By Allen Best
Should river be Disneyfied?
BUENA VISTA, Colo. – What’s fair? That has long been the question in outdoor pursuits. Mountain bikes in wilderness areas? Permanent bolts on race faces to improve safety?
Most people that climb Mt. Everest use supplemental oxygen. But Reinhold Messner, the famous Italian mountain climber, championed what he called “by fair means,” twice summiting the mountain without oxygen.
Now, that same question is being asked in connection with a hidden but dangerous water feature in Colorado’s Arkansas River. The Summit Daily News explains that at higher volumes of water, the obstruction called Frog Rock gets washed out, posing no threat. But at flows below 1,000 cubic feet per second, as are common in late summer, an underwater sieve becomes dangerous.
Several people died there a decade ago, so river rangers posted signs alerting rafting guides how to avoid trouble. They thought they had taken care of the problem. But again this summer, a 23-year-old rafting guide from Breckenridge died. Her body still has not been recovered and is believed to be lodged within the underwater rocks.
Should the rocks in the river be rearranged to gut the danger? The Daily News reports support for the change, but also opposition.
“How many people have fallen off one of the climbing faces at Rocky Mountain National Park or Yosemite?” asked Stew Pappenfort, senior ranger in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. He said the general opinion in the rafting industry is that “we don’t take wild places and turn them into Disneyland scenarios.”
Aspen finds it hard to shrink C02
ASPEN, Colo. – Often lauded for its environmental activism, the Aspen Skiing Co. continues to struggle to reduce its carbon emissions at its four ski areas and other properties.
In an extraordinarily blunt self-assessment, the company’s new sustainability report asks whether it is succeeding. In a terse front-page statement, the company says: “Not yet.”
Aspen Skiing aims to reduce its carbon emission 10 percent by 2012 from its 2000 baseline. As of last year, it had pared 4.1 percent.
Why all the difficulty? After all, hasn’t Aspen been at this for awhile?
In short, the company’s operations have been growing. Snowmaking, which is very energy intensive, has expanded. Summer business has grown. And reducing energy use, particularly on existing operations commonly requires substantial capital investment.
For example, Schendler said one way Aspen can shrink its carbon footprint is replacing all the boilers used in the Little Nell Hotel. That would take a $500,000 investment.
Another major problem for Aspen Skiing is that it buys most of its power from Holy Cross Energy, the local electrical cooperative, which also supplies the Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas.
Holy Cross Energy is an owner of the new Comanche 3 power plant, Colorado’s largest. Schendler tells Colorado Biz Magazine that Comanche 3 “takes us in the wrong direction” because it will increase the carbon intensity of Aspen’s energy.
Del Worley, the co-op’s general manager, defends the $110 million investment in the $1.3 billion plant, claiming it will save Holy Cross between $100 million and $400 million over the next 30 years.
Ketchum won’t ask for added tax
KETCHUM, Idaho – Unlike several other mountain resort towns in the West, voters in Ketchum won’t be asked at the November elections for an increase in the lodging sales tax.
The town, located at the base of the Sun Valley ski area, currently levies 2 percent. Two other local towns, Hailey and Sun Valley, levy 3 percent.
Elsewhere in the West, officials in Aspen and Breckenridge, both in Colorado, and Jackson/Teton County, in Wyoming, are being asked to ratchet up the lodging tax, with the proceeds going primarily to enhanced tourism promotion.
Spec house rises from ashes
HAILEY, Idaho – Going against the grain, a real estate agent and builder in the Ketchum/Sun Valley resort market have teamed up to build a spec house. The house is priced at $825,000.
“Of course, people think we’re nuts,” real estate agent Kris Halley told the Idaho Mountain Express. “But sometimes the best thing to do is what no one else is doing.”
Just 81 houses were sold in the Wood River Valley during the three months of summer this year, same as last year — and paltry compared to the 251 home average during the last decade. The average sales price this year rose slightly, but the number of foreclosures in Blaine County quadrupled.
St. Regis to be sold, updated
ASPEN, Colo. – Another hotel upgrade is on the way in Aspen. The 179-room St. Regis Aspen will be sold by Starwood Hotels and Resorts to a Thailand-based investor, OptAsia Capital Co. The Aspen Times reported a purchase price of $70 million.
The buyer has agreed to a $30 million renovation of the rooms. With conference, ballroom and other venues, the property has 24,000 square feet. Starwood will continue to manage the hotel.
The Times notes that this will be the third major hotel renovation in Aspen in recent years. The Aspen Skiing Co. spent $18 million to renovate rooms at the Little Nell Hotel last year. And the owners of the Hotel Jerome have been authorized to spend between $45 million and $50 million, although that project is on hold.
As for the sales price, sources told the Times that the St. Regis sale was not made under distress, although the recession did affect the sales price to some degree. For the record, the price was $391,000 per room for the property, located at the base of the ski mountain.
Jackson hotel faces foreclosure
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – The real estate fallout continues in Jackson Hole. There, at the base of the ski area by the same name, steps have been taken to foreclose on a hotel, the Inn at Jackson Hole, because of $17.6 million in unpaid debt to Wells Fargo.
This is the third high-profile, multimillion-dollar property to face financial troubles in the last two years at the base of the ski area. The other two, however, are lots where hotels were planned, notes the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
The Inn at Jackson Hole was developed in the late 1960s, one of the first properties at the ski area. It remains a mid-range property. But plans had been formulated to raze the property and replace it with a condo-hotel.