By Allen Best
Breaking the $100 barrier
ASPEN, Colo. – Quietly this winter, a milestone was surpassed in the ski industry. Two ski areas have now charged more than $100 per day for lift tickets.
Vail was the first, during the Christmas holidays, charging $108. Then, on the Presidents’ Day Weekend, Aspen came in with a $104 price.
“It’s been looming there for a long time,” David Perry, senior vice president of the Aspen Skiing Co., referring to the $100 threshold. “Had the recession not occurred, the barrier would have been cracked more rapidly,” he told The Aspen Times.
“The price increase has garnered little media attention and ‘not one negative guest comment,” Perry said.
But the Aspen Times does note that there had been an uproar in 1987 when the company announced an increase to $35 a day. By at least one measure, inflation would have turned that to not quite $68 today.
How many skiers will actually pay the $104 price at Aspen? In the past, walk-up lift-ticket sales have accounted for 10 percent at Aspen, Perry explains, but the company’s evolving pricing structures encourage multi-day ticket packages purchased in advance at discounted rates.
Deep snow claims more victims
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Another person has died in non-avalanche deep snow this winter, this time at Howelsen Hill, the small ski area in Steamboat Springs. That brings the total to either 6 or 7 in the United States, depending upon what the melting snow ultimately reveals in the case of a missing skier at Washington state’s Crystal Mountain.
In the latest case, Cooper Larsh, 19, capped off a day at Steamboat ski area by exploring the smaller and older Howelsen Hill, a ski area close to downtown Steamboat Springs. It has night skiing, but after he failed to show up at the bottom of the ski area at closing time, 8 p.m., a companion notified authorities.
The victim was discovered 90 minutes later buried headfirst in deep snow outside the ski area. “What it looked like to me is he hit a bump, went airborne, landed, hit another bump, ejected from his skis, went airborne, and went headfirst into a snowbank,” Steamboat Springs Police Department detective Nick Bosick told the Steamboat Pilot & Today. “It’s an unfortunate accident.”
In Washington, a skier disappeared on March 1 at Crystal Mountain, and ski patrol director Paul Baugher believes the individual got buried in a tree well. “We searched this place with a fine-toothed comb,” he said, but noted that the snow was 10 feet at the time, and had since deepened by two more feet.
Snowboarders are no more vulnerable than skiers, despite the absence of releasable bindings. Four of the 7 presumed victims this winter have been on skis. “It’s really not about their feet,” says Baugher. “It’s that their feet are up in the air and they can’t get to them. They’re compromised no matter what they have on their feet.”
In most cases, victims get hung up in tree wells, which can be virtually impossible to escape.
Avy signs at Sun Valley exits
KETCHUM, Idaho – New signs warning skiers of potential avalanche risk beyond the boundary ropes are being erected atop Sun Valley’s Seattle Ridge and Bald Mountain.
“Anyone getting off the lifts and going out of bounds should be able to see them,” said Chris Lundry, executive director of the Sawtooth National Avalanche Center.
The concern, reports the Idaho Mountain Express, is whether the signs will be effective in deterring inexperienced or unprepared skiers. Many local skiers are savvy to the avalanche risk that will be posted.
Slush turns happy to grumpy
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte got cabin-fever growly in mid-March after extended days of warmer weather turned side streets into car-swallowing marshes of partially melted snow.
Unlike the more affluent, polished resorts, Crested Butte allows packed snow to build on some of its less-traveled parts of town in big snow years, as this has been. In late February, normally the time when winter begins loosening its grip, town crews begin “peeling” back the snow.
But during this peeling, town crews got hit by another big storm, officials tell the Crested Butte News, and then got diverted by need to import snow into a downtown celebration for a special event. So, when spring temperatures suddenly arrived, remaining snow on side streets turned to slush, becoming impassable to buses, tourists and delivery trucks.
There was plenty of concern, some of it markedly annoyed. Town manager Susan Parker reported getting more than 70 phone calls, and expected more. “No one is very happy, and we understand. We are as frustrated as everyone else.”
“The reality is, we are a town located at 9,000 feet, and sometimes it snows a lot. This is one of those years. It’s life,” said Chris Larsen, director of the local bus agency, Mountain Express.
Hispanics drive resort growth
TRUCKEE, Calif. – In ski towns and mountain valleys, the growth of Hispanic population was notable during the last decade.
In Truckee, the number of Hispanics went from 13 percent of the population a decade ago to nearly 19 percent in the last census.
In Idaho, the number of Hispanics more than doubled in Blaine County, and they now constitute 20 percent of the county’s total population. But there was also a shift in that the two upper-valley towns, Ketchum and Sun Valley, lost population, while the three lower-valley towns all gained population. By far the largest town in the vicinity is Hailey, which grew 28 percent during the last decade. It is also the county seat.