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Mountain Town News

For decades, small ski areas have been going out of business. Now, inspired by the startling success of California’s Mountain High, located about 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, small ski areas are popping up all over again.

The most notable example is in Colorado, where a former ski area, now called Echo Mountain, has reopened just west of Denver. A second, at St. Mary’s Glacier, remains possible.

And now, a third ski area, on the flanks of Pikes Peak west of Colorado Springs, is being proposed by John Ball, described by the Rocky Mountain News as a former chief executive of a broadband company called Elder Industries. He says it would be modeled upon an existing resort, Eldora Mountain, located west of Boulder.

“People don’t necessarily come from out of state to ski it, but the community loves it because it’s so close,” he says. “My kids can take the bus up to Eldora [from Boulder] in 30 minutes.”

Ball has a contract to buy 320 acres on the northwest side of the 14,110-foot peak, at about the 10,500-foot level. That land would serve as the base for the ski area, and would accommodate real estate development.

The land is currently owned by Harvey Carter, who was a ski patroller at Aspen for 22 years. Carter also founded Climbing magazine. Carter tells the News that he has been trying to build a ski area on Pike’s Peak for the better part of 50 years.

“It’s the only place on the peak you could do it,” he says. Three other ski areas at various locations on the mountain have failed.

Ball has a month to come up with $1 million in earnest money on the $4 million parcel. He says he hopes to break ground in 2010 on what he calls The Resort at Pikes Peak. He envisions a large hotel, 340 condominiums, several restaurants and five chairlifts.

If this ski area has legs, it would presumably draw primarily from the Colorado Springs metropolitan area, which now has a population of 600,000, with an additional 200,000 people in the nearby areas of Pueblo and Canon City.

A 280-car parking garage, located adjacent to the $35 million Jackson Hole Center for the Arts, has been completed. An array of lights atop the garage will use light-emitting diode technology, which lasts longer and uses less energy. The cost is higher, but public works director Larry Pardee estimates a payback period of only 2.4 years.

Town officials had originally hoped to put solar collectors atop the parking structure, but discovered that the extra weight would increase cost of steel and concrete by $250,000 in a project already well over budget. Instead, town officials now hope to create a solar-collecting farm near the community sewage treatment plant.

U.S. Forest Service officials skied around Crested Butte Mountain Resort recently to examine what the Crested Butte News describes as “smoke shacks.” The newspaper says the structures range from simple lean-tos to fully enclosed treehouses, and they can be found from high-traffic areas near ski lifts to the extreme terrain.

Such structures, says Forest Service patrol captain Dan Nielsen, are illegal on national forest land without authorization. Other resorts also have such structures, he said.

Crested Butte in the past has obliterated the smoke shacks, although without total success.

“In our world, given staffing levels and the other problems we may be dealing with, if someone is smoking a joint and doing nothing but “- on our priority list, that’s somewhere below cows on the road,” said Mt. Crested Butte Police Chief Hank Smith.

The Minturn Town Council has given first approval to annexation of former mining lands envisioned for high-end resort development.

Still to be negotiated, however, is how much money the developer would guarantee Minturn. The Vail Daily says that a final vote on the annexation is likely in 2008.

The 4,300 acres of land involved are located in the triangle between the towns of Minturn and Red Cliff and the Vail ski area. Ginn, a Florida-based developer with extensive projects in the Southeast, bought the land for $35 million several years ago.

Planned are 1,700 housing units, some of them in townhomes near former zinc mining operations, but others are in large acreage plots in higher elevations on Battle Mountain, above the abandoned mining town of Gilman. A golf course atop mine tailings is planned, as is a gondola connecting the two primary development areas. At the top area, at about 10,000 feet in elevation, a private ski area is planned. Ski lifts to Vail Mountain, although unconnected, would be about a mile away.

The provincial government in British Columbia plans to begin levying a carbon tax beginning in June, adding a 2.4 cent tax to a liter of gasoline, rising to 7.2 cents by 2012. It is part of the province’s effort to nudge choices that will result in less burning of hydrocarbons, and hence fewer greenhouse gases.

Canada is among the countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol, and although it’s almost certain that the nation will not meet the Kyoto targets for gas reductions, British Columbia is among the most aggressive provinces in assembling a climate action plan. Money realized by the carbon tax will be used to lower both corporate taxes and personal income taxes.

