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Mountain News: Getting the right cap on short-term rentals

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CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Mountain towns continue to tussle with getting the rules right for short-term rentals of houses and condominiums advertised by Airbnb and other Internet-based rental sites.

Crested Butte has particularly struggled to get the balance right. The major question, as reported by the Crested Butte News, is just how many nights should be permitted.

Telluride provides one metric. It allows homes to be rented 29 times a year.

Crested Butte was looking at a maximum of 180 nights. The new proposal would allow 120. Some think even fewer nights would be better.

Those arguing for fewer, rather than more, contend that short-term rentals erode the community fabric.

"I know the people living in my neighbourhood. We check on each other and help one another," said John Hess. "I don't like the idea of living in a commodity. I do like the idea of having friends in town. So do what it takes to maintain community."

Some think more lodging is needed. "Businesses are struggling to make it here," said property manager Steve Ryan. "They need visitors in town."

Kyleena Falzone said she has two businesses and 130 employees. "As a business owner, we bleed money like you can't believe (many months of the year). It is hard on us and hard on the employees. We need people coming here. So what's the balance? The council needs to be careful."

After months of talking about it, the council still is trying to get the balance right. "There is no one right side on this," said Coun. Jim Schmidt, a resident since the 1970s. "There are a million shades of grey."

Avalanche unleashes torrents of accusations

JACKSON, Wyo. — An avalanche before Christmas on Teton Pass that may have been triggered by skiers buried at least one Jeep and inconvenienced a great many commuters travelling from jobs in Jackson Hole to homes in Idaho's Teton Valley.

The avalanche left six metres of snow on the two-lane highway, blocking traffic for the night and forcing commuters to scramble for beds or take a 90-minute detour. Many who work in Jackson Hole live across the pass in Idaho's Teton Valley.

Were the skiers to blame? Teton County sheriff's investigators said there was insufficient evidence.

"If we could show someone was being reckless and had reckless disregard for others while skiing in an avalanche path when the risk was high, someone could be prosecuted for that," said Sgt. Todd Stanyon.

At least some skiers say the case shows why avalanche tunnels should be built. The Jackson Hole News&Guide said a 2011 study found that snow sheds would reduce avalanche hazards to motorists on Teton Pass by half. But the bill for two such sheds came in at $20 million. That estimate has likely escalated even as Wyoming's economy, dependent on fossil-fuel extraction, has done its own downward slide.

Columnist Molly Absolon, writing in the News&Guide, thoughtfully probed the aftermath of the road-closing avalanche. She said her Facebook feed came alive with harsh statements. "People called for blood. Someone should pay, they wrote. Someone had been stupid, reckless or thoughtless, they say."

Public shaming, now abetted by name-calling in social media, is nothing new, she pointed out. But she challenged whether public shaming in avalanches serves any useful purpose.

"My point is that public shaming silences us. We are afraid to speak up for fear of the consequences. But how can we learn from each other if we aren't open and honest about our mistakes? How can we understand avalanches if 90 per cent of them go unreported because people fear repercussions if they come forward?" she said.

Absolon does concede a difference between error and negligence. "There's a big difference between the two. Intentionally testing an avalanche slope above a crowded highway to see if it's safe to ski is a reckless act and deserves to be investigated for possible criminal wrongdoing," she wrote.

But she also argued that the avalanche here may have been the result of an erroneous and perhaps common assumption. Public shaming therefore stifles further exploration of that assumption.

A paean in Colorado to Kerouac's On The Road

KREMMLING, Colo. — When Jack Kerouac and his companions were traipsing across North America after the Second World War, there were no interstate highways. Those travelling from Denver to Salt Lake City mostly drove on the narrow, two-laned Highway 40.

From Denver, that highway switchbacks over the Continental Divide at Berthoud Pass, what Kerouac, in his famous 1956 book, On the Road, called "that tremendous Gibraltarian door." One of Colorado's first ski areas, the eponymous Berthoud Pass Ski Area, was in business then.

From the pass the highway carefully hugs its way down the steep slopes to Winter Park, also among our oldest ski areas, before continuing on to the valley of the Colorado River. Pioneers called that broad valley Middle Park, a name that lingers even now.

Middle Park is an ear-to-ear smile of beauty in summer, stubborn banks of snow on the 4,000-metre peaks lingering as meadows lush with tall grasses await the cutting blades of haying crews. It was, in the days when Kerouac and his buddies, among them Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg, travelled through, a place where championship white-faced Hereford cattle were bred.

Then the highway crosses another range, swooping from the gentle glades of Rabbit Ears Pass down past the ski runs of Steamboat Springs' Howelsen Hill before continuing on into Utah and the outskirts of Park City.

Dawn Mathews is now working on a book about Kerouac and Highway 40, reported the Sky-Hi News. She said, in a Facebook posting, that his words "caress and paint the land" through which Highway 40 runs. Truman Capote was not nearly so kind. He once dismissed the so-called Beat writers into which Kerouac was commonly lumped as typists, not writers.

But credit Kerouac for distilling the ever-lurking shadow of winter in the fast-blinking blur of summers. Of one of these towns, cowboy-hatted Kremmling, he said it is a place where "cactus had dew on it till noon."

The Sky-Hi News explained that while Mathews works on her book, Howard Neville is working on a life-size sculpture of Kerouac to be placed somewhere along Highway 40 between Berthoud Pass and the Utah border.

What do you think is the toughest outdoor sport?

The toughest outdoor sport? Outside magazine asked that question in evaluating ultrarunning, such as marathons and beyond, downhill mountain biking, open-water swimming, rock climbing, and Nordic skiing.

If you think mountain biking ranks as toughest, you'd be wrong, at least in the way Outside evaluated it. It only came in fourth on the list of five. True, it requires "a serious degree of technical competence, daring and fitness," the magazine's Dan Roe wrote.

Rock climbing is more dangerous yet and requires "a nearly incomparable level of mental discipline and self-reliance."

But the toughest? Nordic skiing, said Roe. "It requires the endurance of ultrarunning, the sprint speed of mountain biking, the mental toughness of open-water swimming and, at times, can put skiers in situations of real exposure. And, at 952 calories per hour, competitive Nordic skiers burnt the equivalent of a Chipotle burrito every hour."

Jasper's dual immersion has continued to expand

JASPER, Alberta — Enrolment in French immersion at Jasper Elementary School has continued to expand since the program began in 2002.

This year, 121 students are enrolled in the school's program, compared to 96 students in the English-only program.

"To see this in Jasper is really positive, because it shows we have this linguistic duality that works really well," said Geneviéve Arcand, regional director of Jasper's Association Canadienne-Francaise de l'Alberta. "It's so positive to see, even if parents don't come from a French background that they want to give their children the ability to speak two languages."

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