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Mountain News: Shrinking glaciers a concern

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GOLDEN, B.C. - Professors have been out to the towns on both sides of the Continental Divide in Canada recently to talk about the shrinking of glaciers. It is, they say, a serious challenge, as the hydrological cycle that local communities have come to depend upon will be changing.

But ice in both places has been shrinking - with much more recession likely. At a forum in Golden, B.C., Kindy Gosal, director of water and environment for the Columbia Basin Trust, explained that the glaciers matter because "they are our banks and reserves of water. And really, we don't have a good idea what's happened in those bank accounts of water and what the future impacts might be as those bank accounts become depleted, or how fast we're depleting their funds.

The greater concentration of glaciers can be found in the Columbia River Basin. Compared to the glaciers on the east side of the Continental Divide, near Jasper and Banff, there is twice as much ice coverage, in a smaller geographic area. Upstream from Golden, 287 glaciers in the catchments of the Columbia and Kicking Horse Rivers cover 247 square kilometres.

Computer models suggest the disappearance of many glaciers during this century, although not all. Shawn Marshall, from the University of Calgary, said he guessed "by the end of the century there will still be glaciers."

But if glaciers remain, the flows will be very different. The loss will be little noted much of the year. The most pertinent time is late summer, when glaciers contribute as much as 12 to 13 per cent of streamflow, said John Pomeroy, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

In Alberta, the Columbia Icefield has been shrinking since at least 1843, near the end of what was called the Little Ice Age, a cooling period that lasted several hundred years.

But the shrinking, an average of 10 metres per year, has been accelerating, leaving tree stumps exposed that may have been covered for 8,000 years, notes the Rocky Mountain Outlook .

As in British Columbia, scientists say that having less water from melting glaciers in years ahead to augment the native river flows from snow and rain will create duress in late summer.

"Whatever the cause of these changes in glacier cover, they will have significant effects on the flow volumes, the season flow patterns, plus water temperatures and water quality, that will impact human activities downstream (irrigation, water supply and in some cases, power generation) and also on stream ecology," stated Dr. Brian Luckman, a geography professor at the University of Western Ontario who specializes in alpine environments and glacier fluctuations.

 

More snow than clothing

MINTURN, Colo. - Four of this year's U.S. Olympians were featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and two of them - Lindsey Vonn, 25, and Clair Bidez, 22 - are from the Vail area. There's snow in these photos, as they were taken at Whistler. But there's not a lot of clothing.

Vonn, the odds-on favourite to win hardware at Whistler if her damaged shin repairs sufficiently, moved to Vail when in high school for better training. Bidez, a snowboarder, grew up in Minturn, an old railroad and mining town around the corner, where her father had an electronics store.

The mother, Patty Bidez, accompanied her daughter to Whistler for the photo shoot. "The people were fantastic," she told the Vail Daily . "I think it's great, and they're great pictures, but (Clair's dad) Earle's jaw dropped when he first saw them. But now even grandpa's happy."

The Vail Daily also talked with Bidez's younger brother, Dylan, a competitor on the Dew Tour this winter.

Asked if he'd seen the photos on-line, reports the Vail Daily , he replied the way a little brother should: "I looked at about three (photos), and I'd seen enough," he said.

 

Developers eye another village

REVELSTOKE, B.C. -  Although the first base village at the still-new Revelstoke Mountain Resort has yet to get fully developed, a set of brothers in Revelstoke are talking about another base village, this time on the north side of Mount MacKenzie.

"The Greely Creek (the north side) is a passion of ours to see the resort into a European-style ski resort with different villages and to add real character to the whole resort," brothers Brydon and Jason Roe told the Revelstoke Times Review , teaming up to create one rather unwieldy sentence.

The brothers grew up in Ontario, where their father was a ski school director and they both spent time at ski resorts in Europe and New Zealand. In Revelstoke, they own a variety of real estate and vow to stick around for the long haul - which they recognize will be necessary if they hope to see through their vision for the new base village.

But they like Revelstoke and the new energy there. "You definitely notice a change even in the last five years in Revelstoke, but we're not even close to seeing what's going to happen," said Jason. "We're just glad to be part of it all."

 

Skiing spread from Aspen

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - Time and again come reminders of just how important Aspen was in the post-World War II explosion of ski areas. Vail, Telluride - it was like a concentric circle.

Consider Breckenridge, a molding mining town slowly receding back into the wilderness in 1959, a century after gold miners flooded the Blue River Valley.

