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Mountain News: Old-timers help defeat plans for new ski lifts

Compiled by Allen Best

VAIL, Colo. — At least for a while, Vail’s famous Back Bowls will be spared the more-and-faster routine that some think improve the snow-riding experience. Bowing to public opinion, Vail Resorts has shelved a proposal to increase its uphill lift capacity.

A vast area, Vail’s original Back Bowls is served only by one ski lift, an aging three-seater that is clogged by lift lines of up to 45 minutes on powder days. The ski company talked of replacing this old lift with two detachable quads, in effect nearly quadrupling uphill capacity.

But despite popular sentiment for at least some more-and-faster changes, the sentiments of a few old Vail hands seem to have tipped the scale. "If you increase the number of high-speed lifts in this area, this very special area will be skied out in one hour," wrote Pep Gramshammer, 71, a former Austrian ski champion who was among Vail’s first hoteliers.

A former mayor, Kent Rose, had similar comments protesting changes that would have shortened the already ephemeral but pure powder skiing experience. Instead, the change would bring on more "snowmaking, groomed slopes, hardpack and moguls," he said.

Vail Resorts officials indicated they may yet replace the triple with a high-speed quad, but when the triple needs substantial repairs.

Aspen trying Jackson Hole trick for open space bucks

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen is now borrowing from Jackson Hole in trying to raise money for open space preservation. The idea is to get local lodges to tack on a $2 fee per night. They did this by putting oversized postcards of imposing mountain scenes into hotel rooms, and on the back information that $2 per night had been added to the bill as a way to contribute to the Jackson Hole Land Trust. In four years the program raised $150,000.

In the Roaring Fork Valley, the Aspen Valley Land Trust wants to recruit properties that would be willing to add a similar, optional fee onto the price of a room. The idea is also that this feel-good program leads to additional contributions, explains The Aspen Times.

Air is mandatory at new Snowmass area

SNOWMASS, Colo. — A new 35-acre section of cliffs and glades at Snowmass is X-rated. "These sections have mandatory air – your feet are going to come off the ground. There’s no easy way down," explained John Brennan, Snowmass snow safety specialist.

The Aspen Times says that although free riders have been finding cliffs to huck, i.e. jump, down for several years, this is the first time any of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s four mountains have opened sections exclusively for those of the extreme set. Even so, the section will be opened only after storms and only on guided tours.

The idea was triggered by the unexpected success of the Colorado Free Ride Series at Snowmass. "It surprised me that so many people were into that kind of stuff," said Doug Mackenzie, general manger at Snowmass.

Real estate continues to surge in Vail area

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — The real estate economy during November showed the fourth consecutive month of recovery in Eagle County. Of particular note was a flurry of sales in homes of $1 million and more, the sector with more than 60 per cent of the dollar volume, notes the Vail Daily.

However, year-to-date sales of $1.2 billion still lagged substantially behind the $1.7 billion in the record year of 2000.

Forests being thinned after beetle epidemic

KETCHUM, Idaho — Plans are being made to thin almost 25,000 acres of forests near Sun Valley where pine bark beetles are in epidemic stage. The goal is to reduce fire danger near homes and public recreation areas.

As well, foresters intend to douse pesticides on some trees already infested with beetles, to kill the beetles and hence prevent them from then moving on to other trees, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

Yellowstone snowmobile outfitters deeply distressed

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — Snowmobile outfitters on the periphery of Yellowstone National Park were reporting deep financial distress in the wake of a federal court ruling that limits the number of snowmobiles inside the park.

Illustrating the effect is the story of Jackson Hole Snowmobile Tours. The company had had 80 permits. Then, under the Clinton administration, the National Park Service had planed to allow only 15 permits. When George W. Bush became president, the number was increased to 35. Now, it’s back to 15.

What that means, office manager Stacey Chapman told the Jackson Hole News & Guide, is that the company now has 22 "useless" four-stroke snowmobiles on its hands. The machines, she said, are too heavy to perform well in national forest terrain, where the company also runs tours. They are suited for the groomed trails on roads in Yellowstone.

The four-stroke engines, which are quieter and cause less air pollution, cost $6,000 each, compared to $3,300 for two-stroke engines. Ironically, the Clinton administration plan, now once again in effect, had not required the newer and more costly four-stroke engines.

Another snowmobile operator, Old Faithful Snowmobile Tours, has spent $123,000 to purchase 21 four-stroke snowmobiles, an investment he could only recoup by operating under permit numbers approved by the Bush plan.

Tour operators can shift people out of the park and onto the national forest, but people are disappointed that they can’t go to Yellowstone.

Some visitors are confused and angry about this year’s reductions and next year’s ban. Only snowcoaches will be allowed. Why are snowmobiles being banned when cars are allowed in summer, they ask?

A park ranger tried to explain to them that animals are more "yarded up" in the winter on smaller winter ranges, and groomed trails cut through those areas, giving wildlife no way to avoid contact.

Politician objects to ski area report card

TELLURIDE, Colo. — So, if a ski area screws up, how long should it have to pay for its sins?

That’s the fundamental issue in Telluride, and perhaps Vail and elsewhere, in the matter of an environmental report card for ski areas issued by the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition. The coalition believes in "spare the rod and spoil the ski area," or at least a liberal application of D’s and F’s. Sure to earn bad scores are base-area real estate development or terrain expansions. The coalition argues there is no reason for expansions at destination resorts, where business has been essentially flat.

The cases of Telluride and Vail are similar. Both have done major expansions in the last several years, and both incurred significant fines from federal regulators for incursions into wetlands areas. Partly as a result Vail has received straight F’s in the report card, and Telluride this year got a D.

In the case of Telluride Ski & Golf Co., a local politician is objecting loudly. Art Goodtimes, a San Miguel County commissioner, argues that the report card unfairly judges the Telluride ski area for its past, not for its present actions. "No, they don’t deserve an A yet. Maybe a B- or a C+. But they have shown some real significant improvement," he writes in The Telluride Watch.

"So let’s give credit where credit’s due. Telski is trying harder," says Goodtimes, a Green Party member who is usually trying to build coalitions. "All told, a fair Environmental Report Card would take some note of the improved conditions – if the evaluators were truly measuring the dynamic nature of the industry, and not just damning ski areas for their past sins."

Cold weather isn’t what causes the common cold

THE WEST — People think of mountains, they think of snow. They think of snow, they think of winter. They think of winter, they think of getting colds.

Ergo, do mountains equal sniffles?

Not exactly. Chilly temperatures have nothing to do with respiratory viral ailments, say scientists. Anybody who spends lots of time in the outdoors probably knows this. But why do we more commonly have colds in winter?

The theory most widely accepted by disease trackers, reports The Boston Globe, is that because cold weather keeps most people inside more, cold viruses find fertile ground in places such as schools, day-care centres, even holiday parties. Kids are particularly good at this transmission, and then they take the viruses home to mom and dad, who then take them to work.

Counter-intuitively, a backcountry ski guide is the least likely person to be hacking.

Heavenly off-roader gets 3 months in county clink

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A 21-year-old who got his Toyota pickup stuck in what the Tahoe Daily Tribune describes as a stream environmental zone at Heavenly Mountain Resort last summer has been sentenced to three months in jail. In addition, he has been ordered to pay Heavenly $6,366 in restitution for the damage.

The man was apprehended by ski area officials when he was using his Isuzu Rodeo to fish his pickup out of the stream.

Architects win awards for unused housing design

ASPEN, Colo. — You’ve no doubt heard the expression that no man is a prophet in his own land. That seems to be the story in Aspen, where Studio B Architects proposed a design for a 39-unit affordable housing project. The city council chose the design by another architectural firm, but Studio B’s design won three architectural design awards, including the top award from the American Institute of Architects.

Studio B’s design emphasized affordability by minimizing disturbance of the sagebrush environment through low-excavation costs, reported The Aspen Times, while focusing on "livability" by providing each unit with at least one opening onto a rooftop garden, terrace, or courtyard.

