Telluride CEO questions wage increase

TELLURIDE – Dave Riley, the chief executive officer for the Telluride Ski and Golf Co., hasn’t exactly made himself a friend of the masses since arriving earlier this year from a ski area in Oregon.

The Telluride Watch explains that Riley was at a meeting of those involved in operating the gondola that connects Telluride and its sibling slopeside town of Mountain Village. The ski company doesn’t directly operate the gondola but has a voice in operations.

Using that voice, Riley challenged a proposed pay increase for gondola operators. They currently get $12 an hour starting, with an extra $1 if they stay the course of ski season. A pay increase of $1 per hour is proposed.

“The National Ski Areas Association comparable position and the national wage for that job is $8.06,” said Riley. “Only 36 percent of the ski areas provide an end-of-season bonus.” He added that he questions the existing wage, let alone the increased wage.

Greg Sparks, the town manager of Mountain Village, which operates the gondola, said that even at existing wages, it’s tough to hire gondola operators. Current employees come from homes that are up to two hours away in Shiprock, N.M., he said.

It’s 118 miles from Shiprock to Telluride, or a drive of 2 hours and 35 minutes. Other gondola operators commute from Montrose, which is 90 minutes away.

“There is not one job in the newspaper that is $8, $9, $10 an hour,” said a town councilman, Jonathan Greenspan. “The employee turnover rate will be astronomical.”

Responding to the story inThe Telluride Watch, readers saw Riley as “delusional,” according to one comment. “You’re making a horrible first impression and a total fool of yourself,” wrote one reader, “Amy,” on the newspaper’s website. Another reader, “Joe,” advised Riley to “wake up … before they run you out of town. Better yet, just leave.”

The Mountain Village, notesThe Watch, has been ranked as one of the 10 wealthiest municipalities in the United States.

Activists feed bears in Lake Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – It’s been a bad, bad year for bears in the Lake Tahoe Basin. A record 75 bears have been struck and killed by vehicles, bears have snuck into homes, and in one case a police officer shot a bear as he was being charged.

If only bears stayed in the backcountry. To that end, some 30 local residents have been dropping fruits, berries, nuts, fish and other food in the forests around Lake Tahoe in recent weeks.

The Reno-Gazette-Journal says one woman has spent $10,000 on nuts and fruits, distributing it by foot. Pilots have also dropped food from their planes.

The local grassroots organization, Bear League, has not taken part, but defends the practice.

“It’s a whole lot more natural if bears are foraging in backwoods and finding food than picking through someone’s refrigerator,” said Ann Bryant, the group leader. “We have to get the bears out of our neighborhoods and bring them back to where they belong.”

State wildlife organizations frown on artificial feeding. They say feeding bears could make them more closely associate humans with food and make them more likely to congregate, raising the threat of disease transmission and confrontations. Artificial food sources could also lead to more cubs when the land can’t support the animals.

But Lynn Rogers, a biologist with the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn., believes those assertions lack empirical support.

“I don’t know of anything the people are doing (at Lake Tahoe) that would create nuisance problems,” he said. “It has to be considered experimental, but there’s a growing body of data that suggests supplemental feeding can act as a buffer against nuisance behavior rather than an introduction to it.”

Coal-mine town embraces Al Gore

CRAIG – Located 42 miles west of Steamboat Springs, Craig is a coal town. Coal is mined nearby and fed into a giant electrical power plant for distribution across Colorado, including ski towns.

So, given the reputation of coal towns, you’d think that Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” would get a rude reception in Craig.

Not so, reports theSteamboat Pilot & Today. The film was shown at the First Congregational United Church of Christ. Not all those watching were ready to embrace the theory of global warming, says the newspaper, but the showing sparked a thoughtful discussion.

Among those persuaded is Ted Crooke, an electrician at a

local coal mine and chairman of the Moffat County Democratic Party. “The ice core data is really, really solid,” he said.

Bob Woods, pastor of the church, said the issue is of the moral obligation of Christians to be good stewards of the Earth.

The showing was sponsored by Interfaith Power and Light, a San Francisco–based faith organization that encourages people to “respond to serious environmental challenges of energy consumption.”

On the newspaper’s website, anonymous bloggers dismissed Gore and the movie. “The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” wrote one.

Another blogger took issue with the science. Computer models assume interactions between water vapor and carbon dioxide. “Without these unsubstantiated assumptions, the models would be incapable of generating hysteria.”

Tahoe & Truckee reach for Olympics

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The conversation continues in Truckee and Lake Tahoe about a bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Denver interests are also angling at getting the U.S. bid, and Salt Lake City may aim for a repeat.

Enthusiasts at a recent meeting held in Truckee promoted the Olympics as a way to amp up business – and loosen federal spigots, reports theSierra Sun.

Ski resort business went up 40 percent in Utah following the 2002 Olympics, said Jim Vanden Heuvel, chief executive of the Reno-Tahoe Winter Games Coalition. He also noted that Salt Lake City became the No. 1 priority for federal road funding after winning the Olympic bid.

But exactly that same prospect of success drives others to oppose an Olympic bid. “Truckee is a small, quiet mountain town, and for some, the only things worse than a four-ring circus called the Olympics are the four-ring circuses of World Cup events that would follow,” said John Eaten of the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation.

In the Canadian town of Squamish, about 30 miles down-valley from Whistler, a co-host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, similar apprehension is reported.

“There is an incredible amount of development coming in with the Olympics, which is worrisome for the community,” said Sylvie Paillard, editor of theSquamish Chief.  Businesses have favored the changes, but residents are more reserved. “People are quite divided, but it hasn’t become passionate yet,” she said.

Routt County readies for water raid

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Colorado’s Routt County is girding for a raid of water by Front Range interests. The most active proposal is for a 200-mile pipeline that would take water from the Yampa River to a reservoir east of Denver.

The Colorado Legislature in 1974 adopted legislation that gives local governments power to review water and sewer district expansions. Other headwater counties – including Grand, Summit, Eagle and Pitkin – quickly adopted the regulations, called 1041, after the enabling legislation.

Eagle County, in particular, used the regulations to great effect, denying a water diversion called Homestake II from the Holy Cross Wilderness Area in 1988. That denial was based, in part, upon impact to wetlands.

Despite the precedent from the Vail area, theSteamboat Pilot & Today suggests that the regulations won’t be powerful enough to quash the Yampa River diversion but would instead result in influence over the design and layout of the pipeline and allow the county to stipulate mitigation measures.

Park City deems A-frames eyesores

PARK CITY, Utah – It seems 1960s architecture was uniformly a dud.The Park Record reports that a survey of local residents found that the modified A-frame, a fixture in some mountain towns from the 1960s, is the most hated of the architectural styles found in the town’s original residential area, called Old Town.

A website called explains that the triangular-shaped homes became popular after an architect named Andrew Geller built one on New York’s Long Island in 1956. Although typically offering cramped living spaces, the buildings do shed snow well, making them ideal as early second homes in mountain towns and beach resorts. They also cost little to erect.

Unlike the A-frames, the Victorian homes of the late 1800s still remain prevalent almost everywhere, including Park City and other old mining towns.

 — Allen Best