Ski instructor pay grievances exposed

WHISTLER, B.C. – The resignation of a long-term ski instructor at Whistler Blackcomb has exposed grievances. Better wages for foreign instructors is one complaint, as is the compensation for ski area executives.

Terry “Toulouse” Spence, 72, had taught at the ski area for more than 20 years. He tells Pique newsmagazine that he resents that temporary foreign workers get $15.30 per hour for standby, a minimum wage mandated by the federal government, while others such as himself get paid $10.25 for standby.

He also was frustrated to see the cost of lessons go up without a corresponding increase in his income.

Another ski instructor, Paul Venner, has not quit but complains that this past winter he got only a 15 cent hourly wage increase, to $33.75, while compensation to executives rose by double-digit percentages.

Whistler Blackcomb this season was charging $699 for a full-day private lesson. Venner got $202 of that, before taxes.

The ski area had 100 temporary foreign workers on its school staff this year, and they have high-level ski and snowboard expertise plus being able to speak foreign languages – crucial to meeting needs of some customers. The instructors come from Romania, Spain, Mexico, South America, Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan

Joel Chevalier, the ski area’s director of employee experience, told the newspaper that temporary foreign workers must have level 2 certification as a minimum. “They do an amazing job from a service (standpoint),” he said. “A lot of them speak multiple languages. And a lot of the folks from Romania have multiple disciplines as well. They can teach skiing and they can also teach snowboarding at a high level.”

Aspen locals get pins for 100-plus days

ASPEN – What the Aspen Daily News describes as a ski bum badge of distinction has been given out to 343 locals. The pins awarded by the Aspen Skiing Co. recognize 100 days or more of skiing at the company’s four ski mountains in and near Aspen and Snowmass Village. Company employees were excluded.

An Aspen Mountain regular, Mikey Wechler, skied all but one of the 155 days that it was open. On that day of hooky, he skied at Beaver Creek. He has missed just four days in the last 10 years.

Those getting pins ranged in age from 8 to 78.

The company began the program five years ago, after beginning automated access. This is the most people who have earned the pins in any one year. Ski company representatives attributed the increase to a season that started early and snow conditions that remained good.

Plus, ski season isn’t over yet. After closing on Easter, the bull wheels resumed operations again last week and will do so once more this weekend.

New grocery store highest in the chain

FRISCO – The Whole Foods store that opened on Tues., April 29, in Frisco has a unique distinction. At 9,197 feet in elevation, it is the highest of any of the chain’s 378 stores. Most are in the United States, but a few are in Vancouver and elsewhere in Canada.

Founded in 1980, Whole Foods is unlike most other grocery chains in many respects. It has a great selection of organic goods, of course, but also stopped distributing disposable plastic bags in 2008. Then this: a feng shui consultant.

The Summit Daily News reports that the consultant, Alex Stark, blessed the new 32,000-square-foot store in Frisco last week before a tour of local dignitaries. Standing in front of the store, he mixed gin, rice and cinnabar. They represent the heavens, people and the earth. He also hung crystal balls in specific spots in the back rooms.

Tables in the store’s café were made from beetle kill and old barns, and the café also has a retired gondola from Keystone ski that is outfitted with a table and Bluetooth-compatible speakers, reports the Daily News. There’s also a special room for mothers who want to nurse infants in private. Skis and snowboards have been pressed into new service as signs.

Vending machines for cannabis sales

AVON – Herbal Elements, a store licensed to sell medical marijuana in unincorporated Eagle County, between Vail and Avon, may have the first vending machine for cannabis.

The Vail Daily reports that some 200 people recently turned out to see how the machine works, even if the machine was temporarily in Avon, which wants nothing to do with marijuana. The machine lacked marijuana.

Called ZaZZ, the machine provides a secure way to make sales to regulars while freeing up display space and store employees. Representatives of the company liken it to the self-checkout areas at grocery and further note that “edible” cannabis, as opposed to smoking, as the wave of the future.

