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Mountain News: Vail celebrates 50 years



VAIL, Colo.

It's birthday time for ski areas in Colorado. Vail this year turns 50, as does Steamboat. Telluride can count 40 candles.

That first winter at Vail, like this one, started slow. Enough snow fell to accommodate practice by ski racers. But this was before snowmaking, and the slopes were so marginal going into December that marketing boss Bob Parker had the bright idea of getting Utes, from the Southern Ute Reservation in the Four Corners area, to perform a ritual dance. For whatever reason, snow followed the next day.

Warm and snowless autumns have not been rare in Colorado, but this one somehow seems more disturbing. By most accounts, it's even worse than a year ago. Records at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, near Crested Butte, show the driest fall from September to November in 39 years, reports the Crested Butte News.

It may yet be an epic winter. The Crested Butte News points out that it didn't snow until Dec. 7 during the last winter that Crested Butte had snowfall to the tail of a tall giraffe. That was five years ago.

Over the weekend, a storm rolled through Colorado, allowing ski areas to broadcast photos of skiers riding through what looked to be deep powder, to nudge people unsure about whether to commit to winter vacations off the sidelines. But in Vail, where grass still showed up through the snow, one resident was dubious: "This is not savior snow."

Vail will officially celebrate its first 50 years on Saturday, a time of vast changes in ski equipment, grooming skills, and uphill technology — plus expansive snowmaking systems. But far more dramatic changes seem certain during the next 50 years, because skiing still very fundamentally requires large and regular delivery of natural snow. That snow is increasingly doubtful.

Oh sure, the higher, colder ski areas like Vail can expect to get snow long into the future. But the climate models concur that winters will become shorter and warmer, rain more often replacing snow. Ski towns may gain business during the longer summer, as people flee hot lowland cities, but on balance they're likely to be losers, too, in this disruptive climate shift.

Aspen keeps climate change options open

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen city officials are moving forward with purchase of water rights that they say will best serve the interests of the community as the global climate shifts to warmer temperatures.

The city council approved spending $511,000 to purchase 400 acre-feet of water annually from Ruedi Dam, a U.S. government facility about 48 kilometres from Aspen.

Colorado's water law is complicated, based on the idea that the oldest rights have first dibs, no matter where they are in a river drainage and no matter how much water the river is carrying that particular year. This stored water would allow Aspen to release water downstream, to meet the senior calls from farms and orchards near Grand Junction, while holding back spring runoff in its more local streams, called Castle and Maroon.