Crested Butte expansion shut down

CRESTED BUTTE – The expansion of the Crested Butte ski area onto Snodgrass Mountain has been talked about off and on since the early 1980s. First the community opposed it, and then the ski area owners withdrew plans.

The most recent push goes back to around 2001, a time of economic lull in Crested Butte. The ski company’s argument is that it needs more intermediate terrain to balance its experts-heavy existing mountain layout if it is to maintain the loyalty of destination skiers. Both Vail and Aspen Skiing have that kind of variety, and both have a high rate of return among skiing customers.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service shocked just about everybody when it announced it would not accept the proposal for review under the provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act. There just wasn’t enough clear support from local government bodies, said Charlie Richmond, supervisor of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest.

The agency time and again through the years has demonstrated that it doesn’t like to get involved in community fights.

Just how much of a community fight seems to be the major dispute. In fact, one of the three local governments, Mt. Crested Butte, had clearly articulated its support, and the two others – Gunnison County and the Town of Crested Butte – had taken no position.

Mark Reaman, writing in theCrested Butte News, suggests that Richmond misread Crested Butte. While many in the community opposed Snodgrass, he says, the most vocal anti-Snodgrass candidates in the Crested Butte municipal elections this fall were not elected to the Town Council. Those who were elected either supported the expansion or expressed ambivalence.

Regardless, it seems certain that the case will be appealed to Richmond’s superiors in Washington D.C. After all, the owners of the Crested Butte ski area had already invested $2 million in the project. With that kind of money on the line, you can bet they’re not going to roll over.

Ski industry pushes for authority

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last year, the U.S. ski industry set off on an effort to introduce legislation to allow broader use of federal land. Current legislation allows only skiing and a few other uses. Ski areas hope to get clear authority for such congregated activities such as zip-lines, alpine slides and mountain bike parks.

The Forest Service more traditionally has frowned on such congregated activities, viewing national forest lands – even ski areas – as places of more dispersed activities.

Among those making the case for the ski industry at a recent Congressional hearing was Rob Katz, chief executive officer for Vail Resorts.

“Ski areas are the perfect place to accommodate these large numbers of forest visitors, and not just in the winter,” Katz said. He said ski areas not only “inspire appreciation for the natural environment,” but they’re also developed areas that are accessible and convenient for visitors.

In Idaho, theMountain Express endorsed the legislation – called the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2009. The newspaper suggested that ski areas and mountain towns are “key to getting Americans healthy again.” The key, said the newspaper, were outdoor sports.

“By and large, the success of each day spent in our towns is measured by the time spent preparing for or engaging in outdoor sports. This is not the measure of success in corporate America or the average American suburb. But the hard truth is that those measures are making people sick in the wealthiest nation on Earth. Mountain towns can help people heal, refresh and reconnect.”

Telluride tries to green the gondola

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – Last May, the mayors of Telluride and Mountain Village announced an ambitious goal. By 2020, they said, they wanted the broader Telluride community to be offsetting 100 percent of its electrical use with energy from renewable sources.

That idea is audacious on the face of it. But bit by small bit, a strategy has been taking shape. The first public strategy sets the goal of offsetting electrical use required to operate the gondola: 2.3 million kilowatt hours annually. Given existing prices of photovoltaic collectors, town officials estimate they will need $2.3 million to pay for solar panels somewhere, probably in a place with more consistent sunshine. The first $10,000 donation, from an anonymous donor, has been received.

“Because the gondola runs purely on electricity, it feels green,” said Mountain Village Mayor Bob Delves. “But in reality it burns coal-fired power. It’s time to change that.”

Telluride also intends to apply for grants for solar collectors to

be placed at the town’s wastewater treatment plant. Such plants typically are among the largest consumers of electricity in any community.

Telluride utility officials are also investigating the possibility of harnessing the power of water that runs downhill from within the town’s water supply system, called microhydro.

