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Mountain News




JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Unlike in the city newspapers, sometimes "everybody survived" stories make the big headlines in ski town newspapers. Such was the case in Jackson Hole after an avalanche near Teton Pass left a backcountry skier buried up to his neck.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide explains that the avalanche took the four skiers, who had a combined 125 years of experience, by surprise. They had seen an avalanche only once before in this particular area. Further, they had evaluated the stability of the slope they were skiing.

However, they had not considered that adjacent slopes might have different snow conditions. The avalanche that occurred was a "sympathetic" release on an adjacent slope – where one man was standing, waiting for the companions.

The individual was carried only 60 feet. While he managed to "swim" to stay afloat, his arm was broken and his shoulder dislocated.

Well-equipped with beacons, shovels, and probes, the group also had extra clothing, a bivy sack, and even thermoses carrying hot tea, all of which were invaluable. The skier who was caught in the slide began to go into shock. Their preparedness may have prevented him from dying of hypothermia.

Still, having lost three skis and a pack in the avalanche, they needed outside aid. Even in the age of cell phones and helicopters, it took several hours.

The moral of the story? Carry a big pack, says one of the skiers, Dave Coon. "Go big, or don’t go." In addition to everything they carried, he wishes he had also carried a GPS computer and a foam pad.

Fate less kind to Laurel Dana

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — The next week, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported an avalanche with an unhappy outcome. Despite some considerable preparation, a backcountry skier, Laurel Dana, died of suffocation.

In addition to carrying beacons, shovels and other gear, members of her party said they had dug a Rusch Block on the face they planned to ski. A Rusch Block is a method of testing slope stability by digging a pit and weighting the snowpack to see whether it will move along a weak layer.

Having satisfied themselves that the 40-degree slope was safe, they began skiing it – although only one at a time. Two were caught up in the avalanche, but only one survived. This was despite all their rescue gear, as well as the efforts of other similarly equipped backcountry skiers in the area. As well, a doctor happened along within an hour.

The slope in question had received almost five feet of snow in the previous week, and that snowpack had been augmented by wind-blown snow on some aspects.

Message not being heard

LOVELAND PASS, Colo. — For all the efforts made to educate backcountry users about the dangers of avalanches, the message is not being broadly heard in Colorado.

A case in point is at Loveland Pass, where highway access is easy but fatal avalanches through the decades have been frequent.

The U.S. Forest Service surveyed 75 people on a recent Saturday, and the agency’s Shelly Grail told the Summit Daily News that only a third had beacons, shovels, or probe poles.

Worse, only one member of a group was equipped in most cases, meaning that this equipment was of little value. For beacons to work, there must be at least two. And probe poles are needed for searches, and shovels are mandatory.

Sun Valley airport penciled in

HAILEY, Idaho — Planners assembling a new airport for the Ketchum-Sun Valley area are penciling in a date: 2017.

The airport that is slowly and contentiously being agreed upon would be located farther down-valley from Ketchum, out of the mountains entirely, and on federal Bureau of Land Management property. Estimated cost is $80 million to $100 million.

The hunt for a new airport began after Federal Aviation Administration officials told locals that the current airport, located in Hailey, about 10 miles down-valley of Ketchum, would be insufficient to handle the larger commercial jets as well as the heavier private jets unless extensively modified. Those modifications would have entailed condemning residential areas in Hailey, something Hailey officials were unwilling to do.

Snowmobilers making enemies

DURANGO, Colo. — Cross-country skiers and snowshoers are getting steadily more cranky about the growing intrusion of noise and smells produced by snowmobiles in the San Juan Mountains.

"We’re not saying that snowmobiles should not have a place on this Earth," Durango resident Hoe Griffith told the Durango Telegraph. "But mixing skiers and snowmobiles is hazardous. These guys move at extremely high speeds and they eat up the last, best powder snow."

Skiers want to expand their donut hole of quiet in an area near the Molas Divide to create a larger sanctuary away from motors. The Forest Service in 2001 banned snowmobilers from 200 acres, but gives snowmobilers continued right to use 7,100 acres in the area of Molas Divide.

Snowmobilers appealed the allocation, but the Durango Herald reports that the 10 th Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the Forest Service decision.

The ruling angered snowmobilers. "I’ll go to my grave thinking that the Forest Service started this on flimsy grounds," said Laura Alsuip, who is with the Silverton Snowmobile Club. She told the Herald that snowmobilers effectively lost 1,800 acres, not the 200 from which they were specifically excluded.

To the north, an Ouray-based group has called for a large swath that encompasses Red Mountain Pass to be similarly protected from motors.

Efforts mounting to aid victims

SNOWMASS, Colo. — Although more subdued than the tsunami and hurricane relief efforts, mountain residents have belatedly been shipping supplies to earthquake victims in Pakistan and Kashmir.

