley Simonton, has been “dribble-drabbling along” in efforts to become more energy efficient. It has, for example, converted to the more efficient compact-fluorescent light bulbs, even if they cost more money up front.

But town officials were energized to do more after attending a conference in Aspen devoted to global warming. Jackson Mayor Mark Barron says what he heard in Aspen convinced him that Jackson is on the right course in trying to densify the existing town footprint, curbing rural sprawl.

One of the first steps in its commitment to the mayors’ pact will be to create an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to reduce emissions below the 1990 baseline.

Mayors who sign the agreement commit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their own cities and communities to 7 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012 through actions like increasing energy efficiency, reducing vehicle miles traveled, maintaining healthy urban forests, reducing sprawl and promoting use of clean, renewable energy resources. The agreement also calls for Congress to pass legislation that sets meaningful timelines and limits on emissions through a flexible, market-based system of tradable allowances among emitting industries.

 

Hispanic participation lagging

EAGLE VALLEY, Colo. – Hispanics have become a big chunk of Eagle County, but not of the elected councils and boards.

Forty-six per cent of students in the Eagle County School District are Hispanic, but none of the seven school board members are, notes the Vail Daily. In Avon, one of the valley towns, 40 per cent of the population is Hispanic, but none of the town council members are.

What’s the story here? One local, Juan Martinez, cites a lack of political organization among Hispanics. Also, many new Hispanics are either working too much or don’t speak English well enough to participate in political affairs. And, says Debbie Marquez, the long-time chairwoman of the local Democratic Party, it could be that Hispanics believe that existing officials represent their interests.

Unlike many resort areas of the West, the Eagle Valley has a long-standing and substantial Hispanic population, 10 to 15 per cent of the population. Drawn by work in the mines, the towns of Red Cliff and Minturn have had large and even majority populations of Hispanics since the 1920s and 1930s. Town boards and councils in those two towns have had heavy Hispanic representation. While the school board has had four Hispanics during the last 30 years, no Hispanics have held elected office in county government or in the resort-oriented part of the county called the Vail Valley.

Despite all the Hispanic voters, Eagle County is not required to provide Spanish-language ballots of voters — nor are two nearby counties, Pitkin and Garfield, which also have large numbers of Hispanics. However, the law requires Spanish-language ballots when only 5 per cent or more of the population speaks that language. They is not the case in these three counties.

Just the same, Eagle County did provide Spanish-language ballots in 2003 — but few were used. Teak Simonton tells the Aspen Times that since then the county has provided translations and translators. Similarly, Garfield County provides translators.

 

What price open space?

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Telluride voters went back to the polls this week to commit more money to preservation of a 570-acre parcel as open space. Commonly called the Valley Floor, the parcel is located at the entrance of the town, a sea of green grass, yellow dandelions, and black-and-white Holsteins in summer — but pointedly devoid of buildings.

Town residents have discussed preservation of the parcel for a decade. Owner of the land, Neal Blue, who owns General Atomic, wants to develop it. Town residents, through repeated votes, have insisted that absolutely nothing will change, and have promised to condemn it to ensure the continued status quo.

Because the land — flat and with wondrous views of Telluride’s enchanting box canyon — is so utterly developable, that condemnation will likely cost the town a great deal of money. Estimates range from $40 million to $80 million. The town has already committed 20 per cent of town revenues to open space preservation, and voters in November were asked to increase debt to $20 million. A lop-sided approval was expected.

But there is dissent. The Telluride Watch notes that voters earlier this year rejected a compromise proposal that would have kept 90 per cent of the parcel in open space — at no taxpayer cost.

With no expectations of turning popular support for the acquisition, no matter how expensive it may prove to be, The Watch again urged against letting open space preservation dominate public policy.

“Isn’t $60 million or $70 million in public funds — the precise amount can’t be known — an awful lot to pay for something we could have had 90 per cent of for no cost at all?” asks the paper in an editorial. “Imagine what we could have done with the money! Save the Gunnison sage grouse. Put solar panels on every roof in the county. Build community-preserving affordable housing. Instead, we will now protect the view corridor of the few who can afford our ever-rising property values and cost of living.”

Tapped by The Watch for opinion, town council member Yogi Kirst gently urged caution. “My hope is that the people of Telluride put its people, its working class, and the vibrancy of the community above open space,” he said. A member of the Telluride Ecology Commission, Lulu Hut, expressed concerns about how this costly purchase will impair the town’s sustainability.

But Gary Hickox disagrees. “I will tell you, having worked in the open space movement for the past 13 years, that there is not a community in the country — not one — that would ever say to you, ‘We regret having saved this open space.’ No matter how much it cost, no matter how hard it was at the time, or how difficult it seemed to justify that expenditure. Twenty years down the road, 50 years down the road, 100 years down the road — those communities are absolutely universally saying ‘Whoever those people were that did that (conservation) back then, how smart and how bright were they to have done that.”

 

Plans in for $1 billion project

MINTURN, Colo. – Plans have been formally submitted to Minturn town officials for a $1 billion development on former mining parcels located in the triangulation of two towns, Minturn and Red Cliff, and the Vail ski area. The development, once completed, is projected to generate 776 employees.

