Mountain Town News | AspenTimes.com

Mountain Town News

Allen Best

For the third time in the last quarter-century, Breckenridge has led the United States in skier visits.Breckenridge this past season registered 1.65 million skier visits, compared to 1.60 million for Vail. After surpassing Mammoth Mountain in the 1970s, Vail has mostly held the title of most-visited resort.Vail’s skier numbers have not increased remarkably in 15 years – despite the largest ski area expansion ever in North American history. Breckenridge, in contrast, has gained significantly, and so has Beaver Creek, which this past season reported 890,000 skier days.The big story this season was the growth in destination skiers, which in turn allowed Vail Resorts to increase profits 15 percent for February, March and April, as compared to the same quarter last year. The company also reports an increase in lift ticket and pass sales from September through April of 9.1 percent.

Big changes are ahead for Lake Tahoe as a result of global warming, and they’re already under way, says a scientist.A study of 7,300 measurements over a 33-year period found that the lake’s water temperature increased about 0.88 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius). This is, says Robert Coats, a research ecologist with the University of California Davis, consistent with the warming reported at other big lakes around the world, including the Great Lakes, Switzerland’s Lake Zurich, and Africa’s Lake Tanganyika.This is also about double the increase in ocean temperatures.Most of this warming at Tahoe is explained by increased nighttime temperatures of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).Coats, preparing a lecture at Incline Village, Nev., told the Sierra Sun that that while the effects of global warming are complex, interrelated and difficult to predict, it’s inevitable that there will be environmental transformation in the Lake Tahoe Basin. If precipitation and warming trends stay the course during the next century, oak trees – currently found 3,700 feet lower in elevation – will replace pine trees.He said global warming will, at the very least, be “difficult,” and at the far end “catastrophic.””It’s anybody’s guess, but big changes are in store without question,” he told the newspaper.

By drawing up regulations governing their use, officials in Eagle County hope to encourage development of more small-scale solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectric generators. The proposed regulations would specify that a landowner in unincorporated areas has the right to build an 80-foot-tall wind turbine except near property lines, explains the Vail Daily. By specifying that they are uses by right, except as specified, the county also seeks to encourage hydroelectric generators that provide up to 500 kilowatts of energy.

Four major projects are in the planning stages at Truckee, with a possible yield of more than 1,000 new housing units and 350,000 square feet of commercial space. Two of the projects are on Truckee’s south side. Also being worked up are plans for the old railway yards near downtown, reports the Sierra Sun.

Banff continues to talk about what place, if any, chain and big-box stores should have there. The talk was triggered by a proposal by Indigo, Canada’s largest bookstore chain, to set up shop in Banff, much to the distress of the existing long-term bookseller.Although Indigo will receive its business license, the issue remains very much alive, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. While Banff reserves the right to refuse any business license, the municipality has never refused a business on the basis that it is a chain store.Meanwhile, downvalley in Canmore, at least one town councilor is talking about trying to create obstacles to big-box retailers. Businesses such as Wal-Mart can’t be banned outright, but zoning ordinances can limit their size and perhaps discourage their presence.

After a string of so-so seasons, it was a big year at the Whistler- Blackcomb ski areas, with more than 2 million skier days. Altogether, more than 6 million skier-days are expected in British Columbia, with another 3 million in other provinces of western Canada.Snow – early, plentiful and regularly – was the big story in British Columbia, say industry sources, although various marketing initiatives were also credited with the growing numbers.Resorts in interior British Columbia saw great gains in visitors from Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and New Zealand. The area relies less on the U.S. long-haul market than Whistler, says Christopher Nicolson, president of Tourism Sun Peaks.In Whistler, the economic malaise of recent years had caused a great deal of “negativity, angst, and pointing fingers,” Whistler-Blackcomb ski area executive Dave Brownlie told Pique newsmagazine. But Canadian ski resorts cannot relax, he said, because both increased border restrictions and the dramatically increasing value of the Canadian dollar against that of the U.S. dollar will discourage U.S. visitors. “We are going to have to be more creative and more aggressive in the marketplace to get people here.”The Canadian dollar has about a third more value as compared to the U.S. dollar, than it did in early 2002.

