Resorts vie for opening-day honors

EISENHOWER TUNNEL, Colo. - Twin resorts straddling the Continental Divide are vying to become the first resorts in Colorado, and possibly the nation, to open for skiing this year.

Thanks to snowmaking at a base elevation of nearly 11,000 feet, Loveland Pass has had that distinction many years, and some months ago had set aim at Oct. 16 - a goal that seemed unattainable several days prior, owing to one of Colorado's balmiest autumns in recent years.

On the other side of the mountain, Arapahoe Basin invariably was the last to close, staying open into August one year, although sometimes not opening until Christmas. But last year, after 56 years in business, A-Basin installed snowmaking and now threatens to become both bookends for ski season in Colorado.

Keystone and Copper Mountain, contenders in the past, say this year that an early opening is not a top priority. Keystone is trying to reinvent itself as a hip place for GenXers and GenYers.

Divide trail needs volunteer workers

GOLDEN, Colo. - In 1978 the U.S. Congress designated the Continental Divide Trail, authorizing eventual construction of a trail that hews to the divide itself or close by, for 3,100 miles between Mexico and Canada.

Now, 25 years later, although long segments of that trail have been completed, the trail is sketchy or altogether nonexistent in places. A key problem, says Paula Ward, of the nonprofit Continental Divide Trail Alliance, is the inability of the U.S. Forest Service to use volunteer labor.

The Forest Service's problem? It has too few people trained in supervising volunteers. Of course, the agency could use money, an agency representative suggested to the Vail Daily .

But a hiker in the Vail area who has done large chunks of the trail suggests that sketchy is just fine. To create another trail that is as well marked as most city streets, he suggests, will take a lot of fun out of the Continental Divide Trail. Part of the fun of hiking, he says, is trying to figure out where you are and where you're going.

The trail association hopes to complete the trail by 2008.

Rabid bat found at former school

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - A rabid bat was found on the steps of an old school in Steamboat Springs, the first time a rabid animal of any sort was found in that locality since 1986.

Bats migrate south this time of year, so it's possible the bat fell out the sky as it passed through the area, speculated the director of the county's department of environmental health. Raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes are the main hosts of rabies within the United States, notes The Steamboat Pilot.

Helicopter may adorn roundabout

GYPSUM, Colo. - Gypsum, located between Vail and Glenwood Springs, often marches to a slightly different beat than other towns along the I-70 corridor. A case in point is its new traffic roundabout.

Frisco has a bronze bull elk in its roundabout, Avon a bronzed steed, while Vail has pretty flowers and such. Gypsum was offered a 12-foot bronze elk, but council members shunned spending money for such things. Instead, they are reported by the Eagle Valley Enterprise to be considering an over-the-hill helicopter. After all, they reason, some towns have tanks and fighter planes in their parks, so why not a Huey in a roundabout?

Wind electricity gains popularity

PARK CITY, Utah - A growing number of towns and counties, ski areas and developers across the West are buying wind-powered electricity, with the intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are believed to be increasing global warming.

Among the latest are Teton County, Wyo., and Park City, Utah. Also buying wind-generated power are Vail Resorts Inc. and the Aspen Skiing Co., and probably many others.

"We've talked about making the county walk the walk and talk the talk, and I think this is a nice way to do that," said Teton County Commissioner John Carney. The purchase of 3,000 kilowatt hours of wind-generated power by Teton County augments 823 residential customers and 23 commercial customers, notes the Jackson Hole News & Guide . Buying the wind-generated electricity costs a little more, $5 per 300 kilowatt hours.

In Park City, municipal officials pledged to make 7.5 percent of annual electrical consumption from wind-generated sources. The council also issued a community challenge - if 5 percent of the community uses wind power, the town will increase its proportion to 10 percent.

While such gestures are more than symbolic, the greatest gains are probably in transportation choices and land-use regimes that curb low-density sprawl.

Vail seeks Steamboat's water

VAIL, Colo. - Like a big city, the Vail Valley keeps spreading its fingers outward into surrounding areas to get the resources it needs, in this case water.

In 1994, Vail reversed a century of history in Colorado by reaching across the Continental Divide to divert water from the Eastern Slope, if in just a small and temporary fashion. In Colorado, it usually works the other way - water from the state's western side, where the ski areas are located, is diverted to the farms and cities along the Front Range.

Now, Vail is reaching north, to the region around Steamboat Springs. Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and an allied district have bought 1,250 acre-feet of water rights from five cattle ranches. Cost is $5 million.

Importantly, this is in a different river basin, making it a "senior" water right. As such, this acquisition gives the Vail area much greater ability to buffer itself from droughts.

Wood-burning electricity investigated

GRAND COUNTY, Colo. - The Winter Park Manifest reports a plan, still in embryonic form, to build a plant that burns wood chips to create electricity. If built, the plant would likely draw from forests near Winter Park and Grand Lake, as well as the Breckenridge, Vail and Steamboat Springs areas.

The presumption is that local forests are too dense and need to be thinned. One Forest Service study finds that a healthy forest of lodgepole pine has 400 trees per acre. But the forests in Grand County average 1,000 trees per acre, making them more susceptible to diseases and insect epidemics. Such a plant might cost $60 million to build, but the proponent of this idea, a group called the Grand County Forest Stewardship Association, contends that providing a market for forest thinning is cheaper than fighting wildland fires.

To make this thing work, proponents want a 20-year commitment from the U.S. Forest Service, which administers a third to three-fourths of the land in these counties. California has 15 such wood-fired power plants with three more in New Hampshire and one in Michigan.

Crested Butte flounders financially

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - The Crested Butte ski area continues to flounder in the deep waters of financial debt. The troubles seem to be deep enough that the Crested Butte News mentions that the lifts will continue operating, suggesting some doubt before that they would. Also, the recent news that the ski company's real estate division owes $475,000 in delinquent taxes to the county government seems to have opened eyes.

To continue operations, Crested Butte Mountain Resort received more cash from one of its lenders, although not a refinancing package. The resort is pinning its hope on a sale by late December or January.

Debate addresses wolves, wilderness

BANFF, Alberta - Do you need wilderness to have wolves? That conventional thinking is disputed by David L. Mech, the renowned American wolf researcher, as well as a famous Italian wolf researcher, Luigi Boitani.

In Italy, said Boitani in a keynote address at the World Wolf Congress, "wolves and humans can live in an integrated co-existence in the same area rather than having to be segregated forever in separate districts." Boitani said that in some villages in Italy, wolves come into people's gardens at night. "Wolves living near human settlements do not have a degraded live."

The Rocky Mountain Outlook also reports evidence at the conference of a new dialogue between wildlife researchers and cattle producers. Erik Butters, who raises cattle on 20,000 acres in Alberta, says that the 100 cattle lost to depredation by wolves in Alberta each year is "absolutely miniscule in the size of the livestock economy."

- compiled by Allen Best





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