Ketchum loses tourism economy

KETCHUM, Idaho – Ketchum’s introspection about its future continues. Although it is North America’s first destination ski resort, skier days at Sun Valley have been flat, even declining, during the last several decades. The tourism economy more generally has been flat.

“When you talk to business owners around town, you will find a consensus that the town is not sleepy, but that it is comatose,” writes Rick Kessler, a 33-year resident of the town.

“One doesn’t need a lot of statistics to know that year-round residents are an endangered species, that business is down, that activity in town is way down, and the spirit of this community is slowly being crushed,” he writes in theIdaho Mountain Express.

Some have blamed the erosion of hotel beds, some 320 in just the last four years. Developers have wanted, and received, permission for a hotel that would combine for-sale units with the so-called “hot” beds available for rental, similar to what is being offered in most destination resorts of the West. They also want to go higher, a trend also found in nearly all other destination resorts.

The town has conceded the new real-estate component, but not necessarily the height. Kessler thinks opposition is a knee-jerk reaction to change. “We’re just too damned used to things being as they were.”

What is at the core of Ketchum, he says, is not the physical structure, but the people. “The heart, soul and character of this town consist of the people who live, work and visit here.” A five-story hotel, he adds, will not “change the character of the people who live and work here.”

Ketchum, he says, should “quit treating all developers as fly-by-night hucksters. People who are betting $60 million on a project are going to have to work very hard to ensure its success.”

But another view comes from Milton Adam. Also writing in theIdaho Mountain Express, he argues that “additional hotel rooms will not magically bring customers that never came before.”

He brings evidence that Ketchum and Sun Valley, compared with other resort areas, have far less lodging occupancy than other resorts. Summer occupancy is highest, at 57 percent, and winter is at 54 percent – far below more other major ski resorts in the West.

Another number-crunching exercise shows Vail and Beaver Creek had 554 skier days per accommodation unit, followed by Aspen-Snowmass at 356, Steamboat at 299, and Ketchum-Sun Valley at 289.

Telluride turns out for open space

TELLURIDE – What amounts to a giant community bake sale continues in Telluride as organizers scramble to come up with $50 million needed to pay for land the town has condemned at the municipal entrance. Meanwhile, the land owner, Neal Blue, of General Atomic Energy, has indicated through his attorneys that even if the town finds the money, he may continue to fight the condemnation in court.

The 590 contested acres are now mostly used for cattle grazing in summer, and a clear majority of town residents during three elections have demonstrated their wishes to prevent development. A jury set the value of the land at $50 million. Also to be paid are attorney fees of $3.5 million and environmental restoration. The town government has $26 million allocated, and private fund raising has yielded another $16 million. That leaves $8 million still unaccounted for.

The Denver Post reports donations large and small. One anonymous donor gave $5 million, and there are a handful of million-dollar donations. But a bartender also donated his tips for a day, a third-grader raided his piggybank. The paper reports rumors of a donation from Tom Cruise, the actor who owns a home in nearby Mountain Village.

However, a substantial minority in Telluride think the effort was ill-advised, even an injustice.The Telluride Watch tells of opposition from Telluride resident Wade Davis. “You are stealing from the poor to give to the rich,” Davis told the county commissioners.

Davis, a retired corporate CEO, counts himself as among Telluride’s rich. He owns property in Telluride plus 600 acres outside Telluride. The value of both, he says, will be enhanced by preservation of the open space. What’s not to like about it?

“My objection is that they are taking money which should be spent on much-needed projects in the county, especially in the poorer areas, to buy a playground for the rich,” he said.

Home Depot divides Carbondale

CARBONDALE – Carbondale continues to debate whether it can hold its nose and allow an 80,000-square-foot Home Depot store into the town. Some people think it would make Carbondale look and feel like suburban Denver. Others, however, say the town should accept the need for such a store to boost the town’s finances.

One of the issues reported byCarbondale’s Valley Journal is employees. The store would hire 75 full-time employees and 75 part-timers. Wages would be tops among Home Depot stores nationwide, $9 to $18 per hour, plus benefits. Comparable wages are paid Home Depot employees in Avon.

But is that enough to survive in Carbondale? The journal cites different viewpoints.

Colin Laird, who tracks economics of the Roaring Fork Valley, thinks it’s not enough. The median wage of $16.80 in Colorado, he tells theJournal, is too little to pay for housing in the Carbondale area.

“It’s not to say $16 an hour is terrible, but our economic level of activity requires more than that; everything costs so much more here,” he said.

But theJournal notes some pricked ears at the employment opportunities, as the insurance benefits alone are attractive to some people.

Carbondale has been debating the future of the 24-acre parcel near the center of town for about four years. Indicators point toward a decision sometime during the next several months.

Exposure claims out-of-bounds skier

WHISTLER, B.C. – A 34-year-old man from Quebec died of what was described as “extreme exposure” after skiing into the backcountry from Blackcomb ski area. “Once you step outside the boundary, all those little safety blankets that you would take for granted in-bounds are gone,” ski area safety supervisor Dave Reid toldPique.

Because the man had a habit of taking off on his own, the search was not begun until he had been out for two nights. Even then, would-be rescuers had no idea where he might have gone. A massive search yielded his ski tracks, which led to his abandoned skis, and then the meandering footprints left by his ski boots.

“It was indicative of irrational behavior,” said Brad Sills, head of Whistler’s Search and Rescue.

The skier’s body was discovered three days after he had left the ski area. It was the victim’s first day skiing at Blackcomb.

Searchers warned of a similar potential fate awaiting others who venture into the backcountry bereft of suitable equipment or knowledge of local geography.

Beetle districts’ bill considered

GRANBY – Colorado lawmakers are reviewing a proposal to allow municipalities and counties to form or join special districts to address the bark beetles. The proposed law would allow voters to tax themselves, both by property and sales tax.

Such districts would then be allowed to manage forest improvements, offer incentives for private landowners, and promote local wood products industries. TheSky-Hi News reports a broad consortium of interests testifying on behalf of the bill, although some doubts have been expressed about the effectiveness of such districts.

Truckee focuses on alternative energy

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Now that directors of the Truckee Donner Public Utility district have rejected involvement in a new coal-fired power plant in Utah, how will they meet the growing demand for electricity?

The Sierra Sun reports a plan to acquire energy produced somewhere along the West Coast at a small hydroelectric plant, and possibly geothermal generation in Nevada and also wind generation coupled with natural gas.

In a case that fanned a loud community debate and attracted the interest of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the utility district’s directors this winter rejected the certainty of the coal-generated electricity from the Utah plant and the lower prices that would have been likely.

Responding to the new public interest in power supplies, the utility plans to appoint two 20-member panels, one to advise the directors about conserving water and power. The other is to advise about power supplies.

– compiled by Allen Best

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows