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MOUNTAIN NEWS: Crested Butte plans to charge skinners

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Crested Butte plans to charge skinners

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Really, does anybody in a ski town need to be told what "skinning up" means? Maybe 20 or 25 years ago, just when the popularity of free-heel skiing was taking off.

But now, virtually all ski areas in early morning, and some at night, have a ton of people marching up the mountain, most with skins and a few on snowshoes, out to get in a work out. "Earn your turns," is the phrase.

At Crested Butte, there are so many people marching uphill that the resort operator wants to charge them. Ethan Mueller, general manager of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, says that 550 people have picked up free passes that allow them to use the company's trails. In getting the pass, they also agree to abide by the rules.

The ski company now plans to charge non-pass holders $75 annually or $5 per day for the privilege, reports the Crested Butte News. Pass-holders would not be charged extra.

"We don't anticipate making any money as a result but we feel people take it more seriously if they pay something for the access," said Mueller. He added that it's a "numbers situation," meaning that "when there are hundreds of people skinning uphill, that's not something we can just ignore."

The resort must get approval from the Forest Service to impose new rules.

The News also reports that Crested Butte will make a route available to uphill skiers during the day when the lifts are running, when uphilling was previously banned.

In Breckenridge, uphillers were also in the news. Ski area employees say uphillers fail to clean up after their dogs or keep them in control.

"I have witnessed dogs chasing skiers, snowmobiles and snowcats," Breckenridge ski patrol director Kevin Ahern said. "This is an accident waiting to happen. As an avid skinner myself, I would hate to restrict our policy any more or lose the privilege all together."

The ski resort's uphill-access policy requires all dogs to be on a leash or under voice command at all times, notes the Summit Daily News.

Thin slice of mountains keeps Park City healthy

PARK CITY, Utah – Park City is an anomaly among ski towns, with the possible exception of Canmore and Banff, which are just 45 minutes from Calgary. While snuggled in the mountains, many of Park City's residents commute daily to the Salt Lake Valley, just 30 minutes away.

They're so close, separated by the thin but high cordillera of the Wasatch Range, but so different, especially from November to February. During mid-winter, the Salt Lake Valley often congeals in a thick soup of tiny pollutants of size 2.5 microns or smaller, called PM 2.5 by experts. The soot, measuring one-30th the size of a human hair, is a combination of particles from combustion, solvent fumes, and other chemical pollutants.

The Environmental Protection Agency in December issued a new standard, citing "hundreds of studies" that have linked the tiny particulates in the air to an estimated 40,000 premature deaths in the United States as the result of heart attack, strokes and other illnesses.

The Salt Lake Tribune explains that Salt Lake City is among the most polluted areas in the nation at times between November and February, the result of high-pressure systems creating a seal over the valley.

This year, an inversion began in late December, continuing into the past week. It had been predicted a month before, explains the newspaper, based on weather in the Pacific Ocean.

When Salt Lake City's PM 2.5 count reached 90 last week, it was just 20 to 25 in Summit County, reports The Park Record.

Privatizing operations of Canada's hot springs

JASPER, Alberta — In an effort to reduce subsidies needed to operate its hot springs at Banff, Jasper and Radium, Parks Canada plans to privatize their operations. But the Public Service Alliance of Canada, one of the country's largest unions, is fighting the privatization effort, calling it a "reckless cut" to public services.

A representative of Parks Canada reassured Jasper's Fitzhugh that privatization would be nothing of the sort.

"Shifting their operation to the private sector will provide greater capacity and flexibility to respond to the demands of the tourism market and will maximize opportunities for enhancing the facilities, operations, and marketing," said Alisson Ogle, public relations and communications representative for Parks Canada.

She also said that the hot springs would not be sold. "No individual or corporate entity can buy ownership of land in national parks," she said.

Kyoto deadline passed, but who has noticed?

JASPER, Alberta — The Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1998 by many nations, including Canada (but not the United States), has now come to its first milestone. The deadline set in the agreement called for significant reductions of greenhouse gases by 2012.

While the official carbon accounting has not been done in most cases, it was clear enough years ago that most of the nations that did sign it wouldn't come even close. Canada, for its part, withdrew from the agreement in December.

