JACKSON, Wyo.—In places, ski companies seem to be making lots of money. Consider how the price of Vail Resorts stock has soared from $16 per share to $228 per share in little more than 20 years, with dividends along the way.
Alterra Mountain Co., the new giant on the ski industry block, was created last year on the premise that great wealth can be generated to its owners.
Then there are the little ski areas like Snow King. It's the in-town ski area at Jackson, Wyo. Located just six blocks from the town's famous antler-arched town square, it has respectable numbers: almost 1,600 feet of vertical and an average 380 centimetres of snow per winter.
What it lacks is visitors. Most people flying into the local airport want to ski the newer, better-known Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Located 16 kilometres away, it is owned by the billionaire Kemmerer family, scions to a fortune made in coal. This winter, Jackson Hole pushed above 600,000 skier days for the first time and is gradually joining the ranks of the continent's major ski areas.
Snow King has barely hung on. A few years ago there was even some thought it would not survive. The town thought about taking over ski area operations, but walked away. Then new buyers were lined up.
By a set of metrics reported by the Jackson Hole News&Guide, Snow King remains a marginal operation.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort had 15 times the number of skiers during the 2016-17 season but gross income 107 times greater than that of Snow King. At Grand Targhee, on the western slopes of the Teton Range, adjusted gross income was 14 times that of Snow King.
The relevance of these numbers is Snow King's proposal to add more attractions. The owners argue that skiing doesn't pay the bills. In the last two years, Snow King has added a mountain coaster, putt-putt golf, and a high ropes course. There's also a new restaurant.
Now comes review of a proposed zip line, a mountain bike park, an observatory, a backcountry yurt, and a mountain-top restaurant that would be accessible for a new gondola.
Ryan Stanley, the general manager, insists that his company wants economic sustainability, not a financial windfall. "No one is planning to make a lot of money here. If they wanted to, they wouldn't have bought the ski resort."
Not everybody agrees. Most vocal among critics has been the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, which warns of an "amusement park" and real estate venture.
Black bears struggle with climate change
GENOA, Nev.—Drought invariably means a hard summer ahead for black bears as foods sources for the bruins become scarce.
The New York Times explained that in 2012, a year of marginal snow in Colorado and other states, food supplies for black bears collapsed. Scientists tracking female bears near Durango, Colo., that year found that only 87 of the 203 female bears they had been tracking survived the food failure.
That story about Durango was contained in a lengthy piece about the effect of climate change on black bears in the West. The story was sparked by a study in the Journal of Applied Ecology that found that for every one degree Celsius that minimum temperatures increase in winter, bears hibernate for six fewer days. As global temperatures continue to rise, by the middle of the century black bears may stay awake between 15 and 39 more days per year, the study found.
Heather Johnson, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an author of the hibernation study, told The Times that bears hibernate in response to cold weather. But they can also remain active if there are more plentiful food supplies.
But human food poses problems. Bears, with their versatile and powerful paws, are able to get into trash cans, cars and even homes.
Scientists tell The Times of one bear they found dead near Lake Tahoe. It was a little over a year old. A field necropsy revealed that its stomach was engorged with dozens of individual ketchup packets. The packaging most likely killed it.
A raft of suicides
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo.—A suicide has occurred for the third time in about six weeks in Crested Butte.
"This it too many anywhere, but it can feel overwhelming in a small town like Crested Butte," wrote Mark Reaman, editor of the Crested Butte News.
A town of 1,600 people, Crested Butte has geography that suggests there should never be any cause for despair. Just outside town is Oh-be-joyful Creek. In the Elk Range to the north lies Paradise Basin.
But the suicides have become so concerning that the newspaper editor and the manager of the local radio stations have been talking about what they can do, such as sponsoring a community forum.
"We want people to come and ask questions of the experts, maybe share their experience and help all of us," wrote Reaman.
A butterfly flaps its wings in Bejining, and in Ketchum...
KETCHUM, Idaho—Thinking globally, Blaine County commissioners—which includes the ski towns of Ketchum and Sun Valley—have halted the county's mixed-paper recycling program. For the time being, the paper will be going to a landfill instead of recycling centres, which simply can't hold any more.
"The building is stacked to the rafters," a recycling centre manger told the Idaho Mountain Express.
The paper had previously gone to several sources, for multiple purposes: to be created into hydro mulch and cellulose. But a lot of the paper—as is true across the United States—was shipped across the Pacific Ocean to China. There, plants and mills converted the paper into pulp and, then, completely the cycle, back to paper.
But China has new regulations that sharply limit the contamination levels for mixed paper. Previously contamination of up to five per cent was acceptable; now it's only 0.5 per cent.
Paper used to be worth $20 a ton. Now, local recyclers must pay somebody $35 a ton to take it off their hands. In Ketchum, they're not willing to do that.
The local recycling centre in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area is still taking corrugated cardboard, plastic, aluminum and tin. Those are the things that China still accepts.
Jasper continues to talk wildfire
JASPER, Alta.—With summer fast approaching, wildfire is on the minds of many in Jasper. A recent meeting drew as many as 200 people to hear what the fire chief and others are thinking.
Some would like Parks Canada to create a 100-metre tree-less belt around the town within Jasper National Park. A fire expert with the agency said Parks Canada must weigh concerns, including the impact of clear-cutting on wildlife species that depend on the cover of the forest, the health of the soil, and the impact to water bodies.
Residents were urged to hew to the guidelines of FireSmart, the Canadian equivalent to the FireWise program in the United States. Those guidelines advocate removing flammability within a 10-metre radius around a house.
Jasper has been divided into 10 evacuation zones. As well, five sites in the town have been identified if people need transportation. The goal, officials iterated, is to make sure locals know what to do if a fire occurs when there are 30,000 tourists in town.
What caused Airbnb scam to short-circuit
ASPEN, Colo.—It was a pretty sweet deal for the tenant until early February. Then one day, three people showed up at the office of the Truscott affordable housing complex in Aspen, wanting to know where Airbnb unit No. 72 was.
That's a no-no. The tenant of the deed-restricted affordable housing unit had signed a contract saying the unit could not be subleased.
She had instead advertised the unit on Airbnb as a "cozy one-bedroom apartment" with room for up to four people as a base camp for "exploring what Aspen has to offer." the price was very un-Aspen-like: $135 per night, with a two-night minimum stay on weekends.
Learning of the violation, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority ordered the tenant to remove the listing from the Airbnb website within three days. It took her 20 days to get that done—by then, her lease had been revoked.
The affordable housing staff occasionally studies vacation rental sites to see if there are any scofflaws. This one had missed their eyes. The tenant had been doing this for almost a year.
City officials are now hiring an outside firm to identify how many people are dodging paying sales and lodging taxes when using online rental platforms. Deed-restricted units will be part of the probe.
The high cost of lodging TSA workers
ASPEN, Colo.—Without its busy local airport, Aspen wouldn't get much business during winter. But where do the airport security workers stay when the town is already crammed to the gills?
The Aspen Daily News reported that the Transportation Security Administration spent as much as $324,576 for housing and $95,448 for meals and other expenses for temporary workers to work at the airport from Dec. 17 to April 13. This is independent of pay and benefits.
The local airport in Aspen is served by 20 permanent TSA workers. The additional workers were given rooms at Aspen Meadows Resort, the lodging component of The Aspen Institute, at a rate of $181 per day. A TSA representative told the Daily News that the agency tries not to look beyond a eight-kilometre vicinity of the airport for its temporary lodging needs.