By Allen Best
The bigger the better
TAOS, N.M. – Bigger and better. That’s the perennial quest of ski areas. It’s also a good marketing angle, near as good as having excellent snow.
Now, the Taos Ski Valley has a lot to talk about. The Taos News reports that the U.S. Forest Service has approved expansion of expert terrain at the resort by 60 percent.
Maybe this will improve business. Taos has had good snow two of the last three years. Four years ago, it dropped the ropes to snowboarders. But while skier visits increased, they weren’t as much as was hoped, said Gordon Briner, chief operating officer. “That’s why we think these improvements are important.”
A Forest Service official said the improvements are needed to allow Taos to compete with other ski areas in the Rocky Mountains.
“I am confident that, collectively, the projects approved will help Taos Ski Valley to reclaim its competitive standing in the Rocky Mountain Region,” said Diane Trujillo, acting supervisor of the Carson National Forest.
“Taos Ski Valley is unique in the ski industry, where it is renowned for steep, adventurous terrain and uncrowded slopes.”
Other expansions of ski area are also going forward on federal lands. Aspen Skiing Co. is expanding 250 acres at Snowmass, the busiest of its four resorts.
Vail Resorts, meanwhile, now has the authority to move forward with an even larger expansion at 550 acres at Breckenridge. Unlike Taos, which the Forest Service says has uncluttered slopes, the Forest Service justified the Breckenridge expansion because of how many people are already skiing there.
In a column published in The Denver Post, local resident Steve Lipsher finds the justification for the expansion wanting. “More mediocre skiing at a resort that already offers a ton of mediocre skiing,” he writes.
Lipsher says he’s skeptical the expansion will thin out crowds. That, he says, would require new lifts. Rather than spreading out the crowds, each new expansion attracts only more people, the result of the resort’s marketing efforts and the public’s constant desire for newer, bigger, better.
More Mac ‘n Cheese!
It’s the shoulder season, the time when ski towns attempt to put butts in beds with themed special events.
While Crested Butte hosted a somewhat conventional Chili and Beer Festival this past weekend, Aspen held its Mac ‘N’ Cheese Festival. Last year, the event’s first, drew 1,500 people. Some 4,000 were expected this year. It’s believed to be the only such festival in the country.
Some local restaurants in this high-end town last year were skeptical about a special event built around a pasta dish generally considered at the lower end of the food order. Not so Tico Starr, chef at Rustique Bistrow, who won first place last year. This year he ordered 65 pounds of pasta, 45 pounds of mushrooms, 50 pounds of gruyére cheese, six gallons of cream and three bottles of truffle oil. The mushrooms are to be soaked in herbs and flavorings like garlic and lemon zest.
In Whistler, the city government has appropriated money for the long-tenured Writer’s Festival a new event called Spirit Within Festival. The latter will focus on the the First Nations peoples who live near Whistler. In the United States they would be called Native Americans.
Pique Newsmagazine reports that Whistler tourism leaders are still trying to nail down plans for what is described as a signature fall festival that is intended to integrate arts and culture, sport and activity.
“Signature events have been shown to have the most impact on room night sales in the resort,” explained Michelle Comeau, the communications manager for the resort.
Scientists study tree deaths
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – From British Columbia to New Mexico, many forests have been struggling. No news there. Trees, like people, grow and die. They’re not static, immutable.
But the intense droughts of 2002 and again of this year, combined with generally warming temperatures, have my eyes open. There have been the giant lodgepole pine beetle epidemics, and also a decline of aspen trees, which composed a fifth of the trees in Colorado. Drought has been identified as at least a contributing cause in both cases.
Sam Pankratz, a forester with Colorado’s state government, told the Crested Butte News that it took until 2008 to see the full impacts of the 2002 drought.
Pankratz told the News that stresses on trees are native to the landscape. Assessing the overall health of the forest is better done over the long term, and not just looking at individual droughts, such as 2002 and 2012.
“As forest managers, we’re managing a forest that can sometimes live 400 years,” he said. “And while anecdotal evidence suggests a drier trend, it’s important to remember there are other factors at play, including 100 years of fire and disease suppression,” he said.
But his takeaway message is that over the long term, warmer temperatures and drier weather can add up.
That’s also the message in New Mexico, where a study is underway at Bandelier National Monument.
“Combine drought with warmer temperatures, and it’s no surprise trees are croaking,” notes the Santa Fe New Mexico. “But how fast do they die? Does it depend on the species?” Will some species survive no matter what? What will be the impact of massive tree die-offs on the climate, agriculture, watersheds and people?”
A team from Los Alamos National Labs is mapping out the exact process by which a tree dies when stressed by lack of water and prolonged heat.
The big question is how much of this change is driven by human-caused global warming. Nate G. McDowell, from the Las Alamos lab, says that’s not clear.
“Now, are trees dying because of (rising carbon dioxide and temperature levels)? That’s what we can’t say for sure,” he told the New Mexican. “But, there are a bunch of lines of evidence suggesting that they are.”
He added: “I can’t say this with absolute certainty, but I don’t expect there to be conifers in Los Alamos or Santa Fe County in 50 years.”
Will park amuse?
PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. – Pagosa Springs has wonderful hot springs, and magnificent scenery. It was one of the Colorado mountain towns that Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family passed through on their way to “Wally World” in that 1983 movie “Vacation.”
But would the Griswolds be inclined to stop in Pagosa if there were a chairlift, an alpine coaster and a tree-top zipline tour, which are among the roadside attractions planned by city officials at a community park called Reservoir Hill.
“It’s all about growing tourism in the community,” said Dave Mitchem, town manager. “It’s all about helping downtown businesses.” The town has more than 30 empty storefronts, he said.
The Durango Herald reports fears that a community park will be commercialized. Local resident Norm Vance predicted it would “destroy the ambiance of a nice, peaceful park to have mechanized and motorized amusement rides.”
The city owns the 110 acres and has a ski lift, which it dismantled and moved from an abandoned ski area elsewhere in Colorado. Total cost of creating the new amusement park would be $4.3 million, and city officials aren’t sure whether to form a public-private partnership to run the amusements or seek voter approval for an issuance of a bond.
The Herald notes that the local newspaper, the Pagosa Sun, has described the project as ill-conceived, unlikely to produce much revenue, and a misuse of public land. “Such amenities will not draw additional tourists here, nor will they keep tourists downtown,” the newspaper said.