Ski expansion debate gets heated

CRESTED BUTTE – The debate about the new ski area and real estate project at Crested Butte is heating up. From the tone of letters and columns in theCrested Butte News during late May, the tea-kettle is nigh on to whistling.

The first volley over the bow came from the High Country Citizens Alliance, Crested Butte’s foremost environmental organization. The group hasn’t said no to the new ski area, called Snodgrass Light, but it is highly dubious. Then came the Gunnison County commissioners, who are questioning whether enough affordable housing is being incorporated into the base-area real estate.

John Norton, who engineered the sale of the ski area to Tim and Diane Mueller, has responded with a prickly tongue of his own. Taking aim at “all the citizens in our county who have independent incomes, government jobs and mortgages paid off,” he lambasted the supposed plan of Snodgrass opponents. Those opponents, he said, seek to “promote genteel decay” and rout the “forces of ambition and growth.”

He specifically skewers the county commissioners, whom he accuses of pandering with populist but nonsensical sayings. “Sound bites sell!” he chides. He accuses the Crested Butte Town Council of conceiving “hare-brained schemes.” He also suggests that the prevailing climate is enough to force the Muellers, who have plunked down $15 million into the resort since buying it last fall, to wash their hands of Crested Butte and move on.

Norton has supporters in the community. “I am sick and tired of the critics in this community who want their cake and to eat it too,” lamented one letter-writer, Fran Wickenhauser. “You cannot have it both ways. We all saw the economic climate and business pessimism that prevailed prior to the Muellers coming in and rescuing CBMR and the skiing operation from ultimate bankruptcy.”

Said another reader, Charles Jennett, “If we drive (the Muellers) off, we will be back in the’80s with everything in receivership and wages much lower.”

The background for this is a sequence of years in which Crested Butte has faltered as a resort. Although founded in 1961, the same year as Steamboat and Breckenridge (and a year before Vail), it continues to do about 300,000 skier days – far fewer than the 500,000 to 600,000 that Norton says is necessary to make a destination ski resort work. Being four hours from Denver, it’s too far away to get day-skier traffic.

Canadian avalanche deaths down

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – While avalanches can and have continued into June, it was an average or below-average year for avalanche fatalities in most parts of the West.

Only six deaths were recorded in Canada this past winter, compared with 11 the winter before and 29 two winters ago. Most of the deaths two years ago occurred in two incidents near Revelstoke.

The Canadian Avalanche Center attributes the lower death toll this past winter to more stable funding for its operations, greater public awareness of the dangers of backcountry activities and its own success at disseminating information. With a hefty contribution from the Alberta government, the organization plans to expand its avalanche forecasting service to the Alberta side of the Rockies.

South of the border, avalanche deaths were also down in several places. Jackson Hole had only one death, compared with several during recent years. Colorado, however, had six through mid-May, which is average. Colorado’s snowpack was uncommonly strong, because of more frequent snowstorms. With regular snow, the snowpack layers adhere to one another much better.

Film traces mountain bike’s birth

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Some people in Crested Butte might want to call a couple of filmmakers in Truckee with their version of the history of mountain bikes. The two filmmakers are at work on a documentary, and if a story in Truckee’s newspaper is a reliable guide, they seem to think the story is mostly set in Marin County, north of San Francisco.

Part of the story surely begins in Marin County, but about the same time people in Crested Butte were similarly fiddling around with old bicycles as a way of navigating dirt roads and trails.

The two filmmakers, Gregg Betonte and Vernon Felton, hope to do for mountain biking, what Stacy Peralta’s documen

tary “Dogtown and Z-Boys” did for the history of skateboarding.The Sierra Sun notes that creating a film detailed and accurate enough to keep cycling enthusiasts happy while at the same time capturing the human dream that will make the story appealing to wider audiences will be a challenge. They hope to show the film at Park City’s film festival in 2006 or 2007. The working title is “Klunker.”

Dogs recruited to chase elk in Banff

BANFF, Alberta – Trained border collies were being taken to Banff to chase the elk out of town. The elk, say authorities, have become a nuisance and worse – a threat to public safety.

Fresh in the minds of many, points out theRocky Mountain Outlook, is the situation in the 1990s, when Banff had several hundred elk in and around town, trampling vegetation, raiding gardens and even occasionally threatening people. Just two years ago, an elk charged an 8-year-old boy.

