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Mountain news: Sierra ski areas hope for Godzilla El Nino



LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Skiing in the Sierra Nevada last year was awful. And the year before that, too. With the likely return this year of what one scientist has called "Godzilla El Niño," will the world become wonderful again for people with planks on their feet?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says chances of El Niño weather hitting the Northern Hemisphere this winter are about 95 per cent, with an 85-per-cent likelihood that it will last into early spring.

Leaving little to chance, ski areas in California have been sweetening their deals to get people to commit to buying ski passes again.

"We want to give them the confidence they need to make that purchase and know they got a good value no matter what the weather does," said John McColly, chief marketing officer for Mountain High, a ski area about 45 minutes outside of Los Angeles.

Starting this year, purchasers of annual passes to Mountain High will get up to four days of credit toward the purchase of a 2016-17 pass if they get to ski less than five days this season, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Vail Resorts has also sweetened its deals. The Tahoe annual pass, costing $500 for adults and good at the company's three resorts in the Tahoe Basin, this year includes five days of skiing at Vail Resorts' four properties in Colorado and two in Utah.

Vail Resorts reports revenues of $1.1 billion

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Despite the drought in California, Vail Resorts chief executive Rob Katz reports only "modest declines" in the sales of passes for the company's three resorts in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

But overall, Vail Resorts has been doing swimmingly, with revenues of $1.1 billion. The Vail Daily, sitting in on a conference call with Katz and analysts, reports that the last fiscal year was a very good one for the company. Pass revenue was up nearly 21 per cent, and summer business also grew. Plus, the acquisition of Perisher, a resort in Australia, has done well for the company.

Katz said destination guests are a big marketing target for pass sales. He said the company expects Perisher to increase pass sales — and continue to draw more customers to the resorts in California, Utah, and Colorado.

Real estate has been coming back, too, if not necessarily to the amped-up levels of 2006-2007. Few unsold units remain available at the company's Breckenridge project called One Ski Hill Place and at Ritz Carlton Residences in Vail, said Katz. As such, he said, the company is having "conversations" about its remaining development parcels.

Among the projects at Vail is Ever Vail, which would see a great amount of real estate along with a new gondola from a base area west of Lionshead.

Rising costs squeeze new senior facility

EAGLE, Colo. — Rising construction costs have caused a reshuffling of plans for the Castle Peak Senior Care Center, located 48 kilometres west of Vail.

Costs have increased about 11 per cent since construction began in July of the 64-bed skilled nursing and assisted living senior care facilities, reports the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

The facilities will be downsized by about 3,000 square feet even as the budget has expanded from $22.7 million to $24.9 million. Several jurisdictions have agreed to toss a few more chips into the ante, but the hat is being passed for the remaining $350,000.

Calculating the bill for pollution

DURANGO, Colo. — When the Animas River got that Halloween look prematurely in early August because of a spill of contaminated water from an old gold mine upstream, it caught the attention of the United States.

But what was the cost of that three million gallons flushing down the river through Silverton and Durango looking like something that could kill Superman?

Recently, a rafting company owner speaking on behalf of the rafting industry in Durango told a U.S. Senate committee that rafting companies went from being up 9.8 per cent for the summer to 23 per cent down. Individual rafting companies estimated their losses as being as high as $100,000, according to the Durango Herald.

Apples good for people, not so much for bruins

JACKSON, Wyo. — An apple a day keeps the doctor away. But if you're a grizzly bear in Jackson Hole, it might get you in trouble.

The News&Guide reports that a five-year-old male was temporarily jailed after foraging on apples in a nursery south of the town of Jackson. Wildlife biologists believe the bear had wandered south from the Yellowstone National Park area. He was drugged, caged, and let loose near Yellowstone.

It's not the first grizzly noted of late near the town of Jackson, the major population centre in Jackson Hole. Just a few years ago, a grizzly was spotted not far from Jackson Hole High School.

No wonder Jackson Hole has city-like traffic jams

JACKSON, Wyo. — No wonder they had city-like traffic jams in Jackson Hole this summer. The sales tax collections during July were 15-per-cent more than the same month in 2014. Yellowstone National Park also had a record number of visitors.

The bountiful sales produced $1.7 million in taxes across Teton County; the two-per-cent lodging tax produced $1.95 million. Of that, 60 per cent goes to the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board, which promotes winter- and shoulder-season tourism. The remainder of the money goes to town and county governments.

Bedbugs plague hotel in Jasper

JASPER, Alberta — Eight rooms at a hotel in Jasper were shut down by the provincial health department because of an ongoing bedbug infestation.

The Jasper Fitzhugh reports that Alberta Health Service had ordered the problem remediated, but two weeks later ordered the hotel rooms vacated altogether after bedbugs were still evident.

A hotel manager said the hotel has hired a pest-control company to heat rooms up to 160°F (71°C) for four hours at time. He also said the hotel wraps mattresses in plastic and applies diatomaceous earth, which is an edible dust that dries the bugs out and kills them.

One hotel guest told the Fitzhugh that he had been bitten more than 70 times during his one-night stay, but didn't realize this had happened until the next night, when he was in Calgary.

Pine beetles boring down in Jasper

JASPER, Alberta — Mountain bark beetle numbers are on the rise in the pine forests of Jasper National Park. The president of the Alberta Forest Products Association warns of a grim future.

"I think people will be stunned in 10 years," said Paul Whittaker at a meeting covered by the Fitzhugh. "If we don't do something, this park will change forever."

Forever is a mighty long time. Keith McClain, a leading mountain pine beetle scientist with the Foothills Research Institute, conceded the damage in British Columbia and now in Alberta. "But in the long term, 100 years from now, our forests will be renewed and they will be healthy," he said.

Park City getting some of its own yakety-yak sessions

PARK CITY, Utah — Yakety-yak, yakety-yak. Aspen has talk sessions in spades, unceasing conferences from Memorial Day through summer and into the fall.

Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, and Whistler have their talk-fests, too, if not so steadily or at least so publicly as the continual talk festival that Aspen has become.

Now, Park City is getting what is described as a high-profile technology conference. Called FiRe, for Future in Review, the conference being held this week at the Stein Eriksen Lodge aims to draw a critical mass of business leaders and scientists to discuss some of the world's most complex issues involving technology, health care, and energy resources, among other topics.

The conference website says themes in sessions will be a new biology-based programming language, contextual robotics, flow batteries for the grid, and 3D grapheme printing.

It's the best technology conference in the world. Says who? — The Economist magazine, according to a programming director for the conference. The conference had previously been in California.

Meanwhile, in Aspen, more talk is scheduled: a two-day symposium called Changing Brains, Changing Lives. Speakers, says The Times, will talk about neurology, treatment of attention deficit disorder, and other topics of interest to mental-health professionals and anybody willing to shell out $110 for registration.

Ex-mining town hopes mining idea soon dies

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Will the Damocles sword hanging over Crested Butte finally be removed? As seen from local eyes in Crested Butte, the sword consists of potential for a molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons.

Since the 1970s, various mining companies have been interested in the molybdenum within the bowels of the mountain. Now comes at least a small hope that the threat can be removed. The Larsen family members who founded and have run U.S. Energy Corp. for 49 years have stepped down from top management positions. The slimmed-down company will relocate its headquarters from Riverton, Wyo., to Denver.

Local stakeholder groups tell the Crested Butte News they hope this provides an opportunity to resume serious discussion with the company about a "final solution."

"I would hope that all interested parties can come together and find a realistic solution that protects our water and amenity-based economy while preserving some value for U.S. Energy shareholders," said Bill Ronai, president of the Red Lady Coalition. The name represents the nickname for Mt. Emmons, because of its huge alpenglow.

David Veltri, the new chief executive, told the News that his company's view hasn't changed. It wants to mine. But he also mentioned seeking a "finality to the mine question."

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