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Mountain News: 'Prohibition Ends' is headline in Telluride



TELLURIDE, Colo. — While pundits in New York and Washington fretted about the impact of marijuana legalization on Colorado ski areas and civilization as a whole, the effect in most Colorado ski towns was non-existent.

Legalization of sales began Jan. 1, but many towns have yet to complete the paperwork. Aspen, Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs will allow sales for recreational use, just as they have for medicinal use.

Other towns, including Vail, have moratoria and, perhaps, will decide against allowing marijuana sales for recreational use, just as they refused sales for medicinal use.

Even when marijuana was illegal without exception, it was freely available. Consider that in 1985, when Vail's Vista Bahn, one of the first detachable quad lifts, debuted, it was quickly dubbed the Rasta Bahn, because the pull-down covering, then a novelty on ski lifts, made smoking easier.

But yes, you can now buy pot legally in Telluride and elsewhere, provided you're 21 and don't smoke in public. "Prohibition Ends," proclaimed The Telluride Watch, adding "Long Lines, Big Sales Mark First Day of Retail Pot Sales."

Telluride has four stores, and at Alpine Wellness, the first purchaser was Art Goodtimes. He is a commissioner of San Miguel County, in which Telluride is located, and was probably the first elected official in Colorado to purchase cannabis legally.

"I think it's criminal that we demonize and make illegal plant substances," said Goodtimes before handing over his driver's licence and cash.

Goodtimes, who has a long, flowing beard and a deep voice that fills up any room, once was a student of a Catholic Sulpician seminary in California. In Telluride since the early 1980s, he has also embraced the value of mushrooms for various purposes and once drove a pickup truck painted red and dotted with white, resembling the cap of an Amanita muscaria, also called fly agaric. He called it the Amanitamobile.

Mike Grady, co-owner of Alpine Wellness, told The Watch that some customers on New Year's Day had to wait an hour.

"We had a number of people drive from Texas and California just to be here purchasing from us," he said.

Telluride Green Room, the other store, reported its biggest seller on opening day was Acapulco Gold.

Overseeing all this were agents from Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division, the law-enforcement agency tasked with enforcing drug laws. The agents told Alpine Wellness that packaging was not compliant with the regulations designed to prevent children from getting access to marijuana.

But if legalization of marijuana is seen as progressive, increased access by children continues to bother many people.

"Throwing people in jail for smoking pot is dumb and wasteful," writes Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post. But she also notes that "a third of 12th graders who live in states with medical marijuana and who have used the drug in the past year report that one source is another person's prescription."

Prohibition has ended in Colorado, but not the conversation.

Women jump at new opportunity to marry

PARK CITY, Utah — Utah had a blockbuster legal case just before Christmas when a federal judge ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted further marriages this month until another court reviews the case.

But among the 1,000 couples who took advantage of the temporary freedom was one in Park City. The two women had been together for just under 10 years.

What are the financial implications for couples who are married, as opposed to single and living together? The Park Record, after talking with accountants, reports a mixed bag. The couple in Park City, however, said money didn't motivate them to marriage.

"We didn't even think about the taxes playing into it," said one of the two women, Laurie Liddell.

Leader absent in latest avie death in the Tetons

JACKSON, Wyo. — Again comes news of skiers and 'boarders, young and strong, knowledgeable about avalanches, equipped with transceivers, shovels and other gear of survival — all of this woefully insufficient when faced with the wildly seductive snows of the Teton Range.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide tells a detailed story of the death of Mike Kazanjy. He had enjoyed a Christmas dinner with his parents and a few others while contemplating plans to ski a mountain just outside of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort the next day.

Instead, they skied something called Pucker Face. The slope avalanched on Kazanjy. His companions used beacons to locate him within minutes, then used probe poles to establish exactly where to begin digging. They then peeled away the cement-like snow, getting air to his face within 16 minutes of the slide.

That was too long. Evidence suggests he died of positional asphyxiation, according to the coroner's report. The way his neck was positioned and the pressure on it prevented blood from reaching or leaving the brain, depriving it of oxygen.

How did things go so terribly wrong?

"While they knew and understood technical aspects of avalanche risk, they overlooked the influence a group of six had on one another," reports Angus Thuermer, editor of the News&Guide and a long-time backcountry skier himself who has now written probably dozens of such stories.

He reports that the five surviving members hope to continue analyzing what happened in an effort to develop a decision-making protocol. Such a decision-making matrix might allow others to ensure they aren't being baited into a trap such as Pucker Face.

Baits that avalanche professionals have identified include great snow, blue skies, and a gung-ho group in which nobody wants to be the wimp.

"We lacked protocol and discipline," said Ian Tarbox, one of the survivors. "We let our guard down. We varied from our original plan. We got baited."

The group was too big, doubters didn't speak up, and there wasn't a designated leader, he told the News&Guide.

Lawsuit filed in tree well death

WHITEFISH, Mont. — The German parents of a 16-year-old exchange student who died on Whitefish Mountain Resort in 2010 have filed a lawsuit. The boy fell headfirst into a tree well adjacent to a groomed ski run. By the time people noticed his skis sticking out of the snow, he had begun to suffocate. He died three days later after doctors said he was brain dead.

The lawsuit, according to the Associated Press, Whitefish Pilot and other outlets, accuses the resort of failing to warn skiers. It also names the family in Whitefish that had taken in the exchange student and the organization that facilitated the exchange.

A second person died in a tree well at Whitefish that year, a particularly harrowing year for such tree well and snow inversion deaths. According to a website maintained by Paul Baugher, director of the Northwest Avalanche Institute, nine tree well or snow inversion deaths occurred during the 2010-11 season in the United States, all in the West.

Since he began tracking such deaths in 1990-91, he has recorded 59, led by California, followed by Colorado and then Washington.

Gear insufficient in avalanche

WALDEN, Colo. — From the Rabbit Ears Range of Colorado comes additional evidence that all the gear in the world won't necessarily save a person caught in an avalanche.

The Sky-Hi News explains that a 29-year-old man from Fraser was snowboarding on Parkview Peak, which is located on the Continental Divide between Granby and Walden, when he triggered an avalanche that buried him under six feet of snow.

He and his two companions were all equipped with beacons, shovels and probes. But when they uncovered him, he was not breathing and had no pulse.

They had dug snow pits, to evaluate snow stability, prior to the accident. The avalanche occurred on a slope of 37 degrees, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Crested Butte arts centre has $17 million of IOUs

MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Some $17 million in promises have now been delivered for the Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center, turning what looked like a dream five years ago into something much more like present-day reality.

"We have the $2.3 million in land donations. We have $17 million in commitments. And we're not done," said Tom Seymour, co-president of the nonprofit enterprise. "As far as I'm concerned, as the saying goes, it's time for more whiskey and fresh horses."

He and others hope to eventually have $23 million, but say that $17 million is enough to build a top-of-the-line 500-seat performance centre. Of the money collected so far, $8 million is in private donations and $6 million is to be generated through the Mt. Crested Butte Downtown Development Authority.

The milestone reached, reported the Crested Butte News, the next step is more detailed architectural renderings and, with luck, the start of construction in 2015 in one of the existing parking lots at the resort.

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