A small, members-only ski area, a golf course, and 1,700 houses are included in the plans. The proposed golf course would be built on top of a tailings pile — the waste after mineral ores have been extracted from rock — consolidated and capped with soil during a $70 million Superfund cleanup. The major mine in the area was called the Eagle Mine, which extracted zinc, lead, gold and other precious minerals. It closed in 1979.

The developer, Florida-based Ginn Co., is proposing to annex the 4,300 acres onto Minturn. Minturn has not accepted it, but over informal protests of county commissioners concerned about fast-paced growth in Eagle County, appears receptive. The formal review will not begin until January and may take the better part of 2007.

 

Vail home listed for $21 million

VAIL, Colo. – If the sales price for an 11,800-square-foot home comes within a stone’s throw of the asking price of $21 million, Vail will have a new home sales price record. The existing record for a home sale, reports the Vail Daily, is $18.5 million.

Constructed in 1982, the house was purchased six years ago for $9 million by Bill Dore, who founded Global Industries, a company that provides construction services for the petroleum industry. Since then, he has invested several million in the de rigueur updating with marble countertops and what not. However, he and his wife have only been using it four to six times a year.

Much larger and presumably more expensive homes of 40,000 square feet or more are located farther down the Eagle Valley, at Beaver Creek and in the Lake Creek area. However, the Vail area cannot compare in price, or size, to Aspen’s $135 million, 56,000-square-foot house built for the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

 

Legion may abandon Granby

GRANBY, Colo. – Elks clubs, Veterans of Foreign War posts, and other such organizations have floundered as what newsman Tom Brokaw called the “Greatest Generation” has passed on. Baby boomers never joined such organizations in large numbers. Too, there were fewer war veterans in younger generations.

That, too, is the story in Granby, where the American Legion is likely to close. The chapter has only 20 members, too few to pay the roofing and other costs of upkeep for their building that come on top of the $2,500 annual utility bills. The organization had considered sharing the space with other organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, but has been unable to find partners.

 

Ridgway’s streets getting crowded

RIDGWAY, Colo. – Ridgway has some of the most fetching eye-candy in the West. An old ranching town with wide and mostly unpaved streets, it sits at the foot of Sneffels and other riveting peaks of the San Juan Mountains. Just outside of the town is the ranch belonging to clothing magnate Ralph Lauren, the setting for more scenic photos in Colorado than anything other than Aspen’s Maroon Bells.

But partly as a result of overflow from Telluride, located 45 minutes away, Ridgway is now booming — so much so that town councilors have tinkered with requiring parking or in-lieu contributions to a town parking fund. The first proposal for $11,000 per required space was pared back to $5,000 per space, then scrapped altogether by Ridgway elected officials who considered it too onerous for prospective or expanding businesses.

Ridgway officials, reports The Telluride Watch, continue plotting expansion of parking spaces, but are flirting with a small sales tax to pay for it.

 

Aspen getting first poetry slam

ASPEN, Colo. – Poetry slams, which feature an open microphone for poets, have become common across the country. Now, Aspen is getting its own version of a poetry slam, held once monthly at a local café.

The Aspen Times explains that each poet pays $5 for a three-minute shot at the microphone, and based upon the judgment of three designated audience members, the winner takes all.

 

Carpenters picketing projects

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Union carpenters have been picketing a construction site in the Village at Northstar, a ski area between Truckee and Lake Tahoe.

The carpenters are not striking nor attempting to interrupt work, reports the Sierra Sun, but are claiming the pay and benefits given them by a project contractor called Midwest Drywall are insufficient. The developer of the project is East West Partners. Joe Malone, project manager for East West, said the Northstar project is an “open shop” job, with both union and non-union workers.

 

A place for motors

DURANGO, Colo. – In the area near Durango where the Missionary Ridge fire burned in 2002, the U.S. Forest Service is creating a sanctuary for dirt bikes, ATVs and other motorized vehicles.

Proponents of the motorized refuge say the setting is a wise one, because of the labyrinth of roads that already exist there. “The goal is to get the use onto designated routes and keep people out of delicate areas,” explained Nancy Berry, recreation forester on the San Juan National Forest.

The Durango Telegraph also reports support from an advocacy group called Trails 2000. “We need to identify what the most sustainable trails are for each user group, and that way the Forest Service can police people when they’re in places they shouldn’t be,” said Marry Monroe, the group’s executive director.

 

Time to share?

WINTER PARK-FRASER, Colo. – The towns of Fraser and Winter Park, which are located cheek by jowl, continue to explore how they might become more like one. So far, the courtship amounts to little more than a peck on the cheek.

This year the two began sharing basic court functions. Two judges can remain, but the idea is to have two court operations that are not significantly different. Another intergovernmental agreement is being prepared that will combine building departments.

Three scenarios are being explored: additional sharing, Fraser joining Winter Park, or complete unification of the two towns. In addition, there’s the do-nothing option.

Fraser is the older of the twin towns. It was created in 1904, when railroad tracks from Denver arrived, although not formally incorporated until 1953. Winter Park was first a railroad camp called West Portal, and in time Hideaway Park, after the ski area was created in 1938. It was incorporated in 1978.

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