RENO, Nev. — For years, Andy Wirth put together a direct flight program for Steamboat Springs to make it easier for destination skiers. Transplanted to Squaw Valley, he vowed to do the same there.
True to his word, Wirth this past week helped announce new twice-weekly flights from London's Gatwick Airport to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport through ski season. Last month, non-stop service from Guadalajara, Mexico, was announced.
The ski industry of Lake Tahoe teamed with the casinos to secure the flights. There was no mention of revenue guarantees in the story in the Sierra Sun, but such financial backstops are common in other mountain towns.
For students of irony, the two primary ski area operators in the Lake Tahoe Basin of California are from the Denver area. Vail Resorts has three ski areas (Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Northstar), while KSL Capital Partners has two (Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows). Also part of the ski industry consortium are two smaller ski areas, Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe and Sierra-at-Tahoe.
Ski towns mostly stay on blue side
Ski towns and resort mountain valleys of the West have usually tilted Democratic, at least in recent years. This year was no exception.
Despite major Republican gains across the United States, mountain towns favored Democrats.
In Colorado, Aspen and Telluride have been the most reliable of Democratic strongholds for decades. For others, this liberalness is more recent.
Vail, for example, was a place of Gerald Ford Republicans. But as the Republican Party turned socially conservative, Vail has turned Democratic. That trend continued this year as two candidates for the county commission, both Democrats, again triumphed at the Eagle County courthouse.
This means that for at least two more years Eagle County will have three female Democrats on the three-member commission. For most of the last century, Democrats were rare and female commissioners were, until the 1990s, entirely absent.
The margins were thinner for Democrats, however. Kathy Heicher, a long-time journalist, attributes it to the lingering effects of the recession.
"A lot of people lost their houses, and a lot of people are working jobs that pay less money and probably provide fewer benefits," she says. As elsewhere, she perceived a frustration with a deadlocked Congress that hurt Democrats more than Republican challengers.
Elsewhere in Colorado, Steamboat Springs, and Routt County remained generally Democratic. But Grand County – home to Winter Park and Fraser and a strong ranching community — swung to its Republican roots after flirting with Democrats in recent elections.
But for a true test of liberal politics in Colorado, Proposition 105 was perhaps the most revealing. Had it been adopted, food providers would have been required to identify products with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Farm organizations and allies poured money into television advertising against the GMO proposal. Denver and Boulder, reliably Democratic, heeded the warnings and cast a plurality of votes against the measure.
Aspen's Pitkin County and Telluride's San Miguel swam against this tide, but among Colorado's 64 counties there was a third dissident: Durango's La Plata County.
What is happening in Durango to push it into the über-liberal camp in Colorado?
"Mostly we are liberal here in Durango — to a fault," says Missy Votel, editor of the Durango Telegraph. She also notes a great many organic farms near Durango.
Greg Hoch, Durango's long-time planning director, observes that La Plata County has a "multitude of educated athletes, who care about what they eat a lot more than the average Joe, because how they eat affects their performance."
But Durango's geographic isolation from the rest of Colorado may have been a factor. It gets TV reception from Albuquerque, not Denver. As such, local TV viewers were spared the advertising blitz warning about high costs of the GMO-labelling requirement.
canmore adopts idling limits
CANMORE, Alta. — Councillors in Canmore, at the entrance to Banff National Park, have agreed to impose a five-minute limit on idling cars and trucks.
Officials said the limit was partly meant to be symbolic of the community's effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The town staff had recommended a two-minute limit, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, but councillors said that would be entirely too difficult to enforce.
Wildlife-only corridors draw hikers and bikers
CANMORE, Alta. — Three Sisters Mountain Village, a major real estate project in Canmore, has several designated corridors for wildlife. But many local residents see it as open space, to be used for recreational purposes.
Biologists working on behalf of the real estate project report that three times as many mountain bikers and hikers, many with unleashed dogs, have been using the wildlife corridors, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.
"It is no longer about how you get the animals to move through the valley," said Chris Ollenberger, principal planner, with QuantumPlace, which is working on behalf of the project owners. "It is how do we stop the humans from getting in the way."
Jackson Hole's robust direct flight program
JACKSON, Wyo. — This winter, Jackson Hole will have non-stop flights from 14 U.S. metropolitan areas on a weekly and in some cases daily basis.
It didn't happen by accident. A group called the Jackson Hole Air Improvement Resources has worked hard at this for more than a decade. About 20 per cent of the flights have backstops of revenue guarantees, money posted to reduce or eliminate losses by airlines.
Mike Gireau, the co-chair, tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide, that the group's exposure two years ago was $1.4 million had it paid every nickel to every airline for every contract. In fact, the group paid only $247,000. The state of Wyoming paid another $100,000-plus.
Some years, he added, Jackson Hole pays out more in revenue guarantees.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the largest of the local ski areas, provides funding buttressed by contributions from Grand Targhee and Snow King and, according to a 2012 story in the News&Guide, some 200 organizations.
The big pickups in recent years? Gireau points to new flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now Seattle. "That's very important to us, based on just the fact that now we've got three gateways to the entire Pacific Rim, whether it be China or southeast Asia," he said. Jackson Hole also has direct flights this winter to Washington D.C.
Jackson Hole does not yet have a link to Phoenix. Gireau says he's confident if an opportunity arose, the local group would jump on it.
Tom Cruise selling his telluride digs
TELLURIDE, Colo. — The actor Tom Cruise has put his digs near Telluride up for sale with an asking price of $59 million. The reason given is that he just doesn't use the home all that much.
Cruise got married to actress Nicole Kidman in 1990 at Telluride and in 1992 began acquiring property. He designed and built a 10,000-square-foot mansion as well as a 1,600-square-foot guesthouse.
Busy Aspen girds for sprouting of lodges
ASPEN, Colo. — As defined by the total valuation of building permits, construction in Aspen this year is up 60 to 70 per cent over 2013. It could get much busier yet.
The Aspen Daily News reports that the city council there can expect to review five major hotel and lodging proposals during coming months.
Mayor Steve Skadron hopes to moderate the building boom. "I'm frustrated really as a local, outside of being the mayor, about the livability of town during these construction booms," he told The Aspen Times.
"It's becoming apparent to me that we're not simply in a boom but in a long-time redevelopment cycle, and it isn't as if one building is getting built and construction stops. We're going to have two or three or four or five years or a decade of constant building."
Wood from homes making electricity
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — FireWise Communities is a program designed to help create defensible space around homes and neighbors, to make them less vulnerable to wildfire. By the simple metric of how many such designations it has, Summit County is among the most successful in the Rocky Mountains in averting future wildfire threat.
Now comes a new effort. This year, 1,810 household participated in an effort to remove trees and bushes close to their homes. Altogether this woody material yielded 747 tons of chips that were trucked to a biomass plant in Gypsum, about 97 kilometres away, where it is being burned to produce electricity.
"The program was successful beyond our wildest expectations," County Commissioner Dan Gibbs told the Summit Daily News. A firefighter by profession, he also chairs the local wildlife council.