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Study aims to determine if seeding clouds works

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Compiled by Allen Best

DENVER, Colo. — After several years of drought, ski areas, big cities, and water districts of Colorado are spending more than $1 million this winter to seed clouds in hopes of inducing more snow. But how well does it work?

That’s what a $100,000 study being conducted this winter will attempt to more definitively answer. In the study, funded by the federal government, researchers for Colorado State University will track storms daily, comparing the predicted and actual snowfall accumulations in areas targeted for more snow with clouds seeded by silver iodide particles. These areas will be compared with control areas, where there is no seeding.

A National Research Council study of weather modification programs takes a dim view of cloud seeding generally, but less so of winter cloud seeding. There are, says the agency, in a report issued in October, "strong suggestions of positive seeding effects in winter… cloud systems occurring over mountainous terrain."

The report states that the most compelling evidence that cloud seeding works comes from experiments during the 1960s at Climax, a molybdenum mine located near the Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, and Vail ski areas. Although scientists initially over-reported the amount of extra snow that fell, later studies still came up with a "possible increase in precipitation of about 10 per cent."

Denver also commissioned two studies last winter intended to determine whether the $400,000 it is spending to seed clouds is producing more snow in its water collection areas, located in the Winter Park and Summit County areas. One study suggested a 14 per cent augmentation, but the second study found no evidence of silver iodide in the snow.

Skier fined for crossing rope

BANFF, Alberta — Martin Minarik seems to be a man of great mountaineering ability. After all, only last summer he climbed K2, the world’s second highest peak and, compared to Mount Everest, a much more challenging and dangerous climb.

Even so, that didn’t count when he was caught skiing out of bounds into avalanche terrain at Sunshine Village. He was, reports the Banff Crag & Canyon, fined $500.

A native of the Czech Republic, Minarik told the judge that he didn’t know crossing the boundary was illegal. "In Europe, if you pass it (the rope), you’re on your own. You simply can’t get rescued. I saw the sign for avalanche terrain. I didn’t see the sign for no trespassing."

Parks Canada adopts avalanche symbols

BANFF, Alberta — Parks Canada has adopted pyramid-shaped icons – red for high danger, yellow for medium, and green for low risk – as a way to communicate avalanche risk. The agency is also developing a terrain rating system for popular backcountry routes and destinations, using the black-diamond, blue-square, and green-circle icons commonly seen at lift-serviced ski areas, notes the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

This comes in the wake of an avalanche toll last winter in Canada, including the death of seven high school students in Banff National Park near Rogers Pass.

How Wal-Mart in Denver affects Telluride pastures

TELLURIDE, Colo. — One of the big stories in Colorado this past year has been the willingness by municipal governments, particularly in Denver and its suburbs, to use their power to condemn private property in order to clear ground for sales-tax generating Wal-Mart.

But in the general outrage to curb the perceived abuses of these local governments, the state legislature may also crimp the ability of local governments to condemn private property in order to preserve it as open space. Specifically at issue is the effort by Telluride to condemn a 570-acre cow pasture at the town’s entrance, reports The Telluride Watch.

This additional step has been linked to Tom Ragonetti, a savvy and powerful Denver-based attorney affiliated with land-development interests in several Colorado resort areas. Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, called Ragonetti’s proposal a "pure and simple special-interest sleaze."

The bill could also affect a contemplated condemnation by Pitkin County of private land on Smuggler Mountain, located near Aspen, in order to keep it in open space.

Carl Miller, an ex-miner from Leadville who has represented Aspen, Vail, and Summit County in the legislature during recent years, says he believes local governments should be able to condemn private lands only for roads and similar public facilities. "I don’t see open space as being in that category," he told The Aspen Times.

Enviros say no problem with fuels reduction plan

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Environmental activists say they see no problems with the U.S. Forest Service plans to reduce fuels near Crested Butte in what is called the urban-wildlands interface, a.k.a. the red zone. Elsewhere, activists have called the "fuels reduction" projects an excuse to open public lands to logging.

Wood from the projects is small, mostly four inches and smaller. These downed trees will likely be made available to the public for firewood, unless a better use for the small-diameter trees can be found.

Push nearly to shove for Winter Park water

WINTER PARK, Colo. — Push is getting close to shove at Winter Park, Colorado’s largest boom area. By all accounts, the water glass there is at least half empty.

The water district that serves the ski area – where Intrawest Corp. is planning a major base-village development – has announced it has enough water for only 200 more taps. Meanwhile, 1,100 previously approved units remain to be built near the ski area, and more down-valley near the centre of the town.

It’s not just local demands for water. As this is the closest watershed on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains to metropolitan Denver and Colorado’s Northern Front Range, those districts want to take additional water for which they are deeded. Those diversions began nearly a century ago.

Those city and farm districts now take 60 per cent of the water in Grand County, where Winter Park is located, and they want to bump the take to 83 per cent, notes the Winter Park Manifest. There are various "buckets" for holding back spring runoff in the Winter Park-Granby area, but none are very far along.

Second homes explain campaign contributions

KETHCUM, Idaho — Analysis of campaign contributions to the presidential candidates had the New York Times scrambling to figure out why people in Blaine County cared so much about John Kerry. On a per-capita basis, they gave more money than any other place in the U.S.

Easy answer – Kerry’s family has a vacation home there, in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, and he spends time there every year.

A few hundred miles away in Wyoming, Teton County was No. 2 in the nation in per capita campaign contributions for George Bush. That’s an easy one – Bush’s veep, Dick Cheney, has a vacation home in Jackson Hole. The per capita contribution was $12.64.

Wally World employees unnerved by masked man

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo.– Employees at the Wal-Mart Supercenter were understandably unnerved in late February when a man wearing a Neoprene ski mask, a baggy blue ski outfit, and moon boots walked into the store. Less than two years ago, a similarly dressed man killed an employee while robbing the store.

Turns out that it was the gloved one, Michael Jackson, who had been staying on a ranch about 35 miles away at Old Snowmass. A clerk told the Rocky Mountain News that Jackson spoke in a "bad French accent."

New report sees less snow in coastal ranges

SEATTLE, Wash. – A new climate change model released in February predicts that during the next 50 years global warming will diminish the amount of water stored as snow by up to 70 per cent in ranges along the Pacific Coast.

The Rocky Mountains, meanwhile, will have it somewhat easier – but they won’t be off the hook entirely.

Because of global warming, precipitation that now falls as snow will instead be rain. Instead of the snow slowly melting, the rains will cause flooding in fall and winter. But there will be more severe spring and summer droughts in the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades. All this will play havoc with the West's agriculture, fisheries and hydropower industry, according to a report delivered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. That system is based on the idea of most water coming in the form of snow and slowly melting.

Where we now have snow in the mountains into April, "at mid-century snow will melt off much earlier than that," said L. Ruby Leung, a staff scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.

The same trends, but to a less severe extent, are expected in the Rocky Mountains. Even so, reports the Albuquerque Journal, the research envisions a 30 per cent drop in the average winter snowpack in New Mexico’s northern mountains, which includes Taos and Angel Fire.

Continued drought could empty Powell

VAIL, Colo. — If the drought of the last several years continues, half-empty Powell Reservoir could become empty by 2010, with repercussions as far away as Denver. Study of growth rings in trees indicate that extended droughts have not been all that unusual, notes the Vail Daily.

"People have a hard time realizing what a significant drought we are experiencing region-wide," said water attorney Scott Balcomb of Glenwood Springs. He said Coloradans need to start devising a plan to deal with the eventuality that the reservoir will be drained. "It’s been real dry for three to four years, " he said. "We don’t have any assurances it’s not going to be dry the next three to four."

The leading water attorney for the Vail area, Glenn Porzak, says consequences of continued drought will be far less severe than for cities that divert water from the Colorado River Basin. That includes cities along Colorado’s Front Range from Fort Collins to Pueblo, as well as cities along Utah’s Wasatch Front, including Salt Lake City and Provo.

As well, a new study by the University of Washington’s Dennis Lettenmaier concludes that runoff in the Colorado River could drop 14 to 18 per cent as a result global warming.

