The news briefly from mountain towns

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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