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Mountain News: Heat stroke amongst Alberta's peaks

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LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Even in the high mountains of Alberta, July has been a scorcher.

At Lake Louise, a 40-year-old woman suffered from severe heat stroke while hiking the Plain of Six Glaciers. She was flown by helicopter to a waiting ambulance, then driven 40 minutes down the Trans-Canada Highway to a hospital in Banff. The temperature that day hit a record 31.4 C.

Two days later, a four-year-old German shepherd died on another hot day after the dog's owners tried to climb Grizzly Peak, located about an hour south of Banff near the site of the former Fortress ski area.

A local veterinarian told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that dogs may not be in shape for arduous hiking. "It's like humans. We're not just going to get off the couch and go do a 20-kilometre hike," said veterinarian John Williamson.

In Idaho, Ketchum's Mountain Express noted that 18 children in the United States had died as of late June of heat stroke this year in cars. That compares to the average 37 children who have died annually since 1998.

Venture described as biggest ski project in country

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. — In New Mexico, Taos Ski Valley owner Louis Bacon has been plowing money into upgrading the resort. But the biggest base-area development underway in North America right now is at Snowmass Village.

So said the partners in the Base Village project, a project that, when completed in 2018, will have completed an arc that began nearly 20 years before. Work on 10 buildings with a total value of US$600 million got underway there recently.

Included is a 100-room hotel in the Limelight chain created by the Aspen Skiing Co., a partner in the project. The new hotel will include a five-storey climbing wall, which will be open to the public. Mike Kaplan, chief executive of the Aspen Skiing Co., told the Aspen Times that the delayed construction of the Limelight Snowmass was a disguised blessing because the company learned lessons as it constructed a Limelight in Ketchum, Idaho.

Aspen Skiing Co. began pushing for the project almost 20 years ago. Snowmass is the largest of the company's four ski areas, and with its cruisers, the most accessible to the intermediate skier. In short, Snowmass is Aspen's Vail. But after the lift closes, it has always lacked vitality. That's what Base Village is designed to help remedy, in part by putting more beds and creating a critical mass that lifeless ski areas are always seeking to achieve.

Originally, Aspen partnered with Intrawest. Together, they sold the project to voters and got entitlement for 335,000 square metres of construction. Then, they sold the project to Related Cos.

Related landed in bankruptcy in 2009 with roughly half the work done. The last project completed in 2009 was the 162-room Viceroy Hotel. Finally, late last year, Aspen and a new partner, KSL Capital Partners, bought the project back for $56.5 million. That got them the Viceroy and a lot of concrete footers and rebar sticking out since 2009.

Aspen and KSL brought in East West Partners to see the project to fruition.

Work is expected to wrap up in 2018 a few months after Aspen's new summer on-mountain activities of an alpine coaster and ziplines and so forth — don't call it an amusement park, the ski industry insists — debuts. Aspen is calling its non-amusement park Lost Forest.

An irony in all this — noted in Mountain Town News previously — is that Aspen is essentially teaming with Vail to create its answer to Vail. The key figures in KSL Capital Partners were at Vail in the 1980s and 1990s, and East West Partners was created in Vail in the 1980s and still is based there (at the base of Beaver Creek).

On the other hand, the managing partner of East West is now Craig Ferraro, an old Aspen hand.

Aspen Skiing and KSL also teamed up to buy six ski areas from Intrawest, including Steamboat in Colorado and the long-term contract to manage Winter Park.

A few days later, they bought the four resorts in California owned by Mammoth Resorts, including the namesake resort. The Aspen Times reported that none of the purchases have triggered a deeper look at antitrust issues by the U.S. Department of Justice and– the Federal Trade Commission.

Tiny homes discussed

DURANGO, Colo. — Tiny homes are among the ideas being discussed in Durango as a way to enable more lower-cost housing.

Durango, like virtually every other mountain town in the Rocky Mountains from Jasper to Taos, has been struggling to find beds for all who want to live there. The Durango Herald reported that the city's planning staff recently laid out options.

Mark Williams, a planner, pointed out that the city has no control over the cost of land and labour, key factors in how much housing gets built. "We are a small piece of a much, much larger puzzle," he said.

One option is to rezone a portion of Durango to accommodate denser housing, including taller buildings and fewer parking requirements. Another is to decrease the minimum lot size. The city's older section has many houses on lots that would be considered too small if built in one of the newer subdivisions. The older part of Durango is the place with the highest land prices.

Tiny houses may get another look. They're essentially mobile homes, as by definition they are on wheels. They are allowed in some mobile home parks in Durango, but zoning would have to be revisited to allow them in other places.

In Basalt, the Aspen Skiing Co. now has a green light to add 34 tiny homes at a campground located within an enclave of unincorporated Eagle County. The county codes regards the tiny homes on wheels the same as recreational vehicles that are allowed in formal RV parks.

The Aspen Skiing Co. is using the tiny homes as a temporary answer to the long-term problem of the ever-tightening housing market in the Roaring Fork Valley. Costing around US$100,000, the tiny houses will come fully furnished.

Can the methane emissions from coal mines be stopped?

GUNNISON, Colo. — This is where the rubber meets the road on climate change action. Gunnison County commissioners are taking a hard look at a proposed coal mine expansion, but in particular the methane emissions from the mine, by itself a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado.

The West Elk Mine is located in a corner of Gunnison County 59 kilometres from Crested Butte, but across Kebler Pass. They're hard-driving kilometres, about two hours altogether, and in winter — when the pass is closed — it's longer yet.

It's the only mine still operating at Somerset, located in the North Fork Valley. The mine operator, Arch Coal, has been on shaky ground. It dipped into bankruptcy last year but emerged last October. Crested Butte News describesd St. Louis-based Arch as "holding on by its fingernails to stay in business for a few more years."

In Gunnison County, Arch still has 220 employees making about $100,000 a year. The company wants to expand existing leases of coal under the national forest by 1,720 acres. There's no guarantee they'll find coal there, but they want to make sure they're not overlooking it.

Commissioners agreed that the most pressing issue from their perspective is the need to capture methane coming from the mine. Methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas that has 72 times as much heat-trapping capacity over a 20-year period than the far more common carbon dioxide. However, methane dissipates rapidly, unlike carbon dioxide, which can linger in the troposphere for centuries.

Arch Coal wants to pay a five per cent royalty, instead of the normal seven per cent, for any coal that comes out of the new area, called the E-seam. The justification is the higher costs of extraction due to the different, more difficult geology. The royalties help support local schools and re-training for laid-off workers.

Would Arch work with the county on better methane capture? A company representative, according to the Crested Butte News account, said capturing methane from an operating mine is a "different animal" than capturing it from one that has closed. But one of the commissioners countered that the technology exists and should be used.

Colorado now has two major coal mining areas. The other is near Steamboat Springs. But the North Fork mines are said to be among the gassiest in the world.

The West Elk alone — present and proposed — would be responsible for 0.5 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, according to the calculations of Ted Zukoski, an attorney for Earthjustice, which represents several groups opposed to the mine expansion.

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