Students seek to ban circus animals

KETCHUM, Idaho – Where does an elephant sit? In the common joke, the answer is anywhere it pleases.

But five students from a local school in Ketchum hope to make it illegal for circus elephants to sit anywhere in Ketchum, Sun Valley or Blaine County.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports that the five students read a prepared statement to the Ketchum City Council while symbolically bound together in a rope that simulated circus chains. They said that lions and tigers in circuses are confined to small cages 99 percent of the time.

As for circus elephants, they are sometimes beaten and prodded with heavy bull hooks. Those in circuses live to an average of 14 years, compared to elephants in the wild, which live to be 70.

The students advocated that circuses use only human performers, as does Cirque du Soleil.

The response of the council? “If a small community like ours can’t make a statement like this, then why are we elected officials?” said Councilman Baird Gourlay.

Circuses exhibiting trained wild animals have appeared in two local, down-valley towns in recent years, but not in Ketchum or Sun Valley.

Jackson Landslide spectacle mesmerizes

JACKSON, Wyo. – The landslide in Jackson continues to be mesmerizing, drawing up to 100 people at a time to gawk at the spectacle of a house on East Gros Ventre Butte that is split in two, the kitchen and living room cleaved from the rest of the house.

Jeremy and Sara Budge tell the Jackson Hole News&Guide that they first noticed a crack the width of a penny in the house. That was in Christmas 2011. The next spring, they grew uneasy once the snow melted to reveal a crack in the driveway. But they didn’t know the severity of the situation.

By Mother’s Day 2013, however, problems had become much worse. Cracks had widened, doors fit worse in their frames, and the house had dropped a few inches. In November 2013, the family vacated the house, worried about the stability of the slope.

In mid-April, they became spectators in the destruction of their own house.

“It’s really a weird emotion, because it’s interesting and then you’re really sad,” Sara Budge told the News&Guide.

“You realize this is your house being torn apart, and then you start tearing up,” Jeremy Budge said.

Others living on East Gros Ventre Butte have also been forced to flee, many without their possessions. One resident, a drywaller, tells about moving his tools and other possessions down a trail in a wheelbarrow. The road had become undrivable.

One couple deeply affected by the landslide lives miles away, in Victor, Idaho. They commuted to Jackson to work at the Walgreens, which is located at the base and is now closed. The parking lot for the store has buckled under the weight of the mass of dirt pushing down the slope. The couple is now jobless, struggling to pay rent.

In an editorial, the News&Guide commends officials in Jackson and Teton County for what it calls a well-measured response.

“The finger-pointing will begin soon enough and there will likely be more jobs for lawyers than Realtors in the Budge Drive landslide neighborhood.”

But what has gone right, it says, is what the town, in particular, has done: community meetings that are live-streamed, letting consultants speak and be questioned, and using mobile media to send emergency alerts. “Information about operations has been robust and detailed in describing the emergency response.”

Legal drama continues about Park City ski area

PARK CITY, Utah – There’s more drama surrounding the Park City Mountain Resort. The ski area operated by Powdr Corp. is located on 3,700 acres of private land leased from Talisker Land Company.

Park City failed to renew a low-cost lease in 2011, and Talisker – now represented by Vail Resorts – is trying to oust Park City from the property. The ski lifts in question operate just a few blocks from the main shopping district in the ski town.

The Park Record reports that Talisker Land Holdings has submitted what is essentially a formal eviction order to sign if the judge rules in favor of Talisker and Vail.

In response, Alan Sullivan, lead attorney for Park City, issued a statement accusing Vail of attempting to “manufacture a crisis … We believe that the litigation will take years to work its way through the courts, and PCMR plans to operate without interruption in the meantime.”

Talisker (and Vail) say that Park City “makes clear that they will go to great lengths to keep prolonging this litigation as long as possible solely to delay the consequences of their own poor business decisions.”

Can Des Moines landfill benefit those in Aspen?