In addition to an effort out of Vail and the Eagle Valley, there is also work in the Roaring Fork Valley. The Aspen Daily News reports that Sallie Shatz is working with others to help organize a clothing drive. A member of Aspen Mountain Rescue, she says that she sees the work in Pakistan being an extension of the work she does in Aspen.

"There are people in the mountains, and they're in trouble," she said.

In November, 4.4 tons of clothing went out from the Roaring Fork Valley, including 65 boxes sent by Obermeyer, the clothing manufacturer, plus contributions from the Aspen Skiing Co. and a mammoth clothing drive by a local private school, Colorado Rocky Mountain School.

"We went into their (Obermeyer's) warehouse and they were just taking clothes off the racks and dumping them into boxes," Shatz told the Daily News.

The latest supplies were rounded up by students at Basalt High School. Other schools throughout the valley are also becoming involved. Shatz said fund-raisers have brought in some $80,000.

Clock ticking for smokers

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — The clock is ticking for smoking on lifts as well as in most lift lines and other public places in unincorporated Eagle County.

As per the wishes of 72 per cent of voters last November, Eagle County is banning smoking effective March. That includes Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek, although not within Vail and other towns. The new law bans smoking from within 25 feet of restaurant patios, skate parks, and other such areas, explains the Vail Daily. However, 10 per cent of hotel rooms are exempted.

Avon has followed the county’s lead, although Eagle will not. Vail has not indicated which way it will go.

Sheriff Joy Hoy said enforcement will be a low priority, but the experience in adjacent Summit County, which took the same action two years ago, is that the law is largely self-enforcing. "Most of the enforcement is done by patrons of bars and restaurants, not the authorities," said Don Parsons of Smoke Free Summit County.

Revelstoke real estate coming

REVELSTOKE, B.C. — While there seems to be some debate about how fast to begin the residential component of the new Revelstoke Mountain Resort, current plans call for pre-selling the lots this coming fall. Delivery to buyers would come later, in fall 2007.

The Revelstoke Times Review, after meeting with development partners Robert Powadikuk and Hunter Milbourn, also reports plans for a great deal of underground parking.

The hard choices for a parent

WINTER PARK, Colo. — Among the many decisions faced by parents in snow country is how should their first-born be allowed to learn to slide on snow.

For the 4-year-old son of Patrick Brower, publisher of the Winter Park Manifest, snowmobiling is out of the question. And it’s not really a matter of skis vs. snowboards. That juncture comes later.

You might think that leaves cross-country skis. But then you‘re probably not a cross-country skier. Daddy Patrick explains that the anguished choices are the diagonal stride, his first love, and skate skiing. Son Sebastian will be striding first.

Brower has no illusions about the long term.

"I fear that once he’s exposed to alpine skiing – whether on skis or a snowboard – he’ll never want to cross-country ski again, because the thrill of careening downhill at extremely high speeds, frequently out of control, in the midst of trees and other out-of-control kids, its tough to match on cross-country skis," he says, adding wryly: "Although I’ve done it."

Panty tree down

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — A panty tree at the June Mountain ski area was cut down last summer. The tree was thick with unmentionables, explains The Sheet, including coconut bras and granny panties. Carl Williams, the general manager of the ski hill, said the tree was too difficult to clean. "That underwear was faded, ugly and old."

Will another panty tree at June Creek be allowed to bloom? "As long as we can keep it clean," Williams replied briefly.

Forest fire danger continues

DURANGO, Colo. — In the summer of 2002, the Missionary Ridge Fire burned more than 70,000 acres, although leaving most of the trees standing.

While some of those trees have already fallen over, notes the Durango Herald, the most perilous times lie ahead. Research conducted by the U.S. Forest Service in the Northern Rockies found that ponderosa pines fall in increasing frequency four to five years after a forest fire. That means this year and next years are the most perilous for motorists using county roads, as well as hikers, hunters, and others who use the burned area.

Traders want band width

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — A sort of Field of Dreams story is being reported by the Crested Butte News. There, in Gunnison County, elected officials are being lobbied to push expansion of the Internet infrastructure into sparsely settled parts of the county.

The improved Internet infrastructure, explains the Crested Butte News, would expedite development of home-based businesses.

High-speed broadband is currently provided to Gunnison, Crested Butte, and Mt. Crested Butte, as well as some peripheral areas.

However, many more isolated outposts do not have broadband. Plus, some in the Crested Butte area hope for a fibre-optic line. Among them is Mark Giganti, who is based in Chicago but would prefer to operate his small trading company in the slope-side town of Mt. Crested Butte.

"There are a lot of companies like mine that would move here if the services were available," he says. "Everybody in trading is trying to move to these smaller communities, and they are all having the same problems I am."

Added Giganti: "You can’t come in here and just start a business like mine right now. But it seems to me that if you build it, they will come."

For that matter, Crested Butte is already thick with part-time people interested in trading, computers and other businesses dependent upon good, Internet access. "I know, because I meet them all on the plane, commuting to other locations," he said.

