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Mountain Town News

Jackson Hole, Wyo.: H2B visa cap has employers worried Winter is a slower time than summer for the economy in Jackson Hole. Thats why its all the more concerning to employers that they cant find enough hired hands to clean the sheets, wash the dishes and do all the other tasks in a service-oriented tourism economy.Sharpening the tension, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide, is the fact that the federal cap on H2B temporary worker visas was reached Jan. 3, well before Jacksons high season. Thats left some employers considering recruitment from Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, where visas are unnecessary. Others employers may use J1 student visas, although they tend to draw more transient and less loyal workers.The wages are relatively high, about $14 per hour for many jobs as housekeepers, which is too low to interest U.S. citizens, but high enough to draw dozens of Mexicans. One business owner, who spoke to the newspaper only on the condition of anonymity, said he takes whatever documents prospective workers give him.Now I just have everyone complete I-9s, show me their drivers licenses and Social Security cards, he said. We all know theyre not legal, but we look the other way.The business owner estimated that his Mexican workers make $4,000 to $7,000 a month.Would higher wages draw U.S. citizens? Restaurateur Mark Walker doesnt think so, but he also says he can only pay so much. You cant pay $30 [per hour] for unskilled labor. Frisco, Colo.: LEED now required of all buildings Frisco town authorities have adopted a new building code, one that demands greater conservation of energy and other environmentally friendly building designs and materials.The new building code demands the basic level of LEED certification of all new buildings, reports the Summit Daily News. LEED has four levels of certification: basic, silver, gold and platinum; the basic level demands a 14 percent improvement in energy efficiency.Its been a long process to get buy-in from all the stakeholders, including builders, said Carly Wier, director of High Country Conservation.An article in Ski Area Management says that LEED certification construction used to cost up to 10 percent more. However, some building professionals now insist that the LEED building process costs no more. Everyone agrees that buildings built to the higher standards can result in substantially lower operating costs.In Summit County, architect Tim Sabo credits Frisco with leadership. Itll help to break out of the box of the conventions of building today.Frisco has been working with other towns and the Summit County government on the revised building regulations. Other jurisdictions will be asked to adopt similar or identical codes. Avon, Colo.: Doing the carbon footprint shuffle Its one step forward, then its back you go. Mary Chapin Carpenter was talking about the vicissitudes of love when she sang that line, but it also seems to apply to Avons efforts to tighten its carbon belt.The town has made significant strides to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. It first conducted an energy audit, and it is beginning to take steps to reduce energy use in buildings, cars and other municipal operations. It has bought two buses that are supposed to be 80 percent more efficient than the older models. And just recently, it bought wind-generated electricity at an annual cost of $61,000 to cover all municipal operations.Now, in their effort to create a there there, Avon officials are planning a major pedestrian mall, to be called Main Street. To make it more pedestrian-friendly, they want to install a snowmelt system that employs a gas-fired boiler. The town staff recommends snowmelt coverage that would be responsible for about a 20 percent gain in the carbon dioxide, reports the Vail Daily. More traditional methods of snow removal shovels and plows would incrementally increase the carbon footprint by about 3 percent.The Vail Daily found resistance, however. Snowmelt is about one of the nastiest things you could do for the environment, said resident Heidi Hinderman. Several council members interviewed by the newspaper indicated they arent crazy about the idea. Theres a whole bunch of people who dont mind walking around in snow, said Councilman Brian Sipes.Also noted was the potential hypocrisy. Commercial buildings along the mall will be required to be LEED-certified, meaning they must meet energy-efficiency standards 14 percent more stringent than conventional building codes. Jackson Hole, Wyo.: Authorities irritated by extreme rescues Backcountry rescues are on such a rise in Jackson Hole that local authorities are considering billing adventurers.That such a drastic measure would be considered says much about the frustration of local authorities, who say that rescue costs have increased from $15,000 only eight years ago to $160,000 now. Three-quarters of that budget is devoted to having a helicopter on call. The cost of operation is an additional $1,500 per hour.The Jackson Hole News&Guide says that the irritation is elevated by the risk faced by rescuers. In the late afternoon on New Years Day, a snowboarder broke a cornice and slid 1,300 vertical feet. Rescuers marched up the mountain in the dark, reaching the man by midnight, ministering to him until he could be flown out the next morning. However, they almost didnt go. Rescuers debated an hour before voting by a narrow margin to execute the rescue, because of the dangers. Some say they believe the man would have died without