Mountain town exodus yet to begin

VAIL – When will the exodus begin? That was the question posed when the real-estate economy began its freefall two years ago in Vail and the Eagle Valley. But there’s still no clear evidence of a massive exodus.

School enrollment provides hard numbers, and there the numbers have stayed flat, reports theVail Daily, with 6,185 students enrolled in public schools this year. Private schools also report flat enrollment.

This is in contrast to the economic slowdown after 9/11. At that time, enrollment in most mountain valleys showed a decline, although it wasn’t entirely clear what caused it. One theory was that Gen X families were leaving mountain towns for cities, which they found more affordable.

For whatever reason, the two high schools between Winter Park and Steamboat Springs have reported enrollment dips this year, according toGranby’s Sky-Hi News.

In the Vail area, if school enrollment doesn’t show outward migration, anecdotal reports do. “What I’ve noticed is all of those people who were construction workers – drywallers, framers, roofers – those guys are no longer in town, and it’s notable,” said Dr. Stephen Warren, a veterinarian. “I’ve talked to a lot of those guys over the last few years who have been leaving town. There’s just not work.”

The volume of wastewater at Gypsum, the town located 37 miles west of Vail and where many in those workers lived, also suggests people leaving, as do the browned lawns of foreclosed houses. Wastewater treatment in the Vail-Beaver Creek areas, however, has not declined. Meanwhile, the Vail Valley Salvation Army reports delivering food to 200 to 300 families every month, compared to 30 or 40 in former days.

Telluride escalates its pooch penalties

TELLURIDE – Dog owners can get their snoots into plenty of trouble in Telluride for letting “Kaya” and “Denali” run free.

The new penalties for dogs off leash will be $100 and four hours of mandatory community service on first offense. Failure to remove pet poop from public places is worth a $250 ding and another four hours of community service. Repeat offenses escalate the punishment.

TheTelluride Watch says Town Council members weren’t unanimous about upping the ante. Speakers from the public were likewise divided. “I think these fines are awful, but that’s the point,” said one person in support. “You’re casting a big net out,” warned another.

Telluride’s most vocal opponent of loose dogs has gone as far as wrapping excrement found on his lawn in bacon. ButThe Watch says he had little to say at the hearing. “If there’s not an issue with dog defecation around here, then I’ll keep my mouth shut for the rest of the time I live here, which will be for the rest of my life,” said Shawn Smith.

Vail introduces social media skiing

BROOMFIELD – Vail Resorts this winter will introduce a new technology called EpicMix for use at all of the 89 chairlifts at its four resorts in Colorado and also Heavenly, at Lake Tahoe.

The technology allows skiers and riders to monitor their lift rides, vertical feet skied and number of ski days with chips embedded in their season passes and lift tickets. This information will be collected with radio-frequency scanners at each of the 89 lifts at the company’s five resorts.

The Denver Post explains that skiers, using smartphones or personal computers, can track their runs – sharing their information on Facebook and Twitter, if they want.

The technology also will alert skiers if their Facebook friends are skiing and show their location on the mountain.

“Talking about the day becomes a big part of the ski vacation and the ski experience,” Rob Katz, chief executive officer of Vail Resorts, told theVail Daily. “We’ve been trying to find ways to let people engage in that dialogue, but not interfere with the experience.”

He presents EpicMix as a way to extend the ski experience beyond the ski day, but also beyond the ski vacation. “People will be able to look at the runs they did weeks later, just like looking at photographs.

Jackson Hole exurbs see price decline

JACKSON, Wyo. – Studying statistics from the Idaho side of the Teton Range,Jackson Hole News&Guide economics columnist Jonathan Schechter finds the economy of Idaho’s Teton Valley to be a wreck. Even in the last year, while home prices have dropped 5 percent, the average price of undeveloped lot has dropped 39 percent.

The two valleys that share a common border of the Tetons are both wondrously beautiful, but Jackson Hole had the national parks and a stronger economy. In the last 60 years, that economy blossomed from an agricultural base into tourism and then second-home and other real estate development.

Until recently, Idaho’s Teton Valley remained primarily a place of farms and ranches. However, it started to become a bedroom community for workers in Jackson Hole who were willing to trade long commutes for single-family homes they could afford. In the last decade, the real-estate market began getting feverish. In response, landowners wanted to subdivide. And the conservative county commissioners liberally allowed subdivisions, the number of lots more than doubling in the last nine years. This fast outpaced population growth. As a result, real estate sales and dollar volume have both fallen about 80 percent from the 2007 peak.

“This, of course, is classic boom-bust, a cycle that would have been mitigated – not avoided, but mitigated – had the county shown some restraint in approving subdivisions during the last decade,” Schechter writes.

Whistler trends toward active tourism

WHISTLER, B.C. – Some 4,000 people in spandex and similar attire will assemble in Whistler this month for what will be the first large-scale road cycling event of its kind in British Columbia.Pique Newsmagazine notes that it’s part of a bigger trend.

The old style of tourism promotion was exemplified by the Olympics, which were held partly at Whistler in February. The municipality paid $6 million to help put that on. Most people were spectators.

But instead of paying athletes to visit, the community has begun staging events where the athletes pay their own way – and become large-scale customers. Such events include the Whistler Half Marathon, the X-Terra Triathlon and the B.C. Bicycle Race.

The bicycle race in September, called GrandFondo, is expected to grow from 4,000 to 10,000 cyclists in a few years.

“I do think there is a trend toward more participation, and it fits very well with the type of people who come to Whistler. They’re active, they want to get involved in these types of activities,” said Arlene Schieven, vice president of Tourism Whistler.

Neil McKinnon, organizer of GrandFondo, said he had been to a similar event with 123,000 other cyclists in a small village in Italy. “Everyone stood shivering in the cold morning together, and there was just this magical energy.”

Aspen real estate hits bump in July

ASPEN – Aspen, always the bellwether for high-end real estate in mountain towns, hit a bump in July. Sales volume dropped by 41 percent as compared with last year. However, dollar volume for the year remains up by 8 percent as compared to last year.

TheAspen Times reports that many real estate agents earlier this summer were cautiously optimistic that the Aspen-area market was slowly turning around. That still might be the case, as there were plenty of shoppers – just not as many sales.

Freedom Conference hosts Karl Rove

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Karl Rove, a key strategist in the Republic successes of a decade ago, was speaking in Steamboat Springs recently at what was called the Freedom Conference.

Republicans, he predicted, will do fine this November, but he warned that they have work to do. “There’s no single national (figure) No vivid personality. No dynamic personality that’s captured the imagination of the American people,” he said.

– Allen Best