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Direct flights not just for tourists

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JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — While the direct flight programs in resort towns of the West are strongest during ski season, a real estate insert in the Jackson Hole News & Guide also makes clear that it’s not just tourists who use the jets. Reliable, year-round air service is also crucial to selling homes.

"Truly, you can make the case that from a homebuyer’s standpoint, this is a big selling point," says Mike Gierau, chairman of JH Air, a not-for-profit that uses subsidies to nurture and sustain Jackson Hole’s air service. The subsidy is currently $1.06 million.

A central goal of the program has been to boost year-round activity. "Two years ago, most airlines stopped coming after Labour Day," Gierau says. "Each day past Sept. 15 helps visitors, but it really helps the locals. There’s not a large visitor rush in November, but it’s the time a lot of locals go on vacation. Second-home owners and other local folks now have more choices."

Town of Jackson, Teton County and Wyoming state governments all chip in on the subsidies, but three-quarters of the money comes from businesses. Those businesses include the three ski resorts in and near Jackson Hole and the central reservations agency, but also realty agencies. Sotheby’s International Realty chipped in more than $30,000.

January flights lose money

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Crested Butte this winter substantially increased the number of airplane seats available into the resort-area airport, and through December the gamble paid off. The jets were 86 per cent booked.

But January is another matter. It always is. "We will lose money in January," air consultant Kent Myers recently told transportation board members in the Gunnison-Crested Butte area. "It’s just a matter of how much we’ll lose."

Low bookings last year cost the tax-supported agency $500,000 in January to the airlines, which require revenue guarantees. Myers acknowledged it could lose $600,000 this year.

To minimize the losses going into March, Crested Butte will be offering package deals that start at $169 a day. That cost includes lift tickets, lodging, airfare, and airport shuttles, according to the Crested Butte News.

Odds getting better for single men

VAIL, Colo. — Everybody knows how bad the odds are for single guys in ski towns, right? But as baby boomers hit 60, the dynamic is starting to change. Ski towns are full of single women – although not exactly young things.

"There are a lot of older, single women up here, I’ve heard," said Mary Jane Sloat, 62, who moved to Avon last year to be near her daughter. She said she retired early because she wanted to live in the mountains while she’s still vigorous.

The Vail Daily says the seniors in Eagle Valley can be divided into two types, those who get together for lunches and light activities, and other more active groups who are out snowshoeing and doing pilates.

Eagle County is adding a new staff member who is to work with seniors, disabled adults and caregivers. It’s part of a rapid expansion in the outlay for welfare programs in the fast-growing county.

Stop griping about retail sector

KETCHUM, Idaho — Ketchum, like so many resort towns, has been changing into something else, where tourism is less important, and the town is more of a full-time home for many.

While there has been much fretting about this erosion of the retail shops that cater to tourists, Ketchum’s Toni Lash tells the Idaho Mountain Express enough already: "We don’t need more retail until we have more skier days and summer visitors. I think we locals have just about everything we need and/or can afford."

The library is wonderful, the cops are nice, and hospital services are good, she says. Who needs more?

Million dollars the norm

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Sales volume of real estate was down 6 per cent in the Truckee market last year, although home prices continue to escalate. "There are fewer and fewer properties under a million available," said Trinkie Watson, a broker with Chase International. Jean Ludwick, a sales manager, told the Sierra Sun said that million-dollar homes, which used to be the exception, are now verging on the norm.

The price of parking

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Breckenridge at times is a sea of automobiles. Of course, lots of ski towns are. But Breckenridge has the distinction of having no municipal parking structure.

That will change this year as the town spends $1.8 million for a smallish parking garage. Each parking space costs $49,000, reports the Summit Daily News.

Breckenridge had considered a major, central parking structure, similar to Vail’s major garages. Instead, it chose to follow the example of Aspen, where town officials believe visitors prefer more dispersed parking.

Big building numbers

VAIL, Colo. — It shouldn’t have surprised anybody, but the building numbers out of Vail are astounding nonetheless. The town reports issuing $245.5 million in permits last year, a 63 per cent increase over the previous year. This sets a record.

Vail’s base-area redevelopment projects tell most of the story: Arrabelle at Vail Square, valued at $110 million; the Sonnenalp Resort expansion, valued at $20 million; and Gore Creek Place, valued at $50 million.

The development also yielded handsome revenues for the town government, $1.5 million in building permit fees altogether.

This year is likely to be another big year, as three major projects are expected to begin construction: 1) The Ritz-Carlton Residences, 2) Four Seasons, and 3) Vail Resorts’ "Front Door" project. Also, zoning approvals for the redevelopment of the Crossroads Mall and the Roost Lodge are also expected soon, reports Russell Forrest, the town’s director of community development.

Duplexes becoming popular

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Last year was the year of the duplex in Steamboat Springs. The Steamboat Pilot reports permits for 107 duplex units were awarded, compared with 67 units the year before.

