Grizzly bear attacks mountain bikers

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. Few people can boast that they fought a grizzly bear and won, and neither can 46-year-old mountain biker Kirk Speckhals.

Oh, Speckhals fought hard enough. But it was a friend who rode up with pepper spray who probably made the difference.

As recounted in the Jackson Hole News & Guide , Speckhals and two companions were riding south of Yellowstone National Park. Speckhals had initially clanged his bear bell often, but later had neglected to make noise and had furthermore gotten well ahead of his companions.

Suddenly, from about a football field away, a bear charged. Instead of playing dead, Speckhals defended himself with his bicycle. The bear lunged six or seven times, deterred at the last moment by the bike. Finally, the bear grabbed the bike.

Meanwhile, the next rider, Tom Foley, had heard Speckhals yell "Bear! Bear!" Hearing that, he began pedaling fast. "His voice was getting more terrified," Foley remembered. "He sounded like he was fighting something. His screams were dramatic and scary."

After stomping on the bike, the bear turned to the rider, shoving Speckhals to the ground. Speckhals figured he was toast.

But Foley arrived just then about 15 feet away, drawing his pepper spray and firing. With unblinking eyes big as silver dollars, the bear circled his new protagonist. Finally, with about a second's worth of spray left, Foley tried a new tactic, yelling at the bear at the top of his lungs. That finally did it.

"I could tell his eyes changed, " Foley said. "I knew it was over. All of a sudden he took off."

The bike riders resolved to henceforth religiously ring their bells when in prime bear habitat, to warn the bruins of their approach. They also vowed to carry large cans of pepper spray. Speckhals had none.

Editor comes to defense of Vail CEO

VAIL Like a lot of newspaper editors, Vail Daily editor Don Rogers likes to tilt at windmills. And in the ski world in general, including Vail, that means stepping up to defend Adam Aron, the often-controversial chief executive officer of Vail Resort.

After eight years, Aron is now the second-longest tenured CEO ever at the helm in Vail. Only Pete Seibert, who founded the company in 1959, had a longer tenure at the helm in Vail. Aron comes from the world of corporations, including United Airlines, Hyatt Regency and Norwegian Cruiseline, and had no skiing on his resume when he showed up in 1996.

"Gotta have a ski guy running a ski company. Right? Well, maybe thats a little simplistic," Rogers say. "Ski guys or gals, on the hill. But Vail Resorts succeeds and fails on its ability to attract skiers, make the payroll and heresy as this may be to say find ways to ring in income during those six or seven months when the snow isn't falling.

"Oh, and aren't those prized higher-end destination' visitors from out of state generally corporate' types? Seems a few folks running the ski hills ought to perhaps have a little insight into what makes those folks tick, right?"

Meanwhile, Aron announced full-time employees would be getting raises averaging 3.5 percent. It was the largest raise in 20 years. Vail had an exceptionally profitable third quarter.

Economist touts high density's value

BRECKENRIDGE Ford Frick, an economic consultant, is well known in ski towns. Particularly during the last several years, his services have been in demand as town governments have responded to the sluggish economy by trying to figure out what is wrong with their core retail areas.

"Sometimes I feel we get hired as a diversion, then we become entertainment, and finally, we are sometimes someone to blame at the end," he told the Summit Daily News .

Frick, for the last several years, has been expounding high-density residential development basically, the sort of development that occurred early in the evolution of ski towns but which has been replaced lately by the sprawl of suburban and exurban development.

This new downtown development is being spurred, at least in part, by the aging demographics of baby boomers. "They want to walk to downtown to get a cup of coffee and rub elbows with people," he said. "We'll start to see a number of projects that are loft-like and mimic the urban areas."

He urges towns to build extra stories on existing buildings and set a goal of several hundred additional units downtown.

ESL students on rise in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS School officials are monitoring enrollment of students for whom English is a second language. A surge in enrollment of such students caught district officials by surprise last year, reports The Steamboat Pilot .

Like schools at many ski resorts, those in Steamboat Springs have had a reduction or only a slight growth in enrollment, particularly in the lower grade levels, despite the overall strong population growth. The exception to this trend of dampened enrollment in resort-valley schools is of Hispanics, mostly recent immigrants.

Granby to lose even more vitality

GRANBY Granby's business district looked pretty anemic before the June 4 rampage by bulldozer operator Marvin Heemeyer, who destroyed the newspaper office and Gambles, while badly damaging assorted other businesses.

Now, a major new grocery store is to open on the south side of the town, in the nexus for two large projects of vacation homes. Among other changes, the local drug store is closing and the hardware store is moving out to the suburbs.

"No matter how you cut it that hurts downtown Granby," writes Patrick Brower, publisher of the Sky-Hi News . Still, he holds out hope that in the long run, these kick-in-the-seat changes will eventually result in Granby regaining its prominence as a service and retail shopping hub for Grand County, an area that includes the resort areas of Winter Park, Hot Sulphur Springs and Grand Lake.

Fraser Valley likened to Owens Valley

FRASER VALLEY As Los Angeles was to the Owens Valley, Denver is to the Fraser Valley. That's the comparison drawn by Harry Williamson, editor of the Winter Park Manifest , and it's a valid one, if imperfect.

As told in the movie "Chinatown" and in countless articles and books, Los Angeles early in the 20th century basically bought up a mountain valley on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada for its water. With that water, the San Fernando Valley prospered and Los Angeles has become one of the world's largest cities.

The Owens Valley, in turn, is rather lifeless, and in the vision of the current mayor of the city, James K. Hahn, the valley should stay that way. Without attempts to develop it, the valley will remain preserved.

Meanwhile, Denver began diverting water from the Fraser Valley shortly after L.A. began raiding the Owens Valley. But the Fraser Valley has a couple of ski areas, Winter Park and SolVista, plus a large and growing sector of second homes. As well, Intrawest is now aiming to build one of its cookie-cutter base area "villages."

Williamson suggests that Denver probably wishes that it had bought all the Fraser Valley, just as Los Angeles bought nearly all of the Owens Valley. Denver did not do that, however, so it will have to put up with local opposition as efforts are made to step up the diversions, he says.

Ski area insurer wins $7 million suit

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS A Steamboat Springs-based insurer of ski areas has won $7 million in a court case against its underwriter. The insurer, MDM Group Associates, had insured Vail, Telluride, Crested Butte, and other ski areas against loss of business caused by outside circumstances such as lack of snow.

MDM is owned by Joe McNasby, who began the innovative program in 1997. During the 1999-2000 season, every insured resort submitted claims after suffering declined business due to both sub-par snow and the Y2K that resulted in fewer Christmas visitors. Claims totaled $22 million.

McNasby claimed the underwriter, CAN Reinsurance, took too long in paying claims, then stopped and encouraged other companies not to underwrite the policy. Ski areas in the plan then dropped out, and McNasby was unable to expand the insurance policy to hotels, cruise lines and other ski areas.

The eight-person jury awarded MDM $1.58 million for lost sales to ski areas that were once insured and another $726,492 for loss of potential ski-area clients, plus damages for lost sales to hotels, cruise lines, Japanese ski areas, and others. An appeal of the verdict and damages is expected.

compiled by Allen Best





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