Can Telluride succeed in this improbable quest? For evidence, locals point to the fact that they have been able to raise $45 million to purchase the Valley Floor parcel, despite a relatively small tax base.

Aspen commits to World Cup races

ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. studied the numbers hard before gulping and committing to hosting the World Cup races again this year. Company officials won’t divulge just what it costs them to host the races, reports theAspen Times, but they described it as “taking it on the chin.”

Why it is worth so much?

“It’s a marketing vehicle,” said John Rigney, the vice president of sales and events. “It’s a portal to the international skiing community. It keeps Aspen front and center.”

The races last year were watched by 10 million viewers, primarily in Europe. A total of 110 million people worldwide saw at least a snippet of the races.

But probably the most “compelling reason” for keeping the races is because they are so ingrained in Aspen’s culture and history as a ski town, Rigney toldThe Aspen Times. Aspen Mountain hosted its first sanctioned ski race in 1939, and attracted the World Alpine Ski Championships in1958. It has held World Cup races regularly since 1968, save for a brief span in the mid-1990s.

Park ordered to increase visitation

BANFF, Alberta – Managers of Banff National Park have been ordered by federal officials to boost visitor numbers 2 percent annually. Among the techniques for drawing more visitors, reports theRocky Mountain Outlook, are introduction of activities such as zip-lines, via ferrata, adventure courses and canopy tours.

Via ferrata is a rock-climbing route equipped with fixed cables, ladders and other devices to increase safety and lower the difficulty. Zip lines are becoming increasingly popular at upscale resorts.

Kevin Van Tighem, superintendent of Banff, Canada’s flagship park, defended the orders. “It is potentially controversial in places like Banff, where there’s lots of discussion about numbers and use, but this is really about creating a memorable visitor experience,” he said.

The orders, however, deeply trouble conservationists. They fear problems as were documented in the 1980s and 1990s, when Parks Canada had to take urgent steps to restore ecological integrity.

“I’m concerned that 2 percent growth in visitors could undermine everything else we’re dropping in the park to protect ecological integrity,” said Wendy Francis, director of conservation for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. New visitors, she said, will want services and logistics.

But business groups welcomed that need. “I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Richard Leavens, executive director of the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment.

Mountain towns look at microhydro

ASPEN – Neighbors of a hydroelectric plant being planned in Aspen have been questioning whether the water diverted to turn the turbines will harm their interests.

TheAspen Times explains that the plant could remove two-thirds of the water from Castle Creek in early November, one of the lowest-flowing times of the year. Aspen voters a year ago approved funding for the hydroelectric plant, which is to be built at the same location where a similar plant existed from 1892 - 1958.

If completed, the hydroelectric plant will displace power currently purchased by the city government from coal-fired power plants. The water-based generation would increase the carbon-free power supply by 8 percent, to about 75 percent of total power needed by Aspen.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $20,000 grant to be used toward creation of a small hydroelectric generator at the historic Mayflower Mill, two miles east of Silverton. The small generator will be capable of generating 8 kilowatts of electricity by harnessing the power that flows through a pipeline down Arrastra Gulch to the mill. The project is a partnership of the San Juan County Historical Society, which has preserved the mill, and Telluride Energy.

– Allen Best

I-70 town to create downtown core

SILVERTHORNE – Silverthorne is out to recreate itself. It roared to prominence in the 1950s as the base for construction of Dillon Dam. Later, it became known as a pit stop on I-70, a place loaded with fast-food restaurants, gas stations and factory store outlets. But a new plan calls for a more walkable town core. Town officials hope to attract developers interested in creating buildings with inviting storefronts and attractive landscaping – what theSummit Daily News describes as a “village-like setting.”

Aspen tightens up its assisted-living

ASPEN – As the waiting list grows, the Aspen Valley Hospital has bumped up the eligibility requirements for people wanting to get into its assisted-living facility, called Whitcome Terrace. Previous rules required that people had to live in the Aspen area for a year; but the new rules require a 10-year residence, reports theAspen Times.


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High and dry

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