Colorado ski areas court minorities

DENVER – Colorado ski areas set a record for the second straight year with 12.56 million skiers and snowboarders tallied at the states ski areas. This represents a 0.2 percent gain, which compares with the 6.9 percent drop nationally during the past winter.

Colorado’s gains came among destination visitors. Visits from Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York and California – the leading states for visitors – increased 4 percent. Altogether, visitors from those five states comprise about 40 to 41 percent of the state’s skier visitors.

A pair of Christmas holiday blizzards in Denver dampened visits from the metropolitan area but created the impression of snow across Colorado. Ironically, the resorts got very little snow out of those two big storms.

But despite the numbers, the industry in Colorado has remained essentially flat. “It has been the same number of people skiing, but skiing more frequently,” Dave Belin, director at RRC Associates, told theRocky Mountain News.

For several years, the industry has talked about reaching out to the swelling number of minorities. This year, Winter Park even made snow and set up rails on a steep hillside in Denver in an area that is home to many Latinos, although the attraction seemed to attract mostly kids from the suburbs, many of them already confirmed snowboarders.

Lucy Kay, the new chief operating officer at Breckenridge, predicted visitors there will look very different within a decade. But now, there’s very little ethnic diversity, she conceded.


Man jailed for harassing cyclists

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – After repeated encounters with mountain bikers, skiers and hikers, rancher Paul DeBoer has been sentenced to jail for six months.

“I confess, I don’t understand why these incidents keep happening and why you are always at the center of them, Mr. DeBoer,” said the judge, Tim Day.

In this particular case, three bicyclists told authorities that DeBoer passed dangerously close to them in his truck as they rode their road bikes up Game Creek.

DeBoer, 66, lives across the road from the trailhead. In the past, notes theJackson Hole News&Guide, he has had conflicts with people walking dogs who do not keep them under control, with people who do not clean up after their pets, and also with cyclists who ride fast down the backcountry trails.

After a previous encounter four years ago, DeBoer was ordered to complete 80 hours of community service, 30 of which could be conflict-resolution counseling. He completed none of them. He was also placed on probation for nearly backing his car into a woman at the trailhead parking area.


Project chooses sustainability theme

GYPSUM – Something new is being proposed in the Gypsum Valley, about 45 miles southwest of Vail. While nearby is a traditional high-end, golf-course-based real estate development called Brightwater, the new project being proposed to Gypsum town officials boasts of its sustainability. Some 273 units are planned, some two-thirds of them single-family homes in a low-density fashion.

Kurt Forstmann, one of the developers, said the proposed Winding Creek Ranch may become a model for future resource-sensitive developments. Because the ranch has senior water rights, Forstmann said, a series of lakes and ponds will be the centerpiece of the plan.

Forstmann also says that homes and other buildings will make use of exposure to the sun. “Colorado has 300 days of sunshine a year,” Forstmann told theEagle Valley Enterprise. “I think it’s fairly stupid that people aren’t using solar power for electric needs.”

He also said that homes will be highly energy efficient. “I think this is the future of home building,” he said.

The ranch will also have a 22-acre vegetable farm as well as a working ranch, with homeowners sharing in the bounty.


Vail tries to lead by example

VAIL – Solar collectors are being installed on two buildings located atop the Vail Village Parking Structure. In addition, town officials are replacing incandescent light bulbs in the Colorado Ski Museum with compact fluorescents. Together, the two projects are costing the town $25,000. The payback on the investment is calculated at 10 years.

Town officials chose the very conspicuous public buildings – an information center and the transportation center – in an effort to lead by example, said Bill Carlson, the town’s environmental health officer. “We hope to encourage businesses and private property owners to research alternative energy uses that they might install on their property,” he said.

Last summer, the town bought renewable energy credits equal to the total use of the town government, about 20 million kilowatt hours. The increased cost was $12,000 per year.

The town is also re-roofing the buildings atop the parking structure with new synthetic slate shingles. At least one of the buildings has shake shingles. Again, the effort is to lead by example. Responding to heightened worries about the potential for wildland fires, the town in the last year required new roofs and those being replaced to use the noncombustible shingles.


County still studying biomass plant

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Placer County officials want to build a biomass plant at Lake Tahoe. There’s plenty of old, dying and dead trees in the basin, and burning the wood in a confined area, while producing 3 megawatts of electricity, will result in improved air quality.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget has $3.5 million in it for a Tahoe biomass plant. The plant is projected to cost $7 million to $8 million.

“We’re hoping this will be the model for the rest of the country,” says Brett Storey, Placer County’s biomass program manager. He said the county optimistically is hoping to have the plant on line by 2010.

The Sierra Sun notes that an existing biomass burner, built in 1989, is operating north of Truckee at the community of Loyalton. There, the burner produces 850-degree heat that generates enough electricity to power 7,000 homes.

The burner consumes about 280 tons of wood chips per day. Trucks bring the wood from as far away as Klamath Falls, Ore., and Stockton, Calif., more than 100 miles away. Much of the wood comes from forest-thinning operations, but some is diverted from landfills.

The Loyalton plan emits carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, but much of it is captured within the plant by various air-cleaning devices. New biomass plants use a process called gasification, in which the wood is heated to extremely high temperatures while oxygen is withheld.


Bark beetles peak near Ketchum

KETCHUM, Idaho – The bark beetle epidemic that has waxed since the turn of the century in the Sawtooth Mountains seems to be waning.

The reason is not cold weather, but rather the fact that the beetles have killed most of the lodgepole pine. “Now they’re starting to go down to as small as a 6-inch trees, and that’s a sign that most of the host material has been killed off,” say Jim Rineholt, a forester at the Sawtooth National Recreational Area.

Among the killed trees are white bark pine. Rineholt said many of the white bark pine are more than 800 years old. “It’s an important species for holding back snowpack,” he told theIdaho Mountain Express. The species is found at more than 7,000 feet, which in Idaho is a high elevation.

After marching through the Sawtooths and the White Cloud Mountains, the beetles are now working south into the Wood River Valley, where Sun Valley and Ketchum are. More diverse forests are expected to cause the beetles to move more slowly.


Utility buys geothermal electricity

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Last winter the utility board serving Truckee and nearby areas considered signing a 50-year contract to get electricity from a new coal-fired power plant being planned in Utah. Residents responded loudly that they didn’t want to hitch their wagon to coal, and so they didn’t.

But Truckee is growing, and so the utility board has been looking for additional sources. It appears to have part of the answer in a geothermal power from a plant in northern Nevada called Rye Patch. Truckee will get about three megawatts.

What it will cost Truckee isn’t clear.The Sierra Sun suggests the deal will cause a rate hike of 7.3 percent. Just how sustained the geothermal power will be is also unclear.

Steve Hollabaugh, an official with the utility district, said that wind and solar power are both options, but the technologies do not deliver electricity as reliably as other energy sources.

– compiled by Allen Best

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