Silverton may become a magnet for students

SILVERTON, Colo. — Imagine being of high-school age in Houston, or even Saudi Arabia, and spending your school year in Silverton. It’s a town so small that each grade has only 14 students, a place so isolated that the nearest movie theatre is about 50 miles of often-icy, often-avalanche-plagued miles away.

Do you suppose your parents would chip in $25,000 for tuition, room and board?

That’s the idea of Dr. Bruce Kienapfel, who formerly supervised schools in nearby Ouray. His new Rocky Mountain Adventure Academy is described as a "10-month, co-ed academic and outdoor adventure experience for teenagers from the U.S. and all over the world."

Silverton’s draw is its existing affiliation with Outward Bound USA, which emphasizes exposing students to "real world applications for knowledge." For example, Silverton students last year took a full semester to study the heart. They dissected animal hearts in Durango, chatted with cardiologists in Denver, and hiked to high elevations around Silverton to test cardiovascular responses. They also read poetry and literature that dealt with the heart and participated in African drumming to focus on the role of the heart in music.

The school board in Silverton seems to like the idea of doubling the enrolment by importing students, reports The Telluride Watch, but isn’t going to invest any money on the deal.

Park City couple take stand on gay marriage

PARK CITY, Utah — When the mayor of San Francisco announced that marriage licenses would be issued to non-resident gay couples, two Park City women immediately hit the road, driving almost non-stop through fierce snow and all else, getting to San Francisco’s city hall at 8 o’clock the next morning.

What they saw there staggered them – but also uplifted them. Despite the cold and drizzle, the line was so long that they stood outside for six hours, and then two more hours inside before getting married.

Together for nine years, the women had previously exchanged vows in a ceremony near Moab. But they want a marriage recognized by governments. Joan Guetschow recalls once, when she was in critical care, her partner, Tricia Stumpf, was not allowed admittance to see her because she was not a legal spouse. "It feels second class," Guetschow told The Park Record.

Stumpf compares this experience in attempting to get governments to recognize them as equal to heterosexual couples to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which was sparked in part by the refusal of Rosa Parks to sit at the back of a bus. "It’s like asking Rosa why does it matter where you sit," Stumpf said. "Because it’s about equality."

The couple acknowledged Utah’s generally conservative politics, but Guetschow, a former Olympic biathlete, said "people themselves were kind" to them when they appeared as a couple in connection with Guetschow’s role as an organizer of the Salt Lake Olympics. They also said they intend to remain in Park City. "We believe it is better to stay here and make a difference instead of running from it."

Stumpf, a world-class athlete in skeleton, a sport similar to luge, already made a difference at Park City Mountain Resort. When she worked there, she challenged the company’s free pass for spouses. In response, the resort now offers a "designated pass" for employees’ partners.

Suicide focuses look at methamphetamine use

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — A 2002 survey administered to Steamboat Springs High School students found that 50 per cent had used marijuana at least once, nearly 10 per cent had used methamphetamines, and about 4 per cent had used cocaine.

The meth use was at the centre of community attention recently, with news that a 19-year-old resident of nearby Oak Creek had shot himself. He had been on a roller-coaster ride of methamphetamine addiction, a loving, happy, go-lucky child who had become such an angry young man that family members had taken to locking their doors at night.

Explaining the drug’s draw, one former meth addict told The Steamboat Pilot that while cocaine kept him focused for a couple of hours, meth will keep a person alert for two days. The newspaper noted that drug agents have uncovered about 40 meth labs in the area from Winter Park to Steamboat to Craig, a predominantly rural area.

Meanwhile, The Telluride Watch reports a suspected connection between meth use and HIV infection on the Western Slope of Colorado, which includes most of the state’s ski resorts as well as other rural areas. The HIV infection rate for women is double that of Colorado’s statewide rate. Health officials suspect, based on interviews with victims, that the women being infected to a great degree are drug users, or have sex with users of methamphetamines.

Conservationists square off on elk winter feeding

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Old-line and newer conservation groups are squaring off over whether the 13,000 elk in northwestern Wyoming should continue to be fed through winter.

Nearly half of those elk are found in Jackson Hole at the National Elk Refuge, one of North America’s largest, free-ranging elk herds. The elk are also a key tourist attraction, notes the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

A traditional conservation group, Sportmen for Fish and Wildlife, Wyoming, favours the continued feeding. The local chapter’s chairman, Steve Meadows, described the feeding program as "wildly successful" in maintaining healthy ungulate herds. He says ending the program would be a mistake, given the decreasing winter range now available for elk and deer, and the increased pressure from predators, particularly wolves.

But the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance recommends "breaking the habit of feeding our wildlife in artificial feedlots." By drawing elk together for artificial feeding, says the group, the elk become more vulnerable to potentially devastating outbreaks of chronic wasting disease, tuberculosis, and other diseases.

A similar argument has been waged in Colorado during the last several years. Elk ranching has grown, but state wildlife officers argued that congregating elk in such a fashion allowed chronic wasting disease to spread more rapidly.

East West gets OK for big project at Truckee

TRUCKEE, Calif. —A Colorado-based development company has received the town council’s OK for the largest mixed-use subdivision since the town’s 1993 incorporation.

East West Partners’ plans a large hotel, golf course, and commercial buildings, as well as 725 housing units, about a third of them "affordable," reports the Sacramento Bee. East West has two other projects nearby.

However, Truckee Mayor Josh Susan described Gray’s Crossing as "just the beginning – the opening of the flood gates" of development in the area. A variety of other projects, including several by firms based in Colorado’s Vail Valley, are planned in the area from Truckee to Lake Tahoe.

Aspen isn’t for the middle-aged

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen isn’t for the middle-aged. That’s the conclusion of The Aspen Times columnist Janet Urquhart.

"I’m lost in that gray area of middle age, too old to know what bling-bling means and too young to conceal my shame behind a pair of those giant eyeglasses with the beefy thick frames that appeal to women of a certain vintage," she writes.

All retirees have to do is play, she says. For young people, life is all about work and play. But for in-betweeners, life is all about work, since you’re too tired to play by the time the workday is done.

What seems to bring on these observations is the Aspen Skiing Co.’s all-out press for the favour of the freestyle extremers, as in the X Games and so forth. "As if middle age wasn’t already staring me in the face, Aspen is going out of its way to make me feel past my prime," she says.

Convenience, but it is not taken for granted

TELLURIDE, Colo. — For a decade, Beth and Ray Bailis, and now their two children, have been living outside of Telluride at a place called Hastings Mesa. It’s off the grid, which means they get all their electrical power from solar panels, wind turbines, and a propane-powered generator. Also, in winter, they must snowmobile six miles to the nearest plowed road.

You can’t imagine the shift in thinking this entails. Writing in The Telluride Watch, Beth Bailis explains that they have most modern conveniences, but take none of them for granted. "We know exactly how many amps every single appliance requires. The phone recorder 1.2. The kitchen lights, 4.1 And the hairdryer, 44."

Because an appliance that is plugged in sucks electricity, regardless of whether it’s being used, they don’t leave the gadgets plugged in. Further, they don’t run the hairdryer and the toaster at the same time. But, she says, snowmobiling in order to get to town is an even greater challenge.

"I am not a rope-head. I am not a hermit," says Beth. "I am not a religious fanatic who doesn’t believe in power. I do believe in modern medicine."

So why all this lifestyle?

"You need a lot less than you think you do," she answers. "And you should need nature a lot more than you think you do. The harmony of living with nature as a result of being off-grid and taking only what you need from the sun and wind is amazing and a no-brainer once you consider it."

Storm leaves Silverton isolated from the world

SILVERTON, Colo. — A heavy storm that dropped new snow on a sun-crusted base created an avalanche cycle that one veteran observer said was the most fierce in 25 years.

The storm left Silverton isolated for a day on its access to Durango across Molas Divide. Meanwhile, the town’s northern gateway, Red Mountain Pass, was closed more than three days, reports the Silverton Standard. That pass, particularly near the Ouray segment, is known as one of the most extreme avalanche areas along a highway in the U.S.