Skier death triggers safety debate

BRECKENRDIGE – The death of a 56-year-old advertising salesman from Naperville, Ill., on Breckenridge’s Peak 9 has triggered a new debate about skier safety. The victim had been hit by a 31-year-old scaffolder from Plymouth, England. Witnesses said the victim flew from his bindings into a tree.

Some argue that ski patrollers aren’t aggressive enough in controlling speed, says the Summit Daily News (March 6). Others complain that high-speed, high-capacity lifts flood trails with too many skiers. There also are complaints about the style of snowboarding clashing with skiing and the popularity of “extreme” sports enticing novices into speeds and feats at which they are not practiced.

One idea, coming from Brett Heckman, an attorney in Edwards, is that perhaps the Colorado Ski Safety Act is outdated. That law outlines the responsibilities of ski areas and skiers, but, passed in 1979, it came before quad lifts, shaped skis and advances in grooming.

“I could see a day when maybe the Legislature would look at imposing some more responsibility on ski areas,” said Heckman. He represented Nathan Hall, the skier convicted two years ago in the death of a British skier on the closing day of Vail.

Taos librarians resist Patriot Act

TAOS, N.M. – Librarians in Taos joined their counterparts elsewhere in New Mexico in denouncing the Patriot Act. It is, they say, a fearful step in censorship and an attack on the First Amendment.

Under the act, federal law enforcement authorities would be able to get records of what books people have been reading. In addition, the Patriot Act limits access to information.

“We would do anything we could not to cooperate with them. Who knows what else will be censored?” Library Service Director Dorothy Kethler told the Taos News (Feb. 26). “Reading a book about terrorism doesn’t equate to becoming a terrorist,” she added.

Telluride public works plot thickens

TELLURIDE – A 63-page affidavit filed in support of arrest warrants for four Telluride public works employees elaborates on some of the accusations against them.

For example, a search of the home of the public works foreman revealed an old drill press, lawn sprinklers inscribed “parks” and a table grinder, each of which matched the description of items missing from the town shop.

The Telluride Watch (Feb. 28) also reports an accusation that the public works director had a farm tractor, a flatbed Ford truck and a boat trailer repainted, refurbished and rebuilt in the shop by public works employees.

Police searching the home of another accused employee seized sockets, wrenches and other tools. The wrenches matched an invoice in the amount of $258 for the same type of wrenches allegedly purchased from Snap-on-Tools on Telluride’s account.

Wal-Mart puts Avon in tax pickle

AVON – A Wal-Mart Supercenter will open this summer in Avon. In it will be a full-service supermarket that is expected to compete heavily with the town’s existing grocery store, City Market, the largest sales-tax generator for nearly the last 20 years.

Town officials say they are concerned because they desperately need sales tax revenues. The deal they cut to get the Wal-Mart complex allows developers to keep the sales taxes until construction bonds are paid off. That could take a decade or more.

Town Council members are consequently fussing over what City Market carries. For one thing, reports the Vail Daily (Feb. 27), they request high-end products.

“The produce has really gone downhill,” added Councilwoman Debbie Buckley.

“You don’t sell cornichons,” Councilman Ron Wolfe told grocery store representatives, describing a small, crisp, French pickle made from gherkin cucumbers. “You’d be surprised how many of my friends and neighbors are looking for cornichons.”

Vail nixes its end-of-season party

VAIL – BB&B, an informal end-of-season bash on Vail Mountain known for its debauchery, has been closed on orders of the U.S. Forest Service.

The Vail Daily (Feb. 28) notes that the party-goers were known to lug kegs of beer up the slope, and others had created ice castles stocked with enough liquor to intoxicate an army of costumed snowboarders and skiers. But the Forest Service, in concert with the county sheriff and the ski area operator, said the party is over.

“It sort of seals Vail’s reputation as the no-fun-allowed ski resort,” said one local.

“That sucks,” said another.

But Cal Wettstein, the local district ranger, said he was prepared to be the bad guy. “I’d much rather be seen as the party pooper than have to answer to some parents for why their child was found dead in the snow from exposure or alcohol poisoning,” he said. “It is just a matter of time before something bad is going to happen.”

Lift operator forced to trim goatee

WINTER PARK – Several weeks ago a lift operator was fired at Winter Park because of his goatee. It was a long and scraggly thing, but he had been wearing it since he was hired two years ago, he said.

Well, he’s working again, and he still has the goatee – but it’s trimmed now, reports the Winter Park Manifest (March 5). He says he was told he had to shave it, but company personnel said the policy was misunderstood. At any rate, it seems that Winter Park under Intrawest won’t be quite as fastidious about facial hair as was once thought.

Mary Jane bumps likely to be mowed

WINTER PARK – Don’t expect any major capital investment in Winter Park this summer by new franchisee Intrawest. But fewer bumps at the resort’s renowned mogul area, Mary Jane, are likely.

