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Aspen hits carbon-reduction goal



By Allen Best

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen’s Canary Initiative is moving right along. Last year the town conducted an audit, inventorying all of its activities that caused emissions of greenhouse gases. In October, it held a well-regarded conference that is already prompting action from other ski towns.

But to lead, Aspen figured it must walk its talk — and first within the municipal operations. The declared goal was to reduce emissions 1 per cent below the baseline, and in the first year it succeeded and then some — a 10.5 per cent reduction.

Most of that reduction was attributed to Aspen Electric, the city-owned electrical supplier, which made wind another 16 per cent of its portfolio.

City departments also reduced their greenhouse gas emissions. Cops reported 20,600 fewer air miles. The recreation staff bought a scooter for around-town errands. The parks department installed timers on microwaves, printers, and other equipment to shut off all power between 6:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. Vending machines were similarly outfitted with devices to shut off the lights so that the candy display, for example, isn’t lit all night.

One particularly dedicated employee even takes a Greyhound bus when going to conferences in Denver, thereby eliminating use of a car.

For meeting the carbon-reduction goal, all 262 employees are getting $100 bonuses. Those within the 13 departments that individually reduced their carbon emission get another $100.

The primary focus of the program, explained Richardson, is to build efficiency into the institutional culture, so that every single project must be viewed through the lens of long-term efficiency.


Telluride protects bed base

TELLURIDE, Colo. – The ski area operator at Telluride has started a property management business. The purpose is not to take business away from existing property managers, said an executive with Telluride Ski & Golf. Instead, the company wants to staunch the erosion of the bed base by working directly with the new owners of hotel rooms that are being condominiumized, persuading them to retain the condos in a rental pool.

“We’re really just trying to get some more active bed base,” said Ken Stone, vice president for sales and marketing.

Rooms at the Peaks Hotel, Hotel Telluride, and the Ice House are being condominiumized. The Telluride area has only about 400 hotel rooms.

Stone calculated that the loss of one room from the rental pool can, based on previous winter occupancy of 68 per cent, cause a loss of $107,000 to local businesses.

Aspen and Vail have also been challenged by the loss of bed base during the last 20 years, although both resorts are now taking measures to add new beds.

Telluride is also trying to redefine itself more carefully as a destination-oriented boutique resort. The rebranding of Telluride now focuses on the “exceptional experience” available to visitors. To that end, the owners are putting more money into on-mountain restaurants and other peripherals to the ski experience.

The ski area itself has a capacity to accommodate 10,000 people a day, but it averages 3,000 a day.


Snowmass aims for million club

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – Call it extreme makeover. The Aspen Skiing Co. is in the midst of a giant re-do of the Snowmass ski area.

The most immediate functional change is a $13 million gondola that is to debut in mid-December, the largest single part of $46 million in upgrades to the skiing infrastructure at Snowmass, explains The Aspen Times.

But an even bigger change is underway at the base of the mountain, where a project called — what else — Base Village is the mother of all hard-hat zones. When complete in four years, the project will add roughly 1,100 bedrooms to Snowmass Village — and perhaps make Snowmass competitive once again with the newer kids on the resort block, particularly Colorado’s Beaver Creek and Utah’s Deer Valley.

While Ajax, the mountain immediately adjacent to the town of Aspen, is the Aspen Skiing Co.’s best-known product, much of the terrain is too difficult for easy intermediate skiing. For the masses, Aspen has Snowmass.

But from a million skier days more than a decade ago, Snowmass has skidded to less than 800,000 skier days most years. This re-do is expected to reverse that slide, putting Snowmass back into the million club within possibly four years. Vail and Breckenridge are firmly in the club, and so are Mammoth and Steamboat. Others sometimes hitting the million mark have been Keystone, Copper Mountain, and Winter Park.


