Jackson Hole tram makes last trip

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – With AC/DC’s song “It’s a Long Way to the Top” blaring on the loudspeaker, the tart smell of marijuana in the air, and beers and a bottle of whiskey passing around, the last tram car open to the general public went up Jackson Hole’s major ski mountain on the final Sunday in March.

Aboard the car were former Olympian and Jackson Hole ski school founder Pepi Steigler, who had been on hand when the tram debuted in 1966, as well as various other long-timers.

The ski company announced last fall that this would be the last year of full-time service for the tram, which many believe is key to Jackson Hole’s identity as a ski resort. Safety issues were cited.

For now, a double-passenger chairlift will be installed with extra heavy cable, the better to withstand gale-force winds. The $25 million for a replacement has been the ongoing story in Jackson Hole. Owners, who say they have essentially made no money from the ski operation, have said they will pay $5 million. They sought money from Wyoming’s Legislature, but were rejected. In turn, they rejected lining up private partners.

Meanwhile, theJackson Hole News & Guide offers a clue of how the owners may be rustling together money. The company has secured a $15 million bank loan. It is building a modest-sized, on-mountain restaurant, which ski area president Jerry Blann says should improve the cash flow.

B. C. returns to ski spotlight

WHISTLER, B.C. – Good times, more or less, have returned to the ski industry in British Columbia. Nearly all ski areas are tracking to do as well or better than in previous years in terms of skier days.

Whistler-Blackcomb is expected to again exceed 2 million skier visits, the sixth time in the last eight years. The string was broken last year, when torrential rains in January doused skiing ambitions.

To get its numbers back, Whistler marketed heavily to the Vancouver area. Still down are visits from destination travelers, especially those from the United States. Elsewhere in the province, Silver Star Resort and Big White are both up. Vastly improved snow is a major part of the story, explainsPique newsmagazine, but so is expansion of the airport at Kelowna. That airport can now accept larger aircraft and international flights. This allows more traffic from the important Ontario market, but also flights from Hawaii.  In the same area, Sun Peaks is also expecting to break records.

Jimmy Spencer, CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association, states that one of the decisions ahead is how to capitalize on the extra exposure during the next four years prior to the 2010 Winter Games, which will be held in Vancouver and Whistler.

Meanwhile, a growing problem is the lack of labor. The energy boom in Alberta is drawing Canadians to high-paying jobs, and so the ski industry would like a revised immigration policy that allows a less complicated way of getting more people on a temporary basis.

Leadville embraces mining’s return

LEADVILLE – Glad tidings abound in Leadville, where the giant Climax Mine is expected to resume extraction and processing of molybdenum ore by as early as 2009.

The mine, which is located between Copper Mountain and Leadville, with Vail and Breckenridge close by, has been operated for only two brief stints since 1981. No mines currently operate in Lake County, an abrupt change given its historical foundations.

Unlike the late 1970s, when the payroll bulged to 3,200 people, only 300 employees are expected to be needed. The mine’s owner, Phelps Dodge, told reporters that a new, more efficient infrastructure is being installed at a cost of $200 million to $250 million. Before all this can happen, several studies and government permits will be necessary.

A company spokesman told theVail Daily that laborers and truck drivers will stand to make $12 to $15 an hour, and electricians and mechanics up to $25 an hour. That’s more or less the going rate for such tasks at the nearby resorts, although presumably plenty of people in Leadville will opt for the shorter commute.

But Leadville-area leaders tell reporters that they don’t want Leadville to become a one-trick town again. Since the mine closed 25 years ago, Leadville has struggled to establish an econ

omy based on cultural and heritage tourism, but with only modest success. Mostly, it’s a bedroom community for the resorts along I-70.

Volcanic vent claims three patrollers

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – Three Mammoth ski patrollers likely asphyxiated from gas spewing from the volcanic vent around which they were erecting a fence.

