By Allen Best
Praying for change
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Praise be the groomers and snowmakers. That was the message in many ski resorts as a broad swath of the West continued to have marginal snow this past week.
“It looks like we’re in for a pattern change,” said Mike Chamberlain, who is with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, Colo. Chamberlain told the Steamboat Pilot of evidence that the ridge of high pressure that has kept snow mostly out the forecast for Steamboat – and many other resorts from Tahoe to Breckenridge – is starting to break down.
In Park City on Saturday, dancers from the Northern Ute Nation, which is headquartered nearby in Utah, conducted a snow-blessing ceremony. This came several days after the town council passed a resolution declaring teams from the Deer Valley and Park City ski areas the “greatest snowmakers and groomers on Earth.” It was, noted The Park Record, a play on the Utah ski industry’s marketing slogan of “The Greatest Snow on Earth.”
Idaho’s Bogus Basin remains closed – the latest ever in the 62-year history of the ski area just outside of Boise.
In California, there was so little snow in the Tahoe Basin that the Forest Service issued a distinctly unseasonal warning: fire danger.
“We are essentially back in fire season,” said Kit Bailey, Fire Chief of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
The Tahoe Daily Tribune noted that lack of snow had done tourism numbers no favors. One rental firm told the newspaper that only 40 percent of units were booked.
In Aspen, the ski company reports a maximum of 17,000 skiers per day in late December at its four resorts, compared to a historical record of 20,000. Vail Resorts, however, reported a 15 percent decline in skier numbers – with presumably a major portion of that hit coming from its two resorts at Lake Tahoe.
The flip side of this story is Whistler, which has received plenty of snow and enjoyed a particularly jovial Christmas. Some businesses reported unparalleled volume, with Europeans, Brits, Aussies and Americans visiting.
Public health skids
JACKSON, Wyo. – By the simple metric of average per-capita income, Wyoming’s Teton County is home to the nation’s 1 percent. Otherwise known as Jackson Hole, it annually leads or is among the top handful of counties in the nation by that measure of wealth.
But a new Community Health Assessment tells of another side to Jackson Hole. Reflecting effects of the recession and resulting unemployment, the report finds that Teton County’s poverty rate shot up from 4.4 percent to 9 percent, Food Stamp participation more than doubled, and the number of people without health insurance tripled to 30 percent.
“The lack of health insurance and unemployment are big health factors, because they lead to lots of stresses,” said Terri Gregory, Manager of Teton County Public Health.
Even so, Teton County has it better than most places. It leads Wyoming by the many metrics of public health, and Wyoming itself is statistically the 21st healthiest state in the nation.
Passive Energy looks to cut costs
KETCHUM, Idaho – Most people by now have heard of LEED-certified homes. Now comes an old idea: Passive Energy, which originated in the United States, was buffed up in Europe and has now returned to North America as a formal standard for reducing energy demands of homes and other buildings from outside sources.
The Passive Energy standard accomplishes this by improved energy systems within a building and also renewable energy.
The Idaho Mountain Express tells of a century-old farmhouse near Fairfield, a town south of Ketchum and Sun Valley. The revamped house has super-dense insulation, gas-filled windows, and a ground-based heat-exchange system.
Vic Weber, owner of the home and a consultant with expertise in passive home design, said he hopes these systems will reduce heating and cooling costs by 90 percent.
Standards for certification are set by the Illinois-based Passive House Institute.
Butte explores alternatives
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo.—Crested Butte Mountain Resort, thwarted in its plans to expand skiing onto Snodgrass Mountain in 2009, has gone back to the drawing board. The quest, as before, is to provide more ways to hold the interest of visitors for more than three or four days.
The latest sketch — it’s not really a plan yet — would yield two more lifts on the existing ski mountain, servicing 100 acres more of intermediate terrain, plus another 100 acres of extreme terrain. All of this would be intended to provide the sort of experience sometimes called backcountry lite or, alternatively, sidecountry.
As well, the resort is toying with the idea of a more easily accessible backcountry hut, suited to the skills of beginner and intermediate skiers, reports the Crested Butte News.
Whistler to bid for X Games
WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler is bidding for the rights to host the Winter X Games as ESPN begins expanding the competition. Aspen has been the winter venue for the last 11 years, now along with Tignes, France. Los Angeles is the site of the Summer X Games.
But beginning in 2013, ESPN plans to have six venues altogether around the world, three each in winter and summer. Whistler wants to be among the winter sites.
Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and Whistler Sports Legacies have submitted a bid to host the X Games during the April 10-13 timeslot in 2013. The partners are trying to raise $3.5 million. Whistler wants the event to be part of a broader, 10-day festival that would combine with the existing Telus Ski and Snowboard Festival, which has been held there for 17 years.
In Aspen, the X Games last year drew 114,000 people. Barrett Fisher, President of Tourism Whistler, recently told elected officials there that they think even more people can be drawn to Whistler. She estimated a $41.3 million economic impact to Whistler.
Aspen has hosted the event since 2002, and it has been negotiating with ESPN for the last year to extend the contract for another five years.
The Aspen Daily News reports the municipal government’s contribution has been $100,000, and it is considered a key part of the package.
This year’s event will be held at Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain from Jan. 26-29.