Crested Butte drops ban

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – The Crested Butte Town Council has withdrawn its ban of new real estate and other offices on the ground floor of the Elk Avenue business district. The council adopted the ban in August, but in response to opposition had allowed existing uses to be grandfathered. Faced with a special election initiated by citizens, the council backed away entirely, reports the Crested Butte News. The goal was to retain the retail vitality of the town core. Vail and Aspen have such bans.


Why is golf needed?

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Columnist Jonathan Schechter says he has nothing against golf. He plays once or twice a year. But he sees the proliferating golf courses in Jackson Hole producing nothing of long-term good.

Where one golf course existed 20 years ago, today there are seven, with several more planned. This baffles Schechter, who points out that golfing is stagnant as a sport. Nationally, more golf courses actually closed last year than opened. The only premise for golf in mountain valleys is as a conduit for selling real estate.

OK, so what’s wrong with that? Because, like so many other things, the valleys on both sides of the Teton Range “seem to be hell-bent-for-leather to make ourselves increasingly like every place in America,” says Schechter.

“We’re allowing — if not encouraging — the rapid development of those same get-’em-anywhere amenities that you can, by definition, get anywhere, without really asking ourselves about the consequences. For instance, if we approve a zillion golf courses, can we really claim to be shocked when our community character starts being informed by a country club mentality?”


Ideas Festival half sold out

ASPEN, Colo. – The Aspen Ideas Festival last July was a big hit. It was one household name after another stopping by to chat about big ideas: the Clintons, Bill and Hillary, and then Colin Powell, Katie Couric, newspaper columnists, CEOs, and on and on.

Indeed, the six-day festival was such a success that it’s already half-sold out for next summer. Organizers, reports The Aspen Times, expect up to 1,300 passholders to hear thoughts about the energy future, China, and the arts, among a few dozen other topics. A four-day event pass goes for $2,000.


Yin and yang in Sun Valley

Quote: “Sun Valley's one of the few places in the world where decadence can coexist with conscience." Short-story writer and columnist John Rember, writing in the Idaho Mountain Express.


Quartz trumps granite

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Granite countertops have been de rigeur for high-end homes for a good number of years now. But the Telluride Daily Planet reports that it’s not enough at a spanking-new house that bills itself as “high-tech Telluride.”

There, countertops are made of quartz. It has a keyless entry. Lights are operated by a matrix-like keypad. And flat screens seem to be on every wall and in every corner. “This is the home of the dedicated technophile or, quite possibly, Captain Kirk,” notes the newspaper.


Snowboard maker relocates

SILVERTON, Colo. – Silverton’s reputation as a centre for extreme sports continues to grow. The latest addition is Venture Snowboards, which makes boards that cost between $515 and $675. The company, which previously was located about 50 miles south at Durango, is building a 4,000-square-foot factory in a new industrial park, reports The Denver Post.

Silverton had a year-round economy until the last mine closed in the 1990s, when it fell back to a summer-only proposition, dependent overwhelmingly on tourists from the narrow-gauge train from Durango.

The double black-diamond ski area called Silverton Mountain opened several years ago, and the town is also home to ScottyBob Skis and Mountain Boy Sledworks, two specialty manufacturers.


Telluride’s gondola is now 10

TELLURIDE, Colo. – The gondola that connects Telluride, the town, with its younger sibling town of Mountain Village has now been in operation for 10 years, the first and only such free conveyance. It also provides transportation to some of the ski slopes.

Built at a cost of $16 million, it was modeled on the gondola at Zermatt, Switzerland. The goal is to reduce automobile use, and while there are many complaints about congestion in Telluride, all evidence suggests the gondola has succeeded. It carries upwards of 2.5 million passengers a year. The alternative to the 12-minute ride is a broadly looping drive of about five miles.

The gondola, reports The Telluride Watch, is a democratic transportation system. “There is not one economic class, age group, social class, or type of visitor that doesn’t use the gondola,” says Michael De Leon, a marketing associate with the town of Mountain Village.

Although Mountain Village has been caricaturized as a modern-day ghost town, because of its high proportion of second-home owners, it is now far more lively than it was in the early 1990s, residents tell The Watch.


Ban on idling broadened

BANFF, Alberta – The anti-idling restrictions for commercial vehicles in Banff are being expanded to the entire townsite. Before, the restrictions applied to just a few small downtown areas.

Municipal councilors adopted the ban in response to complaints from residents. How they will enforce the ban, however, is another matter. One dissenting councilor called it a “feel-good thing,” but the broader view was that the town should do what it can to preserve environmental quality.

Both Whistler and Jasper have idling restrictions applicable to commercial vehicles. Aspen and Telluride also have all-encompassing idling restrictions, three to five minutes in the case of Aspen.


Truckee-Tahoe looking like Colorado

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Truckee and the nearby ski resorts of Northstar and Squaw Valley are looking ever more like the Colorado resort valleys.

Now buses have begun shuttling from Truckee and the Lake Tahoe North Shore area to the airport at Reno. The idea is that destination guests will avail themselves of this service. The Sierra Sun reports a one-way fare of $35, compared to $100 for a taxi trip between Reno and Squaw Valley

The region in years past got relatively few destination skiers, appealing mostly to day and weekend trippers from the Bay Area. But base area villages have been assembled at both Squaw Valley and Northstar, and the latter is getting a five-star Ritz. Vancouver-based Intrawest has been a key developer at Squaw Valley, while Vail-based Booth Creek and East West Partners have been transforming Northstar.

Truckee is looking more like Vail in other ways as well. Eleven years ago Vail gambled on a traffic roundabout, the first in the West, and then went on a roundabout-building spree. Now, having finished its first roundabout in the last year, Truckee is set to do two more. The town is also considering building a parking garage.

Finally, the Sierra Sun has become a daily newspaper. It is owned by the Reno-based Swift chain, which also publishes daily newspapers in Aspen, Vail, and Summit County.


Berthoud Pass now three lanes

WINTER PARK, Colo. – After seven years, the highway across Berthoud Pass is now three-laned all the way from Winter Park to where it connects with Interstate 70, about a half-hour west of Denver.

More-daring drivers save 20 to 30 minutes now that they can scoot past trucks and other slower-moving traffic on the 11,315-foot crossing of the Continental Divide. Equally important is the perception of reduced difficulty when traveling the hairpin-turn knotted highway.

Winter Park and other Grand County interests had lobbied for decades to widen the highway. The pass had been the original highway from Denver to the Western Slope, and it was also the first Continental Divide crossing in Colorado to be kept open through winter, beginning in 1938. A ski area at Berthoud Pass and then another at Winter Park were among the first in Colorado.

But the profusion of new ski areas in the 1960s, combined with the construction of Interstate 70, combined to dull the luster of Winter Park. Summit County became the easy-to-get-to destination from Denver, and in anticipation of the easier access, it had four ski areas operating by 1973 and a bumper crop of condominiums and other vacation lodging. Just beyond, Vail and the Eagle Valley also burgeoned.

With the I-70 corridor now both expensive and crowded, developers have turned their attention to the Winter Park-Granby area. Intrawest is expanding the base-area condominiums and shops at the Winter Park ski area.

The broadest changes, however, are 19 miles down the road at Granby. Described by Denver cartoonist Kenny Be several years ago as Colorado’s least interesting mountain town, it is a service centre and home to 1,400 people.

But Granby officials have annexed 7,000 acres of land into the town in recent years and approved 5,300 housing units, most of them geared to the middle and upper-middle classes. One of the projects, Orvis Shorefox, also aims at the extreme high end of wealth with a mixed array of golf and flyfishing in conjunction with skiing and other nearby amenities.


Wolf Creek project on hold

WOLF CREEK PASS, Colo. – No dirt will fly for the planned real estate development at Wolf Creek Pass until at least next summer, after a lawsuit between the developer and the ski area operator is settled.

