Ski towns feel economic downturn

SUMMIT COUNTY – The conventional wisdom is that ski towns may hurt during economic downturns but not as much as elsewhere. Still, edginess is evident in reports from across the West.

In Colorado’s Summit County, rumors spread that Vail Resorts, a major developer of real estate, will not start new housing it had planned at Keystone. A company official said no decision had been made.

But housing starts in Summit County have definitely slowed – a 30 percent decline, a building association official tells theSummit Daily News. Real estate sales have also declined. Prices continue to rise, but more slowly than last year.

In Steamboat Springs, reports thePilot & Today, cash buyers are asking for – and getting – discounts on properties as concern spreads about the viability of credit sources.

In Aspen, a development that envisions two large hotels, affordable housing and a new lift, all in a long-neglected area near the city’s downtown district, is in doubt, reportsThe Aspen Times. Financial consultant Byron Koste told a task force that the outlook for the development is grim because of the absence of financing.

In Vail, rumors have been floating of imminent foreclosure proceedings by Capmark Financial Group against the Vail Plaza Hotel. This is the major hotel located at the town’s middle entrance on the ski-hill side of Interstate 70.The Vail Daily found circumstantial evidence to support the rumor.

Town governments are also tightening their belts in expectation of flat and even reduced revenue. Vail, for example, is projecting $51 million in revenues next year, compared to $54 million this year. Sales taxes collections are expected to be flat, while real-estate transfer tax is projected to decline nearly 14 percent.

“I’ve got some anxiety, but I don’t think there’s a reason to panic,” Stan Zemler, the town manager, told theVail Daily.


Bears bulking up all over the West

BANFF, Alberta – From Banff to Tahoe, bears are back in the news in mountain resort towns across the West.

In Banff National Park, wildlife wardens killed a black bear that had been feeding on garbage and crab apples. Officials from Parks Canada say that one way or another, they want crab apples gone from the town. Banff is located within the national park of the same name.

“The crab apple situation needs to be taken seriously,” said Steve Michel, Parks Canada’s human-wildlife conflict specialist. “Residents need to remove all the fruit, and if they’re not prepared to do that, they should consider cutting the trees down.”

No existing town law requires apples to be picked and fallen fruit to be removed.

Earlier, the town’s composting facility was forced to stop accepting food when a 10,000-volt electric fence that surrounds the collection malfunctioned. Undeterred, a bear made repeated visits.

Farther west along the TransCanada Highway, two black bears were killed while feasting on rotting fruit – mainly apples – that had been dumped along the banks of the Columbia River. While the bears were doing only what came naturally, what concerned officials was the proximity of an elementary school, explains theRevelstoke Times Review.

In Whistler Village, a large male black bear met a similar fate after biting the leg of an Australian tourist just after the bars closed. The bear fled, but returned into Whistler the next evening and was shot on the driving range of a golf course. This, saidPique, is the ninth bear destroyed in Whistler this year, but the first in Whistler Village. Another three were hit on roads.

In the Truckee-Tahoe region, where 78 bears were killed by cars last season, only 12 bears have died this year. A bear activist says bears stayed in the backcountry because of a good berry crop.

Utah mink ranchers under attack

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah – Mink ranchers in Summit County, where the resort town of Park City is located, have been advised that vandals may try to damage their property or release animals.

Thousands of mink were recently released from a mink farm elsewhere in Utah. A group called Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility.

Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman for the group, told thePark Record that mink farmers “torture and kill animals.”

Dave Edmunds, the sheriff in Summit County, had a sharp retort: “They’re criminals, and I don’t sympathize with them one iota.”

What happens when mink are released from farms is disputed. A local extension agent, Sterling Banks, said because they are not bred for wild conditions, mink die from exposure or are run over by cars. But Vlasak, the Animal Liberation Front spokesman, said freed mink can better survive in the wild than when kept on a farm, where they most certainly will be killed.

Jody Jensen, a furrier in Park City, told the newspaper that mink provide excellent thermal insulation for people. But aside from their fur, she finds no redeeming quality. “First of all, they’re the meanest, ugliest critters on the Earth, and they will bite and attack,” she said.


Second home gets pinched in Eagle

EAGLE – Eagle has always held the big-money, big-house, second-home economy of Vail at arm’s length. True, many local residents make their livings by building, financing and servicing big up-valley homes at Vail and Beaver Creek, 20 to 30 miles away.

But a decade ago, Eagle vowed to remain different. It said no gated communities would be allowed, and it also said that houses could be no larger than 7,000 square feet.

Town officials, reports theEagle Valley Enterprise, recently noticed excavation of a crawl space that was intended to increase the size of a home to 10,000 square feet.

Faced with an edict, the homeowner, a part-time resident from Texas, must remove what appeared to be a home theater. At least for the record, the homeowner wanted to “do the right thing,” according to his architect.

But if Eagle is keeping the line drawn on house sizes, it appears to be losing a broader battle about geographic naming. Increasingly, the town is referred to as being in the “Vail Valley,” an advertising locution that causes local teeth to grind in annoyance.


Hydropower pitched in region

CRESTED BUTTE – The national effort to slow or stop expansion of greenhouse gas emissions continues, one project at a time.

In Gunnison County, that effort is yielding an agreement to take a hard look at retrofitting an older dam at Taylor Park Reservoir to allow production of hydroelectricity. Engineers believe that dam could produce up to eight megawatts of electricity, which would meet the requirements of 400 homes. The dam is located between Crested Butte and Gunnison, on the western flanks of the Sawatch Range.

In the big scheme, this still isn’t much electricity. Crested Butte and Gunnison would still get nearly all of their electricity from the burning of coal, mostly from power plants west of Steamboat Springs.

Aspen did something similar in the 1990s, paying for installation of a turbine in Ruedi Reservoir. It has also investigated installation of a turbine in the dam at Ridgway Reservoir, north of Telluride, but that task looks more challenging.

All computer climate models agree that the American Southwest will become intensely hotter as a result of increased greenhouse gases, which in itself suggests shorter winters and greater evaporation and transpiration. Some models also suggest less absolute precipitation.


Beetle-kill heads to the lumber mill

KREMMLING – Instead of crushing all of the beetle-killed lodgepole pine into pellets for wood-burning stoves, some of the better logs are being set aside for use in construction of houses.

That’s the plan at Kremmling, where Confluence Energy, the maker of pellets, began operations earlier this week. The latest twist, reports theSky-Hi Daily News, is a decision to set aside the better logs – straight ones, at least 6 to 10 inches in diameter – for use in building homes. Colorado Blue Logs, with operations expected to commence next spring.

Whistler expects decline in U.S. visits

WHISTLER, B.C. – Despite top rankings in many of the magazine polls, Whistler expects a further decline of 15 percent by American visitors this winter.

Whistler saw a similar downturn last winter, but has enjoyed increased visits from Pacific Rim countries, parts of Europe and the Nordic countries.Whistler tourism officials believe they have several aces up their sleeve to draw visitors this year, including the debut of the world’s highest span, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.

– 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