In a piece published in the Summit Daily News , Josh Galvin points out that during that year Aspen had two Norwegians who were working as ski instructors. World-class skiers in their own right, they were assisting Stein Eriksen, the director of skiing at Aspen Highlands (who now owns a lodge at Deer Valley).

While in Aspen, the Norwegians met Bill Rounds, whose family was in the lumber business, and they convinced him to explore the opportunities of Breckenridge. He did, and opened a lumber store - which still exists today. And Rounds started the ski area at Breckenridge, with the aid of the Norwegians, Trygve Berge and Sigurd Rockne, who designed and cut the first ski trails.

Berge went on to become the first ski school director at Breckenridge and owned the original Norway Haus ski shop. Rockne opened one of the first fine-dining restaurants there. And they introduced the very popular Ullr Fest, which comes from Norway but remains a tradition in Breckenridge.

"A word to the wise," adds Galvin. "If you happen to run into Sigurd (70+years old) when you are out and about, don't get suckered into an arm-wrestling match. He will turn you into a 'gurly man' in a NY minute."

 

No evidence of exodus, yet

AVON, Colo. - When the Great Recession arrived like a backed up sewer and the real-estate sector of ski towns slowed to the pace of a nursing home, predictions soon began of a mass exodus of people dependent upon real estate and construction.

That was in late 2008, and it may happen yet. But, so far, there is no evidence of streets suddenly vacated, as has happened in the past when energy and mining booms in the West have suddenly gone bust.

In fact, enrollment in public schools of the Eagle Valley - an area that includes Vail, Avon, and Eagle - grew substantially this year. That may have included some students who had previously been attending private schools in the valley, but the Vail Daily notes that the programs designed for children of immigrants who don't speak fluent English grew by 250. Total enrollment increase was 450. Enrollment has increased every year since 1997.

The Vail Daily talked with a consultant, Denny Hill, of Strategic Resources West, which projects enrollment for school districts. Hill told the newspaper that he suspects people haven't left because there's really no compelling reason to do so. Every other place out there is in just as bad a shape. While living costs remain higher in mountain valleys, residents may tend to hang on just a little bit longer for fear of losing money when they sell houses and condominiums.

But there is evidences of decline. Births last year at Vail Valley Medical Center declined by about 100, to 620. Automobile registrations in Eagle County dropped by nearly 1,000, to about 52,000.

What does the future bode for the Vail area and other mountain valleys? "I wish my crystal ball was clear, but this economy has me scratching my head," says Hill. "There were some places that I didn't expect to grow, but which did, and some others that declined a little bit more than I had expected."

 

Recession takes toll on ski store

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - For 40 years, the Alpineer has sold skis and other outdoor gear in Crested Butte, a town that surely loves to spend time outdoors. But it couldn't survive the Great Recession. The store has been sold to Christy Sports, a chain with 40 stores in the Rocky Mountains.

"We were pretty close to having to shut the doors," former owner Travis Underwood told the Crested Butte News . He said business was rough of late. "It's hard. Everyone wants a deal, and at 25 per cent off I was losing money."

The Alpineer occupies more of a niche market than most Christy's stores, with a greater specialization in mountaineering and backcountry equipment.

Consolidation likely to continue

ASPEN, Colo. - Although Aspen and Pitkin County were the only ski town markets to post more than $1 billion in sales last year, it's been a rough ride. Many real estate companies have closed down, and some long-term veterans think that more consolidation is on the way.

"A lot of people (at smaller firms) are holding on, anticipating a quick recovery," long-time agent Brent Waldron told the Aspen Times. Once they realize that isn't coming, he added, they will likely sign on with larger firms or put their real estate license in the closet and rely on another job.

Another agent, Craig Morris, said he is already seeing real-estate agents getting other jobs. "I've definitely seen more realtors wearing their (Aspen Skiing Co.) uniforms and waiting tables at night than ever before."

But in this distress, Marcos Rodriguez sees opportunity. He was born in pre-Castro Cuba, arriving with his family in Miami just before the 1962 Missile Crisis. His father had only $10 to his name. But the family prospered nonetheless, eventually amassing a string of radio and TV stations.

Rodriguez sold the stations in the late 1990s and, at age 40, retired to Switzerland. But he missed America, moved to Aspen and got entrepreneurial - buying up several radio stations. But, seeing that real estate was a much bigger industry, he got involved in that.