The Associated Press explains that the patrollers were high on 11,053-foot Mammoth Mountain, at a vent called a “stink hole,” because of its rotten-egg smell. The vent was surrounded by a plastic net fence to keep skiers away, but the latest of storms that have dropped a record 52 feet of snow on Mammoth this winter had all but buried the fence.

The ski patrollers had gone there to reposition the fence 50 feet upslope of the vent. The snow collapsed, two patrollers dropped into the vent and, although conversant upon landing, fell silent within a minute or two. The third patroller, carrying oxygen that had been brought to the scene, then attempted to rescue them, but was similarly overcome.

Yet a fourth ski patroller, who was wearing an oxygen mask, then went into the vent, but also fell unconscious. A fifth patroller then held his breath, jumped into the vent, and hooked a rope to the fourth patroller, and they were both pulled out.

The dead were identified as John “Scott” McAndrews, 37, a one-year veteran; James Juarez, 35, a five-year veteran; and Charles Walter Rosenthal, 58, a university researcher and snow expert who had been with the patrol 34 years.

Rosenthal went in first to try to get the others “without regard for his life, probably knowing more than the others about the dangers,” said Rusty Gregory, chief executive officer of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.

Spring tumbles into Summit County

SUMMIT COUNTY – Spring has swaggered into Colorado’s Summit County, causing disruptions left and right.

The Summit Daily News reports rocks, some as large as the hood of a car, bouncing down onto the road between Dillon and Frisco, which crosses Dillon Dam, forcing closure of the road. One fell with sufficient force to split a Jersey barrier. Meanwhile, a frost heave pushed rocks into a water main in Breckenridge, fracturing it.

The real excitement, however, is not expected to commence for some time. With snowpacks well above normal, the high-water time when the snow at 9,000 to 11,000 feet melts is expected to cause quite a roar and crowd homes built along creeks and rivers.

Utah county tackles defensible space

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah – County commissioners in Utah’s Summit County, like their counterparts in Colorado’s Summit County before them, are now talking about enacting laws that would mandate brush-clearing, also called creating defensible space. The intent is to avert destruction to homes in the so-called urban-wildlands interface.

Other resort counties with a great deal of rural development, including Colorado’s Eagle County, in the Vail-Aspen area, have similarly enacted such laws in recent years.

Meanwhile, in Colorado’s Summit County, officials are offering $50,000 to citizens, homeowners’ associations, and others to reduce the risk of wildfire, “We’re looking for people who have thought about a project, how they’re going to pay for it, who’s going to do the lugging and pushing,” Commissioner Bob French told theSummit Daily News.

Ski town warns of gang presence

PARK CITY, Utah – Although conceding that gangs are not yet a significant problem in Park City, police say they are keeping tabs on gang members fleeing from California’s Central Valley.

Police in the town of Porterville, between Fresno and Bakersfield, report “a lot” of suspected gang members have “stumbled” upon Park City, drawn by relatively well-paying jobs.

Park City police suggest more innocent motives. “It’s not so much they’re coming up here to commit crimes,” said Phil Kirk, a police lieutenant in Park City. The gang members are “trying a fresh start,” he explained. The gang most in question seems to be the Norteños gang, a violent bunch by reputation.

– compiled by Allen Best

Over-the-hill ski patroller honored

VAIL – Senior citizen and ski patroller aren’t often used together, but both apply to Vail’s Buffalo Mikottis. He arrived in Vail in 1965, and intended to leave after a few years, but of course, never did. Had he known he would stay, he told theVail Daily, he would have saved his money and invested in land.

Mikottis, who won’t divulge how he got his nickname, can remember when 4,000 people a day was the record at Vail Mountain (it’s now more than 21,000), and he can remember when it took days, not hours, for Sun Down Bowl to get skied out.

As is, the 65-year-old Mikottis is doing well enough that he no longer works summers as an electrician, but instead takes them off. He intends to keep patrolling “as long as they’ll have me.” An on-mountain cafeteria, Buffalo’s, is named after him.

– compiled by Allen Best


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High and dry

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