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Mountain News: Will coaster sully the ambience?



STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — There's at least a small bit of anxiety in Steamboat Springs as the ski area there prepares to spruce up its summer attractions with an alpine coaster.

Unlike alpine slides, which are like toboggan paths made of concrete, bevelled into the landscape, the rails for alpine coasters are elevated. They're different from roller coasters, however, in scale. They don't soar into the sky, like those found in urban amusement parks. Also different from roller coasters, riders can control the speed.

Other U.S. ski areas have installed such coasters on private land. New federal authority permits them on federal lands used by ski areas. The first rollout of an alpine coaster on federal land will occur sometime in June on Vail Mountain. Breckenridge will get the same thing next year along with ropes courses, zip lines and other activities.

At Steamboat, the alpine coaster would be located on private land. The application submitted to city officials says the ride would be between one and nine metres above the ground, up to 1,200 metres long, with a total vertical of 120 to 150 vertical metres on the mountain. In other words, there will be a lot of curves on the descent. It is to operate in both rain and snow.

Not everybody is supportive. In a letter published in Steamboat Today, Alissa Merage said an alpine coaster does not belong at the base of the ski area.

"No mountain with the ambiance of Steamboat is installing an alpine coaster front and center in its main village area," she wrote.

Vail Mountain's alpine coaster will be near the top of the ski mountain. "You don't see any coaster rides infringing upon Jackson Hole's majestic mountain base," she added, although a "Cowboy Coaster" did open last October at Snow King Mountain, the smaller in-town ski resort in Jackson. "And I'm guessing that beautiful Deer Valley wasn't about to give the thumbs up to such a project, but the local in-town Park City mountain added it as an attraction," she said.

The coasters at Park City and Jackson's Snow King are both located on private land.

She concluded that a roller coaster at the Steamboat ski area would be "comparable to putting a Ferris wheel next to Banff's Lake Louise. There are very few pristine and glorious settings left in the world. Let's preserve our local treasure."

Do farmers' markets cut into shop business?

BANFF, Alberta — Town officials in Banff are considering capping the number of festivals and special events. Farmers' markets seem to be a focus of concern.

One of the concerns, as explained to the Rocky Mountain Outlook by a town councillor, is the siphoning of tourist dollars from merchants who pay rent and taxes for prime locations.

"If you spend $100 at the markets, you're not going to spend it on Banff Avenue," said Councillor Ted Christensen. "That's going to take away from discretionary spending from our established businesses in town."

Others on the council don't see farmers' markets as a threat.

"I do believe farmers' markets are an opportunity for people to seek new ideas with lower risk. Is that a good thing? Is that unfair to people who pay higher rents in a commercial landscape? Maybe," said Stavros Karlos, another councillor — who also happens to be a merchant himself.

"I don't for a second think that these market vendors are somehow making a killing or destroying retail enterprises within the community. I don't see anybody buying a Mercedes by running a farmers' market. I think it's a lot of hard work and their margins are slim."

Another councillor, also a Banff merchant, said he had had concerns about a farmers' market that was planned near his coffee shop. In fact, he said, it had a negligible impact. That said, he does understand why grocers would be concerned.

Goods sold in Banff's farmers' markets must be produced or grown in Alberta by the seller or immediate family member, or by a member of a producer-owned cooperative. A proposed change would require the goods come from within 500 kilometres of Banff. That would put the fruit-growing regions of British Columbia within reach.

Good year for water

SQUAW VALLEY, Nevada — Skis and snowboards were amply evident last week at Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl and other ski areas along the crest of the Sierra Nevada. Unlike last year at this time, ski season continues for resorts in the Tahoe Basin.

It's been a good year for water, too, especially after two years of drought and dust.

When it snows in the Sierra Nevada, it can fall heavily and fast. Resorts in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming can brag about powder. In the Tahoe Basin, elevations are lower, the ocean that much closer, and the snow more akin to cement than champagne.

You can see the difference in Truckee, which has an elevation of 1,767 metres, or about the same as Glenwood Springs, Colo. Truckee was born as a railroad stop along the transcontinental railroad line completed in 1869. Union Pacific freight trains still rumble through the middle of town about two-dozen times a day as do a couple of Amtrak passenger trains.

In the wake of nearby Squaw Valley hosting the Olympics in 1960, Truckee changed. New ski areas were opened. About the same time, Interstate 80 opened, putting Sacramento within a 90-minute drive and San Francisco another hour away.

Today, Truckee is a sprawling mountain town of 16,000 people, four downhill ski areas within a 10- or 15-minute drive and Lake Tahoe itself not much farther. Snow was mostly gone last week from downtown Truckee, but conspicuous were the overhangs shielding the front doors of stores and restaurants across from the former train station. New Orleans has such overhangs, because of the heavy downpours, and Tucson because of the searing sun. Presumably, in Truckee, the overhangs protect shoppers from the dumping snow.

Truckee has no easy comparisons among other ski towns. It's a bit like the lake-front Idaho resort town of McCall, which has two ski areas nearby. It has some parallels with Frisco, in Colorado's Summit County. Locals think their vibe is similar to that of Utah's Park City.

In a similar way, there are no easy comparisons to the Truckee River. It originates above South Lake Tahoe, not far from the Heavenly Ski Area, and then flows into Lake Tahoe. It doesn't leave quickly. The lake is giant. It takes three hours to drive around it on spectacular, two-lane roads with hairpin turns and 10 mph speed limits. The lake is also 500 metres deep.

That depth and circumference together mean that Tahoe has a huge amount of water. Scientists have calculated that water entering the lake stays there an average 700 years. In other words, water now leaving the lake arrived there about the time that Marco Polo was hoofing his way back to Italy after his adventures in China.

Water doesn't always leave Lake Tahoe, though. Last year, in drought, whatever water entered the lake was lost to evaporation. In big water years, though, the lake overpours into the next segment of the Truckee River. It wasn't doing that yet last week.

Still, even without water from Lake Tahoe, melting snow at Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley help create a rushing, even roaring river that soon rushes through the town of Truckee and then down toward Reno, 53 kilometres away.

Most rivers empty into oceans. But the Truckee is an oddity in that it pours into Pyramid Lake, located about a half-hour northeast of Reno. The lake, located on the Paiute Reservation, is also deep — more than 90 metres — and almost as big as Tahoe. Everything about it feels entirely different from Squaw Valley, located not much more than an hour away.

Warnings but no fines for emissions

PARK CITY, Utah — Since 2010 Park City has prohibited leaving a car idling for more than a minute when it is parked, such as when waiting for someone. The law was adopted in an attempt to reduce air pollution and to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Police told The Park Record that they gave out several dozen warnings this past winter, but no tickets. A driver must receive three warnings before being ticketed. Delivery and taxi drivers were among those getting the warnings.

Plan is to clean up old mines

SILVERTON, Colo. — Close to Telluride, if many highway kilometres away, the abandoned mines around Silverton continue to pollute the Animas River. Most infamously, 11 million litres of water laced with cadmium, arsenic, copper, and other substances surged out of the Gold King Mine last August and turned the Animas River orange for a few days.

Chastened by what had happened, local officials have finally agreed to a Superfund listing. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sent a letter to federal officials in February backing the designation at Silverton.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency has formally proposed a Superfund listing. The listing, explained the Denver Post, would add 58 mining sites to the National Priorities List.

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