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Mountain News: Second-home owners now double nesters



NEW YORK CITY — Ski town newspapers are rife with stories about second-home owners or, to use the grammatical solecism, second homeowners. Either way, a primary is asserted when, in fact, the distinction is blurring. Owners are spending as much time in one home as the other.

A headline for a story in The New York Times about this blurring phenomenon suggests a different, more neutral phrase: double nesters. And another word: splitters.

Although never mentioning ski and gateway towns, the story told by The Times is a familiar one: "Enabled by cheap airfares, flexible work schedules and technology like cell phones, Blackberrys and the Internet, a growing number of people are shuttling between two or more homes, blurring the age-old distinction between the primary and the vacation home.

"Unlike previous generations, these ‘splitters’ do not think of themselves as living and working in one place and relaxing in another," reported The Times. "On the contrary, they come and go as they please, making friends and doing business in places hundreds, even thousands, of miles apart."

The Times notes that this new peripatetic lifestyle is largely open to people who have outgrown the obligations of young families. "Many splitters are in their late 50’s or early 60’s, closer to retirement than to mandatory attendance at PTA meetings. But instead of the traditional snowbird migration, they are electing to travel between their homes throughout the year."

The Times also explains that this expanded occupancy of one-time vacation homes has resulted in such things as more elaborate kitchens and home offices, but also more maintenance costs and an "underground economy" that helps splitters make the transition from one place to the next.

Aspen real estate up 40 per cent

ASPEN, Colo. — The old record for real estate sales in Pitkin County wasn’t just topped. With a 40 per cent increase in dollar volume last year, the record was shattered, reports The Aspen Times.

Last year’s sales volume of $2.24 billion easily surpassed the previous mark (and old record) set the previous year of $1.6 billion. Sales continued strong through December, notes the newspaper.

Time-share sales, now commonly called fractional ownership, played a role in this growing sales volume, allowing a lower price point for buyers to become invested in the rarified real estate market of Aspen.

"The popularity of fractional ownership in Pitkin County has made Aspen 'affordable' for a new segment of the population and should drive more sales in 2006," wrote Mark Pisani, director of marketing for Land Title Guarantee Co. in an overview of the year.

The boom extended down-valley to Garfield County, which includes Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Silt, New Castle and Rifle. There, the dollar volume hit $856 million, a 37 per cent increase.

Vail real estate hits $2.8 billion

EAGLE VALLEY, Colo. —- The Eagle Valley ended up with $2.8 billion in sales last year, well ahead of the previous year’s $2.2 billion, reports the Vail Daily. The newspaper notes that December sales were down somewhat compared with the previous year, although sales were by no means sluggish. The Daily noted that the town of Eagle was the busiest spot for sales, although the big, big prices on homes were up-valley at Vail and Beaver Creek.

Real estate sales top $1.47 billion

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Real estate sales in Summit County last year hit $1.47 billion, a 31 per cent increase from the previous year’s record of $1.12 billion. Unlike a similar Land Title Guarantee Company report from Aspen, that figure does not include timeshare sales.

Real estate boom yields eighth bank

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Steamboat Springs is getting its eighth bank, Given the population of 10,000, some are scratching their heads. But, as one banker, Greg Dixson, told The Steamboat Pilot, "This community spends like a much larger community.

John Kerst, described by The Pilot as among the most tenured of bankers in Steamboat, said he's unconcerned with the number of banks. Free enterprise, he said, works very well.

Kerst said the 10 per cent to 12 per cent growth in deposits per year in recent years is unremarkable given the strength and expansion of the local economy. Like nearly every ski-based community in the West, Steamboat has seen a rapid proliferation of expensive homes purchased for vacations, retirement, or just mountain-based living. This construction is causing the improved prosperity of many full-time residents and small businesses, hence resulting in the increased deposits, Kerst told the newspaper.

Another banker told The Steamboat Pilot that Steamboat’s increased prosperity can be traced to the real estate growth that goes far beyond the much-discussed second-home market. More full-time residents have yielded a greater number of successful small businesses.

Robin Hood comes to CB

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — In 2000, Aspen and Pitkin County began what has sometimes been characterized as a Robin Hood arrangement. More officially called the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program, it effectively exacts a luxury surtax on heavy energy use at homes.

The Crested Butte News suggests some interest in Gunnison County and Crested Butte in mimicking that program, as witnessed by attendance of public officials at a recent presentation.

