Telluride braces for hard winter

TELLURIDE – Expectations of a hard winter continue in Telluride, with real estate development and sales shuddering to a near stop and tourism acting like it has a tummy ache.

Bookings are down 25 percent from last winter, a stellar season. The more apt comparison, saysThe Telluride Watch, is the 10 to 12 percent drop of the longer-term average.

The bleak prospects have some lodges cutting rates, 10 percent at one lodge and another willing to discount by 30 percent. Such discounts do seem to be having some effect, says Scott McQuade, chief executive officer of the Telluride Tourism Board. “When people do call, it’s much easier to close the deals and get them to come here,” he said.

In common with other ski areas, Telluride has allocated extra money to advertising its charms to Phoenix, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, cities within a day’s drive or less.

The real-estate market, which has become the dominant economic driver since the early 1990s, is a tougher nut to crack. Real estate sales were down 51 percent for the year through October as measured by dollar volume.

Possibly more severe yet is the drop in construction. “Nobody is walking in the door for a construction loan,” said Tim Cannon, president of the Bank of Telluride.

Bankers tell the newspaper that they have tightened their lending criteria. So far, however, none has foreclosed on any properties. Andrew Karow, president of the local Alpine Bank, said he’s optimistic that the ski resorts of Colorado’s Western Slope will be more resilient than other areas. “We’ll experience far fewer foreclosures than Denver, Las Vegas or Phoenix.”

But conditions may worsen. “We will get to the point, maybe a year out, when a lot of projects are underwater,” said Tricia Maxon, president of Community Bank. “It’s happening in other places, where the value of the property is less than the amount of the loan. Will that happen here? I think that’s probable.”

Already, many in the real-estate trades are scouting other jobs. Not many are to be had.

The lesson here, says Seth Cagin, publisher ofThe Watch, is that the aphorism about high-end resort towns being recession proof has been proven wrong.

Uphillers and ski areas clash

BRECKENRIDGE – For the most part, ski areas tolerate backcountry skiers, as long as they don’t get in the way. Those slapping on a set of skins as a morning ritual have sometimes included ski area employees, including former Crested Butte manager John Norton.

But the rough edges of such relations at Breckenridge were such that some 60 people showed up at a recent Town Council meeting to chew on proposed changes. The problem, reports theSummit Daily News, is parking. Ski area officials said too many parking spaces needed by construction hands working on a base-area real estate project were being monopolized by the uphill/downhill crowd.

As well, ski area officials were irritated by “skinners” venturing onto runs that had been closed for grooming. Especially dangerous are those trails where winch-cats, which are used on the steepest trails, are operating, with cables up to 3,500 feet long.

Three backcountry skiers were recently removed from the ski area after ascending a trail marked for winch use.

Climbing mountains is as old as skiing itself, even older. Ski lifts didn’t arrive until the 1930s. Waxes and the skins affixed to the bottom of skis for uphill traction have been around for centuries.

The special-use permits given ski areas to operate on national forest land give them authority to close sections. But as a practical matter, says Ken Kowynia, winter sports program manager in Colorado for the U.S. Forest Service, the rules depend upon each ski area’s circumstances.

“It’s really on a ski area-by-ski area basis. We could agree to prohibit, but that’s not my first instinct,” he said. “It depends upon the location, the traditional uses, and what the realistic use is. In places where people have been doing it forever, we are more inclined to try to make it work.”

“Basically, we try to accommodate the use in a way that it’s not going to interfere with downhill skier traffic,” he added.

A measure of just how difficult ski area operators find the self-propelled is revealed in a press release issued by operators of the Telluride ski area on Monday. The resort noted that hiking, skiing or snowboarding on closed areas of the mountain is prohibited, although the opened ski runs remained available to the uphillers. The resort company noted the presence of high-voltage and high-pressure cords and hoses and also

the use of explosives by ski patrollers.

In the case of Breckenridge, refinements of the rules governing uphill use are being worked out. There will be no effort to ban the skinners and snowshoers, but only to keep them between the white lines, so to speak.

Sundance boycott in the works

PARK CITY, Utah – There is chatter about a potential boycott of Park City’s ski areas and perhaps the Sundance Film Festival during January. So what has Park City done lately to offend anybody?

