New ski area about skiing or real estate?

WHISTLER, B.C. – In the last week, nearly everyone in Whistler got on their winter snow tires. The law in British Columbia requires the snow tires by Oct. 1, but that law has widely been ignored in recent years as autumns have turned warmer. Snow in the valleys has been replaced by rain.

Rain also prevailed for most of last winter. It dumped – rain, especially below mid-mountain at Whistler Blackcomb. Skiers had to download to the base. It sometimes rained at the top of the mountain.

Will it get better this winter? Not necessarily. Michael Pidwirny, a climate scientist at the University of British Columbia, says El Niño should deliver less snow to southern British Columbia, Washington state and possibly Oregon this winter. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests above-average snowfall for California, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

Computer forecasts suggest this winter will be warmer than average, says Pidwirny, and that warming trend is here to stay. Pidwirny has analyzed the climate future of about 160 ski resorts in western Canada and the United States. Ski areas relatively close to the Pacific have their troubles ahead. So do resorts farther inland, just not as much.

Depending on the geographical location of the ski resort, the climate experienced in the winter of 2014-15 will become the average sometime between the years of 2050 to 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t curtailed. 

This poses the question of whether a proposed new ski area called Garibaldi at Squamish should be permitted.Garibaldi is set in a spectacularly beautiful place about halfway between Whistler and Vancouver. But is skiing there realistic?

Pidwirny says it would have a slightly warmer climate than Whistler, because it’s a little bit closer to the Pacific Ocean. From the ski area, it would be possible to look down on Howe Sound, an arm of the Pacific.

The best-case scenario, says Pidwirny, is that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, but more slowly than they have, until 2070, when they begin to drop. Even so, there would be a 50 percent chance of Garibaldi being warmer than last year. “I doubt the resort would be viable for skiing at that level of warmth,” he says.

If greenhouse gas emissions can’t be curtailed, it could be much warmer yet.

Jim Chu, vice president at Aquilini Investment Group, the project’s developer, told Whistler’s Pique that his group would diversify with year-round amenities. “We’re not having all our eggs in one basket,” he said.

Clare Ogilvie, editor of Pique, says that Whistler understands its own vulnerabilities but, given the climate future, is skeptical about Garibaldi’s intentions. “You have to ask yourself what is this all about? It is not really about creating a ski resort,” she says.

Real estate, not skiing, might be the real story, she says. She points out that it’s located between two of North America’s hottest real estate markets, Vancouver and Whistler. The proposal calls for 22,000 bed units and a permanent population of 8,000.

The Canada West Ski Areas Association argues that any new resorts in British Columbia should be built in a manner that reflects the climate 50 years into the future. By that simple measure, says David Lynn, president of the trade group, it’s highly questionable whether the Garibaldi at Squamish resort should be built.

Fancy this: snow at Lake Tahoe resorts

TRUCKEE, Calif. – After four largely snowless years in the Sierra Nevada, it was a good weekend at Northstar, Heavenly and other resorts around Lake Tahoe.

The Lake Tahoe News reports a snow depth of 18 inches to 4 feet at Northstar. “Even if we get a warm spell, we are in great shape,” said Jim Lamore, director of mountain operations.

The El Niño this winter is expected by meteorologists to be among the strongest since 1950. It does not treat all areas equally, points out the Los Angeles Times. Usually sterile deserts in Chile have bloomed with wildflowers after unusually high rainfall while 2 million people in Central America will need aid due to a drought worsened by El Niño, the United Nations warned last week.

Californians have been warned to expect a virtual conveyor belt of storms that will yield heavy rainfall – and mudslides.

Ski patrollers ratify a 3-year contract

TELLURIDE – The Telluride Ski Patrol last week ratified a three-year contract by a 50-to-1 vote, giving patrollers wage increases across the board and a freeze on changes to benefits. The contract also puts into writing benefits for maternity and paternity leave, medical leave, a five-day work week, and other benefits, a union representative tells the Telluride Daily Planet. Precise numbers were not made available.

It’s the first contract for the patrollers, who in February voted to become unionized with representation by the Communications Workers of America. The same union represents ski patrollers at Steamboat Springs and Crested Butte, and at the Canyons in Utah.

Ski patrollers at Taos Ski Valley also voted. Citing unspecified sources in Taos, the Vail Daily reports that the vote ended in a tie. This came after management sweetened the pot with a pay raise and an allowance for ski gear.

At Beaver Creek, ski instructors have been mulling union representation. Vail Resorts responded with a 55 cents/hour bump for beginning instructors lacking certification, giving them $10.50 an hour. Level 3 certified instructors will get a $4.05 pay increase, to $18 an hour, reported the Vail Daily, citing an e-mail circulated by the company.

Beaver Creek ski instructors have not yet voted to unionize, but if they do, all ski instructors will be required to pay a fee, instead of union dues, to the union. This is allowed by Colorado law.

Taos Ski Valley matriarch dies at age 97

TAOS, N.M. – Rhoda Blake died recently at the age of 97, and while she can be identified as the widow of Taos Ski Valley founder Ernie Blake, an obituary in the Taos News reveals she was plenty interesting in her own right.

“She was a 50-year cancer survivor, smoked for over 80 years, and was quick witted to the end. Without her strength and her backing, my father, Ernie, there would be no Taos Ski Valley,” said her son, Peter Blake.

The story in the Taos News borrowed frequently from a 1992 book, Ski Pioneers, written by Rick Richards. Rhoda was born in London but adopted by a New York City couple who educated her at the finest schools, including Bryn Mawr, a women’s liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.

