Cloud-seeding takes off in Wyoming

PINEDALE, Wyo. – For the most part, environmental activists have shrugged off cloud-seeding. If intrinsically distrustful of tinkering with nature, they have seemed to see cloud-seeding as among the least of their worries.

And, for that matter, water-providers and ski areas have for the most part kept their distance from cloud-seeding, with several notable exceptions: Vail and Beaver Creek since 1978; a Durango-based water district; and Crested Butte for the last several years. Several agricultural districts in central Utah and some hydroelectric companies in the Sierra Nevada have seeded clouds for decades, the latter since the 1950s. Some scientifically rigorous experiments have also been conducted, most notably near Colorado’s Climax Mine in the 1960s and 1970s. Those experiments showed cloud-seeding caused augmentations of snowpacks by 10 to 15 percent.

Still, the efficiency of cloud-seeding remains disputed. And the federal government has been clear for about 25 years that it will provide little or no money for research.

But pushed by cattle and sheep ranchers in Wyoming, that state’s Legislature has appropriated $8.9 million for cloud-seeding research over the next five years. The project has two components, the first of which is in the Sierra Madres, the area between Laramie, Wyo., and Steamboat Springs. There a double-blind experiment is planned to better refine under what conditions cloud-seeding works and to what degree.

A second component proposes to seed clouds on their way to the Wind River Range, located southeast of Jackson Hole. The intent there is less pure science and more just the goal of producing more water. Slow-melting snow, after all, is like a reservoir in the West.

Environmental groups are distrustful of the cloud-seeding, reports theJackson Hole News&Guide. “It’s fraught with such peril,” says Sierra Club Spokesman Steve Thomas. “Trying to manipulate precipitation is generally not a good idea. It has impacts that people are not anticipating.”

And environmentalists believe they have a legal ax to grind, at least in this case. “The idea of attempting to manipulate a wilderness ecosystem in one of the few areas where we’ve decided, as a society, that we are not going to try to manipulate, flies in the face of the concept of wilderness,” said George Nickas, executive director of the Wilderness Watch.

Because the Wind River Range is mostly in designated wilderness, cloud-seeding raises serious policy and serious legal questions, Nickas said. He did not, however, say whether he believes his or other environmental groups will make this a line-in-the-sand case.

Ski resorts report robust Christmas

TELLURIDE – With cherry trees blossoming in Washington, D.C., and people sunbathing in New York City, the problems of ski areas in the East are obvious. The Alps also continue to hurt.

But the North American West is another matter. Everyone, it would seem, had a very, very good Christmas. Aspen had the second best day in 10 years.The Telluride Watchreports a likely three-day record at the ski area there.Steamboat’s Pilot & Today reported the largest crowds ever at the ski area. Park City’s buses carried a record number of passengers.

Most gleeful of all was Whistler’sPique. “Boom times return,” announced the paper. Christmas week was the busiest week on record – and a sharp departure from recent years.

The cause? “We are the snowiest major ski resort in the world,” trumpeted Stuart Rempbel, vice president of marketing area sales for the operator of Whistler and Blackcomb ski areas.

Whistler for about five years has been limping along and increasingly introspective. The strong Canadian dollar, which cuts into Whistler’s strong foreign business, has been the primary cause, but everything from drenching, mid-winter rains to possibly an attitude problem have also played into the laggard resort business.

The tourism decline has also affected the real estate market in Whistler. For the third consecutive year, property values in Whistler and the nearby town of Pemberton dropped during 2006. The slight declines buck the robust 23 percent average increase in assessments across British Columbia.

Telluride doctor helps Rolling Stones

TELLURIDE – The Rolling Stones were scheduled to play in Mexico City last fall, which has an elevation of 7,342 feet. Worried a bit about the thin, polluted air there, the band hired on Telluride’s Peter Hackett, one of the world’s premiere authorities on high-altitude medicine and physiology.

As a doctor, Hackett has worked extensively on Denali and in the Himalaya. He is also an accomplished climber, and in fact, climbed Everest solo from the South Col to the summit. He has worked at the Telluride Medical Center for six years.

Hackett toldThe Telluride Watch that he did relatively little work during the band’s 16-city tour. Not surprisingly, he said he was most concerned about Keith Richards, who had suffered a brain hemorrhage after falling out of palm tree last April. But Richards, who is 63, had no problems, nor did any of the other 60-something band members or the 40-member entourage. The most challenging situation was in Chicago, where the band played in freezing temperatures.


Avalanche claims Jackson Hole skier

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Once again, there is sad testimony that you need not be buried by snow to die in an avalanche.

The evidence this time is from the backcountry immediately adjacent to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. There, three skiers were at a cliff called Fat Bastard, planning to ski a chute described as extreme. Avalanche danger that day had been reported as moderate, and indeed, seven people had been caught in the Southern Tetons by an avalanche the previous day, although none were killed.

The avalanche at Fat Bastard caught all three skiers. By one account, two of the skiers were buried up to their necks. Other skiers who arrived shortly after dug them out. The third skier was uncovered rapidly but was unconscious.

Help arrived within five minutes, perhaps as quickly as one minute. It was for naught. A doctor at the scene declared the third victim dead before a helicopter arrived, reports theJackson Hole News&Guide. The Teton County coroner attributed death to massive internal injuries.

The dead skier, Justin Kautz, 25, was remembered as a devout Christian who gave away money to those he believed had needs greater than his own but also as someone who loved the exhilaration of skiing. He loved to go fast, scream and yell, and just have fun, one friend told the newspaper. He worked as a front desk clerk but had also been published in a telemark magazine.

“He had deep faith in the redemptive power of God, which enabled him to stand up for what was right, regardless of the consequences,” said his father, Will Kautz, in an interview with theValley News of White River Junction, Vt. “He was the best son any dad could ever have.”

Mag chloride blamed in driver’s death 

SANTA FE, N.M. – Magnesium chloride has been blamed in the death of a driver in New Mexico.The New Mexican reports that the driver died after her vehicle slipped on a road covered with the de-icing chemical. Three other crashes, none of them fatal, also were blamed on mag chloride.

A Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department investigation said a bald tire on the victim’s car contributed to the crash.

New Mexico transportation officials suspended use of magnesium chloride, which lowers the freezing point and prevents snow from binding to the road surface.

Use of magnesium chloride has been hotly contested in several Colorado valleys, although publicity has died down in the last two years. However, a letter-writer in Ketchum’sIdaho Mountain Express took aim at mag chloride, recounting the uncertainty and the adversities of the chemical. “It is our responsibility to demand the termination of the use of this harmful substance,” concluded the writer, Karen McCall.

Defenders of mag chloride point out that the science remains inconclusive, and that it is without doubt that mag chloride creates generally safer driving conditions. The alternatives, sand and cinders, pollute waterways and the air.

Coast Guard rescues Tahoe kayaker

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A kayaker barely survived a trip out on Lake Tahoe on New Year’s Eve. The woman called 911 in the afternoon, saying she was cold, tired and lost.

When the woman failed to answer calls, the U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter and two boats. Two hours later, the woman was found, after searchers traced her cell phone to a particular cell phone tower. She was 5 miles off-shore in a small, inflatable kayak. “She was hypothermic and mumbling,” said Joshua Martin, an executive petty officer for the Coast Guard. “The cold from the water will suck the heat out of you through the kayak. She was lucky.”

– compiled by Allen Best

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows