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Mountain News: Wyoming sees surge in Chinese visitors



JACKSON, Wyo. — It sounds like there will be a premium for tourism workers in Jackson Hole who know a little Mandarin Chinese. An estimated 300,000 Chinese passed through Jackson last year, and by one unverified estimate, this year the total grew to 500,000. The valley altogether has four- to five-million annual visitors.

The News&Guide talked with downtown merchants in Jackson who testified to the uptick in Chinese visitors drawn to see two of America's iconic national parks, Teton and Yellowstone. Nearly every group had at least one English speaker, but there are customs to learn.

"You don't put them on the garden floor," said Heather Falk, director of sales and marketing at the Lexington Hotel and Suites. "The guide and drivers go down below the paying guests, and you need extra hot water in the lobby and at breakfast."

A gallery operator in Jackson said Chinese tourists accounted for up to a quarter of his summer sales this year.

A restaurant owner, a former Marine who had served in Asia, said he has the menus for his six restaurants translated into Mandarin. "It makes them feel welcome," said Joe Rice. "To see something familiar, that makes them feel like, 'they want us to be here.'"

Unlike American visitors, who tend to hug the peak seasons because of school schedules, the Chinese have filled in the shoulder season of fall.

And what's next? Boosters of Chinese tourism who work out of Jackson Hole point to a potential for winter tourism.

Real estate agent Bruce Simon, who has spent a lot of time in China, points out that the number of skiers in China has exploded from perhaps 10,000 a decade ago to 10 million. And, the News&Guide pointed out, China has won the 2022 Winter Olympics bid.

"California is seeing them," Simon said of Chinese skiers. He also said some larger Rocky Mountain resorts have begun advertising in rental shops in China.

Might aspen trees soon be gone?

ASPEN, Colo. — Might the day come that Aspen will be without aspen trees?

A website called, which was created in partnership between the University of Arizona and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, can be viewed to see vegetative changes in the United States west of the 100th meridian as temperatures rise.

If greenhouse gases can be curtailed, warming at Aspen might be limited to three degrees Fahrenheit by 2080. But if the planet continues on its current path, Aspen's average temperature could rise eight to 10 degrees by 2080, explained The Aspen Times.

In this worst-case scenario, aspen trees could be gone from within the city of Aspen in just 15 years.

Debating energy goals for 2050

PARK CITY, Utah — Park City's elected municipal officials recently reviewed three broad scenarios in looking at 2050 to reduce greenhouse gases from the community. City staffers said that the most ambitious goals might be difficult to achieve and expensive, but several councillors said they wanted to pursue an aggressive plan, reported The Park Record.

Strong U.S. dollar a mixed bag

AVON, Colo. — A strong U.S. dollar means exactly what for tourism this winter at Vail and Beaver Creek? The answer, the Vail Daily learned, is that it depends.

Kelly Ladyga, speaking for Vail Resorts, told the newspaper that the higher-spending customers targeted by the company "tend to be more insulated from fluctuations in currency exchange rates."

But yes, there has been "sluggishness" in reservations from Canada and Great Britain. The U.S. dollar has been particularly strong against their currencies.

On the other hand, Vail Resorts expects those declines to be more than offset by gains from Mexico, Australia, and the domestic U.S. market.

Ralf Garrison, the principal owner of Destimetrics, a research and consulting firm, told the newspaper that Vail, Aspen, and other high-end resorts "tend to fly above the storm clouds" of currency fluctuations.

Being gay, as a ski racer and as a mayor

TELLURIDE, Colo. — In late October, Olympic freestyle skiing medallist Gus Kenworthy announced, both on his Facebook page and in a major story in ESPN: The Magazine, that he is gay.

Last week, in Telluride, where Kenworthy grew up, townspeople elected a new mayor, Sean Murphy, a gallery owner. Murphy is also gay and proudly proclaimed so in a speech on the town's main street after learning that he had won. In the speech, he lauded Kenworthy's announcement before making remarks about the meaning of his own victory.

"The torch has been passed to a new generation," said Murphy, a former lawyer in New York City. "It's a generation that cares less about skin colour and sexual orientation than it does about what talents each of us brings to the table and how everyone can collaborate to solve problems." The speech was excerpted by the Telluride Daily Planet.

But does the younger generation actually care less about sexual orientation? For all its emphasis on being alternative, the action sports world doesn't reward non-conformity, the ESPN article says. Kenworthy was anguished even as he became an international skiing star, because of the pressures to make him something different than who he was.

"In skiing, there's such an alpha male thing about pulling the hottest chicks," Kenworthy told ESPN. "I know hooking up with hot girls doesn't sound like the worst thing in the world. But I literally would sleep with a girl and then cry about it afterward. I'm like, 'What am I doing? I don't know what I'm doing.'"

A bear-eat-bear world

BANFF, Alberta — It's a grisly, grizzly-eat-grizzly world. Officials in Banff National Park say they have firm evidence that a large grizzly male ate a smaller male grizzly bear. They think, but don't know for sure, that the larger bear also killed the smaller bear.

They could confirm the identity of the smaller bear because of the skull found at the site. The smaller bear had a distinctive dental pattern. It had been radio-collared for a study in Banff, as had the larger bear.

The larger bear weighs 225 kilograms and the smaller bear 90 kilograms (500 pounds vs. 200 pounds).

"We know that large grizzly bears will certainly take advantage of any food source they can, including young grizzly bears, older grizzly bears, black bears and the more typical ungulate prey species," said Steve Michel, of Parks Canada.

About a decade ago, noted the Rocky Mountain Outlook, a large male grizzly killed a couple of female grizzly bears in the Lake Louise area.

Ski area sold for less than price of a house

FAIRFIELD, Idaho — Want to buy a ski area? Check Facebook.

That, at least, is how Matt and Diane McFerran, a couple from Bend, Ore., came to own the Soldier Mountain Ski Area, which is located 105 kilometres from Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Owned by the actor Bruce Willis from 1996 to 2012, Soldier Mountain has two chairlifts and 427 vertical metres. It serves mostly local farm families.

The McFerrans, who are in their late 30s, tell the Bend Bulletin that owning a ski area was a retirement dream, but this opportunity was too good to pass up.

Willis donated the ski area to a non-profit founded to manage the property. After trying a more conventional approach to sell the property, a real estate broker, the foundation used Facebook. Within three days, more than 2,000 inquiries had been made.

Ski town newspaper scoffs at Obama plan

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Can a ski town also be a coal town? They don't usually come together, but they do in Steamboat Springs, a place that calls itself Ski Town USA.

Steamboat can best be understood as an island in a valley that has three coal mines, two power plants, and a railroad that hauls coal to distant markets. If you see no evidence of coal within Steamboat itself, you don't have to study the Routt County property tax base very far to find a major coal-mining company, Peabody.

Coal companies, of course, don't like the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan, and neither does the Steamboat Pilot & Today. The newspaper, in an editorial on Halloween, said the "cost is too great, the rewards are too few, and there's a very real chance the action may not even be legal."

The latter echoed the argument of Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican who has sided with attorney generals in 25 other states in seeking to overturn the Obama administration's effort to shift electrical production from carbon-intensive fuels. They claim that the plan exceeds permitted authority in the Clean Air Act.

The Steamboat newspaper went beyond the legal question and essentially echoed the coal industry. It cited an argument that boosting renewables will "amount to a quadrupling of consumer energy costs through the next 15 years, in many cases..."

The newspaper added that the "benefits of implementing the Clean Power Plan are miniscule, at best," in terms of reducing the rise in global temperatures. As such, said the newspaper, the principal value of the plan is to "set an example for the world and hope the world follows."

Not good enough, said the newspaper, to justify the cost.

There has been some pushback from the community. Sarah Jones, who directs the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, identified a whole host of reasons why the local coal mines have not been dong so well. Rather than fight the Clean Power Plan, she wrote in a letter published in Steamboat Today, the better question is how to prepare for an economy that is less dependent on coal production.