A non-profit group was established in the Roaring Fork Valley, where Aspen is located, in 1994. Called Community Office for Resource Efficiency, the group aims at promoting renewable energy and fighting wasteful energy use even as Aspen became ever more extravagant.

By 1996, government building officers were starting to see five boilers in homes: one for the house and four for the snowmelt systems, explained Joani Matranga, a volunteer with CORE. She said builders proposed a fee-based system that would allow them to install features that more efficiently use energy.

In 2000, Aspen and Pitkin County adopted the REMP program, exempting all homes of 5,000 square feet and less.

Above that size, builders have a budget for energy use. If they choose to have snowmelt driveways, outdoor hot tubs, and other extravagances, they can – but they must offset that extravagant energy use by installing solar panels or other renewable energy sources.

They can also opt to pay a fee in lieu, and early on many builders of huge homes elected to do so. Fees could range from $12,000 for a 1,000-square-foot outdoor pool to $30,000 for a 20-square-foot outdoor spa. That money has then been used to finance a car-sharing program in Aspen and interest-free loans for residents and businesses investing in solar and other renewable energy systems.

The program has yielded $3 million in pay-in-lieu fees, although builders of big houses have increasingly opted to install solar panels or ground-source heat pumps.

One key question from Gunnison County suggests that this is being viewed as a program supporting economic sustainability. Money spent on energy almost entirely leaves the local community. If less money leaves the local economy, the net effect is the same as increasing the local economy.

X Games the Olympics of Cool

ASPEN, Colo. — The X Games have clearly arrived as a major event on the Colorado calendar. Denver’s two major daily newspapers both devoted front-page coverage, but also commentary from a columnist who normally covers the ball sports. One of the several stories also came up with this description of the X Games, courtesy of a lift op from Breckenridge: the Olympics of Cool. The Aspen Skiing Co. and ESPN have agreed to keep the event in Aspen through at least 2010.

Backcountry etiquette

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Newcomers to mountain towns can justifiably be amazed at what is considered a breach of etiquette. This seems to be especially true of users in the backcountry during winter.

For instance, cross-country skiers get cranky about snowshoers messing with their tracks, as was evident in a spat at Crested Butte several years ago. And both get outraged at the rapid demolition of the snowy landscape by snowmobilers. Of course, if you are a cross-country skier, you understand the reason for this crankiness, and it doesn’t entirely have to do with aesthetics or proprietary instincts. (Skiing across frozen snowmobile tracks amid a slope of powder is almost akin to encountering a patch of dirt).

In Jackson Hole, Teton Pass is like a mini-ski area, except that it’s all backcountry. And there, even among backcountry skiers, there are mostly unspoken rules of etiquette. Vanessa Pierce, a guest backcountry columnist for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, notes a recent excursion when she took big, arcing tele turns.

Reaching the bottom, she looked back upslope to admire her work, but was instead chastened. "Um," her skiing partner said diplomatically. "We’re going to have to learn how to farm our turns."

The goal, she explained, is to use only as much space as you need, leaving room for others to get fresh turns.

Winds derail gondola cars

BANFF, Alberta — High winds caused two empty gondola cars to come off their railing and fall four feet to the ground at Sunshine Village. Although then tumbling farther down the slope, they were only slightly damaged. The resort was closed for several days while the gondola was inspected, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Brewing biz robust

KETCHUM, Idaho — Cabin Fever Ale is among the latest offerings of what the Idaho Mountain Express reports is an expanding number of brewers in the Wood River Valley.

The oldest, founded 20 years ago, is Sun Valley Brewing Co., which is located about 10 miles downvalley at Hailey. It is now large enough that it recently began selling its White Cloud Ale at 25 grocery stores in Idaho owned by the Albertsons chain.

Another company, River Bend Brewing Co. is a one-man operation in Hailey who distributes to local restaurants. The latest addition is Trail Creek Pub, which opened in November in Ketchum.

The Brewers Association reports 7 per cent annual expansion of the microbreweries even as sales of the major breweries are declining. Still, the biggies dwarf the sales of the locals, yielding this exhortation from the micro guys: "Drink Local."

A strange tale from Telluride

TELLURIDE, Colo. — James Arthur Hogue, described as a world-class con artist, has turned up again, this time with a house full of stolen booty at a home in Mountain Village, the slope-side town at Telluride.

