Global warming draws huge crowd

PARK CITY, Utah – Even when Park City was planning to host the Olympics, the town never had 1,200 people show up for a community meeting. But that’s how many turned out last week to hear scientific projections about how rising temperatures may affect Park City during the 21st century.

Global warming, said the scientists, will change Park City plenty. Easier to predict are temperatures. They will rise, of course. But rising temperatures will likely mean less snow.

The base areas are at about 6,900 feet in elevation. Given the maximum continued emissions now projected, the snowline of the ski mountains could move up to 9,500 feet. Park City Mountain Resort’s top elevation is 10,400 feet.

In addition, warmer temperatures could delay snow accumulations by at least four weeks.

Computer models developed so far are uncertain about how global warming will change precipitation patterns.

“We can’t say with any high degree of certainty what precipitation will do in the future,” says Brian Lazar, a hydrologist with Stratus Consulting, a firm from Boulder conducting the research. “That’s particularly true in mountainous regions, because of the interactions of the climate and the topography. Temperatures we can predict with much more confidence,” he added.

Mid-range projections see temperatures in Park City rising 10 degrees, or about the same temperature as Salt Lake City is now. These warmer temperature could shrink the snow depths by 15 to 65 percent compared to historical averages.

Models also see warmer nighttime temperatures, both winter and summer, and warmer temperatures during summer days.

Just how much heating occurs depends at least partly on how much greenhouse gases continue to accumulate. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, were at 280 parts per million in the atmosphere at the start of the 20th century. They now stand at 382 parts per million. Some scientists think the Earth can stand only 450 to 550 parts per million before substantial changes occur, which could happen by mid-century.

The problem, say scientists, is that once in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases take many years to dissipate. Some projections see carbon dioxide levels to 950 parts per million by the century’s end.

While climates are constantly changing, most scientists now say that man-caused greenhouse gases are the major cause of changes seen in recent decades.

One of the nation’s most prominent climate-change scientists, James Hansen, from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, warns that substantial changes are needed in the next five to 10 years.

“I think there is still time to deal with global warming, but we need to act soon,” Hansen told scientists and meteorologists gathered in early January at a conference in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

Revelstoke Mountain Resort green lit

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Developers of Revelstoke Mountain Resort have now committed $30 million toward erection of new gondolas and chairlifts. With that announcement, Revelstoke, a city of 8,000 people located in southwest British Columbia, is more squarely facing what environmental historian Hal Rothman identified as the devil’s bargain of communities that embrace tourism.

While old ranching, mining and logging towns may see tourism as an economic savior, tourism ultimately changes them in ways that proponents usually have not anticipated, Rothman said in his book,Devil’s Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West.

“As a viable option for moribund or declining places, tourism promises much but delivers only a little, often in forms different from what its advocates anticipate,” Rothman wrote.

Revelstoke is one of those places looking for a rescue. Created by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s, it has had an economic foundation based on mining and also on sawmills, which continue to smoke up the Columbia River Valley. But several of Canada’s crown jewel national parks are within easy drives, and a handful of heli-skiing operations operate in the nearby Purcell and Monashee mountains. The tourism economy began growing with arrival of the Trans Canada Highway in 1962.

Ambitious eyes have been cast for 20 years on Mount MacKenzie, which towers over the town. A small community ski hill now exists, but the new resort aims to be a major international destination.

When the $1 billion Revelstoke Mountain Resort is completed, it is expected to have a ski-mountain capacity of 14,000 people, similar to both Whistler and Blackcomb. Revelstoke’s lifts and gondolas are expected to be installed this summer, allowing opening of the resort next winter. The mountain offers the potential for a vertical drop of 6,000 feet, the most in North America.

All this is seen with both elation and apprehension in Revelstoke. Housing prices have doubled in the last three years. Alan Mason, the town’s economic development director, attributes the increase to people buying property and hoping to get in “on the ground floor” before the resort develops. But there are also people moving here because they think it is a good place to live.

Berthoud slide reveals silver lining

WINTER PARK – The avalanche that blocked Highway 40 on the east side of Berthoud Pass on Jan. 6 had a silver lining. Businesses in Winter Park tell theManifest that they had an unusually good day of commerce. Some also think the publicity will help Winter Park in coming months. If not entirely accurate, the news reports repeatedly identified Winter Park as the closest resort to Denver.

For people trying to catch planes – the avalanche occurred mid-way through a Saturday morning, turnover day at ski resorts – the avalanche was a costly nuisance. The drive from Winter Park to the Denver airport, normally two hours, was more than doubled, probably more for drivers unfamiliar with the winding, circuitous route through Kremmling and Silverthorne. The ski area operator estimated a 10 percent drop in business.

The avalanche of the Stanley Slide caught eight people, knocking two cars off the highway. Nobody was seriously hurt, however. Avalanche experts estimate the winds that day had loaded the avalanche path within an hour. Snow in the slide path is routinely set off by highway crews using a howitzer.

Aspen ski area turns sixty

ASPEN – Aspen, as a ski destination, is now 60 years old. Although people were skiing before World War II with aid of a contraption called the boat tow, the first lift was installed in 1946 and put into official operation in January 1947.

With that single-chair ski lift, Aspen emerged from what is often called its quiet years, the period that began when federal subsidies for silver ended in 1893, ending the mining boom. Aspen, reportsThe Aspen Times, foresaw lift-served downhill skiing as “a new, good and profitable way of life,” in the words of a columnist of the time, Leonard Woods.

That people who were part of Aspen’s rebirth remain alive testifies to the relative youth of the ski industry. Klaus Obermeyer, who later began manufacturing ski clothing, was a ski instructor that first season. He remains in Aspen, as do two brothers, Frank and John Dolinsek, who worked on the construction crew that erected the first lift.

But while a great many people have lamented the changes at ski areas in recent years, it’s doubtful anybody laments that first chair lift. The lift ride took a half-hour, and grease and oil frequently dripped on passengers. The ski company promised to dry-clean any ski clothes that were soiled. “They did a lot of dry-cleaning,” Obermeyer toldThe Aspen Times.

Ski prices are another matter. Aspen charged $3.75 a day that first season, although the $140-season pass seems steep, given the wages of the time.

Gas line rupture puts town in pinch

CRESTED BUTTE – Eruption of a natural gas pipeline that services Crested Butte left people in the cold in early January. The line ruptured on Jan. 4 and affected 2,200 customers, with some customers not getting natural gas again until almost three days later.

Luckily, the temperatures were above average at first, although they dipped far below zero by the second night. Homeowners who had become accustomed to the luxury of natural-gas heating resorted to wood-burning stoves, while others made a run on electric space heaters. Several restaurants were forced to close during the outage, while others made do. The town was filled with college students, who seemed to take the disruption without great complaint, town officials said.

– compiled by Allen Best


In this week's issue...

December 6, 2018
Shovels ready?

The wait is over – well, sort of. Almost two years ago, the City of Durango completed plans to extend the northern section of the Animas River Trail and build a boat ramp, trails, parking and other facilities at Oxbow Park and Preserve. 

November 29, 2018
Seat at the table

It’s time to make it official. Since the Bonita Peak Mining District was first declared a Superfund site in the summer of 2016, residents have been looking for ways to stay involved.

November 21, 2018
Call of the wild

Gray wolves once called the Colorado mountains home. They were essential to the ecosystem in the western part of the state and key to the culture of its inhabitants. But, the gray wolf vanished from this part of the world almost a century ago.