Telluride clinic plans altitude research

TELLURIDE – At 8,750 feet in elevation, Telluride is by almost any definition at high altitude. Telluride’s sister town, Mountain Village, is even higher, at 9,500 feet. By most accounts, people begin having substantial trouble with thin air at about 8,000 feet in elevation.

With that in mind, the Telluride Hospital District has allocated $100,000 to create the Center for Altitude Medicine. Organizers hope to work with other medical clinics and hospitals in high-elevation areas of Colorado to better understand how to deal with physical ailments caused or exacerbated by thin air.

For example, many people find sleep apnea is exacerbated by thin air. And Gary Hughes, administrator of the hospital district, noted that just a few days ago, a local child was found to have a hole in his heart, an abnormality that is intensified at higher elevations.

But effects of thin air are even more pronounced when people fly from lower elevation to mountain resorts without allowing acclimatization periods. About 25 percent of visitors to Telluride experience some degree of altitude sickness. The sickness is not particularly dangerous, although the flu-like symptoms are unpleasant.

As well, the clinic hopes to do basic research on altitude sickness. A staff physician at Telluride is Dr. Peter Hackett, one of the world’s pre-eminent specialists in high-altitude medicine.

Backcountry hut highest in Colorado

SILVERTON – A backcountry ski hut has been approved for Ophir Pass, between the communities of Silverton and Ophir, outside of near Telluride. TheSilverton Standardreports that the hut is to be located at an elevation of 11,800 feet, putting it higher than any of the 10th Mountain, Braun and other backcountry huts between Silverton and Winter Park. The developers of the hut are Bob and Karen Kingsley, of Telluride.

Anguish remains from 47-mph ride

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – An 18-year-old snowboarder from Maryland spent Christmas in jail, a penalty for killing a skier nearly two years ago on the slopes of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

But in addressing the family of the dead woman at his sentencing, Greg Doda said he pays a price daily. “There is not a morning I wake up that I don’t think about your daughter,” he said. “Sometimes I wake up to tears, and sometimes I am going down the highway to work and I burst out into tears. It’s just waves of sorrow. It’s going to be something I always have with me.”

Eyewitnesses said that Doda straight-lined the majority of Laramie Bowl before crashing into the woman, 29-year-old Heather Donahue, who had been standing in the middle of the run waiting for her husband. It is estimated that Doda was traveling 47 mph when he hit Donahue, knocking her out of her gloves, skis, poles, hat, goggles and neck warmer. It broke the snowboard in two, notes theJackson Hole News&Guide.

Because he was 16 at the time of the accident, Doda was charged as a child. Had he been 18, he could have been sentenced to 20 years. As is, he must perform 240 hours of community service, pay $4,000 in fines, and write an article for a national magazine about the incident and snowboarding safety.

The family members had asked for a maximum sentence, a year in jail.

Climate change linked to cancellations

KITZBUHEL, Austria – Two World Cup races scheduled for the Alps in December were postponed for lack of snow. This isn’t the first time that the Alps – or, for that matter, the Rocky Mountains – have edged toward Christmas bereft of snow.

But the warm autumn again focuses attention on the changing climate. Underscoring those concerns are two new studies, reports theNew York Times. One study says the Alps are the warmest they have been since the 8th century. The second study, an echo of earlier studies, predicts that an increase of two degrees Celsius would leave half of the Alpine resorts with too little snow to do business.

Among those resorts is Austria’s Kitzbühel, at 2,624 feet. Already, the community there has been diversifying its amenities to include Turkish baths, says theTimes.

New studies suggest that the Alps are warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. One explanation is that the Alps are located far from any oceans, which moderate warming trends. Reinhold Bohm, a meteorologist who worked on the study, said that despite rapidly changing climate, there has been little talk of how to prepare for global warming in the resorts. “Nobody in ski tourism plans out further than 10 years,” he said.

But the newspaper also quotes Georg Hechenberger, who directs one of the ski companies at Kitzbühel. He notes the uncertainty of global warming theories. One theory, he noted, is that rising temperatures will disrupt the Gulf Stream, plunging northern Europe into a period of chillier weather. If that happens, the low-elevation resorts will have the upper hand, and higher-elevation resorts may be abandoned.

Christo-type windmills proposed

VAIL – Vail is contemplating a Christo-type project on its golf course. There, an artist from Denver wants to install 2,700 windmills, each standing 8 feet tall and topped with an electric light that would glow when the wind turns the turbines. The cost to the town, should they choose to go forward with the idea, will be $94,500.

The council appears enthusiastic, but the idea is thick with details, and closer inspection of those details may reveal devils. If approved, the windmills will be erected for the month between spring equinox, March 11, and Earth Day, April 22.

TheVail Daily reports that town officials see this as an exercise in cultural tourism similar to the 2005 Gates Project in New York City, when Christo and his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, draped 7,500 saffron curtains around New York’s Central Park.

As well, there is a symbolic hook, in that the two public agencies involved, the Town of Vail and the Vail Recreation District, both purchased wind-energy credits. As well, Vail Resorts, which operates the ski area, purchased massive amounts of wind power earlier this year.

The artist, Patrick Marold, previously installed 200 windmills in Iceland, where he lived for a year on a Fulbright Fellowship.

Schools to upgrade energy efficiencies

EAGLE VALLEY – With the goal of improving energy efficiency, public schools in the Eagle Valley will be investing up to $7.5 million in tinted windows, ultra-efficient hot-water boilers and radiant gas-heat systems. The school district extends from Vail to Gypsum and has two high schools and three middle schools.

Electricity and gas bills for schools have increased 48 percent in just four years. With the expectation that energy prices will continue to rise, the school district figures that the reduced demand will cause an investment payback within seven to nine years, reports theVail Daily.

Telluride considers climate conference

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – The council for Mountain Village, the slopeside town adjacent to Telluride, is considering co-hosting a conference next September that is devoted to climate change. The specific idea of the conference is to find ways to mobilize celebrities, musicians and the media to fuel awareness and influence behavior. Another key goal would be to create a universal labeling system for products that cause the fewest greenhouse gases, similar to the Certified Organic label. The council, reportsThe Telluride Watch, will decide in January whether to proceed.

Going against the flow on ski slopes

KETCHUM, Idaho – For reasons that remain unclear, ski slopes have become like giant outdoor gymnasiums during the last decade. People aren’t getting uphill just by taking the lifts. Morning, noon, or night, they’re skinning up their skis, putting on snowshoes, or just tromping uphill.

And it’s getting to be a problem, at least at Sun Valley, reports theIdaho Mountain Express.

“Where there used to be six or eight folks hiking up the runs at dawn, there are now as many as 100 on a busy day, and many of those folks are hiking up the middle of a run or have dogs with them,” said Joe Miczulski, winter sports director for the Sawtooth National Forest.

Hiking uphill against the flow of skiers and snowboarders, some of whom are barely in control, may not be the smartest of things. Hikers are urged to exercise common sense, as well as their bodies, and stay to the edge of runs – especially if walking with dogs.

– compiled by Allen Best