Avalanche teaches valuable lessons


JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Unlike big city newspapers, sometimes “everybody survived” stories make the big headlines in ski towns. Such was the case in Jackson Hole after an avalanche near Teton Pass left a backcountry skier buried up to his neck.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide explains that the avalanche took the four skiers, who had a combined 125 years of experience, by surprise. They had seen an avalanche only once before in this particular area. Further, they had evaluated the stability of the slope they were skiing.

However, they had not considered that adjacent slopes might have different snow conditions.  The avalanche that occurred was a “sympathetic” release on an adjacent slope – where the man was standing, waiting for his companions.

The individual was carried only 60 feet. While he managed to “swim” to stay afloat, his arm was broken and his shoulder dislocated.

Well-equipped with beacons, shovels and probes, the group also had extra clothing, a bivy sack, and even thermoses carrying hot tea, all of which were invaluable. The skier who was caught in the slide began to go into shock. Their preparedness may have prevented him from dying of hypothermia. Still, having lost three skis and a pack in the avalanche, they needed outside aid. Even in the age of cell phones and helicopters, it took several hours.

The moral of the story? Carry a big pack, says one of the skiers, Dave Coon. “Go big, or don’t go.” In addition to everything they carried, he wishes he had also carried a GPS computer and a foam pad.

The next week, theJackson Hole News & Guide reported an avalanche with an unhappy outcome. Despite some considerable preparation, a backcountry skier, Laurel Dana, died of suffocation.

In addition to carrying beacons, shovels and other gear, members of her party said they had evaluated the stability of the face they planned to ski. Having satisfied themselves that the 40-degree slope was safe, they began skiing it one at a time. Two were caught up in the avalanche, but only one survived in spite of all their rescue gear, as well as the efforts of other similarly equipped backcountry skiers in the area. A doctor also happened along within an hour.

The slope in question had received almost 5 feet of snow in the previous week, and that snowpack had been augmented by wind-blown snow on some aspects.


Survey finds most skiers ill equipped


LOVELAND PASS – For all the efforts made to educate backcountry users about the dangers of avalanches, the message is not being broadly heard in Colorado.

A case in point is at Loveland Pass, where highway access is easy but fatal avalanches through the decades have been frequent.

The U.S. Forest Service surveyed 75 people on a recent Saturday, and the agency’s Shelly Grail told theSummit Daily News that only a third had beacons, shovels or probe poles.

Worse, only one member of a group was equipped in most cases, meaning that this equipment was of little value. For beacons to work, there must be at least two. And probe poles are needed for searches, and shovels are mandatory.


Resort areas reach for lone eagles


CRESTED BUTTE – A sort of “Field of Dreams” story is being reported by theCrested Butte News. There, in Gunnison County, elected officials are being lobbied to push expansion of the Internet infrastructure into sparsely settled parts of the county.

The improved Internet infrastructure would expedite development of home-based businesses.

High-speed broadband is currently provided to Gunnison, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, as well as some peripheral areas.

However, many more isolated outposts do not have broadband. Plus, some in the Crested Butte area hope for a fiber-optic line. Among them is Mark Giganti, who is based in Chicago but would prefer to operate his small trading company in the slope-side town of Mt. Crested Butte.

“There are a lot of companies like mine that would move here if the services were available,” he says. “Everybody in trading is trying to move to these smaller communities, and they are all having the same problems I am.”

Giganti added, “You can’t come in here and just start a business like mine right now. But it seems to me that if you build it, they will come.”

For that matter, Crested Butte is already thick with part-time people interested in trading, computers and other businesses dependent upon good Internet access. “I know, because I meet them all on the plane, commuting to other locations,” he said.

Jason Swensen, a representative of Internet Colorado, a service provider, is calling for the county to seek economic-development grants. He estimated the cost of installing a fiber-optic line to Crested Butte between $300,000 and $500,000. John DeVore, the county manager, suggests the fiber-optic line should be publicly owned.


Smoking ban hits ski slopes


EAGLE COUNTY – The clock is ticking for smoking on lifts as well as in most lift lines and other public places in unincorporated Eagle County.

As per the wishes of 72 percent of voters last November, Eagle County is banning smoking effective March. That includes Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek, although not within Vail and other towns. The new law bans smoking from within 25 feet of restaurant patios, skate parks and other such areas, explains theVail Daily. However, 10 percent of hotel rooms are exempted.

Avon has followed the county’s lead, although Eagle will not. Vail has not indicated which way it will go.

Sheriff Joy Hoy said enforcement will be a low priority, but the experience in adjacent Summit County, which took the same action two years ago, is that the law is largely self-enforcing. “Most of the enforcement is done by patrons of bars and restaurants, not the authorities,” said Don Parsons of Smoke Free Summit County.


Fight against moly mine continues


CRESTED BUTTE – Activists and local governments continue to fight the transfer of public land near Crested Butte for what could eventually be a large molybdenum mine.

Two years ago the federal government transferred 155 acres on Mt. Emmons to a mining company, Phelps Dodge. Crested Butte, as well as Gunnison County and an environmental group, High Country Citizens Alliance, argued that the transfer was illegal, but a U.S. District Court judge a year ago ruled against the locals.

The locals have appealed that decision to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that third parties that are affected by privatization of the land under the 1872 Mining Act should be able to sue. Kevin Flynn, an attorney for the Western Mining Project, calls it a potentially precedent-setting case.

Crested Butte has been fighting the proposed molybdenum mine since the 1970s. Molybdenum mining in the United States tanked in 1981, forcing the closure of the Climax Mine between Leadville and Copper Mountain. However, partly in response to the rapid expansion of the Chinese and Indian economies, the world price of molybdenum has been soaring. There is widespread speculation that the Climax Mine will reopen.


Wind power studied near Telluride


TELLURIDE – Power lines arrived at Hastings Mesa, above Telluride, in 2004. Now, testing is being done to determine whether the winds there are sufficient to produce steady electricity. Involved in the project is the local San Miguel Power Association.

The Denver Post notes that when the power lines were installed, some of the back-to-the-land locals on the mesa feared it would bring light pollution and ostentatious homes.

Also involved in the testing is the state government’s energy office, which has wind-testing devices in various locations around Colorado, mostly on the Eastern Plains.


Panty tree cut down at ski area


MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – A panty tree at the June Mountain ski area was cut down last summer. The tree was thick with unmentionables, explainsThe Sheet, including coconut bras and granny panties. Carl Williams, the general manager of the ski hill, said the tree was too difficult to clean. “That underwewar was faded, ugly and old.

Will another panty tree at June Mountain be allowed to bloom? “As long as we can keep it clean,” Williams replied briefly.

– compiled by Allen Best


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