The news briefly from mountain towns

Vail’s rare stand about national political issues

VAIL, Colo. — If President Donald Trump is withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, Vail is among the hundreds of towns pointing in the other direction. They’re staying the course.

In Telluride and Aspen, such resolutions are common enough. But Vail traditionally has been more shy.

The difference, said Greg Moffet, a long-time councilman who made the motion to adopt the resolution, is because of the importance of climate change.

The unanimously-adopted resolution said the municipality recognizes that scientific evidence of warming of the Earth’s climate system from human activities is unequivocal.

“Combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum and natural gas is increasing the concentration (of) greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, pushing average global temperatures higher and changing our mountain ecosystems — making winters warmer and shorter, summers longer and hotter, and increasing the risks of wildfires, droughts and floods,” the resolution reads.

Demographics don’t look good for Eagle County

EDWARDS, Colo. – Colorado’s state demographer, Elizabeth Garner, warns that the demographics for Eagle County aren’t setting up well.

Anchored by Vail and Beaver Creek, the county currently has 4,000 people aged 65 and older. But every year about 550 people in the county celebrate their 65th birthdays, and only about 150 of them leave the county. The rest stay—and this is tilting the population older.

The question is who will be there to work.

According to the Vail Daily, she said that people between 20 and 30 are now arriving in Eagle County, but when they’re in their 30s and 40s they’re leaving. “We need exceptional 45-year-olds,” she said.

Eagle County has fewer jobs than it did in 2007. Job creation in neighboring Summit County has grown. Could it be because of the more aggressive housing program in Summit County, where more than 400 deed-restricted homes have been built or acquired in the last several years?

A recent study by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments — which includes the Breckenridge, Vail, and Aspen areas – found that the average annual salary in the region is $13,000 per year below the state average. Garner said that Eagle County simply can’t sustain its current high-cost, low-wage model.

Much of the same thing was said in the 1990s by Garner’s predecessor, Jim Weskott, but with one exception: He predicted fast and continued population growth. Growth stalled in 2009 and hasn’t resumed since then.

Reefer catching up with booze in Summit town

FRISCO, Colo. – In terms of mood altering substances, beer, wine, and liquor still outpace marijuana. But the Summit Daily News reports that marijuana is gaining on alcohol, as measured by sales tax collections.

Alcohol last year generated $346,000 for the town, compared to $213,000 from marijuana. But the liquor sales do not include what is sold in restaurants and bars.

Legal sales of marijuana began in 2014. Will volumes slow after his initial spurt?

“No, I don’t think so at all,” said Patrick Linfante, assistant manager for Native Roots, the busier of the two marijuana stores in Frisco.

Summer labor shortages unusually high this year

JASPER, Alberta – Filling all the jobs in Jasper’s high summer season is always a challenge. This year seems worse, reports the Jasper Fitzhugh.

In early June, 380 jobs were available, more than double the number of jobs posted at the same time last year. “We’re already seeing managers making beds in hotels,” said Ginette Marcoux , executive director for the Jasper Employment and Education Centre. “That usually doesn’t happen until August. The fact that we’re seeing that in June is telling.”

Why is this? She cited the lack of housing, fewer university students, and changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program. Employers in the low-wage service sector cannot access that program if the regional unemployment rate is 6 percent or higher. The unemployment rate in that part of Canada stands at 6.9 percent.

As for university students, employers may not favor them because they leave when schools resume in mid-August, when tourist season continues.

 Dead octopuses and other stories from food festival

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen hosted the Food and Beverage Festival last weekend, and it was a busy, busy time in Aspen. The event draws a very well-heeled crowd. Consider that it costs $1,650 for a weekend pass.

This is the 35th year for the festival. The event was launched in 1983, when June was a somewhat slower month in Aspen. There are 50 winemakers pouring for just 300 guests.

It was an instant hit, but not a financial success. That didn’t come until a pairing several years later with Food and Wine Magazine and a rebranding as the Aspen-Snowmass Food & Wine Classic. “And, as they say, the rest is history,” The Aspen Times writes.

Now, the festival attracts big-name chefs from far away to talk about chocolate and whatever else. For example, the first seminar on Saturday morning had renowned chef Daniel Boulud holding a skinned rabbit high in the air. “Once you go rabbit, you never go back,” he said.

It wasn’t the only time he dangled a dead animal in the packed house at the “Exotic Mediterranean” seminar, Times correspondent Rose Laudicina wrote. What ensued were “three delicious dishes inspired by the Mediterranean with three wine pairings. The second octopus—two of them, followed by a more sedate honey-glazed eggplant.

Outside the tent, on Aspen’s malls, municipal code enforcement officer Jim Pomeroy was trying to keep order. “It’s like a mosh pit in there,” he told the Aspen Daily News.

Pomeroy’s job was to ensure that people weren’t trying to hawk goods, competing with businesses that buy licenses and pay sales and property taxes.

One of the offending businesses was a woman trying to sell hand-crafted mirrors. But he also had to tell two girls working for Red Bull, wandering around the mall, handing out free samples of the energy drink, that it was a no-no.

Food and wine organizers demand that guerilla marketing be stamped out, lest it water down the exposure of the brands paying big bucks to get in front of the well-heeled attendees.

But what about the 11-year-old with a lemonade stand? The municipal code officer didn’t say close it down, reports the Daily News. Instead, he told the proprietor’s father that the enterprise would have to move a block away, to avoid creating congestion.

How Vail helped create  Aspen’s pedestrian malls

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen came before Vail as a ski town by about 15 years, but in one respect, creating a pedestrian-friendly mall, Aspen learned from Vail.

Aspen was shaped by people from the Midwest in the 1880s, and they created a rectangular street grid pattern in the relatively broad valley where Aspen is located. When horse and buggies gave way to cars, the streets were readily converted. But even in the mid-1950s, a decade after ski area operations, the streets remained unpaved.

Why not turn Mill Street into a walking mall “where regular street fairs could take place?” That was the recommendation by a 1956 University of Utah architecture class. Continuing on into the 1960s, there was a growing national awareness of a walkable city as being part of a higher quality of life, according to a new account in the Aspen Daily News.

Still, business owners pushed back. Bil (yes, he used just one “l”) Dunaway, the long-time publisher of The Aspen Times, countered with an argument that Vail was more pedestrian friendly than Aspen. Even then, when Vail was just a decade old, there was a sense of rivalry.

“Aside from skiing, the most successful aspect of Vail is the pedestrian-oriented village center, where four or five blocks are reserved for walkers…and the vehicular-free atmosphere is tranquil and conductive to leisurely strolling or shopping,” he wrote.

Finally, in 1976, Aspen’s car-free, outdoor malls were opened.

Now, the malls must be transformed again. The pavers originally acquired from St. Louis for the malls need to be replaced. Such bricks are in short supply, explains the Daily News, and the challenge will be to find surface pavers that meet the community’s expectations regarding the bricks’ ambiance.

Far fewer complaints five years into plastic bag ban

ASPEN, Colo. — Five years after Aspen banned disposable grocery bags, the ban seems to be working. City staff recently did a visual survey, and they found that 45 percent of shoppers left the stores without using any bags, while 40 percent took their own reusable bags for shopping. The remaining 15 percent bought paper bags at a cost of 20 cents each.

In comparison, in a grocery store located 20 miles down-valley from Aspen, where there is no ban, 74 percent of shoppers used the disposable bags.

Might Aspen want to expand its ban? City staff said no, that eliminating the paper bags might make tourists cranky. And the plastic bags sold by other stores, such as for clothing, just aren’t that many.

A local grocery store manager interviewed for the report said customers initially reacted with anger to the bag-ban, but now he gets complaints only once every few weeks.

Ketchum dialing back the knob on polluting the dark

KETCHUM, Idaho — Ketchum and the Wood River Valley continue to take steps to seek designation as a dark skies community from the International Dark Skies Association.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports that the planning commission recommends more rigorous regulations governing use of lights at night. Changes would include banning holiday lights between April and November, banning unshielded exterior light fixtures, and imposing a restriction on the type of lights to avoid the harshness of the new LED lights.

Being struck by lightning, and living to talk about it

GRAND LAKE, Colo. – Few among us have been hit by lightning. Barbara Stemple was hit and lived to tell about it. That was three years ago. It was an August day of clear, blue skies.

She is now hoping to join a group who have undergone what she has gone through, she told the Sky-Hi News. “A lightning strike kind of scrambles a person’s brain,” she said. “It changes your whole neurological system.”

Survivors can suffer short-term memory loss and ear-aches. Also, depression and chronic fatigue. Survivors often feel as though their thought processes are delayed, which is why many are loathe to talk about their experience.

 

New suspension bridge atop  Whistler-Blackcomb tops new summer attractions

WHISTLER, B.C. —Whistler Blackcomb continues to expand its summer operations, with plans for both a major expansion of its world-renowned mountain bike park and erect a new mountain-top suspension bridge.

The mountain bike park is to get 14 kilometres of additional single-track trails, augmenting the 80 kilometers created during the last 20 years.

The suspension bridge will be atop Whistler Mountain at an elevation of 2,182 metres (7,160 feet). While that’s lower than the base area of most Colorado ski resorts, keep in mind that the base area for Whistler is at roughly 2,000 feet. The bridge will be close to the glaciers.

Both summer projects were previously identified in a $345 million investment called the Renaissance project. Company officials explained the investments as necessary to buffer the resort from the effects of the changing climate. One of the major attractions was to be the indoor water park, an answer to the rainy days of winter and a summer attraction in its own right.

Vail Resorts announced purchase of the resort at a cost of $1 billion several months after the Renaissance project was announced. Pique Newsmagazine reports that resort officials believe the waterpark won’t be built for at least several years. Vail Resorts top officials must sign off on it.

Tension abounds about immigration crackdown

ASPEN, Colo. — Tension about the Trump administration’s policies on immigration continues to be in the news in Aspen, a resort community vitally dependent on employees willing to work for lower wages. Many appear to be in the United States illegally.

Pitkin County commissioners in April passed a resolution that declared Pitkin County would be a “welcoming community for immigrants.” The county resolution instructs county personnel to not perform the functions of federal immigration officers or otherwise engage in the enforcement of federal immigration law.

But the Trump administration is now trying to use federal purse strings to get local cooperation with immigration officials. A memo sent from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to county sheriffs in Colorado reminded them that “state and local jurisdictions may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

Pitkin County responds that cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration officials may violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects persons against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Aspen Daily News reports that Pitkin County officials won’t budge. County Manager Jon Peacock says he believes the resolution does not appear to violate the federal law cited by Sessions in his memo.

Tension and uncertainty are also reported among immigrants, worried they may be deported.

“People are afraid enough of being deported that even documented immigrants—people with green cards who are here legally—are asking that their names be removed from enrollment lists at local health-services providers,” Jennifer Smith, one of three attorneys in the Roaring Fork Valley whose practice is totally focused on immigration law, told the Daily News

“They do not want to talk to police officers, either as victims of crimes or witnesses. I have clients who do not want to travel, especially abroad. I tell them, ‘Hey, you have a green card. You should be able to leave the country and come back legally.’ But many don’t want to risk it.”

Money spigots open as ski town hotels move forward

TAOS, N.M. — A flurry of new hotels provides more evidence of the booming economy in ski towns of the Rocky Mountains.

In Aspen, demolition of the aging Sky Hotel began. That hotel, built in the 1960s, will be replaced by a $56 million W Hotel.