Man dies of cocaine overdose in Jackson

JACKSON, Wyo. — A 25-year-old man died of what authorities said was a cocaine overdose. The Jackson Hole News & Guide says that police believe the victim, Enrique Sanchez Morales, of Mexico, was not a dealer, and that the cocaine found at the scene was intended for his own use.

Get graffiti off walls quick, or it’ll return

CANMORE, Alberta — Some of it is art, but when painting on walls is done without permission it is always graffiti. And to prevent graffiti from spreading, police say get rid of it as soon as you find it.

At Banff, that’s the policy, and it has been working. "If you can remove the graffiti within 72 hours it may stay down," said Calgary’s Police Sgt. Marcel Duboise, a street crimes investigator. "If you allow it to remain for longer than 72 hours, it’s going to come back – guaranteed," he told a recent seminar of municipal officials.

He said 70 to 80 per cent of all graffiti is "tags," stylized identifications of an artist or artists, or cryptic messages between artists. But some is more, he said. "I don’t hate graffiti – I have a strong liking for a lot of the artistic skill I see. But my job is to control it. Maybe if more of the graffiti was artistic it would be more socially acceptable."

While graffiti has proliferated among skateboarders and hip-hop aficionados, thanks largely to MTV and VH1 videos, most people associate it with gangs and violence. Once graffiti is established in a neighbourhood, housing prices start to fall because people assume there’s crime in the area. But in fact, says Duboise, only 7 per cent of graffiti is gang related. Some graffiti artists are in their 40s, and some are professionals and students who are addicted to the adrenaline rush of doing something surreptitious in the dead of night.

Healthy Forest Initiative wrong solution to fires

PARK, CITY, Utah — Congress has now passed the Healthy Forest Initiative, which is supposed to manage national forests to reduce potential of catastrophic fires. But several environmental organizations insist that even after compromises it remains the wrong solution.

For example, the California fires this past fall were cited by some Congressional advocates as a good argument for the law. But Matthew Kohler of the Native Forest Network writes that the majority of the California fires burned on private lands, and more than 90 per cent of the land was chaparral and brush, not forests that can be trimmed back by commercial loggers.

Writing in The Park Record, Koehler argues that there is no proof that the logging contemplated by the new law will reduce fire threat, and some evidence suggests that it will increase fire potential. This latter, counterintuitive argument is that commercial logging, by focusing on larger diameter trees, does not remove the ladder fuels that contribute to fire spread.

New device boosts odds of surviving avalanche

JACKSON HOLE, WYO. — For avid backcountry skiers of the steep and deep, yet another product is being introduced to improve the odds of surviving an avalanche.

Dynafit, a German company, is distributing something through Life-Link called the Airbag Backpack System. When a trigger handle is pulled, the safety pack is designed to inflate two-75-liter air bags within 2.5 seconds, helping the victim float to the surface. Although the design is 12 years old, it hasn’t caught on in the United States. Even so, the system has saved a documented 30 lives in Europe, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

Casinos beginning to cater to non-smokers

STATELINE, Nev. — Smoke-free rooms are showing up left and right at casinos in Stateline, just south of Incline Village in the Lake Tahoe area.

One casino opened a 40-seat poker room near the hotel lobby in July, and the poker room manager reports that even many smokers welcome the change. Smoking, explained the manager, Jim Arnold, "creates tension among the players" when they are close to one another. One casino representative said a majority of players from California have become culturalized to smoking bans. Another small casino, instead of dividing up the space, has installed a $100,000 air-filtering system that removes 85 per cent of smoke from the air.

Truckee officials vexed about gated community

TRUCKEE, Calf. — Town officials in Truckee were reported to be vexed by a proposal being entertained by public officials for a gated community in a nearby but unincorporated area.

The project, called Siller Ranch, would have 700 residential units, two golf courses, even a 500-seat amphitheatre, all of it behind gates. Town officials object that there is too much density, and that the project would create heavy impacts upon the town. In particular, they object to the lack of affordable housing. In Placer County, where the proposal is being entertained, public officials said that it’s still early, and that affordable housing requirements are yet to be worked out, reports the Sierra Sun.