Mountain Town News | AspenTimes.com

Mountain Town News

Compiled by Allen BestAspen Times Weekly

You know whats wrong with Yosemite and a lot of other national parks? They dont have enough five-star rated hotel rooms.So says The Economist magazine from its perch overseeing world affairs in London. The magazine notes that visitation to Yosemite during the last 13 years has dropped 9 percent. This is despite population growth of 17 percent in California, much of it inland, closer to the Sierra Nevada, where Yosemite and other parks are located.Americans plainly think it is a good idea to live near national parks, but they are not keen on visiting them, says the Economist.Whats going on? The magazine examines a variety of factors. Big-game hunting also has slackened. Cities, which people may have been fleeing since the 1990s, have become safer. And shopping malls are now outdoor-oriented, instead of domed.Yosemite is long on staggering views but short on what most people would today regard as entertainment, says The Economist. It also notes that the hotels of Yosemite, although pretty, are basic. If they were in Las Vegas, they would have been dynamited long ago.Top-end hotel rooms at parks get booked far more rapidly than cabins, notes The Economist, and cabins with indoor plumbing are reserved before more rustic accommodations. The magazine thinks the conclusion is obvious. And the fault, it says, lies with conservationists opposed to upscaling.This is a shame, and a self-defeating exercise, concludes the magazine. Americas environmental movement emerged in the 19th century to push for national parks. In the 20th century it sold them to the public through photographs and writing. It now seems bent on driving people away from them.

Downtown Steamboat Springs is getting an extreme makeover. Redevelopment in recent years is yielding a new mosaic of buildings more urban in nature, with restaurants and other commercial uses on the ground-floor levels and then city-style condominiums in the upper floors. Jim Cook, a developer in Steamboat formerly from Chicago, tells the Steamboat Pilot & Today that the theme is dine-in, dine-out living.But if this mixed-use development is sweeping the country, the mix in mountain towns like Steamboat, with its Stetson hats, is more tricky. The newspapers Tom Ross describes the theme as somewhere between the banks of Butcherknife Creek and the Upper West Side of Manhattan.Prices for these new digs range from $650,000 to $2 million. The most contemporary of the new projects is called Alpenglow; it replaces the Nites Rest Motel. The design of the new condos is Western transitional, and the Pilot likes it. It, says the newspaper, is a brilliant blend of urban and mountain style.

The old base-area cafeteria at Ski Idlewild is no more. The building was torched by firefighters in Winter Park as part of efforts to groom the old ski area for real estate development.The ski area opened in 1961. By that point, Winter Park had been operating as a ski area for more than 20 years. Even then, however, there was virtually no comparison. Idlewild had only 400 feet of vertical. But for somebody wanting to learn to ski or to get instruction in the more arcane skill of telemarking, Idlewilds slopes had just the right tilt of forgiveness.The ski area closed after a lift accident in 1986, and then continued on with cross-country ski and other operations until as recently as 2002.The Middle Park Times says that the 22-acre property has zoning for up to 317 units plus a 70-room lodge.

Several years ago a short film titled The Lost People of Mountain Village was created. It instantly became a cult classic in ski towns.The protagonists in this film are Indiana Jones-type archaeologists, coursing through the empty plazas of Mountain Village during the off-season, wondering loudly about what could have happened to the vanished civilization that was responsible for these edifices.But, in a way, Mountain Village is like a lot of ski towns, and especially their slopeside cousins; it is to Telluride what Snowmass Village is to Aspen, and what Mount Crested Butte is to Crested Butte.Mountain Village gets real quiet during the shoulder seasons, but the pace notably slackens anytime when the ski lifts arent operating. Ski resort planner Paul Mathews more or less has confirmed local sensibilities about what to do. He and his company, Whistler-based Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, were retained by Mountain Village to study the dynamics. The town, he has concluded, needs more hot beds, i.e. those that can be rented to tourists, and it needs more diverse recreation activities.Without those draws, there isnt enough business for other businesses, he said. There are more empty spaces than full spaces right now. It makes you sort of wonder what may have gone wrong.But nothing has gone wrong, he concluded. Only 60 percent of the accommodations planned for Mountain Village have been built, and they need to be constructed to achieve that critical threshold. Then, its also a matter of building a year-round economy, having enough affordable housing to keep operations going and Well, if you know anything about ski towns, you know the drill here. Of course, Hal Clifford, in his book Downhill Slide, argued that such master-planned communities are doomed for failure.

Water in various perturbations has been on center stage in Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte, the town at the base of the ski area. The story in both cases is what will be best for the resort economy.At the foot of the ski area, plans are afoot for two different reservoirs. More snowmaking is planned for the ski area, and that does not include the possible expansion onto Snodgrass Mountain, which would require more snowmaking yet. As well, real estate development is under way, which has its own needs.Meanwhile, Crested Butte the old mining town that is two miles away continues to nip at the heels of a proposed molybdenum mine at the headwaters of Coal Creek. That creek bifurcates the town and also provides the towns drinking water. Opponents of the mine wanted the Forest Service to study the validity of the 300 patented mining claims and the 5,000 acres of unpatented claims, but the Forest Service ruled that it wouldnt be a good use of resources at this time.

The Ginn Co., the developer of a giant resort real estate project near Vail, also has projects in the southeastern United States, including one in North Carolina called Laurelmor that is struggling to survive.The project, reports the Vail Daily, has missed an interest and principal payment of $675 million. The company is trying to restructure the loan. Slowed sales were blamed.Ginn is planning to build a giant new real estate development of about 1,300 units, a small ski area, a gondola, and a golf course on one-time mining properties in the triangle of Minturn, Red Cliff and Vail.Representatives of Ginn told the Daily that the projects are separately financed and legally separate.The Ginn project has been annexed into the town of Minturn, but must get a further approval next year. As well, a fundamental problem involving water supply has yet to be resolved.Meanwhile, some 40 miles to the west, another project considered cutting-edge is off the burner. Aspen-based Kurt and John Forstmann had proposed a resort ranch project in the Gypsum Creek Valley. The theme of sustainability was to have been featured at the 340-home project, with solar collectors on homes and even a communal agriculture area for local production of food.A Gypsum town official told the Eagle Valley Enterprise that the Forstmanns said timing was a problem, including doubts about market conditions.

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Truckee town officials are looking at advancing regulations that minimize energy use in buildings and encourage use of alternative energy. Californias state assembly is requiring policies that by 2020 reduce the level of greenhouse gas emission to those of 1990, despite the increased population growth and general increase of energy use in recent years. Truckees planning department hopes to exceed the state requirement, reports the Sierra Sun.

Mammoth finally has the air service it has been craving. Horizon Air has announced that the daily flights from Los Angeles will begin in December. Horizon will use the Q400 regional jet that has become so popular for ski town flights, because of its improved gas mileage. The flight will take 65 minutes, which compares to five hours or more by highway from Los Angeles. Mammoth boosters hope that a similar flight to San Francisco may be possible next year.Meanwhile, Kent Myers was in Mammoth recently to instruct the locals in how to go about building air service. Myers directed marketing operations at Copper Mountain and Winter Park during the 1970s and early 1980s. Then he assembled direct flight programs on behalf of Steamboat and Vail/Beaver Creek. Since the late 1990s, he has had his own business, Airplanners. With that business, he has established 34 new air routes to seven different mountain airports.Myers told a crowd in Mammoth recently that air programs have low risk with a big wow. And air links not only help deliver tourists, but also improve quality of life for the locals. A program along the lines of what he is proposing also can change business models by making Mammoth more attractive to a wider range of entrepreneurs and other professionals. Of course, airlines will need guaranteed money to cover their costs, and to ensure that happens, the community must belly up, he said.

The desire to diversify local economies is a theme in the ski-based mountain towns of the West. There have been discussions about this in Telluride, Vail and Jackson Hole in recent years, and probably many other locales. Thats also why a group called Sustain Blaine, which is rooted in the Sun Valley and Ketchum areas, has hired a company from Texas to help generate ideas about how to diversify the economy, expand the areas tax base, and develop and retain talent, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

Freelance writer Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at allen.best@comcast.net.

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