Telluride lands two of the big guns

TELLURIDE, – Telluride’s new ski terrain in Bear Creek is so big and steep that the U.S. Forest Service has authorized a pair of 105-mm howitzer cannons to provoke avalanches before skiers get there. Only a handful of ski areas in the United States are permitted such howitzers.

“Not every ski area needs them,” says Doug Abromeit, of the U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center, which is located in Ketchum, Idaho. “They’re expensive, and the U.S. Army and Forest Service require extensive gunner training and adherence to security procedures.”

For most ski areas, he added, using the howitzers for avalanche control would be like taking an 18-wheeler to the grocery store.

But howitzers do have range, precision and military punch, making them effective in certain terrain conditions. Those ski areas that use them are: Aleyeska, in Alaska; Taos, in New Mexico; Jackson Hole, in Wyoming; Mammoth Mountain and Alpine Meadows, in California; and Snowbird, in Utah.

Oregon’s Mt. Hood Meadows also got permission to use howitzers this winter, to reduce the danger to ski patrollers.

Avalaunchers also are a common tool for controlling avalanches at ski areas. A device patterned after baseball pitching machines, it uses pressurized nitrogen to propel projectiles onto snow-laden slopes. However, Avalaunchers are notoriously imprecise, especially in storms, when they are most needed. “They get blown around in the wind,” says Ken Kowynia, the Forest Service winter sports program manager in Colorado, speaking of the projectiles. Also, their range is only a few hundred meters. As such they’re more useful for smaller areas.

The 105-mm howitzers, in contrast, can be fired up to 10 miles with enough accuracy that holes could be dug into the mountainside with repeat shelling. That makes them effective in targeting the “sweet spot” of slopes most likely to result in avalanches.

In addition, less than 1 percent of howitzer shells are duds, compared to 38 percent for Avalauncher projectiles.

“It’s really what Telluride needed,” said Kowynia. “Because the terrain has so many starting zones, with so many slide paths, we concluded that the most efficient system is a military weapons program.”

The U.S. Army controls howitzers, limiting their use to ski areas administered by the U.S. Forest Service or to programs administered by state governments. The 105-mm howitzers were manufactured beginning in 1941, with most now in use built in the 1950s.

Newspapers fold in Ketchum and Vail

KETCHUM, Idaho – It has been a rough season for old newspapers in ski towns. Newspapers in both Ketchum and Vail have ceased publication.

In Ketchum, theWood River Journaldied in October. TheIdaho Mountain Express purchased the assets, which seemed to consist mostly of bound volumes of old newspapers.

The Journal was founded in 1881, when Ketchum was a mining town. The newspaper’s assets at the time of its demise included the bound volumes of several other newspapers that had come and gone in the Wood River Valley.

The Vail Trail’s life was far more brief. It began publishing in 1965, three years after the ski area was established. The founder, George Knox Sr., aimed to promote Vail, which then was struggling to survive, while also providing a clearinghouse of information to replace the less reliable rumor mill.

Knox declared it “Vail’s greatest newspaper,” a title that remained on the newspaper’s front-page flag for decades. Weather, circulation and all else were similarly “great,” according to a front-page box that later managing editors scorned but had to accept.

As Vail boomed, so did theVail Trail, and by the 1980s it was routinely running more than 100 pages per week.

But even then, a couple of new kids on the block were looking to upset the king of the hill. One of them, a daily newspaper, did so by delivering bite-sized news and free newspapers hither and thither in Vail and the Eagle Valley. In 1998, the Knox family tried to start a daily newspaper, but without a printer of their own.The Vail Daily, by then owned by deep-pocketed Swift Communications, instantly started a second daily for afternoon distribution, to confuse advertisers and readers. This third daily survived just long enough to muddle the splash of the new paper, called theDaily Trail.

The Daily Trailexpired after two or three years, leaving once again the weeklyVail Trail, which was sold in 2003 to the rivalVail Daily. It was continued, but with a staff that came and went rapidly and with little editorial consistency.

Financing shakes the 2010 Olympics

VANCOUVER, B.C. – It was almost certain that at some point prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, host cities Vancouver and Whistler/Blackcomb would experience tension. Adding to that tenseness now are uncertainties about the financial stability of Fortress Investment Group, the parent of Whistler-Blackcomb operator Intrawest.

Fortress was also chosen to finance development of the $1 billion athletes’ village being constructed in downtown Vancouver for the Olympics. The company was chosen, at least in part, based on its perceived strength.

Instead, Fortress has been shaky. In October, it got last-minute refinancing of $1.7 billion in debt related to its 2006 purchase of Intrawest. More recently, news has been leaked that the Vancouver City Council agreed to advance up to $100 million (Cdn.) to cover cost overruns at the athletes’ village. This was in addition to $193 million (Cdn.), in loan guarantees to Fortress.

The New York Times says this news highlights insecurities in Vancouver about the prudence of seeking the Olympics. It recalls that Montreal, in agreeing to host the 1976 Olympics, had been promised that a deficit would be no more likely than of a man having a baby. But, in fact, Montreal incurred a debt of $1.5 billion that was not paid off until 2006.

Explosive found under front porch

CRESTED BUTTE – One Crested Butte neighborhood had a brief scare after police learned that an explosive used for avalanche control had been stashed by a renter under the front porch of a house.

“The police were freaking out. They were yelling to stay away from the porch and get out the back of the house,” Ryan Hoynacki told theCrested Butte News. “There must have been six or seven cops there.”

Hoynacki moved into the house recently and was told by the departing tenant that he had left the explosive under the porch.

Police found a round of explosives such as was used at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort until the 1970s. The explosive was used in a 75-mm recoilless, a cannon-like rifle originally developed as an anti-tank weapon.

Forest Service officials said they thought the recovered explosive was a partial dud, meaning it had only partially blasted. Whatever remained, whether partial or full, was removed by technicians from the U.S. Army, who detonated it at Fort Carson, near Fountain.

This isn’t the first time an explosive device has been found at a Crested Butte home. Unstable powder, such as was used in mining, was discovered several years ago by the new owner of a house within an old outbuilding.

Carbon footprint nails Ketchum

KETCHUM, Idaho – A new inventory of greenhouse gas emissions for Blaine County reveals that, like other ski resort-based counties in the West, it has a high per-capita carbon footprint, nearly 20 percent higher than the national average.

Kyle Livingston, climate protection coordinator for the Environmental Resources Center, speculated that use of electricity to power the ski lifts at Sun Valley skewed the numbers.

“It is amazing how much we use here,” he told theIdaho Mountain Express. Electrical use is 60 percent more than the U.S. average, he said.

He attributed the spike to use of electricity at Sun Valley Resort, but had no numbers to back up his claim. He also said that the high use of electricity may be due to its low price, which is 4 cents per kilowatt.

In Colorado, as of July 2007, the average price was 7.54 cents per kilowatt hour. Nationally, it was 9.49 cents, and on the Pacific Coast it was 12.51 cents. The highest costs of all are in New England, where prices range up to 18 cents per kilowatt hour.

In the Wood River Valley, where Ketchum and Sun Valley are located, high electricity use was also attributed to irrigation, for both farming and golf courses.

– Allen Best

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

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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