Plastic used to slow glacial melt

EISGRAT, Austria – The elders in Neustift im Stubaital, the village below Austria’s Eisgrat Glacier, remember their grandparents sending a priest into the mountains to appeal to God to stop the encroaching glacier.

Now, they pray for an end to the heat that threatens the jobs of about 1.2 million Tyroleans in the Alps who are dependent in some way on glacier skiing.

Glaciers in Austria have been melting so rapidly, reports the Associated Press, that researchers have placed football field-sized swathes of white polyethylene on top of the snow, in an attempt to deflect the summer sun and, hence, slow the melting.

The AP says these outsized doormats aren’t new at Austrian ski resorts or, for that matter, elsewhere in the world. But then came the summer of 2003, when record temperatures and lack of snow accelerated the melting, even exposing tree trunks of long-gone forests in the middle of ski slopes. In response, one ski area operator, Wintersport Tirol AG & Co., contacted scientists. Last year, they began covering large areas – about 5 percent of the company’s four ski areas.

Similar work is being done in Switzerland, where glaciers have lost almost a fifth of their total area between 1985 and 2000, melting at a rate seven times faster than during the period of 1850 to 1973.

Andrea Fischer, a researcher at Innsbruck University, said it’s not possible to save whole glaciers, only slow the shrinkage. She says the greenhouse gases that are partly causing the climate change must be reduced, but she also notes that climates are constantly changing.

Traffic deadlocked in Aspen

ASPEN – It’s now mostly four-lane highway from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, but every morning and evening traffic congeals to a crawl at the town’s bottlenecked entrance. The situation is such that it can take the better part of an hour for people to cover the 5 miles within Aspen during what cannot properly be described as “rush hour.”

What to do? The Aspen City Council has been struggling with that for years. Voters rejected a solution that would have built more traffic capacity at the town’s entrance by invading open space.

New thoughts include restriping the pavement to create a buses-only lane, thereby encouraging use of mass transit. Others continue to hold out for light rail, something that has been talked about for a decade. And still another idea is to limit the number of commuters by rationing the approvals given to major new real estate projects.

“When do we say ‘no more cars in town?’” asked Mayor Helen Klanderud. “At what point do we say, ‘Wait, you can’t have three major projects, four major projects, going simultaneously?’” she said.

While traffic levels in some months remain the same as those of 1993, the overall situation is nonetheless perceived as intolerable. “You’d better stop the bleeding now, or you’ll have a dead patient,” said Klanderud. Another council member, J.E. DeVilbiss, thought the situation was beyond repair, likening the short-term solutions to that of smearing deodorant on a corpse.

CB plans $50 million upgrade

CRESTED BUTTE – Tim and Diane Mueller, new owners of the Crested Butte ski area, announced they want to plow $50 million in upgrades into the ski area during the next five years.

Although expected, that investment stands in sharp contrast to the lack of money invested by the previous owners, the Callaway and Walton families, during previous years. The Muellers will buy several new lifts and open 66 acres of new terrain, most of it moderate. Not least, an existing lift is to be converted into a “chondola,” which means that it runs quad chairs during the day and gondola cars at night. Evening visitors would ride the gondola to a new lodge being planned for the top of the Red Lady lift. It will seat 30 people indoors and 200 outdoors.

In addition, Crested Butte hopes to create a new ski area across the road from the existing ski area, on what is called Snodgrass Mountain.

Ski legend passes from old age

DENVER – Ski legend Robert “Barney” McLean has died at the age of 88. He was born in Lander, Wyo., in 1917, and began skiing at the age of 4. He grew up in Hot Sulphur Springs, which is between Winter Park and Steamboat Springs, and got his start as a ski jumper there.

Switching to alpine racing, he excelled in all four disciplines, going on to win many prestigious titles, including the Alta Cup at Alta, the Harriman Cup at Sun Valley, and the Roch Cup in Aspen. In 1948, he was captain of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team. After his career as a ski racer, he was a shop foreman for the well-known Groswold Ski Co. in Denver and then later spent several decades as a ski industry representative, traveling the country but living in Denver.

Aspen’s Klaus Obermeyer, founder of the Obermeyer skiwear company, called McLean “very honest and fair.” A former Aspen resident, John Litchfield said that McLean was associated with the sport of skiing basically form the time it began in the United States in the 1930s.

Starbucks sticks it to Park City

PARK CITY, Utah – Everybody knows that restaurants in ski towns are expensive, and the bill at conference rooms is even higher. Still, eyebrows are being raised in Park City after the Restaurant Tax Advisory Committee ran up a bill of $128 for four pots of Starbucks coffee. The bagels-and-cream cheese tab came in at another $192, while $8 salads and $12 entrees were the norm.

The Park Record also reports that the committee tipped a server at a hotel in The Canyons, where the group met, 45 percent of the tab. The person who assigned the tip also happens to work at the hotel.

Telluride power still in danger

TELLURIDE – Twice during the last two years avalanches have ripped down power lines serving Telluride, both the ski area and the town.

Power line authorities want to create a new line into the area from the west, but owners of scenic mesa-top ranches want the power company to put the lines underground, a more costly venture. The various parties continue to squabble about who will pay.

The Telluride Watch reports talk of encouraging homeowners to take efforts to provide their own energy, but the self sufficiency is not seen as the answer for either businesses or the ski area. Lifts require vast amounts of electricity to power.

Life after the small town

CRESTED BUTTE – A former Crested Butte resident, now two years removed to San Diego, wrote theCrested Butte News recently to comment on his most recent visit. Stewart Norquist was obviously touched by his last visit and the welcoming arms of former neighbors. How different from his life in the city, he said.

“Eye contact and smiles between strangers are like gold in a city of 1.5 million people who are all in a hurry, and after awhile you stop trying to get yours returned. I had to remind myself to keep my head up and put my horns away as I walked down Elk (Avenue, Crested Butte’s main drag) … Whoever said ‘you can never go home again’ never lived in Crested Butte.”

– compiled by Allen Best