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Mountain News: Parking spaces the new financial tool

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VAIL, Colo. - Not much real estate is selling these days in Vail, but parking is still at a premium. For 15 years, prices of parking spaces near the base of the ski mountain have been increasing from $40,000 to now as much as $370,000.
One owner of a parking space, Buzz Schleper, whose daughter Sarah Schleper is a World Cup ski racer, is trying to sell his parking space for $500,000, to help pay for her expenses and that of another skiing youngster, Hunter.
The Vail Daily also reports that East West Partners, a major real estate developer in ski towns of the West, is trying to sell extra parking spaces it created in the redevelopment of a base-area lodge called Manor Vail. The price tag is $225,000 per space.

Snow rider digs himself out

BANFF, Alberta - Novices in snow country often assume that if you just stay near the surface in an avalanche, you're home free.
Well, yes, that's partly true. Better near the top than far down under.
But what they don't understand is how quickly, once movement of the snow ceases, the snow congeals into a bonded substance that has some of the cohesiveness of concrete.
The Rocky Mountain Outlook tells of a 20-something man who was snowboarding in an area adjacent to the Lake Louise Ski Resort. He was buried to his neck, and it took a half-hour to get himself out of the snow.
Sometimes, in other circumstances, it has taken much longer.

Skier arrested for leaving accident
ASPEN, Colo. - A Massachusetts man was arrested for leaving the scene of a ski accident on Aspen Mountain before ski patrollers arrived. That is, explains The Aspen Times, a violation of the Colorado Skier Safety Act. The 61-year-old man had, however, stopped to give the other skier his personal and contact information. That second skier sustained a shoulder injury. A nurse at the local hospital called police to report the violation of the law.

Sundance ripped for hypocrisy
PARK CITY, Utah - The Sundance Film Festival this year has an abundance of films with "green themes." But what is intended as a call to action is, by at least some, seen as evidence of hypocrisy.
One target of criticism is festival founder Robert Redford, the actor, who has mounted the soapbox to decry the Bush administration's offering of drilling leases on 360,000 acres of land in the West, including some places near Arches National Park, near the Utah-Colorado border.
A group that represents the African-American community protested Redford's statements in a protest held in Salt Lake City.
"We are not going to stand by as Robert Redford tries to slow the flow of home heating fuel from the Rockies and drives up home heating prices to millions of Americans in his lust for environmental headlines," Niger Innis, a spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, told the Deseret News.
Redford "is looking at the scenery and other issues, whereas this winter you will have people in urban areas who will have utilities shut off," said Harry R. Jackson Jr., who is chairman of an affiliated group, the High-Impact Leadership Coalition.
A representative for Redford dismissed the criticism. "They've gotten about $275,000 from Exxon oil in the last five years," spokeswoman Joyce Deep told The Park Record. "It's a fallacy to say there are not enough places to drill in the United States. They are just not drilling," she added.
But the New York Times also looked askance at Sundance. "If it were possible to cleanse the planet by watching a movie, this would be the place to do it," wrote correspondent Michael Cieply.
In addition to a movie called "Earth Days," billed as "the history of our environmental undoing," other films in the lineup this year included "Crude," about the destruction in Ecuador caused by oil extraction; plus other movies about fished-out oceans, exhaustion of our soil, and toxic waste in the Amazon.
The question, said the Times, is obvious:  "How can you cram some 46,000 people, roughly equivalent to the fifth of Hollywood's total work force, in to a pretty little mountain town without contributing mightily to the problem your films hope to solve."
The newspaper noted all the traveling plasma screens imported for the occasion, the outdoor tents warmed by heaters, and the string of private jets into Salt Lake City, second only to West Palm Beach, Fla., for private jets.

Aspen, Jackson top political donations
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. - Who has the deepest pockets of any resort community? If donations to political candidates is a reliable guide, it's Colorado's Pitkin County, better known to most as the location of Aspen and Snowmass Village. Coming in a close second is Wyoming's Teton County, better known as Jackson Hole.
Jonathan Schechter, who squeezes numbers as a columnist for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, says that Pitkin County residents gave an average of $159, compared to $152 for Teton County residents. Coming in third was Utah's Summit County, home of Park City, at $36.
Schechter says it's hard to be sure, but he believes that Pitkin and Teton counties have led the nation in per-capita political giving during the last two or three election cycles.

A glimpse of build-out
TRUCKEE, Calif. - The recession has slowed home construction in Truckee to a snail's pace. Just two homes pulled building permits last year. But, says the Sierra Sun, there will come a time when Truckee will be built-out. As such, the lack of home-building today foretells the future.
In that future time, there will be more remodels, tear-downs and additions to take up some of the slack, said Pat Davison, president of the Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe. John McLaughlin, the town's community development director, ventured that the workforce will be smaller, but more locally based.
Real-estate agents will have about as much work. "New home sales are not to be sneezed at, but even at build-out we still expect real estate business to be as, or nearly as, busy," said John Falk, lobbyist for the Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors.
Tony Lashbrook, the city manager, said the end of growth as an economic driver means that tourism needs to be pushed. As well, maintaining the quality of life will attract businesses. But assuming the recession ends, there's a lot of real-estate development yet to be done in Truckee. The city's population, now at 16,000, is expected to be 28,500 residents at build-out.

