Avalanches continue in the backcountry

JACKSON, Wyo. – Three skiers got headlines last week after triggering avalanches near ski towns. Two of them lived to tell about it.

The most famous was Jimmy Chin, the climber and photographer who was on the cover of the March issue ofOutsidemagazine. Chin had just purchased his first helmet the previous day, and he and his companions – a renowned bunch of skiers and riders – had done all the things you’re supposed to do.

“We didn’t think we were pushing it,” Chin told theJackson Hole News&Guide.

Still, by around 2 p.m., they were heading down a south-facing slope on Shadow Peak, in Grand Teton National Park, triggering wet-snow avalanches ahead of them, in what they believed was a successful effort to abate the threat. However, a 2-foot wet slab slid 50 feet behind Chin.

Chin managed to stay on top for about 500 feet of the 2,000-foot slide. Then he started going down and coming up. When down, he said it felt like 20 tons of wet snow was on top of him. He prayed to end up near the top.

He ended up buried to his waist as the concrete-like snow set up. And that’s when a second slide hit. “I was pretty sure I was going to get cut in half,” China, 37, told theNews&Guide. But he didn’t, although his new helmet was dented.

Chin told the newspaper he wasn’t proud of being caught in the avalanche, but he wasn’t going to hide it. “There’s always a lot to be learned from incidents like this.”

In Colorado, an equally harrowing story unfolded near Loveland Pass, adjacent to the Arapahoe Basin ski area. Again, the victim was no novice. Danny Ferrari, 42, had checked the avalanche forecasts, carried a shovel, beacon and probe, and knew the area well.

A companion was filming him snowboarding down an area called Devil’s Tool when he felt a change in the snowpack. “I pushed down and the whole slope just released,” he told theSummit Daily News.

The cement-like snow moved slowly, then picked up speed, slammed him into a tree and knocked him upside down. “Then I was in the washing machine,” he said.

When the snow stopped, his head was pointed downhill, his torso twisted, and he was completely submerged. He was, however, able to create a small air pocket by eating some of the snow near his face. And he was able to move his arm enough to see the sky. And, by removing his gloves, he was able to start clawing at the snow that had congealed around him.

Eventually, help arrived to dig him out. The companion who had been filming had suffered a broken leg, but was able to call for help on a cell phone. Ferrari was a happy statistic – only 34 percent of those buried for more than a half hour survive.

The final avalanche story comes from Aspen, and it has an unhappy ending.

Adam Brady Dennis, 38, had been skiing with four friends in an area called Desolation Row, near the Aspen Highlands ski area. A soft-slab avalanche carried him 1,400 vertical feet, leaving him buried by debris that averaged 2 feet.

But while all the companions had beacons, and they located him quickly, it was too late. A coroner’s autopsy confirmed asphyxia due to snow burial as the cause of death.

Skier conquers all of Vail in 8 days

VAIL – Rob Schilling, 49, began his quest to ski all of Vail’s named ski trails with one named “Forever.”

The trail lies in Vail’s signature Back Bowls, facing southwest, looking out toward Mount of the Holy Cross. The trail had just a few inches of powder, and Schilling, who considers himself a 9+ skier on the 10-point scale used by ski instructors, got to the bottom in five minutes.

One down, 122 runs to go. If not forever, it still took Schilling nearly all of the next eight days to ski the trails Vail Mountain, the continent’s largest ski resort, which is 7 miles wide at its broadest dimension.

Schilling started skiing at Vail in 1973, when he moved there with his family. He has left a few times, but always returned, and now sells real estate, with an office in Vail Village, the Alpine-

inspired base-area, just three minutes from the Vista Bahn lift.

Schilling had skied all of Vail’s named runs twice before, first in the mid-1990s and then in 1999. In 1999, it took him 7½ days. Of course, Vail has changed since then. In 2000, the lifts and trails spread into adjacent Battle Mountain in an expansion called Blue Sky Basin. It was the single largest ski expansion ever in North America. But new high-speed quads have also shrunk the mountain, allowing faster laps.

During his most recent effort, Schilling blogged on the website of Vail Resorts. As you might expect, there were no real complaints. Oh, the snow got like mashed potatoes in the afternoon. “I would have liked a little more butter with those taters,” he said after his first day.

More common were exultations. Pausing to take in the grand landscape one afternoon, he reported seeing “Mount of the Holy Cross floating in the sky, reminding us that we had been blessed.”

His last run was fittingly enough a trail called “Adios.”

Aspen home sells for $12.3 million

ASPEN – Evidence that the wealthy remain among us continues to mount. Not surprisingly, the most recent testament comes from Aspen, where a 6,641-square-foot home sold $12.3 million, or $1,852 per square foot.

While that’s by no means a record for Aspen, it is believed to be the highest price in the city’s stylish West End neighborhood, reportsThe Aspen Times. However, a house that sold in December came close, $1,816 per square foot.

Scott Condon ofThe Times reports a flurry of sales above $12 million this year but also quotes Carrie Wells, a listing broker for one of these houses, who warns against sellers being too aggressive in their prices.

“Some sellers say, ‘Hmmm, the market’s back to where it was in 2006, 2007,’” Wells said. That’s not the case, she insists.

Bed bugs find their way to Sun Valley

HAILEY, Idaho – Bed bugs have arrived in the Wood River Valley, home to Sun Valley and other towns.

Joe Pearson, owner of Wood River Pest Management, said he used to get a couple of cases per year. Now, it’s two a month – and he has competition. One new company in the area, Bedbug Thermal Solutions, reports getting a couple of calls per day.

That puts the Sun Valley area into good company, as Google’s New York City office has had them. So has a Victoria’s Secret store. But bed bugs remain stigmatized, much like lice.

While some exterminators use chemicals, the bugs have built up resistance. One method now preferred is heating a home to a near broil of 130 degrees.

Towns look for new tourism options

WHISTLER, B.C. – What must a mountain town do to attract visitors?

In Whistler, plans are unfolding to host a multicultural festival. The 25 people who attended a recent planning meeting included those originally from China, Portugal, the Philippines, Quebec, Italy, the Dominican Republic and the Czech Republic.

Unlike other festivals held in Whistler, this one has no big-name sponsors or endowments. Instead, it will be a grassroots initiative “on a shoestring and a prayer,” said William Roberts of the Whistler Forum.

In Banff, the hotel associaton is calling for a new winter carnival to help draw visitors during the dead weeks of February.

“The regional traveler at that time of year is coming to ski for the day and leaves in the evening, and we’re trying to create new and compelling reasons to make them stay the night,” said Darren Reeder, executive director of the Banff Lake Louise Hotel Motel Association.

Reeder tells theRocky Mountain Outlook that destination visitors, who commonly stayed four or five days and spent three or four times as much money, have been coming less often. But the more regional visitors – such as from Calgary and Edmonton – are still coming, but tarrying more briefly, too.

– Allen Best