The project, called (what else?) the Village at Wolf Creek, proposes up to 2,000 homes, most of them in a time-share configuration, and up to 260,000 square feet of commercial space.

The argument about broken promises between the ski area and the developer is scheduled for Durango in May. A settlement expected to be approved by Federal District Court Judge John Kane bars any ground-disturbing activity until after that case has been decided.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service has awarded permits for the developer to build two roads across national forest land to service the project. In response, Colorado Wild, a non-profit group, has sued the Forest Service, arguing that the agency approved the roads without fully considering the environmental consequences of the roads. Without the new roads, the development would have no winter access — tough in a place where winter lasts seven to eight months a year.


Welder busy with boxes

NEVADA CITY, Calif. – James L. Lester, 24, a welder, used to drive monster trucks, but he has little time for that since he began welding bear-resistant trash enclosures under the name Iron Bear.

Lester tells the Tahoe Daily Tribune that he has sold 500 of the steel enclosures for use in national parks and forests, as well as at mountain homes. He’s been at it about a year, one of five companies in the nation catering to a burgeoning market to keep bears and humans separate.

The steel boxes are heavy, weighing 350 pounds, and large enough to hold two 32-gallon garbage cans. A detachable handle locks the steel door to keep stinky trash safe from marauders. His creations go for $650 each.

To test his boxes, he took one to a zoo, and tempted a 300-pound bear with salmon inside the box. It withstood that test, and has withstood every other test in the market place of the Sierra Nevada, where he seems to sell many of his trash enclosures.


Taos aims to reduce light pollution

TAOS, N.M. – After being lobbied for a decade, the Taos County commissioners have approved regulations that restrict outdoor lighting. All new and replacement lighting fixtures must shield light sources to minimize light broadcast upward. Exempted, reports the Taos Daily News, are agriculture lighting, seasonal decorations, sports fields, and a molybdenum mine.

Silverthorne growing taller

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. – Lofts and mixed-use (commercial and residential) developments are showing up with greater frequency in down-valley mountain towns. The latest town to entertain a proposal is Silverthorne, located along Interstate 70 about halfway between the Keystone and Copper Mountain ski areas.

There, a Florida-based developer proposes a 50-foot tall building that would have a coffee shop, bakery, and wine bistro at the ground-floor level, with three levels of housing to accommodate studios and one- and two-bedroom condominiums. The condos are projected to finish at $375 to $425 per square foot. That delivers a 1,600-square-foot condo to the marketplace for $632,800.

Although the height clearly is an issue, the Summit Daily News reports that Silverthorne rather likes the idea of a higher-density town centre, something it now lacks. Created as a construction camp to build nearby Dillon Reservoir in the 1950s, it is characterized by fast-food restaurants and factory-outlet stores.


Think global, eat local hard to do

DURANGO, Colo. – Environmentalists for several years have been arguing the virtues of consuming food that is grown locally instead of being hauled 1,600 miles — the average distance between producers and consumers in the United States. But a project underway in Durango illustrates just how difficult that concept of think global, eat local can be when applied to fast-growing, high-elevation mountain valleys choked by mountains.

“We’ve heard over and over from consumers, restaurants, and schools that they want more local food,” said Katyi Pepinsky, of a group called Growing Partners. “Unfortunately, there just isn’t the supply to keep up with that demand.”

Part of the problem, explains the Durango Telegraph, is that so much of the food produced in the Durango region is shipped elsewhere. Range-fed cattle, for example, are hauled to eastern Colorado and Kansas, where they are fattened on corn in feedlots and then slaughtered in huge beef-packing plants. But rising land costs, caused by the steady population growth in semi-rural exurban areas, is cutting into agriculture production.

Aside from a lot of brainstorming and paper-generating, the project seems to have yielded few concrete ideas, although Jim Dyer, of the Southwest Marketing Network, believes it has set the stage for enhancing local food production. The project is being funded by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.