Presidential hopefuls eyeing ski towns

PARK CITY, Utah – Ski towns, the more flush ones, are hotbeds of political comings and goings, particularly during summers leading up to presidential elections. These are places where billionaires and mere millionaires hang out, sometimes meeting to conspire, such as one meeting called by financier George Soros in 2004 to hatch a campaign to unseat President George W. Bush.

More often, it’s a matter of the hopefuls stopping by to shake the local pockets for loose change. Again, Aspen comes to mind, as does Jackson Hole. But Park City saw a lot of presidential hopefuls in 2008. Rudy Giuliani visited, as did President George W. Bush on behalf of John McCain. Also making appearances was Mitt Romney, a part-time resident then who had been leader of the 2002 Winter Olympic organizing effort. Barack Obama, as a candidate, also blew through town.

This year, say Republican leaders in Utah, Romney can be expected to make the rounds again, as well as Jon Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor who is now studying his odds.

Thomas Wright, chairman of the Utah GOP, tells thePark Record that Park City makes sense as a fund-raising location not only because of its resort setting, but also its close proximity to the airport at Salt Lake City, no more than 40 minutes away even in traffic.

Kirk Jowers, the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, estimates Romney would want to amass more than $100,000 in donations if he stops by Park City, while Huntsman would expect at least $50,000. He does not envision Obama visiting Park City unless he could raise at least $150,000 while also raising substantial sums at a sister event in Salt Lake City.

Feds net large Aspen drug bust

ASPEN – The CIA doesn’t quite trust the Pakistani Army, and neither did federal drug agents confide in the Aspen cops before they swooped in to make a big cocaine bust.

Aspen, and particularly Pitkin County, has long been known as a place where cops were willing to look the other way. Former Sheriff Bob Braudis clearly looked the other way when his buddy and neighbor, the late writer Hunter S. Thompson, consumed, and he also was clear that he had no intention of enforcing state and federal drug laws to the letter.

In this case, drug agents said they didn’t trust sharing their plans to bust five Aspen residents involved in a major smuggling ring with the local law-enforcement agencies.

“Frankly, based on our investigation, we had revealed close ties between the current sheriff and several of the targets that were arrested,” said Jim Schrant, a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent.

The Aspen Times noted that two of the five defendants had contributed to Sheriff Joe DiSalvo’s $40,000 campaign. However, DiSalvo described them as “acquaintances” and nothing more. He likened the relationships to that of Sheriff Andy Griffith knowing Ernest T. Bass and Otis, the Mayberry town drunks.

“In Aspen, I think there’s 2 degrees of separation between most people, 3 degrees tops,” he said. “It’s inevitable that a good guy is going to cross paths with bad people every once in a while.”

Most of the suspects were in their 60s.

Research revisits black bear attacks

CANMORE, Alberta – By every account, attacks by black bears on humans remain exceedingly rare. But they do occur and, contrary to popular accounts, they are not most likely to involve sows defending cubs.

Instead, according to renowned bear expert Stephen Herrero, male black bears were involved in 92 percent of the 59 fatal predatory incidents studied in North America between 1990 - 2009.

The research was published in theJournal of Wildlife Management.

“That most fatal black bear attacks were predatory and were carried out by one bear shows that females with young are not the most dangerous black bears,” Herrero told theRocky Mountain Outlook.

“Females select habitat and behave to support security. On the other hand, male black bears typically have large home ranges,

exposing those bears to more risks because of more potential for interactions with people.”

Herrero said a key question is why black bears don’t attack people more often. A 100-pound black bear is a “pretty good match” for a 200-pound human, he noted.

“The ones that have tried have come up with a much more aggressive species: homo sapiens,” he said. “Any bears that have this tendency have been eliminated from the population.”

Parks Canada advises anybody attacked by a black bear to fight back. But human-wildlife conflict specialist Steve Michel also noted that there’s a “vast difference between black bears and grizzlies, and how they respond to people, particularly in a surprise encounter. A female grizzly with cubs will likely be much more aggressive than a female black bear with cubs.

