Snowmobiles go odor-free and silent

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WYO. – Pushed by the Clinton administration’s proposed ban of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, snowmobile manufacturers have responded. On a recent morning at least a third of the snowmobiles in the parking lot of Old Faithful Inn had four-stroke engines.

Four-stroke engines are made notable by what they lack – the bluish tinge and smell of burning oil. The vapor is the same exhaust that cars emit on a chilly winter morning.

Also gone are the high-pitched squeal and rat-a-tat-tat of traditional two-stroke engines. Instead, the new four-stroke engines hum like a car.

Tests of Arctic Cat and Polaris Frontier four-stroke engines show that they reduce hydrocarbon emissions by up to 98 percent, carbon monoxide by up to 85 percent and particulates by up to 96 percent. The engines also have about 40 percent better fuel economy, according to the Southwest Research Institute, which did the testing.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide (Feb. 12) explains that the National Park Service banned snowmobiles from Yellowstone in 2000, the year the new four-stroke engines were introduced. Now, the Bush administration is overturning that ban. Under the new plan, guides in Yellowstone will be required to use the new engines next winter. The following winter, all rental snowmobiles will be required to have the less-polluting engines.

Salt Lake seeks Olympics again

PARK CITY, UTAH—A year after hosting the Olympics, Park City remains aglow with the pomp and circumstance. The Park Record (Feb. 8) mistily likens the event to Brigadoon, the mythical Scottish town that existed only one day every 100 years.

Why wait 100 years? Already there is talk of seeking the Olympics again, perhaps as early as 2018. That assumes Vancouver/Whistler get the games in 2010, which means 2014 would be on another continent.

Boosters say the infrastructure is already in place, and they also point to what the Olympics do to a resort area’s economy. Despite marginal snow conditions this winter in Park City, the slopes are plenty busy. Marketing materials carefully note Park City’s now-historic Olympic tradition.

Three cities have hosted Winter Games twice: St. Moritz in 1928 and 1948; Lake Placid in 1932 and 1984; and Innsbruck in 1974 and 1976. It should be noted that Innsbruck was drafted for the 1976 competition only after Denver pulled out in 1972.

Park City unlikely to oppose war

PARK CITY, UTAH – The Park City Council is resisting calls for a resolution in opposition to a war against Iraq absent strong international support.

Although there was no resolution to vote up or down, the council is disinclined to consider one, reported The Park Record (Feb. 8). Council members suggested that such a resolution might go against the beliefs of some city residents, while others questioned whether a resolution would do any good. Mayor Dana Williams said he thought such a resolution would damage relations between Park City and Utah’s largely Republican congressional delegation.

“Park City has gone a long way over the last year to increase our relationship with our representatives in Washington,” he said, noting that the city wants federal money for water projects and continues to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up remnants of the city’s mining history. “I’m wary of jeopardizing things like that.”

I-70 looks to Canada for lessons

BANFF, ALBERTA – In the 1970s and 1980s , the Trans-Canada Highway, as it passed through Banff National Park, became known as the “meatmaker.” As many as 120 elk were killed in a year along the 82 kilometers (51 miles) of highway.

Then, beginning with highway expansion in the late 1980s, both underpasses and overpasses were installed – not for people, but for wildlife. Now, there are 22 underpasses and two overpasses in a 31-mile stretch, the longest highway segment in the world of such structures, providing a unique opportunity to study the effectiveness of connecting fragmented habitat.

Colorado’s Interstate 70 west of Denver has a similar issue as it splices the largest concentration of ski areas in North America. Wildlife biologists have taken to calling it the “Berlin Wall to Wildlife.” Very little was done to accommodate wildlife at the outset of highway construction in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. However, when the highway is modified in the next 10 to 15 years, it is likely to include accommodations to wildlife passage, probably using lessons learned from the Trans-Canada Highway.

Leading the Canadian study is Tony Clevenger, a wildlife biologist who is among the leaders in the relatively new field of road ecology. He told The Rocky Mountain Outlook (Feb. 7) that the overpasses and underpasses had resulted in a 900 percent reduction in elk and deer mortalities. They are also allowing safe passage to cougars, black bears and wolves. Species use them in different ways. Moose, elk, grizzly and wolves prefer overpasses, while cougars prefer going under. No one structure works for them all.

Beacon fails in avalanche death

JACKSON HOLE, WYO. – When Steve Haas and Tom Burlingame began their descent of Hourglass Couloir, an in-bounds but closed area at Jackson Hole Resort, both had avalanche transceivers.

Then, an avalanche caught both men, sweeping them 600 feet down the couloir. Although Burlingame emerged on top, the tumult had damaged his avalanche beacon, forcing him to search futilely for Haas for five minutes using his ski poles converted into a probe pole.

Then, another skier arrived. With his functioning transceiver, they found Haas within seven minutes, but it took them 10 minutes to dig him out from the three to four feet of concrete snow. When they finally got to him, easily 20 minutes had passed, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide (Feb. 12). Despite their efforts, he had suffocated.

Conditions had been ripe for an avalanche. The avalanche danger was rated as “considerable” for high-elevation areas. The slope was about 40 degrees, wind-loaded and laden with about seven inches of fresh snow.

The victim was described as the “ski bums’ ski bum,” a 41-year-old who had spent the previous 15 years driving a dump truck six days a week from April through November in order to finance his hard-core skiing. He was not, said friends, the sort to parade in front of cameras.

Costs mount for snowboarder

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – For a 21-year-old snowboarder, the consequences of hitting a 58-year-old skier last winter continue to mount.

Already, he has spent 10 days in jail and was ordered to perform 80 hours of community service, reports The Steamboat Pilot (Feb. 6). On top of that, he has to pay the out-of-pocket expenses for a shoulder injury that the woman’s insurance policy did not cover.

The snowboarder, who is from Georgia, said he hit the brakes before hitting the woman, then rode away because he didn’t realize she was injured. Run-ins are common, he said, and he didn’t think twice about it.

Steamboat loses downtown hardware

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – In the 1950s, when Steamboat had only one small ski area, Howelsen Hill, the downtown area was like many agriculture-based towns in the United States. It had five car and tractor dealerships, a five-and-dime Ben Franklin, and two hardware stores.

All are gone today, most recently Boggs Hardware, which prompted the Steamboat Pilot (Feb. 2) to examine the market that drives business decisions on Lincoln Avenue, the main drag through Ski Town, USA.

Among several factors is rent. The lowest rents, negotiated a decade ago, run $10 to $40 per square foot. Most seem to fall in the range of $23 to $30.

To pay this kind of rent, there must be high volume and high margin items, even if they are lower cost, such as the sort of trinkets that tourist stores sell. Or they can be high-margin items like Native American art. But people shopping in Steamboat, even if on a ski vacation, won’t pay higher prices for such things as shoes, because they have a good idea of what those shoes should cost.

People do expect to pay more for food in resort towns, and Lincoln Avenue has 20 restaurants. However, they can’t afford the top-end rents.

Some ski towns, Aspen in particularly, have seen independent retailers replaced by national brand stores. Such stores as Ralph Lauren, J. Crew and The Gap remain a possibility, but Steamboat’s Bill Moser, a commercial property manager, believes that Steamboat has not reached the critical mass national retailers are seeking. “They’re not willing to take too many chances,” he says. Only occasionally will a CEO buy a home in a ski town and insist on having bricks and mortar nearby.

Dillon turns to Zeppelin for research

DILLON – While listening to Led Zeppelin, the Dillon Town Council cranked the speakers, all in the name of legal research. What council members found was that, in laymen’s terms, 65 to 70 decibels is a really rocking party – the point at which you’d expect the neighbors to call the police.

With that as the benchmark, the council chose to limit nighttime noise at bars and restaurants within earshot of a residential neighborhood to 55 decibels after 11 p.m. In commercial zones during daytime, the maximum is 65 decibels, reports The Summit County Independent (Feb. 6).

Ironically, this is the same town that invited a Harley-Davidson dealer to do business after neighboring Silverthorne turned up its shoulder. Wonder how this decibel thing will play in that particular factory of ringing, dinging ears.

CB studies construction recycling center

CRESTED BUTTE – A study is under way to examine whether a construction-materials reuse center is feasible in the Crested Butte/Gunnison area.

Spare lumber is often used for firewood, but most unused material ends up in the landfill, says one of the proponents, Melanie Rees. The idea is to collect building scraps, unused materials and displaced items such as sinks and furniture. These items are then to be paired with new owners. The hope is that all this match-making can be done with just one full-time employee, and that the whole operation can operate without a subsidy after the first year.

Such construction reuse centers can be found in Boulder, Carbondale and Montrose. By one estimate, 20 percent of all refuse put into landfills is construction waste. In high-growth areas, such as Eagle County, the proportion may be even higher.

A major benefit to contractors might be to reduce their dumping fees. Still, the odds of making this work on a small scale are not considered particularly good. One builder told the Crested Butte News (Feb. 14) that a pick-up service and drop-off opportunities will be crucial to the plan’s success.

This feasibility study is being paid for by a $9,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development. One premise of the effort, said Rees, is that economic wealth does not always have to be a result of bringing in more tourists, but rather in capturing the dollars that tourists do bring and keeping the dollars in the community longer.

Vancouver goes to polls over Olympics

VANCOUVER, B.C. – A plebiscite will be held Feb. 22 over whether Vancouver wants to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. The vote, reports the Pique newsmagazine (Feb. 7) is nonbinding but nonetheless could cause the International Olympic Committee to reconsider its choice.

Gerhard Heiberg, the head of the IOC’s Evaluation Commission, said recently that it would be hard to award the games to a city unless most of the population actually wanted them. Polls have shown that Vancouver residents support the Olympics, although anti-games forces are now cranking up their efforts. Vancouver and Whistler, which would host the skiing events, are considered the front runner among the three candidate cities.





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