High-marking fatalities spur debate

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – The snowmobiling pursuit of high-marking has left some people feeling very low after another fatality just west of Revelstoke.

TheRevelstoke Times Review reports that the latest death occurred last Saturday when a group of 10 watched from the base of Eagle Mountain as two snowmobilers motored up a steep slope to see how high they could get before gravity forced them back down. The two triggered a massive avalanche, and snow covered one of the onlookers: Kelly Reitenbach, 30, of Calgary, Alberta.

This was the third fatality in just as many weeks near Revelstoke. The previous weekend two men died when another avalanche was caused by high-marking. In that case, several hundred people had been in the area for an event called the Big Iron Shootout.

“Early reports from the slide site were grim,” said Aaron Orlando, of theRevelstoke Times Review. “Hundreds were buried in a monster slide, many of them still under the snow. It was a ball of confusion ... People feared the worst.”

In the days after that avalanche, Orlando said the most frequent question was what can be done to prevent these tragedies. It was, he noted, not a new question. In fact, that very same question was asked a year ago by Canadian avalanche forecasters after a season in which 19 snowmobilers died in avalanches in Canada.

In an essay originally published in summer 2009 titled “The Year of Sledding Dangerously,” John Kelly pointed out that all the snowmobilers were caught in essentially the same avalanche. “It’s hard not to take every accident as a sign of failure, and it’s hard to watch as the same avalanche accident scenario unfolds again and again,” he wrote.

Virtually all the victims are men, and so his agency targeted women: wives, partners and mothers. “So how do you know if you man is playing safe out there? Sure, experience is important. But one thing we have come to know over the years – the avalanche doesn’t know you are experienced.”

One of the injured sledders at the Big Iron Shootout on March 13 was Mike “Dupe” Duplisse, who was buried by snow but managed to dig himself out – a rare feat. But amid all the machines, gear and everything else flung down the slope with him, he suffered a nasty gash on his scalp that required 20 staples.

Even so, in an interview with British Columbia’sSalmon Arm Observer, Duplisse admitted he was lucky and would change his behavior. He would still go sledding, he said, even if conditions were deemed dangerous. “But, he said, “I may not do some of the same things. I might put more care and thought into things.”


Aspen raises the bar on bears

ASPEN – Aspen has raised the bar on trash can requirements this summer. The new rule comes after another summer of bears grazing their way through Aspen, several of them invading homes.

The new law adopted by the City Council requires wildlife-resistant garbage cans. In another change, the containers can be placed outside only between the hours of 6 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Aspen residents complained about the cost of the wildlife-resistant cans, which run $100 to $300 each, reported theAspen Times. City officials hope to get the cans in bulk, to bring down costs.

Vail, Snowmass Village and several other towns have taken similar steps during the last several years. Vail took the additional step of requiring wildlife-proof metal containers or enclosures for households that do not otherwise have access to a secured storage area.

Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said Aspens’ requirement is a step in the right direction – but not the total answer.

“Aspen, regardless of what they do, will have bears on the ground in town, because the bear habitat there is just prime,” he said. The many berry bushes that are part of the native ecosystem provide the best habitat in Colorado.

But Hampton added that other things must also be done. The agency’s wildlife biologists are attempting to better understand how bears use the area, and also whether more hunting needs to be allowed to reduce the population. He also said the state agency is working to better communicate with specific groups, including second-home owners and those who do not read English.


Idling cars targeted in Jackson

JACKSON, Wyo. – You think one person can’t change things? The Jackson Town Council appears ready to adopt a ban on truck and car idling. The ban would prohibit any idling over three minutes and is similar to a law adopted a few months before in Ketchum, Idaho. Most of the dots seem to extend to Willie Neal, a popular boy who died shortly after graduating from the local high school last year.

Neal, who won eight all-state trophies for Nordic skiing, championed the need to rid the town of unnecessary idling. Organizing a bake sale, he took the proceeds to distribute more than 1,000 bumper stickers and “No Idling” signs that a dozen businesses have installed. He later was killed while rollerskiing in Maine.

But the cause was taken up by several organizations, including the Yellowstone-Teton Clear Air Coalition, and at least two local doctors and students.

“I think idling is gross,” wrote fourth-grader Marrakech Maxwell, in a letter published in theJackson Hole News&Guide. “It is scientifically proven that idling is bad for breathing in and out.”

Town councilors, as well as the police chief, said the ordinance should be a soft stick. In other words, they hope for education rather than aggressive enforcement. The ordinance being reviewed would allow drivers to idle if stuck, when defrosting windows or performing “work for which the vehicle was designed.”


Hotel puts kibosh on plastic bottles

AVON – Just a year ago, the Pines Lodge, a hotel in Beaver Creek, gave 16,000 plastic water bottles to customers. The bottles contained water imported from Norway.

But that program has been scrapped. Instead, those staying at the hotel get local water run through a purifier and delivered in glass bottles, reports theVail Daily.

The hotel is owned and operated by Vail Resorts, which intends to curb the distribution of plastic bottles at its 20 hotels in Colorado, California and Wyoming. Through a program called the Vail Valley Partnership, the company hopes other hotels run with the same idea. “We hope people copy us,” said Julie Klein, director of environmental affairs for Vail Resorts Hospitality.


Park City cozies up to Google

PARK CITY, Utah – Add Park City to the list of communities putting in an application to be a model in Google’s roll-out Fiber for Communities program. Park City, in its bid, asserts that it is “capable of providing unprecedented exposure to this new technology from across the country, and the world.”

Among ski towns, Aspen is also angling for a shot to get Google’s gift of a fiber optic network with speeds 100 times faster than what is now commonly available.

Neither ski town, however, seems to have plans for self-promotion like what was reported by theNew York Times on Monday. The newspaper reported that the mayor of Duluth, Minn., had flung himself into the ice-ringed waters of Lake Superior, while the mayor of Sarasota, Fla., immersed himself in a tank filled with sharks, both feats intended to draw the attention to their Google bids.


Hikers, groomers at odds in Whitefish

WHITEFISH, Mont. – The conversation continues in Whitefish, where operators of the Big Mountain ski area have issued new regulations restricting uphillers to one designated corridor that can only be used during the daytime.

They said increasing numbers of uphillers are in danger of being hurt as groomers work on steep slopes. But they also said that uphillers, when skiing back down the slopes, created deep ruts in the fresh corduroy, because the snow had not yet had time to set up.

Writing in theWhitefish Pilot, groomer Mike Paulson says it’s partly a matter of aesthetics. What if you were a concrete worker, and “had spent hours finishing your sidewalk or pad and I came through with my dog and tracked it all up and let my dog crap all over your work. Would you be pleased?” he asks.

– 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