ASPEN – Instead of trying to harness local renewable energy, Aspen may buy electricity produced from Iowa and the Great Plains in its bid to make its municipal utility carbon-free by 2015. It’s now at 75 percent.

Aspen set out toward that 100 percent carbon-free goal in 2005 by adopting the Canary Initiative. One strategy was to essentially recreate the local hydroelectric infrastructure that had supplied most, if not all, of the city’s electricity from 1893 - 1958.

That idea, launched with what seemed overwhelming public support in 2007, ran into opposition based on fears of harmful effects to two local creeks from temporary reduction in flows. In November 2012, in a nonbinding plebiscite, Aspen voters by a narrow margin turned thumbs down on the idea. After investing more than $6 million in planning, legal work, and even the hydroelectric turbine itself, Aspen’s City Council decided to more leisurely sort through the options.

Last fall, a team from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory was hired to lay out options. The NREL team identified 16 potential ways to increase the renewable energy in the city’s portfolio.

Four ideas made the short list. One of them would be investing in Des Moines, Iowa, where a landfill is being tapped for its methane, to produce electricity. The Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, which provides much of Aspen’s power already, owns part of the project.

Also making the short list was additional purchase of wind generation through the same energy provider. Both would cost more than the fossil fuel generation currently provided to Aspen.

Large-scale solar was also on the short list, reports the Aspen Daily News, but the council rejected it because even eight dedicated acres of solar panels would provide so little electricity.

A step toward more geothermal energy

PAGOSA SPRINGS – Can the hot waters underlying Pagosa Springs be further tapped for heating purposes?

They already are, both at the commercial hot springs, located along the banks of the San Juan River and for a square block of downtown Pagosa Springs. Now, in what the Pagosa Sun describes as a “housekeeping move of sorts,” a government agency called the Pagosa Area Geothermal Water and Power Authority has been formed.

The new entity, a collaboration of the town government and Archuleta County, is further described as a step toward production of geothermal energy in Archuleta County.

Businesses nudged to heat their sidewalks

CRESTED BUTTE – A story in Crested Butte illustrates the trade-offs that must be evaluated under this broad tent that we call sustainability. Very fundamentally, it involves such things as the risk of breaking your keister when fetching mail at the post office.

In Crested Butte, that post office is located on Elk Avenue, the main shopping, drinking and eating district. Portions of that street can be icy indeed.

Sprinkling salt on the sidewalk as if it were a shot of tequila might work, but with adverse consequences to water. And then there’s the technology of warming sidewalks by running hot water pipes underneath.

To provide that heat typically means producing a greenhouse gas. Crested Butte, like many ski towns, vowed to reduce its complicity in global warming by cutting emissions.

Safety seems to be the winning argument, though, according to an account in the Crested Butte News. Sidewalks are being replaced during mud season, and the town is encouraging business owners to put tubes into those new sidewalks in front of their stores and restaurants.

“Dry sidewalks are good for the community. We are a tourist town, after all,” said Brian Schneider, co-owner of Brick Oven Pizzeria, who is encouraging the shift to heated sidewalks.

Schneider also claimed studies have shown that the carbon footprint of melting snow is less than that of hauling snow away with machines and trucks. But he also said his kitchen is designed to take advantage of heat generated from the restaurant’s refrigeration system to heat the business’s outdoor patio.

Consultant pitches bioenergy in Revelstoke

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – A consultant is pitching the idea of a bioenergy plant in Revelstoke, one that could convert wood waste into either compressed wood pellets for heating or into a diesel fuel.

John Christie, a business consultant, recently approached the municipal council as well as the Revelstoke Community Energy Corp. “I know the technology will work. It’s just a matter of who’s going to be first,” he said.

Knowledgeable individuals tell the Revelstoke Times Review that the local sawmill produces about 100,000 tons a year of wood waste, and that about 40 percent of local logs go to pulp mills, which pay little for them.

“If there’s an alternative for our wood residue, that would be very nice,” said Geoff Battersby, chair of the Revelstoke Community Energy Corporation.

– Allen Best
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