Backcountry feud heats up in Jackson

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. - Even in Jackson Hole, untracked powder snow is at a premium, especially in the area adjacent to the highway that crosses Teton Pass. Each year more and more backcountry skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoers are found in the backcountry there, leaving less quiet and less untracked powder.

There also seems to be a potential for more people willing to pay guides to take them to what remains of the stashes of untracked powder. The ski area operator, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, has a permit from the U.S Forest Service to take guided groups into the backcountry at Teton Pass. The company seems to get little business, but wants a change in its permit that would allow it to use terrain with more vertical drop and also to shuttle clients back to the top.

Locals are hopping mad that their best powder stashes will be invaded by commercial skiing, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Led by C. Stearns, who has skied for more than 50 years in Jackson Hole, 17 backcountry skiers called Powder to the People are attempting to overturn the Forest Service decision allowing the changed permit.

In considering the changed permit for the ski area, the Forest Service was required to conduct a review of environmental and social impacts. The ski area contracted with Park City-based SE Group for the study. The backcountry skiers allege that the consultant promised to deliver a favorable conclusion of no significant impact, in effect prejudging the evidence before it was fully evaluated.

A centerpiece of this argument is a letter from the consultant to the ski area that Powder to the People says illustrates a too-cozy relationship. "We believe our approach to completing the requisite (National Environmental Policy Act) process will prove very effective for (the resort) in securing approvals for this exciting project."

Posh resorts set real estate records

ASPEN - A new record for real estate sales was recently set in Pitkin County. With two months to go, $1.36 billion in sales were recorded. That eclipses the previous record of $1.27 billion set four years ago. The Aspen Times reports that $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion in total sales are expected by the year's end.

In Eagle County, real estate prices during the last year have jumped 16 percent, and sales this year are expected to top out at more than $2 billion, reports the Vail Daily.

The biggest price jumps have been in areas closest to the ski lifts, at Vail Village and Beaver Creek, where average prices have jumped 65 percent and 52 percent, respectively.

However, the most activity has been at the bottom of the market, defined there as $500,000 and below. The number of properties listed for sale has dropped by 40 percent as inventory is absorbed.

This reduced inventory of properties, combined with higher prices, is setting the stage for both redevelopment in Vail, where $1 billion is expected to be spent in the next several years in tearing down and building new hotels and condominium projects, and new development in outlying areas.

Aspen debates role of second homes

ASPEN - Second-home owners have become a major part of Aspen and many other resort towns. But are they tourists? Or, as many of them prefer to think of themselves, are they semi-locals? Or something else entirely?

In Aspen, there's confusion about just what role the Aspen Chamber Resort Association should have with its second-home owners. Various administrators and board members have tried for about a decade to create representation for second-home owners, but without success. "They don't want to be special. They want to be one of us," explained Mike Taets, a board member.

But again, that's not necessarily true either. While businesses might want to fill restaurants with tourists, second-home owners might prefer a quieter town. Tourist-dependent businesses might want an expanded airport, but part-time residents might not. A report in The Aspen Times suggests that while second-home owners should be better integrated into local discussions about such things as parking, the resort chamber won't offer to be their political advocate.

Bruce Willis offers land for airport

HAILEY, Idaho - Actor Bruce Willis is offering to donate land for a new airport to service the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, but perhaps not incidentally the airport would also serve to boost business at a small ski area called Soldier Mountain that he operates.

The 1,000 acres Willis apparently is offering is located near the small town of Fairfield, a 45-minute or less drive to Ketchum. The existing airport, located in Hailey, is much closer to the ski slopes of Mt. Baldy, but it cannot be expanded without taking out residential acres, and a newer and heavier generation of private airplanes cannot use it. As such, the Federal Aviation Administration has basically ordered the community to find a new airport site.

After studying many sites, the task force has reduced the list to five, including one generally in the area where Willis is offering his land. The Idaho Mountain Express reports that Willis was at the meeting, wearing a gray knit ski camp pulled tightly down on his head. Rising from a seat in the last row in the room, he introduced himself: "I'm Bruce Willis, part-time actor and father of three children."

The mayor of the nearby town, David Hanks, said local residents were in a "mixed mood" about the possibility of a large airport next door. The town does not seem remotely prepared for an economic boom that may be coming.

Several people interviewed by the Idaho Mountain Express say that Willis seems committed to developing the Soldier Mountain ski operation, whose biggest year occurred 30 years ago. Since Willis got the ski area permit six years ago, the largest use was last year, with 10,932 visits. However, a season pass costs only $350 compared with $1,850 at Sun Valley.

