Some snowpacks notoriously unstable

KETCHUM, Idaho – As had been predicted, the El Niño ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean have not blessed many ski areas in the West with snow this year. The sporadic snowstorms, combined with cold, have resulted in extreme avalanche conditions in many areas.

At Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain, the situation has led to its trademark bowls not being opened as of mid-January. “Right now, the natural snowpack in the bowls is as weak as I’ve ever seen it in all the years I’ve been here,” said Rich Bingham, Sun Valley snow safety director and a 43-year veteran of the resort.

At Vail, a snowboarder left the ski area and ventured into a backcountry area called Miller Cliffs. TheVail Daily reports that authorities found the man buried in an avalanche area.

In Jackson Hole, a ski bum icon recently lost his life in a slide. WhenOutside magazine hired a photographer to shoot an essay on the homes of ski bums in Jackson Hole, the home of Mark “Big Wally” Wolling became an archetype. There was a kayak hanging from the ceiling, skis in the corner, a dirt bike propped up next to the bed.

That photograph was recalled by theJackson Hole News&Guide last week after the death of Wolling in an avalanche. A ski patrolman at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wolling was on the lip of Cheyenne Bowl on the morning of Jan. 6 when two explosive hand charges he deployed below him triggered the slide.

The slide carried Wolling over a 35-foot cliff and well down the 800-foot-long avalanche slope. It took patrollers 22 minutes to locate and uncover him from under 5½ feet of debris. Ten minutes later, he arrived at a medical clinic at the base of the mountain. Although after eight minutes, a pulse was detected, he eventually passed away in a hospital in Idaho.


Skier followed by wolves in Banff

BANFF, Alberta – What would you do if you were by yourself, skiing at dusk in the backcountry, and a trio of wolves stepped onto the trail?

In a case in Banff National Park, the lone skier turned around, the wolves a respectful 100 feet behind her. As she made her way back to the trailhead they followed, and after 20 minutes she stopped to wave her poles and yell. That did the trick, reports theRocky Mountain Outlook. The wolves headed off trail, and that’s the last she saw of them.

Officials in Banff National Park say they don’t believe the wolves meant any harm. They were just going in the same direction and, since it was cold, they got on the packed trail because it took less energy.

“In the winter, every calorie counts for wolves,” said Melanie Percy, senior park ecologist.

Steve Michel, human-wildlife conflict specialist for Banff National Park, said wolf attacks are extremely rare. That said, he advised anybody seeing wolves to keep their distance – and not get excited or start running. As in dogs, he said, that could trigger a predatory response.

In Utah, however, a very different view was being expressed. “Wolves are ruthless,” said Sen. Allen Christensen, a state legislator who is sponsoring a law that, if approved, would declare that all wolves in Utah be destroyed or removed.

Christensen, who represents a portion of the Park City area, told thePark Record he expected litigation between Utah and the federal government over his proposal if it gets approved.


Telluride mayor reaches out to Iran

TELLURIDE – Telluride this winter has already hosted its first-ever World Cup competition. However, prior to the competition, the mayor of Telluride was contacted by an emissary representing two snowboarders from Iran.

The Iranians hoped to compete in the World Cup event, and they were trying to secure visas for themselves, their coach and their manager. The snowboarders needed a letter of invitation from a local official sent to the U.S. Consulate in Dubai.

Mayor Stu Fraser, reports theTelluride Watch, agreed to write the letter. “Why couldn’t I make the effort to be a friend?” he asked. “Politics shouldn’t have anything to do with this. Athletes should be able to do what it is that they do, and what they’re all about.”

At length, the request was noted by the U.S. Consulate, although nothing ever seemed to come of Fraser’s gesture. But the case got him to thinking. He wrote a letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asking for the release of four American hikers seized after they crossed into Iran while trekking in the northern reaches of Iraq.

“Please set aside with me, for a short while, the tensions between our two countries and consider this humanitarian request,” Fraser wrote.

So far, nothing has come of that, either.


Snowmass estate listed for $47 million

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Bill Davidson, the owner of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, died last March, and his widow, Karen Davidson, says it’s time to downsize.

She has put their 10-acre property at Snowmass up for sale with the asking price of $47 million.

Will she get it? TheWall Street Journal points to an even larger property in the neighborhood with an asking price of $60 million that lately has been reduced to $47.5 million. But last summer, a 10-bedroom property near Aspen sold for $43 million, which was believed to be the priciest residential U.S. sale in 2009.

The bottom line: Even in an economic downturn, the rent remains high in Aspen and Snowmass.


Vail editor defends global warming

VAIL – Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the other talkathon right-wingers of radio and TV probably didn’t take notice, but Don Rogers, editor and publisher of theVail Daily, threw some spears their way.

“There’s no longstanding, downward trend, unless you follow a certain ideology beyond the bounds of evidence and even common sense,” he says, responding to their argument that the world’s climate is actually cooling.

Rather, he says, the evidence is compelling – and devoid of politics. “The thermometers aren’t liberals,” he says.

As for the cold winter in Houston, he would have Hannity, one of the talking heads on Fox TV, learn the difference between weather and climate.


Frogs squashed on road to Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. – Travelers to the Olympics this winter will have a much easier time of getting from Vancouver to Whistler, thanks to a $600 million upgrade of the Sea to Sky Highway. But the highway-widening has not been kind to the wildlife populations along the way.

Pique Newsmagazine reported the death of more than 200 red-legged frogs killed while crossing a stretch of the highway that, until the widening and relocation, had been wetland and scrub.

The carnage was not for lack of effort. Transportation officials related extensive efforts to prevent the death of wildlife. In the case of the frogs, however, the engineering clearly failed.

“More than $2 million was spent on studies and mitigation,” said Angela Buckingham, chief biologist for the transportation ministry. But fencing along the highway was impractical, she said. “There is also a cost to that, and we are very concerned about making sure there is value for the taxpayer.”

– Allen Best