Telluride gets big bucks for airport

TELLURIDE – The Federal Aviation Administration has dislodged another $3 million, giving boosters of the Telluride Regional Airport the $20.4 million they need to complete improvements to the facility.

The airport, although not the highest, may well be the most picturesque airport in the United States. It sits on a mesa just outside of Telluride with drop-offs at either end of the runway and sharp mountains in the distance. The runway used to have a butterflies-inducing drop in the middle that last year was corrected with $23 million of heavy dirt lifting.

With these additional improvements to the aprons and taxiway, plus other work to the terminal, Telluride supporters believe the airport can become an important link to the outside world – and a vital conduit to money-laden tourists.

Most Telluride visitors still arrive at an airport in Montrose about 90 minutes away. Because of these improvements, the closer-in airport will be able to accommodate larger planes, and 76 passengers vs. 32.

This news incited renewed debate on the website of theTelluride Watch. One blogger concluded that the airport improvements will make Telluride more competitive with Aspen and Jackson Hole. Another called it an enormous public-works fiasco. “This is not ‘welfare for the rich?’”

Others dwelled on its importance in boosting tourism. “The sarcasm of the ‘no growth, never’ crowd is tiresome and only reveals their inability to think complicated thoughts,” said a blogger. “They are as fundamentalist in their thinking as no-debt tea baggers. The discussion should not be rampant growth versus no growth. It should be planted, intelligent, sustainable growth … In the case of Telluride, that can only mean tourism. What else is there that can support a community?

Northern ski resorts defy the odds

KETCHUM, Idaho – Go figure. The economy still struggles, snowfall was lousy for much of the season, but Sun Valley did extraordinarily well during ski season. The resort hosted the second largest number of skiers ever in a history that extends to 1936.

Elsewhere in Idaho, the story was similar: Brundage, a small ski area near McCall, had its best financial season ever, despite snowfall that was 33 percent below normal. And at Schweitzer, in the Idaho Panhandle, the snowfall was down by nearly half – but skier visits were up 7.5 percent.

The National Ski Areas Association reports nearly 60 million skiers, close to the record of two years ago. More than two-thirds of ski areas reported increased business this season, despite the fact that most parts of the country received 20 to 32 percent less snow. Of course, Houston and Dallas, two areas that are home to lots of skiers, got unusual amounts of snow this winter.

In Wyoming, Jackson Hole told the same story. “During the first 55 days of the 128-day season, we had arguably the lowest recorded snowfall of the past 30 years,” said Jerry Blann, president of the resort. Yet skier days were fourth highest since the resort opened in 1965.

Club 420 opens doors in Breckenridge

BRECKENRIDGE – In Utah, until recently, if you wanted to drink in public, you had to join a club. Now, a business in Breckenridge aims for the same concept with smoking marijuana.

The business is called Club 420, using the numerical moniker for the drug.The Summit Daily News reports that the club opened April 20 and is operated by Collette Wilson, a former math teacher. No cannabis is sold at the club, but club members have the opportunity to use its vaporizers, which she said are a significantly healthier alternative to direct smoking

Breckenridge took the unusual step last year of decriminalizing the drug without allowing public consumption.The Daily News says the club appears to operate within the law, as consumption is not allowed in a “place of business generally open to the general public.” Rick Holman, the police chief, said town officials hope to get a proposed law before the Town Council this week that would expressly prohibit consumption of cannabis within a business.

Olympic post-party causes heartburn

WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler’s community leaders continue their efforts to leverage the Olympics into more people staying in hotels. As was long planned, the community now plans an early July celebration that is described as a post-Olympic party. There will be parading in the streets, music and more, all at a cost of $96,000.

The point is to drum up business, explained Tom Thomson, the acting mayor. “It is a business opportunity, and building our tourism economy is one of the main reasons we chose to host the Games,” he said.

More broadly, Whistler and other resort operators in Canada have been hoping the Olympics will reinvigorate the tourism industry. The number of overnight visitors from the United States to British Columbia recently dropped by about 18 percent. Asians and Europeans also cut back their travel to British Columbia.

But in Whistler, none of these broad background issues has undercut a smoldering resentment of the powers-that-be. Many people in Whistler opposed hosting the Olympics in the first place, and now that same sentiment is evident in letters opposing this staged “We Did It” party. One reader described it as frivolous. Said another: “We don’t need the muni to tell us when, where and how to party and then send us a bill.”

Alpine Bank gets a $70 million bailout

ASPEN – Alpine Bank, a major lender in the resort towns of Colorado’s Western Slope, including Durango, has reported a first-quarter loss of $23 million. Glen Jammaron, the president and vice chairman, said that it looks worse than it really is, though he admits the red ink is significant.

“This is deeper than we thought it would be,” he said of the recession’s effect on resort towns. “I don’t think anyone thought it would be as bad as it was – and is.”

The bank had $60 million in troubled commercial-mortgage assets that it sold at a discount, incurring a loss of $20 million.

Jammaron told theGlenwood Springs Post Independent that to secure its position, Alpine Bank received $70 million from the federal government, which it intends to repay within the next three to four years.

Plug pulled on underused golf course

SQUAMISH, B.C. – In the 1990s, golfing was on the rise. New courses, most lined with expensive homes, were being laid out everywhere.

That was then. Now, golf seems like tennis, a fad from yesteryear. Oh, people are still golfing. But supply exceeds demand – as has become evident at the Garibaldi Springs Golf Resort, located at Squamish, about a half-hour drive from Whistler.Pique Newsmagazine reports that investors have pulled the plug on continued subsidies. The course needs 20,000 rounds annually for solvency, but has been getting 7,000 - 12,000 rounds.

Development of new course has stalled across North America because of the collapse of the housing market, which in the past has subsidized construction of new courses, explainsPique. And those self-centered baby boomers, so svelte and flush just a few years ago, have been quitting the sport because of cost and various health reasons.

Aspen sterilizing its crabapple trees

ASPEN – If all goes as hoped, the 40-odd crabapple trees lining several of Aspens’ downtown streets will flower but bear little to no fruit. Bears have been drawn to the tiny apples in past years, and the trees are, in a sense, low-hanging fruit.

Chris Forman, the city forester, said a chemical that is not an insecticide will be sprayed on the trees, triggering them to abort production of one of bears’ favorite foods. At the same time, the process should not affect the honey bees that collect pollen from the blossoms.

Just the same, the city will not spray other crabapple trees in parks until finding out first just how well this experiment goes.

 – 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