Ski areas eye national forest land

SUMMIT COUNTY – Even if nobody is building much real estate now, Summit County is looking into the future, trying to find spots for affordable and attainable housing. Some within the county are now taking aim at land within the White River National Forest.

Ski communities for the last 20 years have had conversations with the U.S. Forest Service. In the late 1980s, ski companies like Vail argued that land for dormitories should be provided, as labor was just as crucial as water to operate a ski area, and land is permitted to be used for reservoirs for snowmaking.

The Forest Service then maintained that as long as ski areas built expensive housing on land adjacent to ski areas, they had no business asking for public land.

But some ski areas have been able to get Forest Service land by engineering land swaps. The Forest Service gets a piece of private land that it wants, such as a private inholding within a wilderness, in exchange for the land near the ski area. By rules governing land exchanges, the values must be equal.

In other cases, the Forest Service has made available for sale land that it deems of little value to the public, such as a peninsula of land bordered on three sides by private land.

In Summit County, theDaily News reports fresh impetus to look for opportunities to do land swaps. “When we look at the needs of the next 15 to 20 years, I don’t know what else to do. We do have many past sins to atone for,” said Thomas Davidson, a county commissioner.

Just how much land is available for such trades is questionable, suggested Paul Semmer, land specialist with the Forest Service. “To be real honest, we’ve been pretty effective in conveying land the last 24 years. The federal land pool is getting smaller and smaller.”

Semmer went on to question the public value of chewing off parcels of national forest land adjacent to private land. The national forest, he pointed out, is owned by the American public – not just the 30,000 to 40,000 full and part-time residents in Summit County.

As well, much of available private land has been put into dedicated open space, notes theSummit Daily News’Bob Berwyn.

Conservation groups are wary of any land trades. “Did they take a Republican pill? Were they sipping martinis and smoking cigars?” asked Currie Crave, a co-founder of Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Using public lands, she said, should be the last option.

Public-lands watchdog Rocky Smith, of Colorado Wild, was similarly dubious. “The real estate barons have priced themselves out of the ability to have a community that can sustain the workers needed to keep it running,” he said.

At least one county commissioner is also skeptical of seeking public funds for affordable housing. Karn Stiegelmeier said the search should begin in the urban core of communities. “I think we need to go back and look at some of those places. Otherwise, we’re going to end up with more sprawl at the fringes of our communities, something we’ve worked hard to prevent,” she said. “We need to be careful so we don’t fill in the buffers between communities.”


Luxury hotel opens doors in Telluride

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – Telluride now has its own swank hotel, the Capella Telluride. The $200 million property is the first in the international chain of the new luxury Capella brand to open in the United States.

Horst Schulze, the legendary founder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain, started the Capella hotels. They will be less formal and somewhat smaller in size, but Schulze has decreed the new chain will deliver an even more highly personalized level of service.

“There aren’t enough stars in heaven,” says Seth Cagin, publisher ofThe Telluride Watch, alluding to the fashion of anointing four and five stars to high-end lodging properties.

Schulze was in Telluride and the slope-side town of Mountain Village, the actual location of the hotel, last week in conjunction with the opening. The hotel has two large structures containing 100 hotel rooms, 48 condominiums, plus two restaurants, a ballroom, underground parking, and an ice rink in a new public plaza.

The hope in Telluride is that this additional lodging will help the tourism economy reach a critical mass. As well, the hotel is expected to bolster the conference meeting business.

Schulze expressed confidence that the Capella would be successful within three years, Someday, he said, he hopes it will be as strongly identified with Telluride as the Little Nell is with Aspen, the Sonnenalp is with Vail, and the Hyatt Regency is with Beaver Creek.


Developments slowed in the Tetons

JACKSON, Wyo. – The recession and credit squeeze have delayed big base-area developments on both sides of the Teton Range.

At the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, plans for a condo-hotel called The Little Nell are on hold. Rob DesLauriers, the developer, said his team is waiting for the arrival of consumers.

On the west side of the Teton Range, near Driggs, Idaho, development plans for an expanded base village were approved last year at Grand Targhee ski area. But Geordie Gillett, who represents the resort-owning Gillett family, said he doesn’t see much work beginning until the credit markets improve.

“I’m always in contact with the banks, having generally having that 40,000-foot conversation,” he told theJackson Hole News&Guide. “I don’t see a need to pursue financing at this time. It’s pretty clear what the answer will be.”

County officials tell the newspaper that applications for development were down 340 percent through mid-February, compared with the same period last year. However, the slowdown in applications is less evident in Jackson, the county’s only town. But even there, tightened credit is at issue. SR Mills, developer of a condo-hotel, said development is still planned, but not as fast.

“Part of what the bank would use as a down-payment would be the presales of various hotel rooms,” he said. “With the lagging real estate market, it makes it more difficult to sell those units, which in turn makes financing more difficult. It’s a pretty tough climate out there.”


Crested Butte insists on LEED school

CRESTED BUTTE – A proposed school in Crested Butte will go through the accreditation process called LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design). The additional up-front cost for this process and improved materials and technology will be $130,000.

A large portion of that money is being used to pay for a firm that will monitor the work and verify the use of materials, designs and techniques that will reduce energy use while also being healthy for students and faculty. The cost of these upgraded materials is estimated at $40,000.

TheCrested Butte News notes that town officials insisted that the green credentials of the new school, which is being built partly on town property, be verified, with LEED being the best-known process of verification.


Cooks fight to the death in Sun Valley

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – One cook is dead, and another is charged with killing him. Both men were employees of the Sun Valley Co., the operator of the ski area, and lived in a dormitory owned by the company. It was the second death in an employee dormitory within the last five months. In September, a resident of a dormitory died from what appeared to be an overdose of prescription painkillers and alcohol, reported theIdaho Mountain Express.

Sun Valley Co. has a workforce of 1,700 people, of whom 500 live in company-provided affordable housing, either condominiums or dorms. “Some of the units are very comfortable, while some are cramped,” said Jack Sibbach, a company spokesman.


Latino immigrants pack their bags

PARK CITY, Utah – Mexicans and other immigrants are packing their bags, unable to find work in the recession-slowed economy of Park City, reportsThe Park Record. The newspaper notes the downturn is most impacting migrants working in construction-related fields. Also hard hit are the high-end restaurants.

Latino advocate Tony Yapias is advising those planning to return to Mexico, if they are in the United States illegally, to visit a Mexican consulate to get a border pass. “Then when they get back to Mexico with a truckload of their belongings, the Mexican customs won’t give them a hard time or make them pay extra for all the things they are taking back.”


Teetotaler elk spotted outside of Eagle

EAGLE – Nobody has figured out how a cow elk got a bar stool stuck on her head in Eagle. The elk has been seen wandering around the town, which is located about 30 miles west of Vail. “She’s very active. The bar stool doesn’t seem to be impairing her to any great degree,” state wildlife officer Craig Wescoatt told theEagle Valley Enterprise. “She just looks kind of goofy.”

– Allen Best