By Allen Best
Expert: fewer ski expansions
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – Scott Fitzwilliams painted a picture of the White River National Forest with broad strokes when he met with representatives of Colorado ski towns last Friday in Glenwood Springs.
Fitzwilliams is supervisor of the White River, a national forest that includes 12 ski areas, from Arapahoe Basin to Aspen, from Keystone to Sunlight, and is one of the most heavily used in the United States for recreation.
It also features a rare amount of urban life along the forest boundaries. Vail, for example, is nearly encircled by forest lands, with many homes abutting the forests, even designated wilderness. In Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, 79 percent of land is administered by the federal government, most of it by the U. S. Forest Service. Summit County is close behind at 78 percent.
The broad sweeps that Fitzwilliams pointed to involve forest management, ski area expansion, and broader summer use of ski areas.
In the future, said Fitzwilliams, ski areas can expect to see more in-fill work and fewer large-scale terrain expansions. “Back in the day, a 400-acre expansion was nothing. Now, it’s a pretty big thing,” he said.
In recent months, Fitzwilliams approved a 550-area expansion at Breckenridge ski area, and a long-delayed 250-acre expansion at Snowmass is finally moving forward after a failed legal challenge posed by an opponent. Arapahoe Basin is also moving forward on planning for minor expansion.
The larger story now unfolding is greater summer use of ski hills. Previous legislation, adopted by Congress in the 1980s, gave the Forest Service limited authority to allow activities beyond skiing and other sliding sports. Even mountain bike trails were somewhat questionable.
Legislation adopted by Congress last year, and signed into law by President Obama, gives the Forest Service permission to allow a far broader swath of activities. All ski areas that operate on federal land – nearly all of them in the West – have indicated plans for ziplines and other summer-time attractions that have little or nothing to do with snow. But the law also specifically prohibits water parks or other overtly amusement park-type of activities.
But where do you draw the line. The three key criteria, said Fitzwilliams are:
• The activities must be directly connected to the outdoor world;
• The new activities must avoid what he called “kitsch.” “It’s poorly defined, I recognize that.”
• Messages at the new activities must inform visitors and users about natural resources.
If not necessarily the first out of the chute, perhaps the most closely watched will be Vail’s plan. Fitzwilliams has accepted the plan, meaning that the Forest Service generally agrees with the ideas, but will soon begin the process of public scoping, to see what a closer examination reveals.
More difficult is the potential for significant wildfires in national forests, particularly in areas close to settlements. In the early 1990s, there was significant opposition to any management that involved a chainsaw. That was true in Vail, but probably every other ski town. Now, as trees have died because of the bark beetle epidemic, there’s broader acceptance of management. But, from Fitzwilliams’ perspective, this is a problem that will take “decades and decades” to address.
Foresters are heartened by recent news that sawmills in Montrose, Colo., and Saratoga, Wyo., have or will soon be reopened, providing markets for trees. Also probable is a 11.5-megawatt electrical generating power plant at Gypsum. In addition, Fitzwilliams is intrigued by a process called biochar, which is being advocated by some renewable energy advocates as a way to sequester carbon. Some limited work is being done adjacent to the White River National Forest at Carbondale.
Whitefish primps for Bachelor
WHITEFISH, Mont. – Despite the confidentiality forms signed by all involved, it’s kind of hard to keep a secret when at least 500 locals were involved as extras, not to mention the 100 crew members brought in from out of town.
The secret in this case was that all the lollygagging around the downtown was for an installment of Bachelor, the television show. The segment will be broadcast in February.
The downtown was transformed into an idyllic, if somewhat contrived, mountain town setting, reports The Whitefish Pilot. Bright yellow aspen trees were brought in for color, and the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort in the background were lit up. And about 500 people showed up to watch the taping as the bachelor and his date sighed side by side.
Local and state tourism agencies spent $250,000 to lure and stage the event in Whitefish. A segment is to include scenery of nearby Glacier National Park. The gambit is that some of the expected 10 million viewers of the show will want to touch and feel Montana themselves, as has been the case when the bachelor of the day was wooed in South Africa and Tahiti.
Late French racer taught the stars
KETCHUM, Idaho – Ski racer and then ski instructor Emile Allais, who taught vacationing movie stars at Sun Valley in 1948-49, has died in France at the age of 100.
The Idaho Mountain Express notes that Allais was credited with pioneering a new style of ski racing, parallel skiing, in the 1930s. In 1934, he became the first French skier to win a major event, winning three races at Kitzbuhel, Austria.
In 1936, at the Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Germany, he won the bronze medal. He was congratulated by a German official. “He looked harmless enough,” said Allais of his encounter with Adolph Hitler. “When I realized later who he really was, it was a strange feeling.”
At Sun Valley, he taught movie stars Cary Grant and Brigitte Bardot, as well as film producer Darryl Zanuck. He went on to establish the Ecole de Ski Francais, the largest ski school in the world.
Despite suffering a broken shoulder when he was 90, he continued skiing until his late 90s.
Wolves and bears bite the bullets
JASPER, Alberta – Jogging on a trial near Jasper, a local man saw a female wolf dart out and attempt to snatch his border collie. The collie tore off, but got nipped once in the hind quarters before the jogger managed to secure the dog.
The wolf was later killed by wildlife officials, who had also killed a bear that had come to expect food with people. “We can’t have people’s safety compromised,” said Steve Melcome, wildlife conflict specialist for Jasper National park.
To the south in Banff National Park, a yearling male wolf was killed after finding an open gate through the fence that lines the TransCanada Highway. The pack that roams that area has now suffered four fatalities this year.
The Rocky Mountain Outlook says a database of carnivore mortality along the highway in Banff from 1970 to 2010 shows that fences have reduced the mortality for elk and other ungulates, but not so for wolves and grizzlies.
In Whistler, two black bears were shot and killed by conservation officers after run-ins with people. In one case, a man waiting for a bus had a bear snatch a loaf of bread from his hand. In the other case, reports Pique Newsmagazine, a bear was killed after it charged people, trying to force them to drop their groceries.
That brings the total of bears killed this year in Whistler to four, which is far less than in the several years previous, when up to 25 bears were killed for transgressions and another 25 bears were killed in traffic. The bear population, all black bears, is estimated at 40 to 50, compared to 100 at the high arc.