Colorado to become more 420 friendly
ASPEN – In the wake of the vote legalizing marijuana in Colorado, the state’s ski towns wondered about the effect on tourism. After all, people go to Costa Rico to get root canals and chip in a round or two of golf on the side. Why not a ski vacation and a few bong hits, too?

But tourism promoters said they doubt easy availability will mean much to most people. “I really don’t see it as a plus or a minus,” said Tom Kern, chief executive of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. “I just see it as fact,” he told Steamboat Today.

Colorado has been edging toward legalization of marijuana for years. In 2000, state voters authorized use of marijuana for medical purposes, in defiance of federal law prohibiting marijuana. Then, in 2009, the Obama administration signaled it would not prosecute medical marijuana patients and caregivers who were in “clear and unambiguous” compliance with state law. By 2010, Colorado lawmakers had adopted legislation governing the burgeoning medical dispensaries.

“I’ve never before seen so many 21-year-olds with neck pain,” wise-cracked John Minor, sheriff of Summit County, shortly after the new laws went into effect.

Some clinics advertised having doctors on call 24 hours a day.

In 2009, Breckenridge blazed the path further, legalizing possession of the drug. There was some confusion, however. Some thought the town had allowed marijuana use in public. Not so. And town officials were careful to restrict marijuana dispensaries, to avoid ground-floor locations along the town’s retail core.

Wendy Wolfe, a member of the Breckenridge Town Council, said that the legalization drew some visitors and caused others to stay away. “It’s probably a wash,” she told Steamboat Today.

The impact of the vote in ski towns is a moot point in other ways as well. Sheriffs in Aspen, Telluride and Breckenridge have all said at various times that prosecution of marijuana laws was not a high priority.

“It was never a priority for us, really, unless you brought attention to yourself,” Minor told the Summit Daily News.

In fact, marijuana use in Colorado is still restricted to people with doctor’s authorization. State officials expect implementation of the law to take a year.

“Don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper, in his now famous response to the passing of the new measure.

In San Miguel County, 79 percent of voters favored legalization of marijuana, the largest margin in the state. It was followed by 75 percent in Pitkin County (Aspen), then Summit (Breckenridge) 70 percent), Gunnison (Crested Butte) at 67 percent, and Eagle (Vail) at 66 percent. Routt County (Steamboat) wasn’t far behind at 63 percent. The constitutional amendment won 55 percent of statewide votes.

In both Aspen and Telluride, the margins of support for marijuana were higher than for the reelection of President Barack Obama. That’s saying something, as neither ski community has voted for a Republican for president since… Well, they probably did at one time.

Clean bicycle racer basks in limelight
TELLURIDE – After growing up in Telluride, then studying at the University of California-Berkeley, Scott Mercier became a professional bicycle rider. He was good enough to compete in the Olympics and race for top teams, including Saturn and the U.S. Postal Service.

But in 1997 he quit. It was, he has told Velo News and many others, a difficult decision.

“You’re in your 20s, traveling around Europe living like a rock star,” he said. “It’s hard physically and psychologically, but it’s lots of fun.”

He was drawn to winning, so much that he was swallowing his own puke when he won the Olympic trials. But when given the illegal performance-enhancing drugs by a team doctor, he refused. He would not, he vowed, put a “needle in my ass.”

After quitting the USPS team, Mercier spent the next 10-plus years watching the athletes he knew had been cheating claim fame, glory and riches.
“At the time, I felt almost tremendous remorse that I’d made a horrible decision,” he told The Watch.

Now the limelight has fallen on him, a clean rider in a sport rotten to its core. He said he plans to use his prominence to help build transparency into the sport, to represent clean athletes. He’s not entirely hopeful. The governing Union Cycliste Internationale continues to insist on the integrity of the testing procedures, which obviously didn’t work, he says.

But what he can do is now face the world, including his own kids, with a clean conscience. “My wife said something to me the other day,” Mercier told The Watch. “She said, ‘Aren’t you glad you’re not coming home to explain to your kids that you’re a liar and a cheat?’”

Still Democrats, but ski towns waver
DENVER – In mountain valleys of Colorado dominated by ski towns, there was slippage in the vote for President Barack Obama, but they remain more liberal and Democratic than the state or general averages.

Telluride and San Miguel remains the most reliably Democratic enclave in the state, but even so, the support for Obama slipped in this election. The 77 percent majority there from four years ago slipped to 70 percent his year. The margin also slipped in Routt County (Steamboat), from 62 four years ago to 57 percent this year.

In Colorado’s Grand County (Winter Park), Mitt Romney actually won. He also won in Utah’s Summit County, where he owned a home in Park City until just a few years ago.

California ski area to open up again
MAMMOTH LAKE, Calif. – Strapped for cash and with a $2 million bank loan due, the owner of the Mammoth Mountain and June Creek ski areas chose to mothball June Creek for the coming season. If loved by many, commercially it is something of the ugly step-sister.

Many suspected that June Mountain, as a ski area, would go away forever. But Rusty Gregory, manager of Mammoth, has indicated operations will resume in the 2013-14 ski season. But he hopes to see it marketed differently, as a unique ski experience and not just an extension of Mammoth. According to The Sheet, he says that many small New England resorts have done well – suggesting that whatever the problems of the past, they need not preclude future commercial success.

