Aspen quieter than usual for March

ASPEN – Winter was retreating last week in Aspen. On the south side of Smuggler Street, in the shade of the Victorians and their modern replacements, shoulder-high snowpiles lingered from the onslaught of early winter. Across the street, the south-facing lawns were showing slips of green.

Winter had stormed into Aspen in December, smashing at least one record for snowfall at a local ski mountain. But March was entirely docile. “It’s been spring here for a month,” explained a local resident, ignoring a brutish but brief storm sequence a few days before.

Business was also quiet, at least compared to what March is usually like. Advance bookings for last week were at 53 percent of capacity, compared to 78 percent for the same week last year.

The real estate margins might be sagging worse. Along Highway 82, which cuts through the town’s middle, a resident of a small house that dates to the mining era said a year ago, her home was worth $3 million. Today, it’s worth maybe half that. The same house in Denver would be worth about $200,000.

At the Aspen Institute’s Energy Forum, a volunteer mentioned that he had been forced to spend a day at his condominium, getting it ready for a showing. He hoped to sell it, he said, and cut his losses. His mortgage payment was nearly $7,000 a month.

He had gotten out of the housing market once before, he said. That was in 2006, when he had been spooked by the rapidly escalating prices. But then prices had kept on rising, so he jumped back in. A lot of people then were sure that the rules didn’t apply to Aspen.

At Explorer Booksellers, select titles were 40 percent off in what was advertised as a locals’ sale. Somewhere among the shelves was a book calledAspen: The Quiet Years. The book, by Kathleen Krieger, tells about the time between the mining bust of 1893 and the start of commercial skiing in 1947.

During that half-century, many of Aspen’s grand old Victorians had begun to fall apart. Aspen now isn’t as quiet as it was during that era, but it’s far more quiet than it has been.

Buses returning to mountain roads

RED LODGE, Mont. – The train tracks that used to connected the small towns of the West are mostly gone, as are the buses that once linked the towns. Greyhound busses stick mostly to interstate highways now, focusing on stops in big cities.

Into this void is now coming an effort to create a bus-based transportation network. A new bus service called the Mountaineer Route will connect Gunnison — and by extension, Crested Butte —with five-times weekly trips to Denver. Also linked on the 215-mile route are Salida, Buena Vista and Fairplay. The Colorado Department of Transportation and eight local governments and agencies are underwriting the new bus service.

There is also news from the greater Yellowstone region. The Yellowstone Business Partnership, a group based in Red Lodge, Mont., has announced plans to link towns in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

“It’s about closing the service gaps,” said Janice Brown, executive director for the partnership. “If someone tries to use public transportation from Billings, (Mont.) to Jackson, (Wyo.) there is no way to do it other than invest a lot of personal time and money. Greyhound sticks to the interstates now …  it isn’t easy for someone without a vehicle.”

Obstacles exist, notes theCarbon County News. Insurance policies commonly prohibit motor carriers from taking riders, although Fed Ex in Switzerland has moved past that limitation. Too, jurisdictions must be crossed, although again there is a precedent: the Jackson Hole-based START public bus system is now transporting riders to and from Teton County, Idaho, where many of Jackson Hole’s workers live.

Ironically, Yellowstone National Park was developed partly in response to the railroads. From the depots in Bozeman and Livingston, to the north of the park, visitors were transported to the park. No such public transportation now exists.

Virginian opposes no-smoking rule

JACKSON, Wyo. – The Virginian is unique within Teton County. It is the only bar or restaurant in which a person can strike a match and then take a deep drag off a pipe, cigar or cigarette. All other bars and restaurants have banned smoking.

But by late May, the Virginian will also have to post a no-smoking sign. After hearing testimony for two years, the Teton District Board of Health has adopted a smoking ban for businesses in the county except for hotel and motel rooms, private clubs, and tobacco shops.

Dr. Brent Blue, the instigator of the rule, told theJackson Hole News&Guide that he is excited. “Tobacco is the single greatest cause of irreversible disease,” he said.

Mike Kraft, manager of the Virginian, said he was disappointed. Customers have the choice of not patronizing a business should they not wish to inhale smoke, he said.

Wyoming law allows boards of health to issue rules to protect public health, but this is the first time the authority has been used to regulate smoking, notes the newspaper.

Immigrants prepare for strict law

PARK CITY, Utah – Attendees of St. Mary’s Catholic Church were advised, in Spanish, of changes to be implemented in Utah beginning in July. A new law requires local sheriff’s deputies and police to arrest people if they find them, in the course of their other duties, in the United States without proof of legal residency.

Father Bob Bussen, a religious leader at the church, told thePark Record that there is a growing fear in the immigrant community, legal and nonlegal, that any immigrant is up for suspicion. “They’re very concerned that they’re going to lose their jobs or that the police will pick them up. They’re afraid to open their doors.”

Immigrants were warned at the church to carry the telephone number of an attorney in case of arrest and to have a plan should a family member get deported.

The new law also requires public employers and businesses that contract with the government to verify the work status of new employees. Also, the law requires government agencies to verify the immigration status of someone who applies for state or local benefits.

“They’re going to go out and arrest your baker and your landscaper and put them in jail simply for being here illegally,” said Bussen. “We’ll be using our jails as holding pens.”

The bill’s premise, he added, is to create fear. “The bill should scare the hell out of all of us. We would have the same fear if, as Americans, we were stopped by the police.”

Builders interested in green-building

SILVERTHORNE – Interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy continues to grow in Summit County. A day-long building forum hosted by the Summit County Builders Association, the third in a series, drew 125 builders, artisans and real-estate professionals.

“This field is taking off so fast that you pick up almost anything that has to do with renewable energy, and it’s going to take off,” said Eric Westerhoff, energy systems engineer of Innovative Energy.

TheSummit Daily News tells of presentations about solar photovoltaic, which converts sunshine into electrical, and solar thermal, which produces hot water. There was also discussion about geoexchange, a system that circulates water in pipes 8 to 10 feet below ground, where the earth tends to be a steady 55 degrees.

Tim Crane, a developer, said he has seen a trend of homeowners wanting smaller homes of 2,500 to 3,500 square feet, with luxuries but less maintenance. Part of that equation involves renewable energy. ”Solar offers feel-good, intrinsic value,” he said.

Ski areas are hit by hard times

KETCHUM, Idaho – The skier count at Sun Valley Resort was down 20 percent through March. The recession, so-so snow conditions and a reduction in commercial airline air service were all fingered as causes of the decline, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

In Mammoth, Calif., skier numbers are flat, but revenue is down 5 percent, with significant drop-offs in both retail and ski school, reportsThe Sheet.

To add insult to injury, Rusty Gregory, ski area manager at Mammoth, which is owned by Intrawest, said financing has become much more difficult. Before the recession, a ski area operator could borrow up to five times its cash flow. Now, that’s been reduced to three times – but only for those who have a track record. Those without a credit history aren’t able to get any money at all.

– Allen Best


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January 11, 2024
High and dry

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