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Mountain News: Coalition struck for Base Village deal


SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. — A deal has been struck that will likely yield the long-delayed completion of Base Village, the major upgrade to Snowmass.

But while that's big news in the Aspen community, what makes the deal more unusual is the coalition of businesses that have come together. In short, the Aspen Skiing Co. is teaming up with a bunch of players from Vail to get the hotel rooms it has coveted since the late 1990s.

The project got stopped by the Great Recession. The joint venture now organized to get Base Village across the finish line by 2018 consists of the Aspen Skiing Co., East West Partners, and KSL Capital Partners.

East West was organized in 1986 by Harry Frampton immediately after his term as chief executive of Vail Associates, the precursor of Vail Resorts. He oversaw Beaver Creek for four years after its opening in 1981 and then, as a real estate developer, built much of the bed base.

Taking his place at Vail was Mike Shannon, who then left after several years to go into the resort business. In 2005, he joined with Eric Resnick, also a former officer at Vail, to create KSL Capital Partners. Their website describes broad multi-national investments in resort properties, including Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in the Truckee-Tahoe area of California.

The key player in overseeing construction will be Andy Gunion, the chief financial officer for East West Partners. He told reporters that construction will begin in spring on the 102-room Limelight Hotel at Snowmass, which will be purchased by the Aspen Skiing Co. after it's completed. It will include 15 residences. Also to be built will be a sporting goods shop and 48 condominiums in two buildings, plus a public plaza and ice rink.

"Everything we're building in the village has the potential to be hot beds," Gunion said.

When everything is constructed, Snowmass Base Village will have more than 1,000 bedrooms, Gunion told The Aspen Times.

Altogether, this represents considerably more than the snout of the Vail camel under Aspen tent flap. The Aspen Daily News pointed out that Vail Resorts also controls 12 businesses in Aspen and Snowmass Village. This includes Aspen Sports, a business in downtown Aspen started in 1953, several years before Vail was even conceived.

Inside Athabasca Glacier, air temps above freezing

JASPER, Alta. — If you drive north from Lake Louise for an hour and a half, you will come to the Columbia Icefields, a sprawl of glaciers along the Continental Divide with fingers reaching out into the valleys. One of them is called the Athabasca Glacier.

Earlier this month, ice climbing legend Will Gadd — he was the first to ice climb Niagara Falls — rappelled down a moulin, or frozen stream, to inspect the interior of the glacier. What he found puzzled him and the scientists who accompanied him.

"The first thing we discovered as we popped out into this amazing passage, which was just like a beautiful sandstone canyon made of ice, was the temperature gradient. It was plus-one (degree Centigrade) underneath the glacier," Gadd told the Jasper Fitzhugh. "It was really weird."

Too, there was water, not ice, within the glacier, similar to the pools you might find in a sandstone canyon.

Altogether, the tentative conclusion drawn by Gadd and his scientific companions is that the glacier's interior may be reflecting globally warming temperatures in myriad ways.

What is readily obvious is that the glacier has retreated "massively" since Gadd was growing up nearly 50 years ago in nearby Jasper, located about an hour away.

It is, noted Skeptical Science in a 2014 article, probably the easiest glacier in the world to access by car. You can park within a few hundred metres of the ice, but the glacier has been retreating 10 metres (about 33 feet) per year, altogether more than 200 metres since 1992.

Recording climate change

MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — billy barr — his preference for lower-case spelling — has become an Internet sensation. He's been a go-to source for some years for various media, including Mountain Town News, because of his long-record keeping at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

He's the sole winter resident at the laboratory, which is located at the old mining camp of Gothic. In summer, it's about 15 minutes from Mt. Crested Butte, the slope-side town, and perhaps 20 minutes from Crested Butte.

He got there in 1972, and he's been there ever since, measuring the temperature and snow, eventually providing one of the better longer-term data sets about global warming in a mountain location. The hamlet has an elevation of 2,890 metres.

The Crested Butte News reported that barr has now become the subject of a short film called the End of Snow produced by a local filmmaker, Morgan Heim. The film was submitted to the Film4 Climate global video competition, and it came in second among 900 films. Since then, it has gone viral. The video has been viewed just over 50,000 times alone on the website of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

barr makes for an interesting character on film. He has a long beard, now streaked with gray, and is a fan of Bollywood films, which he watches nightly in his solitary cabin in Gothic.

But there's also the climate change documented by his methodical research: Normally, there might be four or five record-high temperatures in any given winter. But last winter there were 17. The winter before, there were 36.

Spuds spilled as truck upends

JACKSON, Wyo. — Another truck went over the highway lip at Teton Pass, which happens with great regularity.