Ski area to boast 6,000 vertical feet

REVELSTOKE, B.C. - Protracted negotiations have yielded a key agreement necessary for the development of a major destination ski area at Revelstoke. The resort is planned at Mount MacKenzie, which currently has one 800-foot lift and a cat skiing operation.

When completed in about 15 years, the new resort is to have 25 lifts servicing 5,000 acres of terrain, or about the same size as Vail. The ultimate skier capacity is projected to be 17,000, compared with the 19,600 that is the official target cap for Vail.

The 6,000-foot vertical drop will be the most of any ski resort in North America - well more than the 5,200 feet at Blackcomb.

Skiing is the key amenity for a giant real estate proposition. Some 16,000 bed units are projected by the Toronto-based developers. They expect to round up $270 million to plug into infrastructure and initial real estate construction, then use real estate sales to continue the rest of the development.

Revelstoke is a four-hour drive west of Calgary, and six hours from Spokane and Vancouver. The nearest major airport, at Kelowna, is a two-hour drive away.

NHL-sized rink opens in Telluride

TELLURIDE - After eight years of putting together the pieces, Telluride now has a 26,000-square-foot indoor ice rink. Pushing the size of the rink to National Hockey League standards increased the costs of construction to $3 million. Local governments paid part of the cost, but nonprofits were also tapped, and ice enthusiasts themselves passed the hat. Still to come, as money becomes available, are housing for the Zamboni, and restrooms, reports the Telluride Watch.

Avalanche hits condo in Crested Butte

MT. CRESTED BUTTE - Another avalanche hit a condominium in Mt. Crested Butte, this time knocking out a sliding glass door but injuring nobody. The town has been struggling with the issue of avalanches since 1989, when a slide in the same area killed a child. However, avalanches have been frequent, hitting buildings as recently as last January.

After that avalanche last January, town officials asked voters to increase taxes in order to buy the land where the avalanches originate and otherwise mitigate the threat. They refused, arguing that the cost of the property was too much. Because of Colorado laws, the matter may not go to voters again until April 2006, reports the Crested Butte News.

Winter Park tries to promote train

GRANBY - By train, it's about two hours from Denver to Granby and Winter Park, one of Colorado's newest boom areas for vacation homes. And when Interstate 70 gets congested, it can take even longer to drive the highway.

Now there's a new effort afoot by land developers in Granby, whose major market is people in metropolitan Denver, to promote use of the train. Jerry Jones, a former ski industry executive who worked variously at Sun Valley, Keystone, and Snowmass, is now developing vacation homes at Granby. Improved use of the railroad is an obvious but underutilized asset, he says. Jones believes the day is rapidly approaching when the critical mass will exist to warrant special trains from Denver, just as many resort areas now subsidize plane flights from distant cities.

Amtrak currently services the area, but its schedule is erratic. A ski train runs seasonally to Winter Park, and this year will run four days per week.

However, other developers and ski area promoters for decades have tried to take advantage of the tracks to Denver, but with no success. Railroads are busy with freight trains and would rather not be bothered with people. And people, says Winter Park Resort spokeswoman Joan Christiansen, for the most part don't find I-70 all that bad, yet.

Dogs cause problems at Breck

BRECKENRIDGE - What the Summit Daily News calls "uphill culture" is causing some problems at the Breckenridge ski area. Every morning before the lifts turn, dozens of people - often with their dogs - can be found going uphill on skis or snowshoes, either for exercise or to get first crack at the freshly corduroyed or powder-covered slopes.

The ski area, operating under a permit form the U.S. Forest Service, does not have to allow such uphill traffic but it does. But ski area officials are saying changes must be made. People must pick up the dog-doo left by their dogs, and the dogs must be on leashes or under voice command. Moreover, dogs must be gone by 8:30 a.m. As well, people are asked to wear reflective clothing so snow groomers can see them.

Stoplights take over Summit County

BRECKENRIDGE - Not that many years ago you couldn't find a stop light in a ski town of Colorado. Now, they seem to be everywhere - with more all the time.

Breckenridge is adding two more stop lights, as well as a roundabout, reports the Summit Daily News. Motorists driving the 10 miles through Breckenridge and Frisco will now face 16 stoplights before hitting Interstate 70.

What ski towns don't have stop lights? Crested Butte and Telluride, for starters, as well as Mountain Village, the town most directly adjacent to Telluride's ski slopes. As well, Vail has no stop lights, nor does Snowmass Village

- compiled by Allen Best





News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index