Mountain Town News: Alterra invests in Winter Park, Aspen hosts Trump drama | ParkRecord.com

Mountain Town News: Alterra invests in Winter Park, Aspen hosts Trump drama

Allen BEst
Mountain Town News

Alterra putting biggest bucks into upgrades of Winter Park

WINTER PARK, Colo. – Alterra Mountain Co. is putting $28.2 million into improvements this summer at the Winter Park Resort, a ski area located 68 miles northwest of Denver.

The Zephyr, the four-passenger high-speed lift installed in 1990, is being replaced by a 10-person gondola. It will be able to upload up to 6,600 passengers per hour and will, reports the Sky-Hi News, reduce wait time by 15 minutes during peak season. Also being upgraded is the snowmaking system, which had been in place for 42 years.

Aspen security conference makes the national news

ASPEN, Colo. – Conferences rarely generate genuine news. The Aspen Security Forum last week was different. Many top U.S. security officials in the Trump administration were there, just days after President Donald Trump had been making news with his slap-downs of traditional U.S. allies and his chumminess with Vladimir Putin.

On Thursday, the conference made the top-right corner of the New York Times when Dan Coates, the director of national intelligence for Trump, was asked his reaction to news that the White House had announced plans to invite Putin to Washington.

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"Say that again?" Coates asked Andrea Mitchell of NBC, the event moderator, before uttering what the Times described as an exaggerated and drawn-out, "O.K." He then added: "That is going to be special."

Other news was generated through the week at the conference. Credentialed news media get in free, although passes for others cost $1,300 and $1,700.

In Idaho, it works differently at Sun Valley, site of the annual Allen & Co. gathering. Reporters and everybody else must stay outside as people with familiar names – and their own private jets – chummed it up inside and talked about deals.

The Idaho Mountain Express reported that one enterprising local hung around a deli shop in hopes of being able to press a water filtration and dispenser prototype into the hands of somebody famous and with money.

Last year he succeeded with that tactic in meeting Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple. This year he struck luck again, being able to temporarily have a quick elevator-type conversation with Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook.

Nothing came from the conversation with Cook, and the local guy, Nick Harman, expects nothing out of his encounter with Zuckerberg. "But you never know," he added.

It's official now in Jackson: no sex-based discrimination

JACKSON, Wyo. – It's now illegal to provide unequal treatment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in Jackson.

Wyoming is the Equality State, noted Jim Stanford, a town councilor, alluding to the motto for Wyoming, the nation's first state to give women the right to vote. He and the four other town councilors in Jackson voted for the third and final time for the new law. With that, rainbow flags were unleashed.

If the council was unanimous, there was some community dissent, reported the Jackson Hole News&Guide. One resident of nearby Wilson, a hamlet about 10 miles away, argued that the new law creates a "special class" to the detriment of other groups, Christians in particular. Dan Brophy said it violates First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.

Anne Marie Wells, who identified herself as a member of the LGBTQ community, said the same argument was used in the 1960s by those opposed to ensuring civil rights of African-Americans. The current argument just echoes the "history of those who used their religion as a shield to justify their racial bigotry," she said.

Benefits halved for family of worker with high THC levels

DENVER, Colo. – During Christmas week last December, lift maintenance worker Adam Lee crawled under the Magic Carpet, a 30-inch wide conveyor belt on a beginner slope at the Loveland Ski Area. The ski area is located west of Denver along Interstate 70 where the highway bores through the Continental Divide in the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Why Lee crawled under the ski escalator is not clear, according to a report filed by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board in January.

Industry standards "prohibit the performance of maintenance beneath a conveyor while the conveyor is in operation," said the board in its January report. "In addition, witness interviews and dispatch records confirm there was no mechanical or electrical issues with the conveyor and that Mr. Lee was not dispatched to the conveyor…"

The conveyor quit operating about an hour after Lee had crawled underneath it. Other lift maintenance workers discovered his body entangled in the machinery.

In a new report, Denver TV station Channel 7 reports high levels of THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana, were found in Lee's system at the time of his death. Because of that, the victim's widow and two children have been denied $800 monthly in workers' compensation benefits, half the total that would normally be awarded survivors.

Colorado law allows state workers' comp companies to cut benefits by 50 percent if tests return positive for marijuana or any other controlled substance.

Brian Vicente, a Colorado attorney who played a major role in the campaign to legalize marijuana in the state in 2012, told the TV station that the law is unfair.

"We voters spoke loudly and said marijuana should not be illegal for adults. Yet we still have some parts of the Colorado revised statutes that appear to penalize people who are using this substance," he said.

The TV station said experts, whom it did not identify, said there's no way that it could be determined whether Lee was intoxicated or impaired at the time of his death.

The widow, Erika Lee, said she plans to appeal the decision. She cites the fact that marijuana is now legal in Colorado as part of her argument.

Spacing may yield a cap on number of cannabis stores

BANFF, Alberta – Elected officials in Banff, the town, are being advised to space stores selling cannabis no closer than 100 meters apart. This is in addition to provincial requirements that stores be located 100 metres or more from schools and health care facilities.

While Banff is not sure whether to establish a hard cap on the number of cannabis stores, as some places have done, the distant separations being looked at might well achieve the same result, the Rocky Mountain Outlook reports.

Partial financing secured for Banff-Calgary passenger train

BANFF, Alberta – Proponents of a project to revive passenger rail service between Banff and Calgary have secured $300 million from the private sector. That's half the amount needed to build the tracks parallel to the Canadian-Pacific Railway.

