Resort lifestyle spills into Idaho

DRIGGS, Idaho – Wyoming’s Jackson Hole is located east of the Teton Range, and if it is defined by its exceptional scenery, it is also a place of exceptional affluence. It is, for example, No. 2 in the nation in terms of per capita income.

But that affluence is forcing both locals and buyers of vacation and retirement homes across Teton Pass, to Idaho’s Teton Valley. There, in and around the towns of Diggs and Victor, in what theTeton Valley News calls the “quiet side of the Tetons,” things have not been so quiet of late.

The population is doubling every 15 years, and the valley now has four golf courses – golf courses predicated upon real estate development, as are most golf courses in mountain locations. In short, the Teton Valley is rapidly becoming like Jackson Hole, for better and worse.

“You could say our community is moving from an agriculture-based economy – in the 1970s, it was 100 percent – to a second-home and tourism-based economy,” said Jaydell Buxton, a four-generation Driggs resident who once raised potatoes, now grows grass, and eventually hopes to convert his farm into a residential golf development.

There are several reasons for this transformation, points out theJackson Hole News & Guide. Land prices have briskly escalated in Jackson Hole, where only 3 percent of the land is privately held, with the rest in national forests, preserves and parks. In contrast, 67 percent of Idaho’s Teton Valley is privately owned.

Some 1,400 people from Idaho’s Teton Valley commute to Jackson Hole to work. Vacation-home buyers from across the continent are also part of this story. Many such land-hunters, particularly baby boomers, are searching for land as they contemplate retirement in four or five years.

At issue is how much development the valley can absorb while still retaining its pastoral ambiance. Kathy Rinaldi, executive director of the Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, wants 50 percent of land dedicated to open space. Even 25 percent of New York City is open space, she points out.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide warns its neighbor in Idaho to avoid what it calls the “region’s deadliest temptation: development that ruins a place beyond recognition.” Driggs, it says, should not create a future in which it needs another Driggs to function.

Beetle-kill biomass on the rise

TRUCKEE, Calif. – California’s Placer County continues to struggle with what to do with its aging forests.

The chief worry is the potential of catastrophic wildfires. The goal is to figure out ways to thin the forests, reducing fire potential but putting the wood to good use.

As in Colorado and elsewhere, fingers keep pointing toward biomass energy. Plans are now being drawn up in Placer County for a plant that would either burn the trees and branches, creating energy that could be then used to heat buildings, or fermenting the wood into biofuel. A plan is expected to be ready by autumn.

But many critical questions remain. For example, is this something that a private company would want to tackle? Is there enough wood for long-term operations? Not least is the matter of getting the trees out of the forest. That may require new roads. But even new roads may not be the full answer. Many fire-prone trees are on inaccessibly steep slopes.

“The cost of collecting and hauling the material in these areas may be very high, and this might complicate maintaining a regular flow of material,” Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman told theTahoe Bonanza.

Still, while it’s not the silver bullet for this interface between wildlands and developed communities, biomass will play “an increasingly important role in reducing hazard fuels that contribute to catastrophic wildfire behavior,” said Norman. The agency also foresees more use of prescribed burns.

Smaller biomass efforts are already under way. In South Lake Tahoe, the Forest Service funded a biomass boiler that is heating a high school. In Truckee, a burner fueled by wood chips produces electricity, heating several buildings and melting snow.

Vail moves its offices to Denver

AVON – When Vail Associates, the developer of Vail and also the Vail ski area, expanded in the 1990s and became Vail Resorts, it left Vail behind and moved down-valley to Avon. That move ruffled a few local feathers. But that move is small in comparison to the one accomplished this summer.

The company’s new chief executive officer, Rob Katz, moved the corporate headquarters to Broomfield, midway between his home in Boulder and downtown Denver. The move reflected the fact that not only is Vail Resorts no longer just in Vail, but it’s no longer just in Colorado. It also possibly lowered operating costs for the company, as mountain real estate is generally higher priced than that in cities.

But in the Vail-Beaver Creek area, it has caused some worry that the greater distance will mean less interest in the flagship properties. Bill Jensen, who now oversees Vail, Beaver Creek and California’s Heavenly for the company, disputes that notion. He tells theVail Daily that only good will come of this realignment.

When the corporate office was close by, the ski areas gained the reputation of being “corporate” ski areas. Now, they can go back to being ski towns. On the other hand, he told locals not to worry that Vail and Beaver Creek will lose any special attention from corporate officers – because they never got preferential treatment in the first place.

“I would urge that in my nine-plus years with the company, all the businesses, all the resorts, have been treated equally,” he said.

Bear attacks bartender in Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. – A bartender in Whistler who got in the way of a panicked bear that had entered a home sustained an injury that required 27 stitches. It was believed to be the first such incident involving bears.

That injury caps a rash of break-ins by bears, 63 by early August with four bears killed. Bears have also been damaging property, causing $20,000 in damage to hot tub covers at one residential complex. All this has bear activists calling for a better way to accommodate disposal of garbage in the town.

Whistler currently has two bear-proof waste stations. Because of the lack of convenience, people apparently keep garbage in their homes. That was the situation in this case, in which five large garbage bags and three small sacks containing household waste were stored in a room near the entrance.

The bear apparently broke into the house and got cornered. When the bartender entered the house from one side, another person was entering it from the other side. The panicked bear swiped the bartender as it fled, narrowly missing the main artery in the man’s neck.

“Whistler needs a better waste system,” the bartender toldPique newsmagazine. “You’ve got to have a car to get rid of garbage. They need something where people can walk down the road and get rid of it, close like at the post boxes or something.”

But also at issue are bear-drawing berry-bearing bushes and fruit trees. The Whistler Black Bear Working Group says that such shrubs and trees should not be planted in areas heavily used by humans, including the pedestrian village. “Many bears have died to ensure human safety,” Dolson notes.

Beaver Creek gets a little extreme

BEAVER CREEK – Beaver Creek skiers this winter will find a small section of new skiing in an area formerly marked by avalanches.

The area, upper Stone Creek, on the resort’s east side, was almost never skied 15 years ago, but by two years ago was getting an estimated 1,000 trips a season as backcountry adventurers began looking farther afield. It has pitches of 45 degrees.

“It’s steep. It’s got some big cliffs. It’s the real deal, for sure,” long-time skier Mike Brumbaugh told theVail Daily.

The newspaper noted that the expansion is part of a trend, called “backcountry light,” in which resorts are catering to skiers and snowboarders who want backcountry-like terrain without the physical exertion required of a real backcountry excursion or without avalanche and other dangers of an unmanaged setting. Keystone, Breckenridge, Aspen Highlands and Telluride have all added such terrain in recent years.

“People are looking for more of that,” said John Garnsey, chief operating officer of Beaver Creek Mountain. “Even the guests of Beaver Creek – you might not think so, but they’re looking for a little bit of adventure.”

Rural subdivision threatened

TELLURIDE – Ron Allred, who co-owned the Telluride Ski Area from 1979 to 2001, argues that one of the key issues confronting San Miguel County is whether the county commissioners will resist efforts to subdivide rural areas. The mesas around Telluride and Mountain Village, the twin towns next to the ski area, should remain in 35-acre ranchettes, he insists.

–  compiled by Allen Best

“When you visit most of the great mountain resort communities in the world, the single biggest negative that stands out is the proliferation of urbanization,” he writes in a letter published inThe Telluride Watch. “It’s a function of each resort’s success that lays the groundwork for the demise of their own desirability.”

Telluride and Mountain Village together have enough density to achieve the critical mass for a resort to operate, he says. Rural should stay rural, he insists.

–compiled by Allen Best


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