Whistler bike park softens up

WHISTLER, B.C. – Now 10 years into operation, the widely admired mountain bike park at the Whistler Blackcomb ski area is transitioning. Instead of just high-testosterone trails, the park is now gaining more trails of intermediate difficulty, which may invite a much broader population of mountain bike riders.

The new trails have names like Ninja Cougar, Karate Monkey and Blue Velvet. “The type of rider that will enjoy that experience is way wider than our trail target was previously,” explained Rob McSkimming, Whistler Blackcomb’s vice president of business development.

Why only expert trails for so long? Jeremy Roche, manager of summer business development, said that trail designs were driven to some degree by the passion and riding skills of the trail designers. In other words, they built the type of trails they would want to ride when they were on their own time. “And that has contributed to a base of core aggressive-style trails,” Roche told Whistler’sPique Newsmagazine.

The new bike park has a critical mass of blue trails. As such, it will be marketed as the place for mountain bikers to make the transition from intermediate to advanced – and a place for women as well as men.

“The women’s market is picking up momentum quickly,” says Andrea Kraft, a former national team downhiller.

“Technology has shortened the learning curve from what used to be chundering down the hill on a hard tail with two inches of front suspension. The newest suspension platforms have a cushy five inches. The suspension helps to absorb technical features on the trail, making them less intimidating to try and ride. But even more than technology, I think, it is the social part of biking that appeals to women. Women are social beings, by nature.”

A study done in 2006 showed that mountain biking is big business in the Sea to Sky corridor, where Whistler is located. It also found that the Bike Park was a big draw. But it also noted that it missed a large number of mountain bikers who were more casual in their approach.


Ski towns losing seasonal workers

TELLURIDE, Colo. – The nationwide cap on H-2B visas was reached in late July, leaving many ski areas out in the cold. This means many long-time seasonals from other countries won’t return to work ski area jobs.

Telluride, for example is losing 55 employees who had worked under the H-2B visa program. All but two were ski instructors.

Instead, says Dave Riley, the chief operating officer of the ski company, Telluride has already hired 45 employees from South America with student visas under the J1 program.

Vail Resorts had sought to bring 1,900 seasonal workers into the United States through the H-2B program for its five ski areas in Colorado and California. However, only a few visas were granted for early season employees, such as snowmakers. The company employs 15,000 people at peak season.

The Vail Daily notes that in 2007 Vail Resorts had sought to hire 2,200 employees under the H2B program, about a third of them ski instructors, but with nearly a thousand short-order cooks, lift operators, hotel clerks and housekeepers.

Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, told theTelluride Watchthat the loss of ski instructors hits ski areas hardest.

“Look who is not coming back … the long-term ski instructors who have a large clientele base, which is very lucrative for the instructor and the company.”

The ski industry sees itself being caught in the national debate about immigration reform.

“You have the folks who want to build a fence at the border and have no immigration,” said Berry. “You have the Hispanic caucus that has a lot of different elements. Ski areas are caught in the middle.”


County completes greenhouse study

GUNNISON COUNTY, Colo. – An inventory of greenhouse gas emissions caused by people and visitors to the Gunnison, Crested Butte, and other parts of Gunnison County has been completed.

The report finds that transportation is the largest chunk, some 39 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. This, however, does not count the airline flights and cars used by people traveling to Crested Butte or to Gunnison, home of Western State College.

Buildings are responsible for more than half of emissions, 30 percent from residential and 21 percent from commercial. Landfill decomposition is responsible for 6 percent, and agriculture and other sources are responsible for 4 percent.

Several of the local governments during the last several years have signed the Mayors’ Agreement on Climate Change or otherwise committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. The first step in reducing emissions, organizers say, is to measure your current use, as a way of marking future progress.

George Sibley, of the Office of Resource Efficiency, the group that conducted the inventory, told one town council that he sees greenhouse reduction being a long-term progress.

“We’re talking about a multi-generational process,” he said. “For something like that, having the local governments on board seems absolutely critical.”


Pioneer ski filmmaker passes away

KETCHUM, Idaho – Ski filmmaker Dick Barrymore has died at the age of 74. He had suffered from brain cancer.

Barrymore began his ski filmmaking carrier at the 1960s Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif. He rarely worked from a script as he began his films, but rather was a monster of improvisation, says theIdaho Mountain Express.

Jim Stelling, one of his favorite performers in his movies during the 1970s, tells the newspapers that he was a consummate storyteller.

“He would hold court at dinner, always entertaining, bringing up the same stories you heard the year before, only the next year you probably found yourself in the stories he told. For him, it was the art of the tale.”

A ski magazine once described him as a rather delightful maniac, and he rather liked the description.


Aspen to offer same-sex benefits

ASPEN, Colo. – The Aspen Skiing Co. has decided to offer health insurance and ski passes to domestic partners of employees, regardless of the sex of the partners.

Jim Laing, the company’s vice president of human resources, said the decision was made without knowledge of a potential boycott of the gay community, which for the last 12 years has held a Gay Ski Week at Aspen.

“We would not be leveraged or held hostage in this regard,” he said. “We’re open to feedback, but we’re not going to be forced into any action.”

The newspaper spoke with John Bagwell, who identified himself as a gay man from New York City. Bagwell said he was prepared to visit another resort instead of Aspen, including Vail.

Vail Resorts began offering benefits to domestic partners regardless of sex in 2002. Intrawest, the third major ski area operator in Colorado, also offers domestic partner benefits.


Pellet mill takes on beetle-kill trees

KREMMLING, Colo. – A mill in Kremmling built to make pellets for wood-burning stoves began production this week. The plant, located about halfway between Steamboat Springs and Kremmling, is now producing a product called Eco-Flame Pellets from the dead and drying lodgepole pine trees.

Mark Mathis, the proprietor of the company, Confluence Energy, said he expects the pellet mill will employ 75 people either at the mill, cutting the trees, or hauling them by truck. This week he also announced plans for an expansion of the plant that will increase capacity by a third.

He tells theMiddle Park Times that heat produced by burning the pellets will be 35 percent cheaper than burning natural gas and 60 percent cheaper than propane or electricity.


Russian oil magnate buys into Aspen

ASPEN, Colo. – The real estate market has slowed, but there are still people out there with oodles of money.The Aspen Times says that one home in the Aspen area recently sold for $20.75 million, and another one at Snowmass Village sold for $14.5 million.

The purchaser of the latter property is a Russian, Eugene Shvidler, who was ranked No. 161 on the Forbes richest people list in 2007. He is also a business partner of Roman Abramovich, an oil tycoon from Russian who paid $36 million in April for an estate outside of Aspen.

– 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