The strange hand of fate in two tales

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Fate was fickle in two outdoor adventures in the Colorado Rockies.

One was near Aspen, where a 31-year-old man intended to climb a 14,000-foot peak. To save himself a few steps the next morning, he tried to get his sport-utility vehicle just a little higher up a road. He miscalculated on a snowy section and the vehicle rolled seven times down the mountain.

The driver was mostly unscathed physically, reported The Aspen Times, but he said he was unlikely to repeat his off-road derring-do. From here on out, he vows to turn around if the road requires switching gears into 4-low.

About 50 miles away, a man who was hiking on Grizzly Creek Trail got no reprieve to allow further reflection. He tripped, hit his head on a rock, and that was that. The victim had been an emergency-room physician and had lent his skills in troubled spots around the world.

Jackson may get a Chinese sister-city

JACKSON, Wyo. – There’s a dab of conversation in Wyoming about a Chinese city establishing a sister-city relationship with Jackson. 

The conversation was precipitated by the work of David Wendt, of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs. For years, Wendt has been leading Wyoming delegations to Shanxi province, to talk about common purposes. Both are heavily laden with coal, a fuel with significant problems because of the air pollution it creates.

A representative of the province met with officials in Jackson and Teton County. “Not only do we want to be a sister province with Wyoming,” said Wu Shaozhong, deputy director of foreign affairs for the province, “but we also want one or two of our cities to be a sister city with Jackson.”

Sister-city candidates include Xinzhou, a major tourist attraction in the province’s mountainous region, and Jincheng, which was described by the Jackson Hole News&Guide as an industrial city of badly polluted air amid picturesque landscapes.

Canmore explores an Olympic bid

CANMORE, Alberta – It was a pretty good party the last time Calgary and Canmore hosted the Winter Olympics. That was in 1988, and it helped lift Calgary out of the doldrums and changed Canmore from a dumpy coal-mining town near the entrance to Banff National Park into a high-end resort town.

Calgary’s City Council recently approved $5 million to explore a bid for the 2026 Olympics. The next step is to earn the backing of the Canadian Olympic Committee. The International Olympic Committee will make a decision in 2019.

The $52 billion spent by Russia to host the Sochi Olympics plays into Calgary’s bid. This compares with $7.7 billion for the 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Olympics. The IOC has indicated it wants to lower the costs for hosts, and one way to do that is to re-use facilities.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t satisfied that the IOC is going to look at existing facilities and come back to original cities that have supported and had the Olympics,” Doug Mitchell, chair of the group that’s been working to prepare Calgary’s proposal, told the Toronto Globe & Mail.

One of the city councilors in Calgary said that the city, now mired economically because of low oil prices, is in almost exactly the same place it was in 1981, when it bid for the ’88 Olympics. “We have a troubled economy at the moment,” said Richard Pootmans. “Why not have an inspiring large project to re-energize the city?”

Canmore’s Rocky Mountain Outlook sees a repeat bid as a good idea. Both Canmore, which hosted Nordic events, and Calgary still have quality venues in place from 1988, the newspaper notes. If this happens, it adds, the 2026 Olympics might earn the sobriquet as the Sensible Games.

Electric cars and mountain towns 

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Range anxiety continues to slow the adoption of electric vehicles in mountain towns, but it’s happening nonetheless.

In the Tahoe-Truckee area along the California-Nevada border, a new report foresees 1,000 battery-electric vehicles being added to the local automotive fleet during the next decade.

The Tahoe-Truckee Plug-In Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan notes that adoption of electric vehicles has been slower than in California altogether despite a spurt of new Teslas of late. The report attributes this laggard adoption to the terrain of the region, more challenging weather and limited all-wheel drive offerings of plug-in electric vehicles.

The Porsche Cayenne, and Tesla Model X offer all-wheel-drive EVs, and all-wheel models from Mitsubishi, Volvo and BMW are expected to debut in the United States this year.

Still, range anxiety remains a challenge. Some hybrids can survive on battery energy for only 20 miles before reverting to the internal-combustion engine. Battery-only models have more range but do not have gasoline or diesel as a backup. The Chevy Volt has a range of 53 miles, for example, and it is reported that cold weather can reduce battery storage by up to half.

But the new Chevrolet Volt has a range of 200 miles and the newer models introduced by Tesla offer ranges of 230 to 260 miles. That’s enough battery storage to easily get a driver from Tahoe or Truckee back to Palo Alto or the Silicon Valley.

Still, the high volume of trips that originates outside the region and of the needs of second-homeowners create challenges for a charging infrastructure. The Tahoe-Truckee area has 30 charging stations containing 77 plugs-ins. 

