By Allen Best
Nev., Calif. split on Twain camp
LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev. – As a young man, Mark Twain traveled to the Sierra Nevada and briefly had ambitions of becoming a logger. In “Roughing It,” his masterful travelogue of his journeys, Twain — his given name was Samuel Clemens — later wrote about traveling to Lake Tahoe and camping out on a giant granite boulder.
But where exactly was that boulder? The Sierra Sun reports that history buffs continue to argue about the precise site. Some say it was in Nevada, while others insist it was in California.
A proposal has been made to name a site near Incline Village, on the lake’s northeast shore, the Sam Clemens Cove. This is in Nevada. Supporters point out that Twain wrote about a “huge flat granite dining table,” and they can point to just such a granite boulder – if it is now six feet underwater much of the year, due to a more recent dam erected on the lake that has raised the water level.
But historical researcher David Antonucci tells the newspaper that this claim is balderdash. “It’s a situation where Nevada wants to claim that Mark Twain was there, which would make them like any chamber of commerce,” he said. “I guess they would have a hard time accepting that he camped in California.”
Visitor surge: optimism abounds
PARK CITY, Utah – Optimism about increased tourism this summer prevails in Park City. Hoteliers tell the Park Record that they expect 20 to 25 percent gains this summer in occupancy compared to last summer. But as has been the case during ski season, flat or lower rates will be necessary to achieve this.
Ralf Garrison, of the Mountain Travel Research Program, predicts an even more robust summer, with gains of 40 percent in July and August as compared to 2009. Increased occupancy, he says, may also allow rates to rise again.
Garrison reported that occupancy in March this year at Western ski resorts was up 9.6 percent. Of course, room rates had dropped.
Jobless rate spikes in Jackson
JACKSON, Wyo. – The unemployment trough of the current recession was two to three times as deep in Jackson Hole as the downturn following the dot.com bust and the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Unemployment peaked at 11.7 percent last November in Teton County, which is roughly the same as Jackson Hole. Since then, that number has receded, but part of it is a matter of unemployment benefits running out, explains the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Still, judging from the number of classified ads for workers in the newspaper, the economy seems to be tepidly recovering.
At the peak, about 1,200 people from the accommodations and food services sector were getting unemployment benefits, and 580 from the construction trades.
New snowmobiles louder, dirtier
JACKSON, Wyo. – It’s widely thought that the newest snowmobiles were quieter and less polluting. But a handful of environmental groups that monitor snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park say the new models actually pollute more and are louder than those produced in 2004.
No explanation was given for this counter-intuitive trend, although larger engine size would seem to be the causative factor. But the environmental groups used the discovery to stress their belief that travel should be restricted to snow coaches. Jack Welch, special projects coordinator for the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a snowmobile advocacy group, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that the newest snowmobiles still meet standards set up for use in Yellowstone.
Real estate prices off 20-40%
ASPEN, Colo. – A new report by the Aspen Appraisal Group documents a 20 to 40 percent tumble in real estate values since they peaked in 2007, and also shows a similar decrease in rents for commercial spaces.
The top-end market has been in rough shape, with just three sales of houses priced higher than $20 million in 2008 and 2009. Doing somewhat better are well-located homes in the $9 million to $15 million category.
Commercial space has an 8 percent vacancy rate, high enough that national retailers have been showing an interest, wrote Randy Gold, a principal in the firm. He said it’s a good time to acquire Aspen-area real estate, provided the buyer can afford to hold onto the property for at least five years.
Intrawest debt gets elbow room
WHISTLER, B.C. – Intrawest now has some breathing room. The Vancouver-based owner of Colorado’s Steamboat ski area and majority owner of Whistler-Blackcomb announced last week that it has paid off creditors and now has a new loan that won’t be due until 2014.
But Pique Newsmagazine reports that a well-placed source says that the company may continue to jettison some of its properties, which also include Stratton Mountain in Vermont and Mont Tremblant in Quebec. As well, Intrawest may be interested in selling a greater portion of its share in Whistler to Nippon Cable, a Japanese company that owns 23 percent of the resort.
Fortress Investment Group bought Intrawest in 2006 in a highly-leveraged deal. Fortress, a hedge fund, put up $1.375 billion of its own money, but took on $1.5 billion of debt. When the recession struck, killing real estate sales and slowing resort operations, Intrawest struggled to produce revenues sufficient to pay creditors.
Intrawest sold several ski areas, and reports surfaced in January of a potential auction of debt in conjunction with the Olympics. But that auction, which appeared to be aimed mostly at generating publicity, never occurred. Even at the time, well-placed sources told Mountain Town News that creditors almost certainly would agree to a restructured loan.
Immigration reform quandary
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – Edgar Niebla’s story illustrates the profound difficulties of the U.S. debate about immigration. Niebla, 27, arrived in the United States illegally when he was 7.
After graduating from a high school in the Aspen area, he recently completed his law-enforcement training at the Colorado Mountain College police academy. Ironically, he was arrested last week and taken to metropolitan Denver. Just as surprising, he was then released instead of being put on a bus to return him to Mexico.
“Edgar is the poster child for national immigration reform,” said Brendan Greene, a regional organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. “He’s well known and respected throughout the (Roaring Fork) Valley, and even the whole state. He’s a church youth group leader and has been working to become a police officer.”
At a rally held in his support, a police academy instructor named John Goodwin spoke. “Edgar is a good student who became a good friend. To send him to Mexico would be like sending him to the moon. He’s not from Mexico; he’s an American.”