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Mountain News: Three skiers die in snow immersions



JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Three people have already died of snow immersion suffocation in the early snow season in the heavy snows of the Western ski resorts.

In Wyoming, a 25-year-old woman died after getting inverted in a tree well on the slopes of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The Teton County coroner listed asphyxiation as the likely cause of death.

Washington's Snoqualmie Pass ski area was the site of another fatality. A 50-year-old man was skiing with his son and two other adults through a wooded area. When the group didn't see him at the bottom, they took a lift back up to search for him. They found him trapped head-down in a tree well. Attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful.

And, in British Columbia, a 53-year-old Californian skiing with his wife and children died in a snow inversion in the backcountry near Whistler. The victim had been on a cat-skiing expedition conducted by a company — it wasn't clear whether he had died in a tree well.

In snow immersions, individuals are deposited headfirst into snow, commonly a tree well. In experiments supervised by Paul Baugher, director of the Northwest Avalanche Institute, 90 per cent of those who end up upside down in trees wells cannot rescue themselves. Because of that simple fact, the best way to avoid suffocating in a tree well is to stay within eyesight of a skiing companion.

Monitoring U.S. ski areas, Baugher has found suffocations ranged between zero and nine per winter since 2000. California has had the most, 15, followed by Colorado with 11, Washington with nine, and Montana with five.

About two-thirds of victims have died in tree wells with most of the rest in deep snow. Studying 28 cases, he found that 82 per cent were advanced or expert-level skiers or snowboarders, and the remaining 18 per cent were intermediates.

In many cases, a person inverted into a tree well can die as quickly as somebody who drowns in water, says Baugher.

Almost $20 million for a house

ASPEN, Colo. – The real estate market in Aspen and Pitkin County continues to sizzle. The Aspen Times reports the sale of a 5,170-square-metre house for $19.5 million. It was the most expensive single-family sale of the year.

The property taxes on a house like that located on several acres? How about $66,491 per year.

While property values have been on the rise in Aspen, the total assessments remain 19.76 per cent lower than those of June 2008, just before the recession began, swamping mountain valleys.

A carbon fuel tax undersconsideration

CARBONDALE, Colo. — Town trustees in Carbondale, a former coal-mining town located 48 kilometres west of Aspen, are preparing to ask town residents to approve a carbon tax to be applied against electric and natural gas bills.

The only existing Colorado municipality to have a carbon tax is Boulder.

The tax being studied would add an estimated five to seven dollars per month to the utility bill of an average home and $20 to $40 for an average business.

"What better place than a town called Carbondale to implement a local carbon fee and put talk into action?" asked Mayor Stacey Bernot, a native of the town. The nearby coal mine closed more than 30 years ago.

Michael Hassig, a former mayor, told the Grand Junction Sentinel that tax should be called just that, and it should be based on use. The more that a resident uses fossil fuels, the higher the fee. "You want people to change their behaviors, make it cost something," he said.

One concern is the impact to lower-income residents. One possible solution is to use some of the revenues to upgrade homes inhabited by those low-income residents, which would lower both the fee and overall energy bills for those families.

Immigrant Jasperites share experiences

JASPER, Alberta — As Jasper prepares to welcome two families from Syria, existing immigrants from the Philippines, India, South Korea, Costa Rica and other countries gathered to tell about their experiences.

The Jasper Fitzhugh explains the immigrants at the "cultural conversation" told about how they got to Canada and what life was like in their native countries.

"I think it allows us to be more compassionate, more understanding and more patient," said organizer Ginette Marcoux.

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