Nearby resort aims for five stars

TELLURIDE Two things stand out about the new $25 million Elk Mountain Resort, a diamond in the rough country of Southwestern Colorado.

First, all the slick marketing materials frequently mention nearby Telluride. In fact, it's about an hour away, across a mountain range and in an area called the Uncompaghre Plateau. Although pretty enough, that area is not where you'd expect to find a lodge that aspires to a Mobile Five Star hotel ranking. Only 30 hotels in the United States have been accorded that lofty ranking, two of them in Colorado: the Little Nell in Aspen and the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

Standards for a five-star hotel are exacting and precise, explains The Telluride Watch , which is why this new Elk Mountain Resort has substantially more employees than potential guests. Resort operators expect to invite the Mobile's inspectors within a year.

Michele Rees, director of sales and marketing at Elk Mountain, predicts that the resort's appeal will be for family vacations, wedding parties and corporate retreats. It has 21 lodge rooms and 18 three-bedroom cottages if a 2,500-square-foot structure can be accurately described as a cottage. In addition to riding stables and a wedding chapel, there is a go-kart track.

The second surprise? Among the resort's sporting opportunities is the Valhalla Shooting Club. It has clay and trap shooting ranges, which are ordinary enough, and an indoor pistol range featuring static lanes with computerized controls. But then there's also a 16,000-square-foot house that can be configured to simulate all manner of real-life situations for those who want to shoot themselves out. "For the self-defense enthusiast, it's akin to a life-sized video game with live ammo," says The Watch .

This shoot-em-up seems to be a key selling point for the resort. "Today, you rescued the plane, prevented a carjacking and shot your way out of a crowded subway station and you never left our resort," reads one ad slick for Elk Mountain. "Save the world by day. Relax with your favorite cocktail, vintage cigar and fine cuisine at a true five-star mountain resort by night."

Sun Valley event attracts the suits

SUN VALLEY, Idaho Space was at a premium at the airport servicing Sun Valley for the July 4th weekend as Wall Street favorite Allen & Co. played host to heavy-hitters of Fortune 500 companies and their families.

Sun Valley is accustomed to celebrity splash. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry have second (or third) homes there. So, a few corporate mega-millionaires (or billionaires) doesn't turn the locals into stalking autograph-hunters, notes the Idaho Mountain Express .

Now in its 22nd year, the Allen & Co. event is known as a place where deals are sometimes hatched. Allen, a small (fewer than 200 employees) but influential money manager, for some years tried to keep the gathering hush-hush. That was futile, what with 50 corporate jets descending, the hiring of local escorts and baby-sitters for VIP families, and the presence of Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Eisner.

Several years ago, Allen went completely the other direction, inviting the national media, while still keeping the sessions in private. Satellite TV trucks sitting around and reporters lying in wait to get interviews didn't go over well with the attendees.

Now, it's neutral ground. Reporters show up, but not many. The locals are aware. And the sessions remain private.

Sierra snow melts a month early

SACRAMENTO, Calif. In California, the debate about global warming is not whether it is occurring. Instead, state officials are trying to figure out how to adapt to global warming and also "how to delay global warming," in the words of Arthur Rosenfeld, who is overseeing the state's $60 million budget for research and development. It's the first state-sponsored global warming program.

One possible result of global warming is the earlier snowmelt in the Sierra Nevada. The trend began about 1950, and snowmelt now occurs 20 to 30 days earlier, Mike Detinger, a researcher with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, told the San Diego Union-Transcript .

"The mountain ranges are essentially draining and drying earlier," Dan Cayan, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey told the Los Angeles Times . "I would say there's enormous concern about this."

This earlier melting has profound consequences for Southern California, which relies heavily upon the mountain snowpack for its water. The mountains act as a giant natural reservoir. But with earlier runoff, that means a longer time without water. And it also means more of a balancing act for managing those artificial reservoirs, which were also built to contain floods from winter rains. Compounding this is a multi-year drought that is causing the Colorado River, another primary source of water for Southern California, to be carrying far below its normal flows.

How much either the current drought or periods of heat can be traced to global warming, scientists are still unsure. Weather in the West is notoriously unstable.

Also unclear is how much of global warming is caused by natural variability. But clearly, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide introduced into the atmosphere by power plants, cars and other sources are at least partly responsible. As such, California is trying to reduce the human impact.

