Resort novelist hits the big time

EAGLE – Despite their emphasis on sweat and derring-do, ski towns over the years have had plenty of literary types.

Novels have been written about Aspen, Vail, Telluride and others. John Nichols, living in Taos, wrote a trilogy (Milagro Beanfield War,The Magic Journey and Nirvana Blues) that speak to the friction of resort development and indigenous cultures everywhere. Meanwhile, in Jackson Hole, Janis Joplin’s one-time road manager, John Byrne Cook, took time out from his photography to write a well-regarded Western called The Snow Blind Moon. And for that matter, Vladimir Nabokov wrote part of Lolita while on a butterfly-chasing vacation in Telluride, although that was several decades before Telluride became a ski town.

But rarely, if ever, has a ski valley produced a novelist – never mind a first novelist – who has garnered the cover of The New York Times Book Review section. Benjamin Kunkel, who largely grew up in Eagle, down-valley from Vail, got that prominent attention in the Aug. 21 edition for his first novel, Indecision, published by Random House. Kunkel, said the reviewer, himself a novelist, “manages to make the whole flailing, post-adolescent, pre-life crisis feel fresh and funny again, even as it sometimes resembles nothing so much as a self-conscious post-modern homage/parody of the genre.”

Kunkel, whose parents owned a computer software firm based in Eagle, wrote the book partly while living near Eagle and partly while living in New York City.

Crime wave rolls into Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. – Even before the rapes, tensions seemed to be rising in Jackson Hole. First, there was a story in theJackson Hole News & Guide reporting five beatings administered by Hispanics.

Then, in late August, two women were assaulted by men in downtown Jackson at about 3 a.m. in what some reports indicated were rapes. Two suspects were publicly identified, although they were thought to be returning to Mexico, while police say they have two other suspects who had probably also fled.

Jackson Police Chief Scott Terry warned that the news “doesn’t mean we have bands of Latinos running around town raping women.” He said police believe the suspects have fled. He also said there are “no confirmed signs of gang activity.” Gang experts were given photos of graffiti found in Jackson, but experts were unsure whether they were gang-related.

Latinos, meanwhile, responded to the news with a variety of emotions. Carmina Oaks, director of the Latino Resource Center in Jackson, said that for Latino residents, just like for whites, the crimes threatened their way of life and the security they hold dear. In Jackson Hole and adjoining areas, they have found good jobs, a safe place to raise families and a community that is “very welcoming,” she said. “They want to keep it that way for themselves.”

Intrawest unveils Copper Mtn. plans

SUMMIT COUNTY – Last year, county commissioners in Summit County used a word rarely heard in courthouses in ski counties of the West: No.

Intrawest has wanted to further develop the base area of Copper Mountain, doubling the size of the base-area resort, but the county commissioners said Intrawest wanted too many units without giving much back to the community. Plans for a gondola running through the resort base were also divisive.

Now, Intrawest is back with what the company describes as “substantial differences” in its plans to build 639 additional units. This is a 45 percent reduction in density from the previous plan while offering a 58 percent increase in parking spaces. Intrawest also vows to provide more employee housing.

Intrawest’s argument is that it needs to increase the bed base sector to make Cooper Mountain a viable resort. Existing businesses are generally having a difficult time, the company says, despite the resort’s success with customers from Denver and other Front Range communities. The difficulty is at odds with Intrawest’s highly engineered approach to creating a seemingly authentic resort experience. Joe Whitehouse, Intrawest vice president for the Colorado region, told theSummit Daily News that the company hopes to get a plan formally before county officials by late this year.

Meanwhile, Intrawest representatives gave a cheerful report about revenues from privately owned real estate at Copper Mountain that is managed by the company. Occupancy last year was up 8 percent as compared with the previous season, revenue per available room grew 22 percent, and the average daily room rate was up $12 percent.

Copper plans to upgrade snowmaking and other aspects of on-mountain operations.

Snowmass going for thin on top

SNOWMASS Village – The Aspen Skiing Co. gets straight A’s for its environmental actions from those keeping scorecards, but it’s getting marked down by some local reviewers for its plans to further develop the Snowmass ski area.

There, the resort wants to thin about 500 acres of terrain on Burnt Mountain, described by reviewers as having a decided backcountry feel. The result will be a semi-backcountry feel.

“I value Burnt Mountain more than I can tell you, as a refuge, a piece of pristine solitude, peace and beauty so near,” wrote one reviewer, Jim Stone, in a letter to the U.S Forest Service.

The flip argument presented by other letter-writers is that ski areas need more terrain for people who are not hard-core backcountry adventurers but want a sort of backcountry experience. Also at issue is the impact to elk. Some say there will be no harm to elk, while others argue the impact is part of a broad trend that needs to be curbed.

Festival triggers bottled water war

TELLURIDE – Telluride’s Labor Day film festival is a big thing, attracting critics and fans from afar as well as many Hollywood types. The water they are given to drink also comes a long way.

Why water at 9,000 feet in elevation that so recently was snow in the San Juan Mountains isn’t good enough is one good question. David Zutler has another question. He wonders why the film festival uses Fiji water, when it could be using his Telluride-based product, Biota. Moreover, he said, his bottled water comes in biodegradable plastic containers (although how fast any containers biodegrade when they’re at the bottom of a landfill is another matter).

At any rate, the Town Council sympathized with Zutler when he asked for the council’s help, but refused to intercede between festival organizers and their vendors, reportsThe Telluride Watch.

Vandals strike Parade of Homes tour

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Like many places, a home tour called Parade of Homes was held in Jackson Hole during August. In the dark of night, 40 “Parade of Homes” signs were stolen, and when dawn broke, many had been replaced by signs that said “Parade of Wealth.”

Who did it and why? While many of the homes in the tour cost $1 million and far more, it’s not all about the high end. A tour organizer told theJackson Hole News & Guide that the tour is about “showing the best of what’s being built in all price ranges.” Proceeds from the home tour were earmarked for the local senior citizens’ center.

Aspen posts double-digit increases

ASPEN – Two and three years ago, Aspen was wondering where it had gone wrong in life. Sales were slumping, the downtown district was lifeless – the introspection was intense.

Now, if sales tax numbers are indicative, Aspen can seem to do no wrong. Sales tax collections in July were up 13.4 percent in July, echoing a similarly strong June. That leaves the city taxes at 9.2 percent ahead of last year going into August. Real estate tax revenues also continue to soar, reportsThe Aspen Times.

Meanwhile, theTimesreports a similar story down-valley in Basalt, where sales tax revenues are up almost 10 percent through July.

Resort decides to charge aging skiers

PARK CITY, Utah – As they have elsewhere, skiers 70 and older are going to have to start paying to ski at Park City Mountain Resort. The cost will be $249 for season passes. That’s a 75 percent discount, although several people interviewed think it’s not enough. Other ski areas at Park City, The Canyons and Deer Valley, also offer discounts but no freebies.

The argument of ski areas elsewhere is that with so many people remaining healthy into what used to be old age, ski areas just cannot afford to give that many passes away.

– compiled by Allen Best