Ski resorts under construction in China
WHISTLER, B.C. – China, with its large and increasingly wealthy population, remains a tantalizing market for tourism operators and resort real estate developers in the West.

Construction of several major ski resorts in China now under way could foster interest in skiing that will eventually produce customers in North America, says a planning consultant from Whistler who has been retained to guide Chinese development.

“I think these resorts are going to bring a lot of customers to Whistler in the future,” said Paul Mathews, head planner and director of Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners. The firm helped design Whistler Blackcomb, Mont Tremblant and Sun Peaks, all in Canada, plus resorts in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Europe and in Asia.

In China, Ecosign is now helping plan Beijing Secret Garden, a $1 billion, four-season resort located about 250 kilometres (155 miles) west of Beijing. It is located next to the Great Wall of China. Plans call for 22 lifts with capacity of 18,720 skiers, and a bed base of 125,366 units. That’s more than twice the development cap of bed units in Whistler.

Elsewhere in China, Ecosign has completed a master plan for a resort in Jilin Province that would have nine hotels at Changbaishan International

Tourism Resort. That resort complex is to open in November 2012 with a capacity of 7,000 skiers per day.

Mathews told Pique Newsmagazine that he expects instant success at the Chinese resorts, which will in time begin grooming customers for resorts in North America.

“The middle class and upper middle class are growing like crazy,” Mathews said of China. “They think that skiing and mountain resorts are a really cool thing. That’s a place where they can go show off their style and also meet a lot of people.”

Prior experiences in Russia and the Ukraine suggest the resorts will get swamped with latent demand. “There is certainly latent demand in China in spades,” he said.

Because most customers will be new to skiing, the new Chinese resorts will have more beginner trails, part of the process of building stable demand.

“I would say it takes three to 10 years to build a true, committed skiing family,” Mathews said. “They try it once or twice the first year, they rent their equipment. Then, if they like it, they get their own clothes and equipment, they get enough technique to navigate blue slopes. If they get to that point they get pretty hooked.

“Then they’ll start traveling to regional resorts (and) invest in real estate.”

Don Murray, also an Ecosign planner, said hard-core Chinese skiers will inevitably want to visit ski resorts in Canada, the United States and Europe.

And Whistler’s relative proximity puts it in a good position. Flight time between Beijing and Vancouver is nine hours, compared to 12 to 14 hours to the Alps.

Ski resort real estate remains in flux
TELLURIDE – Real estate activity in mountain resorts has mostly improved this year, but not consistently so. From both Aspen and Telluride come reports of ups and downs – especially after the July decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. government’s credit worthiness.

“Everything became dysfunctional in the government, and we saw people losing certainty,” Telluride Properties broker Brian O’Neill told The Telluride Watch. “Then, couple that with the S&P downgrade as well as the international issues going on in Europe and Japan, (and) everybody started panicking.”

July sales in Aspen were down 16 percent compared to the same month last year, according to a report from Land Title Guarantee Co. The Aspen

Times notes a roller-coaster year, with some months up, others down, but a general trend of strong improvement. Real estate sales are likely to exceed those in both 2009 and 2010 – and with a surge at the end, could exceed those of 2008.

Telluride properties have sold well, but the mansions in Mountain Village, located at the other end of the gondola, remain overpriced, even after reductions of nine to 30 percent from 2007 peak prices, said Mike Shimkonis, of Telluride Properties.

“The prices have dropped, but properties haven’t moved. They probably need to go lower,” he told The Watch.

More evidence that buyers are being careful? At Telluride and Mountain Village, they seem to be turning up their noses at vacation homes of more than 4,500 square feet.

Wildlife agents terminate three wolves
CAREY, Idaho – Three wolves were killed by federal wildlife agents recently on a ranch near Carey, which is about 40 miles from Ketchum and Sun Valley. They had, wildlife biologists concluded, killed a calf.

The rancher also accused the wolves of killing his sheep, although government biologists concluded that coyotes, instead, were to blame.

But a wildlife advocate who had been tracking the wolves disputed whether the wolves had any blood on their paws at all. “There’s no third-party verification that the depredation was actually by wolves,” Natalie Ertz told the Idaho Mountain Express.

She reported hearing the wolf pack 8 miles away just a few hours before the livestock killing occurred. Wolves can trot at speeds up to 10 mph, but she said it was unlikely the wolves made the trek.

The alpha female of the pack survived the shooting, the third such “control order,” as the killings are called, that she has survived. Although losing two toes and suffering a severe injury that has left her with a limp, she has also survived three coyote traps.

Meanwhile, authorities have killed 19 wolves in Wyoming so far this year, compared to 73 wolves in 2008.

The wolves had been responsible for the deaths of 20 cattle, 28 sheep and a dog, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency report studied by the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Also, a horse was put down after it broke a leg suffered when chased by wolves. Six other horses have been injured by wolves.

Wolves tend to cause more problems the farther south and east they are from Yellowstone National Park, according to Mike Jimenez, as these areas have less dense wildlife populations and more livestock.

Aspen to host Mac & Cheese Festival
ASPEN – Macaroni and cheese may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Aspen. Just the same, the very first Aspen Mac & Cheese Festival will be held this coming weekend, with up to 19 restaurants participating in this decidedly niche festival.

Keith Bulicz, a city employee charged with organizing the festival, said he Googled in search of something comparable, and could find nothing of the sort across the United States.

The festival is being underwritten by a $1,500 grant from the city government, which during the last two years has been deliberately seeding more unconventional festival ideas during the shoulder seasons.

Hailey experiences banner skunk season
HAILEY, Idaho – Police in Hailey, located down-valley from Ketchum and Sun Valley, have three traps for skunks. They’re all in use – with seven people waiting.

It is, reports the Idaho Mountain Express, a smelly season for skunks, possibly because of a bumper crop of voles, one of the things that the omnivorous skunks eat. The result, says the newspaper, is that many an evening of late has been marred by a “wafting, rank and slightly sweet smell.”

“My dog has been sprayed two times in one day,” said local resident Irene Robinson. “If you have ever been on the receiving end of this sort of attack, it is debilitating. It stopped me dead, and I had to retch. So foul – you cannot imagine.”

Bike race owner fined for using motor
BRECKENRIDGE – For certain actions, there must be consequences, the Forest Service has decided. The agency has fined the operator of a mountain bike race an undisclosed sum for using motorized means of clearing snow from a designated nonmotorized trail.

The owner of the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race told the Summit Daily News that the snow was still 5 feet deep for long segments of the race course. He estimated it would have been 160 person hours to shovel by hand.

Albino hummingbird flies into Salida
SALIDA – An albino hummingbird was seen – and photographed – in Salida. A local Audubon Society representative told the Mountain Mail that it was only the third albino hummingbird documented in Colorado.

“Pure albino hummingbirds, like this one, are pure white, with pinkish bill, feet and eyes as a result of having no melanin pigment in their skin, eyes or feathers,” said SeEtta Moss.

– Allen Best