Telluride debates ‘perfect ski town’

TELLURIDE  – When the ski lifts in Telluride closed, Seth Cagin, ofThe Watch newspaper, and his family traveled to the Alps to ski and compare notes He toured the high-end resorts of Zermatt, Verbier and Chamonix – and found much to like with each. And, as he has in the past, he returned with the belief that Telluride needs to bolster its draw as a destination for tourists, similar to those alpine resorts, to become what he calls a “more perfect ski town.”

“In the harsh aftermath of our great real estate bubble, there seems no doubt that Telluride has lost its innocence,” he writes. “And yet the die is not entirely cast, either. Though we have squandered far too many opportunities, there are great possibilities ahead. Unlike Chamonix, or Verbier or Zermatt, we have not yet entirely fulfilled our destiny.

“We might still realize our potential to be something more, that rare place where the lift-served skiing is indeed great (like Verbier), the mountaineering is unfettered (like Chamonix) and, hardest of all ... our community is intact (like Zermatt).”

Cagin believes that the community needs to get behind the operator of the ski area, currently led by Dave Riley. A crucial part of the company’s vision is expansion into a backcountry valley called Bear Creek.

Significant dissent exists within the Telluride community. Responding to Cagin’s comments, one blogger said: “Some of us think that monolithic development around a single entity’s business model is one that will not serve the best interests of the many. … Some of us think that saving Bear Creek for posterity and not putting it under central control is a great idea.”

Police officer nearly deported

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Edgar Niebla’s story illustrates the profound difficulties of the U.S. debate about immigration. Niebla, who is 27, arrived in the United States illegally when he was 7.

After graduating from a high school in the Aspen area, he recently completed his law-enforcement training at the Colorado Mountain College police academy. Ironically, he was arrested last week and taken to metropolitan Denver. Just as surprising, he was then released instead of being put on a bus to return him to Mexico.

“Edgar is the poster child for national immigration reform,” said Brendan Greene, a regional organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. “He’s well-known and respected throughout the (Roaring Fork) Valley, and even the whole state. He’s a church youth group leader and has been working to become a police officer.”

At a rally held in his support, a police academy instructor named John Goodwin spoke. “Edgar is a good student who became a good friend. To send him to Mexico would be like sending him to the moon. He’s not from Mexico; he’s an American.”

Intrawest settles debt, stays afloat

WHISTLER, B.C. – Intrawest now has some breathing room. The Vancouver-based owner of Colorado’s Steamboat ski area and majority owner of Whistler-Blackcomb announced last week that it has paid off creditors and now has a new loan that won’t be due until 2014.

ButPique Newsmagazine reports that a well-placed source tells it that the company may continue to jettison some of its properties, which also include Stratton Mountain in Vermont and Mont Tremblant in Quebec. As well, Intrawest may be interested in selling a greater portion of its share in Whistler to Nippon Cable, a Japanese company that owns 23 percent of the resort.

Fortress Investment Group bought Intrawest in 2006 in a highly leveraged deal. Fortress, a hedge fund, put up $1.375 billion of its own money but took on $1.5 billion of debt. When the recession struck, killing real estate sales and slowing resort operations, Intrawest struggled to produce revenues sufficient to pay creditors.

Intrawest sold several ski areas, and reports surfaced in January of a potential auction of debt in conjunction with the Olympics. But that auction, which appeared to be aimed mostly at generating publicity, never occurred. Even at the time, well-placed officials said that creditors almost certainly would agree to a restructured loan.

Canadian towns ban bottled water

BANFF, Alberta – Two resort towns in Canada – Whistler, B.C., and Banff, Alberta – have taken steps to ban the sale of bottled water in municipally operated facilities. The argument is that bottled water really offers no improvement over ordinary tap water and, since it is put into plastic bottles made from petroleum and typically hauled long distances, creates a large carbon footprint.

Whistler seems not to have agonized over the decision, but a representative of Nestlé, one of the major bottling companies, took issue with the town’s action. “Bottled water has the smallest carbon footprint of any bottled beverage,” declared John B. Challinor II, director of corporate affairs, in a letter published inPique.

He said his company was willing to explore options that might allow Whistler to meet its environmental sustainability requirements yet give consumers unfettered access to what he claimed was the “healthiest bottled beverage available to them.”

In Banff, councilors debated unintended consequences of not having bottled water at the community recreation center. John Gibson, a dentist in Banff, said sports drinks are a poor alternative to water, as studies have shown sports drinks corrode children’s teeth.

Councilors also believe they need to do marketing. Leslie Taylor, a councilor, said users should be informed of the high quality of Banff’s drinking water. “A lot of people truly believe what is in the bottle is healthier than what comes out of the tap. That’s a triumph of marketing.”

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reported that Banff councilors hoped a dispensary of chilled water for bottles would meet consumers halfway.

Twain campsite sparks dispute

LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev. – When still a young man, Mark Twain traveled to the Sierra Nevada and briefly had ambitions of becoming a logger. InRoughing It, his masterful travelogue of his journeys, Twain wrote about traveling to Lake Tahoe and camping out on a giant granite boulder.

But where exactly was that boulder?The Sierra Sun reports that history buffs continue to argue about the precise site. Some say it was in Nevada, while others insist it was in California.

A proposal has been made to name a site near Incline Village, on the lake’s northeast shore, the Sam Clements Cove, using the author’s given name. This is in Nevada. Supporters point out that Twain wrote about a “huge flat granite dining table,” and they can point to just such a granite boulder – even if it is now 6 feet underwater much of the year, due to a more recent dam erected on the lake that has raised the water level.

But historical researcher David Antonucci tells the newspaper that this claim is balderdash. “It’s a situation where Nevada wants to claim that Mark Twain was there, which would make them like any chamber of commerce,” he said. “I guess they would have a hard time accepting that he camped in California.”

Towns optimistic about tourism

PARK CITY, Utah – Optimism about increased tourism this summer prevails in Park City. Hoteliers tell thePark Recordthat they expect 20 to 25 percent gains this summer in occupancy compared to last summer. But as has been the case during ski season, flat or lower rates will be necessary to achieve this.

Ralf Garrison, of the Mountain Travel Research Program, predicts an even more robust summer, with gains of 40 percent in July and August as compared to 2009. Increased occupancy, he says, may also allow rates to rise again.

Garrison reported that occupancy in March this year at the ski resorts he monitors in the West was up 9.6 percent. But, of course, room rates had dropped.

 – Allen Best