Avalanche claims first life of winter

BERTHOUD PASS  – The first avalanche fatality of the season in Colorado occurred Sunday near Berthoud Pass. The slide was both massive and somewhat predictable.

The path was an obvious avalanche path that is known to run one or more times per year. Furthermore, snow conditions were ripe for an avalanche. A foot of new snow sat on a much weaker base of old powder. An avalanche forecaster likened it to sticking two-by-fours on Dixie cups. “There’s nothing in the snowpack to support that weight,” Spencer Logan told The Associated Press.

Early newspaper stories dwelled upon the fact that the victim, a 32-year-old snowboarder from Denver, did not have what one reporter described as a “crucial” piece of safety equipment, an avalanche beacon.

How crucial was the beacon in this case? Statistics indicate that broadly speaking, an avalanche beacon improves chances of survival, but by no means ensures it. First, about 25 percent of avalanche victims die of trauma, after being flung into trees or rocks, or by the sheer weight of the snow.

What happened in this case is not entirely clear. No autopsy report has been issued that would pinpoint the cause of this death, but other skiers with beacons were in the area. The local sheriff, Rod Johnson, theorized that a beacon would have made a difference.

Even more important yet than a $300 piece of high-tech gear would have been the inexpensive knowledge of assessing the risk of snowboarding in an avalanche chute the day after a storm.


Ranchettes linked with air pollution

WHITEFISH, Mont. – The old part of Whitefish looks like a somewhat typical town in the Midwest. Houses are relatively small, set back 20 to 30 feet from the street.

But as is happening everywhere, the houses on the fringe in this scenic part of Montana are different.The Whitefish Pilottells of two homes that recently went before city officials, one with a 200-foot driveway, the other with an 800-foot driveway.

The length of the driveways matters because Whitefish, as well as two other nearby towns, has been violating federal air quality standards for more than a decade. One of the primary problems is due not to those old bugaboos of the West, sawmills and factories, but instead the dispersed living patterns of exurbia. People are causing a lot of dust by driving back and forth from their homes. The length of the unpaved driveways alone matters in the total accumulation of air pollution.

One residential lot creates 10 vehicle trips per day, according to standards cited by theWhitefish Pilot. If roads are paved, that’s one thing. But gravel roads get muddy, and once the mud dries, an SUV charging into the dust can churn up a cloud of particulates, which are known to be a threat to public health.

The Flathead County Health Board is reported to be considering expanding the municipal non-attainment districts that were created when the federal government found that the three towns – Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia Falls – were violating clean air standards. That would mean imposing the more strict city air-quality standards on county residents.


Fewer private jets fly into Aspen

ASPEN – In a trend that seems to parallel real estate, there are fewer private jets flying in and out of Aspen’s airport, called Sardy Field, but the fewer ones are guzzling more gas.

That’s the upshot from a story inThe Aspen Times, which reviewed changes upon the recent sale of the fixed-base operation. The newspaper said that almost 37,000 planes landed and took off in 1990, compared to 30,000 in 2001. However, the amount of fuel sold by the FBO increased significantly, because the bigger planes use a lot more fuel.

“The Lear (jet) can park beneath the wing of a Gulfstream, and nobody wants to be in a place like (the Lear jet) anymore,” said Cliff Runge, the long-time manager of the FBO.

He said the fractional ownership in luxury jets has brought private planes to the masses.


Whistler enjoys banner early season

WHISTLER, B.C. – After a bad, bad winter last season, in which it rained for most of January in Whistler, the resort is out of the gate early this winter. With good snows in October, Blackcomb Mountain opened the first weekend in November, three weeks early.

It’s an expensive proposition, resort officials said, with little revenue from mostly local skiers applied against the considerable cost of operations. The main value is in the publicity, and after last season, Whistler figures it needs to gamble.

Other ski areas in British Columbia were happy enough to give Blackcomb bragging rights about first opening, reportsPique. “ … as Whistler goes, so goes the industry to a certain degree,” said Steven Threndyle, media relations officer for Silver Star and Big White, resorts in the interior of British Columbia.


New ski area possible near Salt Lake

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A new ski area is being considered, if ever so tentatively, in the Oquirrh Mountain Range southwest of Salt Lake City.

Kennecott Land, which also owns a huge open-pit copper mine carved out of the range, is planning how it wants to develop its 93,000 acres.The Park Record reports that Kennecott staff members say that the Oquirrh Range will be opened up as never before to skiing, hiking, camping and mountain biking. Studies are being conducted to determine whether the Oquirrhs have enough snow to support the ski area.


Vail Resorts studying wind power

VAIL –Vail Resorts is still studying the potential of installing wind turbines atop Vail Mountain to generate the electricity needed to operate three ski lifts.

The company, which already is a major purchaser of wind power from Holy Cross Electric, began pursuing the idea in 2003. An environmental assessment shows no major problems, despite some minor concerns about effects on birds and the visual impact of additional fixtures on the ridge. Elevation of the ridge is about 10,000 feet, or more than two thirds of the way up the ski mountain.

The next year or two will be spent studying how environmentally and economically sound the idea is. Preliminary estimates pegged the payback at 10 years.

Idaho mayor admits to bankruptcy

KETCHUM, Idaho – Ever had to file for bankruptcy? The mayor of Ketchum, who was going into this week seeking reelection, has – but he says he can’t fully remember the circumstances.

“It was 21 years ago,” Ed Simon told theIdaho Mountain Express. “It was a long time ago. I do a lot of things differently now.”

Simon’s opponent, Randy Hall, also had financial troubles when he closed his restaurant three years ago, but did not file for bankruptcy. Instead, he negotiated a $95,000 federal tax lien, of which all but $5,000 was paid.


Taco Bell exempted from sign code

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Truckee has a strict sign code that requires earth tone color. So, when Taco Bell came in with wood signs featuring the fast food company’s purple and magenta colors, the local planning commission said no way. But the Town Council used its prerogative and overruled the planning commission, reports theSierra Sun. Town officials also noted that the Taco Bell now being built for Truckee has been tailored specifically for the town.

- compiled by Allen Best

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