San Juans ski network pitched

TELLURIDE – Chunk by chunk, Telluride has built a big ski area during the last decade, with much of the new terrain offering that away-from-it-all experience that has been termed backcountry lite.

But an even broader vision has been espoused by a local resident named Josh Geetter. Writing inThe Telluride Watch, he calls for a series of interconnected ski trails and infrastructure across the western San Juan Mountains similar to what is found in the Alps.

Peter Shelton, one of the continent’s best-known ski writers and also a local resident, credits the Alps-inspired vision with being seductive, but rejects it as false vision for any number of reasons.

The seduction, explains Shelton, in a column published inThe Watch, comes from memories of skiing 375 miles of interconnected trails in the Alps, almost all of it above timberline.

“And if the weather and snow conditions are good, your day might be a revelation bordering religious experience,” writes Shelton. “But it shouldn’t, and in fact it can’t, be replicated here.”

He says that the Alpine experience depends upon the proximity of many villages, not the far-flung towns of the San Juans. In addition, the financing structure is different in the Alps, and there is no such thing as public land. The transportation infrastructure is much better in the Alps, liability laws much thinner, and the potential for avalanches far less.

Shelton also points that two clusters of ski areas, the four ski areas in Aspen and an even greater number in the Park City-Brighton area of Utah have long talked about European-type interconnections, but have never gone forward with them – because the locals were cool to the idea or the federal land managers were.

And finally, Shelton argues that the San Juans is something that the Alps are not, and which he hopes will remain: a place of truly wild places. “The Euros came late to the realization that perhaps they ought to save a few,” he writes.

Meanwhile, Telluride continues to argue the merits of developing just a small part of this big region, a valley called Bear Creek, adjacent to the existing ski area. It’s plenty wild and dangerous, but with lovely ski terrain. Whether some of that avalanche danger could and should be managed by inclusion within the ski area will no doubt be debated for several years.

Real estate sales decelerate in Jackson

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Have the wealthy returned to their free-spending ways? While it seemed that was the case for awhile, new reports suggest the rich have become a bit more tight-fisted again.

The latest report comes from Jackson Hole, where real-estate agent Clayton Andrews reports that July sales, although typically stronger than other months, were essentially flat with June and May.

Second-home owners and those individuals who have been sitting on the sidelines with plenty of cash are entering the market when they see a “true opportunity,” Andrews told theJackson Hole News&Guide.

The New York Times in mid-July also reported belt-tightening among the affluent.

“Late last year, the highest-income households started spending more confidently, while other consumers held back. But their confidence has since ebbed, according to retail sales reports and some economic analysis,” reported the newspaper.

“That cautious attitude stems in part from concerns about global instability, especially in Europe, and in part from the volatility of the stock market in recent months,” the paper added.

The Times identified households earning $210,000 or more as constituting the top 5 percent of income-earners. On a per capita basis, however, Jackson Hole leads the nation in per capita income, as tabulated by the Internal Revenue Service.

Hidden Gems splitting municipalities

VAIL – Several mountain towns in Colorado this year have been hotly debating a major proposal for wilderness called Hidden Gems. Unlike previous additions of public lands to the nation’s designated wilderness system, these proposed lands tend to be lower in elevation, and on the margins of both existing wilderness and development.

Breckenridge has endorsed the idea, but with reservations. The town wants the usual prohibition against chainsaws in wilderness areas lifted, in case of fire. Residents also want more concessions for mountain bikers.

Water providers have also been concerned in the Eagle Valley. The Vail Town Council split on whether to endorse the measure, with positions argued passionately on both sides.

No so the local water district. It wants more flexibility for management of federal lands than what wilderness normally allows. A down-valley town, Gypsum, also prefers the perceived flexibility of a lower-case wilderness in a creek drainage that delivers the town its water supply.

Aspen pushing for Quizno’s stages

ASPEN – Cycling legend Lance Armstrong recently announced the creation of a seven-stage race in Colorado that will begin next summer. It is called the Quizno’s Pro Challenge, promises to draw top talent from the U.S. and Europe and it brings to mind former bicycle races in Colorado during the 1970s and 1980s.

The first race was called the Red Zinger Bicycle Classic, and it was succeeded by the Coors Classic, until the brewer dropped funding in 1988. Those races had events in both Vail and Aspen.

Aspen now hopes to be part of the new race. The town’s mayor, Mick Ireland, has long been an ardent bicyclist, and he envisions a stage that crosses 12,095-foot Independence Pass, similar to what occurred 25 years ago, and also a criterium within downtown Aspen.

Armstrong lives part-time in Aspen, but hasn’t committed to riding. If he does, Ireland tellsThe Aspen Times, “This town would be packed.”

Technology tangling the Aspen Valley

ASPEN – Once you pull technology out of the box, can you put it back in? Would you want to?

That’s the question facing the Aspen area in two specific locales.The Aspen Times reports that local officials have started mulling whether to allow electric bicycles on the Rio Grande Trail, an old railroad grade in the Roaring Fork Valley that has been paved. No motorized vehicles of any kind are currently allowed.

But how about electric bikes, which have a top speed of 20 mph and offer no power assist unless a rider is actually pedaling?

At the base of the iconic Maroon Bells, two 14,000-foot peaks, the issue is cell phones. No cell phone service now exists, but a telephone provider may build a tower on nearby Aspen Highlands ski area that would deliver reception.

If and when service is implemented, says U.S. Forest Service officials, the area will likely be posted as a phone-free area – except in emergencies.

Telluride discusses plastic bag ban

TELLURIDE – Telluride continues its conversation about what to do with all of its bag people. At the urging of a local activist, the town began talking about banning plastic and other bags three years ago. The idea was given considerable oomph this year when a movie describing the accumulating horrors of plastic use was shown at MountainFilm. The film, “Bag It!” explained that a swirl of plastic about the size of Texas has accumulated in the Pacific Ocean.

What to do? The latest proposal, to be voted upon in late August, would ban grocery stores from using plastic bags. They could still use paper bags, however.

An alternative, now on the back burner, would allow stores to give out plastic bags, but require they charge a tax when customers need those bags, reportsThe Telluride Watch.

Steamboat tries freebies for tourists

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Summer tourism peaked in Steamboat Springs during the first weekend in August with an estimated 12,500 visitors. That would have found the resort town 82 percent full.

To encourage business into fall, the local Chamber of Commerce allocated a $15,000 purse to be split among 50 parties willing to commit to three-night trips into fall. Chamber representatives said they expect the recipients will justify extra indulgences, like $150 dinners.

– Allen Best