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Mountain News: Two takes on global challenges



By Allen Best

TELLURIDE, Colo. – While Telluride’s Mountainfilm Festival is rooted in adventure films of big-mountain excursions, scary base-jumps and cascading whitewater, this year it also focused on global warming and the prospect of diminished oil supplies.

Reflecting on the festival, Telluride Watch publisher Seth Cagin observed that the challenges of global warming are actually far greater than death-defying adventures like rowing across the Atlantic — because, he said, it “takes political action and community resolve, and these are precisely the realms where humanity is often least inspiring.”

While Telluride this year succeeded in raising $50 million to block development of land at the town’s edge, Cagin suggests a far more important and difficult challenge ahead: “If we don’t dedicate ourselves to solar on every local rooftop, to hydro from our rivers, or to a wind farm on a suitable ridgeline, will it (the open space preservation) in the end make one bit of difference?” he asks.

Jim Kunstler, the acerbic critic of car-dependent suburbia and author of “The Long Emergency,” spoke at Mountainfilm this year, arguing that there is no easy salvation in the form of lifestyle-saving technology.

Writing in his blog after returning from Telluride to his New York home, Kunstler had this to say:

“In my travels, I have noticed a disturbing theme among the educated minority of eco-advocates: they are every bit as dedicated to the status quo (in their own way) as the NASCAR morons and shopping mall developers. The eco-advocates want cars, too, and all the prerogatives (like free parking and country living) that go with them, just like the Wal-Mart shoppers. If this were not so, then why do the eco-advocates cream in their jeans whenever somebody presents a snazzy new vehicle that runs on a fuel other than gasoline? Indeed, why are some of the eco-friendly pouring all their efforts into the invention of such things instead of into walkable communities and the reform of our stupid land-use laws?”

After a jab at Telluride’s real-estate anchored economy, Kunstler concluded: “Let’s stop talking about making better cars and start talking about occupying the landscape differently — which we’re going to have to do anyway.”


Hearth warming too much?

ASPEN, Colo. – Can you have your cake and eat it, too? That’s the task for budding technologists in Aspen, where town officials are trying to achieve a balance in their commitment to reducing greenhouse gases while also preserving the amenities of a modern resort.

Among those amenities is a hearth located in an outdoor downtown mall. Designed to resemble a bonfire, it is fueled by natural gas. As such, it produces a significant amount of greenhouse gases — although a trifle when compared to the jet planes that are at the foundation of Aspen’s economy. Still, through its Canary Initiative program, Aspen has vowed to reduce its greenhouse gases.

Still, the hearth is a symbol, and so city officials have issued a challenge to the public to come up with a design for a hearth that emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions while continuing to provide a “quality experience.” A cash prize of $500 plus a $450 gift certificate toward purchase of an energy-efficient home appliance is being offered to the winning design.


Teva Games generate big numbers

VAIL, Colo. – The Teva Games, Vail’s answer to the X Games held in Aspen, was held for five days during the last week. While kayakers were shooting down some of the steepest, most difficult rapids in the West, the numbers were also impressive: some 1,600 athletes, an expected attendance of 30,000, and prize money of $100,000.

The event began as a Memorial Day kayak festival in Minturn, around the corner from Vail, but was transformed into an early-June event called Teva Mountain Games. Teva wanted to peddle sandals, and Vail wanted a big spring event, broader than just kayaking.

Organizers, explains the Vail Daily, target 21- to 45-year-old “weekend warriors” with household incomes of $90,000 or more. Joel Heath, whose company, Untraditional Marketing, organizes and promotes the event, says that’s a coveted demographic for advertisers. “We’re definitely in a sweet spot now for a lot of brands.”

While Heath maintains the festival remains true to its roots, Teva marketing executive Adam Druckman acknowledges a “constant worry” of creating an event that is so heavily commercialized it is shunned by competitors. He noted similar concerns about commercialization of the X Games.


Swift buys more papers

GRANBY, Colo. – Swift Communications has extended its penetration in the mountains of Colorado, buying the newspapers published in Grand County. The newspapers include the Winter Park Manifest and Sky-Hi News.

Based in Reno, Nev., Swift arrived in the Colorado mountains in 1993, buying first the Vail Daily, then the Summit Daily News, and Aspen Times. It also owns weekly and daily newspapers in Eagle, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Grand Junction. The chain faces only two newspaper competitors in those two areas, the Aspen Daily News and Grand Junction Sentinel.

Selling the Grand County newspapers is Bill Johnson, who enjoyed a monopoly there beginning in 1984.


Campaign donations near $100,000

ASPEN, Colo. – Donations for the campaigns of mayor candidates in Aspen has neared $100,000. Tim Semrau, who came in second in an initial election, reported contributions of $50,000. Mick Ireland, who came in first in that initial election, reported $40,000. The two candidates square off in the run-off election on June 5.


Reno-New York direct flights in works

RENO, Nev. – The Reno-Tahoe International airport is working with Delta Airlines on a non-stop flight to New York City. Airport authorities are also hoping to add links to Washington D.C., Detroit and Minneapolis, as well as southern California.

These flights, if they occur, may help boost the Truckee-Tahoe area’s transition to more of a destination for tourism, similar to Colorado mountain resorts, Jackson Hole, and Park City.


Revelstoke retirees worried

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Seeing the forces building for rapid transformation of Revelstoke, an old logging and mining town soon to become a major international ski resort, local retirees Frank and Marina Huyler are worried. They report checking out mountain towns from New Mexico to Montana, but found very few of the “friendly, walk-able, picturesque towns surrounded by great scenery” that they have in Revelstoke.

“The towns have lost their feel for open space, mountain air, a big sky, and peace and quiet — in general their sense of freedom and closeness to nature,” they write in the Revelstoke Times Review. “Without care and caution, we’ll end up looking like Canmore or Banff.”


Aspen limits construction activity

ASPEN, Colo. – Responding to calls for more peace and quiet, the Aspen City Council is more sharply limiting construction activities, and is allocating $150,000 to hire two new code-enforcement officers to back up the law. Previously there was just one such officer.

The new law, reports The Aspen Times, limits construction to 10 hours a day, compared to 12 previously. However, the council refused to ban construction on Saturdays, although work sites remain shut down on federal holidays and during the so-called Aspen holidays of large special events.

Also new is a cap on sound, at 80 decibels — about the sound of a vacuum sweeper, or halfway between a normal conversation and a Walkman at full volume.


Neck-tied editor visits Cheney

WASHINGTON D.C. – An old saw of mountain towns is that suits and ties are worn only at weddings or funerals. Anybody otherwise caught in such uncomfortable clothing is a traveling salesman or lawyer, or at the very least an eccentric character.

But Thomas Dewell, co-editor of the Jackson Hole News & Guide, got his suit out for business recently when he visited the office of Jackson Hole’s most famous resident non-resident, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

Dewell had 15 minutes to chat with Cheney about war in the Middle East, energy extraction in Wyoming, and global warming. While born and reared in Wyoming, Cheney has spent most of the last 40 years in Washington. He maintains his primary residence in Jackson Hole.

The newspaper also snagged an interview with Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives. As a Democrat, she is a leading critic of the Republican administration.

Still, author and musician John Byrne Cook said he felt like disinfecting his hands after reading the interview with Cheney. “It’s about time the News & Guide showed some editorial guts and stated its position on this carpetbagging disgrace to Wyoming and the United States….” he said in a letter published the following week.


Ban on body piercings reversed

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Teton County has lifted its ban on tongue and genital piercings. Teton County Public Board of Health members were persuaded that the ban might have an unintended consequence of sending customers to back-door practitioners who are less likely to do the job right, leading to infections.

“Piercing is here to stay,” said Susan Woodward, owner of a shop called Sub-Urban Tattoo. “We want regulations that will protect our community.”

The state, however, has no licensing or training program for piercers, and neither does the county.

Meanwhile, advocates of completely smoke-free communities have vowed to continue to press local officials to mandate a ban on public smoking. Jackson town officials recently refused to enact a ban, and a similar effort failed in broader Teton County. Julia Heemstra, program manager for the Teton County Anti-Tobacco Coalition, said she believes getting a total ban will “be much more a marathon than a sprint.”

Why the ban matters isn’t clear. Only two businesses in both the town and county will still allow smoking after mid-June.


Ever Vail in LEED program

VAIL, Colo. – A $1 billion slope-side real estate project called Ever Vail has been accepted into a pilot neighborhoods’ program under the aegis of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Rob Katz, chief executive officer of Vail Resorts, the developer, said the company will seek a silver designation, which is the second highest of four potential designations. The project is scheduled to start in 2009, although it must first get town approvals.


Targhee plan just too much

DRIGGS, Idaho – It appears that the proposal by the Gillett family to expand the real-estate holdings at the base of Grand Targhee is likely to be rejected, at least as currently proposed. The ski area currently has 96 units, but the family proposes to expand to 725 units.

But at a meeting covered by the Jackson Hole News & Guide, four of the five Teton County commissioners said they believe the proposal calls for too much, particularly given the location. The resort base area is at 8,500 feet in elevation, and is surrounded by Forest Service land. By comparison, the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, is 6,300 feet.

