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Mountain Town News

Summit County, Colo. Occupancy down, but room rates up at resortsRalf Garrison delivered a report in the Summit Daily News of silver-lined dark clouds in the U.S. ski-based tourism. Garrisons Mountain Travel Research Program, which tracks the destination ski sector, found that from November through January occupancy rates were down 1.5 percent. Bookings for the rest of ski season similarly suggest declines. However, the average daily room rate for early winter was up nearly 10 percent.Consumer confidence is lagging, oil prices are now hovering above $100 per barrel, and the dollar is at a record low, he noted. But the silver lining is that the weak dollar should attract more international visitors, and keep more U.S. residents at home.News from Vail Resorts confirms some of these trends. Rob Katz, the chief executive officer, reported a 23 percent increase in well-heeled international guests at the companys five ski areas through January, which Katz said helps make up for a decline in domestic skiers. Skier visits at Vail dropped 6.2 percent, and at Beaver Creek they were down 1.5 percent.Vail expects to invest up to $110 million at its five ski areas and ancillary base area hotels and other operations, Katz told reporters.Eagle Valley, Colo. Teachers start at nearly $39,000Teachers in public schools in the Eagle Valley are getting pay raises. The new base pay will be $38,650, second only to Aspen, which starts teachers at $40,000.However, teachers can earn bonuses by agreeing to teach at schools with higher poverty, reports the Vail Daily, or because they have advanced degrees and experience. A teacher with 15 years experience, for example, could earn an additional $9,663 per year, for a total of more than $48,000.Still, despite the higher wages and a handsome benefit package, school officials think it more inducement will be needed. Theyre also looking at helping teachers buy homes and at creating district-sponsored employee housing.Vail, Colo. Town plans to seek bus drivers in Puerto RicoFor well more than a decade, Vail town officials have filled the ranks of bus drivers with recruits from Australia. But its getting harder to recruit Australians, and so Vail is now planning recruitment in Puerto Rico a place where the Aspen Skiing Co. also went looking.Puerto Rico has the advantage of being a territory of the United States, so no H2B visas are necessary. Such visas are now in short supply.And while the Aspen Skico hired 12 Puerto Rican employees for the winter, spokesman Jeff Hanle says it wasnt a panacea. It wasnt a gold mine by any means, he told the Vail Daily.Some of the Puerto Ricans apparently didnt like Aspens winter, and unlike employees hired under the H2B visa program, they were free to just leave. Australian Graeme Rowe, who has driven buses in Vail for several years, said Whistler and other resorts are providing more competition, and the faltering U.S. dollar has made overseas employment less attractive to Australians. As well, the mandatory interviews and other hurdles now required by the Department of Homeland Security make U.S. employment less attractive.Whistler, B.C. Resort still growing, but to what good purpose?Is Whistler overbuilding? Thats the charge of Lennox McNeely, a local resident who recently had a letter in Pique. McNeely sees a vicious cycle of building hotel accommodations, despite a supposed limit, and then having to come up with community amusements that will draw sufficient people to fill the beds.Lets get off this treadmill of ignoring the limit of bed counts and allowing new hotels to be built, and then having to flog new activities, largely endangering the environment, in order to prop up the occupancy of these same hotels, he wrote.One source of McNeeleys annoyance is the new high-altitude gondola between the Whistler and Blackcomb ski areas being built by Intrawest, the ski area operator. It has little to do with skiing and a lot to do with its thin-air superlative. It will be the highest gondola in North America. Jackson Hole, Wyo. Should Burton create a snowboard-only resort?Taos will drop its ban on snowboards effective March 19, but Michael Pearlman, sports editor of the Jackson Hole News&Guide, doesnt see it as a forward march of civilization.I dont subscribe to stereotypes of snowboarders as disrespectful, but theres no question that they use a mountains terrain differently, he writes. If youve never seen a snowboarder wipe a steep, narrow chute clean of snow, kneel underneath a blind rollover, or lay waste to a powder field that could have housed the untracked turns of a dozen skiers, then you havent spent much time in the mountains. He notes a challenge issued in December by Jake