Mountain towns debate fossil fuels

So far, most towns and cities that have vowed to substantially shrink their carbon footprints have had no remarkable success. The gains have been small, the gap between aspiration and attainment still enormous.

The most discernible successes have been within governmental operations. In Wyoming, stimulus money from the U.S. government, strong consensus among local officials, and no small amount of luck has allowed the Jackson City and Teton County governments to meet their goal of reducing energy use 10 percent by the year 2010.

There was some muted grumbling in early 2007 when elected officials and administrators told the assembled employees of the goal. Some thought it Al Gore quackery, but they were reminded that saving taxpayer money was never a bad thing to do. And saving energy was saving money.

Energy audits of buildings, improved insulation and installation of solar panels at the wastewater treatment plant – the single biggest user of energy – have followed. And cops stopped idling their cars as if they owned half of Saudi Arabia. That success was achieved after town mechanics figured out a way to connect lap-top computers, which police now consider as essential as guns, to auxiliary batteries.

Still, success resulted in no small part because last winter was crummy. There was the Great Recession, of course, but plowing crews had little snow to move, so used much less fuel than normal.What’s realistic? In British Columbia, 8 percent less energy use by 2020 is the goal posed in the Revelstoke Community Energy and Emissions Plan. Consultant Megan Lohmann told theRevelstoke Times-Review that the goal is realistic because of increased energy costs and improved technology, both of which will encourage efficiency and conservation. Legislation from other levels of government, presumably both the provincial and federal governments, will also yield downward pressure.

“Energy costs will continue to increase,” she said. “Opportunities to become more efficient will increase.”

Revelstoke’s plan has no silver bullet, as the saying goes, but much silver buckshot. For example, bike paths would be cleared year round to allow year-round cycling. A gas collection system could be installed at the community landfill, to collect methane and perhaps convert it to useful energy. And the city could expand its central heating system, putting new high-density dwellings onto the loop, increasing efficiency.

Pushback may come. It certainly has in Idaho, where builders, real estate agents and architects turned out to a hearing about a proposed new building code for Blaine County, which includes Sun Valley and Ketchum.

Because about half of greenhouse gases are produced in conjunction with buildings, most strategists say we must dramatically upgrade our building codes to yield less energy use.

“The road to perdition is paved with good intentions,” said Dennis Kavanagh, a Ketchum-based general contractor, who spoke at the hearing.

The proposed building code would mimic those adopted in the Aspen, Vail and Telluride areas by requiring homes larger than 11,000 square feet to have all energy use offset or delivered by renewable energy systems.

“Perhaps large homes are obscene but we have to remember our clientele,” said Kavanagh. “We might create a consumer-unfriendly environment where people will say, ‘I can’t get the house I want in Blaine County, so I’m going to Park City.’”

X Games become highpoint for Aspen

ASPEN – By various metrics – butts in bed, eyeballs on ESPN – the Winter X Games are huge for Aspen.

Bill Tomcich, president of the local reservations agency, reports that occupancy at Aspen and Snowmass Village was expected to run “north of 95 percent.” That, he toldThe Aspen Times, is a higher occupancy rate than at Christmas, Presidents’ Day weekend or the Fourth of July. Before Aspen began hosting the X Games a decade ago, occupancy was lucky to hit 70 percent for the final weekend in January.

As for eyeballs, the Aspen Skiing Co. believes it gets huge exposure. In addition to the 84,000 people who show up in Aspen, roughly one out of every four teen-agers in the United States watches the aerials on television live, said John Rigney, the vice president of sales and events at the ski company.

“It reinforces Aspen’s reputation for hosting world-class events on a global scale to millions of youngsters, athletes, families and influencers,” Rigney toldThe Times.

Eagle County is trying to mimic this success. Vail hosts an event called the Teva Mountain Games in June, which can be seen as a warm-weather answer to Aspen’s X Games. There is kayaking, rock climbing and all the other warm-weather sports.

Next year, there will also be Winter Teva Mountain Games, following the X Games by about a week. Running four days, it will include ice climbing, on-snow biking, telemark skiing, dog events and other types of competition.

The Teva Mountain Games don’t garner the same buzz as the X Games. Compared to the 85,000 in Aspen, the games drew 40,000 spectators to Vail.

Like the spring counterpart, reports theVail Daily, the Winter Teva Mountain Games will allow amateur athletes to compete against some of the world’s best professional winter competitors. These professionals will be competing for a $60,000 purse in next winter’s event.

The competition will be sponsored by Eddie Bauer, which reports that it has had “great returns” from sponsorship of the summer games. “The winter event will allow us to reach a passionate outdoors audience that not only enjoys seeing the pros compete year-round, but enjoys the challenge and excitement of participating themselves.”

Crested Butte debating dispensaries

CRESTED BUTTE – Like many other Colorado ski towns, Crested Butte grapples toward consensus about how many dispensaries of medical marijuana to allow. For some, reports theCrested Butte News, the door should be wide open.

