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Mountain News: Ski corporation boardroom games

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PARK CITY, Utah — Vail Resorts and the Powdr Corp. were scheduled to meet in the courtroom this week. They've been tangling in court documents and in the press for some time now.

Powdr owns a number of ski areas, including Park City Mountain Resorts. Vail owns a number of ski areas, and several years ago leased The Canyons, located next to Park City Mountain Resort. When it did, it also assumed Talisker's fight with Powdr.

Talisker owns much of the land on which Park City Mountain Resort operates, and Park City leased the land in what The Denver Post describes as a "sweetheart" deal of $150,000.Then, in 2011, Park City failed to renew its lease. Talisker sued, and after it handed off operations to Vail Resorts, Vail has served Park City with eviction papers.

A number of stories were written last week in Utah, but the most interesting was in The Post. Reporter Jason Blevins points out that in leasing The Canyons, Vail was willing to pay (technically, lease) the ski area for more than 20 times earnings before interest, taxes, deprecation and amortization, or EBITDA.

"That's very high. Most of the resorts sold in the last decade went for less than 10 times resort EBITDA," he says.

Why so much? JMP securities analyst Whitney Stevenson, who tracks resorts, said that Vail's willingness to pay a higher price is an indication of how confident it was that it could win the case and gain control of Park City Mountain Resort.

"It was outrageously expensive," he told The Denver Post. "They would not have paid that if the deal for Park City was not in there."

In its January filing, Vail Resorts reported spending $3 million on litigation over the Park City property and was planning to spend another $7.5 million.

Vail chief executive Rob Katz, in a public letter, also offered to buy the base area and parking lot from Park City Mountain Resorts.

Looking backward to mines

TELLURIDE, Colo. — As much as it probably would dispute any resumption of mining, Telluride nonetheless would like to hold on to some of its old mining relics. One of three structures of that era is the Pandora, which lies at the end of the box canyon. Slowly, inevitably, it is falling apart.

The Telluride Daily Planet explains that the three-storey mill building sheathed in corrugated metal was built in the 1920s and expanded in the 1950s. It was last used in 1978, five years after the Telluride ski area began operations. In 1974, the last year of profitable mining, Idarado mining and milling operations employed nearly 500 people.

While locals seem supportive of preserving the mill, finding the money to do so is another matter.

"Even if you are talking just mothballing the building, it has to be structurally sound and have a roof on it. Even just that scenario is pretty overwhelming," said Linda Luther-Broderick, director of San Miguel County's open space and recreation department.

Telluride gets Scrapple shot of younger days

TELLURIDE, Colo. — To celebrate the end of chairlift ski season this year, Telluride will take a nostalgic look over its shoulder in something called Scrapple Fest.

The event has roots in Telluride via Ketchum, Idaho. In 1998, a film was made in Telluride that had a plot revolving around a drug dealer in a fictional Colorado ski town called Ajax in the late 1970s. The drug dealer is trying to make enough money to buy a house for himself and his disabled brother.

The film developed a loyal following in Ketchum, the town that predates Sun Valley. In 2007, locals there organized the annual Scrapple Fest.

"Scrapple just evoked everything groovy about mountain-town lifestyle," said Greg Hedin, a resident of Ketchum who co-founded the annual festival there. "It started with just a little party in our backyard, and it's just gotten bigger and bigger. Now, we're up to 100, 150 people showing up to the festival every autumn."

Now, Telluride is hosting its own Scrapple Fest, complete with a pig roast and a pig chase (mimicking a pivotal scene in the film), reports The Telluride Watch.

As for ski season — well, the lifts will stop operating, but typically plenty of front porches in Telluride will have skis through May as backcountry snow firms up into corn — for some, the best skiing of all.

First, a Lindsey's run, now a Mickaela trail?

VAIL, Colo. — After the gold-medal success of Lindsey Vonn at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, a ski trail on the lower portion of Vail Mountain was named in her honour. She claims Vail as her hometown.

The Vail Daily is asking readers whether the same honor be accorded Mikaela Shiffrin now that she won gold in Sochi. The 19-year-old slalom winner lives in a subdivision near Vail.

Help to get fitter

ASPEN, Colo. — Like those working for Vail Resorts, employees of the Aspen Skiing Co. had better shape up.

The Aspen Daily News reports that the company, which operates four ski areas and has 3,400 employees during peak winter months, last fall launched a company-wide "Mind, Body, Spirit" program.

The program is aimed at preventing injuries and encouraging longevity. Part of the program is a fitness test designed to measure flexibility, agility, and balance. Jobs that require lifting also have a repetitive weight-lifting test. Those employees who fail have 30 days to try again. Too, they can get advice from a personal trainer. Those who fail the test twice are moved to a different section of the company with less-taxing physical requirements.

The Daily News notes that such programs are becoming increasingly popular. Vail Resorts instituted a similar program before its 2011-12 winter season, requiring assessments of all ski school, ski patrol and mountain safety employees.

Lodge to get extensive upgrade

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – Sun Valley Lodge will be getting its most extensive renovation since it opened in 1936. The Sun Valley Co. plans a variety of upgrades, including a 20,000-square-foot spa. Rooms are to be remodelled and expanded in line with contemporary tastes and budgets.

While some hotels in ski towns are older – the Sheridan in Telluride, for example, or the Jerome in Aspen – this was the first hotel in North America built expressly for use by visiting skiers.

Non-winter merges into fire season at Lake Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – With winter mostly memory in the Sierra Nevada and not a very good one at that, fire officials are appraising what might lie ahead in the Tahoe-Truckee area.

