Avon questions alpine aesthetic

AVON – Can you have a Home Depot and a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the mountains and have them not look like Suburban Sprawl USA?

That seemed to be the essential question of a story in the Vail Daily (Dec. 18), and after talking with the developer, the newspaper reported that yes, things will be different. There’s even a name for it – alpine aesthetic.

Magnus Lindholm, a hotel and shipping magnate originally from Sweden who is co-developing the complex along Interstate 70, said the hulking stores have been designed to vanish into the mountain scenery. “We don’t want to see roofs. That’s one of the goals, because they’re huge,” he said.

The 120,000-square-foot Home Depot has a facade meant to resemble aspen trees, and the parking lots also will be landscaped with aspen and pines. “Wal-Mart asked us to reduce the amount of trees in the lot,” says Shane Brohart, director of development for Traer Creek, the company building the development, called Village at Avon. Wal-Mart, he added, was concerned that people wouldn’t see the store.

Lights have been cut by 30 to 40 percent as compared to what is typically found on the exterior of big-box buildings. The newspaper didn’t say whether they will be the typical warehouse lights used by big box retailers.

By next summer, the stores will open, and it should be clear whether the developers have elevated the shopping experience or merely elevated sterility in the mountains.

Mary Jane will keep her bumps

WINTER PARK – Mary Jane is the deep-cleavaged sister at Winter Park Resort, with some of the best mogul runs in Colorado, if not the nation. But now that Intrawest has taken over operations, there’s a rumor going round that the company intends to groom the bumps.

Not so, says Gary DeFrang, Winter Park’s general manager. “Why would we possibly groom the number-one rated mogul runs in this country?” he asked the Winter Park Manifest (Jan. 1).

Times profiles Vail Resorts

AVON – Vail Resorts Inc. was profiled in a story that appeared in the Dec. 29 issue of the New York Times. Of particular attention was the company’s diversification beyond Colorado and into nonskiing hotels when it bought RockResorts International, a hotel chain.

Adam Aron, the CEO of Vail Resorts, told the Times that he wants to turn the brand into an industry powerhouse by adding one or more hotels annually; it now has 10 properties. He also hopes to change how investors view Vail Resorts. The company is currently valued at about 6.6 times its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Shares of leading luxury-hotel managers like Fairmont Hotels and Resorts sell at nearly twice that.

The Times noted that earnings remain about the same, 21 cents a share, as compared to when the company went public in 1997, while long-term debt has more than doubled, to more than $600 million.

The newspaper also reported that some within the company believe that Vail’s largest shareholders, Apollo, Ralcorp and Baron Capitol Group – which collectively own nearly 75 percent of outstanding shares – are becoming frustrated with Aron’s management. Leon Black, Robert A. Katz and Marc J. Rowen, all of Apollo, denied this statement.

In a talk to Vail residents and second-home owners, Aron called the article “mostly positive.”

Melon suspected in outbreak

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Between 15 and 20 people developed symptoms consistent with salmonellosis after eating at a restaurant in Steamboat Springs in December. No conclusive ruling was made, but the likely source of the bacteria was a batch of fruit, possibly a melon rind, reports the Steamboat Pilot (Jan. 8). The restaurant vowed to use bleach to clean melon rinds in the future.

Taos debates merits of Wal-Mart

TAOS, N.M. – After previously barring a Wal-Mart Supercenter by limiting store sizes, the Taos Town Council is drawing up plans to accommodate one. Still, the invitation hasn’t been extended yet, and town residents are debating whether the humongous store would benefit or hurt them.

Some 200 people showed up at a forum sponsored by the Hispano Chamber of Commerce, reported the Taos News (Jan. 9). Some speakers said Wal-Mart will wipe out local businesses, while others said local businesses just have to reposition themselves.

Another issue is how much Wal-Mart pays employees. Although hardly a scientific study, one speaker reported wages of $10 to $16 an hour paid by existing local businesses, while Wal-Mart starts at $7.50 an hour.

Woman innocent of prostitution

CANMORE, ALBERTA – A provincial court judge has ruled that prosecutors failed to produce sufficient evidence that Ming Thi Nguyen had operated a bawdy house out of her Canmore massage parlor.

