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Mountain Town News

A giant ox bell recently was rung in Whistler, as is a tradition when new Doppelmayr lifts are launched. But this lift, the new Peak 2 Peak Gondola, is like no other.The $51 million gondola claims superlatives in two dimensions. The span between two lift towers of 3.024 kilometers (about 1.9 miles) will be the longest in the world. In addition, the distance to the ground from that span will be a maximum of 436 meters (1,430 feet). Thats twice the height of the tallest building in Vancouver, B.C.Intrawest, the ski area operator, built the lift to connect its two ski mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb. The two mountains are in close proximity, but to cross from one to the other ordinarily required skiing to the bottom and then taking lifts up the other mountain. This way well get a lot more crossover traffic, balance the utilization of the mountains, restaurant seats, and on-mountain experiences, explained Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations.But another major reason for the expensive gondola is that it will draw business in summer. It will enhance the summer sightseeing immensely and allow us to open Blackcomb again in the summertime, explained Forseth. It expands operations for people hiking and spreads them out over the alpine areas.Since its announcement two years ago, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola has generated considerable publicity. Even more is expected in the year leading up to the 2010 Games.Pique newsmagazine reports that the gondola also put heads on pillows in Whistler for the weekend, with many hotels having no bed to spare.

An array of solar collectors is nearing completion on the outskirts of Jackson. Town officials had originally thought to install the solar collectors on top of a new three-story parking garage. But neighbors objected, and putting the solar panels atop the parking garage would have boosted construction costs appreciably, given the prices of concrete and steel even a year ago. Instead, just a token panel was installed on the parking garage, with the bulk of the panels moved to the sewage treatment plant. There, land was available for free-standing panels. But theres another reason for the treatment plant, in that sewage treatment is a major consumer of electricity, some 5.4 million kilowatt-hours per year, more than any other town building. The sewage panels may help the town meet its goal of reducing its nonrenewable energy use 10 percent by 2010, city officials tell the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

The highway from Ouray to Silverton is a famous one, and not just because of the avalanches that have claimed so many lives in just the last half-century. Nor is it entirely because of the precipices just a few mere feet beyond the edge of the pavement, unrestrained even by guardrails.Theres also the matter of the water in the Uncompaghre River below, which despite a major remediation mining project still tends to run the color of Kool-Aid.But dont just blame the miners, says geologist Bob Larson. Speaking at a recent community forum, Larson said that about half of the high metal content in the river is natural, the result of the highly mineralized content of soils in that portion of the San Juan Mountains.This is the way it was formed. The minerals are here because of hydrothermal activity and volcanism, he said.An apologist for the mining industry? Larson suggests skeptics consult the official diaries of the Escalante and Dominguez Expedition, which traveled through the area in 1776. The Uncompahgre, said the expeditions scribe, was red in color, hot and ill-tasting.The Telluride Watch said the lecture was part of a six-part series designed to help participants in developing a watershed plan.

Its scam time in Park City. At least two groups of South Americans have lost major sums of money after placing deposits on what they believed would be housing during their winter employment.In one case, a couple of Peruvians were apparently fleeced by Columbians, who sent a key to a house and gave an address. But alas, when the Peruvians tried the key, it didnt work, and the person who answered the door knew nothing about the deal.In the other case, 13 Uruguayans lost $5,000. The Park Record indicates no suspects in that case.

Several early in-bounds avalanches have occurred recently, including one at Snowbird that claimed the life of 26-year-old Heather Gross.Gross was buried for nearly an hour by a slide in the Eye of the Needle, described by guidebook author Brad Asmus as one of Snowbirds most distinctive chutes. He rates it as being 9.3 on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the hardest.The Salt Lake Tribune, citing National Weather Service statistics, said Gross was the first woman killed by an avalanche while skiing inbounds in the past half-century in Utah. However, seven lives have been claimed overall, including that of a Colorado man just a year ago at Park Citys The Canyons.In Colorado, an avalanche in Vails Blue Sky Basin buried a skier to his waist but left the man unharmed. The slide was about three feet deep and started at the ground. Scott Teopfer of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center told the Vail Daily that ski patrollers had set off avalanche explosives on the same slope about two hours before the slide occurred.In Telluride, skiers triggered an in-bounds avalanche, but in an area where ski patrollers were still conducting avalanche control operations. To access the area, reports The Telluride Watch, the skiers ducked ropes. There was no evidence of injuries to anybody.

Last summer Aspen engaged in a friendly competition with Telluride and its sister slopeside town, Mountain Village, about which could do the best job of getting grocery store shoppers to reduce the number of plastic bags used for grocery shopping. Patrons were asked to reuse plastic bags or perhaps use cloth bags.Telluride and Mountain Village won the challenge, but the three towns altogether eliminated 140,000 plastic bags during the three-month contest.Other towns in the tribe of Colorado ski towns but also Jackson, Wyo., Ketchum, Idaho, and Park City, Utah have been invited to join in a more extended rivalry called BYOB, for Bring Your Own Bag. The year-long contest is set to begin Jan. 1.Breckenridge has been among the first to enlist in the contest. Its the right thing to be doing, Mayor John Warner told the Summit Daily News.Town officials are approaching the towns two grocery stores to ask if they will contribute 5 cents per bag toward a community fund for providing bag handouts and educational documents.Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne were also considering being in the contest. The facilitator of the contest is the Colorado Association of Ski Towns, which counts 18 ski towns in Colorado as members.

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Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News, a feature of the Aspen Times Weekly. He can be reached at allen.best@comcast.net.

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