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Mountain Town News

What do you do with a landfill once it’s filled? Normally, not a whole lot, because of the escaping methane and because there’s only about four feet of clay above the trash. But why not solar panels?

That’s the idea being explored by Eagle County’s government, which uses land sold to it by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The contract specified that Eagle County could not use the 60 acres of land for profit.

By bar-napkin calculations, a solar farm there could supply four to five megawatts of electricity, enough for several hundred homes.

Solar experts tell the Vail Daily the idea is great. Matthew Charles of Grid Feeders, an alternative energy company based in Avon, Colo., tells the Vail Daily that solar panels in the Eagle Valley typically produce 30 percent more energy than other places in the country, because of the greater intensity of sunlight at higher elevations and the amount of sunshine, typically 300 days a year.

The location in question is located about 10 miles from Beaver Creek and 20 miles from Vail.

Not much real estate is selling these days in Vail, but parking is still at a premium. For 15 years, prices of parking spaces near the base of the ski mountain have been increasing from $40,000 to now as much as $370,000.

One owner of a parking space, Buzz Schleper, whose daughter Sarah Schleper is a World Cup ski racer, is trying to sell his parking space for $500,000, to help pay for her expenses and that of another skiing youngster, Hunter.

The Vail Daily also reports that East West Partners, a major real estate developer in ski towns of the West, is trying to sell extra parking spaces it created in the redevelopment of a base-area lodge called Manor Vail. The price tag is $225,000 per space.

The door is opening for Crested Butte Mountain Resort to finally submit an application for a new ski area on 11,145-foot Snodgrass Mountain.

There have been stumbling blocks since the idea was first pitched in the early 1980s. At one point, the community opposed the plan. Another time, the ski area itself faltered, because of the lack of financing.

Lately, the big question is whether the geology of the mountain will accommodate ski lifts. Four separate studies have been done, including one each by opponents and proponents, and two by the federal government. Somewhat predictably they offer varying conclusions.

The latest conclusions come from the U.S. Geological Survey, which offers evidence that lifts can be erected without danger of landslides and debris flows, but not in the path originally planned. Ski area officials tell the Crested Butte News that this change will eliminate nine of the ski trails that had been planned, although there’s some possibility those trails can be replaced elsewhere on the mountain.

What happens next is that ski area planners will revise the proposal to account for the new conclusions about geology, and the U.S. Forest Service ” which administers the land in question ” is likely to accept the proposal. That then triggers the environmental review mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act. Such reviews have rarely, if ever, resulted in projects getting killed.

The Forest Service wasn’t willing to accept the proposal before the major problems had been cleared up. “We didn’t want to spend time and energy if there was no way the ski expansion would be geologically sound, or if the public was adamantly against it, no way, no how,” Forest Service spokeswoman Lee Ann Loupe told the Crested Butte News.

Two of the local towns, Mount Crested Butte and Gunnison, support the expansion, as does a property owners association adjacent to the ski area. One town, Crested Butte, has submitted a letter stating “non-support.”

The grand plan by Crested Butte is to create more intermediate trails, something that is sorely lacking on the existing ski mountain. Crested Butte has some beginner terrain and a lot of expert turf. As such, there’s not much to entertain people who only ski a week or two per year. This, in turn, leads to a low rate of return of visitors, which makes marketing more expensive.

Earlier in this century, Vail residents approved a lodging tax that was to be used for a convention center. The convention center plans died, but the money is still there, and by the end of this year the pot of money will have grown to nearly $10 million. What to use it for?

Among the ideas being sorted out is a recreation center or even a wellness center. The Vail Daily says a group of local residents, including longtime physician Jack Eck, is suggesting a campus that focuses on “medical education and lifestyle issues.”

This comes even as town officials come to grips with the future of the local hospital, called the Vail Valley Medical Center, which has made some noise about moving more of its operations farther down the Eagle Valley.

But instead of spending the $10 million, there are a few in Vail who think it would be wise to sit on the money, to see how bad the economy gets. Too many people, says one individual involved in community affairs, have never felt the “hot breath of failure.”

This winter’s snowpack in British Columbia has produced what is, by one estimate, the worst avalanche potential since 1979. There have been 15 slides so far this winter, including two on closed ski runs at Whistler. Most have involved snowmobilers.

The response from a broad variety of people has been to limit access to the backcountry. Michel Beaudry, a columnist for Pique Newsmagazine, finds that idea preposterous.

“Do we close the province’s beaches after a drowning? Do we shut down the bars when somebody dies of alcohol poisoning? Of course we don’t.”

But he does believe that those who get into trouble in the backcountry should get billed. This goes against the grain of what most search and rescue organizations preach. They say that cost should never enter into the equation when a decision is made whether to summon help.

But Beaudry says billing those who need help will force them to more carefully consider their decisions beforehand. “No whining. No citing excuses. If you screw up, you deal with it,” he says. And if that is the case, then the motto should be “you play, you pay.”

Arthur De Jong, former patrol manager at the Blackcomb ski area, collected on 80 percent of the backcountry rescues. “I was a hard-ass on this issue,” he tells Beaudry. “Did I really want the money? Of course not. What I wanted was the headlines: Backcountry users will pay for rescue costs.”

That’s not the thinking at Lake Louise, a ski area near Banff, Alberta. “Mother Nature does the scolding,” Rocket Miller, an avalanche forecaster at Lake Louise, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook. “We focus on education, not elimination.”


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