One commissioner, Ben Ellis, suggested the recommendation of planning commissioners last year — 450 free-market, employee, and affordable units — was on target.

George Gillett, the one-time owner of Vail and Beaver Creek, purchased the ski area in 1996. His son, Geordie Gillett, has taken the lead on this project.

The ski area is located on the west side of the Teton Range, barely within Wyoming. Most directly affected are the Idaho communities of Driggs and Alta. The newspaper says the proposal has divided even long-time residents, even within the same extended families.

Rex Christiansen, 65, who helped build the ski area in the 1960s, lives nearby and will be heavily impacted by a bigger, busier resort. “If there’s a loud construction noise, his house will be the closest. If the night sky is brighter once the resort is built, his bedroom will be nearer,” says the newspaper. Yet he favors the proposal.

Christiansen said the ski area was built with the idea of providing more employment opportunities. “You were either a farmer or a school teacher or a builder,” he told the paper. He also notes that the ski area always was intended to grow, with a master plan 36 years ago that called for a capacity of 6,000 skiers and accommodations for 3,000 overnights.

But another man named Christiansen — Jim, 74, a cousin — says Grand Targhee is “sacred and hallow.” He was also involved in the creation of the ski area, but even at its opening there were worries about it becoming too popular. He said the turning of the tide occurred in 1973, when majority ownership was sold to somebody from Cincinnati.

The newspaper also interviewed another rancher, Meredith Wilson, also a descendant of Grand Targhee’s founders (and a relative of the Christiansens). He said he doesn’t want to see a world-class resort. He cites the comprehensive plan for Teton County, which calls for “a community first and a resort second.


Students say turn off engines

CANMORE, B.C. – Fifth- and sixth-graders at the Notre-Dame des Monts School in Canmore had a letter in the Rocky Mountain Outlook pondering the implications of global warming.

“We wonder whether, as adults, we will be able to travel,” they wrote. Drivers of idling cars, they said, “should receive a fine if their car is running for more than five minutes.” It is important, they added, to “make small gestures.”


Animas may be wild & scenic

DURANGO, Colo. – Although dozens of rivers and creeks in Colorado have been judged worthy of designation under the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, only one of them — the Poudre River, west of Fort Collins — has been designated. But the Animas River is now being evaluated for its eligibility, reports the Durango Telegraph. The river originates near Engineer Pass, in the Silverton-Ouray-Lake City triangle, and then flows down through Silverton and then Durango. If it happens, it will be a long process, says Kay Zillich, a hydrologist with the federal government.


Starwood buys Steamboat hotel

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Starwood has expanded to the Steamboat ski area.

Starwood has purchased the 315-room Sheraton hotel at the ski area base for $57 million.

Earlier this year Intrawest, bought the ski area for $265 million.

Several key base-area parcels were sold earlier this year at a cost of $43.9 million. This comes as Steamboat begins redevelopment of its base area, which largely dates to the 1970s.


Buses considered

GUNNISON, Colo. – Greyhound ceased running buses through Gunnison a year ago, saying there just wasn’t enough money to be made in rural areas. The company increasingly focuses on routes directly linking larger cities.

Now, local transportation authorities want to instigate three round-trip buses from Gunnison to Denver. If this new service happens, it will likely use federal funding and, ironically, aid from Greyhound. One-way fares would cost $22, with stops in Poncha Springs, Salida, and Buena Vista.

Among the potential riders, reports the Crested Butte News, are students at Western State College. Some 93 per cent of students there are from places more than 100 miles from Gunnison, many in metropolitan Denver.


Forest Service ends fee

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. – The highest paved highway in the United States goes to within about 150 feet of 14,264-foot summit of Mt. Evans, located in the Front Range west of Denver. And under the recreational fee program, dubbed “pay to play,” the Forest Service since 1998 has been charging $10 per car for those driving the road.

Trouble is, the road was built and maintained by the state of Colorado. State transportation officials complained that the fee could only be assessed those who parked and then used Forest Service facilities in some ways. The Denver Post reports that the Forest Service has agreed to place notices that the $10 charge only applies if vehicles are parked.


Camel shows nasty side

RIFLE, Colo. – A Rifle man who operates camel tours was bitten and kicked by a 2,000-pound camel that also laid on him. He was hospitalized but expected to fully recover, reports the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. He had purchased the one-humped camel recently from a tour operator at Moab.

The newspaper spoke with another camel owner, Maggie Repp, who has raised and trained camels at her ranch in the Western Colorado town of Fruita for nine years. “Camels by nature are not mean at all,” she said. However, male camels, like elk and deer, will go into rut. “When they’re in rut, you don’t want to bother them,” she added.