Snow getting deep even for moose

FRASER – Snow, blessed snow, continues to be uncommonly plentiful in northern Colorado, creating tunnels of highways across mountain passes and causing even long-legged moose to seek out snowmobile and other backcountry trails.

All has not ended well. In one case, a moose calf had to be killed because it had two broken legs. State wildlife officer Jeromy Huntington tells the Sky-Hi News that the moose may have broken its front legs while running in deep snow, but he suspects the calf was bumped by a snowmobile.

In another case, however, a snowmobiler trying to sidle past a moose got rammed by the animal. The moose dented the machine, and the rider fled to the relative safety of trees.

Moose were transplanted into Colorado beginning in 1978 and have since then become tolerably common. In northwest Wyoming, Bert Raynes would take exception to that description.

“‘Common’ is one of those wishy-washy words, flexible to the max, that perpetrators of checklists throw around, especially when data are lacking,” he writes in the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

He reports that population of moose in Jackson Hole peaked in the early 1980s and since has declined steadily. In recent years, volunteers have gathered on March 1, which they now call Moose Day, to count those that remain. It’s a challenge, even if moose stand 7 feet tall at the shoulder and are 9 feet long.

“There’s a lot of terrain in Jackson Hole that moose like, and for all their bigness, moose can be really hard to find. They are, somehow, pretty good at hiding out in otherwise plain sight.”

Keep your grubby mitts off that phone

JACKSON, Wyo. – The gloves are coming off in Jackson. Or maybe it’s the hands. After a two-month grace period, town police last Saturday were scheduled to begin enforcing the ban on holding a cell phone while driving.

It’s still illegal to use a cell phone, however, and the local Radio Shack dealer tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide that hands-free devices such as Bluetooth have been flying off the shelves.

The law, said Reid Squyres, store manager, has “probably increased our business in Bluetooth and any other hands-free 15- or 20-fold,” he said. The most popular has been a voice-activated speaker that can be clipped onto the visor of a car.

Many states have banned texting while driving and some jurisdictions, like Jackson, have banned holding a cell phone while driving. But nobody seems to ban talking on a cell phone altogether while driving. The Harvard Mental Health Letter in 2010 suggested that maybe they should.

“A review of studies concluded that hands-free cell phones are just as distracting as handheld models,” says the publication.

It’s not against the law to talk to a passenger while driving. Why is it any more dangerous to talk into a speaker?

The Harvard researchers point to studies that found that cell phone conversations do not vary much in response to changing traffic conditions. In contrast, drivers and passengers both tend to stop talking when a traffic problem develops. Too, passengers often become another set of eyes and ears, helping the driver navigate.

“Even the smartest of ‘smart phones’ can’t do that,” added the report.

Aspen weighs cost of upsizing hotel

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council wants the city’s lodging stock updated and expanded. But how much will it give in to get it?

That was the critical question in the case of Hotel Aspen, a prominent property that the developer proposes to expand into 54 300-square-foot rooms with the pot sweetened by three 3-story homes on the backside of the property on Bleeker Street.

Two of the four councilors at the meeting were ready to vote yes, but just as many – including Mayor Steve Skadron – were ready to vote it down because they see it as just too much bulk. The developer was ready to walk. “I don’t want to waste your time and I can’t waste ours anymore,” said Michael Brown, the hotel co-owner.

Skadron was just as firm. He said that incentivizing small lodge developments by allowing new spec homes is a dangerous and slippery slope. “We have a policy that seems to, by its very nature, turn hoteliers into real estate developers. … this city is co-opted by the lure of speculative development,” he said. “And I think that development chisels away at this community’s soul.”

In the end, Councilman Dwayne Romero, who develops real estate at Snowmass Village, persuaded both sides to put off the final decision to a later meeting, to see if the bulk can be shaved just enough to satisfy the concerns of Skadron and Councilman Art Daily.

Skier escapes tree well in Nelson

NELSON, B.C. – Chris Johnston got lucky. But he also got educated, and that may explain most of why he survived falling into a tree well at the Whitewater Ski Resort.

The Nelson Star explains that Johnston, a 48-year-old consulting engineer from Burnaby, B.C., was skiing with friends when he lost a ski and fell head first into a fairly large tree well.

He first felt he was just semi-buried and could get out. But more and more snow kept coming down on him, and he started breathing in snow particles. “I realized I was in danger,” he told the newspaper. “I was a little bit panicked.”

He stayed still, clearing the snow from around his mouth, to keep his lungs free, then he took a deep breath and reached up and managed to get his remaining ski off. He had to then restore a space in front of his mouth, but with that move he was able to stand up.

He was in a deep well, and the snow was about a meter above him. He was able to climb up the tree to get out. He had radioed his friends to tell them of his predicament.

As the Star notes, statistics don’t favor people such as Johnston. While good data is scarce, it would appear that 90 percent of people who fall into a tree well without a companion nearby to help fish them out are suffocated by loose snow.

Johnston was lucky in that he only had one ski from which to detach. He also did some things right. “We love this tree skiing, and we got scared a few years ago when we heard a story,” he told the Star. Now, he and his friends wear radios and stay together.

He added that he will no longer turn uphill of a tree, he won’t strap his hands into his poles, and he’s now learned there can be lots of air in the snow once particles are cleared from a person’s mouth.

A snowboarder near Pemberton, east of Whistler, wasn’t as lucky. At some point a friend noticed the victim absent and hiked back uphill to find him upside down in a tree well and unconscious.

