By Allen Best
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – Bones of ice-age behemoths continue to emerge from layers of peat and silt at a small reservoir being constructed near Snowmass Village.
As of last weekend, bones and tusks from at least four different mammoths had been identified after a bulldozer operator first noticed something unusual on Oct. 15. The tooth of a mastodon has also been recovered.
Both are rare. Just 103 bones of mammoths had been recovered in Colorado prior to the Snowmass discovery, and just three of those belonged to mastodons. Also rare is the elevation: 8,960 feet, the highest ever for the extinct ice-age species in Colorado.
The mammoths weighed up to 11 tons and stood 13 feet tall, or about 2 feet taller than elephants in Africa, and had pairs of spiraled tusks. All have been Columbian mammoths, which were somewhat taller than wooly mammoths, according to the Wikipedia entry. They were herbivores, eating grasses.
Mastodons looked somewhat similar, but were identified by teeth made for chewing leaves, twigs, and roots.
Both species largely disappeared from North America when the last ice age ended 10,000 years ago, although a few mammoths persisted in colder, isolated places as recently as 2,000 years ago. Scientists think the warmer climate plus hunting by humans, who are thought to have arrived in North America 14,000 years ago, caused the extinctions.
Because of the unusual soil composition – a deep layer of peat, sandwiched between silt and clay – the bones have not fossilized.
Expensive even with discount
ASPEN, Colo. – Prices may be down considerably, but some very high-end real estate continues to get sold in Aspen and Pitkin County. The Aspen Daily News reports a house has been sold for $31.5 million. That’s well below the list price of $60 million when it was completed in 2008 and also below the more recent list price of $47.5 million.
Still, that makes it the most expensive single-family home sales in Pitkin County this year, and one of the highest ever. The house being sold has nearly 15,000 square feet, not including a guest house and the eight-stall horse barn.
Vail makes further inroads
TRUCKEE, Calif. – Vail Resorts has added another ski area, Northstar-at-Tahoe, to its portfolio, paying $63 million. With this ski area, Vail now has four in Colorado, two in California, plus a lodging operation in Wyoming.
The purchase gives Vail Resorts an operating synergy in the Truckee-Lake Tahoe area in appealing to the 18 million residents of the Bay Area, located only three hours away.
As it has done in Colorado, Vail Resorts offers its Epic Pass for the two California resorts it owns plus another one, Sierra-at-Tahoe. The primary competition for these new linked arms is Squaw Valley.
In all this, California almost seems a colony of Vail. Northstar-at-Tahoe was previously operated by Booth Creek Ski Holdings, a company based in Vail, Colo. Sierra-at-Tahoe still is.
The largest real estate developer also comes from the Vail area. East West Partners has 1,000 housing units planned, and after finding a new financing partner, managing director Harry Frampton tells the Vail Daily that he believes that the partnership with Vail Resorts will now take Northstar to a “higher level.”
WHISTLER, B.C. – Vail Resorts talked about buying part of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area last year, but couldn’t cut a deal with the owner, Intrawest and its parent company of Fortress.
Now, majority ownership of the ski area is available through a public stock offering called an IPO as Fortress tries to soothe the pain of its ill-advised debt of $1.5 billion incurred in 2006, at the height of the real estate boom at Intrawest’s various resorts.
With the IPO, Fortress hopes to raise $300 million. But Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine reports that at least some stock analysts are discouraging investors.
The rap on buying stock in Whistler? It’s a profitable resort – but with not much potential for growth. There’s no real estate to develop, and the ski market isn’t growing like gangbusters.
Telluride pushes new terrain
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Telluride continues to gently push for terrain expansion, this time into an area called Delta Bowl, in the Bear Creek drainage. The Telluride Watch reports that the ski area operator, Telluride Ski and Golf Co., has included a thumbs-up, thumbs-down type question in its online survey.
There’s a fly in the ointment of this expansion plan, however, in the form of an old mining claim. Thomas Chapman bought the claim earlier this year and made it known that he wasn’t going to allow skiing on his property.
Chapman emphasized his point again, insisting that lift-aided skiing operations will inevitably cause people to cross his property, creating a liability issue.
Resort valleys push upgrades
HAILEY, Idaho – Communities in ski towns and mountain valleys across the West continue to ratchet up expectations for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Hailey, located down-valley from the Idaho resort towns of Sun Valley and Ketchum, has adopted voluntary green-building codes for new homes and remodels.
The recommended upgrades in Hailey would advance conservation and other efficiencies by 10 percent beyond those mandated by the new 2009 International Building Code now being adopted by municipalities and counties.
Hewing to the recommendations would increase the cost of a $300,000 home by $12,000, planners say. But that investment can be recouped within nine years because of lower energy costs.
Is adhering to this recommended code practical? The Idaho Mountain Express consulted one architect, who sees it as cumbersome. Another local architect described it as a “small baby step” that still falls far short of what needs to be done.
Locator devices gain footing
VAIL, Colo. – A backpacker from Chicago named James Nelson chose to forego any possible communication when he set out on a 31-mile circumnavigation of Mount of the Holy Cross. From conversations with other backpackers in Chicago, he seems to have deliberately chosen not to carry a device called a personal locator beacon, or PLB.
Whatever happened to him, nobody knows. Possibly, had he carried a PLB, the story might have been different.
The devices, first authorized in the United States in 2003, have started to become more popular among outdoorsmen, reports the Denver Post.
One outdoorsman compares the devices to the compass. “That not only allowed people to be able to navigate where they couldn’t, but probably also caused a lot of people to get lost because they overstepped their bounds,” author Mark Scott-Nash, author of “Colorado 14er Disasters,” tells the newspaper.
Indicative of the trend is the thinking of Andrew Skurka, a solo adventurer who was named one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year. “Originally, I wanted nothing to do with it,” he says. But now, he seems to have changed his mind. “You want to get home,” he said.