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Mountain News: Tourism must adapt

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DAVOS, Switzerland – Tourism operators must adapt rapidly to climate change, according to a report adopted by a conference of 100 nations sponsored by the United Nations.

A changing climate is the only certainty of the future, said Geoffrey Lipman, assistant secretary general of the U.N. World Tourism Organization. How it will change and how it will affect a nation’s tourism industry will depend on the location and offering, he told The New York Times. Some places may get new opportunities as a result of the warming climate, he added.

The Whistler-Blackcomb ski area is building lifts higher on the mountain, in zones where snow is more reliable, Arthur DeJong, mountain planning and environment resource manager, told the newspaper. Ski lifts typically last 25 years, he said, and the company has done computer simulations to determine where the snow will likely be.

Tourism is reliant on transportation, and the Davos conference concluded that the tourism trade is responsible for about 5 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

 

East West takes over project

CANMORE, Alberta – Colorado-based East West Partners has now ventured into Canada to develop real estate. The company, which is based at Beaver Creek, has purchased the Three Sisters project in Canmore, at the eastern gateway to Banff National Park.

About 60 per cent of the residential real estate in Three Sisters remains yet to be built , but none of the 2,500 hotel rooms and other short-term accommodations, as well as 500,000 square feet of commercial, have been built. The project is to have a focal point of wellness.

Harry Frampton, managing partner of East West, said he was drawn to the Canmore project for several reasons. Nearly all the land between Calgary, whose outskirts is located 45 minutes to the east, and Banff National Park is locked up, precluding future development.

Second, Alberta is rich with revenues from the oil sand deposits now being developed. Those sands are located north of Edmonton, but most of the energy companies are headquartered in Calgary.

East West was founded in 1985 after Frampton left as the chief executive officer of Vail Associates, the precursor of Vail Resorts. The company began by developing portions of Beaver Creek but has expanded rapidly. In recent years it has had major development projects at Truckee and Lake Tahoe, Park City, and the I-70 corridor of Colorado. East West also has a significant role in redevelopment of Denver’s original core.

 

Activist turns to energy work

DOVE CREEK, Colo. – In the late 1990s Jeff Berman quit his job as an engineer with IBM in Boulder and took up the life of an activist.

His first chapter was nipping at the heels of ski area operators. He was instrumental in creating the Ski Area Report Card, which is issued at the start of every ski season. It’s similar to the ski area rankings done by ski magazines, but is filtered through the lens of environmental impacts. He also helped start an organization called Colorado Wild and was the first director.

Several years ago he took up more quiet work in energy activism. He got elected to the board of directors of his local Durango-based electrical co-operative, La Plata Electric. He also started a company, San Juan BioEnergy.

The project is ambitious. Since 2004, he has been out in the desert country around Dove Creek, located near the Colorado-Utah line, halfway between Durango and Moab, urging farmers to begin producing sunflowers, which can be harvested and turned into biodiesel.

“Jeff, he pushed and pushed to make it happen, like a dog with a bone,” a local farmer named Matt Carhart tells the Durango Telegraph.

Dove Creek is a struggling community, with school enrolment about half what it was 30 years ago. There are no problems with a burgeoning second-home community, no enormous gaps between rich and poor. Everything is on the thin side.

What the farmers like about the idea is that sunflowers are basically drought tolerant, and drought is a too-common feature of Southwest Colorado — with the worst yet to come, according to global warming climatologists. Last year pinto beans yielded 75 pounds per acre, compared to 800 pounds per acre for sunflower.

All this does not quite yet amount to a success story. Capital must still be raised, and there are also unexpected problems with the crops. It seems that sunflowers are tasty to critters. Carhart lost close to 25 per cent of his 400 acres of sunflowers to wildlife this season. “That’s my profit margin,” he said.

 

Foreign workers needed

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – The ski area at Crested Butte is expecting an ouch this winter as the result of a national surge in requests for foreign seasonal workers under the H-2B visa program.

The resort company last year had 105 workers under the program, but this year applied for 225 — but not until late September, by which time the national cap for the winter months had been reached. While bills now being debated in Congress would lift that cap, there is no certainty they will be passed, reports the Gunnison Country Times.

Crested Butte has several new lodging properties, for which more employees are needed. The resort had hoped that employees with H2-B visas would comprise 20 per cent of the workforce. However, the company hopes to fill staff positions with students holding J1 visas. It will be, said general manager Randy Barrett, a case of all hands on deck.

