Ski areas grapple with beetle kill

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – With so many lodgepole pines dying in Colorado, the question has become what to do with all the debris at the ski areas.

At Steamboat, a process called mastication is being used to grind up the slash. As the name suggests, mastication involves a great deal of gnashing, sometimes sending debris flying as far as 300 feet, notesThe Steamboat Pilot. Forestry officials say the material – which is different than basic wood-chipping – leaves the forest floor in a condition that promotes regrowth.

At Beaver Creek, the Forest Service has announced a different challenge. The problem defined there is that roads built for logging or even ski areas don’t necessarily accommodate the sort of 18-wheel trucks needed to haul out wood chips. Instead, a shipping container – such as you might see on a railroad flat-bed car – is mounted on the carriage of a conventional logging truck.

Cary Green, a timber management assistant, explains that technological tweaking allows tighter turning radii.

But Green also sees a broader need: “If we could economically convert these dead trees to wood chips and haul them out of the forest, they represent a very good source of biomass fuel.”

A private developer is working with Vail town officials in hopes of building a biomass plant to produce heat in winter and electricity during summer.

Resort reaches for young residents

KETCHUM, Idaho – What’s the difference between the Ketchum/Sun Valley area and most of the other destination resorts of the West?

First, it’s remote. Boise is several hours away, and the great population centers are even farther afield. And second, the demographics have a decidedly grayer tint even than most destination resorts.

At a recent session in Ketchum, consultants Becky Zimmerman of The Design Workshop and Chuck Madison of East West Partners compared the Idaho resort with three other destination resorts: Beaver Creek, Whistler and Northstar at Tahoe.

Madison said the permanent population of younger people in the Ketchum/Sun Valley area has dropped for some time. “That’s not particularly good and needs to change,” he said. He also said the most successful resorts can be reached more easily and allow great mobility once people arrive. Zimmerman, who is based in Denver, said she has been to Sun Valley 60 to 70 times in the last decade. “And it’s not easy to get to.”

On theIdaho Mountain Express website, where the story appeared, bloggers had much to say. Several seemed to wonder why Sun Valley had paid consultants to explain what was so painfully obvious. Others said that difficulty of access is a virtue for a resort. “One thing I always tell people is that it’s hard to get to, and people don’t just pass through,” said one blogger. “If you are in Sun Valley, it’s because you want to be there, and made the effort to get there, and it will never be a Lake Tahoe, or a Jackson or even a Vail. That is one thing I love about the place.”

Aspen forecasts a difficult winter

ASPEN – Like most ski towns, Aspen was profoundly quiet last March. The Aspen Skiing Co. reported that just 50,000 skier days were recorded for the month at its four ski areas, compared to an average 220,000.

In hopes that nothing of the sort happens this coming March, the ski company is aggressively promoting its special package, called Kids Ski and Stay Free in March. Families that purchase a minimum of four days of lift tickets and five nights of lodging get free skiing and accommodations for kids between 7 and 12 years of age. But there’s a kicker – the package must be purchased by mid-January.

Although the company plans to increase marketing for this coming winter, Aspen Senior Vice President David Perry says he expects business to be no better than flat for the season. “We’re really going to have to work hard to achieve that, in my opinion,” he said.

Hoteliers in Aspen also expect a tough winter, with stiff competition from other resorts as well as with new hotels now opening in Aspen.

Park City has two new five-star hotels opening, both of them at Deer Valley Resort. Northstar at Lake Tahoe also has a Ritz-Carlton on line.

The new Aspen lodging is an irony, in that Aspen promoters had long bemoaned the loss of bed capacity. The new capacity has finally arrived – but in a time of soft demand.

The average daily rate in Aspen and Snowmass dropped 11 percent in June, and 13 percent in July, to $213 per night. Winter rates are roughly double, notesThe Aspen Times.

Several shop-local pushes fall short

JACKSON, Wyo. – Shop-local campaigns have been under way in various mountains valleys of the West. They’ve had varying degrees of success – and also provoked some pushback.

In Colorado, officials in Basalt had hoped to drum up local business by offering $30 gift certificates to shoppers for each cumulative $300 they spent at participating shops and restaurants. Still, sales in restaurants and bars fell 29 percent in July, and general retail was off 41 percent, reports theAspen Times.

Maybe the decline would have been worse without the program, town officials wonder.

Basalt’s so-so success hasn’t dissuaded Carbondale, a few miles west, from launching something similar. There, town officials have plunked down $30,000 toward a three-month program leading up to Christmas. Every $25 in purchases yields a ticket, making its owner a possible winner of various prizes. As Carbondale may be the center of the green-thinking universe, the grand prize would be an electric car.

In Wyoming, Roger Hayden writes in theJackson Hole News&Guide to issue a proposition to the shop-local campaigners. A 16-year resident, he says he has shopped locally the whole time, even though it always costs more. He promises to continue doing so – but only if the stores hire U.S. citizens.

“With so many locals out of work in this dismal economy, employers have the pool of labor from which to hire, an option many claimed they lacked during boom times,” he writes in a letter in the newspaper. “Now, employers have no excuse for hiring foreign workers, legal or illegal.”

Real estate recovering in Vail

VAIL – Is the real estate market bouncing back? Agents in Vail report being very busy, and statistics from the Vail Board of Realtors confirm their stories. During August, 277 residential properties went under contract, compared to just 22 contracts through the first six months of the year. As has been the case elsewhere, the lower-end – defined here as less than $500,000 – has been responsible for a disproportionate amount of the activity. But the sales that are going through involve properties that have substantially discounted their prices.The Vail Daily tells of one property owner in Avon who is expecting to get $590,000 – about what he for it nine years ago.

Green library not quite green enough

WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler’s new $11 million library was built to save energy, and it also has renewable energy features, such as geoexchange, which taps the ground’s innate heat to reduce overall heating needs.

But instead of $3,000 in annual energy costs, they have been running at $7,000. What’s wrong?

A report given to the municipal council in Whistler provided no clear explanation of why, although there were clues: some energy use had been added on to the exterior of the building, to melt snow; and some energy-saving features, such as automatic dimmer lights, had been eliminated.

Some council members were indignant, reportsPique Newsmagazine, and those councilmen began asking whether the “green” components to other municipal infrastructure, including a fire hall and an employee housing project, really were worth the money.

Still, the council as a whole didn’t seem particularly disturbed. Indeed, the council has agreed that Whistler’s municipal operations should become carbon neutral by next year. This would put it ahead of 175 other municipalities in British Columbia who have signed a Climate Action Charter.

Merchants object to farmers market

PARK CITY, Utah –The farmers market in Park City has become very much the hit in its third season, drawing upwards of 5,000 people. Many make a special trip from the Great Salt Lake Valley, about a half-hour away.

The market – officially called the Park Silly Sunday Market – has more than just fresh veggies from the fields. Booths located at the bottom of the town’s winding, steep main street also offer assorted arts and crafts, while musicians float their notes between the century-old buildings.

But thePark Record says merchants located at the top end of the district seem to think that the rising waters don’t necessarily float all boats. They felt left out of the action. Partly in response to their concerns, the city has hired a firm, Economic & Planning Systems, to formally analyze the benefits of the street market, and how the mix of vendors might better be arranged. Economic & Planning Systems, which has done similar studies in Vail, Breckenridge and Telluride, plus Anchorage, Alaska, is being hired at a cost of $30,000.

– 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