Real community fabric amid the plastic Bavaria of Vail

Bizarre bazar shows community fabric in place seen by some as threadbare

Nancy Nottingham, center, kept tabs on the money and all else at the Eagle Valley Rummage Sale in August. Photo/Allen Best

by Allen Best

A one-time high school near Vail was transformed on a recent Saturday into a crowded and sometimes bizarre bazaar of shoppers rummaging through thousands of discards: skis and sunglasses, pants and shirts, vacuum cleaners and TVs.

Outside, there were couches, lawnmowers, and baby strollers. The oddest object, though, was a macabre representation of a human body clad in blue jeans, sliced at the waist. It was, explained a volunteer from the Vail Mountain Rescue Group, part of a Halloween decoration from Minturn, the town in which the over-stuffed community garage sale was being held.

It was the penultimate Eagle Valley Rummage Sale, an affair that first began in 1964 in an effort to raise money for the first school in Vail. In time, the sale became an important way of raising money for all manner of local groups: eighth-grade school trips to Washington D.C. and efforts of the local chapter of the Humane Society, trips to China by young hockey players and activities of the Boy Scouts.

The sale is also tangible evidence of the community fabric. Outsiders have not always discerned that fabric. Vail has often been dismissed as “Plastic Bavaria.” Not a “real town,” they said.

To be sure, there’s not a Midwestern grid with a main street and Victorian false-fronted buildings. It’s a different place than the old gold, silver, and coal-mining towns that became the resort towns of Breckenridge, Aspen, and Crested Butte. The story of this community fabric is more complicated, but the rummage sale suggests it’s no less real.

The sale began in 1964, two years after the lifts started operating on Vail Mountain, held in one of the new lodges. The purpose then was to raise $50,000 for the first school in Vail. That goal was achieved by 1973. Over the years, it was moved to different locations: the old hospital, a school, and finally, 24 years ago, to its current site in Maloit Park, along where Cross Creek flows out of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. Beaver Creek lies to the west, Vail to the east, and Interstate 70 is several miles away.

Items are donated throughout the year, but volunteers begin gathering in the old school regularly in May, working in the unheated building, typically donating about 14,000 hours during the next few months to sort through and price the items. Groups participating in the shared work of putting on the sale share in the benefits based on their work, up to $10,000 per group.

Nancy Nottingham is the current leader of the sale. She’s 82 and at this year’s sale was moving with aid of a walker. She’ll soon be getting total hip replacement surgery. She first got involved with the sale in 1968, soon after moving to Avon. Her husband, Mauri, comes from a family whose ranching ancestors had helped create the community of Avon, located down-valley at the base of Beaver Creek. In the early 1980s, he initiated the effort to get newspaper and other recycling off the ground. Recycling is a defining family trait.

The usual flotsam of books, trousers and lawnmowers can be found at the rummage sale, but also the oddities, like this relic of Halloweens past in Minturn.

The sale on two weekends this year raised $170,000 for grant applicants. School groups remain major recipients, but a relatively new group, Eagle Valley Horse Rescue, has become a significant beneficiary, she says.

But on the flip side are the buyers, the “families in the valley who really depend upon the sale for clothing of children and clothing for themselves,” she said. She herself outfitted her children with items from the rummage sale.

At the end of the first day of the sale, Nottingham sat by a door near the check-out line. There was a giant American flag behind her, and occasionally people would come to her to pay with credit cards. But volunteers also checked with her, among them Merv Lapin.

Lapin has been treasurer for the non-profit foundation that puts on the rummage sale since 1975. He also happens to be one of Vail’s most prominent residents. He’s been on the Vail Town Council and owns a home along Gore Creek between the library and the hospital and across from Dobson Arena, an ice skating venue. He also owns a large ranch in a scenic area of adjoining Routt County. He has shown a keen skill over the years at making money. But he also has an abiding interest in both local hockey and in China. He combines the passions by taking members of a local youth hockey club to China every three years. His work at the rummage sale and those of other volunteers help pay the expenses.

Another volunteer was David Mott, who arrived in the valley to supervise construction of Beaver Creek in the late 1970s and stuck around to become a county commissioner. His wife, Sue Mott, has been among the steadiest of volunteers.

There were more like him. That first day of the sale, which cost $1 to get in, there were about 3,000 shoppers.

But absent this year was the vivacious presence of Vi Brown. Assisted by her husband, Byron, she was for many years the face of the sale. She gave up the reins this year, though, as Byron’s health has deteriorated.(He passed away shortly before this article was published).  Some said his deterioration was partly the result of a refrigerator falling on him.

The sale is likely also on its last legs. The old high school will be razed after next year’s sale. The local school district, working with Eagle County, plans some type of housing for the permanent, local work force. Particulars have not yet been worked out. But the proceeds from the sale have been dropping anyway. Nottingham thinks it’s because of Craigslist and e-Bay. The big-ticket items that used to be donated haven’t been showing up.

Too, there’s the aging factor. The faces of volunteers are distinctly older. Vail’s first and even its second generation have a lot of gray and now whitening hair and some, like Nottingham, need walkers or motorized chairs.

The loss will be to the groups who have made money over the years but also the shoppers, many from other communities, like Leadville, “who depended upon being able to buy $2 jeans for their kids and 50 cents shirts,” says Nottingham. “That’s a lot less expensive than the local thrift stores.”

But even when the sale ends, the lingering lesson is that a town need not look like Mayberry to have community fabric.

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Colorado’s tools for accelerating greenhouse reductions

How Colorado can get real serious about reducing its carbon footprint

by Allen Best

In Colorado, as elsewhere, recent polling by Yale University shows strong recognition that climate change is real, the result of human activity, and something that we must address.

But do it now? Really shake things up? Well, maybe it can wait. It ranks very low on the list of priorities for most people. Kick that can down the road.

A report released today by Western Resource Advocates and Conservation Colorado called Colorado’s Climate Blueprint argues that Colorado must seize very tool available to do its part in holding temperature increases to no more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius.

