Backcountry closure discussed in B.C.

WHISTLER, B.C. – This winter’s snowpack in British Columbia has produced what is, by one estimate, the worst avalanche potential since 1979. There have been 15 so far this winter, including two on closed ski runs at Whistler. Most have involved snowmobilers.

The response from a broad variety of people has been to limit access to the backcountry. Michel Beaudry, a columnist forPique newsmagazine, finds that idea preposterous.

“Do we close the province’s beaches after a drowning? Do we shut down the bars when somebody dies of alcohol poisoning? Of course we don’t.”

But he does believe that those who get into trouble in the backcountry should get billed. This goes against the grain of what most search and rescue organizations preach. They say that cost should never enter into the equation when a decision is made over whether or not to summon help.

But Beaudry says billing those who need help will force them to more carefully consider their decisions beforehand. “No whining. No citing excuses. If you screw up, you deal with it,” he says. And if that is the case, then the motto should be “you play, you pay.”

Arthur De Jong, former patrol manager at the Blackcomb ski area, collected on 80 percent of the backcountry rescues. “I was a hard-ass on this issue,” he tells Beaudry. “Did I really want the money? Of course not. What I wanted was the headlines: Backcountry users will pay for rescue costs.”

That’s not the thinking at Lake Louise, a ski area near Banff, Alberta. “Mother Nature does the scolding,” said Rocket Miller, an avalanche forecaster at Lake Louise.  “We focus on education, not elimination,” he told theRocky Mountain Outlook.


Sundance ripped for green hypocrisy

PARK CITY, Utah – The Sundance Film Festival has an abundance of films with “green themes” this year. But what is intended as a call to action is, by at least some, seen as evidence of hypocrisy.

One target of criticism is festival founder Robert Redford, who has mounted the soapbox to decry the Bush administration’s offering of drilling leases on 360,000 acres of land in the West, including some places near Utah’s Arches National Park.

A group that represents the African-American community protested Redford’s statements in a protest held in Salt Lake City.

“We are not going to stand by as Robert Redford tries to slow the flow of home heating fuel from the Rockies and drive up home heating prices to millions of Americans in his lust for environmental headlines,” Niger Innis, a spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, told theDeseret News.

Redford “is looking at the scenery and other issues, whereas this winter you will have people in urban areas who will have utilities shut off,” said Harry R. Jackson Jr., who is chairman of an affiliated group, the High-Impact Leadership Coalition.

A representative for Redford dismissed the criticism. “They’ve gotten about $275,000 from Exxon oil in the last five years,” spokeswoman Joyce Deep toldThe Park Record. “It’s a fallacy to say there are not enough places to drill in the United States. They are just not drilling,” she added.

But theNew York Times also looked askance at Sundance. “If it were possible to cleanse the planet by watching a movie, this would be the place to do it,” wrote correspondent Michael Cieply.

In addition to a movie called “Earth Days,” billed as “the history of our environmental undoing,” other films in the lineup this year included “Crude,” about the destruction in Ecuador caused by oil extraction; plus other movies about fished-out oceans, exhaustion of our soil, and toxic waste in the Amazon.

The question, said theTimes, is obvious: “How can you cram some 46,000 people, roughly equivalent to the fifth of Hollywood’s total work force, in to a pretty little mountain town without contributing mightily to the problem your films hope to solve.”

The newspaper noted all the traveling plasma screens imported for the occasion, the outdoor tents warmed by heaters, and the string of private jets into Salt Lake City, second only to West Palm Beach, Fla., for private jets.


Geology shifts ski area expansion

MT. CRESTED BUTTE – The door is opening for Crested Butte Mountain Resort to finally submit an application for a new ski area on 11,145-foot Snodgrass Mountain.

There have been stumbling blocks since the idea was first pitched in the early 1980s. At one point, the community opposed the plan. Another time, the ski area itself faltered, because of the lack of financing.

Lately, the big question is whether the geology of the mountain will accommodate ski lifts. Four separate studies have been done, including one each by opponents and proponents, and two by the federal government. Somewhat predictably they offer varying conclusions.

The latest conclusions come from the U.S. Geological Survey, which offers evidence that lifts can be erected without danger of landslides and debris flows, but not in the path originally planned. Ski area officials tell theCrested Butte News that this change will eliminate nine of the ski trails that had been planned, although there’s some possibility those trails can be replaced elsewhere on the mountain.

What happens next is that ski area planners will revise the proposal to account for the new conclusions about geology, and the U.S. Forest Service – which administers the land in question – is likely to accept the proposal. That then triggers the environmental review mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act. Such reviews have rarely, if ever, resulted in projects getting killed.

The grand plan by Crested Butte is to create more intermediate trails, something that is sorely lacking on the existing ski mountain. Crested Butte has some beginner terrain and a lot of expert turf. As such, there’s not much to entertain people who only ski a week or two per year. This, in turn, leads to a low rate of return of visitors, which makes marketing more expensive.


Vail landfill studied for solar farm

EAGLE – What do you do with a landfill once it’s filled? Normally, not a whole lot, because of the escaping methane and because there’s only about 4 feet of clay above the trash. But why not solar panels?

That’s the idea being explored by Eagle County’s government, which uses land sold to it by the Bureau of Land Management. The contract specified that Eagle County could not use the 60 acres of land for profit.

By bar-napkin calculations, a solar farm there could supply four to five megawatts of electricity, enough for several hundred homes.

Solar experts tell theVail Dailythe idea is great. Matthew Charles, of Grid Feeders, an alternative energy company based in Avon, tells theVail Daily that solar panels in the Eagle Valley typically produce 30 percent more energy than other places in the country, because of the greater intensity of sunlight at higher elevations and 300 days of sunshine a year.


Recession offers glimpse of build-out

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The recession has slowed home construction in Truckee to a snail’s pace. Just two homes pulled building permits last year. But, says theSierra Sun, there will come a time when Truckee will be built out. As such, the lack of home-building today foretells the future.

In that future time, there will be more remodels, tear-downs and additions to take up some of the slack, said Pat Davison, president of the Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe. John McLaughlin, the town’s community development director, ventured that the workforce will be smaller, but more locally based.

Real-estate agents will have about as much work. “New home sales are not to be sneezed at, but even at build-out we still expect real estate business to be as, or nearly as, busy,” said John Falk, lobbyist for the Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors.

Tony Lashbrook, the city manager, said the end of growth as an economic driver means that tourism needs to be pushed. As well, maintaining the quality of life will attract businesses. But assuming the recession ends, there’s a lot of real-estate development yet to be done in Truckee. The city’s population, now at 16,000, is expected to be 28,500 at build-out.


Crested Butte builds high-end igloo

MT. CRESTED BUTTE – An igloo – yes, with snow and ice – has been created at the ski area at Crested Butte. But instead of being built with blocks of snow, a strong balloon called an “Igloo Moulder” was inflated, and then snow was piled and compacted around it. After the snow had hardened, the balloon was deflated and

removed, leaving a roomy interior with enough headspace for even tall people. Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the ski area operator, was planning to sell meals for $100 per person, offering crab, fondues and sushi. Since Crested Butte now has the balloon, it is thinking about creating other igloos around the mountain, resort officials tell theCrested Butte News.

– 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