Mountain Town News | AspenTimes.com

Mountain Town News

Compiled by Allen Best

The ski area at Crested Butte is expecting a tough winter as a result of a national surge in requests for foreign seasonal workers under the H2B visa program.

The resort last year had 105 workers under the program, but this year applied for 225 visas ” but not until late September, by which time the national cap for the winter months had been reached. While bills now being debated in Congress would lift that cap, there is no certainty they will be passed, reports the Gunnison Country Times.

Crested Butte has several new lodging properties, for which more employees are needed. The resort had hoped that employees with H2B visas would compose 20 percent of the work force. Now, the company hopes to fill staff positions with students holding J1 visas. It will be, said general manager Randy Barrett, a case of all hands on deck.

Other resort operators, such as Vail, seem much less distressed about the H2B visa shortage, owing to more advance work in securing employees.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is certainly aware of the cap on H2B visas, but The Sheet says nobody at the ski area seems ready to hit the panic button.

“Ever since 9/11, we’ve been preparing for something like this by reducing our dependence on foreign workers, so we’re certainly not freaked out by this,” explained Jack Copeland, the vice president and director of human resources at the Fortress-owned ski area. “It may limit some of the service we can offer, but it’s not going to put us out of business.”

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Of 92 H2B applicants who are returning as certified ski instructors, only 40 have been approved, Copeland said.

“We used to have hundreds of foreign employees, particularly Aussies and Kiwis, and we’d like to continue to have some, because we do feel they add some richness, some fun for our guests and other employees,” he added. “But unlike some other ski areas, we haven’t become too dependent on foreign workers.”

For the first time in the history of the Eagle County School District, the majority of students ” 50 percent ” in the public schools are Hispanic. Anglos are 48 percent, reports the Vail Daily.

Of the Hispanic students, more than half ” 30 to 36 percent of all students ” are learning English as a second language, and those students lag behind native English-speaking students on standardized tests, said Mike Gass, director of secondary education.

The highest percentage of Hispanic population is in elementary and middle schools in the midvalley, at the base of the Beaver Creek ski area. At Avon Elementary, 90 percent of the student body is Hispanic, and more than 75 percent speak little or no English.

A dual-language program is being used at both Avon Elementary and at nearby Berry Creek Middle School, where 80 percent of students are Hispanic.

There are also a variety of private schools, both secular and religious, now operating in the valley.

Summit County residents continue to talk about what it’s like to live cheek by jowl with nature, specifically the trees that are fast dying as the result of a fungus borne by bark beetles.

Research by economist Mike Retzlaff suggests that a big fire in the wildland-urban interface could destroy so many homes that local water and sanitation districts, which depend primarily on sales tax, could go out of business.

But local firefighter Jonathan Bradley, who recently was engaged in fighting fires in California, says Summit County would benefit from restrictions on what kind of building will be allowed near forested areas. He also notes that those buildings in California that survived were those that used less-flammable materials.

Colorado-based East West Partners has now ventured into Canada to develop real estate. The Beaver Creek-based company has purchased the Three Sisters project in Canmore, at the eastern gateway to Banff National Park.

About 60 percent of the residential real estate in Three Sisters remains to be built, but the hotel and other short-term accommodations as well as 500,000 square feet of commercial are set. The project is to have a focal point of wellness.

Harry Frampton, managing partner of East West, said he was drawn to the Canmore project for several reasons. Nearly all the land between Calgary, whose outskirts is located 45 minutes to the east, and Banff National Park is locked up, precluding future development.

East West was founded in 1985 after Frampton left as the chief executive officer of Vail Associates, the precursor of Vail Resorts. The company began by developing portions of Beaver Creek but has expanded rapidly. In recent years it developed projects at Truckee and Lake Tahoe, Park City, and along the I-70 corridor of Colorado. East West also has a significant role in redevelopment of Denver’s original core.