Inflating an igloo
MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - An igloo - yes, with snow and ice - has been created at the ski area at Crested Butte. But instead of being built with blocks of snow, a strong balloon called an "Igloo Moulder" was inflated, and then snow was piled and compacted around it. After the snow had hardened, the balloon was deflated and removed, leaving a roomy interior with enough headspace for even tall people. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the ski area operator, was planning to sell meals for $100 per person, offering crab, fondues and sushi. Since Crested Butte now has the balloon, it is thinking about creating other igloos around the mountain, resort officials tell the Crested Butte News.

What to do with $10 million
VAIL, Colo. - Earlier in this century, Vail residents approved a lodging tax that was to be used for a convention centre. The convention centre plans died, but the money is still there, and by the end of this year the pot of money will have grown to nearly $10 million. What to use it for?
Among the ideas being sorted out is a recreation centre or even a wellness centre. The Vail Daily says a group of local residents, including long-time physician Jack Eck, is suggesting a campus that focuses on "medical education and lifestyle issues."
This comes even as town officials come to grips with the future of the local hospital, called the Vail Valley Medical Center, which has made some noise about moving more of its operations farther down the Eagle Valley.
But instead of spending the $10 million, there are a few in Vail who think it will be wise to sit on the money, to see how bad the economy can get. Too many people, says one individual involved in community affairs, have never felt the "hot breath of failure."

Solar panels at landfill studied
EAGLE, Colo. - What do you do with a landfill once it's filled? Normally, not a whole lot, because of the escaping methane and because there's only about four feet of clay above the trash. But why not solar panels?
That's the idea being explored by Eagle County's government, which uses land sold to it by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The contract specified that Eagle County could not use the 60 acres of land for profit.
By bar-napkin calculations, a solar farm there could supply four to five megawatts of electricity, enough for several hundred homes.
Solar experts tell the Vail Daily the idea is great. Matthew Charles of Grid Feeders, an alternative energy company based in Avon, Colo., tells the Vail Daily that solar panels in the Eagle Valley typically produce 30 per cent more energy than other places in the country, because of the greater intensity of sunlight at higher elevations and the amount of sunshine, typically 300 days a year.
The location in question is located about 10 miles from Beaver Creek and 20 miles from Vail.

What about us?
KETCHUM, Idaho - There was some crankiness in Ketchum when town officials held a special meeting for the part-timers around for the Christmas holidays. Why the attention to the second-home owners, asked Phyllis Shafran in a letter published in the Idaho Mountain Express. "I think the people who live here full-time are more important to helping solve the problems that are so prevalent, especially within the business community," she wrote.

A change in plans
MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - The door is opening for Crested Butte Mountain Resort to finally submit an application for a new ski area on 11,145-foot Snodgrass Mountain.
There have been stumbling blocks since the idea was first pitched in the early 1980s. At one point, the community opposed the plan. Another time, the ski area itself faltered, because of the lack of financing.
Lately, the big question is whether the geology of the mountain will accommodate ski lifts. Four separate studies have been done, including one each by opponents and proponents, and two by the federal government. Somewhat predictably they offer varying conclusions.
The latest conclusions come from the U.S. Geological Survey, which offers evidence that lifts can be erected without danger of landslides and debris flows, but not in the path originally planned. Ski area officials tell the Crested Butte News that this change will eliminate nine of the ski trails that had been planned, although there's some possibility those trails can be replaced elsewhere on the mountain.
What happens next is that ski area planners will revise the proposal to account for the new conclusions about geology, and the U.S. Forest Service - which administers the land in question - is likely to accept the proposal. That then triggers the environmental review mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act. Such reviews have rarely, if ever, resulted in projects getting killed.
The Forest Service wasn't willing to accept the proposal before the major problems had been cleared up. "We didn't want to spend time and energy if there was no way the ski expansion would be geologically sound, or if the public was adamantly against it, no way, no how," Forest Service spokeswoman Lee Ann Loupe told the Crested Butte News.
Two of the local towns, Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison, support the expansion, as does a property owners association adjacent to the ski area. One town, Crested Butte, has submitted a letter stating "non-support."
The grand plan by Crested Butte is to create more intermediate trails, something that is sorely lacking on the existing ski mountain. Crested Butte has some beginner terrain and a lot of expert turf. As such, there's not much to entertain people who only ski a week or two per year. This, in turn, leads to a low rate of return of visitors, which makes marketing more expensive.

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