Vail analyzes its income stream

BROOMFIELD – How important is good snow to a ski area? Important enough that ski companies like Vail Resorts invest heavily in snowmaking, but ultimately the economy matters much more, says chief executive Rob Katz.

Vail made $807 million in resort revenue, which includes lift tickets, ski lessons, lodging, dining and other revenue streams, compared to $71 million in real estate, in 2010, reports theVail Daily, citing a presentation by Katz and chief financial officer Jeff Jones.

Katz also pointed to the success of season pass sales, most famously the Epic Pass. Lift ticket sales accounted for 35 percent of ski company revenue in 2010. More than one-third of that shows up before most of the ski season has occurred, according to their report, thus mitigating the risk of poor snow.

For Vail Resorts altogether, average household income of guests exceeds $200,000, and at Beaver Creek it exceeds $300,000. More broadly across the ski industry, only 19 percent of skiers report household income at or above $200,000.

Katz presents Vail’s six ski areas – four in Colorado, and two in California – as being among a “very limited set of high-end destination ski resorts” in North America.

Landslides shake up Jackson commute

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Crews continue to work to remove a giant landslide that has smothered a road along the Snake River. The road is commonly used by a large number of commuters from Jackson to homes in lower-priced Alpine. Commuters can still make it to work, but at double the driving distance.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead visited the slide on Monday and told theJackson Hole News&Guide that it was a “a big deal.”

Called the Double Draw, the slide is one of five in Wyoming being monitored.

“This is obviously the biggest,” he said. “I was taken by the magnitude of it, not just of the earth that has moved, but the water ... Moving the earth off the road is one issue. Trying to resolve the water issue that is running down is also a problem. There’s a lot of water down there.”

This is the second landslide in recent weeks.

“For a geologist to be able to see this, it’s awfully exciting,” state geologist Wallace Ulrich said. “But in the back of our heads, this thing is obviously having an enormous effect on the economy of Jackson Hole.”

Vail airport may go international

GYPSUM – For many years, there have been hopes that the Eagle County Regional Airport —better known as Vail/Eagle to pilots – will become an international airport. But while a customs agent working part-time handled 400 private and charter flights last year, the cost of an expanded customs operation was estimated at $5 million annually.

Now it appears that the cost of a full-fledged customs station would only cost $2.5 to $3 million, according to theVail Daily. The potential market consists primarily of private and charter flights from Canada and Mexico. Paul Gordon, general manager of the Vail Valley Jet Center, reports ambitions to have the full-service customs facility in place by the time Beaver Creek hosts the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships.

Gordon also said his company hopes to build a hangar that would house a Boeing 757 jet. Keeping a jet like that indoors for several days eliminates the cost of de-icing, and also reduces the potential for mechanical problems, he tells theVail Daily.

San Juans fertile ground for quinoa

OURAY – The idea of growing quinoa seems to be catching a buzz in the high country of Colorado. In November, when Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper held meetings around the state about economic development, one suggestion at a meeting in Frisco was to foster the growth of quinoa in nearby areas.

Now, the same idea is being discussed in the Ouray-Telluride area.The Telluride Watch reports that an informal group of growers last year tried growing the grain from Peru at various locations. Their results: quinoa does best at elevations of between 7,000 and 9,000 feet, because it prefers cooler temperatures. On a 9,000-foot mesa above Telluride, it did very well indeed.

The Watch notes that quinoa has been grown commercially in Colorado’s San Luis Valley for 20 years or more.

Pack of coyotes snack on labradoodle

ASPEN – It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.The Aspen Times tells of a woman who was hiking Friday morning on a trail near Aspen, her Labradoodle running out ahead of her, when a coyote nabbed the dog and took it back to companions for a spring-time feast. Wildlife officials also tell the newspaper that a bear knocked down the door of a house in quest of food.

– Allen Best


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