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Mountain Town News

Is Whistler soon to follow where Vail, Aspen, and Park City have already gone in terms of private clubs?Vail and Beaver Creek are at the epicenter of this privatizing of the resort experience. Its first club, Game Creek like all the others, built on private land located within the ski area has been wildly successful. Instead of eating at public restaurants, members could dine with each other at the club.Soon, the same concept was applied at the base of Vail Mountain, again on private land, but this time with the major advantage of having slope-side parking.The concept spread to nearby Beaver Creek. There, members of the Arrowhead Alpine Club, located on private land at the base of the ski mountain, can store their skis, have breakfast and host guests in leather-chaired comfort.Aspen now has a private club on its marquee ski hill again, on private land. So does Deer Valley.Now resort operator Intrawest seems intent on doing the same at Whistler and Blackcomb. Michel Beaudry, writing in Pique, says the company has sent out e-mail solicitations inviting participation in a survey regarding a private members club that could provide privileged access to (on-mountain) amenities.Whistler, he says, has enough people of wealth to support three or four private clubs. The issue, as he sees it, is whether public lands should be privatized in this way.Intrawest operates its ski areas on what is called crown land, similar to the national forest lands on which most ski areas operate in the United States, but which in Canada are managed by the provincial governments.Beaudry objects to the privatization of public lands. Whistlers story Canadas story is about access to all, he writes.

The town of Jackson is itching to levy what amounts to a sales tax on real estate transactions. Aspen has one. So does Vail. But Wyomings state government wont let Jackson adopt one.Bob McLaurin, the town administrator for Jackson, met with state officials recently in Cheyenne to make the towns case. He was well-armed, with a letter from Rod Slifer of Vail.Slifer was a house painter in Aspen in 1959 when ground was broken for Vail. He became Vails first real estate agent and, in later years, served several terms as mayor, as recently as early this year. His name is still on the largest real estate company in Vail.And what does Slifer say about a real-estate transfer tax? It hasnt hurt Vail, he said. He suggested Wyoming should let Jackson levy such a tax, if Jackson deems it in its own best interests.Not everybody in Jackson agrees. The Teton Board of Realtors actively opposes a transfer tax, or even giving local governments the option. But even within the ranks of the realty agents, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide, there are tax supporters.Each county should have the opportunity to look at it on a county-by-county basis, said Michael Pruett, a real estate agent who also sits on the Jackson Planning Commission.McLaurin, who used to be the Vail town manager, reported Wyoming officials were polite but showed no enthusiasm for his pitch. There just didnt seem to be a lot of appetite for it.Jackson could levy property and lodging taxes, but has chosen not to. For many years Vail used its transfer tax to fund open-space purchases or, more recently, parks and maintenance. Lately, it has talked about diverting funds to affordable housing. Aspen uses its money partly for affordable housing.Both Aspen and Vail transfer taxes are grandfathered in, as Colorado voters as part of the Taxpayers Bill of Right (a.k.a. the Bruce amendment) in 1992 banned adoption of any future transfer taxes.

A pond in the Park City area recently vanished, its water apparently disappearing into an abandoned mine shaft.Its like pulling the plug out of the bath tub, Louis Amoldt, a state geologist, told The Park Record.A sinkhole-like depression was noted. Mining in that particular area occurred in the first half of the 20th century, before Park City became a ski town and resort area.Taos, N.M.No wind farms yet in TaosOfficials in Taos County have postponed consideration of two proposed wind farms.Some 65 wind turbines, each nearly 300 feet tall, were proposed, and tests have been conducted for about six months. But county planners, reports The Taos News, believed too many questions remained unanswered. As well, there was strong neighborhood opposition.The NIMBYs show their heads again, wrote one blogger on the newspapers website. Other bloggers wondered whether the land is better suited for solar farms.

There are ski towns, and then there are ski colleges. Western State, located in Gunnison, is one of the few schools with the latter reputation. With Crested Butte only 30 miles away, skiing ranks prominently as a reason why students enroll at the school.But Western State is now losing its ski team. The program costs $150,000 annually, and the athletic budget has been increasingly strapped. A plan assembled several years ago called for a $3 million endowment, but donations have lagged, reports the Gunnison Country Times.Famed Nordic ski coach Sven Wiik, now 87 and semi-retired in Steamboat Springs, retained faint hope, urging college leaders to send a letter to all alumni to wake everyone up. Wiik coached the schools team from 1949 to 1969.Also lamenting the programs end was Derek Taylor, editor of Powder magazine and an alum of Western State. Skiing and Western State are synonymous, he said.