"Whenever targets are placed out of reach and are not applied to all those involved (including China and India), the result is frustration," says the Jasper Fitzhugh. "It should not be surprising that Canada opted out of the treaty."

"Unfortunately, we still have a large problem. Climate change looms over us all and will have a lasting negative effect on future generations. How do we balance the need to feed our families and pay our bills with the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?"

Who's at fault for deaths of two skiers?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Two deaths, both on ski slopes, were the subject of court filings and testimony in Colorado last week. The fundamental issue in both cases is whether the victims should have known better before they skied into closed areas — or whether the ski area operators provided sufficient warning.

Taft Conlin was 13 last January when, after one of the winter's rare storms, he and buddies skied onto the lower portion of Prime Cornice, one of the steeper trails on Vail Mountain. The trail had been closed at the top. To get in more turns, he side-stepped up the mountain about 36 metres and onto the trail. He was killed by an avalanche that ran 122 metres, throwing him into a tree. He died of blunt-force trauma.

Vail Resorts claims that the youngster was entirely or mostly negligent for his own death, reports the Vail Daily, after examining court filings. Lawyers representing the victim's parents claim the company created an "avalanche trap."

"They seem to be asserting that there's an unwritten rule against climbing," Jim Heckbert, attorney for the parents, told the Daily.

In Steamboat, snow was plentiful all winter long two years ago, when 19-year-old Cooper Larsh got off a Poma lift at the city-owned Howelsen Hill ski area and turned to his left. There were no out-of-bounds signs, but the trail maps indicated it was closed above the Alpine Slide, which operates only in summer. He lost control, flew two metres through the air and landed headfirst in the snow. He suffocated.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today explains that the city claims immunity under a state law. The exception is if there was a "dangerous condition" in public facilities. Whether that dangerous condition existed was the subject of two days of testimony, with a ruling yet to be determined. If there was, the case against the city government can then be pursued under Colorado's Skier Safety Act.

Reading the judicial tea leaves at Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, Calif.—Both sides involved in proposed real estate expansion of the Homewood Mountain Resort claimed victory after a U.S. District Court judge issued a ruling in early January.

San Francisco-based JRA Ventures wants authority to build a five-star hotel among the several hundred lodging units at the base of the ski area, one of Tahoe's older-style resorts. Total development has been calculated at $500 million.

The Sierra Sun reports that Judge William B. Shubb agreed with Earthjustice, the legal arm of the Sierra Club, that two local jurisdictions, Placer County and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, had improperly failed to analyze whether the company could have proposed a smaller project, while still making money. However, the judge dismissed most of the other contentions of Earthjustice.

To the environmental camp, this represented a victory. To the developer and the regional regulatory agency, it showed they did most everything right, with nothing that can't now be fixed.

When should the lost be billed for rescues?

JACKSON, Wyo. — The state representative from Jackson Hole in the Wyoming Legislature has introduced a bill that would allow county governments to charge search and rescue victims.

Jim Whalen, the sheriff of Teton County, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide that, if granted the authority, he would use it sparingly.

"We don't want people to not call because they're worried about getting a bill. We don't want people to wait until the 11th hour to call because they're worried about the cost," he said.

Mostly, he sympathizes with the victims of his department's rescues. "In between 90 and 95 per cent of cases, stuff just happens, and people just legitimately need help. It seems to me the ones we're hoping to target are those who throw caution to the wind," he said.

Spurring the proposed legislation was a case last winter in which a group of snowmobilers needed to be rescued. The circumstances of the rescue were not reported, but Whalen clearly believes they deserved to get dunned for the cost, which he estimated was $13,000.

"I don't want them to think they could come up here and do any old thing they wanted because we'd come and get them," he told the News&Guide. "Rescuers do risk their lives every time they go out."

Sucking sounds gets louder at Winter Park

WINTER PARK, Colo. — Denver Water continues its efforts to expand diversion of water from the Fraser Valley, where Winter Park is located. Given the long history of transmountain diversions in Colorado, it will likely succeed in its ambitions to build a larger straw. Still to be revealed are the terms.

