Big boxes thinking out-of-the-box

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – About 15 years ago, Wal-Mart wanted to move to Steamboat Springs, and city residents balked. Wal-Mart finally won but was forced to compromise with its architecture.

Now comes an Associated Press story from New Jersey that tells similar stories across the nation. Only now, local communities have become much more aggressive. For example, Freehold, N.J., insisted that big boxes would have to embrace traditional architectural styles: Colonial, Federal, Georgian or Victorian. While Wal-Mart balked, it ultimately deferred.

Elsewhere, a Wal-Mart in metropolitan Denver has a timber façade, while one in Long Beach embraces art deco. Other international franchises also are responding. McDonald’s has an adobe-style outlet in Arizona, while The Home Depot has a seaside-theme store in British Columbia.

Still, big boxes remain terrifically unpopular in mountain communities. Opponents across the country have become more successful in nixing the boxes. Efforts to block the stores have grown at a 21 percent annual rate during the last two years, reports one analyst.

Jackson Hole forced to drop its tram

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Imagine Yellowstone without Old Faithful or San Francisco without the Golden Gate Bridge. Next, imagine Jackson Hole without the tram that rises 4,139 feet from the valley floor into the Teton Range.

The image isn’t coming easily in Jackson Hole. The tram, say die-had skiers, has been the source of their “happiness and sanity” for several decades, providing easy access to Corbett’s Couloir and other big-mountain runs that are household names among skiers in North America.

But ski area officials say the tram must come down, and a new one cannot be erected unless others defray the $20-million replacement cost. “Spending $20 million on a tram that is not the most efficient carrier of skiers – its’ a no-brainer that we cannot do this alone” said Bob Graham, a stockholder in the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

The tram was built in the mid-1960s at a cost of $2.5 million, almost half of it from a federal program designed to help depressed communities that relied on seasonal economies. But it was the ski area’s Achilles heel, noted the ski area developer Paul McCollister. For all the comfort of the tram, it provides little uphill capacity – 260 people an hour. Many other ski area lifts and gondolas can carry several thousand people per hour.

TheJackson Hole News & Guide reported that some in Jackson Hole see this as further proof of the ski company’s shift from skiing to real estate.

Ski towns immune to crystal meth

I-70 CORRIDOR – Methamphetamines have been the story in rural towns across the West during the last several years. Still, saysThe Aspen Times, it’s a distinctly secondary story in the affluent ski towns and resort valleys from Aspen to Breckenridge.

“The drug of choice with our more affluent community is cocaine – there’s plenty of cocaine and marijuana from those who started doing it back in the ’60s and haven’t gotten over it yet,” said Summit County Sheriff John Minor. He calls Summit and adjoining Eagle County an “island in a sea of meth.”

Authorities tell the newspaper that wealthier people do cocaine, while poorer people do meth. Police say that meth produces more severe paranoia and violence than other common drugs, making them more wary. Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy says that the more social drugs of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana remain the big drugs, although he has noted an increase in the abuse of prescription drugs.

Meth is being found, however. A drug enforcement task force in the Aspen-influenced region to Glenwood Springs and Rifle has shifted its attention from cocaine to meth in the last two years. Sheriffs have found several meth labs in the forests or other rural places through the years. In one case, chemical detectors at a sewage treatment plant in Silverthorne warned of abnormalities that led to the discovery of a meth lab a mile away.

Granby reconsiders Dozer Days

GRANBY – The 70-ton armed and armored Komatsu bulldozer that Marvin Heemeyer used to crush through 13 buildings in Granby last year is now dead, having been recently dismembered. So is Heemeyer, who killed himself at the end of his tantrum.

But an idea that sprang up almost immediately after the dozer ended its rampage mired in the basement of a Gamble’s store remains alive. That idea, called Dozer Days, is now getting a fresh hearing in the pages of theSky-Hi News. The rough idea is to build a weekend festival around the event.

Patrick Brower, publisher of theSky-Hi News, has consistently discouraged the idea. He had the unfortunate experience of working in his office when the bulldozer began churning into the front of the building. But now, Brower has relented. “It’s an idea that just won’t go away,” he writes. “The time has come to give the idea a full airing.”

Among those supporting a “Granby Dozer Days Festival” is Hanes Dawson Jr., a former publisher of the newspaper. He points out that Nederland, a small community between Granby and Boulder, has been making hay with a festival called Frozen Dead Guy Days. The festival was sparked by an experiment in cyrogenics, in which a Norwegian immigrant is freezing the body of his dead grandfather in hopes that he can later be brought back to life.

The three-day celebration in Nederland has parades of hearses and coffin races and other such frivolity centered on the theme of death. “With some clever thinking and planning, Dozer Days could do the same for Granby,” writes Dawson.

A cartoon by Kenny Bee inWestword, done the week after the rampage, noted that Heemeyer’s rampage “may just be the best thing that ever happened to Granby.” Among Bee’s ideas: a Rampage Museum, a Dozer Diner, Bumper Bulldozers and a Disgruntled Loner Hall of Fame.

New ski areas embracing biodiesel

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is now among the growing number of ski areas, towns and school districts that are burning biodiesel. The ski area is using biodiesel during summer months in its fleet of 11 off-road, heavy-equipment vehicles.

Tom Spangler, the resort general manager, said that the company does not want to use biodiesel in winter until more tests are done. “Snowcats have to run in extreme cold for long periods of time, and this is where biodiesel has not performed well to date,” he said. “However, we intend to participate in testing blends to try and resolve this problem along with our industry partners.”

The standard argument for using the standard blend of 20 percent vegetable-based diesel at ski resorts is to produce fewer pollutants. However, biodiesel counts as a bonus toward an overall environmental title that several ski areas are working toward. Aspen is the only ski resort that is currently certified.

The trend toward biodiesel has also hit Park City. Beginning with the Fourth of July parade, the town’s Main Street trolley began using the B20 blend of diesel that uses 20 percent vegetation-based fuel. The trolley is being used as a trial run for what Park City Mayor Dana Williams hopes will be a broader conversion to biodiesel.

Gondola tied to luxury development

AVON – Big projects are happening left and right in the Vail Valley. The latest project to move forward is a $300-million development in Avon, which is to be connected by high-speed gondola to Beaver Creek.

Proposed by East West Partners, which also has development projects in Breckenridge, Park City and the Tahoe-Truckee areas, the project calls for a 200-room hotel to carry the Westin banner, plus 40,000 square feet of retail shops, timeshares, residential units and conference spaces. Altogether, the project could add 1,200 residents to Avon.

For Avon, which is located 2 miles from the main base area of Beaver Creek, this will be much more than just another project. The gondola in effect makes the town “beach front” property. Projected prices of up to $700 per square foot reflect this proximity to the slopes as well as the generally high quality of design and workmanship for which East West projects are known. This compares with $300 per square foot in existing Avon projects.

Also notable about the project is its potential for mass transit. The 19-acre property is sandwiched by the Eagle River and Union Pacific railroad tracks that have been used only rarely since 1997. Avon town officials, working with East West, want to create a transit corridor that may someday use the railroad tracks for passenger trains.

How realistic is this? After all, Aspen for years chased the dream of using an old railroad grade for mass transit, only to pull the plug recently. Larry Brooks, Avon’s town manager, says he thinks it’s only a matter of time before mass transit makes sense.

Consistently during the last 20 years, he says, he has underestimated the potential for growth. Demographers say Eagle County, where Avon is located, will have between 88,000 and 117,000 people within a quarter century.

– compiled by Allen Best

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows