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Mountain Town News

Allen Best

Vail, Colo.: $496 million in building permits pulled in VailConstruction permits for nearly a half-billion dollars were pulled last year in Vail, most at the base of the ski lifts. About 70 percent of the total was included in four projects, and a majority of it falls under the heading of redevelopment.The largest project under way is a $110 million condo and fractional project called the Ritz-Carlton Residences being built by ski area operator Vail Resorts Inc. The next largest is a $104 million project called Solaris, which is replacing a late-1960s-style condo, office and retail complex. Down the list further is an $89 million Four Seasons, which is to have condos and fractional units.The Vail Daily explains that theres more where that came from. For example, Vail Resorts is briskly moving forward on plans for a new $1 billion project called Ever Vail, which would replace a gas station, an aging office building and other properties. Several other major redevelopment projects are also in the planning and review pipeline.People contacted by the newspaper agreed that Vail needed to redevelop. To remain a world-class resort, we needed improvements to our town, said Kim Newbury, a Vail councilwoman since 2003.Vail, Colo.: Vail housing shortage keeps restaurant closed The employee situation in Vail has come to this: Even during winter, Vails Sweet Basil, renowned as one of the towns best restaurants, will remain closed two days a week during lunch.The shut sign the first during ski season in 30 years of operations was posted after many of the kitchen staff worked an 84-hour workweek during the holidays.This, reports the Rocky Mountain News is despite wages that have increased as much as 40 percent in two years, plus health insurance and ski passes.Alas, while the restaurant has 70 employees during peak season, it has employee housing for only four.While employee housing is being added in Vail and elsewhere in the Eagle Valley, its not keeping up with job growth. The newspaper notes that 1,500 new jobs are being added as a consequence of redevelopment in Vail now under way. Another 2,115 jobs could result from development projects now pending. Plus, downvalley in Avon and Edwards, another 7,400 jobs are expected in the next decade.Ketchum, Idaho: Avalanches hit Ketchum-Sun ValleyAvalanches big and small were evident across the Ketchum area after a storm deposited 20 inches of snow. In the towns Warm Springs neighborhood, near the base of the Sun Valley ski area, an avalanche swept over one home, the second time in a month the house has been hit. An avalanche wall absorbed most of the impact, and no damage was detected in the house, but an outlying garage got knocked about.The Idaho Mountain Express states four other homes were hit, but reported no damage. However, emergency services personnel were worried enough about the potential to human health that they evacuated all homes in that area.Elsewhere, an avalanche dammed a river, which caused water to back up to a depth of 18 inches in one subdivision.Freidman Memorial Airport, located downvalley at Hailey, had to close for about six days because snow piled between the taxiway and runway has reached a height of at least 25 feet. That prevented long-winged aircraft from taxiing. Extra help was hired to haul away the problematic snow.Curiously, the snowfall for the winter is only slightly above average.Elsewhere in Idaho, snowfall was so heavy in Sandpoint, at the foot of the Schweitzer ski area, that the school board chairman and his sons were on the roof, shoveling on one building, aided by school district employees on paid holidays. The Idaho National Guard was being summoned to assist, reports the Bonner County Daily Bee. The newspaper also mentions that one local youth managed to make $1,900 so far this winter shoveling snow.Steamboat Springs, Colo.: Dream come true for snow-loversBy now, the big winter was supposed to be over, turning to drought. But the U.S. Weather Service was wrong, wrong, wrong! The snowfall total this season at the Steamboat ski area has now pushed past 300 inches, with additional snow falling rapidly in the early days of February.The Steamboat Pilot & Today found both people who love and hate the prodigious powder. Brian Bonsell, a hotel worker and avid surfer, had decamped from Hawaii several weeks before. In order to leave there, I had to come to a place like this, he told the newspaper. I always wanted to live where it just snows every day.Riding that much powder was, he said, like riding waves.But Bob Wakefield, who came from Kansas, really would prefer corduroy. Im not really to the point where I can ski in the deep snow like this, he said. Powder days are not my favorite.Snow fell on 80 percent of the first 73 days of the ski season at Steamboat.Park City, Utah: Slipping dollar expected to help tourism in Park City The slipping