At the same time, fewer permits for single-family homes were awarded, reflecting a growing scarcity of vacant lots within Steamboat. Instead, more free-standing homes are now being built in Oak Creek and other outlying communities.

Overall, Steamboat issued permits for $119 million in construction, well below the banner year of 1998, when several major projects, including a large hotel and a hospital, pushed the total to $169 million.

More Vail on reality television

VAIL, Colo. — For reasons not entirely clear, the Eagle Valley seems to have an affinity for reality television.

First, in 2003, there was Ryan Sutter, the football player-turned-Vail firefighter who successfully courted Trista Rehn on national TV. They are now living in Eagle.

Next, in 2004, Raj Bhakta, the managing partner of a lodge in Vail, entered Donald Trump’s boardroom, making it to episode No. 9 before being fired.

Now, reports the Vail Daily, Dr. Travis Stork could be next. Now appearing on "The Bachelor," the 33-year-old doctor is completing his residency in Nashville, but has interviewed for jobs in both Vail and in nearby Frisco.

Too much of a good thing

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — The snow has been so wonderful in some ski towns of the West this winter that it’s becoming a problem.

In Steamboat, for example, city officials plan in terms of "snow events." They figure 25 such "events" a year, but thus year they have had 26. What this means is that they’re out of places to dump the snow.

As of mid-January, 22 feet of snow had fallen this winter in Steamboat. The snowpack is about 135 per cent of average.

City officials were considering hauling the excess snow some miles to an airport, where ample land is available, although the cost of hauling it would mount rapidly.

Big dumps in life are rare

ASPEN, Colo. — Sometimes wonderful snow comes in big dumps, and other times in small increments. This year is of the latter variety in Aspen.

"We've had a lot of snow," veteran weather observer Jim Markalunas told The Aspen Times, "but they've all been small increments, 4, 5 or 6 inches."

Markalunas, who has monitored Aspen’s weather since the mid-1950s, tracks the number of "big dumps," which he defines as anything in excess of 10 inches within 24 hours. By that standard, a three-dump-winter comes along every 20 years in Aspen. He has recorded only one four-dump winter in a half-century, that occurring in 1984.

For the record, Aspen got its first big dump of this winter last week, a snow so light that on the ski hill, the Aspen Skiing Co. reported a 3 per cent precipitation content, compared to the average 7 per cent, according to Mike Kaplan, chief operating officer.

All in all, says Markalunas, "It's the best snow conditions I can remember in one hell of a long time."

Surge in Latino births

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — The number of babies being born in Jackson is increasing sharply, surpassing 400 last year. And, while Caucasian births have remained flat during the last decade, Latino births have increased substantially. In 1990, there were none. Last year, a quarter of all babies were Latino.

"There is not really an increasing birth rate among the Caucasian population," said Vida Day, director of EL Puente, an organization that helps Latinos access health care. "The primary population increase is due to the birth rate among the immigrant population."

Day told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that the first Latinos to move to Jackson Hole worked and sent money to families in Mexico. But, as the men established themselves, their wives relocated and couples started or expanded families, Day said. Also, there are now more single Latina women.

These shifting demographics also portend changing demands for education and medicine, Day said. For example, Teton County School District enrolled the largest kindergarten class in history. Of the kindergarteners, 60 per cent are Caucasian and 27 per cent are Latino.

Peggy Marie Smith, development director for Community Children’s Project, told the newspaper she also detects another demographic shift. Some of the Caucasian births are resulting from couples in their 30s, many of whom are entrepreneurs who moved to Jackson Hole after establishing profitable business, and are now having their second and third children.

Picture a tree or two

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Talk about a shutter-bug. Self-proclaimed tree freak David Gonzales spent a day last May among aspen trees near Kebler Pass, between Crested Butte and Paonia.

By nightfall, he had amassed 1,300 frames and had begun to think of the trees like people. "Their bark kind of looks and even feels like skin," Gonzales said, "and they have these incredible eyes," he told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

He also found some messages that were very much human scrawled into the bark of the aspen trees. His favorite; "Arky Floyd hates Colorado and is going home."

Gonzales is installing 400 of the photographs at a bagel shop in downtown Jackson.

Mayor vows to educate snowmobilers

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS, Colo. — The town of Hot Sulphur Springs has a new mayor, Clint Roberts, and he promises to "educate" snowmobilers. Roberts tell the Sky-Hi News of complaints that snowmobile riders joyriding in the town are disrupting the general peace, to the point that children are unable to take afternoon naps.

While town code allows people to ride their snowmobiles to and from their town, "It doesn’t say you can ride your snowmobile around in circles on the streets or in the parks," he said.

Roberts also tells the newspaper that Hot Sulphur Springs, which is located between Winter Park and Steamboat Springs, will be asking voters for the authority to pave the streets. However, there appears to be no danger of stoplights anytime soon.

The town, which has about 350 people, was site of one of the first ski carnivals in the West.

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