Whistler steps in to fill NHL ad void
WHISTLER, B.C. – With the hockey season at least postponed as NHL owners and players negotiate terms, businesses wanting to advertise to broad audiences in Canada are at least temporarily without recourse.

With tongue largely in cheek, the Whistler Blackcomb ski area is offering to help them with their marketing deficiencies through sponsorships. That package normally includes a wrap of one of the gondolas from Whistler Village with a logo of the sponsor, plus a variety of lift tickets.
Pique also reports that the ski company hopes to develop additional real estate. Whistler has long had a cap on development, of 61,000 bed units. Given that Whistler Blackcomb has spent $340 million, it feels that if any additional development is allowed, the company should get in on the action.
“Theoretically, we have earned a lot more bed units than we have been granted here in Whistler,” said Doug Forseth, vice president of planning, government relations and special projects.

The ski company had been given 15,000 bed units to develop.

Los lobos a little bit more aggressive
JASPER, B.C. – Wolves have killed two dogs and become aggressive toward other dogs, even when those dogs are attached by leashes to their owners. Can humans be next?

The argument for many years was that wolves don’t attack people. A study by Mark McNay, a now retired biologist from Alaska, found only one case among 80 cases of human-wolf encounters between 1960-90 that involved unprovoked, aggressive behavior of a wolf.

Then, between 1969 and 2000, there were 18 cases documented, including “three cases of serious injury to children since 1996,” according to a story in Jasper’s Fitzhugh by Niki Wilson.

That’s not a big number, but in his 2002 report, McNay said that “increases in wolf protection, human activities in wolf habitat, and (an increase in) wolf numbers occurred concurrently with increases with unprovoked aggressive encounters.”

In other words, it appeared that more wolves, in combination with more people in their habitat and fewer efforts to kill wolves, had resulted in more encounters.

The bottom line: “We find ourselves in a situation that needs active management. Few of us want the destruction of wolves, but cases reviewed by McNay and others tell us that in some instances, wolves, like bears, can be dangerous for people. Denying this is to deny wolves their birthright as a predator, intelligent and opportunistic enough to once rule the continent,” writes Wilson.

Dialogue continues on natural gas drilling
CARBONDALE – If drilling for natural gas hasn’t occurred directly next to ski towns of the Rocky Mountains, that day is not far away. It’s been a hot topic in Aspen, Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs.

In Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, the local bus agency, called Roaring Fork Transit Authority, finds itself planning to use natural gas while many local residents fret about the impacts of drilling. The agency has ordered 22 natural-gas fueled buses at a cost of $16.5 million.

There are varied concerns about the true cost of drilling. One hot-button issue is whether drilling should be allowed in a prized 221,500-acre tract called Thompson Divide, just west of Carbondale There’s also the national debate about the risk of introducing benzine and other chemicals into potable water supplies as a result of hydraulic fracking.

Directors of RFTA have decided to seek a long-term contract with a supplier that can certify its best practices. RFTA plans to study safety records and how much water is used in fracking, among other criteria. Points may be awarded to companies that stay out of environmentally sensitive areas, although how this will be weighted was not clear in stories published in Aspen’s newspapers.

In Garfield County, west of Aspen, a study has been authorized to measure the impacts of drilling and fracking. The Glenwood Post Independent reports the county government is paying for a majority of the $1.75 million study, and four drilling companies are picking up the balance.

In northwestern Colorado, three of four political candidates favoring less drilling regulation by local government were defeated. In Steamboat Springs, Routt County commissioners have voted to place conditions of approval on new permits for drilling of oil. The conditions go beyond what the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission requires.

At stake is the potential for substantial royalty payments that could reach many thousands of dollars, representing a percentage of the value of oil that comes out of the ground, explains Steamboat Today.

Jets may replace props for Sun Valley visitors
KETCHUM, Idaho – The resort community of Ketchum and Sun Valley continues its efforts to make it easier for people to fly there, but it’s been a slow process.

One strategy has been to raise more money, to post as revenue guarantees for airlines. Vail, Steamboat, Telluride and Crested Butte all post such revenue guarantees, and some have done so for 30 years.

Air boosters in the Sun Valley area had hoped to raise $2.2 million annually through a 1 percent sales tax increase in the valley’s largest towns, Ketchum, Hailey and Sun Valley. The pot of money would have secured a flight from San Francisco. Idaho law requires a 60 percent majority for such tax increases, but only Sun Valley exceeded that number. Totals favoring the tax increase in both Ketchum and Hailey were just below the threshold.
Air supporters tell the Idaho Mountain Express that they intend to return to voters next year for the tax increase.

Sun Valley is currently served by flights from Salt Lake City, Seattle and Los Angeles, but on propeller planes, the Dash 400. No commercial jet has flown into the local airport at Hailey in 10 years.

But one might in the future. The Federal Aviation Administration has decided that the CRJ-700, a smaller jet for regional flights, can use the airport.
Rick Baird, manager of the local airport, Friedman Memorial, says the ruling opens up options. “It opens up possibilities of services to markets that we currently do not have service from,” he said. SkyWest, which currently provides the link to Salt Lake City, has indicated at some point it will replace the turboprops with the regional jet.

The Sun Valley-Ketchum community has also spent the better part of the last decade exploring a larger airport farther from Sun Valley. One option was scuttled because of concerns about impacts to sage grouse, but other options remain, including improving the existing airport to handle large jets.

– Allen Best