Bears continue tear throughout West

ASPEN – The bad-news bears continue to invade the news, as well as homes, in a great many mountain valleys of the West.

Aspen’s story has become a national one, with television crews now arriving to document the story of impervious bears unwilling to know their place. Of late, their place has included the crab apple tree in front of the Pitkin County Courthouse, which has a front-and-center location in Aspen, and the park behind the city hall.

The Aspen Times also tells of a bear cub that, after tossing around a trash bin in a second-hand store, dashed amid customers on the patio of a coffee shop. Recently, state wildlife officers met with the public and, though they were expecting to hear outrage over the bears killed, they got mostly thanks.

Still,Aspen Times columnist Su Lum, who has been in Aspen since the 1960s, can’t help but wonder why there is a bear “problem” now, when there wasn’t 30 to 40 years ago. She suspects that it’s because Aspen no longer has packs of dogs.

Aspen authorities report 20 to 40 bear complaints a day.

Jackson Hole’s problems sound tame by comparison, even if theNews&Guide reports a “blockbuster summer for bad-bear behavior.” With more than 100 human-bear conflicts, Wyoming Game and Fish officials say the number could surpass the 152 conflicts of the past five years combined.

“In the 12 years I’ve been here, we’ve had some dry years, and lots of black bear activity, but nothing like this,” said Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gecke.

Dry, hot weather and late frost that reduced the berry crop is partially blamed for the bears visiting valley-bottom locations in search of food, but wildlife officials are nearly unanimous in blaming humans for offering easy temptations.

If carelessness by humans has drawn bears to both Aspen and Jackson Hole, officials in Whistler are wondering what they can do next. “The current system is not working,” said Sylvia Dolson, executive director of the Get Bear Smart Society. “We need a waste management system that works for everyone.”

The municipality has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in bear-proof garbage bins. Still, the bears are arriving. “I don’t think it’s for lack of trying,” said the mayor, Ken Melamed.

Skier’s streak now up to 28 years

ENGLEWOOD – Tom Szwedko has a hobby. He has skied every month for 336 consecutive months, or 28 years.

It’s the longest known streak in North America, possibly the world, although it’s hard to be sure because there aren’t any official stats on the subject, explains the Rocky Mountain News.

Szwedko began his streak in 1979, and what makes his streak all the more remarkable is that he lives in Englewood, a suburb south of Denver. Now retired, the 60-year-old Szwedko worked most of his skiing years as a programmer analyst for rocket manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

He earns his turns, only using ski lifts when they’re free. He buys his gear at ski swaps and rummage sales, and goes through four or five pair of skis per year.

Some years, he has skied virtually every day, and in one year logged 365 days. But it was during a leap year, explains the newspaper, so technically he missed one day.

The newspaper also tells of several other streak-skiers, including Jim Becia, also of Englewood, who now has 57 months under his belt. Becia figures he needs 50 linked turns per day to qualify.

Szwedko has no arbitrary limit, although he’s no slacker, as anyone who has skied with him can testify.

School enrollment rises in Jackson

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Add the schools in Jackson Hole to the list of resort-based valleys of the West with growing enrollment, most notably in the kindergarten class. The 2.4 percent increase is the “largest increase we’ve had in a number of years,” schools superintendent Pam Shea told theJackson Hole News&Guide. “It’s definitely racially mixed. It’s not just Hispanic growth.”

Increases have also been reported by a number of school districts in the mountain valleys of Colorado, where school enrollment was flat or even declined in the lull after 9/11, despite increased population growth. The leading theory at the time was that Gen Xers, the leading baby producers, had decamped for cities, because of lower living costs.

What exactly explains the spurt of enrollment, school officials don’t seem to know, although the larger numbers of Gen Y, a.k.a. Generation Next and the Echo Boom generation, are now having babies, and unlike Gen X, they have numbers similar to those of Baby Boomers.

Meanwhile, in the Rifle schools, a bed base for many of Aspen’s service and construction workers, Hispanics now slightly outnumber Anglos in one elementary school. Districtwide, Anglos still outnumber Hispanics nearly two to one.

Ski pass prices on the rise along I-70

I-70 CORRIDOR – Prices of season passes are flying higher along the Interstate 70 corridor. The pass to Vail Resorts, which offers unlimited skiing at Keystone, Breckenridge and A-Basin, plus 10 days at Vail or Beaver Creek, has increased by 11 percent, while Intrawest’s pass, good at Copper Mountain and Winter Park, increased 11.5 percent.

But whileThe Denver Post found somebody willing to complain, the prices would be the envy of most places. The Vail Resorts pass costs only $419, about half what it would have a decade ago, before Winter Park – taking the cue from Idaho’s Bogus Basin – slashed the price of a pass to $200, precipitating the price war.

The Post notes that among the greater beneficiaries of the increased prices are the small operators like Eldora and Loveland, which have few revenue centers other than lift operations. Still, the season pass at Eldora, located west of Boulder, is $86 less than the $475 charged a decade ago.

By comparison, a pass is $1,810 at Jackson Hole, $1,799 at Squaw Valley, $1,150 at Park City, and $1,399 at Whistler.

Aspen may boast $1 million trailer

ASPEN – One of the things that makes Aspen charming is a trailer court called Smuggler Park located just uphill from the art museum and a five-minute walk from downtown Aspen. That park may well hold the world’s first million-dollar trailer.

The Denver Post explains that the owner of the park in 1987 sold the lots for $25,000 to many people who had been renting space. In time, lot-buyers began spiffing up their trailers, in some cases renovating them so completely that, once inside, you probably wouldn’t know it’s a trailer.

The newspaper cites the example of Doug Driscoll, a ski patroller and computer technician, who paid $58,000 for the trailer and space in 1989, then framed the home around the original trailer. He now has a 2,700-square-foot home, but doesn’t know what it’s worth.

But a 1983 Commodore mobile home was sold for $400,000 earlier this year. A 1980 Magnolia mobile home sold for $672,000. Another resident, Scott Lindenau, estimates his home market value at $1.2 million to $1.4 million.

Vail founder leaves at age 91

VAIL . – Dick Hauserman is leaving Vail for the East Coast at the age of 91, the thinner air of 8,000 feet finally catching up with him.

He was among Vail’s original investors, but he did far more than just invest. He also created the stylized “V” that remains the logo for the ski area and a good many local businesses. As well, he was the unofficial marketing director.

Although the resort began operations in 1962, it wasn’t until about 1969 that officials were convinced their resort would survive. Soon after, Hauserman was off to Steamboat Springs, where he helped assemble the marketing image of Steamboat as cowboyland. Among his decisions was to hire Billy Kidd, the 1964 Olympic medalist, to be the first skiing ambassador. Kidd, of course, is still there, and although raised in Vermont, still skiing with a cowboy hat glued to his head.

Hauserman also lived in Breckenridge for a time, before finally returning to Vail in the late 1980s.

School targets immigrant dropouts

GYPSUM – A new school, geared toward Latinos and other immigrants who have dropped out of school, opened last week at Gypsum, 37 miles west of Vail. Enrollment at New American is 47.

Because many of the students are parents, the $200 a month the school provides for day care is a big draw. The school also aims for flexibility, given that most of the students have day jobs.

The Vail Daily explains that the students also range broadly in their skills, with some knowing very little English, while others just need help with writing. Some are U.S. natives, while others recently emmigrated.

Hispanics (but not necessarily immigrants) now are 25 percent of the population in Eagle and 40 percent in Avon.

– compiled by Allen Best

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