California's Air Resources Board has released recommendations about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cars and light trucks by nearly 30 percent by the year 2015. This can be done without hurting the state's economy or consumer choices, the board's chairman, Alan C. Loyd, told The Associated Press . California already leads the way in energy efficiency with a 4 percent annual improvement, compared to 1.6 percent worldwide.

Breast feeding splits Jackson Hole

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. Of all the places to have a controversy about public breast-feeding, Jackson Hole would be the most unlikely. After all, the local mountain range, which itinerant French fur trappers named the Tetons, can roughly be translated into English as "breasts."

Yet simmering in the letters section of the Jackson Hole News & Guide is a disagreement about whether mothers should nurse their babies in public. One indignant woman wrote to announce that she had been informed she could not breast-feed her child on the deck of the swimming pool at the Recreation Center.

In response, one couple wants an official county policy ensuring protection of nursing mothers against harassment. Asked another woman: "When will our society recognize the difference between a natural act and indecency?"

Breast-feeding is natural, agreed another woman, but she argued that "so is modesty and respect of others. If you must breast-feed in public, cover your shoulder and baby and breast with a blanket like I always did when caught in public. Nobody straight wants to see you."

Frisco building goes geothermal

FRISCO Geothermal is being used to heat and cool a new commercial 9,000-square-foot building in Frisco that will house a Wendy's fast-food restaurant, a convenience store and a gas station.

Fifty-six holes will be drilled 400 feet deep into the ground. The temperature there is 47 degrees Fahrenheit. A solution of water and antifreeze gathers that heat as it circulates in a high-density polyurethane pipe about 6 inches in diameter. When pumped to the surface, 4 or 6 degrees and hence energy are stripped from the solution.

Energy bills can be reduced by 50 percent or more when geothermal energy is used at a commercial or residential property, said Terry Proffer, owner of Major Geothermal, a firm based in Denver. He told the Summit Daily News that geothermal energy systems, although around since the 1940s, have not been used commonly in mountain communities. However, they are popular in the Midwest.

Twister nearly attacks golf course

WOLCOTT If not for his photo, the story told by electrician John Cummins might not have been believed.

He was driving by a golf course located on what is called Bellyache Ridge, about halfway between Eagle and Beaver Creek, when he saw ominous-looking clouds. A foursome teeing up were also getting a little nervous. The golf course is located at about 9,000 feet in elevation.

Sure enough, soon after a funnel snaked out of the cloud, although it did not reach the ground. As such, it is not classified as a tornado, explains the Vail Daily . While tornadoes have been recorded in several mountain areas of Colorado, they largely remain a phenomenon of the flat-lands.

ELF torches Salt Lake lumber yard

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah The Earth Liberation Front the same group that claimed responsibility for setting fires that caused $12 million in damage to structures atop Vail Mountain in 1998 has claimed responsibility for setting fire to a suburban lumber yard. The fire caused $1.5 million in damage.

A fax sent to a radio station said the lumber yard was targeted because it had ignored warnings to repair forklifts that emitted more pollution than diesel engines. The initials "ELF" were sprayed on the side of a building at the lumber yard and on a truck, reported The Associated Press.

ELF, a loosely organized group of militant environmental activists, generally communicates with the media through e-mail. The FBI says that ELF has caused more than $10 million in damage since 1996.

Vail area sets real estate record

VAIL Real estate sales in both the Aspen and Vail areas are reportedly on a torrid, record-setting pace.

May's $181 million in real estate sales in Vail-dominated Eagle County was the second largest month for volume on record, second only to last December's $185 million. If this continues, Eagle County will set a new record of $1.77 billion in real estate transactions. So far this year, real estate was passing hands at a clip of $5.8 million a day, reports the Vail Daily .

Most of this dollar volume is in a relatively few high-end sales. Housing priced at less than $500,000 accounted for 66 percent of transactions but only 18 percent of dollar volume.

In Aspen, the story is much the same. So far in the Aspen-dominated Roaring Fork Valley, transactions have hit $652 million. The old record of $1.2 billion in sales established in 2000 is likely to be toppled.

"We're definitely on a record pace," said Bob Ritchie, a partner in Coates, Reid and Waldron. He said during the last year sales hit $1.31 billion.

Although experiencing market lulls before, none have been as long as that from July 2002 to June 2003. Now, not only is property moving rapidly, but prices are rising again. Ritchie told The Aspen Times that luxury homes were selling for $850 to $900 per square foot until recently, but now are moving toward $1,200 to $1,300 per square foot.

The Denver Post , looking more broadly at resort areas, says the same thing is happening all over, from Telluride to Winter Park.

compiled by Allen Best





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