The proposal to mine molybdenum in Crested Buttes back yard has quieted. The Canadian firm that was willing to shell out big bucks cashed out its chips this year, apparently deterred by the local opposition. But the mine proposal remains active, warns Aleesha Towns, editor of the Crested Butte News. She notes statements by the property owner, Keith Larsen, president and chief executive of U.S. Energy, who has told potential investors that Crested Butte is of two minds about the mine. Not so, she counters. Opponents would like to kill the proposal, and are pinning some of their hopes on work by Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat. He was in Crested Butte recently to discuss reform of the 1872 Mining Law. The law allows liberal terms for mining companies to gain control of federal lands for mining purposes.Crested Butte also is hoping for help in Mining Law reform from Mark Udall, and his cousin, Tom. Both are now congressmen, but bucking for election to the U.S. Senate. The cousins spent considerable time in Crested Butte during their salad days.

It doesnt take much for the sparks to fly from Tom Long when the subject of the Denver Water Department comes up. He had cause last week when the agency summarily closed the road across Dillon Dam, a shortcut between Frisco and the communities of Dillon and Silverthorne.The dam, said representatives of Denver Water, was vulnerable to destruction by a terrorist. Other dams operated by the agency in the Colorado Rockies apparently are not, as similar restrictions have not been imposed. The way theyve gone about this pisses me off, said Long, a county commissioner, who was peeved because there was no prior consultation from the water agency. He was not alone, says the Summit Daily News.Just what new information prompted the closure has not been divulged. No threat is imminent, said Penfield Tate, a commissioner for the water agency. Apparently, however, the decision was made on short notice.

Smoke in the skies during the last week from wildfires has Californians thinking about the potential for big blazes in their own backyards.But even after several big fires in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee area during the 21st century, a drive through any neighborhood in that area will uncover at least a few homes that wont stand a chance in a wildfire, notes the Sierra Sun. The reason: too much brush under trees too close to homes.California law now requires defensible space clearances around homes and structures to a minimum of 100 feet. One study, by the University of Nevada, Reno, found that homes with 101 feet of defensible space and a fire resistant roof have a 0.7 percent chance of burning in a wildfire. A house with the same roof but only 30 feet or less of defensible space has a 24 percent chance of going up in flames.If wildfire isnt on your mind, it should be, says the newspaper.

Five people paddling in a boat in Lake Minnewanka had a rare opportunity recently to observe the perhaps grim reality of nature. They watched a mountain lion, also called a cougar, quietly walk along the lake shore until it was on a small cliff band above two bighorn rams at waters edge. A raven was circling overhead.Then all the birds in the area fly out of the bush, and then the cougar nestles down on top of a six-foot cliff, explained Shawn Geniole.One of the sheep fled. The other one finished drinking water, then headed back toward the embankment. When it was three feet away, the muscles in the bighorn sheep tensed right up and the cougar jumped off the cliff, grabbed it by the neck and took it down, Geniole told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.The cougar stopped and just stared at us, and were just 10 feet away. It had blood all over its face. It tried dragging the sheep into the woods, but it couldnt because it was stuck on a rock.Geniole, an employ of a company that offers boat tours on the lake inside Banff National Park, called it pretty gruesome, but amazing.

Bus systems in mountain resort valleys continue to surge with riders. In Durango, ridership on the local bus system increased 34 percent in June.An outlying bus service to the nearby town of Bayfield, about 20 miles away, has increased 168 percent, reports the Durango Telegraph.

Vail Resorts has run into resistance in its bid to expand the Breckenridge ski area. Some 67 acres in the proposed expansion would be below treeline, and 285 acres would be above.Some 100 comments criticizing the plan have been submitted to the U.S. Forest Service, reports the Summit Daily News. The newspaper did not say how many statements of support had been offered.There are questions about whether Breckenridge, the town, has the carrying capacity to support the expansion. As well, there is resistance to the invasion of more side country.The response of Vail Resorts has been to convene a task force of community members to evaluate the plan. However, there are doubts as to how representative the task force is, says the Summit Daily.As well, there are questions about too-cozy relationships among consultants. The Forest Service has retained Sno-Engineering to oversee the environmental review. The company previously designed the expansion while working for Vail Resorts.Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, says that a consultant working for both the applicant and the agency is not unusual, although he believes it poses a conflict of interest. Sno-Engineering, he said, has sort of has a monopoly on this business.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at

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