Diversions from the valley began in 1936, about the time that organized skiing began at Winter Park, and by one account they now take 60 per cent of the native flows of the Fraser River, a tributary to the Colorado River. Together, with diversions from the Breckenridge area, they allowed Denver and its suburbs to grow rapidly after World War II.

But the drought of 2002, by various measurements the worst in several hundred years, exposed the limitations of Denver's existing water-delivery system. Denver and its customers, altogether 1.1 million people, reduced water use by an average 30 per cent, but still some areas of metro Denver nearly went dry.

The diversion proposed by Denver would boost its take of water from the Fraser Valley to 80 per cent. But for that to happen, the city needs more storage, to be achieved with expansion of Gross Reservoir, west of Boulder, a college town in the Denver metro area.

Boulder County commissioners, who must give the dam expansion a permit, refused last week, pending a decision on exactly what Denver will do to mitigate the impacts of its added diversions from the Winter Park area.

"We hear you loud and clear about the Western Slope and the issues with the Colorado River," said Cindy Domenico, chair of the Boulder County commissioners.

Of course, Boulder County gets much of its water from the Western Slope, too.

The final resolution of this story will likely be told when terms of mitigation for this project are announced by the federal permitting agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Regulating chopper use in Aspen-Snowmass area

ASPEN, Colo. — Pitkin County commissioners are mulling how to regulate use of helicopters for commercial flying in unincorporated areas.

The Aspen Times reports that commissioners are looking at a simple process for permitting of low-impact photo shoots and film products. County planners estimate that four or five such shoots occur annually.

For now, at least, the commissioners aren't touching regulations that would govern the use of drones for use in photographing real estate being marketed for sale.

BIOMASS PLANTS STILL A TOUGH NUT IN WEST

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Using biomass to create electricity has proven very difficult in mountain towns of the West. Despite the enormous numbers of dead and drying trees, commercial developers have found obstacles at every turn.

In the Tahoe Basin, Placer County has been working for several years to develop the Cabin Creek Biomass Energy Facility. The facility, if completed, would draw wood from a 48-kilometre radius to create two megawatts of electricity.

The U.S. Forest Service supports the project, arguing that it would reduce the wood in the forests, thereby lessening the risk of major wildfires.

But not so fast, says the Center for Biological Diversity. "Our main concerns have to do with proper accounting of greenhouse gas emissions from biomass combustion," says senior staff attorney Kevin Bundy.

"We need to get away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible — but a lot of recent science is showing that biomass power generation can be very intensive in terms of greenhouse gas pollution," he adds. "My interest is primarily in trying to ensure that biomass carbon accounting is done as accurately as possible so that local communities can make informed decisions rather than just rely on potentially inaccurate assumptions."

He adds that biomass plants create a long-term demand for fuel that could create additional pressure for more harvesting. His group questions how much wood is available.

In Colorado, planning continues for two biomass plants, at Pagosa Springs and at Gypsum, the latter located 60 kilometres west of Vail. The Gypsum plant would be five times larger than the one in California, and necessary permits have been awarded. But the developer in an email to Mountain Town News several weeks ago said full financing has not been secured.

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS FOR LAKE TAHOE CLARITY

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — When still going about life as Samuel Clemens, the writer later known as Mark Twain visited Lake Tahoe and was struck by the remarkable clarity of the waters.

A report from the Tahoe Environmental Research Center finds that in 2011, lake clarity improved during winter and worsened during summer.

The improved clarity of winter was likely due to improved stormwater drainage control measures in communities bordering the lake, which has 115 kilometres of shoreline.

Researchers hypothesize that warmer water temperatures are allowing the exponential growth of an algae cell, particularly in the surface layers of the lake. This may be a result of the warming climate.

A report in the Sierra Sun notes further that the effects of the warming climate have not been uniform. The melting of snow at the lake level, just shy of 1,900 metres, has occurred about two weeks earlier since 1961. But 182 metres higher in elevation, no meaningful change has occurred in the timing of spring snowmelt since measurements began in 1956.

"It's important to remember that although scientists are quantifying climate change, the impacts vary depending on location," notes the Sierra Sun.

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