“We need to reduce our carbon pollution very quickly,” says Stacy Tellinghuisen, a co-author of the report. “We can’t wait for the federal government to take action. So we have laid out a blueprint for a three-legged stool of action.”

Colorado has been doing things. Emissions in the electrical sector has fallen, since 2007, the result of switching from coal-fired generation to cleaner-burning natural gas but also as a result of the deepening penetration of renewables. Transportation sector emissions have also declined.

But the growing evidence uncovered by scientists argues that, if anything, their assessment of the risk has been conservative. Temperatures are rising, and so are sea levels. Coral reef is disappearing. If the hurricanes and bark beetle epidemics are not directly a result of the warming climate, their severity may well be exacerbated.

And if they’ve tended toward conservative predictions, what does that say about when they believe the spit really hits the fan within a few decades?

All of this argues for rapid reduction, not just stabilizing, of emissions.

Gov. John Hickenlooper in July announced a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025 as compared to 2005 base levels. He did not, however, identify exactly how to achieve this, as I wrote in an article for the Colorado Independent. See: “What will it take to reach the climate change goals set by Gov. Hickenlooper?”

Colorado has led the way on regulations designed to limit emissions of methane.  Photo/Allen Best

These two groups, arguably Colorado’s most influential environmental organizations, want significant reductions beyond Hickenlooper’s 2025 goals. By 2030, as compared to 2005 levels, they want a goal of 45 percent reduction in emissions and a 90 percent reduction by mid-century.

Unlike Hickenlooper’s order, they go into depth. Some are the  the usual suspects. For example, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission can  push the shift already underway from coal, in particular, to renewable sources. Colorado legislators need to ensure new buildings better maximize energy efficiency.

But the report points to several levers that the Air Quality Control Commission can pull to achieve action. One is advanced regulations that reduce the venting and flaring of methane, as is commonly done in the Wattenberg and other natural gas fields.

Tellinghuisen says the gasfield emissions of methane are among the most difficult areas for regulation. In 2010, they represented almost 8 percent of Colorado’s total carbon pollution. Colorado subsequently became a national leader in its regulation of methane emissions after the state’s two largest operators, Anadarko and Noble, working with the Environmental Defense Fund, emerged with an agreement. But more methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, remains to be captured instead of being allowed to be wasted. If prices of natural gas were higher, producers would have more incentive to attend to leaks and capture what is now being flared. Methane has 22 to 28 times the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide.

The two groups would also like to see more stringent fuel economy standards for vehicles, similar to what California and 10 other states have adopted. Colorado, they say, should adopt policies that yield one million electric cars by 2030. It ranked 12th in the nation in sales of EVs from 2011 through 2016.

What may be most notable about the report is the embrace of market-based solutions. The power of markets has been proven frequently in solving environmental problems. Markets, by definition, must have incentives, in this case a price on carbon in this case. This could be achieved through a cap-and-trade regime or the more straight-forward carbon tax.

California has adopted a cap-and-trade system, and several states in the northeast have cap-and-trade as it applies to electrical production. British Columbia has a carbon tax. That province adopted a tax of 410 in 2008 and, as previously planned, elevated it to $30 in 2012. As the New York Times noted in a March 2016 story, that was then the equivalent of $22.20 in U.S. dollars. Economists at Duke University and the University of Ottawa in a 2015 study concluded that the carbon tax had reduced emission by 5 to 15 percent with “negligible effects on aggregate economic performance.”

The tax proceeds are rebated to the public in the form of other tax reductions. A group called Citizens’ Climate Lobby advocates the same revenue-neutral approach in advocating for what it calls a carbon fee and dividend.

From her study, Tellinghuisen believes a higher tax is needed to motivate changes in the transportation and other sectors. A tax of $20 per ton of CO2 emissions would result in a price increase of only 20 cents per gallon on gasoline. That, Tellinghuisen points out, would likely be lost in the noise of price fluctuations at the gas pump. It’s not enough to motivate changes such as, for example, cause people to ride light rail.

A constitutional provision in Colorado would also pose a challenge to automatic price increases in carbon prices if Colorado should follow the British Columbia model. The Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, or TABOR, requires specific voter approval for many specific tax increases.

Many economists say the minimum starting price for a carbon tax would be $40, if it is to produce significant changes, elevating to about $75 a ton.

Voters in Washington state, belying their reputation for liberal instincts, rejected a proposed carbon tax there last November. Among the arguments was that the tax is regressive, hurting poor people more than other sectors of society.

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Loveliest sight is actually overhead at the Black Canyon

The Gunnison River in the Black Canyon. Photo/Greg Owens at http://www.owensimagery.com

Why should we have to go to national parks to see what the ancients saw?

by Allen Best

MONTROSE, Colo. – On a  night in late June, about 100 people gathered in an amphitheater located on the south rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, but not to talk about the nearby chasm.

The canyon, the center piece of a national park, cuts through Precambrian rock  in western Colorado that is nearly two billion years old. It’s 2,722 feet deep at its maximum. One rock face, Painted Wall, a magnet to climbers, is 2,250 feet high, or more than three times higher than the tallest building in downtown Denver. The narrowness of the chasm results in some portions of the canyon floor getting an average of only 33 minutes of sunshine per day.

But this crowd was drawn to look up to study the night sky. The International Dark-Sky Association says that nearly two-thirds of the world’s people can no longer see the Milky Way, the galaxy in which the Earth is located. People in cities have it worst, unable to see light years in transit because of lights close at hand, not even seconds away.

Even in more rural areas, the sparkle of a night sky has eroded as cheap outdoor lighting has too often been thoughtlessly deployed with the industrial scale of a corporate warehouse. The moderns have discarded as unimportant what enchanted the ancients.

As a few stars emerged in the evening gloom over the nearby West Elk Mountains, a tall woman in her 20s named Bettymaya Foott took the microphone. She had a PowerPoint, virtually the only light, to document the decline during the lifetimes of most baby boomers.

