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Mountain News: More places yet to score a bag of weed



STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — The rollout of recreational marijuana continues in Colorado ski towns. Among those now open for business is one in Steamboat Springs, while another in Carbondale is expected to open by mid-January. And a retailer of a medical marijuana dispensary in Aspen applied to sell recreational marijuana.

At the first store to open in Steamboat, price wasn't an issue for customers, most of whom came from outside Colorado, but especially Texas, reports the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

An eighth of an ounce was selling for $50 at Rocky Mountain Remedies, or enough for about seven average-sized joints. That's $7 a cigarette. But in Denver, some stores were fetching $100 for the same amount of marijuana, or $14 a cigarette.

Tax is a significant portion of marijuna's cost 33.65 per cent. That includes a 10 per cent special state sales tax plus a 15 per cent excise tax approved by Colorado voters in November. As well, Steamboat levies an eight per cent tax.

The honours for the first purchaser of legal recreational marijuana were garnered by a 22-year-old from Minnesota. Among the other purchasers was a couple from Jackson, Wyo., who made the trip specifically to buy marijuana, purportedly for medicinal purposes.

More free concerts in summer

VAIL, Colo. — Vail is adding another free music series to its summer schedule in its attempt to draw visitors.

This newest addition is to be a series of mid-week concerts by bluegrass musicians at Lionshead, a commercial hub of the town that gets a little less traffic than the original Vail Village. The town subsidy is $50,000.

A concert promoter has mentioned Sam Bush, a former member of the legendary New Grass Revival, who is a fixture at Telluride Bluegrass. But it's not clear that any commitments have been made.

Since at least the 1980s, Vail, both the town government and community organizations, have funded free mid-week concerts and the more high-brow (and costly) dance and orchestral events.

Since 2008, however, the town government has added financial heft to free special events. The ploy seems to have worked, at least in part, as witnessed by the busy summers and record sales-tax collections.

But is this too much of a good thing? That's the implied argument of the Vail Homeowners Association, which tends to reflect the interests of the best-heeled second-home owners. The group's December newsletter suggests "Vail's marketing results have become too dependent upon budget-conscious day visitors, particularly on weekends. This, and the increase in the frequency of large mass events, are causing the perception of overcrowding."

Since its founding in 1962, Vail has been ambivalent toward Denver and other residents of the nearby metropolitan area. Denver is at once the largest market for second-home residents, and also a large component of its total customer base, some 34 per cent altogether, according to the Homeowners Association. Yet day visitors are rarely as lucrative as the destination guests, those who linger for several days, even weeks.

Elk straddles sex divide

JACKSON, Wyo. — A gender-bent elk has been identified among the 7,000 that winter in the National Wildlife Refuge near Jackson. It's not clearly a female, but neither is it clearly a male.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide explains that staff at the refuge, as well as visitors, have noticed that it has stubs of antlers, what are called eo-antlers. Eo-antlers are found in mostly older females because of hormonal imbalances. The animal's hide has the colouring more akin to that of a cow.

But it's of larger size, suggesting a male, and then there's suggestion of appendages. "The guys on the sleigh rides say that they can see male parts," said a spokeswoman for the refuge.

One final bit of evidence: it hangs with the bull elks.

Where are Masters and Johnson when you need them?

Wildlife photographers blamed for feeding wolves

BANFF, Alberta — Three wildlife photographers are believed to have placed turkey meat along a highway in Banff National Park to draw wolves.

"It appears to have been intentionally placed for that purpose, for baiting wildlife," said Steve Michel, a human-wildlife conflict specialist with Banff National Park. "The only people that were in the area were several photographers."

The Rocky Mountain Outlook says that wolves can become conditioned to human food and then act boldly and aggressively toward people. The only time Parks Canada has had to destroy wolves in Banff was more than a decade ago, when the animals got a taste for human food.

That opinion was seconded by former Banff National Park superintendent and local author, Kevin Van Tighem, whose book The Homeward Wolf draws attention to unethical practices of some wildlife photographers.

"Once a carnivore associates people with food, that safe relationship between the two species is out the door, because of irresponsible, unethical and fundamentally selfish behaviour by people."

Another tree well death

WHITEFISH, Mont. — The body count was high this past week at ski areas across the west. Mostly people died after smacking into trees, but Whitefish had the more unusual tree well inversion.

The 54-year-old was reported to have been skiing with his son between black-diamond runs. When the son arrived at the bottom and his father failed to show up, the son returned to the top and retraced their route. Eventually, he saw his father's skis sticking out of the tree well, says the Whitefish Pilot.

Whitefish has had six inversion deaths since 1978, but this is the third in three years. Two people died two years ago. In the aftermath of one of those cases, the parents of the 16-year-old victim filed a wrongful death lawsuit that accuses Whitefish Mountain Resort of negligence.

Concern grows about railroad oil shipments

WHITEFISH, Mont. — Four trains carrying crude oil from the Bakken formation of North Dakota and Montana have exploded in fiery wrecks during the last year, one of them the worst railroad disaster in Canadian history. That crash in Quebec last July left 47 dead.

