Bill Gates puts money into C02 test

SQUAMISH, B.C. – Bill Gates has allocated at least a small portion of his enormous fortune to an experiment in British Columbia that seeks to draw carbon dioxide out of the air.

The $9 million project at Squamish, 35 miles downvalley from Whistler, should probably be seen as a long shot at solving what many believe is humanity’s most pressing problem.

In an interview with the Atlantic Monthly, Gates said he believes that wealthy nations like China and the United States, which also happen to be the most prodigious belchers of greenhouse gases, must cease adding carbon to the skies by 2050.

But can we draw carbon from the atmosphere that has already been emitted? The project at Squamish, undertaken by a company called Carbon Engineering, seeks to capture about a ton of C02 from the air per day.

That’s not much, and the C02 eventually will be released into the atmosphere anyway. So what’s the point? Geoff Holmes, business development manager for the Calgary-based company, tells Whistler’s Pique that the goal is to scale the technology so that millions of tons of C02 can be captured daily and converted into useful products.

In a 2013 article in the New York Times, a research scientist at the University of Southern California said the cost of capturing C02 from the air has yet to be demonstrated. Estimates have ranged from $20 a ton to as much as $2,000 a ton, said Alain Goeppert. “We won’t know for sure until someone builds a pilot plant.”

The Times noted that an average passenger vehicle generates about five tons of carbon dioxide a year.

The technology was born at the University of Calgary, in the laboratory of Professor David Keith, who now teaches at Harvard. He is executive chairman of Carbon Engineering.

Also among the funders is Murray Edwards, part owner of the Calgary Flames.

Strong U.S. dollar a mixed bag for Vail

AVON – What exactly does a strong dollar mean for tourism Vail and Beaver Creek this winter? The answer, the Vail Daily learned, is that it depends.

Kelly Ladyga, speaking for Vail Resorts, told the newspaper that the higher-spending customers targeted by the company tend to be more insulated from fluctuations in currency exchange rates.

On the other hand, there has been “sluggishness” in reservations from Canada and Great Britain. The U.S. dollar has been particularly strong against their currencies. However, Vail Resorts expects those declines to be offset by gains from Mexico, Australia and the domestic market.

Ralf Garrison, principal owner of Destimetrics, a research and consulting firm, told the newspaper that Vail, Aspen and other high-end resorts “tend to fly above the storm clouds” of currency fluctuations.

Chinese visits to Jackson Hole surge

JACKSON, Wyo. – It sounds like there will be a need for workers in Jackson Hole who know Mandarin Chinese. An estimated 300,000 Chinese passed through Jackson in 2014, and by one estimate, this year the total grew to 500,000. The valley altogether has 4 to 5 million annual visitors.

The News&Guide talked with downtown merchants in Jackson who testified to the uptick in Chinese visitors drawn to see two of America’s iconic national parks, Teton and Yellowstone. Nearly every group had at least one English-speaker, but there are customs to learn.

“You don’t put them on the garden floor,” said Heather Falk, director of sales and marketing at the Lexington Hotel and Suites. “The guide and drivers go down below the paying guests, and you need extra hot water in the lobby and at breakfast.”

A gallery operator in Jackson said Chinese tourists accounted for up to a quarter of his summer sales this year.

Restaurant owner Joe Rice, a former Marine who had served in Asia, said he has the menus for his six restaurants translated into Mandarin. “It makes them feel welcome to see something familiar, that makes them feel like, ‘they want us to be here,’” he said.

Unlike American visitors, who tend to hug the peak seasons because of school schedules, the Chinese have filled in the shoulder seasons.

And what’s next? Boosters of Chinese tourism point to a potential for winter tourism. The number of skiers in China has exploded from about 10,000 a decade ago to 10 million today. And, the News&Guide points out, China has won the 2022 Winter Olympics bid.

Being gay, as a ski racer and a mayor

TELLURIDE – In late October, Olympic freestyle skiing medalist Gus Kenworthy announced, both on his Facebook page and in a major story in EPSN: The Magazine, that he is gay.

Last week, in Telluride, where Kenworthy grew up, townspeople elected a new mayor, Sean Murphy, a gallery owner. Murphy is also gay and proudly proclaimed so in a speech on the town’s main street. In the speech, he lauded Kenworthy’s announcement before making remarks about the meaning of his own victory.

“The torch has been passed to a new generation,” said Murphy, a former lawyer in New York City. “It’s a generation that cares less about skin color and sexual orientation than it does about what talents each of us brings to the table and how everyone can collaborate to solve problems.” The speech was excerpted by the Telluride Daily Planet.

But does the younger generation actually care less about sexual orientation? For all its emphasis on being alternative, the action sports world doesn’t reward nonconformity, the ESPN article says. Kenworthy was anguished even as he became an international skiing star, because of the pressures to make him something different than who he was.

“In skiing, there’s such an alpha male thing about pulling the hottest chicks,” Kenworthy told ESPN. “I know hooking up with hot girls doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world. But I literally would sleep with a girl and then cry about it afterward. I’m like, ‘What am I doing? I don’t know what I’m doing.’”

Ski area sold for less than price of home

FAIRFIELD, Idaho – Want to buy a ski area? Check Facebook.

That, at least, is how Matt and Diane McFerran, a couple from Bend, Ore., came to own the Soldier Mountain Ski Area, located 65 miles from Ketchum and Sun Valley,.

Owned by actor Bruce Willis from 1996-2012, Soldier Mountain has two chairlifts and 1,400 vertical feet. It serves mostly local farm families.

The McFerrans, who are in their late 30s, tell the Bend Bulletin that owning a ski area was a retirement dream, but this opportunity was too good to pass up.

Willis donated the ski area to a nonprofit founded to manage the property. After trying a more conventional approach, using a real estate broker, the foundation used Facebook. Within three days, more than 2,000 inquiries had been made.

Dr. Jim Johnston, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Boise who heads the nonprofit’s board of directors, told the Bulletin that the ski area won’t make anybody rich, but it can make a little profit.

Court upholds Aspen’s plastic bag policy

ASPEN – Aspen’s policy to reduce the number of plastic shopping bags has survived a legal challenge. The bag-fee law, passed by the Aspen City Council in 2011, applied to just the two grocery stores in Aspen. Shoppers are assessed 20 cents per paper bag, and plastic bags cannot be dispensed.

Aspen calls it a fee, and the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed. Grocery stores get to keep up to $100 monthly from the fees.

“The primary purpose of the ordinance is to reduce waste,” the Court of Appeals ruling said in defending the fee. “The top priority for the use of the funds collected from the waste reduction fee is to provide usable bags to both residents and visitors.”

Jackson firefighters have unionized

JACKSON, Wyo. – Firefighters in Jackson Hole have unionized. The News&Guide reports that the vote was 14 to three, and an attorney for Teton County says the upshot of this move is to give the firefighters a seat at the table in the future.

Because Wyoming is a right-to-work state, there’s no real benefit to collective bargaining, a police officer in Jackson tells the newspaper.

Firefighters, if they have an issue they wish to address, must let Teton County commissioners know 125 days before the budget is approved. The two sides have 10 days to reach agreement. If they cannot do so, the matter goes to arbitration.