Seven die in slide near Rogers Pass

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – And still the sad news continues from the Canadian Rockies.

Only a day after 200 people crowded into a church in Revelstoke to mourn the seven Americans and Canadians who had died while backcountry skiing on Durrand Glacier, north of Revelstoke, seven students on a school outing near Rogers Pass were killed in a massive avalanche.

The site of the second avalanche was only 20 to 25 miles from the first.

The students, all of them 10th-graders from a private school near Calgary, were members of a 17-person party, including three adult chaperones, who had set out Feb. 1. All were equipped with avalanche beacons, snow probes and shovels. The adult leader of the party was a certified backcountry guide. The route they used was a popular one and had been used by more than 200 people in three to four days prior.

The snowpack was known to have been weak, and it had rained the previous day in the area, but avalanche personnel with Parks Canada in Revelstoke would not speculate whether that rain might have been a contributing factor. Experts on the scene surmised that contrary to almost all avalanche fatalities, the victims in this case had not triggered the slide.

Response was rapid. A guide in the party had a satellite telephone, and the first of seven helicopters, 30 rescue personnel, a unit of the Canadian Armed Forces, and avalanche dogs had arrived within 20 minutes. However, two backcountry guides who happened to be in the area initiated the work, and succeeded in saving several of the youngsters, who in turn helped dig out others.

Within 40 minutes of the calamity, four of the seven killed had been dug out, buried under one to three meters of snow. The avalanche was described as 3 to 3.5 on a scale of 5, large enough to destroy a train or a house.

Dark skies effort fails in Park City

PARK CITY, UTAH – Amateur astronomer Anthony Arrigo has been beating the drum loudly for dark skies in Park City. The co-founder of Utah Skies, he had hoped Utah legislators would adopt a resolution discouraging light pollution and excessive lighting of state facilities. He failed.

Prominent among those testifying against the resolutions were representatives of billboard companies, who argued that the resolution would lead to an increase in crime, reports The Park Record (Feb. 1). Arrigo was said to be regrouping, figuring out the higher form of stealth politics.

Observatory erected in Gunnison

GUNNISON – A 30-inch telescope is expected to be placed at a new observatory just south of the town of Gunnison, a college town about 27 miles from Crested Butte. The county government had placed a down payment on the telescope in hopes it would attract professionals, students and amateur astronomers to the area, reports the Crested Butte News (Jan. 24).

In conjunction with the telescope – which is to be powered from solar cells and windmills – there will be a community sundial, a greenhouse and a constructed wetland. Nearby is a prominent archaeological site.

Aspen sees strong December sales

ASPEN – A strong December caused sales tax collections in Aspen to be down only 1.8 percent compared to 2001.

The year started slowly. Collections were down 4.7 percent from January through August, then up 5.2 percent from September through December. Included was a December that was like the good old days – up 10.4 percent.

The Aspen Times (Feb. 5) says this swing was most prominent in lodging – down 9.2 percent for the first eight months, and then up 16.5 percent in the final four. Other sectors were more laggard, with all sectors of retail sales suffering declined sales.

Telluride gear company sells out

TELLURIDE – Bookends for the story of Jagged Edge Mountain Gear are 1991 and 2001, and both involve lack of money.

In 1991, Margaret Quenemoen had returned to Telluride after a mountaineering trip, her wallet empty. She had beautiful fabrics, however, and sewed strips of the fabric onto strips of fleece, crafting warm and stylish headbands that became all the rage in Telluride and beyond.

By 2001, Jagged Edge, as she and her sister, Paula Quenemoen, called the company that they founded, had stores in Breckenridge, Park City and Crested Butte, as well as Telluride. They also had a booming mail-order business.

Then the terrorist attacks occurred, and soon after the anthrax scares. The company had sent out 725,000 catalogues, double the number of the year before, but the company believed that a quarter of them hit the trash bin. The company was terrifically overstocked, and the merchandise just didn’t move quickly enough out of the new store in Park City, despite the Olympics. In May 2002, the company filed for bankruptcy.

