Whitefish says no to a gated subdivision

WHITEFISH, Mont. – Elected officials in Whitefish are standing firm, telling a homeowners association at Grouse Mountain Estates that gates cannot be installed to keep out the general public.

In this ruling, city officials reaffirmed a long-standing policy that goes back to the 1990s, explains the Whitefish Pilot. An exhaustive community-wide planning process in 2007 identified a community perception of gated communities as a “problem and a threat to Whitefish’s small-town feel and neighborhood character.”

Is this case different? The Pilot explains that Grouse Mountain homeowners found that work on a nearby road resulted in many people driving through the subdivision, to avoid traffic delays. The subdivision is one of several subdivisions in Whitefish with privately maintained streets and roads.

Slow real estate thaw at outlier towns

GRANBY – While real estate sales have edged toward sizzle in places like Aspen, the market has just started thawing in outlier mountain towns like Granby.

A case in point is Grand Elk, which about a decade ago was being marketed as “Colorado as it used to be.” The real estate development in Granby remains, for better or worse, a lot like Colorado as it used to be.

The Sky-Hi News, however, reports that Wyndham Worldwide, a holding company for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, plans at least six new “Presidential Casitas” to be completed next year. Details are sketchy. Wyndham corporate representatives told the newspaper they would answer questions only after construction was completed and units had been sold.

Canmore considers flood protection

CANMORE, Alberta – Strictly by the statistics, the flooding that very nearly destroyed several dozen homes in Canmore in June 2013 should occur only once every few hundred years.

But then again, it could happen next year. Or even worse flooding could occur. Calculating the odds, elected officials in the gateway town at the entrance to Banff National Park are considering pulling the trigger on a mitigating measure.

A consultant recommends a 30-meter high “debris flood retention structure” at a cost of $40 million, to store water and debris during major rain events.

Examination of the deposits along the creek indicate that last year’s flooding was a once-in-400-years event. But floods with two or three times as much debris have occurred. This proposed structure would anticipate one of those larger events, which in the past happened every 1,000 to 3,000 years.

What makes Cougar Creek more problematic than other creeks in Canmore is the possibility of rock slides. These rocks can block the channel, creating a dam that is likely to then burst, creating a much bigger wall of water, explains Mathias Jakob, a consultant from Vancouver, B.C.

Jakob also warns that data collected to the south of Canmore, in Kananaskis Country, shows a trend of more heavy rainfall events since 1939.

“We cannot say absolutely for sure if this trend will continue. But should that trend continue, we may see an event like that every year,” Jakob added, alluding to last year’s flood.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook says that Canmore is prepared to spend $4 million for the flood control work, but expects the remaining $36 million would need to come from provincial and federal coffers.

Bigger fish swallow the smaller ski fish

PARK CITY, Utah – The latest case of a big fish swallowing smaller fish in the ski industry is Deer Valley’s purchase of Solitude.

Deer Valley is by far the larger of the two, with three times the volume – mostly destination skiers. It’s located in Park City, on the east side of the Wasatch with a great deal of intermediate terrain and, on a clear day, provides views into Wyoming

Solitude is on the west side of the range, in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and about three-quarters of its customers come from the Wasatch Front. There is beginner and intermediate terrain, but also scare-your-pants-off steeps, cliffs and other derring-do.

For all their differences, the two ski areas are relatively close, a 20-minute drive by car in summer, but just a 3- or 4-minute shuttle by helicopter. Yet the proximity itself is not what made Solitude so attractive to Deer Valley, says Bob Wheaton, the long-time general manager.

Instead, Wheaton identifies a host of factors. In addition to diversity of terrain and clientele, he says Solitude has a strong performance under ownership of the DeSeelhorst family for the last 40 years.

The change in ownership and operations is scheduled to occur May 1. Deer Valley says it does not plan to rebrand Solitude, except to let the public know that Solitude is now part of the “Deer Valley family.”

Snowboarding will continue to be allowed at Solitude, unlike at Deer Valley.

Will this lead to the connection of Deer Valley and Solitude? Not necessarily. Deer Valley supports Ski Utah’s “One Wasatch” plan to link the seven ski areas throughout the Wasatch. The plan envisions Solitude linking to Park City and dropping the rope that separates Park City from Deer Valley.

