Mountain Town News: A roundup of news from other ski resort communities |

Mountain Town News: A roundup of news from other ski resort communities

Aspen Skiing buying tiny houses, health care in Jackson has pros and cons

Aspen Skiing buying 34 more tiny houses

ASPEN, Colo. — After a winter of experimentation with six tiny houses, the Aspen Skiing Co. is ready to commit to 34 more in an effort to quickly deliver more employee housing.

The first six “trailer coaches” consist of 300 square feet of floor living space and 200 square feet of sleeping lofts. That’s large enough for two seasonal employees.

The new units will be large enough for three people, with 400 square feet of floor space plus 300 square feet of sleeping lofts.

The units are located at a former KOA campground in Basalt, located 18 miles downvalley from Aspen. The ski company bought the campground several years ago but has permitted campers to rent spaces.

In theory, the new units will accommodate an additional 102 seasonal workers, reports the Aspen Times. They will cost about $100,000 each, or about the same as the first units.

Aspen Skiing has more than 600 beds for employees but estimated the shortage going into this past winter at 600 beds.

In Steamboat Springs, there is also talk of tiny houses. Steamboat Today reports that a tiny home development is being researched by a would-be developer, but at Yampa, located 40 miles away on the road toward Vail, the plans seem to be more firm. There, a developer is said to be proposing more than 50 tiny homes.

Are tiny homes an answer in mountain ski towns scrunched by a lack of affordable digs?

No, says Melanie Rees, a Colorado-based affordable housing consultant who works in many ski towns of the West. They provide “a quick, mobile response to an immediate need,” Rees tells Mountain Town News, but fall short of a permanent solution.

Cost of land is the big issue, she explains. Tiny homes rise no more than one-and-a-half stories.
That allows about eight units per acre. Given the price of land, there should be 26 units or more in taller buildings serviced by elevators and, perhaps, with underground parking.

She cites the Pine Wood Village II in Breckenridge, which has 45 studio and one-bedroom apartments set aside for low-income, long-term renters. It’s set on 2.9 acres of land.

“My guess is that they won’t be here for long before somebody figures out a higher and better use” of the land, says Rees of the tiny houses in Basalt.

That is exactly the plan, says Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Co.

“It is something that we can do and implement almost immediately. We will have these homes ready for this fall, and there’s no way we could possibly build another project out that quickly,” he says. “There are some things we’re looking at, but we’re not there yet.”

Rees says tiny homes are essentially mobile homes, but smaller and with higher quality materials. They have been pressed into service in the oil fields of North Dakota and Louisiana.

She says tiny homes do illustrate how to more efficiently apportion interior space, to create smaller units that are still very livable.

Local pushback to Trump review of new monument

TAOS, N.M. — The Rio Grande Gorge is a giant chasm carved by the Rio Grande. Located about 20 miles north of Taos Ski Valley, it’s a canyon renowned by fisherman and prized for its solitude.

Those qualities led former President Barack Obama in 2013 to designate the gorge as a national monument. In taking that action, Obama used authority vested in presidents under the Antiquities Act passed by Congress in 1906. The law authorizes protection of “objects of historic and scientific interest.” Using this law, a president can quickly create a monument. A national park designation requires the more drawn-out approval of Congress.

Grand Teton, Zion, the Grand Canyon, and Mt. Olympus were all originally monuments that Congress later designated as national parks, in the latter case as Olympic National Park. That conversion has also occurred more recently in Colorado at the Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

But Utah politicians complained that Obama over-stepped his authority in creating the 1.3-million acre Bears Ears National Monument in the latter days of his presidency. They still remain angry over President Bill Clinton’s designation of the even larger Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1995.

In response, President Donald Trump has vowed scrutiny of all national monument designations. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, speaking with reporters on Sunday in Salt Lake City, promised an open mind but suggested he might recommend resizing some monuments.

In Taos, the new scrutiny has ruffled local feathers, reports the Taos News.

“The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is sacred to many people, including my people of Taos Pueblo,” said Taos Pueblo War Chief Curtis Sandoval.

Erick Schlenker-Goodrich, of the Western Environmental Law Center, told the newspaper that Trump and Zinke are “walking into a political and legal minefield if they think they can revoke or alter national monument designations.”

He said the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and other designations “enjoy deep and expansive support from a broad spectrum of the community.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1920 backed the creation of a national monument at the Grand Canyon, and in 1936 adopted the same reasoning for designation of a national monument in Nevada. The court, says Wikipedia, has ruled that the Antiquities Act gives the president nearly unfettered discretion as to the nature of the object to be protected and the size of the area reserved.

Who would you call the Walmarts of skiing?

SILVERTON, Colo. — Who’s the Walmart of skiing?

From the vantage point of Silverton, deep in the San Juan Mountains, Aaron Brill says he’s competing with the “mega ski corporations of Vail and KSL, which have become the Walmarts of skiing.” They’re making it harder for independent ski areas to survive, he tells the Durango Herald.