In the late 1950s, patches of green indicated artificial night sky brightness due to light pollution mostly confined to coastal areas and along the Great Lakes. By 1997, nearly all of the United States east of the Mississippi River was green with blotches of red and orange, indicating even higher levels of light pollution.

In a paper released in 2001, researchers from Italy and the United States projected only a few areas of dark sky remaining by 2025. Those few areas, they said, would lie mostly between the Great Plains and the two defining mountain ranges of the West coast, the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades.

As glow on the western horizon receded, Foott began describing various kinds of light pollution: sky glow, such as you would see over Denver or Los Angeles; glare such as you might experience when a neighbor has a bright light mounted on a garage that blinds you; and then light trespass, such as that neighbor’s light flooding your backyard.

Light pollution is not inevitable, she said. Rather, pollution is a matter of poor design, such as unshielded lights or lights aimed upward instead of to the ground, where the light is useful. Too, many people erect lights in the mistaken belief that more light flooding a landscape delivers greater security. Less lighting can actually be safer. Placement matters entirely. Foott showed how glare from a lighting fixture mounted on a building’s exterior made it impossible to see the man that was in plain sight once the light was shielded.

By then, the eastern sky over Crested Butte, 40 miles away (but 90 miles by car) was inky dark as Foott laid out the medical case for dark skies. Light pollution has been linked to depression, insomnia, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, she said. A 2016 report by the American Medical Association recommended fully shielding all light fixtures and only using lighting at color temperatures of 3,000 Kelvin or less.

Lights higher on the Kelvin scale produce icy white and blue lights, unlike the warmer yellows and golds of incandescent and high-pressure sodium lights. The latter are still commonly found at street corners. New, LED lights are vastly more energy efficient, but early, high-Kelvin types produce the more intense, icy white color.

Much of that more abundant light is wasted. Foott said a third of all lighting gets wasted, because it is directed upward. That’s $3 billion of waste annually and the production of 21 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Foott is new to the lecture circuit. Her presentation was notable for its lack of polish and abundance of enthusiasm. She grew up in Moab, Utah, a desert town located about three hours by highway from Black Canyon. While earning a degree at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, she watched a film called “The Dark City.” Seeing it, a light went on in her mind. Before then, she had never paused to puzzle through why she could see stars in Moab but not Salt Lake City.

But even the glow of Moab can be seen from the nearby state and national parks, including Arches and Canyonlands. Now, working with the University of Utah’s new Consortium of Dark Skies Studies, she is directing an effort to preserve skies in the Colorado Plateau. The plateau is located only partly in Colorado. Think instead of Zion, Bryce, and other national parks, and Lake Powell, too.

The consortium has worked with city and county officials in Moab, Kanab, and Helper, all in Utah, as well as Page, Ariz., located near the Grand Canyon, to enact ordinances to restrict the erosion of the night sky. Moab, she said, this year has integrated dark skies education into its annual arts festival. Flagstaff, Ariz., which has two observatories and one of the nation’s best lighting ordinances, has an annual dark sky-themed arts show, called NightVisions.

If the Colorado Plateau has large expanses of dark, it has glittering metropolises, too. Lights of Las Vegas can be detected up to 200 miles away.

Concluding her presentation, Foott asked her audience to use artificial light sparingly, if at all, as they made their way to the half-dozen telescopes that had been set up adjacent to the nearby campground.

As the sun sets, she explained, we go through a process called dark adaptation where the eye gradually becomes sensitive to less and less light. The entire process takes about 45 minutes. An artificial light can eliminate that adaptation.

The visitors made their way in the dark, most without lights, to a parking lot where eight large telescopes had been set up to see the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter. Nobody had a smartphone out to check Facebook postings. Instead, they marveled at what the Milky Way and the other sparkling objects in the sky said to them, just as people of antiquity had.

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A life well lived and an exceptional death

Author, musician died in the same way he lived: exceptionally

JACKSON, Wyo. – John Byrne Cooke died, and that’s too bad for the written word. He was a writer, and a good one. He was a musician, too, and as he died he was surrounded by the music of his friends.

The son of Alistair Cooke, the long-time host of “Masterpiece Theater,” Cooke lived in Jackson Hole, where he had moved in 1982 after bucking hay bales one summer on a nearby ranch.

John Byrne Cook

The Jackson Hole News&Guide explains that he  had grown up in New York City listening obsessively to Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Burl Ives. Later, studying romance languages at Harvard, he joined a band as a guitar player and singer. That led to engagements at a famous folk club in Cambridge, where he began photographing Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and other emerging stars on the folk circuit, which in turn put him at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967. That’s where he first heard Janis Joplin.

“I was just drop-jawed from astonishment at this woman’s vocal power,” he told an interviewer many years later. He became her road manager and, in 1970, was the person who found her dead of an overdose in her hotel room in Los Angeles.

His writing had great span. One of his books, “Snowblind Moon,” was a novel framed in the mountain man era of the northern Rockies. He also wrote about his work with Janis Joplin. One of the members of her back-up band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, had this to say: “Most, most important you get Janis right, and I can feel her and she is alive when I read your book.”

He also wrote book reviews for the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide says he was a regular as a musician in Jackson Hole, performing in the house band at the Stagecoach, a bar.

For his own passing, musician friends gathered around his hospital bed as he died of cancer, playing his favorite songs. He went out as they sang “Love at the Five and Dime.” Then they played “I Shall be Released.”

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Xcel decision fortifies calls for 100 percent renewables

As coal plants close, more calls for 100% renewable goals

Xcel Energy proposes to close two of its coal-fired generating units at Comanche, indicated by smokestacks at right. The stack at left, for the plant completed in 2010, provides energy for a portion of Aspen and for the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys. In the foreground is the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains at its opening. Photo/Allen Best

by Allen Best

DURANGO, Colo. – The Sierra Club has been pushing Durango to commit to 100 percent locally produced and renewable electricity by 2050.

The argument of petitioners, reports the Durango Herald, is that in addition to cutting carbon emissions, the local, renewable energy would create local jobs and stabilize energy rates as the cost of fossil fuels continues to rise.

The petition in Durango fits in with a broad pattern across the country of calls for municipalities to embrace goals of 100 percent renewables during the next few decades. In Utah, for example, Salt Lake City, Moab, and Park City have all embraced that goal. In Colorado, so have the Front Range communities of Fort Collins, Boulder, and Pueblo.

That goal no longer seems so far-fetched. Major, investor-owned utilities have been rapidly investing in renewables not because they have to, but because of tumbling prices for wind, but also solar. Cost of utility-scale storage has also started sliding.

Last week, Colorado’s largest utility, Public Service Co., a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, announced that it would seek approval of state regulators to retire two coal-fired generating plants at Pueblo, which began operations in 1972 and 1974. The retirements, if approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, will mean Comanche I and II will be retired a decade earlier than previously scheduled.

Xcel wants to replace the lost power with some natural gas-fired electricity but mostly with renewables, with up to 1,000 megawatts of wind and 700 megawatts of solar. It wants to move fast, too, to take advantage of federal tax credits that are scheduled to expire in 2020.

Cost to consumers will stay the same or more likely go down, explained David Eves, the utility’s president of Colorado operations. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions are a bonus.

After the switch, Xcel expects its will be at 55 percent in carbon-free generation. This year, it will be completing conversion of a coal-fired power plant in Denver to natural gas. It had also converted a plant in Boulder last year.

Xcel delivers power to Colorado’s Summit County, where Breckenridge elected officials recently heard from a local group that wanted a commitment to 100 percent renewables, first in city operations and then a few years later in the community at large. Town officials weren’t ready to commit, lacking a clear path to achieve these goals. This was a week before the Xcel announcement.

Mark Truckey, a town planner in Breckenridge who is a member of the local 100 percent group, called the Xcel announcement “huge.”

“This has to speak volumes about how the cost is coming down,” he said. Yet he concedes it’s not exactly clear how Breckenridge can achieve what his group advocates.

In Utah, it’s the same story. Rocky Mountain Power last week reached a deal with solar advocates about a transition. The utility, which serves Park City, has a plan for adding more wind generation from southern Wyoming and upwards of 1,000 megawatts —the equivalent of a giant coal-fired power plant—in solar generation from Utah.

It used to be that renewables came with a price premium. As the Xcel and Rocky Mountain Power cases illustrate, that has changed. Aspen also proves the case.

Aspen gets more than half of its electricity from wind turbines just north of I-80 in the Nebraska panhandle.

Aspen Electric was an early adopter. The utility serves half to two-thirds of Aspen. More than a decade ago it invested in two wind turbines in Nebraska. It has also invested heavily in hydroelectric. As a municipality, it is also eligible for electricity from the giant dams of the West.

Several years ago it was able to achieve 100 percent renewables. Despite the renewables—or maybe because of them—residential customers in Aspen pay 20 percent less per kilowatt-hour than co-op members such as those serving Durango.

The rest of Aspen, including the ski area, gets its electricity from Holy Cross Energy. If moving briskly toward renewables, Holy Cross still gets a substantial amount of its electricity from another coal-fired power plant at Pueblo. Although news as of 2010, it increasingly looks archaic.

Solar panels have become abundant on rooftops. Even so, solar delivered just 2 percent of Colorado’s electricity in 2016. Solar energy proponents expect that will change. Costs of panels have declined 64 percent in the last five years, points out the Summit Daily News, citing the Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association. Too, utilities like Xcel, Rocky Mountain Power, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission are increasingly investing in giant farms of solar panels.

Tri-State provides electricity for the co-operatives that serve the Colorado mountain towns of Winter Park, Grand Lake, Crested Butte, and Telluride. The power for Durango also comes from Tri-State through La Plata Electric Association.

Last year, 53 percent of Tri-State’s electricity came from coal, although 27 percent came from renewables, and more is coming on line all the time, says Lee Boughey, spokesman. He points to 75 megawatts of wind generation from southeastern Colorado that will go on-line later this year.

About 4 percent of Durango’s power comes from local renewable sources, but a major solar plant on the Southern Ute reservation has also been added, reports the Durango Telegraph.

Volunteers help to construct the solar system at a low-income, rental-housing subdivision in La Plata County. Photo/LPEA

Can Durango get to 100 percent renewables, as the Sierra Club petition seeks? La Plata hasn’t said no, although there are many challenges. Most illuminating is a white paper from the co-op’s chief executive, Mike Dreyspring. The paper describes the evolution of markets that will allow slow-cost electrons from renewable sources to be moved around the grid to match demands. That other changes are poised to disrupt old business models—including the centralized power generation of the last half of the 20th century.

Locally produced power, called distributed generation, “shifts the balance sheet risk from owners of central station bulk power generation assets to DG owners,” the paper says. “The traditional, vertically integrated electric utilities that adapt to this changing market place will financially thrive.”

Another way of saying this is that yes, the train is out of the station. It’s just a matter of accommodating the new renewables. Whether 100 percent renewables is possible is a discussion for another day.

This story was published in the Sept. 5 issue of Mountain Town News, an e-mail based newsmagazine first distributed to subscribers. Please consider subscribing or donating. 

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Thin air stealthily robs young backpacker of her life

The cornice of Bald Mountain, overlooking Vail and I-70, in July 1997. Photo/Allen Best

By the time it became clear the high altitude was killing her, it was too late 

by Allen Best

ASPEN, Colo. – In some ways, Susanna Deforest was typical of those who suffer from Colorado’s thinner air after arriving from a low elevation. A 20-year-old from Pennsylvania, she felt sluggish when hiking up a trail to the popular Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen, lacking much energy. She had to stop frequently for rest.

But in critical ways, her personal physiology masked what was happening as her case of high-altitude pulmonary edema, serious in its own right, turned deadly. She wasn’t breathing hard, nor did she cough. She didn’t turn blue. There were no obvious telltale signs to tell her and her companions on Aug. 18 that her blood oxygen saturation was dropping dangerously low.