Even before, Margaret Quenemoen had been seeking a partner. Now, the company has been sold to the Russell Corporation, an Atlanta-based manufacturer of team athletic wear, reports The Telluride Watch (Jan. 21). Terms were not disclosed, but company officials described it as a classic story of a booming brand without the infrastructure necessary to support sales.

Ski towns see impacts of possible war

WHISTLER, B.C. – Of course a war in Iraq will affect tourism in Whistler, Aspen and every other mountain town. But how and how much?

Duration of the war, and whether it sets off a round of global terrorism, is part of the equation. Already, evidence is ample that people are booking vacations much shorter in advance – Vail Resorts, for example, figures the average lead time is two weeks, where it used to be 60 days.

Peter Williams, director of the center for tourism and policy research at Simon Fraser University, told Whistler’s Pique newsmagazine (Feb. 5) he believes a war may cut visitor totals to British Columbia by 20 to 30 percent.

Barret Fischer, vice president for marketing strategy and business for Tourism Whistler, says the consensus of organizations and businesses he talks with is that Whistler is already being affected by war talk. Long-haul tourism from the United States and overseas is down, while German and Japanese consumers are being cautious. Travelers from the United Kingdom and Mexico, however, view Canada as a “safe haven” and are going ahead with bookings.

Eighth person perishes at Keystone

KEYSTONE – A snowboarder died of a lacerated liver and other internal injuries he suffered after crashing from a jump at the resort’s terrain park. It was the eighth death at Keystone this year, four of them trauma-related skier or snowboarder deaths. In addition, an employee drowned, another fell off a chairlift, and two customers died of heart attacks, reports the Summit Daily News (Feb. 9).

Mountain lion starts slide at Breck

BRECKENRIDGE – A mountain lion started, got caught in, and survived an avalanche in the Breckenridge Ski Area. The cat struggled in the slide but escaped and ran off. Witnesses said the slide was 450 feet across and then ran 600 vertical feet.

The cat was seen above timberline, in the Peak 8 area near Imperial Bowl. The bowl is located at an elevation of 12,000 to 13,000 feet, but was not open at the time. A mountain lion also was seen on the slopes of Vail Mountain five years ago, in the Lionshead area, but showed little interest in the snowshoer who filed the report.

Knox Williams, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, told the Summit Daily News (Feb. 8) that elk are known to start avalanches, perhaps once or twice a year in Colorado, but this is the first avalanche he has heard of started by a cat. Most unusual, he said, was the elevation – well above timberline.

Ice rink pushed to NHL standards

TELLURIDE – Telluride’s ice rink will be built to National Hockey League regulation-sized, 200 feet, thanks to a recent infusion of cash. After the project was beset by cost overruns, the Town Council rode to the rescue with $69,000, while a group of hockey dads pledged another $110,000. The money also will be used to pay for finished bathrooms. Foundation for the project is a $1.9 million bond issue approved by Telluride voters in 2001, notes The Telluride Watch (Jan. 24).

New owner takes over SmartWool

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Philadelphia-based RAFT Industries is now the complete owner of SmartWool but will not move operations from Steamboat Springs. The company is in the first of a five-year renewable lease for use of the former commercial airport terminal at the city’s airport. Over the past three years, SmartWool has grown from 12 to 32 employees in Steamboat Springs.

Peter and Patty Duke founded SmartWool, importing Merino wool from New Zealand to make hiking, skiing and running socks. RAF, a holding company, acquired majority interest in SmartWool in 1995, and in January acquired the remaining minority interest from the Dukes. RAF’s portfolio includes a range of companies but with an emphasis on gift items and industrial products.

No money is being added to the company as a result of the transaction, nor is any needed, said John “Chip” Coe, executive vice president of SmartWool. The company has recorded annual growth during the past seven years, even in last year’s down economy. "We’re one of the strongest players in the outdoor industries, and we claim the dominant market share among socks of the outdoor industry,” Coe told the Steamboat Pilot (Feb. 5). “Each quarter we strengthen our hold. We’re well positioned for future growth.”





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