By Allen Best
Backcountry beef burrito
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – A remarkable story comes out of Gunnison County, where a quartet of backcountry skiers were astonished to find a several cattle at 11,400 feet on a ridge northwest of Crested Butte.
The ridge sits 2,500 vertical feet above the valley floor and has a pitch of at least 40 degrees. One of the skiers, Billy Laird, described the ridge a “gnarly skinner for experienced backcountry skiers. It’s (colloquially) called Heart Attack Ridge for a reason.”
The cattle had apparently avoided detection when cowboys last fall herded cattle from high-country grazing. Something similar had happened the year before, when 11 cattle ended up at treeline near Conundrum Hot Springs, near the top of the Elk Range between Aspen and Crested Butte. All of those cattle perished.
In this case, the skiers used a cell phone to inquire if any local ranchers had missing cattle in that area. By the time they had skied down the slope, they had the answer – and the rancher was very appreciative of their offer to try to herd the cattle off the ridge.
Easier said than done, as reported by the Crested Butte News and Gunnison Country Times. Skinning back to the ridge, they found one cow that seemed dead and two buried in snow but still alive. The two living animals, one a yearling bull and the other a heifer – refused to wade through the snow.
Returning the next morning, this time with several more backcountry skiers, they wrangled the bull and heifer, put stuff sacks over their heads, with slits for breathing, hog-tied their legs and rolled them into tarps, which they tightened with ratchet straps, creating what the Times calls a “bovine burrito.”
Because of the steepness of the slope, they were able to slide the cattle, which weighed 300 to 500 pounds, down to the valley floor.
There, the bull breathed his last. He was butchered by the skiers, some of whom are hunters. As for the heifer, she was treated to hay, warm water and supplemental heat and, the rancher hopes, will live to create more cattle.
Banff considers limits on chains
BANFF, Alberta – Banff is gearing up for a major discussion about whether to limit the number of franchise stores, sometimes called chains. A study commissioned by the Banff Lake Louise Hotel Motel Association finds that limiting the number of chain stores in Banff would pose a “clear threat to economic prosperity.”
Vancouver-based Vann Struth Consulting Group reports that while 20 communities in the United States restrict formula restaurants and retail stores, the context is very different. Those other places have higher incomes, and an older age profile, and less reliance on the local tourist sector. Also, there is easier access to a full range of shopping and dining options in nearby communities than exist as alternatives in Banff, where the nearest community, Canmore, is 12 miles away.
Proponents of a cap on franchise businesses say that Banff should maintain a unique experience. The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that they have hired their own consultant, Howard J. Kozloff, who runs a real estate investment, development and advisory company based in New York City
Banff has a number of chain stores, such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Safeway, but one business, a family owned bookstore of 43 years, went out of business after a chain store arrived. Arrival of chain business David’s Tea has spurred concerns about the viability of the locally owned Banff Tea Company.
Ski towns vie for X rating
ASPEN, Colo. – With snowmobiles doing flips and up to 20,000 younger people at the base of the Buttermilk ski area, Aspen this weekend is opposite to its image as a slightly-stodgy resort for the worlds’ über-elites.
But then that’s the point of the X Games. To stay current, and not slip too far into stodginess, Aspen has been willing to invest in hosting an event that may not truly pay dividends for some years to come.
So are other resorts. ESPN, the owner of the event, announced this past week that Park City, in Utah, Quebec City, in Quebec, and Heavenly and Squaw Valley, in the Lake Tahoe Basin of California and Nevada, were all in the running to host the event after Aspen’s contract runs out in 2014.
Aspen last year upped the ante, with local governments and other organizations boosting their contributions to $545,000. Aspen Skiing Co. remains the primary host, but has not publicly disclosed its full package.
One curious footnote from the Lake Tahoe bid is that two ski company rivals, Vail Resorts, which owns Heavenly, and KSL Capital Partners, which owns Squaw Valley, are teaming up.
Is Chapman bluffing?
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Heartburn has returned to Telluride, this time courtesy of a familiar figure in backcountry land issues.
Tom Chapman, an attorney, has made a career out of buying old mining parcels deep within wilderness areas or other public tracts in Colorado and then threatening to develop them. A few times, he has engineered the cheap land parcels into substantial land exchanges, in one case in the 1990s leveraging land – and a bluff – in the West Elk Wilderness near Paonia into attractive developable land near Telluride.
In 2010, Chapman bought three old mining claims in the Bear Creek drainage, which is adjacent to the Telluride ski area, and long a favorite haunt of Telluride’s elite skiers.
Now, Chapman has applied to the U.S. Forest Service for a permit to create a new ski area. The plan calls for 1,300 acres of hike-to and perhaps helicopter skiing in one of the highest bowls in the Rocky Mountains. The highest elevation would be 13,555 feet, and the lowest 11,562 feet, at the mining claims. He promises to control it for avalanches.
As before, he claims that his strategy is to protect his private property interest. But his history is one of trying to leverage real money from the relatively inexpensive purchase of the mining claims.
China skiing like U.S. in the ‘60s
ASPEN, Colo. – It’s been a tough year for merchants of ski clothes and other accessories. Klaus Obermeyer, the patriarch of the sector, tells The Aspen Times that sales for his company, Sport Obermeyer, were down 7 percent, but it could have been worse. Because of the drought last year, the skiwear industry overall was down about 20 percent.
Obermeyer started his business in 1947, while teaching skiing on Aspen Mountain. He remains active running the company and tells the Times that the hard times have made his company better. As for the future, he sees China evolving into an emerging market because of ski areas being developed there.
“Skiing there is like it was here in the ‘60s,” he said.
Many of Colorado’s ski areas – including Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Vail and Steamboat – opened in the 1960s, as did Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee in the Tetons and dozens more ski areas across the West. Further, many of them enjoyed 10 percent or more growth rates for 10 to 20 years.