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Mountain News: Half of short-term rentals unlicensed in Vail



VAIL, Colo. — Vail's town council will probably enact new regulations governing property owners who use Internet services like Airbnb to rent their condos, townhomes, and other units for short-term rentals.

Some towns have taken stern measures, including steep fees and inspections, reported the Vail Daily. Others, including Vail, have used a lighter hand. More than half of units used for short-term rentals aren't licensed.

That estimate was delivered by Destimetrics working with RRC Associates. The companies report that some resort towns, including Jackson, Wyo., require not just business and sales tax licences, but also mandate that owners have units inspected by the local fire departments.

Durango, Colo., and South Lake Tahoe, Nev., have the most aggressive regulations among those towns that were studied.

The study for Vail was initiated in 2015 after a group of lodging managers came to the council with a list of recommended regulations that included licensing and inspections for both safety and guest quality.

Aspen Skiing buying 34 more tiny houses

ASPEN, Colo. — After a winter of experimentation with six tiny houses, the Aspen Skiing Co. is ready to commit to 34 more in an effort to quickly deliver more employee housing.

The first six "trailer coaches" consist of 300 square feet of floor living space and 200 square feet of sleeping lofts. That's large enough for two seasonal employees.

The new units will be large enough for three people, with 400 square feet of floor space plus 300 square feet of sleeping lofts.

The units are located at a former KOA campground in Basalt, located 29 kilometres downvalley from Aspen. The ski company bought the campground several years ago but has permitted campers to rent spaces.

In theory, the new units will accommodate an additional 102 seasonal workers, reported the Aspen Times. They will cost about US$100,000 each, or about the same as the first units.

Aspen Skiing has more than 600 beds for employees but estimated the shortage going into this past winter at 600 beds.

In Steamboat Springs, there is also talk of tiny houses. Steamboat Today reported that a tiny-home development is being researched by a would-be developer, but at Yampa, located 64 kilometres away on the road toward Vail, the plans seem to be more firm. There, a developer is said to be proposing more than 50 tiny homes.

Are tiny homes an answer in mountain ski towns scrunched by a lack of affordable digs?

No, said Melanie Rees, a Colorado-based affordable-housing consultant who works in many ski towns of the West. They provide "a quick, mobile response to an immediate need," Rees told Mountain Town News, but fall short of a permanent solution.

Cost of land is the big issue, she explained. Tiny homes rise no more than one-and-a-half storeys. Given the price of land, there should be 26 units or more in taller buildings serviced by elevators and, perhaps, with underground parking.

She cited the Pine Wood Village II in Breckenridge, which has 45 studio and one-bedroom apartments set aside for low-income, long-term renters. It's set on about one hectare of land.

"My guess is that they won't be here for long before somebody figures out a higher and better use" of the land, said Rees of the tiny houses in Basalt.

That is exactly the plan, said Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Co. "It is something that we can do and implement almost immediately. We will have these homes ready for this fall, and there's no way we could possibly build another project out that quickly," he said. "There are some things we're looking at, but we're not there yet."

Local pushback to Trump review of new monument

TAOS, N.M. — The Rio Grande Gorge is a giant chasm carved by the Rio Grande. Located about 32 km north of Taos Ski Valley, it's a canyon renowned by fisherman and prized for its solitude.

Those qualities led former President Barack Obama in 2013 to designate the gorge as a national monument. In taking that action, Obama used authority vested in presidents under the Antiquities Act passed by Congress in 1906. The law authorizes protection of "objects of historic and scientific interest." Using this law, a president can quickly create a monument. A national park designation requires the more drawn-out approval of Congress.

Grand Teton, Zion, the Grand Canyon, and Mt. Olympus were all originally monuments that Congress later designated as national parks, in the latter case as Olympic National Park. That conversion has also occurred more recently in Colorado at the Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

But Utah politicians complained that Obama over-stepped his authority in creating the Bears Ears National Monument in the latter days of his presidency. They still remain angry over former President Bill Clinton's designation of the even larger Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1995.

In response, President Donald Trump has vowed scrutiny of all national monument designations. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, speaking with reporters on Sunday in Salt Lake City, promised an open mind but suggested he might recommend resizing some monuments.

In Taos, the new scrutiny has ruffled local feathers, reported the Taos News.

"The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is sacred to many people, including my people of Taos Pueblo," said Taos Pueblo War Chief Curtis Sandoval.

Erick Schlenker-Goodrich, of the Western Environmental Law Center, told the newspaper that Trump and Zinke are "walking into a political and legal minefield if they think they can revoke or alter national monument designations."

He said the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and other designations "enjoy deep and expansive support from a broad spectrum of the community."

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1920 backed the creation of a national monument at the Grand Canyon, and in 1936 adopted the same reasoning for designation of a national monument in Nevada.

zThe court, stated Wikipedia, has ruled that the Antiquities Act gives the president nearly unfettered discretion as to the nature of the object to be protected and the size of the area reserved.

mega resorts or the Walmarts of skiing?

SILVERTON, Colo. — From the vantage point of Silverton, deep in the San Juan Mountains, Aaron Brill said he's competing with the "mega ski corporations of Vail and KSL, which have become the Walmarts of skiing." They're making it harder for independent ski areas to survive, he told the Durango Herald.

Brill made the comments after he and his wife, Jenny Brill, got permission from the Bureau of Land Management to use 6,000 ha for helicopter skiing. The company gave up the rights to 2,000 ha. They now have 10,000 ha of helicopter ski terrain around Silverton.

The Brills said they wanted to swap acreages because their existing terrain was high elevation and avalanche prone. In return, they are getting lower elevation areas with less risk of avalanche.

The Herald said that 85 per cent of those commenting on the proposed swap were opposed for various reasons. Some worried that Silverton Mountain's helicopter skiing operation was encroaching on their backcountry haunts or invading their peace and quiet.

The health pluses and minuses of a ski town

JACKSON, Wyo. — When it comes to health, living in Jackson Hole has both pluses and minuses.

Just four per cent of residents suffer from asthma, compared to nine per cent in the U.S. Dr. Travis Riddell, the Teton County public health officer, says the low rate is probably the result of circumstance rather than anything that was done locally.

"The main thing that drives that difference is air quality. We just live in a region where we're blessed with very clean air."

New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Washington D.C. have asthma rates of 11 to 12 per cent.

Low humidity also helps. Newer housing stock also helps explain the lower asthma rates, as older homes tend to have more mould.

Skin damage, however, is more prevalent in Jackson Hole.

"We see so much more skin cancer than anywhere else I've ever worked in my life," said Robin Sproule, a certified physician's assistant at Western Wyoming Dermatology and Surgery.

At higher elevations, with less atmosphere to deflect ultraviolet rays, the risk is higher. The elevation of Jackson, the valley's only town, is 1,890 metres.

"We are at a very high elevation, and people in the valley spend a lot of time outdoors," Sproule told the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

She urges those spending outdoors to slather on the sunscreen as if painting a house: Put on two layers.