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Mountain Town News

Taos, N.M,: Ski area lifting boarder banTaos Ski Valley has finally decided to drop the ropes for snowboarders. A memo to employees distributed by ski area president Mickey Blake said the change will occur March 19.I guess hell finally froze over , said one blogger on the website of the Taos Daily News, where the news was reported.In the West, the only other major ski area where snowboards remain banned is at Deer Valley.For several seasons the debate has been more directed as to when rather than if snowboarding would be permitted at Taos Ski Valley, the memo continued.The Taos Ski Valley website blog revealed great enthusiasm. On behalf of about every tourist-related business in town, I want to thank TSV for lifting the ban, wrote Marc Coan.One unidentified grandparent lauded it as a way to renew family inclusiveness. I am happy to say that once again we can be a snow sport family in one area hurray!There was also disappointment. More than one writer was sure that Taos Ski Valley founder Ernie Blake, who died in 1989, must be needing Tums.One writer, while embracing the need for snowboards, called for a skis-only policy on some runs to retain good moguls.Summit County, Colo.: Mining history moved one truckload at a timeBreckenridge continues to reconfigure its landscape, softening the hard edges of its mining heritage. That heritage included the churning of vast piles of gravel in rivers and creeks by steam-powered dredges, yielding minute quantities of gold. In some cases, the rivers were dredged up to 50 feet deep, down to bedrock.Although the dredge mining ended in 1942, vast piles of rock remained piled high in the Blue River at the towns entrance well into the 1980s. Some piles remain even now in the Blue, as well as its chief tributaries, French Creek and the Swan River.That is changing. The Summit Daily News reports that the piles of rock have been removed from the Swan, one truckload at a time, for use elsewhere as fill material below houses. In exchange, topsoil is being provided for the river restoration. As well, a small portion of the old dredging operation has been restored as a sort of outdoor museum.Another segment of the river restoration is being launched, explained Brian Lorch, Summit Countys open space and trail director. Within a few years, he hopes to see trout once again hiding in the waters of the river.Ouray, Colo.: San Juan mining renews but with a new contextWith renewed mining continuing at Yankee Boy Basin, near Ouray, officials are adopting a policy governing who snowplows the road into the basin.A major concern is the potential for avalanches. The history books are rife with stories of avalanches along that road in the heyday of mining, when ore was transported by mule trains from the basin.In past decades, companies plowed the road as necessary without seeking formal permission. But things are different now. More people are snowmobiling and skiing on the slopes above the road than in the past. Therefore, Ouray County commissioners wanted a more clear designation of responsibilities and liabilities. Among the agreements is that a sign will be posted at the roads entrance noting that it is being maintained only for mining activity.Pagosa Springs, Colo.: Foes of Wolf Creek real estate plan getting legal winOpponents of a major real-estate development adjacent to the Wolf Creek ski area in southern Colorado may be close to a second significant legal victory.Earlier this year, Colorado Wild and other groups won a court judgment that found Mineral Countys approval of the 2,600 housing units violated its own procedures. Those groups, including Alamosa-based San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, also sued the Forest Service, claiming its environmental review was fundamentally illegal in its scope.The case stretches back nearly 30 years when the Pitcher family, who owns the ski area, wanted to build lodging at the base. It forged an agreement with Billy Joe Red McCombs, who agreed to finance the development work. A land exchange was consummated in the 1980s, providing an island of private land in a sea of federally administered property. No real estate development currently exists at the ski area.For the development to occur, however, McCombs needs access roads across the Forest Service property. The Forest Service has authorized those roads, but Colorado Wild says the review process was fundamentally flawed. First, it uncovered evidence of collaborative efforts between the agency and the developer that Colorado Wild claims were improper.But the environmental impact statement reviewed only impacts of the roads, and not of the real estate development itself. Colorado Wild says that the real estate cannot occur without the roads, and hence the impacts of the real estate must also be considered.Colorado Wild director Ryan Demmy Bidwell says no settlement has been reached in the Forest Service case, but confirmed a report in the Durango Herald. Were still working on details, he said. But in general, I think the Forest Service is coming around to the fact that it doesnt want to follow this litigation to its conclusion.Bidwell said Colorado Wild remains committed to forcing a new EIS that considers the impacts of the real estate development as either a direct or indirect effect of the Forest Service decision on access.Avon, Colo.: Traffic investigators say life is fine in I-70 fast laneSlow down on the daily commute on Interstate 70 through the Eagle Valley? No need to, say Colorado traffic investigators, who intend to stay the course on the 75 mph speed limit between Avon and Glenwood Canyon.The Vail Daily explains that police, firefighters and other emergency services officials had asked for a slower speed limit. There has been a spike in traffic fatalities on the highway since the speed limit was elevated in the mid-1990s. Farther up the valley, in the Vail area where the speed limit is 65 mph or less, there are more accidents, but far fewer people have died.Although ambulance drivers think theres too much blood being spilled, state officials say its no worse than on comparable highways.Whistler, B.C.: Despite greenhouse vows, towns emissions riseWhistler has been making commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for several years, talking the global warming talk well ahead of most ski towns. Even Aspen didnt make an overt pledge to tamp down its carbon footprint until a couple of years ago.But where have those vows gotten Whistler? Not very far, reports Pique. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased more than 11 percent since 2000, according to the latest monitoring report. The population has increased 5 percent during that time.Mayor Ken Melamed, who was a green activist when elected to the municipal council, said Whistlers growth in emissions is the result of new hotels, homes and commercial buildings. No one project explains the increase, but rather the accretion of them all, he said.Actually reducing emissions will be a challenge, he said, until zero-energy buildings, such as are being built in Europe, become commonplace in North America. How Whistler might achieve this isnt yet clear.Truckee, Calif.: Tahoe-area students can ski and studyThe West has many private ski academies where students, for relatively high tuition, study half-days and train for ski racing the other half. Vail has a new ski academy, which was profiled last week on National Public Radio, as does Crested Butte.But what may be a unique program exists in the Tahoe-Truckee area of California. There, students enrolled in North Tahoe High School can take four classes in the morning. In the afternoon they train on the slopes. Students achieve the balance of the curriculum through independent study programs offered by Coldstream Alternative High School. Among the offerings are advanced-placement courses.Students enrolled in the program must maintain a 2.8 grade-point average, reports the Sierra Sun, a higher average than usually required by traditional high school sports.Although the program is new, school officials tell the newspaper there are no problems.The Sun notes several other ski academies in the area. At one, Sugar Bowl Ski Academy, college-prep classes are taught for grades 7 through 12. Cost is up to $30,000 for those who room there, although less for local students. The public school program is free to any student who qualifies for California public schools.Jackson Hole, Wyo.: Study finds cheap digs lag commercial projectsA study by the Teton County Housing Authority firmly draws the conclusion that new development isnt paying its way when it comes to generating employee housing.Since 2000, the Jackson Town Council has approved more than 752,000 square feet of commercial development. Thats the equivalent of more than 15 large grocery stories.Existing regulations, adopted in 1994, have yielded far less housing than what is actually needed to staff that many stores, restaurant and offices. The housing authoritys study found developers had built the equivalent of 45 apartments (at 400 square feet each) and paid another $94,000 in cash to meet requirements. On their own, they built another 127 small apartments.The agency presents evidence that the formula adopted by the town during the 1990s vastly underestimated how many employees a busy bar and restaurant will generate.A proposal now being reviewed by the town government would increase the mitigation rate, now at 15 percent, to 25 percent. But the housing authority recommends 40 percent.There is some fear that even 25 percent will stall development, but the evidence from Aspen suggests it wont even slow it. There, existing regulations require developers to provide housing for 60 percent of employees, and the formula used in Aspen assumes more employees will be generated per 1,000 feet of commercial space, than are assumed in Jackson.Even this much higher bar hasnt stopped developers from coming into Aspen. In fact, last summer, one hotel developer offered to provide for 100 percent of employees and was turned down by the City Council.Jackson and Teton County want to keep 65 percent of all valley workers within Jackson Hole. An increasing number are commuting across the Teton Range from Idaho.Jackson Mayor Mark Barron told the Jackson Hole News& Guide that the town must elevate its affordable housing requirements, but it also needs greater density, to find room for everybody.Summit County, Colo.: Home Depot hoping to open in SilverthorneHome Depot has submitted an application for a 100,000-square-foot store in Silverthorne. The application was incomplete, but its possible that the project could be presented to planning commissioners in January or February, reports the Summit Daily News. The newspaper also notes immediate questions from the existing business community about whether the chain franchise will be a good addition to the community.Vail, Colo.: Company housing at issue in two valleysTown and ski company officials played poker until the last minute, more or less. But they now have an agreement about the terms by which Vail Resorts will come up with affordable housing as required by the town before a major new real estate development is opened.The project is called Arrabelle, an Old World-type edifice with 66 condos, 33 hotel rooms, plus Starbucks, Patagonia and all the rest. An ice-skating rink is in the middle. Two years in construction, it is set to open Jan. 5.Since summer, the town and ski company officials have crankily disagreed with one another about how Vail Resorts can meet its obligations to provide 120 employee housing units. The town preferred onsite, but Vail Resorts is wrangling for a location across I-70. Most of the negotiations have been occurring behind closed doors, which town officials insist is within the law.For now, Vail Resorts will post a $17.3 million letter of credit and has agreed to come up with a plan by late February. If it doesnt, the town can cash the check.There has also been crankiness in Jackson Hole, where Vail Resorts is on the hook for 22 affordable housing units resulting from a project approved in 2005.The company was granted a six-month extension in early summer, but still has produced none of the goods. One commissioner, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide, even asked the county attorney to look into civil proceedings.What seems to have happened is that Vail Resorts contracted with a Colorado-based developer David ONeil to build the 22 homes. He comes with a reputation for building higher quality affordable housing than is sometimes the case. One reason for the delay is the need for review from the National Park Service, as the development is near the border of Grand Teton National Park.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at allen.best@comcast.net.