Use of off-road vehicles explodes

THE WEST Off-road vehicle use has become the most politically volatile land-use issue in the country, reports the New York Times . A new front in this "war" is conflicts among off-roaders themselves.

The Times traces the dispute to the end of World War II, when jeeps and dirt bikes first became available to general consumers. But it wasn't until 1972, when President Richard Nixon signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to regulate the activity on federal lands, that the government took an active role in managing its impact.

Meanwhile, the popularity of off-roading has exploded. The number of off-highway motorcycles increased 146 percent from 1998 to 2002, while Americans purchased almost double the number of ATVs in the same time frame.

The latest chapter is the friction between self-styled responsible off-roaders, usually members of local clubs that promote adherence to existing land-use rules, and the renegades who see that as an environmental appeasement.

One example among the latter is Loren Shirk, of Duarte, Calif., who drives his Blazer over the sand dunes near Barstow, Calif. "I think my right to go where I want should not be hampered by the whims of somebody else that wants to leave the world looking like it was 4,000 years ago," he said. "The way you succeed in life," he added, "is to go outside the lines."

Another example is Brad Lark, publisher of, a Web site devoted to off-roading. The Tread Lightly program, he said, is "just a veiled form of extreme environmentalism. They spend more time supporting the land closures than they do keeping the land open and opening up closed lands."

The mainline off-roading organization, the BlueRibbon Coalition, estimates that illegal riders account for 1 or 2 percent of all off-road activity, but law officials and environmentalists put the figure at somewhere in the 15 to 20 percent range, according to a BLM ranger in the desert outside Barstow.

Whatever the figure, one figure in the California Off-Road Vehicle Association, Ed Waldheim, who refers to scofflaw off-roaders as "idiots," warns that the dispute is approaching anarchy. The cause, he said, is a "rebellion against the continued erosion of our off-road opportunities on public land."

Summit County bans public smoking

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. Smoking as of June 1 will be illegal in enclosed public places and bus stops in unincorporated Summit County. The only exceptions to the ban will be private clubs, lodging and, as you might expect, tobacco shops.

County voters by a 2-to-1 margin last year asked county commissioners to ban smoking in places used by the public. The county's five towns are not bound to the decision, but most are expected to adopt parallel bans. Only one, Frisco, appears headed in a different direction, as it is entertaining the idea of allowing designated smoking rooms that must have separate ventilation systems.

Kindergarteners take yoga classes

TELLURIDE, Colo. As it has across the Americas, yoga seems to be everywhere in the ski towns. Aspen Magazine this winter has a story about yoga becoming a guy thing. In Telluride, it's also a kindergartener thing.

The Telluride Watch explains that yoga classes for preschoolers began at the local Elks Lodge several years ago, which in turn has led to yoga for kindergarteners at various public schools. At Telluride High School, students can take yoga in lieu of ski P.E. Several cheerleaders who did so were surprised at their added flexibility.

Is technology dumbing down skiing?

ASPEN, Colo. Is new technology, such as shaped skis, the savior of skiing?

No, says Aspen Times columnist Roger Marolt, a longtime local. Such devices are destroying the sport, he says, because they take the challenge and hence the triumph out of the sport.

"Nothing is off-limits to the novice anymore," he writes. "It's the inevitable dumbing down' of our sport: a byproduct of mass marketing to mature (a.k.a. wealthy) skiers (a.k.a. timeshare purchasers). Take shaped skis for example. Well they just make skiing easier. Now there's a thrilling concept. They practically turn themselves,' Are you invigorated yet?"

As Marolt sees it, the decline began in the 1980s when skier numbers began to drop. Rather than lowering prices to keep people in the game, ski industry executives decided it was simpler to fight over existing customers. "Retirement community amenities and corduroy-smooth runs were the bait," he explains. "Equipment manufacturers followed suit. Easier' became synonymous with better.' The result is that now ski resorts are competing with strolls down the Palm Beach Boardwalk as the recreational activity du jour."

In short, Marolt is saying that by making us all above-average skiers, the new technology eliminates any true triumph of excelling, making the sport boring. Take a cue from the X Games, with its jumps, bumps, rails, stairs, walls and pits. Harder means more exciting, means more passion, he argues.

Consultant relates Aspen's failures

KETCHUM, Idaho It's kind of the same song, but the lyrics are different. For years people have been saying they didn't want to be like Aspen, because of the unsavory parts of its successes. But an economic consultant for Aspen recently told a group in Ketchum that they didn't want to be like Aspen because of its failure.

Well, "failure" might be too strong a word to describe what has happened in downtown Aspen during the last three years, but the retail picture does seem to be out of whack. Commercial space lease rates have hit $140 a square foot even in the face of vacant storefronts. For three straight years retail sales have declined.

Part of the problem, explained Ford Frick, managing director of Denver-based BBC Research and Consulting, is that rising real estate prices have resulted in people moving down valley. "A real estate economy uses or doesn't use a downtown much differently than one that caters to destination guests," Frick told the Ketchum gathering, which was attended by the Idaho Mountain Express . A result, he noted, is that some retail businesses have migrated down the valley along with their customers.

Also part of Aspen's problems have been growth in nonretail businesses and strict city regulations that prohibit businesses from effectively displaying their signs and products. One way to help bring a revitalization, he says, is to increase height and density for the downtown area.

Banff defends ban on second homes

BANFF, Alberta Because Banff, the town, is within Banff National Park, the federal government has some considerable say-so in what happens within the town. One provision is that people who own property there must live there. In other words, no vacation or second homes.

A lawsuit is under way in an attempt to displace that notion, but several Banff municipal officials say it's proper and just. Opponents of this need-to-reside rule say they are fighting for individual freedoms, but Mayor Dennis Shuler says their real motivation is greed.

Another council member, Bob Haney, says the law is vital to keeping Banff a tourist town. "I see no advantage of having the rich being able to come in and buy up housing stock that is needed to house employees who are delivering a service to the visitors of the national park," he told the Banff Crag & Canyon . Expensive mountain retreats can be purchased elsewhere in Canada, among them Whistler and Canmore, as well as the United States, he said.

Woman survives plunge in reservoir

GRANBY, Colo. A woman who drove her snowmobile into the icy waters of a reservoir barely survived, with her body temperature dropping to 80 degrees before she was flown by helicopter to a Denver hospital. Initially in critical condition, her condition was later upgraded to "fair," reported the Sky-Hi News .

She and two companions were snowmobiling on the ice of Shadow Mountain Reservoir, a reservoir used in transmountain diversions. After she drove into the open water portion of the reservoir, a companion drove his snowmobile toward the edge of the edge, but his snowmobile fell through. He managed to get himself out and went for help. A second man then tried to push a ladder to the woman from the edge of the ice, but he also broke through. Arriving rescuers plucked him out, and then the woman, who was unconscious and floating in the water.

Park City sees real estate boom

PARK CITY, Utah Last summer a statistician with the Park City Board of Realtors went out on the limb, predicting $700 million in sales for the year. He was wrong. Sales were $772 million, a record in the Park City area. Now, some real-estate agents are predicting even more sales this year.

Sales prices of single-family homes registered with the Board of Realtors rose 14 percent. The inventory of mansions dropped, but the more active market continued to be the mid-sized single-family homes. Condo prices dropped 13 percent although volume increased.

Aspen looks into artifical turf

ASPEN, Colo. Aspen may be going plastic as in artificial turf. Artificial turf is much better than the old Astroturf, as the city's parks director, Jeff Woods, reported recently. "It looks and feels very much like regular grass," he said.

The artificial turf would also remove pressure on the city's other parks and playing fields, and it could absorb the heavy beating of the annual Jazz Aspen Snowmass Festival, reports The Aspen Times .

Artificial turf was also used for a soccer field built in conjunction with affordable housing and a college campus at Edwards, in the Vail Valley.

compiled by Allen Best





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