Jason Swensen, a representative of Internet Colorado, a service provider, is calling for the county to seek economic-development grants. He estimated the cost of installing a fibre-optic line to Crested Butte at $300,000 to $500,000. Jon DeVore, the county manager, suggests the fibre-optic line should be publicly owned.

CB fights moly mine

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Activists and local governments continue to fight the transfer of public land near Crested Butte for what could eventually be a large molybdenum mine.

Two years ago the federal government transferred 155 acres on Mt. Emmons to a mining company, Phelps Dodge. Crested Butte, the town, as well as Gunnison County and an environmental group, High Country Citizens Alliance, argued that the transfer was illegal, but a U.S. District Court judge ruled a year ago against the locals.

The locals have appealed that decision to the U.S. 10 th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that third parties that are affected by privatization of the land under the 1872 Mining Act should be able to sue. Kevin Flynn, an attorney for the Western Mining Project, calls it a potentially precedent-setting case.

Crested Butte has been fighting the proposed molybdenum mine since the 1970s. Molybdenum mining in the United States tanked in 1981, forcing the closure of the Climax Mine between Leadville and Copper Mountain. However, partly in response to the rapid expansion of the Chinese and Indian economies, the world price of molybdenum has been soaring. There is widespread speculation that the Climax Mine will reopen.

Eagle objects to gated project

EAGLE, Colo. — When the Kobe Bryant case erupted in 2003, reporters for several big-city newspapers who toured Eagle for about 10 minutes proclaimed it a "tiny, working-class town."

Tiny is relative, of course. Eagle has a population of 5,000.

Working class is also relative. Eagle may be home to plumbers, carpenters, and others, but it’s hard to call a place that is thick with $500,000 homes "working-class" without using an asterisk.

Still, the town long ago stamped its foot and said it wasn’t going to be a place with gated communities and trophy homes used by mostly absentee owners.

The latest story proposal comes from a familiar source, hotel and hospital building magnate Fred Kummer, who for decades envisioned a ski area south of Eagle called Adam’s Rib. While he abandoned the ski area in 1997, he retains hope of a high-end gated community.

However, Eagle County planners, bolstered by objections from Eagle, torpedoed this latest proposal. Planners objected to the septic tanks proposed for the 114 homes, impacts to elk habitat, and the number of long, dead-end roads. As well, it amounts to leap-frog development.

December bus ridership spikes

ASPEN, Colo. — Ridership on the Roaring Fork Transit Authority buses between Aspen and its down-valley suburbs of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs was up 6 per cent last year.

But most notable was the 20 per cent increase in December, a spike that bus officials attributed to higher gas prices, many snowy days, and higher employment levels.

That December spurt is seen with ambivalence, however. Many riders were forced to stand in the aisles for the usually torturously congested journey into Aspen. To keep them as bus patrons, say transportation officials, they need to find seats for them – and that means more buses. Transportation officials are not sure how rapidly they can respond, reports The Aspen Times.

Major medical campus coming

FRISCO, Colo. — Summit County has a new hospital. By the end of summer, it will also have a $10 million medical office building.

This new building will be a public-private partnership, explains the Summit Daily News. County taxpayers are paying for almost half. In their space will go detox, mental health, and indigent care, plus a hospice. The other half is being paid for by various groups of doctors. Both components have much room for expansion.

Wind power studied

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Power lines arrived at Hastings Mesa, above Telluride, in 2004. Now, testing is being done to determine whether the winds are sufficient to produce steady electricity. Involved in the project is the local San Miguel Power Association.

The Denver Post notes that when the power lines were installed, some of the back-to-the-land locals on the mesa feared it would bring light pollution and ostentatious houses.

Also involved in the testing is the state government’s energy office, which also has wind-testing devices in various locations around Colorado, mostly on the eastern plains.

Whitefish playing catch-up

WHITEFISH, Mont. —Whitefish, located at the base of the Big Mountain Ski Resort and near the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park, is among the fastest growing cities in Montana. Still, until last year, it had no full-time planning department. As such, the town feels like it is playing catch-up.

Still, the town council recently rejected adopting a moratorium on new development applications. Among the criticisms of a moratorium, reports the Whitefish Pilot, is that it would make housing unaffordable.

Lots of new Olivias and Jonathans

STEAMBOAT SPIRNGS, Colo. — Olivias and Jonathans were the top names chosen for newborns last year at Steamboat Springs’ Yampa Valley Medical Center.

"J" names were popular for boys in general. After Jonathan the popular names were Joshua, Jeremiah, and Jesse. For girls, "A" names such as Alexis, Andrea, and Arianna were popular.

As well, reports The Steamboat Pilot, Western-inspired names were popular: Aspen, Cody, and Dakota, as well as Hac, Shane, and Weston.

Cougars reported in Lake Tahoe

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A somewhat surprising number of mountain lion sightings have been reported in the area of Incline Village, one of the resort communities at Lake Tahoe. Usually, mountain lions follow deer herds, which means they should be elsewhere, notes the Nevada Bonanza.