BASE jumper death raises questions

SQUAMISH, B.C. – A rock formation called the Stawamus Chief Mountain overlooks Squamish, about two-thirds of the way from Vancouver to Whistler. The first of the granite cliffs stands 2,000 feet high and has become a favorite of BASE jumpers. However, on Sunday morning, tragedy struck.

Gary Kremer, a former Marine from Seattle, had gone to Squamish to experience the thrill of jumping off the cliff, deploying a parachute part-way down. For some reason, which was not immediately clear, his chute failed to deploy until just seconds before he slammed into the ground near the Sea to Sky Highway.

Newspapers talked to Kremer’s girlfriend, Paige Anderson. “I just really want to make sure people don’t look at this sport negatively because of what happened to him,” she said. “He loved it and would not have changed a thing. He would have kept jumping the rest of his life.”

She said he had begun BASE jumping about nine years ago and fell in love with it. “He was free. He could fly,” she said. “It was a feeling he couldn’t get anywhere else.

Last year, a 40-year-old local man died while attempting to speed-fly from Stawamus. This sport is similar to paragliding but with a parachute. Others have had to be rescued, prompting a former mayor of Squamish to propose banning aerials from the cliff.

The current mayor, Patricia Heintzman sees no need for a ban. “You have to hope people make good choices,” she told the Globe and Mail. “People who do these extreme sports know the risks they’re taking, have prepared tremendously to do them, and you just have to hope they’re doing things within their skill set.”

Heintzman questioned where to draw the line in attempting to regulate risky sports.

“More people die of snowmobile deaths in avalanches,” she said. “People make choices and have consequences of their choices every day of their lives, and sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re not.”


Where ‘young’ is defined as under 50

ASPEN – “Young” is relative, right? At the Aspen Music Festival, they think of young as anyone under 50. And they’d like to see more young people show up.

The Aspen Times says that the festival, now starting its 68th season, hopes to draw a slightly younger crowd by launching programming that has been successfully adopted by orchestras around the country. There will be cooking lessons and wine-tasting to go along with the more high-brow music.

“I think in the future we’ll experiment with shorter concerts,” Alan Fletcher, chief executive of the Aspen Music Festival, said. “So you would come, network with a group of people, mingle with them, and then have a brief concert rather than signing up for a whole long evening.”

Aging audiences fit in with the demographic profile of Aspen. In 1990, the median age of full-time residents in Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, was 34. By the century’s turn, it was up to 38. As of 2010 it had reached 44. That compares with the U.S. median age of 37.

Visitors and part-timers are, if anything, older: most are between 45 and 75.

The Times notes that another local music festival, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, has a program that aims for younger local residents. But the organization also has programs geared to satisfy baby boomers. This year they include Diana Ross, who is 72, Booker T, who is 71, and Smokey Robinson, who is 76.

Jean-Philippe Malaty, executive director of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, says the conversation in the arts about graying audiences is nothing new. “That story has been written for a hundred years, and still we have audiences. People go to the theater when they get older, when the kids are out of college or the college has been paid off, when they have the time and the resources, when they need to make social connections outside of Facebook,” he tells the Times. “Everybody has always been writing this ‘gray hair’ story, but that’s when you have money, that’s when you return to dance – it’s a natural cycle of audiences.”


Some grizzlies like to be near people

BANFF, Alberta – Radio-collars on grizzly bears in and around Banff National Park have been telling wildlife researchers a surprising story. The bears, some of them, seek out humans for protection.

Writing in Whistler’s Pique, Leslie Anthony tells of the tracking of a female grizzly bear fitted with a GPS collar. One evening in July 2014, she spent time foraging near the main ingress into Banff townsite from the Trans-Canada Highway. Then, in the early morning, she was sleeping even closer to the town.

It was part of a pattern.

“The penchant for bedding down near buildings, roadways and other infrastructure is one of the more recent pieces in the puzzle of grizzly biology and behavior revealed over some 30 years of tagging studies in Alberta’s Bow River corridor,” Anthony writes.

Just as bears are part of life for the people of Banff, humans are part of life for the female grizzly, who has never known differently.

In a 2013 TEDx talk in nearby Canmore, Steve Michel shared the insight of biologists in their studies of bears near Banff and Lake Louise.

“Grizzly bears often like to come close to us,” said Michel, the human-wildlife conflict specialist for Parks Canada. “They do that on purpose and they do it for their own safety… And you might be thinking, well, what does a grizzly bear have to fear? The reality is that they have to fear other, bigger grizzly bears. So, for young grizzlies or, particularly, females with cubs, if they come close to human facilities, they can keep their cubs safe.”

The technology has also allowed researchers to better grasp the great distances covered by grizzlies. The sow in 2014 moved from valley bottom to a high alpine bowl with her cubs, getting out of areas heavily trafficked by boars, as mature male grizzlies are known, during breeding season. Home ranges for boars are three to four times larger than for sows.

