Colorado enjoys banner run-off

EAGLE – The Eagle River was running bank to bank on Saturday night as fireworks glittered, sparkled and boomed in the town of Eagle, 30 miles down-valley from Vail.

Willy Powell, the town manager, whose house overlooks the river, said he could not remember a runoff that high and sustained in the last 30 years. The high runoff began about the third week of May and has not substantially receded since then.

Most often, rivers peak with runoff in early June, sometimes earlier and in big snow years later. This year, river-watchers expected an early runoff because of the dust that had been from the deserts of the Southwest onto the high-mountain snowpack during winter and early spring.

Fearing an early runoff, forecasters were warning that this could become a huge fire year in Colorado, even worse than the record drought of 2002.

But then something strange happened – it started raining, and it really hasn’t stopped since. In Breckenridge, weather watcher Rick Bly recorded 22 days of rainy weather during June, compared to an average of 8. In addition to nearly twice as much moisture as average, it was about 5 degrees cooler.

Clearly, having more rain and cooler weather results in more water in the creeks. But ranchers tell theSummit Daily News that something else is going on. With about 95 percent of lodgepole pine now dead because of the beetle epidemic, the trees are not using as much water.

Grady Culbreath, a rancher near Kremmling, said streams that normally dry up during summer have been running into autumn.

This is likely to be only temporary, however. The newspaper notes that with the needles from the dead trees now dropping, sunlight is reaching the ground. This, in turn, results in aspen trees, lodgepole saplings and grasses growing on the forest floor.

McNamara leaves backcountry legacy

ASPEN – Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense from 1961-69, will forever be remembered as the architect of a war gone terribly wrong. But McNamara, who died Monday at the age of 93, should also be remembered for his abiding passion for the mountains.

That passion, acquired as a youngster growing up in California’s Bay Area and backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, was more fully revealed in the 1980s with his part in the creation of the 10th Mountain Division huts between Aspen and Vail.

McNamara provided significant funding for the first hut, named McNamara, and for the second hut, Margy’s. The latter hut was named after his first wife, Margaret, who had died of cancer in 1981.

With the Spartan but adequate comforts of those two huts, backcountry skiers could traverse the first segment of the trip to Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division soldiers had trained during World War II. Within a decade, in 1992, it was possible to ski between Vail and Aspen on well-marked trails without spending the night out.

The hut association takes reservations for 31 huts in the area from Crested Butte to Breckenridge.

Ben Eiseman, a Denver surgeon and one of McNamara’s many outdoors raconteurs, persuaded McNamara to provide the crucial seed money for the huts. But neither had expected a leery forest supervisor.

The forest supervisor had had seen many junky cabins during his most recent posting in Alaska. He feared more of the same. McNamara was persistent. “Look, I‘ll make you a deal,” he said. “If after a year you don’t like them, I’ll pay to take them out. And second, we’ll work toward establishing an endowment to pay for them.”

Lack of use has never been a problem, even if creature comforts are modest. None have indoor plumbing, and water is created by melting snow. The earliest huts had no lights, although all now have photovoltaic collectors.

McNamara had been a frequent Aspen visitor even before he and Margaret purchased the first home built in Snowmass Village after the Snowmass ski area opened in 1968.

Even in his later years, he remained vigorous, skiing to the backcountry huts and even in his latter 70s skiing up 13,200-foot Homestake Peak, located above the 10th Mountain Division Hut.

Telluride looks back on gilded age

TELLURIDE – Across the ski towns, commentators are trying to make sense of the craters that used to be the vibrant real estate economy. The lesson, at least in Telluride, says Seth Cagin, publisher ofThe Telluride Watch, is that the community for various reasons became over-invested in real estate.

Cagin for years had argued that Telluride was getting it wrong. Almost militantly anti-growth policies stymied the growth of a tourism economy, he had said. This was OK as long as people were willing to bid up prices ever more for real estate. Now that, too, has ended.

“Despite our best intentions to build a sustainable community, we built instead a community for the gilded age, with gargantuan private homes and far too few tourist accommodations to support a vibrant economy with a middle class,” he writes.

“This might have worked indefinitely if the bubble had lasted indefinitely. But the gilded age has come to a crashing close, as we all knew it had to, and the question for Telluride and Mountain Village now and for the next decade is, ‘Where do we go from here?’”

For Cagin the bottom line is the same one he has preached for years. “We may not get obscenely rich being the tourist town we were always meant to be, and certainly not as rich as we did when the houses we bought were worth twice as much just a few years later. But we can have a sustainable community.”

Sun Valley lowers season pass prices

KETCHUM, Idaho – Sun Valley Resort has lowered its prices for ski passes. “This is the first time the price of a season pass has come down in the 30-or-so years I’ve worked here,” said Jack Sibbach, a spokesman for the Sun Valley Resort.

The new Sun Plus Pass can be had for $1,500 if purchased in July. Last year, the same pass cost $2,050. A packet for 20 days also has been reduced in price, to $750.

None of this compares with the deals being offered in Colorado by Vail Resorts and Intrawest. Vail, for example, has the Epic Pass, introduced last year, which offers unlimited access to Vail and four other Colorado ski resorts plus California’s Heavenly, all for $600. Intrawest’s $500 pass offers a pass both to Copper Mountain and Winter Park.

“If we were located next to Vail, we might have to take a different strategy,” Sun Valley’s Sibbach said. “But we’re not in that market, competing with the Front Range resorts.”

New Whistler ski resort still in works

SQUAMISH, B.C. – Planning continues for a major new resort located about a half-hour down-valley from Whistler. Called Garibaldi @ Squamish, the proponents envision a large amount of skiing and more than 5,700 housing and hotel units. That’s about a third the size of Whistler.

“It’s just not feasible at all anywhere in North America to build a pure ski resort without a housing component or a four-season component. End of story,” said Mike Esler, president of Garibaldi @ Squamish.

Whistler’sPique newsmagazine explains that the project faces considerable opposition.

Aspen marking down home prices

ASPEN – Real estate sales in Aspen and Pitkin County continued to drag through May, with a 44 percent decline in volume for the year as compared to the corresponding period last year. Real estate agent Craig Morris tells theAspen Times that those sellers who cling to prices reached during the height of the boom in late 2007 and early 2008 have not been moving. Those properties that have been reduced in price by 20 to 40 percent are selling, he said.

Ketchum opens flyfishing film festival

KETCHUM, Idaho – Although film festivals have become common, Ketchum several years ago bagged one with a narrow theme: flyfishing. This year’s festival featured segments of such movies as “Rivers of the Lost Coast,” a history of the flyfishing community on California’s pristine northern coast, and “BASS: the Movie,” which follows the movements of the large-mouth bass.

– 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