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Mountain News: Jackson’s real estate boom is over



JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – The state of the real estate market in Jackson Hole has been in dispute in recent weeks. A study by a California-based firm found that the median home price in Teton County had dropped 9 per cent in the last year. But David Viehman, a local appraiser and real estate agent who has studied the market for number of years, says the Californians crunched the numbers in ways that don’t necessarily make sense.

As Viehman crunches the numbers, prices for single-family homes have actually increased in the last year by 2 per cent. However, he discounts condos, townhouses and fractional ownerships — which may have been included in the tabulation of a 9 per cent decline.

What clearly is happening, he says, is that locals continue to escalate their prices as if a boom were still occurring. As a consequence, lots of properties are on the market.

“Locals can’t get over the fact that their property is not worth more than it was last year,” Viehman told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “They won’t come off their price.”

What has happened, several sources tell the newspaper, is that the real estate market is correcting itself after several years of extreme heating. As well, while there are still mortgages available for “strong” borrowers, no national companies are loaning for more than $700,000. Also, while vacationers to Jackson Hole might have been inclined to buy vacation real estate at other times, the national economic uncertainty at this time is keeping them in a less committed state.


Parking prices going up

VAIL, Colo. – Parking rates this winter will go up in Vail’s two large public parking garages. A full day of parking previously was $20. This year it will be $25. The hike is being levied by Vail officials because they want to shift more use to mass transit. Also, they hope to reduce the amount of overflow when the parking garages are filled, which last year resulted in cars being parked along the adjacent frontage road 48 times. While some of the cars are from Denver, a substantial portion of the cars are from locals in Vail and the Eagle Valley.


Bus fares on the rise

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Commuter buses are getting more crowded across ski country, and they’re also getting more expensive. Newspapers in Jackson Hole, Aspen and Telluride have all carried news in recent weeks of contemplated or approved increases in passenger fares to compensate for increased fuel costs. The bus linking Telluride and one of its bedroom communities, Norwood, will see a 100 per cent increase in fare price. That leaves it at just $2 a ride, reports The Telluride Watch. Still, that’s a good deal, as the drive is about a half-hour long.


Hotel OKed, now needs financing

KETCHUM, Idaho – After talking about getting a new high-end hotel for most of this century, Ketchum has finally authorized one. The 73-room, four-star hotel is the sort of thing that analysts have said that Ketchum, North America’s first destination ski resort, needs to put some zip back into its tourism economy.

The question now is whether the nation’s financial turmoil will derail this plan. Hotel developer Jack Bariteau told city officials that financing will be difficult in the wake of the meltdown of Wall Street investment banks.

The conventional debt markets for this type of project don’t exist anymore,” Bariteau said. “The doors are closed. We’ll have to go to the private equity route, which will likely take more than a year.”

The Idaho Mountain Express explains that the hotel, called Ketchum Hotel, will be located in downtown Ketchum, a few hundred yards from the base of Bald Mountain, the key venue of the Sun Valley ski area.

For several years various proposals have foundered on the issue of size and economics. Developers said they needed larger and taller buildings than were previously allowed, and they also needed the ability to sell units within the structures. At length, the community relented.

Bariteau’s partner is Paolo Patrone, owner of Piazza Hotels, which runs the Hotel Healdsburg in California’s Sonoma Valley.


Contractors shift to remodeling

TRUCKEE, Calif. –- The real estate market has slowed in the Truckee and Lake Tahoe area. There’s more remodeling work and less new construction, says Mark Tanner, a building contractor. “Last year it was like 90 per cent new and 10 per cent remodel,” he told the Sierra Sun. “This year it’s more like 50-50.”


Curbing the carbon diet

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Across America, the transition to a new prism for looking at energy continues town by town, meeting by meeting. In Crested Butte recently, 150 people gathered, meeting to examine how to modify business as usual.

The community — Crested Butte, plus two other towns and Gunnison County — has been working on how it can rein in energy use. All three towns and the county government have signed pledges to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases roughly in line with the targets established by the Kyoto Protocol.