Banff closes road in spring for wildlife

BANFF, Alberta – Parks Canada has taken a big step in the eyes of local conservationists. This year, it will close the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise. The highway runs parallel to the TransCanada pipeline, but is where all manner of wildlife – from wolves to elk – hang out during spring while nurturing newborns or regaining nourishment themselves. Drivers had been asked to avoid the highway since 1998, but without much success, said Jim Pissot, executive director of the Wild Canada Conservation Alliance.

Crested Butte takes stock of open guns

CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte has been having a spirited debate about guns. Town law prohibits open display of firearms, but that’s in violation of state and federal law.

How should Crested Butte change its law? It could choose to prohibit firearms in town buildings and in places like the community parks, as long as the law was posted in those precise locations. Some residents and city council members would like to take that route, reports the Crested Butte News.

But some residents, including former councilman John Wirsing, say guns should be allowed. Period. “We are safer as a society when people can carry (a gun) and protect themselves,” he said at a recent meeting. “The idea of gun-free zones, including in schools, is not effective,” he added. He compared carrying a gun to wearing a beacon in the backcountry.

– Allen Best

But Al Vogel, a retired doctor living in Crested Butte, said it’s simple. “In homes with guns, gunshot injuries and deaths and the probability of successful suicides are significantly higher.”

The council has differing viewpoints. “I’ve been at softball games where people have come to blows,” said Jim Schmidt. “I’d hate to see someone be able to go easily to the next step.”

But Roland Mason, another councilman, pointed out that if someone really wanted to use a gun, he or she could hide it and do it anyway.

It appears, however, that those opposing guns in Town Board meetings or on the softball field will carry the day.

As for the person who sparked the debate, he says he simply inquired because he had thought about carrying a gun while walking his dog at night, because of bears and perhaps mountain lions.

Cannabis-induced panic attacks on rise

TELLURIDE – It’s not unexpected, says Art Goodtimes, writing in the Telluride Watch, but the local medical clinic has seen increases in “cannabis panic attacks.” It is, he explains “a surefire indicator you ate too many brownies.”

He notes that one local store limits the edible milligram count to 50, but he’s seen edibles with twice that much in other stores.

“And anyone who’s had more than their comfortable body doses of cannabis knows it can make you pretty woozy, to the point of nausea. And with new users that can lead to an anxiety attack.”

Unlike painkillers or aspirin, too much marijuana will, at most, lead to nausea and what one local doctor calls a “hyperadrenergic state.” Or, in more simple words, nervous, shaky and agitated.

In other marijuana news in the Telluride area, the Mountain Village municipal council will probably not allow sales. The vote was split, however. And local airport officials are trying to figure out how to handle marijuana taken by travelers to the airport but not allowed onto airplanes. Airports at Aspen, Colorado Springs and Eagle have already finalized rules for dealing with this situation, but they differ in their particulars and it’s not clear what the Federal Aviation Administration will decide is acceptable.

Ski towns investing in more renewables

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Slowly, but steadily, ski towns are moving to embrace renewable energy. The Steamboat Springs City Council is looking to buy into a new solar garden planned 42 miles west at Craig.

The concept, first introduced in California and in the last few years embraced by Colorado, allows a person or organization to buy into a solar installation in a detached location. Breckenridge now has two such solar gardens in its town limits, available for buy-in from local residents but also other residents and towns in Summit County. Telluride and Mountain Village have also purchased into a solar garden elsewhere in southwestern Colorado.

Telluride, meanwhile, is looking to buy into a hydroelectric project. A dam on the Uncompahgre River, located about a half-hour away near Ridgway, is being retrofitted to produce electricity. The City of Aspen is buying much of the hydroelectric power produced during winter. Telluride’s municipal government is looking at buying into the summer production from the 8-megawatt system.

“It would be a huge step toward meeting the mayor’s challenge that was set out in 2009,” says Karen Guglielmone, the public works director.

Telluride is already invested in a hydro station at Bridal Veil Falls, the picturesque waterfall at the head of the box canyon. The town is also installing a solar array on top of the new wastewater treatment plant.

“This project represents potentially a pretty good bang for the buck, in terms of return,” said Greg Clifton, the town manager. “It’s local, it will be a 24/7 operation … and it could take a big bite out of the community’s energy consumption.”

Problems of wealth in the news of Aspen

ASPEN – From pesky IRS agents to noisy golf course workers, the Roaring Fork Valley has had an abundance of what is sometimes called “white people problems.

Mathew Zuckerman, 69, a resident of Woody Creek, located near Aspen, has pleaded guilty to attempted tax evasion and will, according to the plea agreement, have to pay $694,000 in back taxes. The Aspen Daily News says that the plea agreement specifies that Zuckerman tried to avoid income taxes from 1986, 1993-2000, and again in 2002. His wife is also in the hard stare of federal agents.

Also near Aspen, the owner of land above Maroon Creek wanted to build a 13,250-square-foot home in an area prone to mudslides. The landowner had won permission, but the Pitkin County commissioners have ruled that the hearing officer they had employed had a conflict of interest.

This leaves the landowner, David Boehm, former director of an investment company with ties to an international mining company, with the right to build an 8,250-square-foot house somewhere on the same property.

Finally, down-valley at Carbondale, River Valley Ranch has been exempted from the town’s cap of 55 decibels in residential zone districts between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. The covenants for the golf course residential community, however, specify that those same noise limits don’t apply. One resident had called police repeatedly after being awakened every morning at 5:30 a.m. by tractors, mowers, blowers and other instruments of golf course maintenance.

– Allen Best

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