Ski area rescued in New Mexico

QUESTA, N.M. – The landscape of the West is littered with shuttered ski areas. Some were underfinanced. Others were set in locations with inadequate snow. Even more suffered from remote locations.

But life may be returning to New Mexico’s Ski Rio. Located just south of the Colorado border, about 50 miles north of Taos, it has been closed since 2000, mired in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. However, the property has been purchased by a company from the Czech Republic called Cimex for $6.5 million.  The 2,700 acres includes 120 building lots, three ski lifts and two hotels.

“They don’t even know yet what they are going to do,” said Pavel Lukes, a real-estate agent of Czech descent in Taos who brokered the deal. He met the Cimex officials during a social gathering four years ago in Vail. “They are not in the ski-area development business now. But the place has so much potential. We’re just happy for liberating Ski Rio.”

The company, according to its website, was founded in 1990 and rapidly evolved into the hotel business. It now has 34 hotels in Prague and other Czech locations but is also expanding into other European countries. It is seeing market demand particularly in the high-end properties, according to a press release on the website.

The company expanded to the United States eight years ago with operations in Naples, Fla., although it also invested in a Colorado project – and got a 100 percent return, according to the website.

The ski area has a checkered history. A website called says the resort developed in 1980 as Rio Costilla Resort by a livestock group with broad land interests in northern New Mexico. Unlike most ski resorts, it is located entirely on private land.

The resort has had a variety of owners through the years, including the U.S. government, which gained the property when a savings and loan institution failed. It had a few good years along the way, including 70,000 visitors during a particularly snowy year in the mid-1990s. However, during a dry spell in 2000, it closed. Since then, only a handful of homeowners have been able to ski the slopes.

Yet the ski area can still be found on the Internet. One website called “goski,” which claims to offer “real resort info,” offers the following report: “Today, Rio has a reputation for being one of the roomiest resorts in the southern Rockies. Its slopes are uncrowded and made for cruising.”


Deadly avalanche spawns confusion

VAIL – When somebody dies in an avalanche adjacent to a ski area, what do you call that area?

That was the quandary of reporters last week after a 27-year-old man from Boston, working his first winter in Vail, died in the East Vail Chutes. While many deaths have occurred in that area through the years, the precise area is notorious enough to be called Charlie’s Death Chutes. The slide carried Chet Brigham 500 feet past his companions, over a cliff and into trees. Although he was reached in 10 to 20 minutes, thanks to avalanche transceivers, he had already died of asphyxiation.

Most skiers access the chutes by taking the lifts up Vail Mountain, then hiking up to a backcountry gate.

However, from reading theRocky Mountain News, you’d have thought that the avalanche was miles away. The site, said the newspaper, was near Vail Pass.The Vail Daily correctly called it the “backcountry.”

However, it could also be called the front country. It gets a lot of use – the Forest Service estimates as many as 300 people per day. “A lot of people think of it is an extension of (Vail) Mountain,” avalanche expert Mike Duffy told theVail Daily. “But it’s a whole different world.”

“At times, it can have some of the best powder skiing you can have in your life,” stated Scott Toepfer, of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “There are times when it would be the worst day of your life. It’s steep, and it’s avalanche prone.”


Plumber faces down mountain lion

CRESTED BUTTE – Crawling under a rural cabin to look at some frozen pipes, plumber Josh Pierce decided he wasn’t getting paid nearly enough. About 20 feet into his crawling through just a 2-foot space, with not even a wrench in his hand, he encountered what he quickly realized was a young mountain lion. “After it hissed and spit at me, I realized I was looking into the eyes of a lion not more than 5 feet away,” he told theCrested Butte News.

The News notes that when facing mountain lions, the rule of thumb is to make yourself look large. “Unfortunately, since Pierce was on his stomach, he didn’t have that luxury,” the newspaper explained dryly.

The lion was in pounce mode, its fangs bared. So Pierce did what seemed like the only thing possible: He backed away, as best he could, which was good enough for the big cat.

At some point, the cat was rousted out of his wintertime refuge in the crawl space and killed.Paparazzi spoil Aspen for Hawn

ASPEN –Actress Goldie Hawn mostly stayed out of Aspen over Christmas because of all the celebrity-seeking photographers. “They follow you wherever you go. It’s an insult to your being,” she toldThe Aspen Times.

She has visited Aspen for 25 years, and with companion Kurt Russell has an exurban escape in rural Pitkin County. But this year, she went shopping in Aspen only twice. She was followed down the highway as she drove home, and photographers even staked out the house. They also pursued her daughter, actress Kate Hudson.

Hawn told the newspaper that she believes there’s a new, more amped-up aggression among photographers. In the past, when she wandered Aspen, the few celebrity-spotters and photographers were discreet. But no more. “You find yourself running and dodging and jumping in your car.”

Can anything be done to quell the paparazzi? Mayor Mick Ireland suggests she carry a camera, to photograph the photographers. “Anything we would do would just make it worse,” he said, rejecting any ordinances that would limit First Amendment rights.

“There’s no safe haven,” he said. At least not in Aspen.


Efficient planes take off this spring

DENVER – The new chief executive officer of Frontier Airlines is now saying it will be March or April before the company can begin flying its new Bombardier Q400 turboprop planes to Aspen, Jackson Hole and Ketchum.

The Denver-based company last year created a new subsidiary, called Lynx Aviation, with the goal of expanding service from Denver to the smaller markets, many of them resort areas. Among the other markets expected to be serviced by the new planes are Eagle County/Vail, Montrose/Telluride and Yampa Valley/Steamboat.

The Q-400 is one-third more energy efficient, allowing costs to be discounted. Even in Aspen, that discount is considered a major plus for tourism. Ketchum is also eagerly awaiting the link to Denver, with the expectation it will make Sun Valley a more attractive destination for people in the East.Bulldozer rampage to be re-enacted

GRANBY – The bulldozer rampage through Granby of June 2004 will be re-enacted on an episode of “Shockwave,” a television program on the History Channel. An aggrieved muffler-shop owner, Marvin Heemeyer, plunged his blade into 13 buildings in the business district. “Shockwave” takes raw footage from headline-making events and dissects the video using the latest in graphic technology, explains theSky-Hi Daily News.

“I don’t know that it will really affect us,” says Christi Matthews, director of the local chamber of commerce. “Minimum wage is not really a livable wage in Crested Butte,” she further tells theCrested Butte News.


Federal grant boosts biomass burner

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Although it’s still no sure thing, a plant that produces electricity by burning tree branches, bark and other residue from forest thinning has received a shot-in the-arm in the form of a $500,000 federal grant. The money is to be used to study the potential for such a plant.

Placer County, a vast county that stretches from the exurbs of Sacramento to the Nevada border, including much of Lake Tahoe, has been studying the potential for a couple of years.

Sierra Pacific Industries earlier paid $1 million for the project. Such a plant is projected to cost $10 million to construct.

If the project goes, it could produce enough electricity for 2,000 homes, Jim Turner, operations manager for the lumber company, told theSierra Sun. The lumber company also operates a biomass plant near Loyalton, north of Truckee.

–  Allen Best


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Rolling retro

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