Two police officers had gone to the massage studio and while there broached the subject of exchanging sexual services for money. Both said they had set a deal and a price with Nguyen for sex acts.

While it’s not illegal to engage in an act of prostitution in Canada, it is illegal to solicit for such an act, live off the avails of prostitution or maintain a house or business – a bawdy house – used for prostitution, notes the Rocky Mountain Outlook (Jan. 9).

Although the judge found that police had succeeded only in raising suspicion, the Town of Canmore had revoked her business license after the charges had been laid, so to speak.

Wyoming avalanches kill two

JACKSON HOLE, WYO. – Ski town newspapers continue to carry reports of near tragedy in the backcountry among skiers and snowmobilers, the result of mid-winter snow conditions that are all-too typically unstable.

In Wyoming, this instability resulted in two deaths. The first was of a 16-year-old snowmobiler and the second a renowned snowboarder.

The snowmobiler was riding with his family when he set off an avalanche that swept him 75 yards. The family dug frantically but had neither shovels nor probe poles and only one transceiver. The second death occurred near Teton Pass when Tristan Picot, 19, of St. Marcellin, France, triggered an avalanche that swept him 60 yards down a gully and broke his neck. Avalanche danger was rated “considerable” when the tragedies took place, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide (Jan. 8).

The newspaper also reported a slope south of the Jackson Hole Ski Area had been skied by about 15 people before it avalanched. Nobody was injured in that affair. Conditions are expected to remain unstable for a long time this winter.

Meanwhile, near Breckenridge, a snowmobiler was rescued after being buried with only his hand emerging from the snow, reports the Summit Daily News (Jan. 8).

More snow predicted for Sierra

TAHOE CITY, CALIF. – Climate experts predict above-average amounts of moisture in the Sierra Nevada through March. The climatologists predict a 40 percent chance that a large number of storms will continue to roll through the region, but they say they have no way of determining if the storms will drop enough moisture to pull the area out of a three-year drought.

The last El Nino to hit the Sierra came in 1997-98 and was powerful enough to create a 100-year flood on New Year’s Eve, notes the Tahoe Daily Tribune (Jan. 9). This El Nino is thought to lack that sort of punch.

Lift op charged with sabotage

TELLURIDE – An operator of the gondola that links Telluride with Mountain Village and the ski slopes has been charged with 102 criminal deeds, most of them felonies having to do with endangering the public.

Police accuse the woman of stopping the gondola 33 times beginning Christmas day by shutting down electrical power. They say she turned a switch that caused a voltage drop, and she also ripped wires out of a relay box, reports the Telluride Daily Planet (Jan. 9).

Her lawyer’s response? “They’re picking on a 19-year-old,” he said.

Mammoth power outage causes big stink

MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIF. – Parts of Mammoth Lakes were without power on New Year’s Day, including the town’s sewage treatment plant. The result, says the Mammoth Times (Jan. 9) was a big stink.

Absent electricity for nine hours, no oxygen was pumped into the treatment tanks. Without that oxygen, the bacteria that stabilizes the sewage started to die.

Downhill Slide gets play in local papers

WINTER PARK, COLO. – Downhill Slide, Hal Clifford’s critique of the ski industry, is getting mentions here and there in ski-town newspapers. Several reviews have appeared that credit Clifford with a bull’s eye in his analysis. An exception is Harry Williamson, editor of the Winter Park Manifest (Jan. 8).

Williamson disagrees with Clifford’s seeming wish to return to yesteryear in ski country. “But we can’t go back. We’ve made a bargain with the devil. And the devil is not Intrawest or Vail or the American Ski Co. It’s tourism.”

As Williamson sees it, the heaven-to-hell makeover was not created by the corporations but by people just like Clifford, a type of person described as a “neonative” in a 1998 book by Hal Rothman called Devil’s Bargains. The corporations that Clifford rails against are just the latest in a long line of big businesses that began with the Union Pacific Railroad in Sun Valley in the 1930s.

The book also has received four reviews by readers on the Amazon.com Web site. One, from Hanover, Maine, reads: “Downhill Slide will almost certainly play well among class warriors, ski town kvetches and the Chicken Little faction of the environmental movement. But if you’re looking for objective analysis and honest debate over real issues, look elsewhere.”





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