Jan Waterous, who owns the train station in Banff and 30 adjoining acres with her husband, Adam, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that the private institution, which was unidentified, will pay half the cost if local, provincial, and federal governments match it.

It's 125 kilometers (about 75 miles) from Banff to Calgary, where construction is underway on a third light-rail line. The cost of that light rail line in Calgary runs more than $170 million a kilometer. The line from Banff, however, could cost only $4 million a kilometer, Waterous estimates.

The ultimate dream is to enable Banff visitors or residents to be able to take rail from the national park to the Calgary airport, as well as downtown Calgary. This could play into Calgary's potential bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, but Waterous does not want to see Olympic events within the national park, as she believes it would create unacceptable impacts. She said she was motivated to investigate the rail potential by the worsening traffic in Banff. "We got into this because we want to make Banff more pedestrian friendly," she said.

Adam Waterous is the managing partner of Waterous Energy Fund, a private equity fund primarily focusing on privately owned oil and gas companies in North America.

Enviros warn of dangers posed by oil trains along prized river

KALISPELL, Mont. – Environmental groups continue to point to booming traffic in trains carrying oil across the Continental Divide in Montana as an accident waiting to happen, the Flathead Beacon reports.

The rail line over Marias Pass, just south of the Glacier National Park, carries 10 to 18 trains each week of cars containing oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota and eastern Montana. The tracks adjoin the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, which flows into Flathead Lake, between Missoula and Kalispell.

American Rivers, an environmental group, points out that the river helped inspire adoption of the Wild and Scenic River Act of 1968.

Jack Stanford, emeritus director of the Flathead Lake Biological Station, said an entire 80-car train going into the river would be a "disaster beyond belief."

Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, operator of the railroad, defends its safety record and points out that it has spent $850 million on its tracks in Montana during the past five years to reduce risks and leverage new technology.

Railroad officials also point to their work with avalanche forecasters to predict when snow slides may impact the rails and trains, the better to curtail operations.

Environmentalists, though, want to see a publicly reviewed spill prevention plan.

Hurt grizzly bear put to death after fall onto road in Glacier

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Mont. – Officials decided to euthanize a female grizzly bear who slipped from an overhanging precipice and fell 20 feet onto the Going-to-the-Sun Road across Logan Pass in Glacier National Park.

A necropsy found the bear had significant trauma to its thoracic vertebrae, broken ribs, and a dislocated hip. She was estimated to be 5 to 7 years old and believed to be otherwise in good health.

Military chopper tested in thin air at Gunnison

GUNNISON, Colo. – About 70 employees of Lockheed Martin are in Gunnison for seven weeks this summer to test the latest incarnation of the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion. The 99-foot-long military helicopter can carry 90,000 pounds at take-off, reports the Crested Butte News.

The airport in Gunnison is commonly used by aircraft manufacturers because of its high elevation, 7,703 feet. Like the human body, helicopters must work harder in the thinner air, and hence the interest of aerospace companies in testing equipment there, explained Rick Lamport, Gunnison airport manager.

Whistler cranking up efforts to deal with wildfire realities

WHISTLER, B.C. – Last year was the biggest year ever for wildfires in British Columbia. This year is better, but fire is never from mind in Whistler, a resort in a sea of trees.

The municipal budget for wildfire protection this year is $1.45 million, a mixture of local and provincial money. The goal is 30 hectares of thinning in areas near neighborhoods and 40 hectares of thinning along forest roads that are intended to create breaks in case there is fire.

Two new cameras, one of them on Whistler Mountain, were installed in June, to allow detection of heat and smoke. The cameras cover about 70 percent of the valley. Three new rapid-response wildfire vehicles have also been added.

If not this year, Whistler will inevitably see fire and smoke. Geoff Playfair, the outgoing chief of the Whistler Fire Rescue Service says fire season has been growing by two days a year. In 15 years, he tells Pique Newsmagazine, that adds up to a month more of fire season.

Whistler used to spend several weeks each summer in extreme fire danger. Last year, it was three months. "We're just having longer, hotter, drier summers," he said.

It will inevitably get worse, says Mel Reasoner, of Climate Resilience Consulting. Reasoner spoke recently at a conference in British Columbia about the impacts of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Even if the world can begin reducing emissions—and it should be noted that emissions increased last year after three years of plateauing—we're headed toward hotter temperatures ahead.

He said the mean annual temperature in the 2050s will be 2.6 degrees Celsius (4.6 f) higher, even with a major reduction in emissions. "It's even worse for the business-as-usual scenario," he said.

Lightning could also become more common. "Work done in the U.S. suggests for every degree of warming, there's an increase of about 12 percent in lightning activity," said Mike Flannigan, a professor at the University of Alberta and director of the Canadian Partnership for Wildland Fire Science.

Precipitation could increase, but a 30 to 45 percent increase will be needed to offset an increase of 2 or 3 degrees Celsius (3. to 5.4 degrees F) in temperature rise.

Many Whistlerites have been paying attention to the strategies of FireSmart (a program in the U.S. called FireWise). And in this, every increment helps.

Pique points to the 1216 fire at Alberta's Fort McMurray to demonstrate the value of FireSmart. There, 2,400 homes and other buildings were destroyed. But 81 percent of buildings that escaped destruction had received FireSmart work to clear bush and other combustibles or otherwise make them less vulnerable.