Crested Butte looks for lifeline

CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte continues to reel economically and is not quite sure how to right itself.

Getting there isn’t the easiest thing – a four-hour drive from Denver or, for that matter, a four-hour drive from Aspen, just 30 miles away but hundreds by mostly two-lane roads in winter.

Next winter, getting to Crested Butte will become more difficult yet. The community intends to bankroll fewer direct flights from Houston and other cities and connecting flights from Denver.

To induce the airlines to offer flights, the local community guarantees revenues. Part of that money comes from sales tax revenues. With the economy already depressed, revenues have decreased, and the Gunnison Valley Regional Transit Authority assumes 15 percent further declines in coming months.

The impact of fewer airline seats? Joe Fitzpatrick, town manager of Mt. Crested Butte, imagines the opposite of Kevin Costner’s build-it-and-they-will come baseball field.

“If we continue to reduce airline seats, I guarantee Mt. Crested Butte sales tax revenues will continue to decline. It becomes a spiral.”

The Crested Butte News reports that the local agency is crimping more on local bus service, but still plans to contribute only $325,000 next winter to direct flights, as compared to $600,000 this winter.

The ski area, meanwhile, continues to make its case for expansion onto nearby Snodgrass Mountain. The proposal goes back at least 30 years, and during the last decade the ski company has consistently argued that it needs the expansion to survive in the flat ski market.

The problem is that Crested Butte, if thrilling to expert skiers, intimidates intermediate skiers, the bread-and-butter of the destination skiing market. All the big ski areas have oodles of intermediate terrain. And what little intermediate terrain Crested Butte has tends to bore visitors after a couple of days. More than places like Aspen and Vail, visitors to Crested Butte don’t return for a second year. That boosts advertising costs.

What we need is just a little more terrain, Crested Butt has pleaded – although not convincingly to some locals. Noting that dissent, the Forest Service in November seemingly reversed its prior position and announced it would not entertain the proposed expansion.

While Mt. Crested Butte has endorsed the expansion, the old mining town of Crested Butte, 2 miles distant, has been more tepid, reflective of a local split within that community.

At issue is whether the proposed ski area gets reviewed under the relevant National Environmental Protection Act, for which environmental impact statements are conducted. The Forest Service has almost never rejected a proposal that it has taken on for review. As such, it is very leery about taking on ski area expansions when there is significant community opposition.


Frantic girlfriend saves ski tourist

WINTER PARK – Frantic and repeated phone calls from a girlfriend were probably the reason that a man lived through his vacation in Winter Park to ski another day.

TheSky-Hi Daily News reports that police got a phone call from a woman who said her boyfriend was at Winter Park to participate in the National Brotherhood of Skiers gathering. The woman said she hadn’t heard from him, so two cops went to the condominium where she said he was registered. No one answered when they knocked, so they left.

That might have been the end of it except she called again, this time frantic. The cops got a door key this time and found the man, near death, suffering from a severe case of acute mountain sickness. He was given oxygen and taken to Denver, almost 4,000 feet lower.

Glenn Trainor, the police chief of Winter Park and Fraser, said he was told that the man would have died in a few more hours if not for the discovery.

“Going into somebody’s room after receiving a call like that from a girlfriend isn’t something we would normally do,” Trainor told theSky-Hi Daily News. “But the girlfriend was insistent that someone was wrong.”

Acute mountain sickness afflicts those who rapidly gain elevation without acclimating for the reduced oxygen content of the air. It’s estimated that 15 to 40 percent of visitors sleeping at 8,000 feet or higher get it, according to a survey reported by Dr. Peter Hackett at the Institute for Altitude Mountain in Telluride. Winter Park is at an elevation of about 9,000, making it among Colorado’s higher ski towns.


Bison may be en route to Banff

BANFF, Alberta – Kevin Van Tighem, superintendent of Banff National Park, suggests a look backward in understanding the future.

“If you go back 20 years, it was hard to imagine fire except as a problem,” he told theRocky Mountain Outlook.

Now that fire has been welcomed back to the landscape as a necessary ecosystem process, bison may be next. Following the reintroduction of bison in Mexico, Canada has been talking about restoring bison to the adjacent Banff and Jasper national parks. Officials say they have no doubt that bison herds can survive there. The challenge, they say, will be whether the public will accept the animals.

“The ecosystem can handle it,” Van Tighem says. “We have found ways to manage most of the physical problems on the landscape. But it is mostly social acceptance and that is because of people’s fears about what could go wrong, and those fears are legitimate.”

He added: “It’s mostly a matter of time and conversations.”

Officials say that the threat to human safety is not paramount. “You can manage for public safety,” says Cormack Gates, a professor of environmental design at the University of Calgary. “We already have people visiting a park (Banff) that is full of elk and grizzly bears.” He also notes that those same animals can be found in Yellowstone, Elk Island and other national parks in both Canada and the United States.

The real change, added Gates, is that bison wander – a crucial issue in Yellowstone, where ranchers in adjacent areas have objected to the spread of a disease called brucellosis by the Yellowstone animals.


County may expand composting

ASPEN – Aspen and Pitkin County have been looking into the idea of expanding a composting program, similar to what Whistler and other Canadian mountain towns have done.

The local landfill near Aspen already composts grass, leaves and other such materials, mixing them with biosolids from the local sewage-treatment plant, to produce a nutrient-rich loam that sells for $32.50 per cubic feet.

To add food waste from restaurants into the mix would require something described as a huge blender, to grind paper plates, napkins and other assorted cellulosic materials into the mix.

“The food waste is probably the largest component of what’s being buried in the landfill now that’s recyclable,” said Chris Hoofnagle, Pitkin County solid waste manger.

Key to forward movement on this idea, explainsThe Aspen Times, is securing a $94,000 grant from Colorado, plus participation by a half-dozen of Aspen’s largest eateries.


Idaho towns rein in energy use

HAILEY, Idaho – As everywhere across the land, the conversation continues in Idaho’s Big Wood River Valley about cutting energy use.

Hailey and Bellevue, two of Sun Valley’s “down-valley” towns, have been looking into installing LED streetlights, reports theIdaho Mountain Express. And in Hailey, a community sustainability committee may propose that all new homes and remodels be required to undergo energy audits.

Such audits typically measure a building’s energy use and recommend methods of reducing energy ranging from simple caulking between cracks to more expensive things such as more energy-efficient furnaces. One audit in Hailey revealed a potential energy savings worth $40,000 over the course of 20 years.

– 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