When she died early the next morning at an elevation of 10,367 feet, the oxygen saturation in her blood was at about what is commonly found in climbers who at between 22,000 and 28,000 feet in elevation unaided by oxygen.

Dr. Steve Ayers, the corner of Pitkin County, announced today that her cause of death was high altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema. The former, HAPE, is more common and can precede the latter, HACE, which is exceedingly rare. However, HACE can occur without HAPE.

This was an extreme case of dangers of hypoxia, or the effect of oxygen deprivation on human tissues. It also poses questions for those who survive whether they could have done anything differently to prevent the death. In this case, the answer is probably not.

Mountain sickness is relatively common, afflicting about a quarter of all visitors to Colorado resorts of above 8,000 feet in elevation who arrive from sea level. Young men most commonly suffer. They eat heavy, drink too much alcohol, and still plow forward, skiing with gusto. The usual advice is to take it easy for a few days, stay hydrated, and get plenty of rest.

High-altitude pulmonary edema, or HAPE, ordinarily doesn’t show up until the second or third day. It can affect people at elevations of as low at 6,000 feet, but it’s more common at about 8,000 feet.

Aspen and Vail are both a little above 8,000 feet. Telluride is at 8,750, but most people visiting there stay at Mountain Village, elevation 9,545 feet. Mt. Crested Butte, the slope-side town, is 9,380 feet. Most lodges in Summit County are 9,000 feet or above.

Fourth of July in Aspen. Photo/Allen Best

The cases of HAPE are relatively rare. Just one visitor in every 5,000 to 10,0000 visitors to Colorado mountain resorts will suffer HAPE, according to Dr. Peter Hackett. A physician, Hackett made hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, a central part of both his research and his mountain climbing career. He summited Mt. Everest in 1981 and in later years ministered to climbers at the 18,000-foot base camp.

At Aspen Valley Hospital, physicians see HAPE victims one or twice a month although, on at least one occasion, there were three cases within a 24-hour period. Victims of the condition, also called acute mountain sickness, invariably arrive on their third night at altitude after their afflictions have worsened. Ayers says they complain about trouble with breathing and they can’t sleep. Sometimes they can hear fluid gurgling in their chests, and the sound worries them.

“It should worry them,” says Ayers. It’s a telltale symptom of HAPE.

These cases of HAPE are invariably remedied with the simple prescription of supplemental oxygen, about three liters a minute. The patients can return to their hotel rooms, oxygen cannulas in their nostrils.

Fatalities resulting from HAPE used to be more common in Colorado, the nation’s highest state with an average elevation of 6,800 feet. But travelers have become better educated and clinics in high-mountain valleys better able to respond.

Still, fatalities do occur. Several years ago, a visitor to Mt. Crested Butte died of HAPE. A hunter in the San Juan Mountains also died.

More rare and more deadly is cerebral edema, or HACE in which fluids built up in the brain. Rapid response can make all the difference. Ayers remembers a case several years ago of a young woman staying in Snowmass Village suffering from HACE. The lodge was probably at about 9,400 feet, the base elevation for which cerebral edema occurs. In that case, she was given oxygen immediately at Aspen Valley Hospital and put on a helicopter to a level-one trauma center in Denver, where neurologists are on staff around the clock. She didn’t need them, though. Getting off the helicopter in Denver, she had recovered.

In the case of Suzanne Deforest, supplemental oxygen would have made all the difference. But her symptoms were atypical.

She had flow to Denver on Aug 13, spending the night in Golden, elevation 5,675 feet. The next day she traveled to Dillon, elevation 9,111 feet, where she lingered for two days and probably started developing HAPE, according to the report of Ayers, the coroner.

The next day, on Aug. 17, she and companions set out from Aspen to hike up the Conundrum Hot Springs trail. It starts out at 8,700 feet and, 8.5 miles later, ends up at the hot springs, just below treeline at 11,200 feet in elevation.

Ayers says she struggled up the trail, needing frequent stops for rest, but companions said she did not exhibit obvious signs of breathing distress.

Her symptoms were subtle and atypical, as is true in 10 to 15 percent of cases. A healthy person at sea level has an oxygen saturation of 96 to 98 percent in their blood, says Hackett. Oxygen saturations typically drop to 89 or 90 when people are at 9,000 feet in elevation.

For a normal person standing on top of Mt. Everest, unaided by supplemental oxygen, it would be 40 or 50.

As the young woman struggled up the Conundrum trail, her oxygen saturation levels probably dropped to the level of the world’s highest peaks. As you develop HAPE, your oxygen level continues to drop, even if you are not ascending in elevation. HAPE, in this case, then continued into HACE. “It’s no mystery that she had high-altitude cerebral edema,” says Hackett.

Had the woman breathed heavily instead of just feeling lousy, she or her companions might have figured out that rapid descent was necessary. Instead, they hunkered down in a tent, sort of waiting out the storm. That was a fatal if understandable decision.

Arriving at 1:30 a.m., the rescue helicopter was unable to land, because of its weight. Instead, the helicopter had to burn off fuel. It didn’t land until 5:30 a.m. By then, she was dead.

But from the testimony of a key witness and a timeline put together by the Pitkin County deputy coroner, it almost certainly would have made no difference had the helicopter been able to land the first time. When the tent companion returned to the tent after shining her lights to the helicopter, she found the woman had stopped breathing.

There may be cases of victims of HACE brought back from the brink of death, but Ayers says he’s unaware of any. Victim of cardiac arrhythmia can be brought back from the brink of death. But when the brain has swollen to the point it is causing cardiac arrest, it can’t be reversed.

Had the victim and her companions carried a book of “Wilderness Medicine,” the text that Ayers carries with him on his travels around the world, they might have diagnosed her HAPE and then HACE. But few of us carry such books when backpacking or any place else.

 

 

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Mining jobs at West Elk without methane emissions?

Solomon-like wisdom in methane emissions or something else?