their help.Traditional search-and-rescue teams have traditionally eschewed charges, for fear it will discourage calls for help, but have had no qualms about charging for helicopters. Doug Meyer, the coordinator of Teton County Search and Rescue, said he expects to respond to 10 events by winters end. Some involve skiers and snowboarders who use the lifts of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to access the resort backcountry. Teton County Sheriff Bob Zimmer indicated hes had enough of extreme adventuring.The word extreme is thrown around every day, he told the newspaper. You go out, put yourself in harms way, get yourself cliffed out, stranded, and we then take five or 25 volunteers and put them in harms way to rescue you when you use poor judgment.He also wonders if at some point Teton County will cease to provide a helicopter.One idea submitted for a community conversation is the idea of permits for backcountry adventurers. To get one, skiers would have to prove theyve taken an avalanche course. Another idea is European-style rescue insurance, like whats sold at ski resorts. Ketchum, Idaho: Ski patrollers will be covered for rescues Authorities in Blaine County are expected to be paying workers compensation for ski patrollers from Sun Valley who help rescue skiers who have headed from the ski area into the backcountry.Ski patrol personnel werent previously covered by the Sun Valley Co. policy for beyond-the-rope work.But ski area officials emphasized that it does not mean that the ski patrol will take on responsibility for skiers and snowboarders who use the ski area lifts to gain access to the backcountry.With the introduction of fat skis and easily accessible run-out trails, more and more people are heading out there, which means there will be more injuries, said Mike Lloyd, director of the Sun Valley Ski Patrol. We arent responsible, but we are the best resource already, being at the top and having intimate knowledge of the mountain.Avalanche danger is of concern. As always, its important to ski one at a time and make sure everyone is equipped with shovels and beacons, in case someone gets buried. Probe poles are also advised. Wolf Creek Pass, Colo.: Settlement possible in base case Could there be a settlement in the years-long lawsuits between the operator of the Wolf Creek Ski Area and a developer formerly a partner with the ski area who wants to build 2,100 housing units at the base? The land, formerly national forest land secured in a land-swap during the 1980s, currently has no housing, nor is there any other housing development at the ski area.The trial is scheduled for July, but The Durango Herald reports that both parties said a settlement appears possible. Both of you said it was possible; that caught me by surprise, said Durango Magistrate Judge David L. West.The counter lawsuits come down to a conflicted vision for the base area. The ski area speculators at an earlier time eagerly anticipated major housing development at the base, but in the late 1990s had a change of heart. It remains among the most old-fashioned of ski areas, as reflected by the fact that it calls itself just that: a ski area, not a resort.Yet a third party, Colorado Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, still have a lawsuit pending in their attempts to block the project. Durango, Colo.: Median home price slid 7 percent in 07 The median price of homes that sold in Durango last year slid 7 percent from the previous year, to $389,000. Were not immune to conditions that exist nationwide, said Bob Allen, a Durango real-estate appraiser. However, the first $1 million sale in the condo-townhome category was registered at Durango last year, reports the Durango Herald. Mount Crested Butte, Colo.: Avalanche fence proves its worthFor years, the slopeside town of Mount Crested Butte had an avalanche problem. In 1989, snow buried a boy outside condominiums located at the base of the hillside. Several other times snowslides have damaged condominiums, sometimes rupturing windows.Finally, in 2006, a tall fence of galvanized steel, about 10 feet tall, was installed on the hillside. This winter, the $1 million fence has come into use, successfully blocking snow from cascading down the hill.Now we can have a sense that its a success, and it can save lives, said Town Councilman William Buck. Having the fence tested has created a greater sense of comfort, says resident Donna Oros. Before, she said, we had a level of uncertainty doing things like walking up the driveway or sitting in the hot tub. I think that is resolved, she told the Crested Butte News. Steamboat Springs, Colo.: There are cows, but better are human-type cash cowsIts called agritourism, this idea that farmers and ranchers can make some money off visitors. And if the idea has been around for decades, its getting new attention in the Yampa River Valley.The Steamboat Pilot & Today reports that dozens of farm and ranch owners gathered recently to hear about how travel and agriculture could be intertwined. From elsewhere in Colorado, Duke Phillips explained why he chose to take on visitors. The cattle on his ranch in the San Luis Valley could not alone pay his $100,000-plus lease, he said.Farmers were also told to think about cows differently, People come first theyre your cash cow, said Wayne Iacovetto. Whatever they want, you deal with.In the case of a retreat of Nike employees, that included shooting plastic deer with paint guns while riding snowmobiles, he said.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at

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