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Mountain Town News

Peter Hackett aims to put Telluride on the map in yet another way. A physician, he has long specialized in research involving thin air. For a number of years he worked at the base camp for climbers of Denali, a.k.a. Mt. McKinley, ministering to climbers. More recently, he had the task of looking after Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones when they visited Mexico City, elevation 7,349 feet.

Now, working in conjunction with the University of Colorado at Denver, he is directing the new Telluride-based Institute for Altitude Medicine. The goal is to not only treat people afflicted by the lack of oxygen, but also conduct research and offer education.

“The idea is that there are medical and health issues specific to high altitude, and there is really a need for authoritative information and research on the subject,” Hackett told The Telluride Watch.

At 5,280 feet, Denver has 17 percent less oxygen than is found at sea level. Telluride is even higher, 8,750 feet, and has 28 percent less than sea level. That lack of oxygen can stress bodies, particularly those not yet acclimated. That process can take a week.

The stress is greater for some, who develop pulmonary edema, or filling of the lungs. The Telluride Medical Center each year sees about 30 cases of pulmonary edema. More rare, and often fatal, is fluid on the brain, called cerebral edema.

Problems for visitors most commonly start at 8,000 feet, or about the elevations of Vail and Aspen. At 9,000 feet, problems increase substantially. A study done some years ago at Keystone, elevation 9,300 feet, found half of visitors get headaches. A companion study, done at Breckenridge, elevation 9,600 feet, showed that 30 percent did not do their usual activities.

At Telluride, Hackett is conducting a similar study to see how thin air affects visitors to Mountain Village, which is located at 9,600 feet adjacent to Telluride’s ski slopes. He is also studying the precise cause of altitude-induced headaches. One hypothesis being tested is that they result from swollen brains.

The Breckenridge study found that about 30 percent of visitors will not return because of the effects of thin air. Mt. Crested Butte is at about the same elevation.

Hackett says people should not be put off coming to higher elevations. “I think that it is a lot like sea sickness,” he said. “Most aren’t afraid to go on a cruise, but those who get seasick will bring some form of medicine with them. The same goes for high altitude.”

A drug called Diamox a day or two in advance, or once there are symptoms, works well, he says. He also advises those arriving from low elevations to avoid alcohol the first day and, more generally, take it easy.

At Telluride, research will delve into the low birth-weight of infants carried at higher elevations and the connection between heart diseases and thin air.

But thin air in high places is not strictly a downside. Hackett also intends to probe whether there is correlation between longevity and higher elevations. As well, age-adjusted data have shown less heart disease at high altitudes. Some studies elsewhere in the world have found lower blood pressure with long-term residence.

Already, athletes seek out higher elevations for training. Hackett say he believes all Olympic athletes train at high altitudes.

Altogether, Hackett sees the institute being a potential boon for Telluride’s tourism economy, drawing not only athletes but also doctors and others interested in high-altitude fitness.

Already, the staffing a Telluride has grown. Hackett now has an associate, Dr. Jenny Hargrove, formerly of Stanford, as well as various residents and medical students.

While some people have been scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to install a monorail or some other train up the Interstate 70 corridor, Jean Vives of Fraser has been confronting another challenge: How to ski it.

Formerly of Aspen, where he was co-director of Aspen Alpine Guides, he now lives in Fraser, near Winter Park, and from that base has laid out a base ski trip from Vail to Winter Park. He thinks it can be done in 7 to 10 days, without once spending the night in a tent.

It goes like this: Vail to a backcountry ski hut near Vail Pass, then Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Loveland Basin. Then to the Henderson Mine, and the final leg to Winter Park. Altogether, that’s not quite 63 miles.

It sounds daunting, and it would take skill, Vives, 56, told the Middle Park Times. But there is only one spot where an ice ax and crampons might be handy. Otherwise, it’s all just basic backcountry skiing.

Like it or not, residents of the Snyderville Basin, an area of higher-end real estate along Interstate 80, south of Park City, will henceforth be required to have affordable housing as 20 percent of all development approved.

The Park Record explains that the median home price of condominiums and townhouses in Park City and Snyderville is $465,000. By comparison, the average hourly wage as of two years ago was $9.

The newspaper reports considerable dissent about the new housing requirement. Kimberly Gabryszak, a county planner, responded that no housing-mitigation requirement is perfect.

Several coyotes were killed in Canmore after showing too much comfort being around people, especially children. Three children were nipped by the canines in incidents at Canmore.

In the first case, a 13-year-old girl was playing in a snow fort when she felt something bite her left side. She turned to see the coyote. “Thank God she had layers on,” said her mother later.

The girl challenged the coyote, which backed off.

Later, at a community Skate with Santa party held at a local pond, several coyotes were observed skulking in the high grass near the ice. When a coyote started approaching two girls who were building a snow castle, adults were informed. Yelling at a coyote, thinking it would run off, the animal instead dashed onto the ice and attacked a child. “I never thought in a million years that the coyote wouldn’t run away,” said a mother, Karen Skinner.

Altogether, three coyotes were killed. The one that bit the 13 year old was found not to be infected with rabies, but the status of the other coyotes was not known.

Being on thin ice is an expression that applies to elk, as well as people, as a case from Pagosa Springs, east of Durango, illustrates.

On Dec. 15, the Colorado Division of Wildlife was informed that several elk were in a pond near Pagosa Springs. Wildlife officers surmised that the elk had seen open water in the middle of the pond. When they moved to the edge the ice broke under their weight. The animals weighed from 300 to 500 pounds each.

While it is not uncommon for elk and other large animals to break through ice during winter, what made this case uncommon was their rescue.