West Elk Mine. Photo/WildEarth Guardians

by Allen Best

SOMERSET, Colo. – One of Colorado’s larger sources of greenhouse gas emissions is something few people see, a coal mine located an hour or two from both Crested Butte and Aspen.

There, invisibly, methane wafts into the atmosphere, trapping heat. That methane has now become a major issue as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper tries to balance economic and environmental goals.

He did so last week with a Solomon-like gesture. He endorsed a proposal to approve a royalty rate reduction at the West Elk Mine from 8 to 5 percent for operations in a new coal seam that Arch Coal, the operator, says will be economically challenging.

But in return for that royalty reduction, Hickenlooper wants to see a “good-faith commitment to dedicating significant time and resources” to an effort to capture methane vented from the mine and possibly put it to beneficial use.

Arch plans to bore holes from the surface into the mine to release methane gas. Without venting, miners would be endangered.

A precedent exists for methane capture. In a complicated financing deal, the methane coming from the nearby Elk Creek mine was captured several years ago and is being burned to generate electricity. It still produces carbon dioxide, but methane as measured over the course of a century has 23 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.

Craig Station is the No. 2 source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, behind Comanche station at Pueblo. Photo/Allen Best

The West Elk alone is responsible for 0.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado, according to the calculations of Ted Zukoski, an attorney for Earthjustice, which represents various groups that oppose the mine expansion. The North Fork mines are said to be among the gassiest in the world.

As of 2015, West Elk’s methane emission were the equivalent of half a million tons of carbon dioxide. Colorado’s largest CO2 producers that same year were the Comanche and Craig power plants, which produced 8.4 million tons and 8.2 million tons of CO2.

This royalty reduction will cost the state, but just how much will depend upon how much coal ends up being mined. Hickenlooper estimated $4 million over a five-year period. Environmentalists, however, calculated lost royalties of up to $12 million.

The Crested Butte-based High Country Conservation Advocates expressed frustration with Hickenlooper’s stance. Matt Reed, the public lands director for the HCCA, said the governor’s office holds that it has little power to limit methane pollution from the mine in cases such as this one, where the federal government is the ultimate decision-maker.

Reed tells the Crested Butte News  his group disagrees. The state has power under current law to require permits for coal mine emissions because of its authority to regulate emissions of both volatile organic compounds, which are ozone (smog) precursors, and hazardous air pollutants. They are emitted along with methane. As recently as January, state health regulators said they reserved the right to undertake enforcement action.

The Crested Butte group also points to state law that it says authorizes rules be created to control for emissions of hydrocarbons … and any other chemical substance.”

But Gunnison County Commissioner John Messner sees the Hickenlooper letter sending a “strong message that the analysis, development and implementation of a methane capture and utilization plan is to be expected in the North Fork of Gunnison County and the key word here is that it is to be implemented.”

For the coal mine expansion to go forward, Arch Coal will need a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to build temporary roads into what is now a designated roadless area. That agency’s decision will be posted Friday, Sept. 8, in the Federal Register.

In an editorial a week before the governor’s letter was released, the Grand Junction Sentinel said the “coal industry has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.” It urged him to take exactly the position that he took.

The newspaper—located in a fossil-fuel-friendly-town—went on to urge Hickenlooper to “use the mine as an example of why Colorado needs a carbon credit cap-and-trade market to monetize waste methane.”

Ironically, California’s cap-and-trade is partly the reason why electricity is now being generated from the Elk Creek Mine. Tom Vessels, who put the generating system together, secured money from California, because he is reducing a greenhouse gas. But Holy Cross Energy—which serves Aspen and Vail areas—also is paying a premium for the electricity, and Aspen Skiing Co. provided money to ensure that deal happened.

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Dark side of the moon and climate change

Dark side of the moon and the barbed wire of climate change

by Allen Best

Like millions of other Americans, I drove hours to dawdle in the brief darkness of the solar eclipse. Spreading our blanket along a highway in the rolling prairie of Nebraska, my companion and I were surrounded by people from Texas, Iowa and Colorado.

Across the barbed-wired fence was a ranch family, three generations of Nebraska red under the blue sky, marveling to see so many people along their lonely country road. One car an hour was the norm, said the patriarch. We talked like old neighbors, us city folks drawn from across the continent’s midsection and our country cousins we had never met. We were uniformly of good cheer. Did we vote the same last November? I doubt it, but it did not come up at this convergence of harmony.

Then darkness came, cold and quiet. Crickets chirped and Angus cows and calves bawled into the twilight. We shivered in this spectacle on the dark side of the moon, halfway expecting angels to begin dancing about. Then the light returned.

Science had predicted all this with precision. None of us gathered along the barbed wire fences in Nebraska had doubted it. President Donald Trump did not dismiss it as a Chinese hoax.

But why so little faith in climate science? If the precise increase in temperatures and extent of weather extremes remains uncertain, it’s clear that our path is fraught with risk.

Three days later, Colorado’s two senators, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, spoke at a Colorado Oil and Gas Association conference. They sit on opposite sides of the political fence, but in Denver they sat together in stuffed chairs to brag, as best they could, about their bipartisan efforts before a crowd clearly tired of the twitter storm in Washington D.C. But one looked over his shoulder when talking about climate change, and one looked straight ahead.

Bennet, a Democrat, has a deep background in fossil fuels. Early in his career, he was up to his elbows in oil and gas as a lieutenant for the billionaire Phil Anschutz. As a senator, Bennet bucked the environmental community in voting to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline. But this year he has been bearing down on climate change.

“As I travel Colorado, people are increasingly worried about climate,” he said. “The effect it is having on their farms and ranches, on their ski areas, and on the national forests.” He told the drillers that they will need to engage in a “constructive conversation” about climate change, because the reality “is just not going to go away.” Better for the United States to figure out the answers than another nation, he added in his own version of make America great.

