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Mountain Town News

Now 10 years into operation, the widely admired mountain bike park at the Whistler Blackcomb ski area is transitioning. Instead of just high-testosterone trails, the park is now gaining more trails of intermediate difficulty, which may invite a much broader population of mountain bike riders.The new trails have names like Ninja Cougar, Karate Monkey and Blue Velvet. The type of rider that will enjoy that experience is way wider than our trail target was previously, explained Rob McSkimming, Whistler Blackcombs vice president of business development.Why only the high end for bike riders for so long? Jeremy Roche, manager of summer business development, said that trail designs were driven to some degree by the passion and riding skills of the trail designers. In other words, they built the type of trails they would want to ride when they were on their own time. And that has contributed to a base of core aggressive-style trails, Roche told Whistlers Pique Newsmagazine.But new technology the all-mountain bike, lighter frames and improvements in suspension and braking technology now allows a rider to have just one bike for a variety of difficulties, explains the magazine.The new bike park has a critical mass of blue trails. As such, it will be marketed as the place for mountain bikers to make the transition from intermediate to advanced and a place for women as well as men.The womens market is picking up momentum quickly, says Andrea Kraft, a former national team downhill racer. Technology has shortened the learning curve from what used to be chundering down the hill on a hard-tail with 2 inches of front suspension. The newest suspension platforms have a cushy 5 inches. The suspension helps to absorb technical features on the trail, making them less intimidating to try and ride. But even more than technology, I think, it is the social part of biking that appeals to women. Women are social beings, by nature.A study done in 2006 showed that mountain biking is big business in the Sea to Sky corridor, where Whistler is located. It also found that the bike park was a big draw. But also it noted that it missed a large number of mountain bikers who were more casual in their approach.

Ski filmmaker Dick Barrymore has died at the age of 74. He had suffered from brain cancer.Barrymore began his ski filmmaking carrier at the 1960s Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif. He rarely worked from a script as he began his films but rather was a monster of improvisation, says the Idaho Mountain Express.Jim Stelling, one of Barrymores favorite performers in his movies during the 1970s, tells the newspapers that he was a consummate storyteller: He would hold court at dinner, always entertaining, bringing up the same stories you heard the year before, only the next year you probably found yourself in the stories he told. For him, it was the art of the tale.A ski magazine once described Barrymore as a rather delightful maniac, and he rather liked the description.

Despite the flatness of the ski industry, a conveyor belt of money has been creating boom towns out of mountain resort valleys. But will the conveyor belt continue to operate?Two experts who spoke at a recent conference held in Vail by the University of Denver came to very different conclusions, reports the Vail Daily. No, said Chuck McLean, who lives in Aspen and runs a private consulting business called Denver Research Group. He said the Baby Boom generation is rapidly losing wealth and that as many as 60 percent of middle-class retirees will outlive their savings. But Jim Westkott, a demographer with Colorados state government, maintains as he has for a decade now that retiring Baby Boomers are going to create a demand for services that places like the Eagle Valley arent prepared to handle.He speculated that the market for mansions may dry up but not the desire of Americans to get out of cities. Many of these migrs will have families and will be in the peak earning years, but others will be retirees. He speculates that the demand for services will be such that some of the larger homes may be converted into duplexes and condominiums.

The first weekend in August, a holiday weekend in Canada, was a deadly one for bears in the Banff region. Three were killed by trains or vehicles, including a grizzly that died after running in front of a motorcycle. It was the second grizzly to die this year after being smacked by a motorcycle rider, notes the Rocky Mountain Outlook. The rider in this case, a 50-year-old woman from Calgary, suffered injuries, but they were not life threatening.

With gas still more than $4 a gallon in most mountain valleys of the West, there is new talk of subscription-based vanpools between resort towns and outlying bedroom towns.Such is the case in Routt County, where some workers who live in Oak Creek and Yampa have been spending $300 to $500 a month on gas while commuting to jobs in Steamboat, 20 to 30 miles distant. The Steamboat Pilot & Today reports that a phone survey conducted last spring found that 43 percent were very likely to use transit for trips to jobs in Steamboat.Town officials in Vail report similar interest in vans. There, a bus service is already in place to outlying towns, but buses have become filled, and there is insufficient money to buy enough new buses to meet the surging demand.

An inventory of greenhouse gas emissions caused by people and visitors to Gunnison, Crested Butte and other parts of Gunnison County has been completed.The report finds that transportation is the largest chunk, with some 39 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. This, however, does not count the airline flights and cars used by people traveling to Crested Butte or to Gunnison, home of Western State College.Buildings are responsible for more than half of emissions, 30 percent from residential and 21 percent from commercial. Landfill decomposition is responsible for 6 percent, and agriculture and other sources are responsible for 4 percent.Several of the local governments during the last several years have signed the Mayors Agreement on Climate Change or otherwise committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. The first step in reducing emissions, organizers say, is to measure current use, as a way of marking future progress.George Sibley, of the Office of Resource Efficiency, the group that conducted the inventory, told one town council that he sees greenhouse reduction being a long-term progress. Were talking about a multi-generational process, he said. For something like that, having the local governments on board seems absolutely critical.Next up is what else? a conference in September, at which the locals will talk about how to get from A to Z.

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For more than 20 years Vail has periodically talked about building a conference center to help fill hotel beds during the shoulder seasons. Several times, voters rejected tax increases for a conference center, but the latest proposal would not necessarily include public moneys.The proposal, notes the Vail Daily, is part of a package deal by a Dallas-based company to redevelop the municipally owned Lionshead parking structure. Included is a 44,000-square-foot conference center.Greg Moffet, a former town council member, supports the idea. The only way you get people to come here [in May, June, September and October] is to have them required by their employer to come here, and thats what a conference center does, he told the Daily.The politics of the proposal are involved. The landowner is Vail Resorts, the ski area operator, which has a different and perhaps competing proposal nearby for a project called Ever Vail. Town authorities and Vail Resorts have been squabbling for more than a year about not only employee housing but also parking needs.

The nationwide cap on H-2B visas was reached in late July, leaving many ski areas out in the cold. This means many long-time seasonal workers from other countries wont return to teach skiing, as well as work other ski area jobs.Telluride, for example, is losing 55 employees who had worked under the H-2B visa program. All but two were ski instructors.Instead, says Dave Riley, the chief operating officer of the ski company, Telluride already has hired 45 employees from South America with student visas under the J1 program. Vail Resorts had sought to bring 1,900 seasonal workers into the United States through the H-2B program for its five ski areas in Colorado and California. However, only a few visas were granted for early season employees, such as snowmakers. The company employs 15,000 people at peak season.The Vail Daily notes that in 2007, Vail Resorts had sought to hire 2,200 employees under the H-2B program, about a third of them ski instructors and nearly a thousand short-order cooks, lift operators, hotel clerks and housekeepers.Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, told the Telluride Watch that the loss of ski instructors hits ski areas hardest.Look who is not coming back the long-term ski instructors who have a large clientele base, which is very lucrative for the instructor and the company.The ski industry sees itself being caught in the national debate about immigration reform.You have the folks who want to build a fence at the border and have no immigration, said Berry. You have the Hispanic caucus that has a lot of different elements. Ski areas are caught in the middle.

A mill in Kremmling built to make pellets for wood-burning stoves began production this week. The plant, located about halfway between Steamboat Springs and Kremmling, is now producing a product called Eco-Flame Pellets from lodgepole pine trees killed by beetles.Mark Mathis, the proprietor of the company, Confluence Energy, said he expects the pellet mill will employ 75 people, either at the mill, cutting the trees or hauling them by truck. This week he also announced plans for an expansion of the plant that will increase capacity by a third.He tells the Middle Park Times that heat produced by burning the pellets will be 35 percent cheaper than burning natural gas and 60 percent cheaper than propane or electricity.

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

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