Avalanches smother Telluride power

TELLURIDE - The law of inverse proportions was at work in Telluride recently. A woman from the slope-side town of Mountain Village wrote a letter objecting to the town's support of gay ski week. The letter provoked a flurry of other letters from people outraged at her stance.

In the end, "it was all a lot of noise about nothing," says Seth Cagin, publisher of The Telluride Watch, who likened the controversy to a "crazy person yelling fire."

Far more important - potentially devastating to Telluride, Cagin said - were avalanches that twice knocked down power lines, demonstrating once again how vulnerable the region's economy is to a disruption in supplies of electricity.

Last year, an avalanche took out a transmission line near the nearby community of Ophir, causing rolling blackouts for 36 hours in Telluride and at the ski area. Power was knocked out again in mid-January this year when avalanches knocked down the same line, at different spots.

Had the avalanches occurred in more remote locations, where crews could not gain access, then Telluride might have faced rolling blackouts until spring - spoiling the biggest ski season in several years.

Telluride has been warned of its vulnerability for about six years. There are two power lines servicing the region. The larger, 115-kilovolt line (the one knocked out temporarily the last two years) comes from Durango to the south by way of Silverton and Ophir. The smaller, 69-kv line comes from the west.

"A ton of studies have been done, and as far as I can tell, there is no good alternative," says Cagin. While who pays for the underground line gets figured out, Telluride remains vulnerable to not only rolling blackouts, but even to losing power altogether. "We are totally vulnerable to losing our ski season," he says.

Avalanches cross boundary lines

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Avalanche deaths near ski areas are common place as skiers and snowboarders duck the ropes or even leave the backcountry gates from near the tops of ski areas to seek out the virginally wonderful but sometimes deadly slopes of powder found in the backcountry.

Such was the case of a 27-year-old man from Sandpoint, Idaho, who was killed in an avalanche adjacent to The Canyons, a resort at Park City. Originally from North Dakota, he had graduated as a pre-med student.

Unusual to the point of rareness are avalanches that occur within ski areas. One of those rare cases occurred at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, which is located 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas. There, a 13-year-old snowboarder was swept from a chairlift. His body was found six hours later.

The ski area has operated for 40 years and is located at an elevation of 8,510 feet.

Aspen observes parking anniversary

ASPEN - Aspen recently observed the 10th anniversary of paid parking in its downtown area. It was a quiet remembrance, quite unlike the cacophony that greeted the policy Dec. 30, 1994.

In the protest, cars and pickups circled City Hall while blasting their horns for three minutes. "It was unbelievably loud," former Mayor John Bennett told The Aspen Times. Bewildered tourists held their ears and ducked inside shops. A cardboard version of a parking meter was burned outside City Hall. And a Sierra Club member, protesting the protest, wandered among the autos wearing a gas mask and carrying a sign that read, "Honk if you love dirty air."

Then, after 14 minutes, the protest ended, and several weeks later paid parking much more quietly began. When the matter went to a public vote several months later, it was endorsed overwhelmingly.

The Times explains that even opponents can see value in the new policy. Too many spaces were being hogged by workers in local stores. Forced to pay, they stopped monopolizing the spaces. The move, said one business, was painful but necessary.

The town now uses the $1.2 million annually that it collects from parking to subsidize the free in-town bus shuttles. Meanwhile, the initial 37 pay-and-display parking meters have been expanded to 60. The town was the first in North America to try the new style of parking meters - centralized machines that disperse vouchers for display on the dashboard, rather than single-space meters on poles lining the curbs.

Gay ski week on decline in Aspen

ASPEN - In its 28th year, the Aspen Gay and Lesbian Ski Week was attracting fewer skiers than before even if it remains bigger than other gay ski weeks that are staged at resorts across the West.

Whistler's event, now in its 13th year, is probably the biggest, with 40 parties and other productions spread across seven days. There are also gay skier weeks at Mammoth Mountain and in Summit County, both in Colorado (Breckenridge, et al) and in Utah (Park City, et al). Telluride also has a gay week.

Just what the organizers of the Aspen Gay and Lesbian Ski Week intend to do about the slippage, if anything, is not entirely clear, but they do hope to get more money from the City of Aspen. To that end, this year they are more precisely documenting the number of attendees, their economic profile, and the economic impact to Aspen.

Tsunamis could strike Lake Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev. - A large tsunami hit Lake Tahoe 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, and waves of up to 30 feet could hit again, crashing into South Lake Tahoe, where Heavenly Mountain is located, and Kings Beach.

Scientists say three fault zones underlie the lake, one of which is active. The frequency of large earthquakes is once every 2,000 to 3,000 years. Sections of the shelf around Tahoe have also collapsed in the past, causing large tsunami waves.

One paleogeologist, Gordon Seitz, theorizes that a Tahoe tsunami could evolve into a seiche. A seiche is similar to the motion of water in a bathtub, with water swishing from shore to shore for hours after an earthquake.

Kennedy to address Winter X Games

ASPEN - Robert F. Kennedy has been recruited by the Aspen Skiing Co. to deliver his fire-and-brimstone dose of evangelical environmentalism during the X Games in late January.

"He's not a geeky science guy from D.C. He writes for Rolling Stone (magazine)," explained Auden Schendler, the company's director of environmental affairs. Schendler told The Aspen Times that he does not expect many of the 20,000 to 30,000 people expected at the X Games to try to get to see Kennedy, but they will be aware of his message through media coverage.

Kennedy recently issued a book called Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy. He'll be speaking Fri., Jan. 28, at the Wheeler Opera House.

Banff to target Chinese skiers

BANFF, Alberta - The Banff, Lake Louise Tourism Bureau is beginning to target skiers from Korea, China and Mexico.

Across the West, tourism businesses have become increasingly aware of the potentially staggering impact of tourists from China. The door for Canadian resorts will open when the Chinese government grants "approved destination status," which the Canadian Tourism Commission expects will happen soon.

Ski resorts in the Banff area have also begun courting Mexicans, who already frequent eastern Canada (as well as Colorado) resorts in large numbers.

Meanwhile, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, the Banff-area resorts hope to continue to grow their existing strong markets. British skies represent close to 40 percent of destination skiers, while air service from Germany has improved. Meanwhile, Japan's economy, although still subpar, is finally recovering.

But Canadian resorts have their hands full, most important because of the strength of the Canadian dollar. While business and conference markets are expected to grow 10 percent in the United States this year, little of that money is expected to find its way to Canada. Moreover, Canadians looking to make their dollars go further are likely to head south of the border.

- compiled by Allen Best





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