Sawmills and mines across the American West closed during the ’70s and ’80s, and lately they’ve been doing so in British Columbia.Will ski areas follow in another generation? Following a discouraging view of a globally warmed future from the Convention on Biological Diversity, Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed said it’s time to think of that time.”We should be planning for the end of skiing,” he said. “It may not end, but it won’t be what it is today.”Whistler two winters ago got a peek into what climatologist are predicting, with drenching rains through January that eviscerated the snowpack. Melamed spoke of his “great embarrassment” that the planet he will leave will not be as in as good of a condition as the one he inherited from his parents.

Was the environmental review of a road across Forest Service land to access a real estate development near the Wolf Creek Ski Area prejudiced to the outcome?That’s the suggestion in e-mail communications released this past week by Colorado Wild, a watchdog group that opposes the project for 2,200 housing units being planned by billionaire B.J. “Red” McCombs.In an e-mail posted just before Christmas 2004, the Virginia-based environmental consultant assembling an environmental impact statement asks for the developer’s help in securing tickets for four company executives and their spouses to a Washington Redskins football game. “These are the folks who really put their heart and soul into your EIS,” wrote Dr. Mark Blauer, director of Tetra Tech. The message was sent to Bob Honts, who is the frontman for McCombs at the project, called Wolf Creek Village.Colorado Wild executive director Ryan Demmy Bidwell said his organization is checking into the legality of such favors.”Regardless of whether it was legal or illegal, it is an entirely inappropriate relationship or action between a project proponent and allegedly independent contractor,” he said.One consultant who prepares analysis for environmental impact statements – but not a fan of the Wolf Creek project – nonetheless downplayed the significance of the request. Although the contractor is working for the government agency, the nature of the work requires frequent contact with the developers, he said, nor are such requests salient in the big scheme of things.Another e-mail message, sent in June 2005, included further hints at a less-than-impartial relationship. “Like you, we would like this project to be over and for you to start construction of your Village,” Blauer tells Honts.Andy Stahl, of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, suggested the requested favors may not be a legal issue. “The court judges an EIS on the basis of what’s between its front and back covers,” he said by e-mail. “Not legally relevant is who wrote it, why they write it, who paid for its writing, who is sleeping with whom, etc.”But Stahl, like Colorado Wild, argues that what lies between the covers of the EIS is deficient. The development needs the road across Forest Service land, and to the inholding within national forest lands that McCombs obtained in a 1986 land exchange.The Forest Service, in its EIS, had concluded there were no environmental impacts from the road construction. Colorado Wild, in its lawsuit, argues that the point is not the road, but the real estate project that would be enabled by the road. The group says the EIS should disclose those environmental impacts.While this was getting sorted out, Colorado Wild obtained a preliminary injunction to block construction of the road. Federal magistrate David L. West has recommended extension of that injunction through 2007, until after the Colorado Wild-Forest Service case is expected to be heard.

The protracted and sometimes disjointed discussion about the future of energy has turned mutinous in Telluride.There, at an annual meeting of the local electrical co-op, San Miguel Power Association, impassioned local citizens defied tradition – and perhaps the organization’s bylaws – in ordering the electrical co-op to start buying 5 percent of the utility’s electricity from local sources.At issue is the perceived danger of global warming and what the local response should be. What is emerging at Telluride, and at other places, is the argument that local communities should have not only the opportunity, but the obligation of providing at least a portion of their needs locally and from noncarbon sources. Telluride resident Pamela Zoline-Lifton says San Miguel Power’s existing board misunderstands its mission. “They think they need to provide cheap, cheap power,” she said, “but what they really need to provide is responsible power, and they haven’t recalculated that yet.”Triggering the dispute was the plan announced last year by Tri-State Generation and Transmission to build two and possibly three coal-fired power plants. Aside from large dams, coal is the cheapest source of reliable electricity.Tri-State serves about a third of the electricity in Colorado, mostly in the rural areas beyond the urbanized Front Range corridor, plus large sections of New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska.Two of the 44 member utilities – Colorado’s Delta-Montrose and New Mexico’s Taos-based Carson Electric – have refused. Others, most notably Gunnison County Electric, hesitated, with much discussion about whether Tri-State has done enough to encourage conservation and develop alternative energy sources. San Miguel, which includes several counties in the San Juan Mountains, also hesitated.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at bestallen@earthlink.net.


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