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Mountain News: Good economic news sparse in Aspen



ASPEN, Colo. - The economy continues to be wobbly in Aspen, but overall far worse than had been expected last year when city officials drew up their budget.

Bolstered by a $43 million home sale, real estate during July posted a 1.73 per cent increase as compared to the same month last year. It was the first uptick after 21 consecutive months of declining sales, according to a report from Land Title Guarantee Co.

For the year, however, real estate sales volume continues to lag last year by 29 per cent.

In the retail sector, sales tax collections for July were down 17 per cent as compared to the same month last year. Citing a city report, the Aspen Times says that lodging tax collections were down even more, 32 per cent for July. That suggests that hoteliers have been cutting their rates.

The Aspen Times also reports that the Aspen Chamber Resort Association expects to lose 50 members from its 866-member ranks, resulting in a 4.5 per cent decline in revenues.

A report from Don Taylor, the city finance director, notes that the recession continues to be deeper and more widespread than anticipated last year.

City officials a year ago assumed sales tax revenue would be flat, but it was much worse - a correction noted in January. Still, even that projection assumed an improvement by summer that hasn't happened. Now, Taylor predicts a "tough budget year" for 2010.

Mick Ireland, the Aspen mayor, said boom cycles tend to lead people to devalue frugality and vacationers stop thinking about value. It's the responsibility of the city and the resort to create a culture that keeps it sustainable for the long run.

Children chart rising snowline

PARK CITY, Utah - The base elevation of ski runs at the Park City Mountain Resort is 6,900 feet. From Thanksgiving through Easter of most years, snow can be found there.

But while predictions are dangerous, because climate scientists really don't know how much snow will be falling in future years, one thing is clear: temperatures will rise. And so will the snow line.

To illustrate how much the snow line may rise, a non-profit group called the Park City Foundation recently assembled children at the top of a lift, at an elevation of 8,200 feet - or about 1,300 feet higher. That's where the early and late-season snowline will be at mid-century, according to a study done several years ago.

The event was called "Save our Snow," and it is one of several events planned by the group to draw attention to the challenge - but also opportunities to act locally. "We want to raise awareness about climate change and empower people to make changes in their lifestyles," said Trisha Worthington, the group's executive director.