The cargo this time was no surprise: Idaho potatoes. Just beyond the pass is one of the great potato-growing regions of the country. This truck had nearly 25 per cent more weight than is allowed trucks on Teton Pass.

The pass has a maximum grade of 10 per cent. This surpasses the steepest highway grades in Colorado: eight per cent on Hoosier Pass (between Breckenridge and Fairplay), seven per cent on Vail Pass, 6.8 per cent on Wolf Creek Pass, 6.4 per cent on Monarch Pass, and 6.1 per cent on Berthoud Pass.

Good news for Sierra: pusher trucks needed

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Trucks on Interstate 80 are struggling to get across Donner Pass this winter, a measure that more traditional snowstorms have returned to the Sierra Nevada.

The Sacramento Bee reported that commercial trucks carrying 36,287 kilogram loads are losing traction in the snow, even with tire chains on, getting stuck in heavy summit traffic, blocking lanes, and threatening to close the highway.

Arriving to rescue the trucks are the little rubber-nosed vehicles called pusher trucks. They can slip in behind stalled rigs and nudge the 18-wheel trucks forward until they can get traction.

"Running I-80 over Donner Pass in winter season is not for the rookies!" one trucker posted on an online trucking forum. "Donner Pass can be a nightmare."

Dealing cocaine from bars and restaurants

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Has the early 1980s been recycled? It would seem so in Summit County, where cocaine use was rampant in the early 1980s, lines drawn on bar tops and restaurant tables.

Apparently, coke has become the stuff of bars and restaurants again. The Summit Daily News reported that 21 people have been charged as the result of an undercover drug investigation that focused on Breckenridge.

The investigation began after an overdose death in August. The victim unknowingly bought cocaine that had been laced with methamphetamine. After interviews with the man's friends, police decided that he had bought the drug at a bar in Breckenridge.

Dennis McLaughlin, the Breckenridge police chief, said agents launched their undercover work after observing "blatant, out-in-the-open deals."

Arrest affidavits allege that the individuals charged sold cocaine to undercover officers at bars and restaurants around Summit County from October to early December. McLaughlin described a large, interconnected web of drug dealers operating out of local businesses. Suspects identified in the story were all in their 20s and 30s.

What town now looks most like Aspen in 1970?

ASPEN, Colo. — In 1970, the writer Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County. The county seat and principal town is Aspen.

Thompson narrowly lost the race, but as with everything that Thompson did, it was a colourful affair. That race — and the milieu — is now being represented in a film being produced by Bobby Kennedy III called Freak Power.

Much about Pitkin County hasn't changed all that much, but Aspen itself has been radically transformed. In 1970, the grime and peeled paint of what one author called "the quiet years" of Aspen remained. The phrase referred to the period from 1893, when the silver-mining boom ended, to 1946, when the modern resort era began.

A central fixture in Aspen's several lives has been the Hotel Jerome, elegant at its inception and elegant today, after several refurbishments. But for several decades after the Second World War, the hotel bar served as a rollicking place for skiers and whomever else, and a hangout for Thompson and other locals.

The Denver Post said that Kennedy — the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, the presidential candidate assassinated in 1968 — is now searching for a stand-in for the Aspen of that less polished time. Buildings in Telluride, Durango, and Silverton have been nominated, as have others in Gunnison, Crested Butte, and Georgetown.

The Post didn't say this, but Mountain Town News will: There can truly only be one town in the running here to replicate Aspen in 1970, and that has to be Leadville.

Budgeted for US$1.85 million, Kennedy hopes to begin shooting the film in June with a cast of 100 and a crew of 73. He got a $300,000 subsidy for the effort from the state of Colorado.

Ketchum gets new hotel

KETCHUM, Idaho — Fifteen years after Ketchum set out to refurbish and expand its bed base at the base of the Sun Valley Resort, one hotel is opening and another is under construction.

First out of the chutes is a Limelight hotel, the second in a chain of mid-priced properties planned by the Aspen Skiing Co. The company's first was in Aspen itself, and it has a second planned in nearby Snowmass Village.

The 99-room, five-floor hotel in downtown Ketchum will also have 14 residences on the top two floors with the asking price on the largest, five-bedroom units approaching $4 million.

The first lodging will be available on Dec. 30. However, Expedia offers the first bookings on Jan. 13 for $310 a room.

The hotel is getting certified as LEED silver under the U.S. Green Building Council's criteria, the second of four levels, below gold and platinum.

The Idaho Mountain Express reported that excavation for the Auberge Resort Sun Valley hotel began in downtown Ketchum, across the street from the Limelight, in the fall.

Meanwhile, commercial real estate prices rose significantly in 2016. Paul Kenny & Matt Bogue Commercial Real Estate found that rents for retail space in Ketchum increased 16 to 20 per cent, comparable to increases in both of the two prior years.