Mountain Town News | AspenTimes.com

Mountain Town News

December was extraordinary in that three people died in avalanches on open ski trails within ski areas. It was the most in-bound deaths in one season since three skiers were killed in a single avalanche at Alpine Meadows, a California ski area, in 1976.These avalanche deaths have produced a curious trend, according to The Denver Post and New York Times. People at Telluride and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort have been carrying avalanche transceivers for use on patrolled slopes. While transceivers, which are also called beacons, are common among backcountry skiers, the perception has been that in-bound slopes are without avalanche risk.While exceeding rare, in-bound avalanches have occurred. Were doing what we normally do, said Bob Comey, director of the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center. Our techniques work really well, but theyre not ever 100 percent guaranteed.Paul Baugher, director of the Northwest Avalanche Institute, told the Denver paper that he wonders whether aggressive snow-safety programs at resorts have lulled skiers into complacency.Its almost like we are victims of our own success, said Baugher, who is also ski patrol director at Washingtons Crystal Mountain Ski Area. People blot out that the areas they are skiing the steep and deep terrain are at risk for avalanches because our snow-safety programs have been so successful.Telluride has had no fatal in-bounds avalanches, but neither has it opened Palmyra Peak, this years expansion into steep and wild former backcountry terrain. I have a zero-tolerance policy, said Craig Sterbenz, director of snow safety at Telluride. If its not safe, its not open.

The Colorado Supreme Court said that Summit County and other counties cannot ban heap-leach mining, which uses cyanide and acids to remove gold from ore. Gunnison, Gilpin, Conejos and Costilla counties had also adopted similar legislation.A patchwork of county-level bans on certain mining extraction methods would inhibit what the General Assembly has recognized as a necessary activity, Justice Gregory Hobbs wrote for the majority. That necessary activity, he added, is the orderly development of Colorados mineral resources.The counties had adopted the regulations after the Summitville mining disaster in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in the 1980s resulted in a badly polluted Alamosa River. The only remaining place where the same mining technique is used is on the western flanks of Pikes Peak, at the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Co.Mining industry officials say Colorados state government has improved its regulatory oversight to prevent a recurrence of Summitville. County officials remain unconvinced.The states oversight of mining hasnt been sufficient, and at the county level we dont have the tools to deal with mining, Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier told The Denver Post. Counties, he added, now need more clarity from the Legislature.John Taylor, legislative affairs director for Colorado Counties Inc., told the same newspaper that this case illustrates an ongoing tensions over what is in the state sphere and what is in the countys, and how they coexist.

Foreclosure proceedings have begun on Orvis Shorefox, which was to have been a high-end real estate community along the banks of the Colorado River in Granby.The pieces of the development began coming together in 2003 with purchase of the former Horn Ranch for $5.2 million. Work had begun on a golf course, and flyfishing was to have been a key attraction to buyers.The project faces $60 million in foreclosures, reports the Sky-Hi Daily News, with the largest of $40 million being purchased by CNL Financial Group Inc., a real estate investment company based in Florida. Lender Aspen Shorefox, which is registered in Nevada, is seeking $20 million. The newspaper also reports that the development is the subject of mechanics liens, which approach $12 million; parts of these contracts, however, may have been paid.The sale date of the Aspen Shorefox foreclosure has been set for June 12.Until the economy turns around and the housing market improves, it will be all but impossible for any land developer to resurrect a major project, said Ron Stern, an attorney for Grand Elk, a real estate project that was tangentially related to the Orvis Shorefox project.The Sky-Hi Daily News also reports that Grand County had 173 foreclosed properties in 2008, more than triple the total of 2007.

Things have gone down the toilet for the Ginn Co. at several of its real estate projects in the Southeast. Does that mean its plans for a high-end, 1,700-unit project on former mining properties in the Vail-Minturn-Red Cliff area are headed for the same place?No, says company spokesman Ryan Julison. Every project is its own legal entity, he tells the Vail Daily.The newspaper also talked with a Florida real estate observer, Don Toby Tobin, who seems to think that the Ginn brand has been tarnished.Again, Ginn Co. spokesman Julison disagrees. If this [financial trouble] was just us, it would be a big deal, he said. But were in the midst of an economic slowdown thats unprecedented.Ginns project for about 5,000 acres was annexed by Minturn last year, but development planning has been put on hold. Minturn officials have received $600,000 in cash from the developer as per the annexation agreement, but another $11.6 million is in an escrow account for a recreation center and other improvements. The money, however, cant be touched until the company gets its final development approvals. The Vail Daily says that the Ginn Co. in early January filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy for two of its resorts in Florida and announced a sale and restructuring of two others, which are located in North Carolina and the Grand Bahaman. The sales were necessary to repay $675 million in loans issued by Credit Suisse.

A poll, albeit an unscientific one, shows overwhelming opposition to the idea of renaming Blaine County after its best-known feature: the Sun Valley ski area.To the outside world, we are known as the Sun Valley community, said County Commissioner Larry Schoen. But the more dominant position, reports the Idaho Mountain Express, is expressed by resident Cathy Zaccardi, who said that the countys heritage was not founded on skiing or the resort sector, which didnt come along until 1936 when Union Pacific Railroad boss Averell Harriman created the ski resort at Ketchum. Before that, the county was a place of sheep ranchers, hard-rock miners and farmers.

Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News, a regular feature of the Aspen Times Weekly. He can be reached at allen.best@comcast.net.


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