Now, he hopes to pair real estate with his electronic media - and in doing so bypass print media, a major expense in real estate sales. "So much of real estate marketing right now is trapped in the 20 th century," he told the Aspen Times. "Almost all brokerages seem to be advertising similarly. I'm racking my brain almost daily: 'How can we reinvent this.'"

The Times observes that others in the real estate sector seems to regard Rodriguez with curiosity, but are waiting for him to prove he has something new.

 

Immigrants press for legal reforms

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Hundreds of immigrants, including many from ski towns of Colorado, gathered to press lawmakers for immigration reform. They asked for legislation that keeps families together, creates pathways to citizenship for immigrants and protects workers' rights.

The Summit Daily News reported that a dozen from Summit County attended.

"As people of faith from across the state, we denounce as inhumane the enforcement measures that have resulted in the separation of families and increased fear in our faith communities," Ricardo Perez, of the Hispanic Affairs Pastoral Project, told the newspaper.

"Many of the people from Summit have been living here for years and years," said Brendan Green, of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. "They're valuable employees; they pay their taxes. They're ready to be part of the political system, and it starts with learning how to do it."

 

Healthy yak meat offered

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. - A restaurant called the Asian Oven, operated by a former resident of Nepal, claims to offer mountain food for mountain people. Dinesh Shrestha, the owner, says only his business serves yak meat in Summit County. It's healthier meat, he tells the Summit Daily News.

 

Market glut of pellets

KREMMLING, Colo. - Could the dying and dead lodgepole pine forests that cover much of the mountains in northern Colorado be converted into something useful, like heat and electricity?

In June 2008, part of the answer seemed to have arrived at Kremmling, a town along the Colorado River equally situated between the ski towns of Vail and Winter Park, Breckenridge, and Steamboat Springs. A factory that grinds up wood and reconstitutes it as pellets, for burning in stoves, was opened.

But now, that plant is operating at one-third speed, and another mill elsewhere in Colorado set up to take advantage of the available wood has closed entirely, reports the Middle Park Times.

Mark Mathis, owner of Confluence Energy, the company operating the factory in Kremmling, told the newspaper that there's a glut in the pellet industry.

Mathis sees the solution being expansion of the market. "We need to rally support and find greater, larger, industrial applications for renewable energy," he told the Times.

 

Air is pretty thin at South Pole

SOUTH POLE, Antarctica - Although wind and cold might grab your attention more readily, the elevation of the South Pole might have you huffing and puffing if you've arrived from sea level. The South Pole lies at an elevation of 9,300 feet, owing to how much ice there is. Atmospheric pressure, however, can be equivalent to being at anywhere from 10,800 to 13,200 feet.

 

Basalt looking at small hydro

BASALT, Colo. - Town officials in Basalt, located down-valley from Aspen, have been looking into the potential construction of a small hydro plant, to produce electricity from the town's existing water supplies.

Several other towns in Colorado have similarly been looking into the potential to tap the power of falling water that is inherent with mountain topography to create electricity. Among those towns are Aspen and Telluride. Cortez, near Mesa Verde National Park, will soon put on line a small hydro plant that taps the power of water coming from a reservoir into the town's water-treatment plant.

In Basalt, the plant would tap the power of water from a spring that provides the town's drinking water. The water falls 500 feet from the mountain behind the town, notes The Aspen Times.

Bill Kane, the town manager, reported that the plant could supply enough electricity to meet the needs of 30 average-sized homes. Whether the town pursues the project seems to depend upon whether it gets a $350,000 grant from the state of Colorado.

 

New bus stops planned for bus rapid transit

ASPEN, Colo. - A vision of the future is taking shape in Aspen and outlying communities in the Roaring Fork Valley. There, transportation officials are putting together plans for an expanded bus service called bus-rapid transit. Buses are intended to move faster, and riders are to get 14 bus stops where they can wait inside, get real-time electronic indicators about where the bus is located on its route and more niceties. Voters in 2008 approved $25 million in bonds, and the federal government may provide a $24 million grant.

 

Mountain lions lurking

KETCHUM, Idaho - Mountain lions have been in the news in several towns of late.

In Idaho's Wood River Valley, hunters killed two cougars near a subdivision located between Ketchum and Hailey. A resident of the subdivision, Steve Carlson, told the Idaho Mountain Express that he found large cat tracks in the snow around his house. This was after evidence of the unusual from his dog. "My dog got spooked and came in the bedroom whimpering, so I knew something was out there," he said.

In Colorado, mountain lions were also seen within the town of Granby. There were no reports of pets being attacked, although residents were advised to be careful about walking around at night, just in case the big animals were still hanging about.