Brill made the comments after he and his wife, Jenny Brill, got permission from the Bureau of Land Management to use 16,250 acres for helicopter skiing. The company gave up the rights to 5,556 acres. They now have 25,000 acres of helicopter ski terrain around Silverton.

The Brills said they wanted to swap acreages because their existing terrain was high elevation and avalanche prone. In return, they are getting lower elevation areas with less risk of avalanche.

The Herald says that 85 percent of those commenting on the proposed swap were opposed for various reasons. Some worried that Silverton Mountain’s helicopter skiing operation was encroaching on their backcountry haunts or invading their peace and quiet.

The health pluses and minuses of a ski town

JACKSON, Wyo. — When it comes to health, living in Jackson Hole has both pluses and minuses.

Just 4 percent of residents suffer from asthma, compared to 9 percent in the United States. Dr. Travis Riddell, the Teton County public health officer, says the low rate is probably the result of circumstance rather than anything that was done locally.

“The main thing that drives that difference is air quality. We just live in a region where we’re blessed with very clean air.”

New York, Massachusetts, Ohio and Washington, D.C., have asthma rates of 11 to 12 percent.

Low humidity also helps. Newer housing stock also helps explain the lower asthma rates, as older homes tend to have more mold.

Skin damage, however, is more prevalent in Jackson Hole.

“We see so much more skin cancer than anywhere else I’ve ever worked in my life,” said Robin Sproule, a certified physician’s assistant at Western Wyoming Dermatology and Surgery.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that one in five Americans will develop skin cancers in the course of a lifetime and nearly 50 percent who live to 65 will have at least one bout with skin cancer.

At higher elevations, with less atmosphere to deflect ultraviolet rays, the risk is higher. The elevation of Jackson, the valley’s only town, is 6,200 feet.

“We are at a very high elevation, and people in the valley spend a lot of time outdoors,” Sproule told the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

She urges those spending time outdoors to slather on the sunscreen as if painting a house. “Put on two layers because you may have missed a spot,” says Sproule. She advises SPF 15 or higher and reapplying the screen every two hours. Also, ditch the bottles that are two years or older.

California takes action even as sea levels rise

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In many ways, California has been driving U.S. action on climate change. It has an economy that is said to be the sixth largest in the world. There are ripples across the United States when it orders manufacturers to comply with new energy efficiency or demands that electrical utilities increase energy storage.

Already, the state mandates that utilities must generate half of their power through solar and other renewable energy sources by 2030, one of the most aggressive timetables in the nation, notes the Sacramento Bee.

Now the leader of the California Senate is pushing a plan for utilities to go completely renewable by 2045.

Is it workable? Pacific Gas and Electric generated nearly 33 percent of its power last year from renewables. But energy economist Severin Borenstein of the University of California at Berkeley said it’s unclear if California’s power can sever itself completely from fossil fuels.

If 100 percent renewables remains uncertain, says the Bee, California officials are clearly galvanized by the idea of thumbing their noses at the Trump administration when it comes to energy, the environment, and climate change.

But there’s also new evidence that California will be threatened in this century by rising oceans. Ice sheets in Antarctica, which holds nearly 90 percent of the world’s ice, have been melting more rapidly, reports the Associated Press.

In the best-case scenario, waters in San Francisco Bay will likely rise between 1 foot and 2.4 feet (one-third to three-fourths of a meter) by century’s end, according to California’s Ocean Protection Council.

That’s only if the world cracks down on climate-changing emission from burning fossil fuels.

The worst case? Imagine the glaciers melting even more rapidly, raising sea level 10 feet by 2100.

That’s 83 years from now. Seems like a long time, but consider that Sun Valley, which launched the beginning of the modern ski era in the United States, opened 81 years ago.

Half of short-term rentals unlicensed

VAIL, Colo. — Vail’s town council will probably enact new regulations governing property owners who use Internet services like Airbnb to rent their condos, townhomes and other units for short-term rentals.

Some towns have taken stern measures, including steep fees and inspections, reports the Vail Daily. Others, including Vail, have used a lighter hand. More than half of units used for short-term rentals aren’t licensed.

That estimate was delivered by Destimetrics working with RRC Associates. The companies report that some resort towns, including Jackson, Wyoming, require not just business and sales tax licenses, but also mandate owners have units inspected by the local fire departments.

Durango, Colorado, and South Lake Tahoe, Nevada, have the most aggressive regulations among those towns that were studied.

The study for Vail was instigated after a group of lodging managers in 2015 came to the council with a list of recommended regulations that included licensing and inspections for both safety and guest quality.

One less reason to drive I-70 to Denver to shop

DILLON, Colo. — With yet another major retail store, there’s less reason for people in Summit County or other Western Slope counties to travel across the Continental Divide to Denver. The latest opening is the REI Co-op. The chain was founded in 1938 in Seattle, and every store has operated as a co-op since then, the Summit Daily News explains. If business model remains the same, the company recently decided to restore the co-op into the brand name.

Allen Best has edited mountain town newspapers for 20 years. He has served as managing editor at four different mountain town newspapers and is now living in metropolitan Denver. Visit for more information.

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