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Mountain Town News

Allen Best

Recycling in the Fraser Valley has been far more popular than profitable, notes the Sky-Hi News. The owner of a recycling operation based in Fraser called Valley Recycling is closing after having spent $31,000 since last summer to stanch the red ink. The bottom line there, as elsewhere in the land-rich West, is that transportation costs chew away any profits. The closest alternative is in Granby, 17 miles away.

Has the trend toward ever-bigger houses reached its peak and begun a downward fall? That was the report from an architect in Park City last year, and now The Wall Street Journal reports it’s a national trend. The median size in the second quarter of this year fell to 2,241 square feet after reaching a near record of 2,301. Analysts think a broader decline may be in the offing. The newspaper notes that the average size of homes increased 45 percent in the last three decades even as the average family size shrunk.

With mining making a resumption across the West, the Summit County Journal wonders whether mining could ever return to Breckenridge, which began as a gold-mining camp in 1859.Possibly but not likely, even with gold now valued at $650 an ounce. The Country Boy Mine near Breckenridge, active until 1948, still has $50 million in its veins, said owner Paul Hintgen, but he told the newspaper he’s not tempted to reopen it. The ore would have to be of a higher content, containing crystallized gold, he said. Extraction of the gold would be expensive and environmentally taxing.Summit County has taken pains to make sure the extraction would be difficult in banning cyanide heap-leach mining in 2004. The Colorado Mining Association is legally challenging the legality of that ban.Meanwhile, 10 miles southwest of Breckenridge, Phelps Dodge continues to revamp the Climax Mine, with the possibility of restarting production in 2009. That mine has been mostly inactive since 1981.

Little by little, the argument is shaping up in Crested Butte about the wisdom of expanding the ski area.Even before Tim and Diane Mueller bought the ski area in 2005, ski area representatives have been arguing that the ski area needs the expansion on Snodgrass Mountain in order to attract weeklong destination skiers. The existing mountain, while long on double-black-diamond terrain, is short of ski terrain sufficient to hold the attention of an intermediate-level skier for more than about three days. Snodgrass would almost exclusively be of intermediate difficulty.With more terrain, goes their argument, Crested Butte can become just big enough – perhaps 500,000 to 600,000 skiers a day – to operate on an efficient scale. That’s not quite double the existing skier-day total.But a group called Friends of Snodgrass questions whether the expansion is justified. At a recent town meeting, representative Chuck Shaw pointed out that destination ski resorts in Colorado increased their amount of skiable acres by 64.5 percent from 1994-95 to 2005-06 while actually declining in skier days.

Durango city officials are contemplating whether to outfit the municipal recreation complex with solar panels to heat water. The hot water could be used for showers and sinks, and possibly the three swimming pools.When the complex was authorized in 1999, energy cost less and global climate change was less prominent as an issue. Lacking both sufficient energy and alternative energy features, the complex last year cost $5.28 per square foot to heat, cool and light. Similar recreational complexes in the Colorado city of Boulder used only $2 to $2.50 per foot.”If you build these things in from the beginning, it’s a lot more cost-effective than adding them later,” engineering consultant Mark Stetz tells the Durango TelegraphDurango did not trip on the same stone twice. The new city library is LEED-certified to the gold level, which is the third highest of four levels. Only a few public buildings in Colorado are certified to that level.

A gondola that will connect the Whistler and Blackcomb ski areas – and in the process set world records for aerial height of such things – is being erected. It is also ruffling a local sensibility. Writing in Pique, Mike Quinn said the first tower now visible “foreshadows a profound change in the relationships that we all share with the mountains.” “For many, if not most of us, the mountains have represented purity, challenge and raw nature. Putting the hand of man in the high alpine in such a blatant way for all to see will alter our perception and the reality of the wilderness,” he noted.

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Of the five proposed hotels in Ketchum, only three remain. The developer of two of the potential hotels, Dallas-based Open House Partners, has yanked the projects. The cause seems to be a dispute about whether the condo-hotel would be allowed to go to five stories, as the developer had wanted, or four stories, the limit in Ketchum.The cause is one of those he-said, she-said stories. Mark Masinter, chief executive officer of the development company, blamed the city. “We spent a bunch of time and money … but the town wasn’t ready to do a project of this nature,” he told the Idaho Mountain Express. Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall tells the newspaper another story. He said Masinter said he was unable to reach an agreement with the seller. The asking price for the land alone is $260 per square foot, or $12.8 million.The mayor speculated the national credit crunch may have also played into Masinter’s decision. As for Ketchum, he said the city was “bending over backwards to give these guys every opportunity to get his project off the ground.”Several conflicting statements suggest that height and mass are the major – but not only – source of friction. Masinter said he needed five stories to make the project work. Ketchum has been hesitant about going that high, although a proposal to raise the bar is scheduled for consideration.

The lodging sector in Banff and Lake Louise is asking the Banff municipal council to develop a long-range economic strategy that will instill more business confidence and help Banff compete against other North American tourist destinations.Darren Reeder, executive director of the Banff Lake Louise Hotel Motel Association, said the town is taking an ad hoc approach. “This is concerning from a business standpoint, as long-range political agendas are often driven by a three-year election cycle, and long-range business decisions are made looking five to 10 years in to the future,” he said.But the Rocky Mountain Outlook says others in the community continue to be worried about the arrival of chain stores such as Starbucks and The Gap.

Vail Resorts is announcing the details of how it intends to make its latest real-estate venture in Vail, a $1 billion project called Ever Vail, ever green. The company proposes to seek a silver-level LEED designation for the whole 9.5-acre project located to the west of Lionshead.Among the ideas are installing micro-hydro turbines in the adjacent Gore Creek, to provide electrical power, and using ground-source heat pumps – tapping the earth’s energy – to heat sidewalks. Roofs may be of sod.Another idea contained in a proposal announced by the company includes a “flex car” program, which would provide a fleet of cars for Ever Vail owners to use while in town.The project tentatively calls for up to 375 condominiums, half of them in timeshare. A gondola would be built, if approved by the U.S. Forest Service, to connect the real estate to the ski mountain.Also contemplated is a six-story parking garage that would hold 700 spaces, plus affordable housing for up to 123 people.The project still faces review by Vail town officials.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at allen.best@comcast.net.