A film about Hogue, called "Con Man," debuted in 2003. The film tells how he has flitted from town to town – many of them ski towns – during his adult life. His troubles seem to have begun when he was in college at the University of Wyoming. A very good distance runner, he was upstaged by the arrival of several older, and hence more sturdy runners from Ethiopia. He seems never to have recovered. That was 1979.

As related by the Telluride Watch, the 26-year-old Hogue then showed up (with an alias) at a high school in Palo Alto, Calif., where he managed to fit right in – and won a prestigious cross-country meet at Stanford. A suspicious reporter, however, discovered that Hogue was using the name of a person who had died in infancy. He was kicked out of the school. That was in 1985.

Soon after, he was teaching running in Vail, where he falsely claimed a Ph. D in bioengineering from Stanford. Then in San Marcos, Calif., he stole $20,000 in goods and tools from a custom bicycle-frame builder. Next in St. George, Utah, he applied to Princeton University, representing himself as an 18-year-old self-educated ranch hand. He got in and also a $15,000 academic scholarship, thanks in part to a combined SAT score of 1410.

At Princeton, he excelled at running, academics, and insinuating himself into the social network, joining the exclusive Ivy Club. However, his sophomore year a former classmate at the Palo Alto high school, by then a student at Yale, recognized him at a track meet and alerted police. He was arrested in a geology class.

Sentenced to 270 days in jail for his fraudulent admission to Princeton, he was subsequently imprisoned for two years for stealing gems from a lab in Massachusetts. Other inmates said he kept to himself, burying his head in engineering books. By 1997, he was in Aspen, where he was arrested for bicycle theft, and then in 2001 he was in Telluride.

In Telluride he disappeared from official view, although The Watch says he most likely was hiding in plain sight, this time once again answering to the older name, James Arthur Hogue. Now, after the discovery of what police said were stolen goods valued at more than $100,000, he has disappeared again.

Why? Why all the cons? The filmmaker, Jesse Moss, has several theories: One, after the fiasco in Wyoming, he wanted to run competitively again. Two, he wanted a ticket to America’s ruling class, and, in the great American tradition, he invented himself to get there. And three, he loves fooling people.

Moss also said that what Hogue did was allow people to create his identity. The more Hogue withheld of himself, the more people invested in him. "This was his true genius for deception, he said.

New regional jets the ticket

ASPEN, Colo. — The British Aerospace 146 was a standard for the Denver-Aspen flights offered by United Airlines since the mid-1980s. But expensive and outdated, it has been replaced by a new regional jet, the Bombardier/Canadair Regional Jet 700.

Among other virtues, the CRJ-700 is less noisy and uses less fuel, explained Jim Elwood, director of aviation at Sardy Field near Aspen, told Aspen reporters.

Kent Myers, an air consultant, tells Mountain Town News that the move is a good one for Aspen, but also one with some risk. The newer jets carry fewer passengers, 66, than the older jets, which carried 88. As such, more fights are needed to achieve the same payload. That could cause some traffic to be diverted to nearby Eagle County Regional Airport, Vail’s dominant airport. Already, 17 to 19 per cent of the passengers into Eagle County Regional are headed to Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.

On the other hand, these new, smaller jets offer first-class seats, something the discriminating Aspen market can afford.

Edwards isn’t pulling its weight

EDWARDS, Colo. — The hippest place to be in the Vail area now is arguably not Vail itself, nor Beaver Creek, although those places have the highest-cost real estate. The postal address of prestige for many who wear their localness on their sleeves is a place called Edwards, about 12 miles west of Vail. It accounts for 22 per cent of the population of Eagle County.

But Edwards is just a post office, not an incorporated town. While there has been talk of incorporation, the broadest sentiment is to leave well enough alone, as creating a town results in higher taxes. From the county’s perspective, however, that leaves Edwards a free-loader. The Vail Daily reports that Edwards pays $5.5 million in taxes, but requires $10 million in services.

Engineer gives $50,000 to Pakistan

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Although the human consequences of the earthquake that hit Pakistan last fall were far, far greater than that of the tsunami or the earthquakes, the response from ski towns – like that of the developed countries in general – has been tepid.

That said, relief efforts have lately been reported in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, Vail and the Eagle Valley, and British Columbia’s Revelstoke.

Now comes news from Steamboat Springs. It turns out that a major Chicago-based environmental engineering firm, MWH Global, also has an office in Steamboat Springs. That location allows people like Alan Krause, the president of the company’s division for natural resources, industry and infrastructure, to go cross-country skiing during his lunch hour.