The highest-level charger allows an electric vehicle to receive an 80 percent charge in half an hour. 

Dead grizzlies in Banff, Grand Teton

JASPER, Alberta – From Alberta to Wyoming, grizzly bear killings remain at the top of the news.

In Alberta, two men were charged with killing a 200-pound grizzly bear that had been collared in Jasper National Park this spring. The Jasper Fitzhugh put the poaching of the 200-pound male bear in the context of long-term decline of grizzly bears in Alberta. In 2010, the province estimated a population of 691, down 300 from just eight years before. To slow the decline, the province made it illegal in 2006 to hunt grizzly bears.

Leading causes of grizzly bear mortality, according to the report, were poaching, followed by accidental collision with vehicles or trains, self-defense (usually by hunters), and hunters misidentifying a grizzly bear for a black bear.

In Wyoming, a grizzly cub was hit and killed by a vehicle near Grand Teton National Park. The cub’s mother, a 20-year-old sow, is left without cubs for at least a year – and, if draft regulations are adopted in Wyoming, could be killed by trophy hunters. “That’s insane,” said Jim Laybourn, a wildlife videographer.

Famed wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen also finds it absurd. “There’s no reason to kill grizzly bears unless they are threatening property or people,” he told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. “I don’t believe we should ever have trophy hunting.”

New amusments at Vail and Heavenly

VAIL – There’s a new array of amusements on Vail Mountain and at the Heavenly ski area on the California-Nevada border.

At Heavenly, you can take what is generically called an alpine coaster, which winds through rocks and forests on a 3,400-foot track at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour, although riders can use hand controls to limit their pace.

Vail Mountain has different names but similar attractions. The seven zip lines include one that is more than a half-mile in length, another that has a peak apex of 300 feet above the ground, and another that allows riders to scoot at 50 miles per hour.

Variations on the same thing are planned next year at Breckenridge, while Aspen Skiing and a great many other ski area operators are planning to introduce similar venues in years ahead. 

To put these zip lines and other activities on U.S. Forest Service land required an act of Congress. A 1986 law gave the Forest Service authority to permit snow-related activities but was silent on summer use. Without that express authority, the Forest Service was hesitant to allow things that were starting to show up at ski areas on private land, including Park City and Whitefish.

The 2011 law passed by Congress provided that expanded authority, but specifically said that amusement parks weren’t allowed, nor were golf courses, tennis courts or water parks.

But there is pushback. In Wyoming, Jackson’s Snow King Resort – not to be confused with Jackson Hole Mountain Resort about 10 miles away – has already begun adding a high-ropes course, mountain coaster and mini-golf course on private land at the base. This is at a cost of $15 million.

Owners propose to add tens of millions more on Forest Service land, including a mountain-top restaurant that would remain open year round. The key goal, says Ryan Stanley, is diversification and long-term economic sustainability.

The backdrop for the story is a ski hill that for more than a decade lost an average of $500,000 annually. “Without improvements, the future of Wyoming’s first ski resort appeared dim,” noted the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

“When you look at the overall population of the United States, it’s like 2 percent of the people ski,” Stanley said. “We’re creating traction so the general public can participate. Everyone can tube. Everybody can ride the alpine slide or mountain coaster. Everyone can do the ropes course.”

But Jackson is already plenty busy in summer, as is Vail. Parking and affordable housing are big issues in both places.

Craig Benjamin, of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, insists that Snow King needs to do a better job of working with town officials. “They’re basically saying we’ll deal with the impacts to the town once we get our stuff built. That’s just remarkably brazen.”

Birds and bees and so forth in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The birds and the bees, flowers, and trees were among the gleanings offered by Steamboat Today.

Bees were part of the Pollinator Garden Tour that showcased plants that attract bees and other pollinators. Jackie Grimaldi’s garden includes lupines, petunias and snapdragons, which are called salvia flowers. The tour was organized by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.

In other news, a pair of women were pulling non-native plants, commonly called noxious weeds, from along their favorite trails. Their goals: prevent the trails from being sprayed with herbicides. “It’s so simple, and we can stop using the poisons,” explained Peggy Weaver.

In response to their protest, which included a petition signed by 700 people, Steamboat’s city government has agreed to check out other weed killers believed to be more benign than the herbicides. They are, however, more expensive.

And then finally there are the trees: 9,000 acres of them in the Park Range of northern Colorado, between Steamboat and Walden, being consumed by a “raging” wildfire. Part of the story here: dead trees killed by a virus spread by pine beetles.

“We knew from the start that once it got established in the thick timber and the beetle kill, it would be a long-term event,” said Aaron Voos, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

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