Gardner, though, is the more important individual in this conversation. He’s a Republican from a town of 3,600 on the Great Plains. He doesn’t deny climate science. Occasionally he’s capable of backbone. After Charlottesville, he immediately issued a statement condemning the racism and white nationalism. At a town hall several days later, he even managed smiles while confronting one infuriated question after another about his effort to dismantle Obamacare. The Resistance can be as nasty as the Tea Party.

But in Denver, Gardner recited tired arguments recycled more times than Seinfeld reruns. He pointed out—accurately—that as a Colorado state legislator he had supported renewable energy that benefited his rural constituents. Then, like an ancient fearing the darkness of an eclipse, he warned of the unbearable costs of renewable energy to people of fixed incomes or on farmers irrigating corn and alfalfa fields. “You don’t have to go so far as to cause economic collapse,” he said.

The argument is absurd. Utilities have been scrambling to get their electrical wires around wind and solar. The Public Service Co. of Colorado on Tuesday announced ambitions to shut down two older coal-fired plants. It’s cheaper for consumers, explained PSCo president  David Eves. Our technology has advanced.

Residential customers of Aspen Electric—yes, the ski resort favored by Trumps and other billionaires—got their electricity for 26 percent less in January than the farmers around Gardner’s home-town. Towns and cities can be serviced more cheaply than scattered farms. But Aspen now has 100 percent renewables; farmers remain heavily reliant on coal generation.

Scientists had the eclipse down pat. Unfortunately, they’re probably right about climate change. It will take somebody like Gardner, with the same backbone he did after Charlottesville, to clip that barbed wire fence that has made climate change a partisan issue.

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Inching along toward renewables in mountain towns

Taos-based Kit Carson Electric has been rapidly installing solar farms in its four-county service region of northern New Mexico. Photo/Kit Carson Electric

Slowly, surely, electricity moves to greener sources in mountain valleys

by Allen Best

Taos co-op adds another solar farm

Taos-based Kit Carson Electrical Cooperative in early August announced that a new 1-megawatt solar array had begun producing electricity.

That’s relatively little electricity compared to the giant coal-fired power plants that can generate 300, 400, or even 700 megawatts of electricity. But in these small, incremental steps, a major transformation is underway in how we produce and consume electricity.

Kit Carson announced plans earlier this year to eventually provide its 30,000 members with 100 percent of renewable energy. This new array, located 32 miles from Taos at the community of Tres Piedras, is the first of 35 solar plants that the co-op plans to erect within the next five years. Several more are planned near the ski areas of Angel Fire and Eagle Nest.

Solar for Vail and Aspen

In Colorado, Holy Cross Energy—like Kit Carson, a co-operative—has now received bids for a 5-megawatt solar plant to serve the Vail and Aspen areas. The largest solar array that Holy Cross currently has is 1.7 megawatts, on a farm near Carbondale. The Aspen Daily News reports that this next solar plant will cover 25 to 40 acres.

The plant is likely to be located along I-70 near Rifle, about 68 miles from Aspen and 90 miles from Vail but also within the Holy Cross service area. It’s sunnier there and, perhaps more important, land prices are much, much cheaper.

Holy Cross hopes to reach 30 percent renewable generation by 2020 and 35 percent by 2025.

Breck and 100% renewables

Breckenridge elected officials last week heard from a group that wants the municipality to formally commit to 100 percent renewables. That figure, as a goal, has now been embraced by Salt Lake City, Moab, and Park City in Utah as well as Boulder, Fort Collins and Pueblo in Colorado, among dozens of cities in the United States.

The Breckenridge for 100 Percent Renewable Energy Campaign Committee asked the town council to commit to achieving 100 percent renewables for town facilities by 2025 and the town as a whole by 2035.

Absent a clear roadmap for getting there and a strong grasp of the costs, the town council was reluctant to make the commitment. The Summit Daily News cited the comments of Councilman Mike Dudick, who was comfortable only with the word “goal” as opposed to “commitment.”

But Dudick was careful to point out that his company, Breckenridge Grand Vacations, is the second largest purchaser of solar power in Breckenridge. The town is the lead purchaser.

Breckenridge has pushed local production of solar energy but gets most of its electricity from Xcel Energy, an investor-owned utility. Xcel is known as one of the most progressive utilities in the country. First pushed by state requirements and now pulled by plummeting prices of renewables, Xcel has been rapidly expanding its carbon-free portfolio and has enunciated plans for even more aggressive purchases of wind power in Colorado and other states.

But Xcel has a long, long way to go to substantially shift away from reliance on coal-based generation. One relatively new power plant, which went on line in 2010, is not expected to be decommissioned before 2070.

But municipalities do have leverage with Xcel—as Boulder is trying to achieve with its talk of divorce from Xcel.

The 100 percent group is reported to be regrouping with a somewhat lesser ambition in mind.

Crested Butte & 100 percent: Yes

In Crested Butte, few people have signed up to get their electricity from new solar arrays. “There are a lot of hypocrites in the community,” said Greg Wiggins, a director of the local Gunnison County Electric Association at a recent meeting covered by the Crested Butte News.

Nonetheless, the town council there seems ready to plunge forward into a commitment to fueling the demand for renewables. It wants to do this by purchasing what are called off-sets, which would cost the town about $1,500 a year. This does not provide the town with carbon-free electricity, but it does provide the demand so that that somebody on the electrical grid is getting carbon-free electricity, such as those delivered by solar arrays.

Crested Butte is trying to decarbonize its economy. It’s a far more formidable challenge than just switching from coal to renewables for production of electricity. Homes are commonly heated with natural gas, also a carbon fuel, and our cars, trucks, and buses almost exclusively burn carbon fuels.

After first adopting a goal of 20 percent reduction by 2020, Crested Butte has put some effort into improving energy efficiency in buildings. Just how much it has achieved, however, seems to be unknown.

The town council seems agreeable to the proposal by Mayor Glen Michel to hire a new and permanent town employee responsible for measuring and monitoring greenhouse gas reductions and probably more.

Meanwhile, the local co-operative pushes for consumers to take advantage of off-peak pricing. Mike McBride, the chief executive of Gunnison County Electric, says consumers who use power other than between 5 and 10 p.m. on Monday through Saturday, can save the co-operative and ultimately the customers money. It also allows for greater integration of renewables.

