Snow-haves try to steal market share
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – In the first days of 2012, ski resorts with snow smelled opportunity to carve a larger slice of market share.

Those resorts blessed with snow were either far north or far south, but leaving a large band of resorts across the middle of the United States looking woefully over their shoulders for precedent. Usually in La Niña winters, the line cleaves more cleanly across the nation’s middle between the haves and the have-nots.

Among the haves was Montana’s Big Sky Resort. It announced a special “Epic Package,” available to holders of the Vail Resorts Epic Pass.

Pass-holders booking lodging with the Big Sky Central Reservations during January could ski free. “Colorado and Tahoe skiing not so epic this season? We’d like to help,” said Big Sky on its website.

Grand Targhee, located on the flanks of the Tetons in Wyoming, more broadly offered free lift tickets to anybody with a season pass to a U.S. or Canadian ski resort for as many nights lodging as were booked through Targhee’s lodging division.

Whistler-Blackcomb couldn’t help but gloat. It posted a bar chart on its Facebook page. As of Jan. 5, it had 517 centimeters (204 inches) of snow, almost twice as much as the next in line, Snowbird and Alta, then Vail and Breckenridge, with poor Heavenly looking like a child’s stool in this row of bars.
In the Tahoe Basin, Homewood Mountain Resort announced it would be closed Mondays through Thursdays “until snow conditions permit.” It had just a handful of trails open.

Truckee’s Sierra Sun also reported rumors – dismissed speedily by resort representatives – of other resorts closing down. “If anyone hears rumors like that, they should question the intellect, the judgment and the motivations of the people who are forwarding those rumors along,” Andy Wirth, chief executive of Squaw and Alpine, told the newspaper.

But ski areas were closing. Mt. Ashland in Oregon was one.

Bogus Basin, outside Boise, never opened. The latest opening ever before for the Idaho ski area was Jan. 6 one year. It has been operating 69 years. Ski area representatives told the Idaho Statesman they could open the runs with as little as 16 inches, but last week they had only 3 to 10.

“We are confident in the fact that it’s going to snow,” general manager Mike Shirley told the newspaper. “If it didn’t, that would be breathtaking.”
Shirley was foregoing pay during a time when the ski area takes in as much as $100,000 in revenue. Other year-round employees are getting 10 percent pay cuts and in some cases reduced hours.

Bogus season pass-holders were extended discounts at other Idaho resorts, including Brundage. That resort opened late, but has snow – and warm weather. “I’ve never seen so many people willing to ski in the rain and actually smiling about it,” spokeswoman April Russell told the Statesman.
Mammoth Mountain wasn’t exactly digging out from excess snow, either. But it had top-to-bottom skiing – and getting customers who might otherwise have gone to Tahoe, Utah or Colorado, according to chief executive Rusty Gregory in a memo to employees.

“Many of our guests came to Mammoth from Northern California for the first time because the Tahoe resorts’ lower elevations and limited snowmaking capabilities only allowed the operation of a small fraction of the terrain and services Mammoth provided,” reported Gregory. It was, he said, the “most successful” Christmas week in his 34 years on the mountain.

Utah not alone in loopy liquor laws
WHISTLER, B.C. – Everybody knows that Utah has had some bizarre laws governing liquor. But organizers of the 20-year-old gay ski week at Whistler say that British Columbia also can make it very difficult to put on a festival.

“It’s really hard to do events in Whistler,” says Dean Nelson, chief executive of Alpenglow Productions, which sponsors the event catering to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender snow sports riders. Pique Newsmagazine did not specify the exact source of Nelson’s complaint.

However, other special-event organizers have also complained.

Winter Pride in Whistler last year drew 2,500 people. This year, the municipality took the additional step of issuing a proclamation, designating Feb. 5-12 as Pride Week. Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she had met with Winter Pride organizers, and she was happy to issue the proclamation, particularly after being told that some participants are persecuted in their hometowns for their sexuality.

Unstable snow causes warning, distress
WHISTLER, B.C. – Several big, early season storms have yielded unnerving stories in the Northern Rockies and Canada.

In the Whistler area, research and rescue teams issued a rare announcement. They were, they said, alarmed by the disregard displayed by a segment of backcountry recreationists who seemingly ignore the hazard levels as published daily by the Canadian Avalanche Association.

“This is definitely stretching the capabilities of search and rescues,” said Dave Steers, one of the rescue group members. He said his team was responding to two avalanches that had buried people when a third call came in.

In an editorial, Pique Newsmagazine weighed the circumstances. “British Columbia is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, so it is easy to understand the draw it has on those of us who long for nature without the stamp of civilization,” the paper said. “But surely there must be a responsibility upon all those who head out of bounds to be able to look after themselves, be able to self-rescue, and to make decisions that do not put lives at risk.”

Most avalanche victims are skiers or snowmobilers who trigger the slides while crossing steeper slopes. Relatively unusual are cases where people are covered by an avalanche while skiing below. But that’s what happened in northern Wyoming. David Gaillard, the Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, apparently triggered the avalanche that killed him. Chris Lundry, director of the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center, told the Idaho Mountain Express that such avalanches are called “remote trigger” slides. They occur only when snow is extremely unstable.

Talking about how to shrink emissions
JACKSON, Wyo. – Carbon constraints are gradually ebbing into commerce. As Jonathan Schecter, a columnist for the Jackson Hole News&Guide, observes, the European Union will implement a cap-and-trade system requiring major airlines to offset the greenhouse gas emissions produced during their European flights.

Jackson Hole, says Schechter, should up the ante. Operators of the local airport should declare it the first carbon-neutral airport. Airlines would be required to raise fares to cover the cost of carbon offsets. In 2008, he says, that would have cost $468,372, or $1.75 per passenger.

In Colorado, the Aspen Skiing Co. reports “slow but not explosive” progress in reducing its carbon footprint during the past 10 years. “Despite expansion of operations, such as caused by high-speed detachable quad lifts, which use more electricity, the company has shaved its carbon footprint by 2 percent. “That’s not horrendous, but it’s not exactly saving the planet, either,” says The Aspen Times, quoting the ski company’s “Greenletter.”

The company has done several things to reduce power consumption, such as replacing the boiler that serves its largest hotel with a more efficient model. On the generation side, it has built a small solar farm, a small hydroelectric plant and has looked into other forms of renewable energy. The current idea being explored would tap the methane being vented by a coal mine. Aspen did not specify which coal mine, although there have been discussions for several years about a coal mine near Paonia.
Taking grocery bag issue to a direct vote
BASALT – A municipal edict designed to reduce use of disposable plastic and paper bags is being met by resistance in Basalt. A resident named Roy Chorbajian has gathered enough signatures to force the Town Council to rescind the fee or put the proposal before a community-wide election.

“Communities of the valley shouldn’t follow the do-gooders of Aspen who run under the green banner on everything,” Chorbajian told The Aspen Times.
The newspaper noted that Basalt was actually the first in the Roaring Fork Valley to take action. In September, the council voted to require grocers to charge 20 cents per bag. Since then, elected officials in Aspen and Carbondale voted to ban plastic bags and charge a fee for paper bags.
A petition in Carbondale could force a community vote there similar to what Chorbajian seeks in Basalt.

Seeking clarity about the use of marijuana
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The Steamboat Pilot correctly points out that Colorado still hasn’t decided exactly what it wants to do about marijuana.
Voters in 2000 approved dispensaries for medical use. But in fact, that has been, in many cases, a charade for recreational use. “I’ve never seen so many 21-year-olds with neck pain,” one mountain-valley sheriff said several years ago.

An initiative that proposes to legalize marijuana altogether now appears headed to voters in November, and the Pilot says that this is good. However, the newspaper says it reserves judgment whether it will support the proposal.

Wildlife cameras show wide-ranging people
CANMORE, Alberta – Wildlife biologists have spent the last eight years studying wildlife movements in the areas along the TransCanada Highway east of Banff National Park. They found that cougars prefer steeper slopes, but other wildlife generally prefer more moderate grades of 21 percent or less.
Their cameras recorded a raccoon, a species almost unheard of in the Bow River Valley, and also bobcats, another rare species in Alberta, but plenty of lynx.

The most common species to be detected in the backcountry, according to John Paczkowski, a park ecologist with Alberta Tourism Parks and Recreation, is homo sapiens. “We’re the most abundant species out there,” he told a recent gathering in Canmore.

– Allen Best