Call it guilt by association – something that Aspen and other Colorado ski areas know something about as the result of a constitutional amendment Colorado voters adopted in 1992. Called Amendment 2, the provision would have effectively prevented any laws banning discrimination against gays.

Soon, there was a national call for a boycott. The singer Barbra Streisand, who commonly vacationed in Aspen, announced she would not perform in Colorado. There was talk of canceling conventions. The boycott, however, seemed to fizzle out of the blocks. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the amendment unconstitutional.

The current heartburn stems from the ban on legalization of gay marriages adopted by California voters in November. A major supporter of that measure was the Church of Jesus of Latter-Day Saints, a.k.a. the Mormons. The church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, 30 miles from Park City.

Park City doesn’t know how to measure the impact of a boycott, reportsThe Park Record, although the Sundance Film Festival, a lucrative event for hoteliers and restaurateurs, has a “significant gay presence.”

Mayor Dana Williams clearly smells an injustice. “It’s too bad that we could potentially take the run of an issue we didn’t participate in,” he told the newspaper.

Park City, from its inception as a silver-mining camp, has been a minority in a state where even coffee is sometimes not served, because it is verboten in the Mormon faith. Typically, it votes contrary to the statewide votes – as does, ironically, Salt Lake City.

If the boycott does materialize, there is a circular irony. After all, the largest throngs at Sundance come from California, where the disputed vote was conducted.

Yellowstone Club feels the pinch

BIG SKY, Mont. –The Yellowstone Club, founded in 1999, soon became a metaphor for high-end exclusivity in the mountain valleys of the West. The ski trails were immaculate and private. Homes cost up to $20 million. Members and their guests flew into nearby Bozeman, about an hour away, on private jets.

Now, in the wake of the club’s bankruptcy filing in November, the Yellowstone Club is becoming a different metaphor, observes theNew York Times, proving that even big gates can’t keep out broader economic forces.

“The sense of refuge was an illusion,” says the newspaper’s Kirk Johnson. “The global financial crises have stormed even these gilded confines.”

Johnson describes the Yellowstone Club as a “cloistered and cosseted mountain retreat,” words similar to those he used to describe Aspen several years ago. But while Aspen has plenty of billionaires, Yellowstone has Bill and Melinda Gates and a passel of others with pockets deep enough for just a few hundred people to have their own private preserve of 13,500 acres of hitherto pristine land.

But the causes of the Yellowstone Club’s demise are more complex than just a battering economy. There’s also the divorce of Yellowstone Club founder Tim Blixseth, and his wife, Edna. She gained control of the club, then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing the club’s inability to restructure $399 million in debt.

A loan of $20 million will keep the club running until next April. A bankruptcy court in Montana chose a plan by Sam Byrne’s Boston-based hedge fund, CrossHarbor Capital Partners. Credit Suisse, with a greater stake in the resort, $311 million, had wanted the club closed and its assets sold off as quickly as possible.

Laura Bell, the editor of theBig Sky Weekly, said that Tim Blixseth tried to do too much too soon. Then, the Blixseths were sued by former Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, who claimed to have been wronged. Earlier in the year, the lawsuit was settled in his favor.

– Allen Best

Biting coyotes targeted in Canmore

CANMORE, Alberta – Coyotes bit three children in Canmore last year. To prevent nipping this winter, wildlife officials intend to live-trap coyotes suspected of harassing people or preying on pets.

Transient coyotes just moving through the town, snagging a few rabbits along the way, will be left alone, Fish and Wildlife Officer Dave Dickson told theRocky Mountain Outlook.

Why the coyotes bit the children was never determined. None had rabies. One theory is that the coyotes bit the kids because they were making noise, the same as dogs will sometimes do. Coyotes and dogs, after all, are cousins.

To reduce the potential for incidents, parents are asked to accompany their young children to bus stops, particularly those in wooded areas.

The coyotes are drawn to Canmore because of the rabbits, but also the garbage hauled out of canisters by ravens. While there are no more than a dozen coyotes in the town now, up to 50 are expected by January.

– Allen Best


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