Gary DeFrange, the ski area president, told the Winter Park Manifest (March 5) that he doesn’t foresee new lifts or road paving this summer, but removing tree stumps and boulders at the Mary Jane will allow it to be opened with less snow, he said. Also, Intrawest wants to make more of Mary Jane accessible to the general skiing public during high-use times. That means more grooming of one or more runs. However, Intrawest “would be foolish to change the whole character of the mountain,” he said.

Intrawest’s agreement with Denver, owner of the ski area, is that Intrawest must invest a minimum of $50 million into mountain operations during the next decade, including $8 million in the first two years.

Aspen picks on Vail’s long lift lines

ASPEN – Aspen’s rivalry with Vail is longstanding, and it shows itself in the most curious of places. One such odd case was in a report in The Aspen Times (March 6) after an epic powder day this year.

Skiing at Aspen, according to one local, was “outrageous.” But according to a source known as Doc Rock, the snow at Vail was probably good – if you could abide the 45-minute lift lines at every chair, he said. After getting in only two runs in two hours, he requested a refund, getting back $14 of his $68.

That’s the story in Aspen about Vail. What was the story about Vail in Vail? Long lift lines in the back bowls, yes, but according to one skier that same day, no lift line was longer than 10 minutes. “You just have to know how to ski the mountain to avoid the crowds,” he said.

For a fact, though, Vail was extremely crowded for mid-week, with the sort of parking situation reserved in recent years for weekends, when seemingly a large portion of Denver arrives to ski on cheap (as low as $10 a day) deals.

Target makes Silverthorne headlines

SILVERTHORNE – It’s a sign of the times. The day after the best powder dump in the high Colorado mountains in a half-dozen years, the biggest news in Summit County was the pre-opening party at the Target store.

Two women were reported having a tailgate party in the parking lot, where they had arrived early after hearing rumors that the event would attract 5,000 people. It didn’t, but the Summit Daily News estimated attendance at 2,000. The store is expected to draw customers from as far as Steamboat Springs, 89 miles away.

In Summit County, the story is of dueling discounters and of the sales-tax sweepstakes. Frisco, located five miles away, previously had the only discount store, a Wal-Mart. Town officials there acknowledged a turn for the worse with Target now opening up down the road, but expressed optimism that a remodeled Wal-Mart would maintain customers and taxes.

Meanwhile, from a relatively neutral site at Breckenridge, Mayor Sam Mamula warned of greater problems than sibling rivalries. “I think we are being very provincial in this whole thing,” he told the newspaper. “I think the bigger threat is probably from an Avon or an Eagle.”

Avon, located about 30 miles west on I-70, has a 120,000-square-foot Home Depot and an 187,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter opening this spring. Meanwhile, talk continues of a discounter of some sort in Eagle, 60 miles west. Even if it didn’t draw people from Summit County, it might reduce the number of people from the west that go to Summit County to shop.

Beacon durability debate continues

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – The value of avalanche transceivers continues to be debated after the death of a Jackson man in the backcountry. He and his buddy were both wearing beacons, as the transceivers are also called, but the beacon carried by the survivor malfunctioned when it hit a rock as he was being swept down a gully.

Both the manufacturer of the transceiver in question, Ortovox, and a leading avalanche expert, Dale Atkins, warned against expecting too much from beacons, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide (March 5).

Marcus Peterson, the U.S. representative for Ortovox, said that 99 times out of 100, a person who is slammed into a rock won’t survive. As such, he asks, does it make sense to engineer beacons that can withstand such trauma?

Trauma is the cause of death for one-third of those killed in avalanches.

Atkins, a longtime forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, agreed that ramping up regulations governing durability of beacons sold in the United States would be a mistake.

“The market is so incredibly small in the United States and North America that (increased oversight) would probably stifle innovation and it would probably increase the costs,” he said. While preferring a stouter test of durability, he said sturdier beacons might become cumbersome or pricier, discouraging use. “If it gets too expensive, too big, people won’t use it.”

Even when trauma doesn’t kill an avalanche victim, it takes skill to speedily locate a survivor. A study by Atkins showed that rescuers such as ski patrollers who likely practice more with transceivers, found and uncovered victims in an average of 18.3 minutes —- borderline for survival. They rescued 59 percent of those buried.

Paul McCartney sings the Truckee blues

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Regulars at Moody’s Bistro were tapping to the beat of the usual Thursday night jazz duo when they got a surprise. Paul McCartney took to the small stage to perform “Truckee Blues,” a song he apparently made up on the spot.

McCartney had dined incognito at the bar and lounge in Truckee with his wife, Heather Mills. The couple had been vacationing at Lake Tahoe for several days, reported the Sierra Sun (March 6).





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