Colorado’s Delta-Montrose Electric has reached its 5 percent cap on electrical production by harnessing the power of water flowing in the South Canal. Photo/Allen Best

Tri-State’s 5% cap

Local electrical co-operatives in western Colorado will have to wait at least two years before they can increase the amount of locally generated electricity.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission delivers power to 43 co-operatives between New Mexico and Wyoming, including those that service Telluride, Crested Butte, and Durango.

As of the end of 2016, Tri-State reported that 43 percent of its generation came from coal, 21 percent from natural gas, 24 percent from renewables and 12 percent from contracts. Much of the renewable generation comes from the giant dams of the West, although Tri-State—like other electrical providers—has been investing in wind and solar.

Several local co-ops would like to accelerate the transition to renewables. Last year, Kit Carson Electric—which delivers electricity to Taos and several other smaller ski areas in New Mexico—left Tri-State in its quest to rapidly accelerate toward 100 percent renewables. Both San Miguel Electric, which serves Telluride, and Durango-based La Plata Electric have asked to be exempted from the existing 5 percent cap. They proposed being able to generate as much as 10 percent of the electricity themselves.

Delta-Montrose Electric has already reached its 5 percent cap, primarily through development of hydroelectric power on the South Canal diversion from the Gunnison River.

At an August meeting, directors of Tri-State ruled that the 5 percent cap on self-generating power will remain for at least the next two years.

What does Tri-State have against this? If the local co-ops produce more of their own energy, they will pay less to Tri-State. That leaves the other co-ops on the hook for higher costs of operating existing infrastructure.

Lee Boughey, spokesman for Tri-State, points out that the local co-ops can generate as much electricity as they want and sell it to Tri-State or to a third party. If sold to Tri-State, however, they receive less than the electricity they get from Tri-State costs.

Boughey reports that the Tri-State and its members delivered to  consumers in 2016, 27 percent came from renewable energy (including hydroelectric from the Bureau of Reclamation’s big dams of the West), about 53 percent came from baseload coal, about 2 percent came from natural gas, and the rest was purchased power, primarily fossil fuel.

Alex Shelley, a spokesman for San Miguel Power Association, tells the Telluride Daily Planet that the work during the next two years is to persuade other co-operatives of the wisdom of the shift to a higher cap. Tri-State was created by the co-ops and directed by the co-ops.

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UnVail gets Deer Valley, but what will it do with it?

UnVail adds Deer Valley, putting it cheek and jowl to Vail Resorts

by Allen Best

PARK CITY, Utah – The new and still-unnamed ski industry consortium that might be called UnVail added Deer Valley to its stable last week.

From California’s Mammoth Mountain to Vermont’s Stratton, it has 13 ski areas under its tent. This includes 6 formerly owned by Intrawest. Vail Resorts has 16 across three countries.

Deer Valley will put the UnVail—a formal name has not been disclosed—cheek-and-jowl to Vail Resorts at the Park City Mountain Resort. What comes of this consolidation at Park City and elsewhere is unknown.

In Park City, local nerves seemed to be allayed by assurances that no major changes were planned. Bill Malone, the local Chamber director, told The Park Record that Deer Valley’s top-notch product is “probably a lot of what they were paying for, in addition to bricks and mortar. So I wouldn’t anticipate much change.”

Changes will come, though. Most speculation has focused on the ski pass and brand that UnVail will create to compete with the Epic Pass and brand created by Vail Resorts.

“Looming season-pass showdown among Colorado’s ski-industry heavyweights,” said the Denver Post in reporting the story.

UnVail is a consortium of the Crown family of Chicago, owners of the Aspen Skiing Co, and KSL Capital Partners. Jim Crown is the active member of the family in Aspen, although the business name is more formally called the family of Henry Crown.

The Crown family bought half of the Aspen Skiing Co. in 1985 and the rest in 1993. The family has diversified holdings, including a large chunk of General Dynamics and stakes in the New York Yankees and Chicago Bulls.

KSL was created in the early 1990s by Mike Shannon, who had been president of Vail Resorts, and his top lieutenant, Larry Lichliter, along with Wall Street figure Henry Kravis. It stayed out of the ski business, instead pursing golf and other resort properties, until relatively recently.

It is based in the Denver-Boulder metroplex, as is Vail Resorts.

The UnVail now has 10 ski hills altogether (counting Alpine and Squaw Valley as separate but joined-at-the-hip resorts). The effort is being led by David Perry, formerly No. 2 at the Aspen Skiing Co.

Vail Resorts has been driving changes, but most of the themes are relatively old. Discounted ski passes had existed for decades before Winter Park adopted the idea in the late 1990s. Under Adam Aron, Vail Resorts began discounting ski pass prices at its then four ski areas in Colorado.

Rob Katz, taking the corporate reins in2006, has expanded the chain and continued the vertical integration begun by Aron. From the van you ride from the airport to the shop where you rent your boots, Vail is very likely to be your helping hand—and the recipient of your credit card. That includes property in Aspen.

Wall Street likes what Vail has done. In 1997, when it went public in ownership, the stock price has increased from $16 a share to $218 as of Monday.

Rick Kahl, editor of Ski Area Management, told The Denver Post that the winner in this new competition will be skiers and snowboarders. How UnVail plans to compete, however, remains in doubt. But he sees the season passes being the key.

The Epic Pass offers unlimited skiing at any Vail Resorts’ property. The Mountain Collective Pass put together by Aspen Skiing with a growing family of independent resorts offers two days at 16 top-flight ski hills.

“Whatever they come up with, I expect it will be fairly simple,” Kahl said. The answer, he added, will be forthcoming probably in late February or early March, when UnVail rolls out its season passes for the 2018-2019 season.

This was published in the Aug. 29, 2017, issue of Mountain Town News, a subscriber-based  newsmagazine. Please see upper right for payment opportunities.

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