Although the United States did not approve Kyoto, there is increasing discussion in Congress of adopting a cap-and-trade emissions regime for carbon dioxide, similar to what has been used to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, a key component in acid rain. In addition, all three major presidential candidates have all advocated cap-and-trade emissions.

However, 47 of 50 economists polled by the Wall Street Journal said a straightforward carbon tax would be more effective in spurring innovation than a cap-and-trade regime.

Temperatures in the Bow River Valley, where Banff and Canmore are located, dipped to 25 below zero this winter, cold enough to hold the populations of mountain pine beetles in check.

“We’ve moved from a situation of impending disaster to a much-improved situation of just uncertainty,” said Barry Cooke, a scientist with the Canadian Forest Service. Computer models suggested mortality of 50 percent among the beetle larvae in southern Alberta.

Alberta has more marginal habitat for mountain bark beetles, but the relatively warm winters of the last decade have worked to the advantage of the beetles. Cooke said weather that causes mortality of 97.5 percent keeps the beetle populations at endemic, or normal, levels. But to achieve that requires more than just blasts of midwinter Arctic air, he said.

Early and late-winter cold snaps also help, as do woodpeckers.

Banff town officials are talking about ceasing use of magnesium chloride to melt snow and instead switching to a more environmentally benign but expensive potassium acetate liquid de-icer. The potassium compound costs $3.44 per liter, compared to 29 cents a liter for mag chloride. Mag chloride is highly corrosive to metal and concrete, although not as much as the basic sodium chloride road salt used by most other municipalities. The cost increase in Banff would be $34,000, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

A major development is being proposed for Hailey, located 11 miles downvalley from Ketchum and Sun Valley. The project envisions 379 homes in Quigley Canyon, just east of Hailey. A little more than half would be in denser neighborhoods and at lower cost, located in an area called Down Canyon. As elevations rise, so do lot sizes and prices, culminating with 68 homes on 1- to 5-acre lots in an area called Up Canyon. Included in the project would be a golf course, with green fees of $25 for the locals. A firm from Boulder, Colo., called KTJ Design is doing the land-use planning. Among the developers is Hennessy Co., of Ketchum.

The housing shortage in Whistler is sufficiently severe that two years ago a consortium called H.O.M.E. was set up. The goal of a plan hatched, but not yet executed, is to create a temporary neighborhood of trailers, portable modular units or modified containers, creating 250 beds altogether that can be rented for $575 to $675 each per month, reports Pique.

The Florida firm that has an option on the Sunlight ski area has now increased its plans for base-area housing to 830 units. Sunlight Mountain Development, a firm based in Destin, Fla., is under contract with current Sunlight owners to purchase the property.

The sale is contingent on winning approval from Garfield County to redevelop the resort. Key is the development of real estate at the base, of which there is little now. Development would occur on 130 of the 443 acres being planned in the project, reports the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

The ski area is located about 12 miles southeast of Glenwood Springs.

Meanwhile, another major housing project is planned in the valley between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. Called Cattle Creek Crossing, it will be allowed 400 to 600 units on 282 acres of land. The land is owned by Related WestPac, which also purchased the base-area project at Snowmass Village from Aspen Skiing Co. and Intrawest.

It’s now official. Environmental groups, including Colorado Wild, have dropped their lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service, which has agreed to start anew on its environmental impact statement for a proposed road. The road would be needed to service a real estate development planned at the base of the Wolf Creek Ski Area.

But whether the Forest Service will draw any different conclusion is the key question. A press conference called by the U.S. Forest Service suggested it won’t.

“Federal law,” said Dan Dallas, supervisor of the Rio Grande National Forest, “requires this agency to provide reasonable access over public land to private property.” The Forest Service, he added, has no jurisdiction over private land.

Colorado Wild has argued that allowing the road accommodates the development, which in turn will have impacts to the Forest Service lands that surround it.

Those lands, aside from the ski area operations, remain largely undeveloped. The development plans of Billy Joe “Red” McCombs and his development frontman, Bob Honts, call for more than 2,000 housing units on the property, most in time-share ownership.

The Pitcher family, which has owned the ski area since the 1970s, originally was a partner with McCombs in the real estate development, but in the late 1990s abandoned their participation. The two have lawsuits and countersuits against each other.


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