Burton, founder of Burton Snowboards, offering a $5,000 reward for the most creative video showing snowboarding on one of the (now three) remaining ski resorts that bans snowboards. Until the remaining elitists and fascist resorts lift their Draconian ban, there should be no rest, no justice, says the promotional video issued by Burton.Pearlmans response to Burton: Take those millions of dollars youve earned by selling snowboarding as a countercultural alternative to skiing and purchase a small resort and ban skiers.Tabernash, Colo. How about another road across the Front Range?The debate continues about how to best defy Colorados mountainous geography between Denver and the mountain resorts. This winter has brought a spate of new ideas including some old ideas filched from the discard bin.One of those ideas is to build a new highway directly west from Boulder across 11,775-foot Devils Thumb Pass and down to Tabernash, located between Winter Park and Granby. I would be glad to pay for a small toll for an alternative to waiting on I-70, writes Glenn Glass in a letter published in a Denver newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News.This and other ideas for traversing Colorados Front Range have been around since at least the middle of the 20th century. Instead, highway engineers bored the range with the Eisenhower and Johnson tunnels which is probably why Summit County now is a virtual city, while Middle Park, where Granby and Winter Park is sometimes called Colorado as it used to be.Park City, Utah Police wary of gangs in areaIf not a major problem, police in Park City and surrounding Summit County are keeping a close eye on 30 gang members living there as well as the 5,000 documented gang members in the nearby Salt Lake Valley, located about 30 miles away.We do not have a major problem here yet, said Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds. We are trying to prevent any type of foothold they are attempting to establish here.Gang members have been fingered in several robberies, but also cases of vandalism. About four-fifths of the gang members are Latinos, some of whom have been members of gangs or been influenced by gangs in California.The entertainment venues attract gang members, Andrew Burton, a gang expert, told The Park Record.Steamboat Springs, Colo. Ski area closing in on 97 snowfall recordWith a month left in ski season, Steamboat ski area had reported 436.5 inches of snowfall for the season. WIth only a foot more, reports the Steamboat Pilot & Todays Tom Ross, Steamboat will surpass its all-time record of almost 448 inches of snow at midmountain, which was recorded in April 1997.What has been remarkable about this winter has been the consistency, says ski area spokesman Mike Lane. There was measurable new snow on 26 days in January, and then 20 days in February. Included in those two months was a streak of 26 consecutive days of snowfall.That falls well short of the remarkable run of 40 consecutive days of measurable snow in late 1983, but this winters total snowfall has nonetheless been greater. Granby, Colo. Town getting a little too upscale for someWhile not exactly upscale by the standards of most ski-based mountain towns, Granby has some aspirations. But none of this is at all comfortable to Mike Pierce, of nearby Grand Lake. Writing in the Sky-Hi Daily News, he harrumphs about the restrictiveness of covenants adopted by homeowners associations. Parodying such restrictions, he envisions a message: We are sorry but your car is over the maximum age of five years, and that god-awful yellow is not an approved color. Please leave.Kremmling, Colo. Wood-pellet factory to soon open The chips will soon start flying in Kremmling. Located equidistant between Winter Park, Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge and Vail, Kremmling is an old sawmill town that is soon to get a plant that converts the dying and dead lodgepole pine of surrounding forests into pellets that can be burned in home stoves. The plan, reports the Middle Park Times, is expected to operate continuously, with 18 to 20 people employed. By providing a market for the dead trees, the threat of catastrophic fire to homes is expected to diminish.Durango, Colo. Snowkiting catches air in the Rocky MountainsAlthough snowkiting has been around for a long time, interest is now surging in the United States, reports the Durango Telegraph. The newspaper reports of a large group in Denver (which is actually based out of Colorados Summit County), with smaller groups in Grand Junction and in Taos, N.M. Another outposts is about 95 miles south of Salt Lake City, where the town of Fairview has become a snowkiting haven.Allan Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached a allen.best@comcast.net.