Other resort operators, such as Vail, seem much less distressed about the H2-B visa shortage, owing to more advance work in securing employees.

 

Mammoth scaled back visas

MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN, Calif. – Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is certainly aware of the cap of H-2B visas, but The Sheet says nobody at the ski area seems ready to hit the panic button.

“Ever since 9/11, we’ve been preparing for something like this by reducing our dependence on foreign workers, so we’re certainly not freaked out by this,” explained Jack Copeland, the vice president and director of human resources at the Fortress-owned ski area. “It may limit some of the service we can offer, but it’s not going to put us out of business.”

Copeland said of Mammoth’s 92 H-2B applicants who are returning, certified ski instructors, only 40 have been approved.

“We used to have hundreds of foreign employees, particularly Aussies and Kiwis, and we’d like to continue to have some, because we do feel they add some richness, some fun for our guests and other employees. But unlike some other ski areas, we haven’t become too dependent on foreign workers,” he added.

 

Micro-hydro considered

ASPEN, Colo. – In an effort to walk their talk about reducing their share of greenhouse gas emissions, both Aspen and Pitkin County were scheduled to look at two separate but similar proposals.

The more immediate proposal was before Aspen voters on Tuesday. That proposal was for the city to take on $5.5 million in debt in order to build a new hydroelectric plant on a local creek. Production is expected to be sufficient to supply 600 homes.

The plant had been in use for much of the first half of the 20 th century, but could not compete with the cost of coal-produced electricity. Letters to The Aspen Times indicated only minor opposition to the proposal, mostly from landowners near the plant.

Separately, Pitkin County commissioners are expected to hear a proposal for revised regulations governing uses of riparian areas along creeks and rivers. The change would be needed to accommodate plans for several small hydroelectric projects, often called micro-hydro, in Pitkin County. One plan is being proposed for Brush Creek adjacent to a home.

A larger project is anticipated for the Crystal River at the old mining town of Redstone. A hydroelectric plant was operating there as early as 1901, but the existing building is in ruins. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails officials plan to buy the site for $250,000. The Redstone Historical Society hopes to restore the building and, at some point in the future, build a micro-hydro plant.

“We certainly support any effort that will produce electricity outside the grid,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. However, he questions where the money will come from.

 

Major solar array in works

CARBONDALE, Colo. – A major array of solar collectors is in the works near Carbondale. The Aspen Skiing Co. is putting up more than $1 million, while the private Rocky Mountain School is providing the land.

If approved by Garfield County officials, it would be the largest solar collector on Colorado’s Western Slope. A larger complex is being constructed at Alamosa, which is on the Eastern Slope, if still in the mountains.

Carbondale is already a hotspot, so to speak, of solar energy activity. It has one company, Solar Energy International, with an office, and solar panels erected at both the town hall and fire protection district headquarters to generate electricity.

The Aspen Times explains that the solar array will cover a large amount of land, 120 feet by 240 feet, and in theory will provide enough electricity for 20 households per year.

In fact, the school — in addition to providing the land — will pay for 30 to 40 per cent of the electricity at a fixed rate higher than the current market rate for electricity produced at coal-fired power plants.

Making it possible, explained energy expert Randy Udall, are the grants from Xcel, Colorado’s largest investor owned utility, which is mandated to provide 20 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020. The Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 also provides tax credits. Because of such grants, solar farms can earn investors 6 to 10 per cent annually.

In the case of the Aspen Skiing Co. investment, a return of only 6.5 per cent is expected “if everything goes well,” said Matt Jones, the company’s vice president and chief financial officer. But while the solar will not directly benefit the ski company, it appealed to the staff and, more importantly, to the Crown family, which owns Aspen Skiing.

Udall believes that solar is the only renewable energy source that can realistically “run the world.” He believes breakthroughs in solar technology and storage are required and “appear to be on the horizon.”

 

LEED certification questioned

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – To LEED or not to LEED was the question in Mammoth Lakes as town officials considered whether to seek certification of a new police facility under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design process.

Town staff members said LEED certification would cost $50,000 to attain, and argued that the money could better be spent in “product” than “paper,” reports The Sheet.

But Lisa Isaacs, the environmental programs director at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, said that LEED certification is important, because it ensures accountability. Without that certification as a goal, she said, the green elements will be the first ones to go once the budget starts to tighten.