John Sarpa, a representative of Northridge Capital, the developer, said the construction loan is coming from “a big investment firm” that he did not identify. He also noted there were multiple options for financing.

“A year ago, we had some options, but not a lot,” he told the Aspen Daily News. This year, “we had three times” as many options. “Maybe we are finally coming out from under the shadow of 2008.”

The 40-foot-tall building will have a 12,000-square-foot rooftop bar and pool deck.

If Aspen’s W Hotel goes for the high end, the 56-room Silver Creek hotel at Bellevue, Idaho, will hope to attract people who don’t want to pay $300 to $500 for rooms at Ketchum and Sun Valley, located 18 miles up-valley.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports that units were constructed in Boise, several hours away, and trucked to the site by truck. The developer says the units will have even more timber than those of hotels assembled entirely from lumber on site, helping suppress the sound between units.

In Taos, a four-story Holiday Inn Express had been rejected three times by the planning commission. After a contentious meeting, the board recommended the city council in Taos approve the hotel.

Expand the art center and will the donations arrive?

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Build it and they will give? That’s the assumption at Crested Butte, where the town council has signed off on a $15 million expansion of the Center for the Arts.

Directors of the center must still get pledges for more than half the money, reports the Crested Butte News. Directors reason that with something underway, it will be easier to raise the money than if it’s just a plan.

By a vote of 4-1, the Crested Butte Town council agreed with that logic. “For me, it’s a leap of faith into the known,” said Jim Schmidt, a long-time councilman. Mayor Glenn Michel, although voting for this, said government likes certainty, not faith.

The expansion will yield 38,000 square feet of a more flexible theater space, studio, galleries, and exhibition areas.

Crested Butte wants its cut on coal-mine royalties

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. —Crested Butte, once a coal-mining town, now wants to have mining entirely in its rear-view mirror. But just across Kebler Pass, also within Gunnison County, are coal mines that produce a little bit of revenue for local jurisdictions.

A reduction in the royalty rate assessed the coal being mined has been proposed, but Crested Butte would like to hang on to what it gets, nearly $27,000 last year. The school district received nearly $50,000, reports the Crested Butte News.

Pushback against Aspen Ski Co. on Holy Cross lobbying

CARBONDALE, Colo. — Now comes a charge of hypocrisy directed at the Aspen Skiing Co. and its efforts to effect broad, sweeping policies in response to the risk of climate change.

Electricity that powers the snowmakers and chairlifts at Aspen, Snowmass, and other ski areas opened by the company comes from an electrical cooperative called Holy Cross Energy. Holy Cross also serves other communities from Vail to Rifle along the I-70 corridor.

Holy Cross is a minority owner in Colorado’s newest coal plant, Comanche 3, located at Pueblo, Colo., which opened in 2010. But Holy Cross has aggressively sought to encourage renewable energy. These latter efforts have largely come in the last decade after the Aspen Skiing Co. began trying to get directors elected.

Tom Turnbull, a rancher from Carbondale and a former director of Holy Cross for 33 years, cries foul in a letter published in The Aspen Times. He accuses the company of hypocrisy in “trying to promote their green image when they themselves are undoubtedly one of the biggest carbon polluters in the valley coupled with their private jet-setting clientele …”

He shares his skepticism about climate change science and also the efforts to create 100 percent renewables while keeping rates affordable. “They better be prepared to face the music and it isn’t going to be a waltz.”

Carbon and the conundrum of long-distance travel

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Thousands of people gathered in Telluride over the Memorial Day weekend for Telluride Mountainfilm. The festival had films documenting the problems caused by the changing climate, which scientists say is mostly due to the greenhouse gas emissions being put into the atmosphere.

What can Telluride do to reduce its role in global warming? Stop having festivals, writes Glenn Raleigh, a local resident, in a letter published in the Telluride Daily Planet. He estimated that Bluegrass Festival, to be held in late June, will cause people to drive between 1.2 and 2 million miles.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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