That was several years ago. Since then, the governments and local community organizers have been trying to figure out how their communities can live up to their vows of lower-carb diets.

Last year, the communities began collecting data, to establish a baseline as of 2005 for those emissions. Last week they assembled to hear what others have done, and talked about what they can do.

Among those speaking was George Sibley, a long-time local, who called for more local production of energy, instead of depending upon energy imported from central sources. He also called for more care in local building.

“Really, is there any reason why we should be allowing anybody to build a new house that isn’t sited on its lot and has some accommodation to the idea that the sun shines a lot here and that’s a lot of energy?” Sibley asked.

Meanwhile, building codes are being upgraded to require greater efficiency. In this case, instead of the initiative coming from the grassroots, the action is coming from higher levels.

In Crested Butte’s case, the town thought it had more stringent standards. But new iterations of the International Energy Conservation Code are causing Crested Butte to do some catchup.


Aspen considers 2030 Challenge

ASPEN, Colo. – City officials in Aspen are being urged to adopt building regulations that square up with the 2030 Challenge of making new buildings carbon neutral.

If embraced, the challenge will require that buildings constructed next year become 50 per cent more energy-efficient than the average existing house in Aspen, with the goal that houses will become increasingly efficient in future years, so that houses built in 2030 are carbon neutral.

Such buildings must be super-insulated, to prevent energy loss, but with some means of generating or retaining energy. Passive solar is perhaps the easiest way for a building to generate its own energy, but photo-voltaic collectors, geoexchange loop systems, and even microhydro systems can also generate heat, electricity, or both.

The challenge was posted in 2006 by Santa Fe-based architect Edward Mazria. Mazria argues that buildings consume 50 per cent of all energy used in the United States. As such, if the nation hopes to dampen its greenhouse gas emissions, it must start constructing buildings with more intelligence.

In Aspen, according to the Aspen Times, city officials say that building codes already require commercial buildings be 30 per cent more efficient than the average homes. If adopted, the 2030 Challenge will require efficiency of 50 per cent more.

The 2030 Challenge program suggests that commercial buildings and large residential complexes hand over utility bills each month for five years to prove they are as efficient as promised.


Photovoltaic cells encouraged

ASPEN, Colo. – As Aspen continues to dampen the total impact of its often-empty mansions, one new suggestion is that owners be encouraged to install photovoltaic systems.

Currently, many owners of large homes with outdoor pools, hot tubs, and driveway melting systems have installed solar hot water systems. Such systems work efficiently, but the drawback is that they are of little use when the houses are vacant, as the hot water cannot be exported.

Photovoltaic systems, in contrast, could continue to produce electricity for the broader public even when the homes are vacant, explains The Aspen Times. The newspaper reports that city building officials are suggesting a carrot program to complement the current bag of sticks, but city officials have made no decision.


Edna Dercum dies at age of 94

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – Edna Dercum, a key figure in the post-World War II boom in recreational skiing in Summit County, has died at the age of 94.

Her husband, Max Dercum, who survives her, was also important in developing Arapahoe Basin, which opened in 1946, and of Keystone Resort, which opened in 1973. Together, they operated the Ski Tip Lodge for about five decades.

“Edna fully embodied all that we love about the sport of skiing,” said the Summit Daily News. “Husband Max gets a lot of credit for getting the lifts rolling at Arapahoe Basin in that first season in 1946, but he’ll be the first to tell you he couldn’t have done it without Edna by his side.”

She grew up in Minneapolis, then in Pennsylvania, where she joined a fledging ski club assembled by a forestry professor, Max Dercum. She took up his love of skiing, and a romance blossomed.

Max’s dream of developing a ski mountain in the West took them to Colorado in 1942. When World War II ended, Max and four partners developed Arapahoe Basin. Lift tickets cost $1.25, notes the Vail Daily. Max Dercum was also an integral figure in the startup of Keystone.

The newspaper said that the couple came to personify Summit County skiing as no others could. “Still skiing into her 80s, Edna had the brightest smile and the quickest laugh in Ski Country.”


