Durango Mountain Resort gets major cash infusion

Durango Mountain Resort got a major financial shot in the arm last week. The local ski area closed on an $8.85 million loan Feb. 26, and the infusion will enable DMR to restructure existing debt and fund future on-mountain improvements.

The resort received the loan from the First National Bank of Durango, and the vast sum is guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. DMR will use the proceeds to improve its financial health and enhance the ski experience.

“This debt restructure dramatically improves the financial health of the resort,” said Mark Seiter, senior vice president of finance for DMR.

Future mountain improvements under consideration include new trails, terrain features, summer amenities, expanded snowmaking, and lift upgrades. The hope is that by polishing the ski experience, DMR will increase the incremental visitor volume and revenue for itself and the greater Durango area.

“Proposed improvements in the coming off-season are to create new dirt features in the terrain parks, which will enable us to open them earlier in the season,” said Beth Holland, DMR communications manager. “Plus, we’ll be adding snowmaking on the front side, and creating several new trails.”

As far as new trails go, the ski area is evaluating several options, and the new runs will likely pop up on the front side of the mountain, according to Holland. On the lift replacement front, Chair 8 – the tired, fixed-grip triple on the backside of the mountain – is priority one. However, replacing the chair is easier said than done and could be a few seasons into the future.

“Nothing is definite yet, but a replacement for Chair 8 is very much in the plan, and it’s the next lift slated for replacement,” Holland said.

Meanwhile, DMR will be giving something back to local skiers this season. The resort is open for seven-day-a-week operations through Sun., March 28, but will extend the season, as promised. Thanks to the exceptional snow conditions, DMR will reopen on April 2 for Friday - Sunday operations. The area will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through the month of April, weather permitting. During Friday - Sunday operations, all season passes, including weekday passes, will be honored.


Study disputes bark beetle control

Efforts to turn back spruce and pine beetle outbreaks are likely to meet with failure, according to new findings. Forest ecologists warned this week that plans to log beetle-killed trees in remote backcountry will do nothing more than squander tax dollars. Instead, they advocated focusing fuel reduction efforts to adjacent communities.

The National Center for Conservation Science and Policy released “Insects and Roadless Forests: A Scientific Review of Causes, Consequences and Management Alternatives” on March 2. The study concluded that bark beetle outbreaks may not lead to greater fire risk, and that tree thinning and logging are not likely to alleviate future large-scale epidemics. The report’s findings apply to millions of acres of lodgepole pine and spruce-fir forests across North America.

In addition, building temporary or permanent roads in roadless areas to combat beetle outbreaks could have substantial “short- and long-term ecological costs,” the report’s authors found. Those costs could include damage to wildlife and water, increased wildfire risk and the introduction of invasive species.

“Drought and high temperature are likely the overriding factors behind the current bark beetle epidemic in the western United States,” said Scott Hoffman Black, lead author of the report. “Because logging and thinning cannot effectively alleviate the overriding effects of climate, it will do little or nothing to control these outbreaks.”

The report’s findings come as Colorado officials move to finalize a plan to be considered by the U.S. Forest Service. The Colorado plan, while protecting some roadless areas, would allow widespread new road construction and timber-cutting to battle beetles and to reduce fire-risk from insect-infected trees.

“The science is clear. Unless preventive measures are aimed at creating defensible space around homes, the federal government will be shoveling taxpayer money down a black hole,” said Dominick DellaSala, a report author and president for the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy

Interestingly, the San Juan National Forest has already drawn a similar conclusion. A spruce beetle epidemic is currently making its way from Wolf Creek Pass toward Durango, and beetles claimed more than 70,000 local Englemann and blue spruce last year alone.

“For the most part, we’re sitting back and watching,” Steve Hartvigsen, supervisory forester for the San Juan National Forest. “Most of our spruce is on the east end of the forest is in the Weminuche, and a lot of it is out of reach … We fully admit that there are so many beetles we won’t be able to stop the epidemic.”


‘Tijuana Project’ garners acclaim

California has rolled out the red carpet for a pair of Durango filmmakers. John Sheedy and Scot Davis debuted their newest film, “The Tijuana Project,” to packed houses at San Jose’s Cinequest Film Festival last week.

The documentary follows the plight of people who pick through trash at the Tijuana, Mexico Municipal Garbage Dump for survival and spotlights the lives of six children who live next to this immense mountain of trash. The film played to sold-out houses of more than 350 people on Feb. 26 & 27. Prior to the world premiere, Sheedy and Davis were presented with the Kaiser Permanente Foundation’s Thrive Award for excellence in a humanitarian project. The honor made “The Tijuana Project” the only film at Cinequest to win an award prior to the festival’s competition.

Durangoans can take in “The Tijuana Project” this week at the Durango Independent Film Festival. The film shows at 6 p.m. March 4, and at noon March 5. Visit www.durangofilm.org for details. “The Tijuana Project” is also going on the road and will screen at the San Diego Latino Film Festival, The Byron Bay International Film Festival in Australia and the San Francisco Latino Film Festival in coming weeks.

– Will Sands




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Paper chase

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High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows