Total Sierra snow has changed little
LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – An exhaustive study of snowfall records kept by railroads, utilities and others who have operated in the Sierra Nevada have revealed no long-term change since 1878.

The study was done by John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a native of Fresno, Calif.

“California has huge year-to-year variations, and that’s expected to continue,” Christy told Science Daily in a story published in early March. “California is having a drought so far this winter, while last year the state had much heavier than normal snowfall. But over the long term, there just isn’t a trend up or down.”

Christy is among the most prominent of climatologists skeptical of the theory of global warming.

In a February story in the San Francisco Chronicle, climatologist Mike Dettinger suggests that Christy’s study proves very little.

“There is a popular conception that the snowpack has declined everywhere, but that is not what the science says,” Dettinger said. “What we’re saying broadly is that across western North America there have been declines in spring snowpack.”

Snowpack has declined over three-quarters of the western United States, an area that includes Montana, Wyoming and New Mexico, he said. Scientists from the Scripps Institution and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have concluded that 60 percent of that downward trend is due to greenhouse gases.

Steamboat weathers lackluster winter
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Winter came late, is leaving early, and with just a few exceptions, was never all that much to crow about at Steamboat. How does that leave the ski company there?

“I think we dodged the bullet,” said Chris Diamond, chief executive of the Steamboat resort, at an event covered by the Steamboat Pilot & Today. He told a business group last week that he expects Steamboat to be down 3 to 4 percent in destination skier visits by the time the season ends.

Others have had it much worse. He said some ski areas in California and the eastern United States will be down 30 to 50 percent in skier days. Last year, U.S. ski areas recorded 61 million skier days. This year, total U.S. skier days will probably dip below 50 million.
With an economy showing increasing signs of confidence, this could have been a record year. Going into November, the only metric that looked bad for Steamboat were the airline reservations.

“I think that was a function of the cost,” Diamond said. “The guest was holding off on that piece of the purchase until the last minute.”

Investments in snowmaking made over the last 30 years allowed Steamboat to do reasonably well at Christmas, even if the snow was only 10 feet wide on some trails. Early on, executives decided there would be no cap on the snowmaking budget.

But Diamond also warned of a lag effect.

“I think it’s been a long, long time since destination guests came to Steamboat or any of the major Colorado resorts and had a truly disappointing Christmas,” Diamond said. “If that ever happens, all bets are off. As soon as that disappointing trip occurs, you pay a huge price down the road.”

Diamond explained that holiday skiers, who book well in advance and pay top rates to enjoy a ski vacation during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, tend to return once every several years. A ski resort that can’t deliver during the holidays misses a turn in the rotation.

“It takes people out of the cycle and affects their decision to come whenever their next trip would be ... Typically, it’s two to three years,” Diamond said.

Outfitter given sidecountry permit
KETCHUM, Idaho – By whatever name, the area beyond the ski area boundaries has become a huge draw in the last 20 years. In recent years, a new name has cropped up –”sidecountry” – to describe this area that can be reached with ski lifts yet not as remote as the proper backcountry.

The Forest Service and many in the ski industry dislike this new term. They say it implies a sense of safety that just doesn’t exist. In some cases, ski area managers may allow ski patrollers to go outside their boundaries to assist in or conduct rescues or body recoveries. But they most assuredly don’t do avalanche control.

Now comes a case in Idaho that has stirred up resentment. The Forest Service has issued a guiding permit to an outfitter who will take customers to backcountry ski terrain adjacent to Sun Valley on Bald Mountain.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports three outfitters had originally applied for permits, but two dropped out because of what they described as the “extreme vitriol” of opponents.

“We strongly believe that maintaining community is more important than fresh tracks, guided or not,” said Sun Valley Trekking and Sun Valley Helicopter Ski guides.

The Forest Service believes that the plan now in place will put to rest the heartburn in Ketchum and adjoining communities over the commercialization of the sidecountry stashes.

Telluride swats at Supreme Court
TELLURIDE – The Telluride Town Council has agreed to take a symbolic swat at the U.S. Supreme Court decision that has allowed unlimited spending by corporations in political races. The council recently directed the town attorney to draft an ordinance calling for the abolishment of corporate personhood.

In doing so, Telluride joins a great many local governments, including Boulder. There, residents overwhelmingly passed a symbolic ordinance that asks for the abolishment of corporate personhood. Telluride officials thought about a similar community-wide vote, but decided a mere vote of the Town Council would suffice.

Some like their milk raw, despite risks
ASPEN – Some people like it raw—their milk, that is. They point out that when milk is heated to 161 degrees, a process called pasteurization, it kills 90 percent of bacteria.

But bacteria comes in two forms: good and bad, when it comes to human health. And a nonprofit called Sustainable Settings has been selling shares in a dairy herd to residents of the Roaring Fork Valley. The venture has almost 40 shareholders, with more on the waiting list. It costs $150 to buy a share of the herd, plus a $64 monthly boarding fee.

“It’s not cheap, but it’s high-quality, nutrient-dense rich milk, which is not on the shelf,” the non-profit’s director told The Aspen Times.
Doctors are split on the benefits of nonpasteurized milk.

“We’ve been pasteurizing milk for close to 100 years, and there’s a reason,” said Dr. Morris Cohen, medical officer for Pitkin County, who also serves on the Aspen Municipal Board of Health. He advised the community to be wary of milk that hadn’t been pasteurized.

Three times as many cases of food-borne illnesses involving dairy products occur as compared to produce and meat products, she said.
“The benefits of raw milk are so far outweighed by the risks of consuming bad bacteria. So why take the risk?”

The counter perspective comes from a naturopathic doctor in Basalt. Dr. Jody Powell told the Times that nutrie
nts in raw milk help assuage symptoms of afflictions like arthritis, asthma and auto-immune illnesses.

“The idea with pasteurization is that if we just cook the milk to death, then we can kill the dangerous bacteria, which is true,” Powell said. “But then you create a sterile product.”

Responds Cohen: “You want a vitamin? Go to a vitamin store and get a daily vitamin supplement.”

Crested Butte forced to make lay-offs
CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte Mountain Resort is struggling. It’s not alone in the ski industry, of course, but it had pains even before no-snow December caused troubles.

Now, the ski company has laid off some long-time employees, including full-time, year-round workers, and mandated a two-week unpaid leave for every employee at the end of ski season, reports the Crested Butte News.

Ethan Mueller, the resort’s chief executive, said the company was hoping for a quick turnaround of the economy – but it hasn’t happened. “Frankly, one problem is that we took too long on making the hard decisions.” He compared the actions to taking off a Band-Aid a little bit at a time.

“Now we are right-sizing to fit our reality and moving forward. That’s hard, and unfortunately, we probably aren’t done.”

Crested Butte has been struggling for years. On good roads, it is four hours from Denver, and hence attracts relatively few day-trippers or weekenders. It has very good expert skiing, which is one reason the X Games were first held there. But for intermediate skiers, who are the bread and butter of all destination resorts, well, there’s not much to hold their interest beyond three days. Ski executives have said that repeat business is low compared to places like Snowmass and Beaver Creek, which means high advertising costs.

The resort was one of the first in the industry to invest heavily in a direct-flight program, but with fuel prices rising, that subsidized program has yielded problems. When the recession hit, skiers stayed home, and Crested Butte had to pay the airlines enormous sums in revenue guarantees.

Then, because the reserves were exhausted, the direct-flight program was curtailed. This winter, for example, the number of seats from Houston was down 65 percent. That will reduce the revenue guarantee by $425,000. But fewer seats means 385 fewer destination guests – who spend an average of $1,300 while on vacation in Crested Butte. It’s a downward spiral.

Altogether, Crested Butte expects to see a 10 percent decline in skier days this season, to about 330,000. That compares to a high of 550,000 skier days during the heyday of the early 1990s (although 100,000 of those were part of the Free Ski promotion). Owners of Crested Butte during the last decade have consistently said they need to grow the skier days to 550,000 - 600,000 a season.

“If we can get into the 450,000 - 500,000 skier days range in the next five years or so, that would be great,” Mueller told the News. He said some numbers he tracks show improvement, though he offered nothing of secret sauce. His best ambition is to break even next winter. This one will end in the red.

In bear country, spray beats guns for safety
JACKSON, Wyo. – Gun or bear spray when walking in bear country? A study of 341 bear-human conflicts in Alaska found that bears injured fewer than 2 percent of people who carried or defended themselves with pepper spray during aggressive conflicts.

The study by researchers from Brigham Young University found that nearly 30 percent of those who carried or defended themselves with a gun were hurt during encounters.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide spoke with the university’s Tom Smith, an associate professor of wildlife science. “The problem with guns is that they’re a fairly cumbersome deterrent. Even hunters would do well to have bear spray. Some of these hunters that we see getting in trouble, they can’t pull (a gun) off their shoulder and bring it into play.”

The study also showed that being safe in bear country “is more about how you carry yourself than the type of gun you carry,” said Smith. “We need to really focus on avoiding those encounters as opposed to shooting ourselves out of it. Nobody is saying take your gun away, but we are saying there are other ways to stay safe.”

Dog attack spurs policy discussion
PARK CITY, Utah – Most of the waggy-tails want to be friends with you, but a few want to bite, as a woman jogging on a trail in Park City learned recently. She suffered bites to her upper chest and side when a loose Rottweiler attacked her.
This has provoked a fresh discussion about how much the leash laws should be enforced in Park City and adjoining areas. Some prefer lax enforcement, arguing that it better fits a mountain-town vibe, reports The Park Record. Others want more aggressive enforcement.
– Allen Best