New ski hut opens in the San Juans
SILVERTON – Most backcountry ski huts built in Colorado during the last 30 years have been geared toward skiers of intermediate ability. The new Opus Hut, located between the towns of Silverton and Ophir, aims for higher and harder.

Bob Kingsley, the owner and developer, says the name Opus is an acronym for Ophir Pass Ultimate Ski. He believes he offers something that a small but ardent group of skiers wants: a hut that is readily accessible but with more challenging ski terrain. It’s ideally situated, he says, for above-timberline ski tours on 13,661-foot Lookout Peak and the companion South Lookout Peak.

The hut is just 90 minutes from Highway 550, between Silverton and Ouray, or two hours from Ophir. The avalanche danger on the two routes is about equal, he says, although it looks much more severe from the Ophir side.

Kingsley began thinking about backcountry huts in the 1980s, soon after he moved to Steamboat Springs. He worked as a ski touring guide at the Home Ranch, located about 20 miles north of Steamboat. Later, he worked for a decade as a guide on the 10th Mountain Trail, in the Aspen-Vail-Breckenridge area.

At some point, he began thinking about building his own hut. He went to courthouses around Colorado to study land records. Moving to the Telluride area, he began scouting old mining parcels. The site he chose, an old mining claim on Mineral Creek, met his every expectation.

But despite his many years in thin air, he found that building a hut at 11,765 feet – a little higher than most huts and just a whisk below treeline – was a much more difficult proposition than he expected.

“You think you know the mountains. It’s different when you’re building things. It hits you in the face. You constantly have to do damage control,” says Kingsley. “There’s so much you have to learn about yourself. I really learned to appreciate the endeavors of those miners, their endurance. It has changed my whole outlook, and I have spent plenty of time in mountains all over the world.”

The 1,800-square-foot hut sleeps 13 people and will be equipped with blankets and pillows, as in European huts, so visitors need only take sheets and covers. It is heated with solar thermal and electrified with photovoltaic panels.

Meanwhile, Yoho National Park in Canada is exploring the potential for erecting 10-metre wind turbines near some backcountry huts to see whether alternative energy can replace wood-burning and propane. The Rocky Mountain Outlook notes the national parks have 17 backcountry huts.

“Both of those have pros and cons, and our overall objective is to make it more ecologically sensitive by looking at alternative energy for the huts,” said Brad Romaniuk, wilderness co-coordinator for Parks Canada.

Breckenridge solar array goes on line
BRECKENRIDGE – Such a deal: Breckenridge now has photovoltaic panels at seven locations with a collective capacity of 468 kilowatt hours, or enough to offset 10 percent of electrical consumption by the municipal government.
Best of all, Breckenridge paid nothing upfront and will get electricity at rates significantly discounted from current costs, saving $900,000 during the next 20 years.

Breckenridge arranged the deal with a company called RSB Funds, taking advantage of now reduced rebates offered by electrical provider Xcel Energy and third-party financing.

“This plan includes an innovative financing arrangement, environmental and other benefits, as well as novel structure designs for solar in our high alpine environment,” said Mayor John Warner. “I am immensely proud of my community in pioneering this project.”

The Summit Daily News reports that Breckenridge is likely to invest more heavily in solar. Both projects would involve solar gardens, an idea gaining momentum in Colorado and many other states. In one case, Breckenridge will buy into a 500-kilowatt solar garden planned for a three-acre parcel near the Summit County Landfill.

The municipality has also committed to be the anchor tenant in a community solar garden within Breckenridge. Community members could buy into the garden, instead of going to the trouble of installing photovoltaic panels on their own roofs. The idea is seen as ideal for condominium dwellers.
Dig reveals evidence of climate change
JACKSON, Wyo. – Radiocarbon testing of charcoal at an archaeological site near Jackson has provided new understanding of human habitation since the glaciers retreated about 12,000 years ago.

The dating shows human habitation 10,100 years ago, roughly the same as that found in mountain valleys of Colorado. Scientists have been able to confirm human presence in the Americas only at about 14,000 years ago, although some think people had arrived thousands of years earlier, even before the last ice age.

The archaeological site also yielded evidence of year-round habitation 5,000 - 7,000 years ago. Summers were warmer and wetter then, producing more forage for wild animals. Winters were colder, but less snowy. That meant the animals could browse more easily. The result, a highway archaeologist told the Jackson Hole News, was more food sources for people – and probably more people.

Vail weathers economic choppiness
BROOMFIELD – Vail Resorts ended its fiscal year in relatively good shape. Chief executive Rob Katz told analysts that despite a “choppy economic environment,” the upper part of the market continues to have “more confidence.”

International business has been strong, and there are “good trends” in international bookings already for next winter, said Katz, according to a Vail Daily report.

Business from the United Kingdom has declined dramatically, he said, but has been more than offset by growth from Canada, Mexico and Brazil. Vail Resorts operates four major ski areas in Colorado, two in California, plus a lodge in Wyoming.

“Barring a real decline in economic confidence, we should see continued (growth),” he said.

Ski company in favor of tax hikes
ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. continues to become more engaged in community issues. The company, which operates four ski areas in the Aspen area, has now gone on record endorsing two tax increases, one for schools and the second for health and social services.

“From a company standpoint, it’s about helping create a healthy community for our employees and our guests and everyone else in this valley,” chief executive Mike Kaplan told the Aspen Daily News. “It all ties together. A healthy school system is at the center of that.”

Other community leaders are also standing up for the two tax increases, including hotelier Warren Klug, chair of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, County Commissioner Rachael Richards, and Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland.

“We are one of the wealthiest communities in the world, and I think we have a responsibility to help our neighbors,” Ireland said.
The social services initiative seeks to boost funding for senior and youth programs, support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, care for the terminally ill and their families, and drug and alcohol-abuse prevention and treatment.

Goldie Hawn talks up brain research
ASPEN —The actress and comedian Goldie Hawn, a part-time resident of the Aspen area, was scheduled to give a talk last week on the topic of “Mindful Learning, Resilient Students.”
Her nonprofit group, the Hawn Foundation, started the educational initiative called MindUp Curriculum, and she told The Aspen Times that it’s catching on with schools in United States, Canada and the UK.

MindUp, she said, teaches children about the brain, gives them an understanding of stress and how to manage it, and helps them improve their focus and social skills.

“All of these things are centered around neurobiology,” she said. “Everything that a child may think or do or feel has a neurological correlate. It kind of puts the child in the driver’s seat; it gives them information they need to navigate.”
Hawn’s new book, 10 Mindful Minutes, was due out this week. It is, she said, aimed at parents.

– 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