Yellowstone gears up for Chinese 

GARDNER, Mont. – Of the 4 million visitors to Yellowstone National Park last year, about 400,000 were from China. This year, reports the Idaho Falls Register, 600,000 are expected.

In response, Yellowstone added three Mandarin-speaking rangers to its staff. The park has many basic safety publications in different languages, Rich Jehle, a resource education ranger tells the Billings Gazette, but the agency sees value in somebody speaking directly to a visitor.

Chinese tend to take their cues for how to behave from other visitors, which may not be the best thing to do. Mandarin-speaking rangers can more directly communicate the rules. But Evan Hubbard, who comes by his fluency from two years in China, also points out a benefit. When he greets Chinese visitors on trails in their native language, “their eyes will light up,” he tells the Gazette.

Many Chinese fly to Salt Lake City and then take tour buses through Idaho on their way to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Hotel managers in Idaho Falls say anywhere from 20 to 60 percent of their rooms have been filled by Chinese tour groups this summer. While tour leaders commonly speak some English, Google Translate has been valuable.

Translating cultural norms is more complicated. Chinese patrons tend to talk much more loudly, which some managers say has led to complaints from other visitors.

“It’s a very animated society,” says Brian Riley, owner of Old Hand Holdings, a marketing company in Jackson, Wyo., that works with Chinese tour companies. He lived in Asia for 30 years and has published a guidebook in Mandarin along with videos. They describe the area and American cultural norms.

One American norm puzzling to Chinese visitors is the expectation of a gratuity for waiters. Waiters at the Sandpipe Restaurant in Idaho Falls sometimes have to grin and bear it after delivering the New York steaks, which have been a hit with many Chinese.

Vail donates to Herbert, Bishop

PARK CITY, Utah – What behooves a big ski company to give a few thousand dollars to various political candidates? That’s the core question in Park City, where the political action committee of Vail Resorts has tossed $2,500 into the campaign of U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop and $3,000 into the campaign of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

Both are Republicans who hew to more conservative thoughts about environmental matters and use of public lands.

Asked by The Park Record to explain itself, Vail Resorts offered a careful tip-toeing answer: “We view this as being a part of the local communities in which we operate where issues of tourism and recreation are paramount.”

Bishop suggested that the donation from Vail Resorts would never influence his voting. But Bishop’s Democratic opponent told the Record that Bishop’s stances are “incongruous” with the interests of Vail Resorts and other ski area operators. “It’s very surprising. I would think they would look at somebody like myself … because I am not a climate-science denier,” said Peter Clemens.

Herbert, who has tended to be skeptical that climate change is an issue, has received contributions from a great number of ski companies doing business in Utah, the Record notes.

Close encounters with ursine kind

WEST GLACIER, Mont. – Summer has brought several close encounters between humans and bears in the Rocky Mountains. Some have turned out better than others.

In Montana, a Forest Service employee mountain biking on a trail near the west entrance to Glacier National Park collided with a bear at a high rate of speed. Investigators, according to the Hungry Horse News, said they believe the victim had no time to react or avoid the collision. He was mauled to death. It’s not clear whether it was a grizzly or a black bear.

In Alberta, a surprise encounter turned out better for both a grizzly and hikers. Two hikers in Banff National Park came across the grizzly at fairly close range. As they backed away down the trail, picking up other hikers in their retreat, the grizzly followed, coming to within 10 to 15 meters before they set off a bear-banger, a flare with a loud bang. With that, the bear retreated.

Splitting 14er superlative hairs

ASPEN – The quest for mountaineering superlatives among Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks continues, but not without controversy. The 54 to 57 peaks (depending upon how you define what constitutes a sub-peak on the same ridge) were all climbed many decades ago.

In recent years, the feats of first and fastest have moved into niches. Every year somebody climbs them in a shorter time. One individual bicycled his way all over Colorado in his quest to climb them all one summer. Another individual has the distinction of sleeping overnight on the summit of each one.

That sleepy-head is Jon Kedrowski, who grew up near Vail. In addition to having his Ph.D. in geography, he is also a good skier. Last winter he set out to ski down the summit of each of the 14ers. That’s been done repeatedly but he set out to do it in one season. He started in January but didn’t get cranking until April and May. That left him descending some mountains that, according to some, didn’t have much snow left to ski.

But there are two mountains that The Aspen Times reports absolutely defied Kedrowski’s ambitions. Wetterhorn, located in the San Juan Mountains near Durango, simply cannot be skied from the summit, Kedrowski says. Capitol Peak, near Aspen, can, but it’s steep and enormously difficult, and by June 12 snow had disappeared from the summit.

Still, Kedrowski skied the Secret Chute, what the Times says would be a hair-raising route for nearly every other skier. It’s not from the summit, though, so does it count?

Other mountaineers think that Kedrowski painted outside the lines on this and other mountains, making him ineligible to claim a first. Kedrowski tells the Aspen Times that he was “bummed out” by the amount of criticism but ultimately agrees. Aspen’s Chris Davenport, who skied the summits in one calendar year, retains the record.

“Does it really matter to the ordinary person that he down-climbed Pyramid (a 14er near Aspen)? Probably not,” said Ted Mahon, who has skied from all the summits, but not in one year. “But if everyone is allowed to dilute the task a little bit at a time, what are we all left with? Someone goes up and skis a strip of snow in June and calls it a mountain skied.”

Davenport was more succinct: “He got close, but like with rock climbs, you don’t claim you did it unless you did it,” he told the Times.

Wages rising, but it’s still tough in Jackson

JACKSON, Wyo. – It’s high-season in Jackson Hole, and the Jackson Hole News&Guide is rife with stories about the community’s continued agonizing about insufficient housing at low enough prices to satisfy the needs of all those who want to live and work there.

Wages are rising, but not enough. The local ski hill, Snow King, has upped entry-level wages from $9 an hour to $12.50 an hour in just the last year and a half. The Snake River Lodge and Spa is offering $14.50 an hour for bellhops and valets, $16 an hour for front-desk agents, and upwards of $20 an hour for managers. This is in additional to a healthy benefits package.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology study of Jackson Hole says that $22.25 an hour is a living wage for one adult and one child.

In the town elections, income disparity is one of the issues highlighted by the newspaper. But a columnist, writing from the perspective of senior citizens, suggests that today’s news looks an awful lot like that of 50 years ago.

“When I arrived in Jackson Hole in 1957,” one senior says, “it was a great place but, you know, it was kind of expensive. Even though I had a good job I couldn’t find a place to live, and the winters were so cold I thought I should just say ‘the heck with it’ and get out of here.”

That’s almost 60 years ago. Obviously, the leaving part never happened.

Teeming crowds in Banff National Park

BANFF, Alberta – As part of the 150th anniversary of Canada next year, admission to the national parks – including Banff National Park – will be free. The Rocky Mountain Outlook wonders whether Banff, the busy town within the eponymously named park, can absorb all the summer visitors. “Based on an already upward trend in tourism in Banff, free passes may well boost that number to the unmanageable,” opines the newspaper.

Obama celebrates parks with visit to Yosemite

MARIPOSA, Calif. – President Barack Obama and his family were at Yosemite National Park recently. He did some hiking, some waterfall viewing and talked a bit.

Obama said he had first visited a national park, Yellowstone, in 1975, when 11 years old. He recalled seeing a moose in a lake, then a field of deer, and a bear with her cubs, according to an account by the Fresno Bee.

“That changes you. You are not the same after that,” he said.

He also talked about how climate is changing Yosemite. Meadows are drying up, the park’s largest glacier is in retreat, and the pika is heading to higher elevations in search of a livable habitat.

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