Could it happen in Whitefish? The Whitefish Pilot notes that black oil tankers, one after another, some of the trains more than 100 cars long, have become a common sight from the railroad overpass in Whitefish. This is near downtown and just a few miles from the ski area of the same name.

The tankers do concern local officials, because derailments have occurred several times near Whitefish, in one case spilling 75,800 litres of fuel into a lake.

"This stuff is more dangerous than typical oil," Whitefish Fire Chief Tom Kennelly said of Bakken crude. "The flammability is different."

Lighter crudes, which contain more natural gas, have a much lower "flash point," allowing them to ignite at lower temperatures.

Whitefish is not alone in being concerned about shipments of oil from the new fields in North America. The Los Angeles Times reports that shipments by rail have shot up 25-fold in the last several years, as producers export crude oil from new shale fields in Colorado, Texas and other states.

Other ski towns concerned about rail shipments include Bozeman, Mont., the hub for both Bridger Bowl and Big Sky ski resorts.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration cautiously warned that oil from the Bakken shale fields "may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude" and announced it would conduct tests to determine the gas content, corrosivity, toxicity and flammability."

Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told the Times it's time to reexamine national policy about rail shipments.

"It appears this is going to be in our nation's communities for the next decade," he said. "With this kind of transportation of hazardous material, there are a whole lot of issues that come to mind, not the least of which is terrorism. You are creating a movable bomb from community to community."

Canada's tar/oil sands pose a similar problem. Bloomberg News says the major Canadian response to the U.S. foot-dragging over permits for the Keystone XL pipeline has been a four-letter word: rail. In the wake of high-profile railroad accidents, Keystone backers think opposition may soften.

Development plan pared by 30 per cent

TRUCKEE, Calif. — An effort is underway to incorporate Olympic Valley, where Squaw Valley is located. The Sierra Sun reports that a major step forward in that effort occurred during December when a group called Incorporate Olympic Valley submitted a formal application that outlines town boundaries and public services.

"At the end of the day, incorporation is about control of tax revenue and improved services for residents, visitors and homeowners," said Peter Schweitzer, chair of Incorporate Olympic Valley. "It's also about control of land use and development."

The background for the incorporation effort is purchase of Squaw Valley by Denver-based KSL Capital, which heralds significant investment in the ski product, but also real estate development.

Colorado developers have been busy remaking the Tahoe Basin resorts into more destination-type resorts similar to resorts found in the Rocky Mountains. Booth Creek Resorts and East West Partners, both based in Vail, were first into the California market, more recently joined by Vail Resorts and KSL Capital Partners. The latter is composed of ex-Vail executives.

KSL's plans to remake Squaw have been stoutly opposed by locals, and in December KSL announced it was scaling down plans by 30 per cent. Bedrooms have been trimmed from 2,184 to 1,493 and hotels have been shelved. From eight stories, the maximum height has been lowered to seven stories, according to a report in Moonshine Ink.

Locals stoutly resist the sort of infrastructure that is now common at destination resorts. For example, Squaw currently has aboveground parking lots. The plan called for underground parking for day skiers.

Chevis Hosea, vice president of development with the Squaw Valley Real Estate, a subsidiary of KSL, expressed contrition in his remarks with Moonshine Ink.

"We did not anticipate that this would be a concern; we were surprised by that," he said. "It sends a subliminal message that Squaw Valley no longer wants day skiers; only destination skiers. That is so far from the truth."

Other objections had to do with plans to replace the member's locker room with a 25,000 to 35,000 square foot member's club such as is found in Vail and Aspen. "We learned from that. It was one of the strongest cultural things in Squaw. We shouldn't disturb that," he told Moonshine.

Yet a third objection was about the renamed Mountain Adventure Camp, which the public thought was too big and too focused on indoor activities.

In response, KSL shaved off 42,000 square feet, bringing it down to 90,000, and added a one-acre feature of outdoor pools and water facilities. The activities centre would offer kayaking, paddle boarding, and rafting, but also zipline, and rock climbing.

But KSL continues to argue for the need for more beds. North America's top-six ski resorts strive to have 1.3 bedrooms per skiable acre, said Hosea. Vail, for example, has 1.6 bedrooms. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are only at 0.3 bedrooms per skiable acre.

Squaw's previous proposal would have increased the ratio to 0.6 bedrooms per skiable area, while the revised plan brings it down to 0.5.

Crested Butte hopes for big info highway

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Being remote, four to five hours from Denver when the roads are good, and always at the end of a plowed road, Crested Butte has undeniable charm. But in one key respect, locals would like to be hard on the Internet equivalent to a four-lane highway.

What will it take? That discussion about increasing broadband width has been underway for several years, with no clear resolution. By late summer, that bigger information highway could arrive.

For that to happen, however, several transmission towers must be built, and at least one would infringe upon land already staked out by Gunnison sage grouse. That would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude that the Gunnison sage grouse should not be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Gunnison County officials, ranchers and allies argue that the species is being protected with a plan that they have drawn up, but the Fish and Wildlife Service hasn't yet accepted that argument.

Phil Chamberland, a Gunnison County commissioner, tells the Crested Butte News that another option is to attach fibre optic lines to power lines maintained by wholesale electrical supplier Tri-State Transmission and Generation.