People survive avalanches statewide

I-70 CORRIDOR – Colorado papers are full of stories about avalanches that almost claimed lives.

At Snowmass, a 24-year-old bellman spending his first winter in Aspen after graduating from college in Michigan skied under a rope and, once on a cliff band, pondering his choices, fell along with a pillow of snow. Triple lucky, he avoided hitting rocks as he dropped into snow that left his head uncovered.

Ski patrollers happened by, dug him out and took him to the hospital. Then they took his season pass and fined him $150. The Aspen Times (Feb. 28) reports that the man was contrite. “I am not a stupid person,” he said. “I don’t know why I did this.”

Meanwhile, in Summit County, in a backcountry area called the Beavers, which is reached via the lifts at Arapahoe Basin, three snowboarders were drawn by steeps and, by standards of this winter, deep. One was buried under 2 to 3 feet of snow in the avalanche, but all three had transceivers. Those transceivers allowed his partners to dig him out within seven minutes. He recovered consciousness and suffered only a broken arm, says the Summit Daily News (Feb. 25).

The snowboarders promised to be more cautious, but rescue personnel who have responded to that very same site expressed anger that they’re always being called out to retrieve what are often dead bodies.

Even luckier was the co-owner of a sporting goods store in Avon who was dug from avalanche debris in a well-known slide zone adjacent to Beaver Creek. A friend spotted his ski tip sticking out from the snow. The man admits being scared. “You’re 100 percent immobilized, I was just breathing slow, thinking it was a hell of a way to go, then I just passed out,” he told the Vail Daily (Feb. 25).

The Bachelorette boosts Vail’s sales

VAIL – In recent weeks, it has been impossible to pick up a newspaper to find a stock-market report without stumbling across a story about Ryan Sutter, the Vail firefighter who got the girl on the TV show, “Bachelorette.”

When on television, Sutter often wore a T-shirt for the “Vail Fire Emergency Services.” Now the fire department is getting 100 orders daily for the T-shirts, at $20 a pop. Sutter’s fire captain, Jim Spell, admitted to some disorganization. “We are not a mail-order business, we are a fire station,” he told the Vail Daily (Feb. 25). No word on where the profits will go.

Will Sutter and his now-fiance, the lovely Trista Rehn, live in L.A., Vail or elsewhere? Again, you can’t look up a hockey score without finding musings in that regard. Vail seems certain to be the wedding site and probably on June 7, says the Vail Daily.

Steamboat questions free market

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – As city councils often do, the Steamboat Council recently launched into a discussion about when it’s appropriate to stick its governmental finger into the free-market porridge. What seems to have set if off was the closing of Bogg’s Hardware, an institution in the old downtown district since 1939. But there were other triggers as well – another liquor store, rumored arrival of national sports chain Gart Sports and proliferating real estate offices.

At the heart of the council’s concern is keeping the downtown storefronts occupied, longtime local businesses intact and the character of Steamboat unique, says The Steamboat Pilot (Feb. 9).

Regarding liquor stores in particular, Councilman Bud Romberg asked, “When is enough enough?” He questioned whether the town code needs to address when there are “enough liquor stores or gas stations or T-shirt shops or grocery stores.”

Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner questioned whether the free market is particularly wise or fair. “I think a community that defines itself and defines its vision is: one, more attractive; and two, a better place to live and have a business.”

Others fear too much lodging has been built, given that the tourism sector is flat. Last year, 1,200 new pillows were added. Kathy Connell, the City Council president who co-owns a property management firm, said the glut hasn’t affected her as much as the properties’ owners, who must now compete by dramatically dropping prices and discounting lodging by as much as 50 percent. The end result, she said, is local companies selling out to national chains. “And you don’t want to do that to the community, because then you lose the character of a community.”

One proposal is for an inventory of the city’s commercial sector, similar to one being done for housing.

Vail considers xeriscaping its parks

VAIL – Todd Oppenheimer is studying X-rated flowers. That’s “X” as in xeriscaping, the word coined about 20 years ago to describe landscaping with plants that need little water.

Vail buys 40,000 flowers each year (at 50 cents each) for use in parks, along roads and in pedestrian areas. Getting varieties that need minimal water for maximum flower is Oppenheimer’s job.

Last year, using a computerized sprinkling system, the municipality knocked down water use by more than half, reports the Vail Daily (March 3). The city is one of the local water district’s largest customers. Last year, watering restrictions were mostly voluntary. This year, in response to complaints, the water district might actually start charging more for customers who don’t conserve.

Oppenheimer sees his work as partly educational. “If there are again valley-wide watering restrictions, we want to be able to show people that drought-resistant landscaping doesn’t mean rocks and cacti,” Oppenhiemer said. “Our goal is to not even have people notice that we are using water-efficient plantings.”

GreenCo of Colorado, an umbrella organization representing greenhouse growers and landscape architects and contractors, has produced an “X-rated” list of 40 varieties of flowers tested for water consumption. Plants using an inch of water per week are X-rated, those needing a half-inch are XX rated, and those needing a half-inch every other week are XXX. In comparison, turf grass needs at least two inches of water per week.

Renters’ market strong in Winter Park

WINTER PARK – Like other ski towns, it’s a renters’ market in Winter Park and neighboring towns.

One indicator is the number of rental classified ads at Halloween, when people are typically looking. The newspaper had only 25 in the mid-1990s, but the figure grew to 48 by the year 2000 and to 128 last fall.

One landlord told the Winter Park Manifest (Feb. 19) that he and other landlords had reduced their rates 30 to 40 percent during the last 18 months. This, he insisted, is the worst he has seen in 20 years – which could be an exaggeration. Housing was distinctly tight in 1983 and remained so until about 1986.

