High-end construction goes modular in Telluride

NUCLA — For 20 years Michael McLaughlin had been designing and building high-end homes in the Telluride area. But McLaughlin, a self-described “idea guy,” thought there was a better way to build those luxury houses – modular construction.

“Modular” for most people connotes inferior, slapped-together houses that start falling apart if you look at them. But McLaughlin says what really matters is the quality of materials.

“For me, modular doesn’t have negative connotations – you think cheap homes because, yes, that’s the way it has been,” McLaughlin told Marta Tarbell of The Telluride Watch (Aug. 23). “But the technology is brilliant. Instead of hauling all the raw material, all the labor, instead of making someone work up at 10,000 feet on a mountainside through the winter, at 40 percent efficiency, we’re working in the factory, at 100 percent efficiency.”

Because most of Telluride’s carpenters, plasterers and drywallers live in the Norwood and Nucla area, 30 to 40 miles west of Telluride, it made sense to put the factory there. It also saves his employees eight to 10 hours of driving every week. At the factory, TimberHaven Log Homes’ 30 employees put together 3,500-square-foot homes, including such components as 200-year-old hand-hewn oak-barn beams and soapstone-granite countertops.

McLaughlin says the concept allows him to buy everything in larger quantities, saving money and speeding up construction. A house in Telluride normally takes 14 months to build; he figures his take four.

Bicyclists urged to create rush hour jam

JACKSON, WYO. — A handbill that urged bicycle riders to rally in a manner called “Plug’n the Hole” was being circulated around Jackson Hole. The handbills said the goal was to “raise awareness of the excess use of autos within the town of Jackson by creating the largest traffic jam ever seen!”

Nobody owned up to passing around the fliers, but various bicycle shop owners and others spoke to the intent – and urged their fellow bicycle riders to boycott it. “It’s a great way to create hostility toward cyclists,” said Alex Worthington, a bicycle mechanic. He told the Jackson Hole News (Aug. 26) that he had witnessed similar rallies in Missoula, Mont. A letter writer, who identified himself as an “almost-obsessed cycling advocate,” argued that bicycle riders were better off not angering those who drive big trucks.

Four-wheelers, motorhome and other toy sales take off

NEW YORK CITY — Suppose the economy is sliding badly, then you got attacked by terrorists, after which the stock market takes a real nasty dive. What would you do?

The response of many baby-boomer Americans has been to buy the most expensive all-terrain vehicle, motorhome or motorcycle they can find. The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 27) reports that Polaris, Brunswick and other manufacturers of recreational equipment are unexpectedly thriving.

For example, executives at Arctic Cat, a Minnesota maker of snowmobiles and ATVs, were fretting last year,after 9/11, certain sales would go down the toilet. But after a brief pall, orders began rushing in – an 11 percent gain for the year that ended March 31.

And buyers are going for top models. Through June, sales at Polaris’ top-of-the-line ATV models, which cost $7,000 and $7,400, were up 50 percent from year-earlier levels.

What’s going on? Demographics, of course. Most buyers are baby boomers now at the peak of their earnings. They’re buying these toys partly to share with their kids. Also, there are more double-income families, and low interest rates have led to mortgage refinancings that provided some money on the side. And, seeing their stock market investments slide, some consumers are thinking they might as well spend the money instead.

Ski areas continue to duke it out for Front Range skiers

I-70 CORRIDOR — The price wars are back in Colorado this winter as Vail Resorts Inc. and Intrawest continue to duke it out trying to lure Front Range skiers.
Vail Resorts is again offering a $319 season pass ($299 if renewed from last year) that is good at Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge and Keystone, plus 10 days at Vail or Beaver Creek. For regular skiers, that means it’s cheaper to ski at Vail than buy a slope-side hamburger, notes The Vail Daily (Aug. 24).

Copper Mountain, which is operated by Intrawest, is also offering bargain-basement deals. It is expected to bundle a pass with Winter Park if Intrawest, as is expected, soon inks a deal with Denver to take over operations there.

Even the Aspen Skiing Co. seems to have been affected, with its four-mountain ski pass dropping to $999 for the coming season, down from $1,350 a decade ago. However, Aspen’s ticket window price is $68, and at Vail it will be $67.

Ski company executives say they may be almost giving away the passes, but the low prices attract buyers who don’t use the passes all that much. Bill Jensen, chief operating officer for Vail Mountain, says the average Vail Resorts passholder skis only 8.1 days a year, so the company gets close to $40 a day for the passes. “The industry has found that if you can get people to commit up-front it’s more profitable,” he explained.

Vail Resorts now also has an interstate deal, offering a Perfect 10 pass for $329 that includes Heavenly Valley in California, which it recently purchased, as well as its four Colorado resorts.

Climbers hit three times by lighting on Grand Teton

JACKSON, WYO. — A trio of climbers were struck three times by lightning as they hunkered down 200 feet below the 13,770-foot summit of the Grand Teton.

“I see this blue-green ball coming down the rope at me,” recalled Dave Schwietert, who was third. ‘It was like the size of a beach ball. Then boom! It hit.”

Another climber, Fletcher Brinkerhoff, told the Jackson Hole News (Aug. 28) the experience was like getting shocked from an outlet. “Usually it shocks you to your shoulder, and it really hurts,” he said. “This was more intense and went through the whole body.”

The third climber, Mike Gauthier, who is the head climbing ranger at Washington’s Mountain Rainier National Park, said it was as if “someone was kicking me in the back of my head really hard.”

Struck once, the three climbers hunkered down in a nook and removed their caribiners and other metal objects. The second strike hit them there, actually lifting them up. That, according to one, was when they began truly fearing for their lives. They were hit yet a third time during the 30-minute storm.

The climbers were burned in several places on their bodies. However, they suggested they would continue climbing, but with a greater sense of life’s precariousness. “That was my eight lives,” said one.

Telluride figuring out how to purchase valley floor

TELLURIDE — The meadow along the San Miguel River leading into Telluride is as pretty an entrance as will ever be found in a cathedral. And, while the rest of Telluride grew, that entry remained undeveloped, green and grazed by cattle.
But a development agreement had been struck long before, and in the late 1990s the landowner, San Miguel Valley Corp., indicated it was getting ready to move dirt on the 570-acre plot.

Town residents have been indignant about the prospect of development there, and after the company’s representatives indicated they had no interest in selling, 61 percent of town residents voted to condemn. Both sides are now girding for the fight.

The land corporation has filed a lawsuit, reports The Telluride Watch (Aug. 19). The lawsuit charges that the town’s condemnation violates the 1986 agreement that said the town would not prevent development by withholding the availability of sewage treatment.

Meanwhile, as part of its “good-faith effort” to buy the land before it can go through with condemnation, town officials are asking voters in November to authorize $4.36 million in new bonds. If approved, that would give the town $15.5 million to work with, not counting private pledges.

– compiled by Allen Best






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