The couple met on a Christmas ski trip to Stowe in 1940, met up again in Santa Fe in 1941, and got married 1942. They honeymooned at Sun Valley – and Rhoda later said that they almost got divorced because of their ski experience. Ernie was the better skier – and impatient. She was not so good.

But when Ernie decided he wanted to create a ski area at Taos, she was the one that told him to go for it.

Mystery of cracked toilet seats solved

JACKSON, Wyo. – The world is not yet homogenous. The Jackson Hole News&Guide can cite many examples to support that statement after several years of increased Chinese visitors.

Crowding at counters instead of waiting patiently in line, is one difference in cultural norms (and perhaps explained by urban vs. rural?).

But another difference between Pacific cultures and those in the West lies in toilet. Traditionally, in China, Japan, and other Pacific Rim countries, even indoor plumbing consisted of porcelain holes in the floor, for squatting, instead of the toilet “throne” common in Western countries. While the throne has become more common in Chinese cities, many prefer the old ways.

Officials at Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks weren’t aware of this difference when they began noticing broken toilet seats, especially in what used to be called outhouses. They now seem to be called vaults.

In all, about a dozen of the 42 vault toilets in Grand Teton National Park were broken this summer. What happened there and in Yellowstone was that tourists from Asian countries were squatting, with their feet on the lids, National Park Service officials discovered after consulting with a Chinese student.

Next year, the latrines will have signs illustrating proper use of lidded, elevated toilets.

Suicides jitters in Jackson and along the San Juan

JACKSON, Wyo. – Mental health counselors in Jackson Hole report they have been seeing one to two cases a week of kids and teens in severe mental crisis, up from one to two cases a month.

A spike after school starts is normal, said Diedre Ashley, executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. “This is more intense.”

Professionals tell the Jackson Hole News&Guide that they cannot explain the trend.

In New Mexico, leaders of the Navajo Nation say they think a spike in suicides is explained by pollution of the San Juan River as the result of a mining discharge in Colorado in early August. But the Associated Press talked with a number of Navajos who remain skeptical about any link of the pollution to the suicides.

Housing crunches as bad as it’s ever been

ASPEN – Although lacking any numbers as proof, The Aspen Times cites a source who believes that housing in Aspen has never been so tight. The observation comes from one person who arrived nine years ago, at the height of the last boom.

Meanwhile, the real estate market looks strong in Aspen and outlying areas. The Times reports continued plans for a new boutique and high-end hotel, while 18 miles down-valley in Basalt, a 110-unit housing proposal now wants to expand to 164 homes.

“The mid-valley needs housing,” Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said. “It’s good to see somebody talking about it.”

Jasper to welcome a Syrian refugee family

JASPER, Alberta – By next year, a refugee family from Syria may be living in Jasper. A local group has been passing the hat, assuming it will cost $30,000 to help the family of three to get their feet on the Canadian ground.

The patriarch of the Syrian family is a 64-year-old civil engineer whose building was bombed. His 60-year-old wife was a teacher, and their 30-year-old daughter graduated from Damascus University in 2009 and worked as a lawyer at the Syrian International Islamic Bank until last April.

They lately have been living in the mountains of Lebanon, explains Jasper’s Fitzhugh.

A key conduit to Jasper’s helping hand are a couple, Dave and Eness Hamdi, whose family has roots in Egypt, and he speaks Arabic, as do the Syrians.

“Every night we would watch the news. We would see and listen to the problems and wondered how we would help, but we didn’t know how,” Dave told the Fitzhugh. The Anglican Diocese of Edmonton, which has been sponsoring refugees for more than 30 years, was a vital conduit.

The Canadian government has said it will accept 25,000 Syrian refugees in coming months,.

Surprising effect of low oil prices in these towns

EMPIRE – Even in the little towns along the Continental Divide west of Denver, jobs are being shed as a result of the global glut in oil. And school districts in both Idaho Springs and Kremmling now must confront the possibility that their sugar-daddy of property assessments, the Henderson Mine and Mill, will close in just five years, not 10, as previously predicted.

Molybdenum has been extracted from the mine since 1976. It lies just east of the Continental Divide, at the foot of Berthoud Pass. The grayish molybdenite ore is hauled through a tunnel under the Continental Divide, where a processing mill about 35 miles from Kremmling extracts the molybdenum from the rock.

Among scores of uses, molybdenum strengthens steel. The demand for steel has fallen off sharply as drilling rigs have been laid down in response to the glut of world oil supplies. The International Energy Agency last week reported a global stockpile of 3 billion barrels.

Production of molybdenum from Henderson was 27 million pounds per year but Freeport-McMoRan, the mining company, now plans 10 million pounds will be planned. The price for molybdenum is now the lowest in 12 years, company officials tell the Clear Creek Courant.

With these cutbacks, fewer employees are needed. The 540 employees at the mine and mill will be trimmed by 130 in January. This comes on the heels of 80 layoffs in August.

Many of the mine’s employees live in metropolitan Denver, less than an hour away. But the taxes go to primarily Clear Creek and Grand counties. Officials from both had been advised by company representatives in April of the need to begin planning for when the mine closes.

At that time, Freeport-McMoRan stressed that while a precise date couldn’t be guaranteed, local officials needed to assume a maximum of 10 years of continued mining. But that assumed expectation of continued higher oil prices. Now, with lower prices, some of the final ore body might not be mined economically. In that case, the mine might now close in five years, officials tell the Clear Creek Courant.

– Allen Best

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