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Mountain Town News

Allen Best

Whistler, B.C. Same-sex weddings on the increaseBritish Columbia in 2003 legalized same-sex marriages. Since then, the province has become a popular destination for weddings by Americans. It has also made Whistler a place with increasing numbers of same-sex marriages 36 last year, compared to 14 the first year such marriages were legal.Linda Seifred, who performs same-sex marriages in Whistler, told Pique newsmagazine that such weddings tend to be smaller affairs. The guests tend to be true longtime friends of the couple.Whistler annually hosts an event called WinterPride, which was expected this year to draw more than 3,000 people, about half from the United Sates, with a fifth from Australia and New Zealand, and smaller percentages from Europe and South America.Crested Butte, Colo. Economic slowdown noted in Crested ButteThere are indications that the softened economy is affecting Crested Butte and Gunnison. At a recent forum, there were reports that airport business was down, indicating sluggishness in the tourism economy, despite abundant snow. As well, reports the Crested Butte News, there was testimony that the real estate market also has softened.The conventional wisdom is that the more high-end the market, the more insulated it is to economic swings. That may be true, but real estate developer Dan Fitchett sees people holding property theyd rather not be holding onto. The problem with the Crested Butte market is a lot of people were speculating after the ski area changed hands [in 2004], he said. More mature markets, such as Aspen and Vail, havent fluctuated all that much, because people buying vacation homes there intend to hang onto them for several years.Telluride, Colo. Compromise to result in backup powerThe news from Telluride is that a third power line may be strung and dug to serve the community. The story goes back about 10 years and is of considerable importance to Telluridians, given how important electricity is to the tourist economy and how vulnerable existing lines are.One existing line comes from the Durango area, loping across various passes in the San Juan Mountains. It is vulnerable, as was proven several years ago in March, when an avalanche knocked down poles and forced brownouts during the peak of ski season. The other power line comes in from the west, but it is aging.A new and taller power line was planned from the west, but landowners on the scenic mesas over which it would cross have resisted. Now, a compromise has been forged. As demanded by San Miguel County, the line will be buried as it crosses the scenic mesas, elevating the cost. The total cost of $16.4 million is to be absorbed among various users and beneficiaries, plus the electrical provider. However, many details are yet to be worked out, officials tell The Telluride Watch.Steamboat Springs, Colo. Lynx Q-400 flights seen as increasingly unlikelyA year ago, many in Rocky Mountains ski towns were hoping for new lower-cost shuttles by the new Bombardier Q-400 turboprop to the Frontier Airlines hub in Denver.Now, at least in the case of Steamboat, hopes are dwindling, reports the Steamboat Pilot & Today.Andy Wirth is the chief marketing officer for Intrawest, which operates the Steamboat ski area. Wirth told the newspaper that Frontier is struggling because of increasing competition, especially from Southwest Airlines, and rapidly escalating fuel costs. Frontier, through its new subsidiary, Lynx Aviation, had planned to start offering flights in summer 2007. He said those flights connecting Denver to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport now seem ever more unlikely.Just the same, Steamboats airline connections are improving. It has added 50,000 new ski season seats in the last few years. In addition, the resort is trying to upgrade electronic controls to cut the interval between landings of aircraft, now at 15 minutes, down to two minutes. The technology that will make this possible is called WAM, or wide-area multilateration. It is expected to be in place for the 2010-11 ski season.Wolf Creek Pass, Colo. Agreement about new EIS reportedThe Durango Herald reports that developers who want to build a base village at the foot of the Wolf Creek ski area have agreed to resubmit a proposal to cross U.S. Forest Service land with an access road. Preparing a new EIS could take several years, the newspaper notes.Opponents, who had filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service, had argued that the EIS issued by the Forest Service was inadequate in that it failed to disclose the full consequences of building the road.Summit County, Colo. Colorado leads U.S. in avalanche deathsIn 1987, four young men died in an avalanche adjacent the Breckenridge ski area. After that, Summit County Sheriff Delbert Ewoldt announced a new policy, one limiting access to the backcountry from ski areas.Possibly for that reason, Summit County has fallen to No. 2 among Colorado counties in avalanche deaths recorded since 1950, reports the Summit Daily News. It has had 36 avalanche fatalities, compared to 37 in Pitkin County, where Aspen and Snowmass are located. Clear Creek County, on the eastern slope, ranks third, and Gunnison County, with 17 deaths, ranks fourth.Colorado leads the nation in avalanche deaths since 1950 with 216, followed by Alaska with 118 and Utah with 88.Teton Valley, Idaho Gilletts finally get OK for Targhee real estateAfter more than 15 years, two ski area owners, and countless hearings, the die has been cast for real estate development at the base of the Grand Targhee ski area. Mori Bergmeyer, formerly an architect from Boston, had initiated the