Thin air a boon for life expectancy

TELLURIDE – Is living at higher elevations actually healthier? A new study suggests that’s the case.

The study found that 16 of the 20 counties with the highest life expectancy were in Colorado and Utah, at a mean elevation of just under 6,000 feet. Compared with those living near sea level, men lived 1.2 to 3.6 years longer. Women lived 0.5 to 2.5 more years than their sea-level counterparts.

The study was conducted by the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Harvard School of Global Health. Researchers analyzed death certificates from every county in the United States over the course of four years.

Taken alone, said Dr. Peter Hackett, executive director of the Institute for Altitude Medicine, living at higher elevations is no panacea. “You can’t smoke and not exercise and come here to live longer,” he toldThe Telluride Watch.

A study of this sort needs to account for variables among those living at altitude. For example, do they smoke less than their counterparts at sea level? Are they less obese? For the most part, the researchers were able to deliver apples-to-apples comparisons.

“It’s not a perfect study, but they collected as much data as they could,” said Hackett, who has climbed Mt. Everest twice and spent many seasons ministering to climbers on Denali, North America’s highest peak. “As it turns out, there is something about the lack of oxygen at high altitude that is actually good for the heart.”

What’s going on? “Lower oxygen levels turn on certain genes, and we think those genes may change the way heart muscles function,” said Benjamin Honigman, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado. “They may also produce new blood vessels that create new highways for blood flow into the heart.”

Hackett said that studies show that South Americans living at 14,000 feet have more blood vessels in their hearts than those living at low elevations. When the heart has more blood vessels, he said, blood is able to flow into the heart more effectively, especially if there is a clot.

“This wasn’t done at 8,000 feet. It was done at 14,000 feet, but there is no reason to think that people living at 8,000 feet wouldn’t have some of that,” Hackett toldThe Watch.

One thing the study did not sort out is how long someone must live in thinner-aired elevations for the benefits to the heart to accrue. Hackett said he believes somebody born and reared at high altitude has an advantage over someone who moved to a place like Telluride, which is just below 9,000 feet in elevation, at the age of 60.

The study also found that living at elevations of more than 4,900 feet has adverse effects on those with compromised lungs, including those with emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Crested Butte drama enters new season

CRESTED BUTTE – While American television has soap operas, Crested Butte has the potential ski expansion called Snodgrass Mountain.

The Snodgrass expansion has been talked about since the early 1980s, and in the latest installment the Forest Service refused to accept the proposal from Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

But “no,” it turns out, doesn’t mean “absolutely no.” It just means “no” to that current iteration of three lifts. TheCrested Butte News reports that resort and government officials are now talking about what might be acceptable.

The most likely acceptable proposal would involve a cat skiing operation on the slope of mostly moderate terrain. But other ideas include a backcountry-type of expansion, or even a configuration of two lifts.

Crested Butte is currently the smallest destination ski resort in Colorado, with just 1,100 acres. Ski area officials have long said that Crested Butte needs to get just a little bit bigger, to offer more terrain for intermediate-level skiers similar to Vail, Snowmass and Park City.

But if not skiing, how about culture? Planning and fund-raising are now under way for a new venue at the base of the ski slopes to be called the Mt. Crested Butte Performing Arts Center.

William Buck, mayor of Mt. Crested Butte, explains that the amenity would help anchor the community, the way that performance centers provide Beaver Creek, Jackson Hole and Aspen high-quality venues for plays and other shows.

“From the town’s perspective, we’re looking to broaden the attraction base,” he said.

Vail delivers 124-bed employee housing

VAIL – A major employee housing project has been completed in Vail. Called First Chair, the 124-bed development is located in Lionshead, between Interstate 70 and the ski lifts. That makes it unique, as all other employee housing units are across the highway.

The employee housing was required by town officials as mitigation for Arrabelle, a major high-end, slope-side complex built by Vail Resorts, the ski area operator and developer.

Company representative Kristen Kenney Williams tells theVail Daily that with completion of the employee housing project, Vail Resorts has no outstanding obligations to the town.

That will change. The company now has a $1 billion project before town authorities called Ever Vail, which proposes a new gondola link to the ski slopes plus all manner of housing and shopping. This is in an area that used to have a gas station and still has professional offices and the headquarters for snow groomers and other vehicles.

Mammoth Lakes and airport at odds

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. –For years, Mammoth Lakes has tried to improve its air service to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Along the way, the town stumbled in its dealings with a private business at the airport – and has now lost court cases through the California Supreme Court. The court in March affirmed that the municipality must pay $30 million in damages.

Make no mistake howThe Sheet, one of Mammoth’s newspapers, sees the story. “This marks the culmination of three years of self-delusion on the part of Town officials, who, even in this week’s press release announcing the Supreme Court’s decisions, expressed disappointment that the Court ‘did not fully understand the Town’s position and interpretation of the underlying legal principles.’”

The Sheet says that the Supreme Court did understand well enough that the town had attempted to “screw over a private business entity.”

Jacksonites swill with best of them

JACKSON, Wyo. – Few people in Jackson and Teton County smoke. Most get their exercise. But when it comes to drinking – well, there’s plenty of tipping.

According to a study from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, roughly 23 percent of Teton County residents reported drinking excessively within a month of being surveyed.

Those statistics land Teton County in the bottom tier of the counties across the country for excessive drinking, notes theJackson Hole News&Guide.

“It’s part of the culture here,” said Terri Gregory, public health manager in Teton County, “It’s a party town.”

She said that trying to curb binge drinking and its associated risks is a goal that for years has eluded public health officials.

Winter park bids soul skier adieu

WINTER PARK – He was nicknamed Little Pierre, a name that lingers on a ski trail at Winter Park, as he wore wool knickers, a beret and stood 5-foot-2. But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Jack van Horn was in Winter Park, people skied on long boards, 210s in his case.

So reports theSky-Hi News in its eulogy to van Horn, who died recently, recalling a happy era when the recreational skiing was blossoming and the ski industry was booming. Stretch ski pants were introduced during that time, and skier numbers at Winter Park quadrupled during the ‘60s.

– 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