"Wildfires these days know no season," said Forest Schafer, whose vocation is the same as his given name, working on the Incline-Crystal Bay area, on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. "In the past, it was very rare to have wildland fires in the middle of winter, but it's becoming more and more common."

The Tahoe Daily Tribune reports five wildland fires this winter in this, the third of three years of drought.

Fireworks of another nature may well be absent at Lake Tahoe this summer, however. Last year, two big pyrotechnic shows were held on July 4 and then at Labour Day.

A couple who live along Lake Tahoe filed a lawsuit, arguing that the fireworks show constituted a pollution source under the Clean Water Act. Joan and Joseph Truxler said large amounts of fireworks debris washed ashore after the two fireworks shows. They said they and neighbours collected more than 8,000 pieces of fireworks debris that washed ashore.

"We don't want to stop the shows. We don't want the shows cancelled. We just want responsible cleanup after the shows," Joan Truxler told the Tahoe Daily News.

South Lake Tahoe, a municipality, wants the dispute to end so that the fireworks shows can go on. "The issue of residual debris can be solved, unlike the devastating economic impact of cancelling our nationally recognized fireworks show on the heels of the driest winter on record," Nancy Kerry, the city manager, told the Daily News.

Kerry said that the Truxlers must withdraw their lawsuit as a condition of Tahoe going forward with a cleanup plan.

The parties were scheduled to meet on Monday.

Lake Tahoe News says the fireworks show on the Fourth of July has been going on for 30 years and costs $100,000 to stage.

Lion lazes about on condo deck

ASPEN, Colo. — Big cats have been slinking around resort towns of the West during March. A mountain lion was reported in Banff, and now one was seen amid condos in Aspen near an open space that is a popular destination for dogs and their owners.

One of the condo owners wrote an email to neighbours, noting that the animal had been seen on a deck of one of the units, says the Aspen Daily News. "A mountain lion is serious stuff. They are stealthy dawn and twilight hunters. Loose pets are snacks," wrote Neil Siegel.

Vacancy in Banff? You gotta be kidding

BANFF, Alberta — Looking for a place to rent in Banff? Fat chance. The housing vacancy rate is at zero. A survey by the Alberta Municipal Affairs found other communities with zero vacancy rates. Jasper had a vacancy rate of less than one percent.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook explains that a healthy rental market has an ongoing vacancy rate of three to five percent.

Big paychecks and thin ones

CANMORE, Alberta — Eat up! Drink up! And so they are in Alberta, where high-paying jobs in the oil and gas patches are providing the wherewithal to spend more money in bars and restaurants.

"Judging by where retail and restaurant receipts were in 2013, Albertans are feeling very confident," said Todd Hirsch of ATB Financial, at a recent presentation in Canmore, at the eastern gate to Banff National Park.

This fits in well with a new food and beverage festival, Canmore Uncorked, which is being launched this April.

Is there a downside to this story? Well, yes, in that food and accommodations sectors pay poorly.

"Jobs in food and accommodation have accounted for 13 per cent of all new jobs created, and if you add to that category two others, retail sector and also health care and social assistance, those three categories are the very lowest-paying jobs and they also account for a third of all the new jobs created," Hirsch said.

Hirsch went on to say that middle-income jobs are not experiencing growth in Alberta.

He also pointed out that those items with the greatest inflation rates, natural gas at 16.2 per cent and fresh fruit and vegetables at a 7.6 per cent increase, disproportionately affect lower-income earners.

Comparing Jasper and Banff in land-use issues

JASPER, Alberta — Socrates Korogonas runs businesses in both Jasper and Banff, two towns identical in being located within national parks and hence subject to oversight from Parks Canada, the agency.

But in Banff and Jasper, Korogonas sees very different approaches to land use and development, Banff being far more receptive to changes.

What explains the difference? Jasper's Fitzhugh newspaper talked to Cathy Jenkins, the realty and municipal manager in Jasper for Parks Canada, and she says there is actually very little difference in the development regulations governing both towns.

But the federal agency has a much more hands-off approach in Banff. The Fitzhugh traces this to when Jasper was incorporated, which was after development regulations were enshrined in the Canada National Parks Act.

"It makes sense that Jasper is generally more resistant to development projects, because the municipality "grew up" in an environment more informed by the stricter rules in the Canada National Parks Act, operating with much more involvement from Parks Canada."

But Jenkins also points to another difference: Banff is 90 minutes away from an international airport, and Jasper five hours. Jasper's identity is more that of a quaint mountain town more intimately connected to nature than that of Banff, and town administrators are aware of that image and work hard to preserve it.

Telluride's geographic brides

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Telluride has Bridal Veil Basin, from which comes the water that is tapped to make hydroelectric power as it tumbles to the valley floor.

Now, it also has 4,118-metre Bridal Peak. The peak had been identified by that name in various old maps of the 1930s, but it was not designated officially by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.

Telluride papers reported that the work of Jeff Burch, a former Forest Service employee, has succeeded in persuading the national board to name it as such.

Agents accused of doing wrong in immigrant bust

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. — In 2009, three agents of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency barged into a modular home in Glenwood Springs and rounded up nine people and charged them with being in the United States illegally.

But a U.S. judge the next year ruled that the raid had been conducted illegally. Those three agents are now standing trial in federal court, accusing of violating the constitutional rights of a woman whose home had been raided.

The Aspen Times says that the lead federal agent admits that they lacked a warrant, but otherwise denies any wrongdoing.

But an attorney for the woman whose house was raided paints a bigger picture. "The issue is whether we are going to allow American immigration officers to barge into homes at night — without a warrant, without consent, and in violation of our search and seizure law — to catch undocumented workers and their families," said Ted Hess.

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