process of a land exchange, but finally threw in the towel in the face of opposition and sold the ski area to the George Gillett-led Booth Creek Ski Holdings.Gillett, the one-time owner of Vail, and his family then continued to press for a land exchange, which was finally consummated several years ago. The Gilletts then proposed more than 800 housing units. The proposal has been contentious, spurred by fears that this would be the beginning of the end for what is called the quiet side of the Tetons. Jackson Hole is on the other side of the range.But last week, the Teton County commissioners the ski area is in Wyomings Teton County, but is located within the geographical basin of Idahos Teton Valley finally approved a scaled-down plan for 450 units. A county commissioner representing that area, Leland Christiansen, called it a start in the wrong direction. I dont know how many people in 20 to 30 years are going to applaud the work weve done.But while Christiansen might have wanted to see a Rockefeller family arrive to preserve the land, as has been done on the other side of the Teton Range, Commissioner Andy Schwartz noted that the Rockefellers also built resorts, where visitors can enjoy those lands. It was, he said, a good compromise, and Geordie Gillett, son of George and the Gillett in charge at Grand Targhee, said he was also persuaded of the value of downsizing. I have come to be convinced that less is more, he said.Vail, Colo. Weak dollar converts into big foreign gain The sagging dollar has people from around the globe flocking to the United States this winter, with a 23 percent increase in international visitors at the five ski areas operated by Vail Resorts. In addition to the flagship resort, Vail Mountain, the company has three other ski areas in Colorado and one in California.Absolutely, the weak dollar, thats bringing people here, said Chris Jarnot, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. In my 19 seasons in marketing, Ive never seen anything like this.For Vail, thats an economic boon, in that international visitors tend to stay longer and spend more money on such things as ski classes and restaurants.Particularly notable is a new echelon of Russians paying top dollar for accommodations at Vail and Beaver Creek.This international influence is also felt in the high-end real estate market. About 13 percent of people who express interest in buying at the Four Seasons Residence Club are foreign, said Jeff Meier, senior director of sales and marketing. Just recently, weve seen that Canadian buyers are starting to raise their hands.Durango, Colo. Physicists wagering on the global thermometerMost bets are spur-of-the-moment things, with outcomes decided in short order. Not so in a bet being discussed in Durango.There, Roger Cohen issued a challenge, betting $5,000 that the globes average temperature will be cooler in 2017 than in 2007. He has a doctorate in physics and retired five years ago from Exxon.He has two possible takers: Paul Bendt, who also has a doctorate in physics and who now works on energy-efficiency testing for state agencies and utilities, and Bill Butler, a data-processing manager.What everyone seems to agree on is that a one-year comparison, as Cohen originally proposed, is unsatisfactory. To get climate trends, not weather, they need longer-term comparisons such as between 1998-2007 and 2008-2017. Still to be negotiated is what authority will be used for the global measurements.Red Lodge, Mont. Button from Custers last stand now in museumThe local historical museum in Red Lodge now has possession of a very expensive button. The button came from the Little Bighorn battlefield, where Custer and half of his soldiers met their ends one very hot, dusty day in 1876.Among them was 21-year-old 2nd Lt. John J. Crittenden. Although the descendent of high-ranking soldiers his father was a major general for the Union in the Civil War, while an uncle was a general in the Confederacy he had flunked out of the military academy at West Point, but instead joined the infantry.The button that was later found was of a type used for infantry officers, and since Crittenden was the only infantry soldier to die at that particular battle site all the others were members of the cavalry it is presumed the button came from him.It came from a larger collection of Little Bighorn artifacts, all of which were sold except for the button. It has an estimated value of $3,000 to $5,000.Canmore, Alberta Mayor: tourism no longer the whole enchiladaCanmore Mayor Ron Casey said in his annual speech that its time for Canmore to more fully realize that its no longer a tourist town, in the traditional sense.We are not like Banff. We are different, he said. Here, the tourists own the property.He pointed to a recent economic development report that described tourism as the primary industry within Canmore. Are we really a tourist town? Is that the major economic driver in the community, or is it recreational property, or quality of life?Casey said the distinction does matter. How Canmore sees itself will alter its plan for development and where that development should happen.In his speech, Casey also alluded to tensions with the new part-timers the second-home owners. Canmore, he noted, has not yet engaged second-home owners in local issues. Susan Barry, who represents the development community, said the town and its government must pay more than lip service into being an inclusive community.Canmore seems to be looking at the experience of Jackson Hole in understanding its own situation, and perhaps what it should be doing.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at allen.best@comcast.net.


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