It also turns out that this company has been working in Pakistan for 50 years. Krause recently was in Pakistan to deliver a $50,000 cheque for earthquake relief to the Pakistani president. Krause told The Steamboat Pilot that he believes most Americans, being focused on stories of Islamic extremism, grossly underestimate the sophistication of Pakistan.

"It’s a strange place to work; it’s a crossroads for American interests."

Employees in the Steamboat office are working on everything from gold mining in Romania to projects in Peru, Indonesia, and Australia. It is consulting on two dam-building projects in water-scarce Pakistan.

This firm, which had $1 billion in revenues last year, gained a Steamboat presence in a roundabout way, explains The Pilot. Krause moved there about 1991 to assume leadership of a much smaller engineering firm, ACZ Inc. That firm merged with another, which in turn merged with Harza Engineering Company. Still in Steamboat, Krause took on increasingly bigger roles and more responsibility with the engineering giant that had acquired his little company. MWH employs more than 6,000 engineers and scientists in civil, structural, and mechanical and geotechnical engineering. The company was ranked first in the world for consulting engineering services in the hydropower field by Engineering News Record magazine.

Lots of snow, not enough water

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – It’s been a snowy winter in Mammoth. But even as cars sport big chunks of snow on their roofs, making them look like Glen Plake, the skier with the Mohawk-type hairdo, the community is confronting water scarcity.

One response is a plant that will recycle water, dispersing it on two golf courses, among other things. It is expected to cost more than $10 million, reports The Sheet. Aspen has similar aspirations.

But while water managers are preparing plans for population growth, some in the community wonder if they have contemplated the full effect of the newer, bigger, fancier housing. One concrete example: Jacuzzi tubs that are "bigger than I’ve ever seen," according to one individual.

Mammoth had a storm in early January that was so gigantic that most of the lifts at the ski area were closed down. Eight feet of snow were reported in a 36-hour period.

Does Sundance deserve the ink?

PARK CITY, Utah —The Park Record during recent weeks has had little news other than stories having to do with the Sundance Film Festival. And, for that matter, major national newspapers such as The New York Times gave the festival major stories.

Is it really that big a deal?

Robert Denerstein, the film critic for Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, similarly wondered whether Sundance deserves the exalted position it occupies in American film culture.

Although feeling cranky when he asked the question, he reported that he ultimately decided that, at least to filmmakers who show their wares in Park City, it is. "I rappelled nude once off the Oakland Coliseum at a Nirvana concert," answered the comic Bob Goldthwait as he debuted his film. "I’m more nervous now."

Coal train derails data highway

ASPEN, Colo. — Union Pacific tracks have become not only rail corridors, but an information highway. A case in point is the derailment of a coal train near Winter Park in January.

Buried adjacent to the tracks is a fiber-optic line that transfers data of Comcast subscribers. When the derailment severed the line, it interrupted service to Internet users westward from Winter Park almost to Grand Junction, including Aspen.

Service had also been interrupted in October because of another derailment, this one at Kremmling, about 50 miles west of Winter Park.

A financial advisor, Michael McVoy, told The Aspen Times that his brokerage was forced to revert to dial-up service to place trades and gather financial information. Others wondered why their information highway had no alternative routes.

The derailment at Winter Park also disrupted the weekend of passengers on the ski train, the storied institution that has ferried passengers from Denver to the slopes of Winter Park for more than 60 years. They were forced to take buses or otherwise made arrangements to get back to Denver.

Warm January in Revelstoke

REVELSTOKE, B.C. — Unseasonably temperate weather prevailed in Revelstoke during January, so much so that plants began bursting from the soil, some bushes sprouted leaves, and mushrooms were reported on some local lawns.

The Revelstoke Times Review reports that some long-time residents say is its the first green January in living memory. Whereas the daily average for January is -5.3° Celsius, this year it had been 5.2 degrees.

Biggest slab ever in Ketchum

KETCHUM, Idaho — What was proclaimed to be the biggest slab of concrete ever poured in Ketchum was installed in mid-January. The concrete pad is for a 20-unit condominium project that will include underground parking.

To keep the reinforcing steel warm, a circus-type tent was assembled. It took 10 cement trucks to deliver 440 yards of concrete, about $40,000 worth of material. To get this done in one day, the services of 50 people from two companies were used at a total cost of $60,000, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.