 

Hispanics now majority

EAGLE VALLEY, Colo. – For the first time in the history of the Eagle County School District, a majority of students — 50 per cent — at public schools are Hispanic.

Non-Hispanic whites are 48 per cent, reports the Vail Daily.

Of the Hispanic students, however, more than half — 30 to 36 per cent of all students — are learning English as a second language, and those students lag behind native English-speaking students on standardized tests, said Mike Gass, director of secondary education.

The highest percentage of Hispanic population is in elementary and middle schools in the mid-valley, at the base of the Beaver Creek ski area. At Avon Elementary, 90 per cent of the student body is Hispanic, and more than 75 per cent speak little or no English.

A dual language program is being used at both Avon Elementary and at nearby Berry Creek Middle School, where 80 per cent of students are Hispanic.

There are also a variety of private schools, both secular and religious, now operating in the valley.

 

Perfect environment…

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Mimi Met, a visiting expert in school language programs, says the mix of English- and Spanish-speaking students in Teton County makes for an ideal environment for dual-language education, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide. The goal of dual-language education is to graduate students who are bilingual and biliterate. School officials who are pushing for dual immersion language instruction hope to get four Spanish-speaking teachers for the kindergarten and first-grade levels.

 

Fire potential pondered

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – Summit County residents continue to talk about what it’s like to be living cheek by jowl with nature, specifically the trees that are fast dying as the result of a fungus borne by bark beetles.

Research by economist Mike Retzlaff suggests that a big fire in the wildland-urban interface could destroy so many homes that local water and sanitation districts, which depend primarily on sales tax, could go out of business.

The study, notes the Summit Daily News, is being used to argue for greater federal funding, to thin and remove trees in the interface areas. The argument is that it will be much less expensive to spend money for forest treatments in advance than enormous expenses in the wake of a fire.

But Jonathan Bradley, a firefighter from a local fire district, recently was engaged in fighting fires in California. He says that Summit County would benefit from restrictions on what kind of building will be allowed near forested areas. He also notes that those buildings in California that survived were those that used less flammable materials.

 

A-Basin has lots of new

ARAPAHOE BASIN, Colo. – Arapahoe Basin is among the oldest ski areas in Colorado. Located near Loveland Pass, about 65 miles west of Denver, it was opened in 1946 and remained relatively little changed for most of the next 60 years.

But after being sold first to Vail Resorts and then Dundee Realty about 10 years ago, changes have started coming rapidly. There’s a new parking lot, a new quad lift, a new mid-mountain restaurant and, on the far side of the mountain, a new expansion area called Montezuma Bowl, soon to open.

There’s also new snowmaking, which several times allowed Arapahoe Basin to be the first to open and the last to close (at least in Colorado). Skier numbers are also flying high now, but general manager Alan Henceroth tells the Summit Daily News that the ski area will seem less crowded than before, due to the greater dispersion.

 

Granby booming

GRANBY, Colo. – Almost quietly, Granby has been one of the major boom areas in the Colorado mountains during recent years. It has annexed well more than 5,000 acres of land being reconfigured into weekend homes for those wanting a slice of “Colorado as it used to be.”

Of course, Granby as it used to be is fast changing — and some would say for the better. The Sky-Hi Daily News reports the groundbreaking for a Denver International Airport-looking building that will house a soccer field, complete with turf. Unidentified private donors funded the construction, but the land was provided by the local district.

Next up will be an indoor hockey rink, and also a recreation center.

 

How to remain upright

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Telluride voters this week were scheduled to vote on a $5 million capital improvements plan for the main street. While new water mains are the basic problem, some merchants and probably residents would also like to see a snowmelt system installed, the better to avoid arse-over-teakettle tumbles on the snow-turned-to-ice sidewalks.

Ruminating on decades past, Grace Herndon notes that on some winter days in the past she’d count herself lucky if she stayed right side up. Still, she sounds ambivalent about the idea of melting snow. It is part of the new Telluride that is mature, sophisticated and into every sort of visitor amenity and comfort, she says, and it seems to go against the old ski-town mantra of “think snow.”

“Telluride oldtimers, figuring shoulder-high snowpiles and slick, icy paths were all part of mountain living, used ski poles and some form of snow cleats to combat the dangers of slipping on packed snow and ice,” she says. “Those safety measures weren’t foolproof, but they did offer a measure of security,” she writes in The Telluride Watch.

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