Wheaton, who has been at Deer Valley since before its opening 33 years ago, says this present alignment makes the most sense of anything that has been looked at in the last three decades.

Forests landscape to become different

GUNNISON – Unlike northern Colorado, where lodgepole pine dominate mountain slopes, spruce and fir hold sway in Gunnison County. They take 200 to 400 years to grow, unlike lodgepole, which live maybe 120 years.

But after about 90 percent of lodgepole have succumbed to a fungus spread by bark beetles, the spruce and fir trees are now facing insects and disease.

A forester recently told Gunnison County commissioners that up to 90 percent mortality may occur. That means the local landscape around Gunnison and Crested Butte may look very different in coming years – and stay that way.

Dollar-store type of season ski passes

TRUCKEE, Calif. – It seemed too good to be true. It was.

People checking out the website for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows found that season passes cost only $1. The Gold Tahoe Super passes normally cost $809. So some people bought the sweetly priced passes as if they were a can of tuna. Some people grabbed a handful.

Alas, the cost advertised between midnight and 9 a.m. was a technical glitch, and the ski area operator said the deal was off. Buyers were refunded their $1 and offered a special price, but not nearly as good. The Sierra Sun reports some buyer remorse.

Breck to vote on Main Street cannabis

BRECKENRIDGE – Voters in Breckenridge will be asked at a special election in December whether marijuana sales should be allowed at stores located on Main Street.

Visitors shop for everything from T-shirts to fine art on Main Street, the Victorian-themed district. Just one store, the Breckenridge Cannabis Club, sells cannabis, and it has done so for five years, since medicinal sales were allowed. Four other stores sell cannabis in an outlying place where plumbing contractors and other such businesses are headquartered.

This coming vote will be nonbinding on the Town Council. That there is any kind of debate at all in Breckenridge, which early on supported legalization of marijuana sales and by wide margins, is the real surprise.

Writing in The Denver Post, Steve Lipsher noted a stinky attitude. “This, of course, is a town that regularly closes down its entire Main Street for big, drunken bashes like last month’s Oktoberfest, boasts more than 70 drinking establishments, crows about every magazine’s ‘best après-ski’ designation, and markets heavily on college campuses in hopes of attracting boisterous spring-break crowds,” he says. “Some might call that a paradox. Some might say it’s hypocritical.”

– Allen Best

Not all boats rise as high in this voyage to prosperity

JACKSON, Wyo. – Sales are back to an all-time high as reflected by local tax collections in Jackson and Teton County, points out Jonathan Schechter, a columnist for the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Jobs are back, too, after a recession that saw 8 percent of jobs vanish in 2008 and another 3 percent the next year.

But the jobs that have returned are not all equal. Tourism still accounts for about half of all local jobs that pay wages or salaries, and the typical wage in a tourism job is still relatively low, $27,000 per year. This compares with $40,500 for the average over-all job in Teton County.

“What’s striking is this: During the last 13 years, even with the recession, wages in almost every income category increased around 40 percent,” Schechter writes. But white-collar jobs – including information, finance, management and professional services and health care – now pay 70 percent more.

With this added edge, people in higher-paying white-collar jobs can better compete for the limited local housing. “The consequences of this dynamic hit with a vengeance this past June, when local tourism-related businesses had such a hard time finding help,” Schechter notes.

One possible take-away: spending lodging tax dollars on providing more affordable housing might benefit the tourism sector as much as promotion of the charms of Jackson Hole.

Rico hopes to pursue geothermal development

RICO – Rico has hot water. There’s a free dipping pool on the edge of the town and commercial hot springs about 10 miles away.

Can Rico also develop the heat that is believed to lie below the area? Since 2009, both the Colorado School of Mines and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have done studies. The resource is believed to be the second best in Colorado, although a 2010 document prepared for the town concludes that “the exact nature of this heat source is not clear.”

Now, the town is getting active, wondering if the heat can be developed to produce a commercial hot springs, a year-round greenhouse or even electricity.

The town recently sent a delegation to a geothermal conference in Pagosa Springs and now plans to send a committee to Denver to investigate funding to further study.

“It’s rather preliminary,” explains committee member Ramon Escure, a Rico resident and attorney in Telluride.

– Allen Best

More stories from mountain towns of the West can be found at mountaintownnews.net.