Ultimately, the value of advanced technology lies less in the individual disposition of bears than their bigger ecological role.

“Grizzlies are an indicator species,” says Steve Michel. “If grizzlies aren’t doing well, the environment is likely compromised and there’s a good chance it will eventually impact people. But grizzly bears are also one of the most difficult species for us to get along with, and that’s why I think if we can learn to get along with them, we can learn to get along with any wildlife species.”


Snow making in the heat of summer

TRUCKEE, Calif. – It sounds audacious, and it is. Boreal Mountain Resort, located by the side of I-80 at Donner Pass, is making snow this summer.

It’s not a lot of snow, maybe a quarter-acre every four hours, but that’s just enough to augment – and put a white sheen on – the residual snow of winter used for a summer ski and snowboard camp.

This is the first North American application of the technology, called Snowfactory. It has been used in Europe for two or three years, especially for Nordic ski teams seeking to train early in autumn.

Traditional snowmaking usually requires temperatures below 28 degrees. TechnoAlpin, with its demonstration in California, uses the technology of an air conditioner, freezing water in a heat exchanger. The water freezes completely, gets harvested and exits the icemaker at around -17 degrees.

TechnoAlpin, on its website, explains that the snow is not snow as we generally know it, but rather small, dry ice flakes that are completely frozen. Because of the absence of moisture, it doesn’t melt as readily as conventional snow.

Robin Smith, strategy and business development director for TechnoAlpin’s North American operations, says the snow being produced at Boreal should survive summer heat better than you might think.

“Natural snow, when the sun hits it, melts very quickly,” says Smith. “Machine-made snow is much more dense and it lasts 10 times longer than natural snow. What comes out of Snowfactory is even more durable yet, maybe by a factor of two to three.”


Why the Green Party needs to first act locally

TELLURIDE – Art Goodtimes has the distinction of being the only elected public official in Colorado who is a member of the Green Party. This year he’s wrapping up his fifth and final term as a San Miguel County commissioner.

But Goodtimes is not supporting the Green Party’s nominees for federal office. One of them is Arn Menconi, a former Eagle County commissioner now living in Carbondale. In a meeting covered by the Telluride Daily Planet, Goodtimes explained his reason why.

“Why put forth a candidate that has no chance of winning and only takes votes away from progressives?” Goodtimes asked. “On the national level, it’s a game of winners and losers. If you’re playing a game of righteousness, you don’t matter.”

Goodtimes said Green Party members should work from the local level first, by getting elected to local offices. He was elected as a Democrat, but then switched to the Green Party and was re-elected as a Green Party member four times.

“How did the right wing take over this country? They started at school boards,” Goodtimes said. “They went local, then they went to state, then they went to national. It’s a clear model.”

With long hair, a flowing beard, and a booming voice, Goodtimes has been a memorable figure in Colorado. His passion is performance poetry, but in politics he’s practical. If elected by über-liberal Telluride, he lives and most directly represents the far more conservative rancher-dominated west end of San Miguel County.


Change and hope as promoted by ski areas

DENVER – Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2008 on a platform of change and hope. And that’s kind of the same thing that the U.S. ski industry sees as being important to emphasize when the subject turns to climate change.

At a recent meeting in Denver, consultant and chief engineer Judy Dorsey of the Brendle Group, said the ski industry demographics are striking: 58 percent of skiers have incomes of more than $100,000 per year, compared to 23 percent of Americans overall.

When asked about climate change, 62 percent of skiers think that it can be solved at less cost if we get to work on it now rather than wait until later. That’s a far higher percentage than the general population.

Those statistics – affluence coupled with a let’s-get-going attitude – make the ski industry a powerful voice in advocating policies that can create change in how we produce and consume energy.

Dorsey said that the ski industry’s message needs to be one of storytelling, one that evokes empathy and empowers others.

But aren’t ski areas a big part of the problem? After all, their bread-and-butter customers are people who fly great distances, and jets aren’t exactly powered by pixie dust.

Dorsey downplays the pollution. A ski area, she said, has one-fifth of the carbon footprint, on average, of a college campus and one-tenth of an airport.

But ski areas are greening up their operations. The case study presented at the meeting, sponsored by the Alliance Center, was Arapahoe Basin, along the Continental Divide about 60 miles west of Denver.

Mike Nathan, assistant guest services & environmental manager for A-Basin, talked about the composting and recycling now under way at A-Basin. Last year, 42 percent of waste was diverted from the landfill. That included 50,000 pounds diverted for composting.

A-Basin has also been improving its insulation, reducing energy use, but also making buildings more comfortable.

“Our customers are very receptive to that sort of message,” he said.

But Dorsey said that ski areas have adopted the thinking of Aspen, which is to say that it’s not enough to clean up your own locker room. Advocacy, such as for state and federal policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is also part of the campaign.

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