Brown brought military discipline

VAIL, Colo. – William R. “Sarge” Brown, a 10 th Mountain Division veteran who introduced snowmaking to Vail Mountain, has died at the age of 85.

Brown grew up in Idaho, near where the new ski resort called Tamarack is located. During World War II he ended up with the 10 th Mountain Division, training at Camp Hale, between Leadville and what is now Vail.

He saw combat in Italy, and again later in the Korean War. In all he was awarded five Purple Hearts (for wounds), two Silver Stars and three Bronze stars. He rose to the rank of senior master sergeant, the highest noncommissioned rank in the Army. His final job had been to supervise the Reserve Officers Training Corps program at Dartmouth College, which is located in New England.

Retiring from the U.S. Army in 1966, he rejoined other 10 th Mountain veterans Pete Seibert and Bob Parker at the new resort of Vail. At Vail, he introduced military discipline into his job as trail boss. Later, he became the mountain manager.

“His contribution, from the very first day as trail crew supervisor, was to establish paramilitary standards of scheduling and planning, punctuality, equipment care and personal appearance,” Parker said.

“Sarge,” as he was universally called, also was vital in introducing snowmaking to Vail Mountain, which was among the first resorts in the West to do so. His job at Dartmouth had made him aware of snow variability in New England, a problem apparent even at Vail during its first season. But some particularly steep faces lower on the mountain needed additional snow in even the best of years.

Michael Berry, who today is president of the National Ski Areas Association, was in his early 20s and working at a New England resort when he was hired by Brown in 1974 to become Vail’s professional snowmaker.

Brown’s reputation for being a gruff and demanding taskmaster is fully warranted, says Berry. “There was no doubt that he could be as hard as anybody I’ve ever worked for,” says Berry.

But when he took a personal interest in somebody, as he did with Berry, he also helped them become better people. Berry considers him one of the handful of people who has been most influential in his life.

Later, Brown was instrumental in Vail’s securing the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships.


Microhydro potential studied

GUNNISON COUNTY, Colo. – Water officials in Gunnison County are looking into the possibility of small hydroelectric projects, also called microhydro. Unlike the big dams that block streams, the microhydro technology allows the power of moving water to be harnessed to produce electricity, but often with no evidence of the turbine within the stream or creek.

“You can actually drop these turbines into the river and anchor them, and you can still raft over them and they don’t impact fish,” said Steve Schechter, a director of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

Drawing the district’s attention is new funding from a Colorado state agency for feasibility studies, plus loans of up to $2 million at low cost.

One potential sticking point, reports the Crested Butte News, is transmission. Power lines are frowned upon in the Gunnison Valley, a place of soothing hay meadows.

The thinking is that if Gunnison County can get a few kilowatts here and there from microhydro production, that will diminish the amount of electricity that must be imported from distant sources. Ironically, most of that electricity is produced by burning coal — some of it excavated in the northwest corner of Gunnison County, near Somerset, and shipped by rail to distant power plants.


Forest Service offers carrots

DURANGO, Colo. – Instead of wielding sticks, the U.S. Forest Service is offering carrots to motorized users who use the San Juan National Forest. The proof of this carrot pudding will be whether motorized users self-police themselves. If not, says the Durango Telegraph, the federal agency may get out the stick.

A study several years ago revealed more than 60,000 miles of renegade trails throughout the nation — which spurred Dale Bosworth, then chief of the Forest Service, to order motorized travel be confined to only those roads and trails specifically designated for use.

In the Durango area, however, the Forest Service chose to include 52 miles of previously undesignated roads — mostly old mining and logging roads — in the new road network. As well, for motorcycle riders, there will be a sanctioned singletrack that probably started as a pirate trail.

Grousing on both sides of the equation is being heard. The San Juan Trail Riders complain that “terrain that was once multiple use is being restricted more and more.” The Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers says that the Forest Service is failing to meet Bosworth’s mandate of limiting motorized use to restricted roads, let alone undoing the damage to the landscape incurred in the last 20 years.