Backcountry boom triggers cultural clash

PARK CITY, Utah - Quoting the American Alpine Institute, The New York Times reports that backcountry skiing is now growing three to five times more rapidly that the traditional downhill sport.

But, says the newspaper, "there is a deep culture clash at the heart of this new phenomenon. Many people who identify themselves as backcountry skiers - knowledgeable about the risk, trained in survival skills and never without a electronic homing device to help people find them if they are buried by snow - look with barely concealed disdain at what they call the 'out of bounds' skier, who simply rides the chairlift up, disregards the warming signs and ducks under the rope."

The newspaper visited Park City in the wake of an avalanche that left one snowboarder dead on a slope adjacent to The Canyons ski area. The victim, a male, was statistically predictable. Of the 629 people killed by avalanches in the United States since 1950, 90 percent were males.

But could the ski industry itself be partly responsible for some of the recent deaths? That was the vague suggestion of the story, which noted the image of a "solo skier or snowboarder cutting virgin racks through the deep powder on a steep mountain slope has become a signature and symbol of the Western tourism industry - heady with its mixture of freedom, beauty and rugged individualism."

In the case at Park City, The Times found a local skier who said he thought that most of the people who leave the ski area through the backcountry gate believed they were merely extending the resort experience.

Water pollution plagues headwaters counties

FAIRPLAY - The old joke in the headwaters counties of Colorado used to be, "Be sure to flush, because Los Angeles needs the water." But new evidence shows that being at the headwaters doesn't remove you from tainted water.

A U.S. Geological Survey analysis of water in Colorado for hundreds of chemicals revealed the expected, pollution in down-stream areas near Denver, but also high up in mountain valleys. For example, water wells in the Fairplay area, where the elevation is 10,000 feet, contained chemicals such as nonylphenol. The chemical comes from detergents and has been linked to fish with dual sexual organs. Scientists suggested the chemicals in the water wells come from neighboring septic systems.

Lori Sprague, the chief author of the study, told reporters that none of the concentrations found in Colorado exceed the regulatory limit, "but we don't know what the human health impacts are."

San Miguel County aims for sustainability

TELLURIDE - The towns of Telluride and Mountain Village, along with San Miguel County, are hiring a sustainability coordinator while also planning to hook up with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.

The group is to develop a "sustainability inventory," which is supposed to help local decision makers maintain the "integrity of their natural resources over the long term, promote prosperous economy and create a vibrant, equitable society."

What exactly does sustainability mean? Art Goodtimes, a county commissioner, points to two definitions. A United Nations report defined it as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Writing in The Telluride Watch, Goodtimes points out that this definition is similar to the Seven Generations principle - that the decisions of today should take into account the well-being of the next seven generations.

'Epitome of ski culture' passes away in Jackson

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. - Brent "Newt" Newton, described as the epitome of the ski culture, died while skiing at Jackson Hole. He had previously lived in Durango, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs.

Carving up the 16 inches of fresh snow at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Newton launched from a 50-foot rock buttress. In landing he created a large crater that collapsed the snow around his head. Although skiers rushed to dig him out, with ski patrollers right behind, he was pronounced dead at the bottom of the ski hill. The county corner said he died of suffocation due to collapsed lungs and a blow to the head.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide explains that Newton had been living in Durango in the late 1980s when he became part of a group of hardcore skiers and mountain bikers known as the "Rad Pack." He lived in Steamboat from 1988 to 1994, where he was known for his fondness for mogul skiing, even competing briefly on the pro mogul tour. A friend in Steamboat, John Stritt, described Newton as "someone who knew no boundaries, ad if he did, he'd challenge them."

With a girlfriend (who later became a wife), he moved to Jackson Hole in 1997, with a goal of skiing as much as they could. He worked 60 hours a week during summer to spend his winters skiing. Lately, he became a committed family man, the father of two children, while working as a concierge and a waiter. "Newt epitomized the ski culture," friend Rick Armstrong said. "He regarded skiing as a way of life and a way of family."

Publishing giant spreads throughout resorts

ASPEN - Swift, the large publishing chain that dominates Colorado's I-70 and the Lake Tahoe region, is expanding. In recent weeks it has purchased a free-circulation daily newspaper in Grand Junction and announced plans to get into the magazine publishing business in Aspen.

Based in Reno, Nev., the newspaper already owns several dozen newspapers, mostly in resort areas of the West. In Colorado's high country, it has a virtual monopoly on the lucrative Breckenridge-Vail-Glenwood Springs-Aspen area.

In its latest acquisitions, Swift purchased the Grand Junction Free Press, which was started about two years ago by John Duffy, a veteran of several newspapers in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. The Free Press competes with the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, another chain newspaper. The Sentinel's publisher, George Orbanek, several years ago dismissed the potential for a competing newspaper from the resort areas by saying that the areas were just too different. Grand Junction people, he said, saw the world differently than people in resort areas.

In the latest news, Swift is planning a magazine called the Aspen Philanthropist. Although Aspen already has three lifestyle-based magazines, this won't be one of them, insists Kate Carey, who will be publisher. The Roaring Fork Valley, where Aspen is located, has 300 nonprofits.

Whistler drenched by uncommon winter rain

WHISTLER, B.C. - Whistler got deluged by 100 millimeters (4 inches) of rain in just three days last week, forcing ski lifts to close, shrinking an already subpar snowpack and making roads treacherous.

Marilyn Manso, of the Environment Canada weather station in Whistler, said she had never seen anything like it. "Certainly, this could be something that happens around September, October, but not around this time of year."

Brad Sills, the manager of Whistler Search and Rescue, had a similar reaction. "It's a pretty incredible situation we're looking at," he told Pique newsmagazine. "At this point, we're fully expecting something to happen here."

Inundated roads, landslides and massive avalanches were among the worries, although none materialized in subsequent days during continued, if less heavy, rains. More rain is forecast through this week in what is now being called a Tropical Punch. The storm system was also delivering rain to the interior B.C. resort towns of Kimberley and Fernie.

"Even before the rains came, the snowpack was about half of what it often is in mid-January," reports Bob Barnett, editor of Pique newsmagazine. "The mountains haven't lost too much snow at the top, but many of the trails at the bottom are down to dirt."

- compiled by Allen Best




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