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Mountain Town News

Compiled by Allen Best
Aspen Times Weekly

If there’s been a clear winner among ski areas this winter, it’s been Vail. Business is down, but not as much as at many other ski towns, judging from early returns. Much of the reason appears to be the Epic Pass, which was introduced last March by Vail Resorts, the parent company for Vail and four other ski areas.

Purchased in the pre-season, the pass cost only $579, offering unlimited skiing at the company’s five ski areas.

How much the company has lost in terms of more traditional ski passes is unknown, but the new pass has been a hit in terms of volume. Officials reported the sale of 59,100 passes through October.



The pass appears to have added proportionately more skiers at Vail Mountain as compared to Breckenridge, Keystone, and Beaver Creek.

“The brilliance of the Epic Pass play, whether because of luck or foresight, is that it’s changed the way people behave,” said Adam Sutner the director of sales and marketing for Vail Mountain. “We have disproportionately benefited from the Epic Pass.




The Vail Daily offers evidence that success of the Epic Pass has also benefited merchants in Vail. For December, the town had a 6 percent drop in sales tax collections, but other ski towns did worse: Steamboat Springs at 9 percent, Breckenridge at 10 percent, Winter Park at 14 percent, and Aspen at 19 percent.

“It’s Wayne Gretzky economics,” said Phil Long, owner of Vail’s The Red Lion restaurant. “Don’t go where the puck is. Go where the puck is going.”

For several years, people have marveled that used cooking oil can be “recycled” to fuel diesel engines. If only there was such a simple solution for plastic bags.

Canadian activist Tracey Saxby was in Revelstoke recently to discourage the use of plastic bags. The energy used to create 8.7 bags is the same as needed to drive the average car for a kilometer, she said. (Or, if you prefer, 14 bags will get you a mile).

Meanwhile, 25 mountain towns in Colorado and adjoining states have embarked in a friendly contest to see which can best reduce its use of plastic bags.

The contest will run six months, from March through August. Grocery stories in each town will tally the number of reusable bags used. The winning community will get a $5,000 grant from the Alpine Bank to install a solar panel system at a local public school.

In addition to 17 towns in Colorado, the competition also includes three in the Sun Valley area of Idaho plus Jackson, Wyo., and Park City, Utah. The competition is being promoted by the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

The competition grew out of a contest last summer between Telluride and Aspen. Telluride won that tilt handily, using more than twice as many reusable bags per capita.

Business at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort was down 20 percent as of mid-February, a decline that chief operating officer Ken Stone calls “pretty devastating. It could be worse, he tells the Crested Butte News, as some resorts are down 20 to 30 percent. Still, it’s bad enough that some of the full-time employees are working six days a week. Nor will the economy improve soon. “It’s going to be this way for the next few years,” he predicts.

The 27 school buses in the Blaine County School District have been shifting to a mixture of diesel that now includes a 5 percent component derived from vegetable oil, or B5. Plans are now underway to bump up the proportion to a 20 percent mix, or B20. One-hundred percent biodiesel is not advised in mountainous areas, because the biodiesel can freeze in colder temperatures.

Across British Columbia, including its ski towns, there has been quite a stew for the last year about what some call the latest gold rush. Except that instead of minerals, private companies are seeking to create electricity by harnessing the power of rivers.

Most people are familiar with hydroelectric production as a result of river-blocking dams. Extremely small systems called microhydro are also catching on. But being proposed in British Columbia are something between, called run-of-river systems, that use only small dams to divert water through penstocks.

But those run-of-river systems do have impacts to the environment, say opponents. There is also mistrust of the companies because they are private.

Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine reports of hundreds of people gathered in a gym at Pemberton, near Whistler, many of them intent on protesting a run-of-river hydro project. “Wild Rivers Don’t Belong in Pipes ” Save the Ryan,” said one banner, mentioning the name of the river.

Electricity produced by the project could end up in the United States, but most of it is intended for consumption in the Vancouver area, the proponent says.

But not all environmental advocates oppose the run-of-river concept. The David Suzuki Foundation has come out in support of the projects as a concept, because they would supply electricity without causing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Mountain Village, the town located slope-side to the Telluride ski area, has a problem with porcupines. They have been chewing on trees around homes, with increasing damage to landscaping in recent years.

Why this is, nobody knows for sure, reports The Telluride Watch. One theory is that mountain lions and other animals that prey upon porcupines have been driven away. Also, like most of the hotels and homes, many of the trees used for landscaping are young, which porcupines like.

Removing the porcupines doesn’t seem to work. Nobody wants them, and most die when transplanted during winter.

Instead, they will be killed.

“It’s very sad, but they have to be euthanized,” trapper Tina Mayer told the town council.


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