John Romero said the elk apparently had apparently been in the cold water for sometime. While panicked and struggling, they appeared to have enough energy to last awhile, he said.

A volunteer firefighter, Thad McKain, had helped rescue three dogs on ice, but had never been called on to save wildlife. In his arsenal were two special wetsuits.

Secured by ropes, the two men moved to the water’s edge in the middle of the pond. There, they used an ax to break some ice, creating a narrow slot into which they hoped to guide the elk. One of the cow elk swam to Romero.

The cow, he said, seemed very calm, he said.

He roped the elk’s neck while McKain tied a rope around the animal’s legs, then the whole crew pulled her out of the water. She fell down in the snow and the rescuers threw a blanket over her.

The rescue went less smoothly with the other animals. A second cow was similarly retrieved, but once released she dashed back into the water, and had to be roped like a cowboy ropes a steer. The last cow elk was the most difficult, and fought against being brought to shore.

A spike bull failed to make it ” as did one of the first two cow elk, even after being released about 20 miles away. Too weak after the ordeal to get up, she was shot.

If winter didn’t arrive late this year to the San Juans, it most assuredly arrived warm. In places, the first real snowfall was preceded by a drenching rainstorm.

The snow that did fall was extremely wet, sufficiently so that when it accumulated on the branches of spruce trees, they fell over from the weight, toppling into electrical transmission lines. For Rico, a town south of Telluride, that has resulted in at least seven power outages in recent weeks, one lasting for 16 hours.

Locals speculate that the absence of a hard freeze may have made the trees even more top-heavy than usual, because the ground was not yet frozen, reports The Telluride Watch.

The power outages remind Telluride of its own vulnerability. The ski area and two municipalities (Telluride and Mountain Village) are served by two power lines, one of small capacity. The larger one, which arrives from Durango and Silverton to the south, was knocked down by an avalanche in March 2004. Plans to bolster capacity from an opposite direction have been blocked by landowners backed by San Miguel County commissioners.

As 1,000 people shivered in the snow, the ribbon was cut on a gondola that officially opened the new Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

The new resort is located in British Columbia, along the banks of the Columbia River, about four hours west of Calgary. In its debut, it has more than 1,500 skiable acres and expects to have more. Ultimately, Revelstoke plans to offer the longest lift-serviced vertical in North America, 6,000 feet. Already, it has 4,700 feet of vertical.

Because of the many helicopter-skiing companies based in Revelstoke, the town already is a destination for international skiing. A complement of the ski lifts is real estate, with some 5,000 housing units planned during the next quarter century, plus a golf course. Already more than $100 million in real estate has been sold this year.

Planning for the project goes back 20 years, noted Revelstoke Mayor Mark McKee. He said the community has been clear that it wanted to replace its trifling of lifts on the mountain with a major resort.

Toronto-based developers Hunter Milborne and Robert Powadiuk were the nucleus for the development. Two years ago, they brought in Denver-based apartment-house developer Don Simpson, who had skied at Revelstoke and developed real estate at Kamloops.

Now gaining equity interest is Rompsen, a Toronto-based mortgage lending company, and Vancouver-based Northland Properties group. The latter is owned by the Bob Gaglardi family, which also has an interest in developing an all-seasons resort proposed for Squamish, down-valley from Whistler. That project is called Garibaldi. The family owns the Sandman Hotel chain, and Denny’s and Moxie’s restaurants across Canada.

The Revelstoke Times Review said the opening is gratifying, because it represents the culmination of more than 20 years of dreaming and striving by Revelstoke. “It is frightening, too, because it represents a major change in the community’s economic direction, and some would say it points to social changes that could be disturbing.”

Avon, although once located two miles from the ski lifts of Beaver Creek, now has slope-side real estate.

It happened in three steps. The first major step was in the mid-1990s, when Beaver Creek opened up its massive Bachelor Gulch expansion, punctuated several years later by the opening of the ultra-swanky Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Next, a lift was installed from the Ritz-Carlton farther down the hill to employee housing and parking.

The final link is a gondola ” which opened this month ” to a $500 million project called Riverfront Village, which will feature a Westin-branded hotel. The gondola crosses parking lots, a highway and the river. The hotel is expected to open next summer, but Avon town officials hope it’s the beginning of a new look and dynamic, pedestrian-friendly project called Main Street.

Developer of the Riverfront Village is East West Partners, which also has projects in the Truckee-Tahoe area, Park City, and Breckenridge, and now also at Canmore, Alberta.

Gondolas do seem to be the trend. A short gondola, for use in the children and beginners area, is now operating at Beaver Creek. At Keystone, a new gondola is planned for next year, replacing the existing gondola. Vail, which already has one gondola, is proposing a second.

In most places, people want to turn night into day. Not in Truckee, where the public has strongly resisted adding street lights. Such street lights as exist must be on poles of no more than 20 feet. As well, existing town standards require lights to be shielded, directing light down rather than up or out.

Still, the night sky is eroding. Eric Larusson tells the Sierra Sun that a bumper sticker, “The Stars Shine Brighter in Truckee,” is no longer apt. They shine less ” because of the competing light from houses, businesses and other sources. He describes a dark sky at night as a manifestation of quality of life, and is among those urging that Truckee to further restrict outdoor lighting.

While there are no doubt a few Hollywood actors in Vail for the Christmas break, the Vail Daily notes that the town has lost a less direct link, with both of its movie theaters ceasing operation in the last several years. More recently, a Blockbuster videos store has been replaced by a real estate office, leaving only the grocery store video rentals. A theater is scheduled for opening in 2009, as part of a major real-estate complex called Solaris.

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