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Mountain News: Ski town indicators show economic recovery

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VAIL, Colo. — Hither and thither across resort-based mountain towns of the West come reports of economic recovery.

Vail had its biggest-ever haul of sales tax collections during last winter, despite the poor snow, an increase of 3.9 per cent over the previous winter. The $1.15 million also surpassed the previous winter record set in 2007-2008.

In Wyoming, Jackson had a 5.3 per cent increase in sales tax collections last year. Park City reports a surge in permits for new building, and not just upgrading the existing buildings, as occurred during the recession.

But the national and international news tell a different story of stalled economic recovery. The unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high. The stock market stepped backward. U.S. President Barack Obama has felt compelled to defend his record.

"Are we leading or lagging? I don't know," says Suzanne Silverthorne, the public information office for the Town of Vail.

Destination ski towns, because they cater to the world's elites, tend to go into economic declines later and emerge more rapidly than many economic sectors. But in this case, that means they could be on either side of a trend: slow to reflect the new decline or more sure barometers of the U.S. economy.

Telluride continues talk of retreat for scientists

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Talk continues in Telluride of creating dedicated facilities that could be used by scientists for retreats. The town currently draws nearly 1,000 scientists annually, mostly during summer for small meetings of about 100 people at the town's middle school.

But the Telluride Science and Research Center would like to construct a top-flight 30,000-square-foot facility that would have year-round use.

The Daily Planet reports that town officials are cautiously supportive but reluctant to commit to a public-private venture at this point.

Boosters point to the economic impact of drawing scientists. The Aspen Center for Physics and the Keystone Symposium, both in Colorado, boast of strong economic boosts to their communities. Even larger numbers are reported for Woods Hole, a retreat in Massachusetts for oceanographers and other scientists.

Watchdog wants full report of Obama trip

ASPEN, Colo. — Detached from their personal president, Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha flew to Aspen on Presidents' Day Weekend. There, they stayed at the home of Jim and Paula Crown, of the family that owns the four ski areas in Aspen, and skied at one of them, Buttermilk.

At what cost to the taxpayers? A governmental watchdog group called Judicial Watch wants to know. It has sued two federal agencies, the Secret Service and the Air Force, to cough up the expenses of transporting and securing the Obama entourage. The entourage, says the Aspen Daily News, was accompanied by a slew of security personnel.

Cowboys come and gone in home furnishings

CANMORE, Alberta — The cowboy era has ended. So says a homeowner who hopes to sell a castle in Canmore.

The 11,000-square-foot home was built by Blair and Kristin Richardson. An executive with Morgan Stanley, he and his partners bought and developed a real estate project in Canmore called Three Sisters in 1999 and sold it in 2008. Now, with the kids grown, and everybody living in Denver, they want to sell the mansion. They're asking $11.9 million (Canadian) or $11.6 million U.S., or about as much as they spent on the land, construction, and furnishings.

For The Wall Street Journal, Kristin Richardson describes the house as a modern, European-style castle. Almost everything, "all the light fixtures, chandeliers and drapes," were sourced in the U.S. partly because "we didn't want it to be all the cowboy stuff. That was so 1990s."

Photograph further confirms wolverine

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Further evidence has arrived of a wolverine in the Sierra Nevada, east of Truckee. Although it was nearing dark, and photography tricky, a hiker was able to photograph the animal on the shores of Beyers Lake, reports the Sacramento Bee.

A wolverine was last confirmed in California in 1922. But in 2008, a wolverine was discovered in the area north of Truckee. DNA of hair samples show that it closely matches that of wolverines in the Sawtooth Range of Idaho.

Angle, Old Maid among casualties

SALIDA, Colo. — Each year, as warmer temperatures arrive on the slopes of Mt. Shavano, a 4,337 metre peak in central Colorado, the snow recedes in the central gully on the mountain's eastern face to reveal a few snowbanks that the religious-minded long ago interpreted as a kneeling figure. Most years, the angle of Shavano can be discerned until mid to late summer.

Not this year. The casualty of premature summer heat and too little winter, the snow from the couloir had almost already disappeared by last weekend. So has the rest of the snow in the high country of Colorado.

Readings taken June 1 by the National Resources Conservation Service show the snowpack was almost completely melted. In the Arkansas River Basin, where Shavano is located, the snowpack was just four per cent of last year.

Other river basins in Colorado were similarly in the single digits in terms of snowpack compared to last year.

In Steamboat Springs, the Yampa River was running at 202 cubic feet per second on Sunday afternoon. That compares to an average 2,200 cfs for that date, reports Steamboat Today.

"I've lived here for 78 years, and I can't remember a summer [starting] as dry as this one," said local rancher Dean Look.

In the Crested Butte area, the story was the same. There, a snow formation called the Old Maid that commonly persists through summer has only disappeared twice before in recent memory: 1977 and 2002. This will certainly be a third, say local observers.

Wildfires in the mountain forests of Colorado began in March and accelerated over the weekend with a major new blaze in the foothills west of the university town of Fort Collins.

In the San Juan Mountains, new restrictions on outdoor fires were instituted. "We see the federal government and agencies like the BLM and the Forest Service expressing a degree of concern that I haven't heard before," San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters told the Telluride Daily Planet. "I think it's really dry."

In the Vail-Beaver Creek area, several fires were reported along Interstate 70. Recently, town officials in Vail held a simulated exercise, probing the problems should a house fire spread into the adjacent forest. Town officials are also refining how to reach out to visitors, to communicate the possible danger of fire in coming months.

Idaho town reports shrinking footprint

HAILEY, Idaho — With the aid of several grants, most substantially $472,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency, Hailey is well on the way toward reducing its community carbon footprint 15 per cent by 2015.

That goal was articulated after the mayor of Hailey, located near Sun Valley, signed the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement in 2007. Part of the effort to shrink the carbon footprint is a new building code, now voluntary, which may become mandatory at some point, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.