“Give us a chance to live the American dream,” said Richard Haley, of Western Holistics, in lobbying for an unlimited number of permits. “We are offering high quality medicine at low prices. Let the free market work.”

But will the unfettered free-market dampen tourism? Steve Ryan, of Iron Horse Property Management, reported a call from a family in Dallas that had cancelled the reservation of a house during spring break after learning of a dispensary near the town’s sledding hill. “I can only imagine the women who started the story spreading the word in Dallas,” he said.

Peter Maxwell, a restaurant owner, has also been uncomfortable with the broad use of marijuana. “Here it’s being glamorized with advertising on the bus talking about candy. The fact is, we get a lot of Bible Belt clients, and marijuana is taboo in that culture,” he said.

So, is medical marijuana just a guise for legalization of a narcotic for nonmedical uses? A new magazine published in Colorado suggests as much. EntitledKush, it calls itself “Colorado’s premier cannabis lifestyle magazine.” It’s as lush as any ski town magazine designed to sell advertisements for granite countertops.

But in Crested Butte, two people at the town hearing disputed insinuations that there’s no medical justification for all these marijuana shops. “I’m a cancer patient,” said one of them.” I want to make my own choice of where I go to get my medicine. Let us as patients make that choice and let the free market work.”

Crested Butte town officials are hewing to something of a middle ground, allowing five dispensaries but within a confined zone – including one near the sledding hill. It is, after all, a small town.

Edwards residents object to new roof

EDWARDS – Again comes a story about aesthetics vs. environment. It seems that an angry crowd of 40 people from the Singletree area, located about 10 miles west of Vail, gathered recently to vent their displeasure about the reflections from the roof of a 66,000-square-foot recreational building.

“We are here for you to understand the gravity of the situation. We are not two or three dilettantes upset about the roof,” said their spokesman.

Bonfire pits dividing ski towns

WINTER PARK — Outdoor pits resembling campfires have become quite the amenity during the last 20 years at the bottom of the ski hills. No resort of Old World architecture is respectably modern without having a place where people can draw together around open flames, as if at a bonfire.

 The pits, however, burn natural gas. And in Aspen, which has one on a downtown mall that touched off discussions about whether the community, if it really was serious about shrinking its carbon footprint, should be spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in such a manner. Town officials shrugged off the emissions as inconsequential in the big scheme of things.

At Winter Park, two fire pits have been put in, but they haven’t worked quite as was hoped, reports theSky Hi News. There’s nothing to hold the heat, so a new one will have custom-made steel-logs. Also, the new system will have a timer, so that the logs won’t be burning when nobody’s around to appreciate them. The retrofit costs $5,000 per pit.

But the Vail Daily says that the aesthetics don’t seem easily solved. The bright coloring on the roof was selected to reflect sunlight and lower energy costs. The roofing component helped the building get certified as a green building.

Plant trees? How about installing solar panels on top of the roof? There seems to be no easy answers, although the search will continue.

Vail loses races to Beaver Creek

VAIL – While the X Games surely are the biggest event involving snow sports in the United States, on the world-wide stage the World Alpine Ski Championships are a much bigger deal. Aspen hosted them in the 1940s, and then Vail did in 1989 and 1999. Now, it’s scheduled to do so again.

Sort of. The name Vail will go on the event, but all the racing events will be held at Beaver Creek, a few miles away. So will the awards and other celebrations.

This hasn’t’ been going over well in Vail, where the town government has been asked to contribute $1.25 million to the event, compared to $2.5 million for Beaver Creek. One town official, Andy Daly, a former ski industry executive, called it a “slap in the face” to the town’s kissing heritage.

It sounds like this heartburn will continue for a good long while. Vail, although rearmed with $2.5 billion in redevelopment money during the last decade, remains ever vigilant about losing its standing – whether to a more distant competitor or its own offspring.

Lake Tahoe bids for 2022 Olympics

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – The buzz is starting to build about a potential bid from the Lake Tahoe Basin for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. A meeting was scheduled, and organizers are soliciting donations of $1,000 a year for the next three years from businesses.

While the U.S. Olympic Committee remains mum about intents of bidding for the 2022 or any other Olympics, the Nevada-California effort is being led by Brian Krolicki, the lieutenant governor of Nevada. “While 2022 seems a long way away, this area needs to be prepared should the United States Olympic Committee call for a bid city,” he said.

In Colorado, a Denver group has been loosely assembling plans for a bid, should the politics look favorable.

Whistler part-timers reach for ballot

WHISTLER, B.C. – A group of people who own homes in Whistler and cash most of their fun coupons there, but work and otherwise live in the Vancouver area, wonder why they can’t vote in municipal elections.

British Columbia began allowing vote-by-mail in 2008, and some 32 municipalities have implemented it. Whistler is not among them.

Jim Scabo is among those protesting the lack of a vote, “My address is down here,” he toldPique Newsmagazine, referring to the Vancouver area. “But if I’m not working, I’m at Whistler,” he explained. “I spend quite a bit of money in Whistler. I have a home there, I pay taxes. I should have a say in who’s sitting in the mayor’s seat.”

– Allen Best


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