Even worse, the elk were attracting cougars. A woman was killed by a cougar in 2001, and another reported being stalked. “If there weren’t elk in town, if there weren’t deer in town, there’s no reason for carnivores to come into town because typically they do tend to avoid developed areas,” said Andrea Kortello, a researcher who studied wolf and cougar interactions in Banff.

Parks Canada, which administers Banff National Park, removed 200 elk in the last six years, while a pack of 19 wolves picked off many others. However, winters have been mild and up to 30 percent of calves have survived in recent years. The elk, in turn, have favored the town as a sanctuary from the wolves.

Skier-day traffic picks up speed

DENVER – The drought in the Pacific Northwest dropped the U.S. skier count last winter to 56.4 million, but that still came in as the fourth-busiest ski season on record. After stagnating at about 52 million skier days for about 20 years, skier traffic has increased substantially. Ski industry officials say the increase is because baby boomers continue to ski even as their off-spring, the echo boomers, now take to the slopes.

The six-state Rocky Mountain region is up 2.4 percent from last year. The Aspen Skiing Co., with four resorts, reported a 4 percent increase in skier visits last winter, its third consecutive winter of growth after a decade of declines and stagnation. Vail Resorts and Intrawest have not announced their skier totals, but stock in Vail reached highs not seen since 1998 in anticipation of next month’s release of what is expected to be a very rosy third-quarter earnings.

Idaho planners block big boxes

BELLEVUE, Idaho – After instituting a moratorium on new stores of more than 20,000 square feet, planning commissioners in Bellevue, located downstream from Sun Valley and Ketchum, have set out where in the sand to draw the line.

The largest store now is 28,000 square feet, but existing laws allow up to 72,000 square feet. In the background is the potential for chain stores.The Idaho Mountain Express notes that The Home Depot representatives have met with town officials to talk about a “boutique” store.

“I came to this community for the strong sense of identity and strong sense of community that I think is often deteriorated with large-scale retailers,” said Aaron Domini, community planner for Citizens for Smart Growth. More blunt yet was local resident Ken Allen. “I do not want a big urban city or anything that represents that,” he said.

One-third of teachers could retire

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – The coming retirement of baby boomers has ski towns and resort valleys of the West bracing in several ways. On one hand, well-off boomers are expected to move to the ski towns in droves to enjoy the recreation and scenery. But employers are wondering how they can replace their own baby boomers who are retiring.

This demographic wrinkle is particularly worrisome in school districts. For example, a third of the 200 teachers in the schools of Jackson Hole will be eligible for retirement by the year 2010. Pam Shear, superintendent of the Teton County School District, is concerned that those who arrive to replace them will be unable to live in Jackson Hole, where the average price of homes is now $500,000, but instead will be forced to commute from satellite communities such as Alpine, Victor or Driggs, Idaho.

– compiled by Allen Best

“You won’t see these people at the grocery store or dance competitions,” Shear told theJackson Hole News & Guide.

Marilyn Monroe film set saved

KETCHUM, Idaho – As in most other ski towns, trailer courts and other types of lower-cost housing in Ketchum are getting razed to make way for high-end real estate. But to stanch the loss, the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority has stepped in with a $3 million purchase of a trailer park with 42 homes.

In the process, they’re also preserving the set for a small but pivotal scene in Marilyn Monroe’s 1956 film, “Bus Stop.”

But in saving the lower-end housing, they’ll need to upgrade it, reports theIdaho Mountain Express. The trailers are currently served by septic systems. To get financing for a more central sewage system, they’ll need to upgrade the park’s appearance.

Eagle outgrows its post office

EAGLE – First the post office outgrew its downtown location in Eagle, 30 miles west of Vail.  Now, the post office near the interstate highway is getting congested. The town has been growing at an annual rate of 12 percent per year.

The upshot is that town officials are asking that the Postal Service begin home delivery. TheEagle Valley Enterprise reports that the nearby gated-home community of Cordillera, best remembered as the site of Kobe Bryant’s infamous sexual encounter, has recently started home mail delivery.

Waterfalls fill Yosemite Valley

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. – Thanks to extraordinary snowfall in the Sierra Nevada measured at 180 percent of normal, California waterfalls promise to be stunning this year, reports theFresno Bee. Waterfalls are most spectacular in Yosemite Valley, which has nine measured at more than 1,000 feet.

“This is the year of the waterfall,” said Chris Shaffer, author ofThe Definitive Guide to the Waterfalls of Southern and Central California. “From now through early July we’re going to have amazing conditions from the Kern River Valley all the way to Lake Tahoe. It’s going to be one of the best years in recent memory.”

–compiled by Allen Best


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