There is now some questioning of whether Winter Park really needs to develop affordable housing. The same question was being asked in the late 1980s in Vail – just before the boom there returned in a major way. Jon de Vos, a member of the Grand County Housing Authority, sees this as at temporary thing. “Unless Intrawest has ambitious plans regarding employee housing, in three more years we will be back in crisis mode,” he said.

Colorado steals Sierra’s snowpack

SIERRA-AT-TAHOE, CALIF. – Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe began February with 78 percent of average but fell to 67 percent of average during the month, reports the Tahoe Daily Tribune (Feb. 28).

Meanwhile, Colorado was blessed by steady storms in late February. The state’s snowpack was pushed to about 91 percent of average in the Vail area, about 86 percent in the Aspen area and 96 percent in Summit County. As of March 1, the Animas River Basin was posting 72 percent of average. Even more snow is expected, but it would take spectacular spring snows to nudge Colorado out of drought conditions.

Pikas vanishing all over the West

THE WEST – Pikas are disappearing from the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada in what researchers say is the first link between global warming and the widespread disappearance of entire animal populations. A study published in the Journal of Mammalogy says this may be an “early signal” of what alpine and subalpine environments throughout the world will face if temperatures continue to rise as predicted. Erik Beever, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist, was the lead author.

In the study, reports the Los Angeles Times (Feb. 27), pikas were no longer found in 7 of 25 sites where they once had been plentiful early in the 20th century. The sites that lost pikas were on average drier and warmer and at lower latitudes than sites where the animals remained. Cattle grazing and proximity to roads had some impact on the animals, but warmer and drier conditions of recent decades were a major factor in their disappearance, said Beever.

Whistler nearing 50% waste reduction

WHISTLER, B.C. – Since 1991, Whistlers are creating 43 percent less trash per capita. The reduction still falls short of the 50 percent mandated by the provincial government in 1989, but it could be improved as the local home builders’ association focuses on diverting waste from construction projects.

The success to date, say officials writing in the Whistler Question (Feb. 27), can be attributed to manufacturers paying more attention to material design and the end life of their products. Also, they say recycling has become an ingrained habit for most, and for many people not recycling has become socially unacceptable.

Newspaper warns of need for hotel rooms

KETCHUM, IDAHO – Ghost towns still happen, says the Idaho Mountain Express (Feb. 19). You hear less about them than growing towns, because few people are left to complain when towns shrink. In fact, says the newspaper, were it not for Averell Harriman and Union-Pacific creating Sun Valley, the decaying mining towns of the Wood River Valley might have become ghost towns.

But now, the newspaper sees decay once again: “Sun Valley is sitting by quietly, and Ketchum is actively discouraging development of replacement units for the 320 hotel rooms the valley has lost over the last seven years.”

Ketchum’s discouraging words are caused by the proposal’s nonconformity to height limits, but the newspaper believes the council should consider that a financially viable hotel may be impossible with the existing height limitation. And without hotels, says the paper, Sun Valley is like a farm without wells, a ranch without livestock.

Multiple sclerosis prevalent in Colorado

CRESTED BUTTE– The rumor mill has long held that Crested Butte has an unusually high incidence of multiple sclerosis. Specific data for the town are unavailable, but Colorado overall is among the top 10 states for MS, reports the Crested Butte News (Feb. 23).

The incidence is about one in every 800 Coloradoans, compared to one in 10,000 in Texas. Nearly three-fourths of the MS victims are women. Although not fatal, MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system that causes numbness, poor coordination, extreme fatigue and, in more extreme cases, paralysis and blindness.

Water demand rises in Telluride

TELLURIDE – Demand for water is expected to outstrip supply for Telluride, possibly as soon as the year 2006. “When we get into a critical dry period, we’re going to get a situation sooner or later – and we believe it’s sooner – when demand is going to outstrip supply,” said John Courier, a water engineer.

While considering wells on the valley floor, the advisors tell Telluride’s council the better option is to develop water in the Bridal Veil basin, a hanging valley above Telluride. Cost of that plant, with a new water treatment plant, would be between $5.5 million and $6 million.

Who will pay? There is some sentiment on the council, reports The Telluride Watch (Feb. 21) that existing residents should not have to pay elevated costs. The town also is looking to require new annexations into the town to provide water rights or fees in lieu.

Teachers lose jobs as students go private

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. – Twenty-one teachers are losing their jobs as part of a $2.7 million budget cut. Nearly 40 instructional aides will also lose their jobs.

The cuts, reports, the Tahoe Daily Tribune (Feb. 26) are necessary to counter money lost from declining enrollment coupled with the unknown outcome of a state budget crisis. During the past five years, more than 630 students have left the district. The school board is thinking about enticing a charter or magnet school to open, with the goal being to lure students previously lost to alternative schools.

Aspen lodges respond to Vail

AVON – Vail Resorts Inc. last week announced it would give customers full refunds on trips cancelled before June 1. This policy applies at the company’s lodges at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail, as well as the Colorado Rock Resorts, which manages 10 luxury resort hotels in seven states, including one at Jackson Hole.

The decision was a response to “uncertain times” in which travelers are concerned about losing a large deposit on a vacation if they choose to cancel at the last minute, Vail officials said.

In Aspen, many lodges are cautiously changing their cancellation policies in response. Some have relaxed policies from 30 days notice to 14, reports the Aspen Times (March 3) and others from 21 days down to 7.

Rick Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a reservations agency, called it a “very bold move.” “Whether or not this turns out to be a brilliant move, we don’t know,” he said.

Vail is also suspending cancellation fees on advance lift ticket purchases at its four Colorado ski areas plus California’s Heavenly.





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