value of the dollar is resulting in more foreign visitors to Park City. International ski pass sales are up 20 percent this year, reports Bill Malone, executive director of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, although sales were also up 16 percent last year. Malone, according to the Park City Record, is projecting an increase in visitor nights this year, and also an uptick in real estate sales, after a year of declining sales last year.South Lake Tahoe, Calif.: California resort says no to smokeHeavenly Mountain has banned smoking on chairlifts and in lift lines. The ban follows complaints from several Heavenly customers, reports the Tahoe Daily News. One customer, Diana Woodbury, complained that she had an asthma attack after riding in a chairlift behind a cigar-smoker, My throat and lungs are raw from coughing, my lungs hurt and I had an asthma attack, she said. The Tahoe Daily News reports several Tahoe-Truckee resorts restrict smoking to specified areas.Vail, Colo.: Autosock could help truckersTruckers are excited about a new product called Autosock, a high-tech fabric that can be slipped over a tire, delivering the same traction in snowy and icy conditions that now require chains. The Autosock can be installed on tires of tractor-trailer trucks in about five minutes, instead of 35 to 40 minutes, product representatives tell the Vail Daily.The product still hasnt been approved for Colorado highways, although the state is developing criteria for approval.For Vail this new product would have substantial benefits, as trucks commonly are lined up in chain-up areas, belching diesel smoke, before crossing Vail Pass. As well, notes the newspaper, chaining up has been dangerous to truckers in Vail. One trucker died of a heart attack recently while chaining up, and another was hit and killed during October.Interstate 70, Colo.: Economist proposes congestion tollsAs a temporary fix for Interstate 70 west from Denver to the mountain resorts, Chris Romer, an economist and state senator, proposed an old idea: congestion pricing. In other words, when the highway is very busy, mostly winter and summer weekends, tolls would be charged to encourage people to choose other times or ways to travel.The idea bombed, to use the description of the Rocky Mountain News. Certainly, the ski industry wasnt amused. I give him credit for thinking outside the box, said Melanie Mills, the public affairs director for Colorado ski Country USA. But were not enamored of the idea of charging skiers for using an existing highway.Romer also has a plan B: He wants to create a Wikipedia website, in which people can contribute ideas and help him draft a bill to be introduced into the Legislature.Jackson Hole, Wyo.: Exum offers winter descents of the Grand Exum Mountain Guides is expanding its guided trips to ski descents of Grand Teton during winter. About 10 clients have now descended the mountain during spring.One potential client is awaiting a weather window to make the trip, but its not just a matter of phone-in-your-reservations, company officials tell the Jackson Hole News&Guide.Clients must be very fit physically, explained Nat Patridge, Exums director of winter programs, but the guides also must feel comfortable with how the client performs in a variety of conditions in very steep terrain. Presumably, he wasnt talking about runs at the ski area.Revelstoke, B.C.: Global warming steers developers to B.C.Climate change is now becoming a real-estate selling point.Thats the observation of Torontos Globe and Mail after visiting the new Revelstoke Mountain Resort, which opened in late December and expects next year, after extension of the gondola, to have the most vertical of any ski resort in North America.The newspaper notes that the ski area gets an annual average of 15 meters of snow, or nearly 600 inches. If, 20 years from now, we only get half the snow, its still much more than anyone else, says one of the four developers, Hunter Milborne, the managing director of Sothebys International in Toronto.Zul Haji, a Calgary-based investor, tells the newspaper he was intrigued by the concept of climate change real estate. He paid $450,000 for a condo last March. That same day, Revelstoke sold $70 million of real estate in its first offering.With global warming, as we get less and less snow at lower elevations, a lot of ski hills will be out of business, says Haji. That was my main motivation.Don Simpson, a Denver-based developer of apartment buildings, is another of the four major developers. He has helicopter-skied in the mountains around Revelstoke for 20 years. Snow in Revelstoke is just so dependable, he says. Its always abundant. It is, he says, the best snow in the world.The resort is near Rogers Pass, about five hours west of Calgary and six hours east of Vancouver.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at allen.best@comcast.net.


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