Mountain Town News: Assessing the connection between snowmaking and climate change |

Mountain Town News: Assessing the connection between snowmaking and climate change

ASPEN, Colo. – Last week a federal judge ruled that the federal government must at least acknowledge the climate change impacts created by fossil fuels when deciding whether to issue oil and gas leases in Wyoming.

In Colorado, an environmental group is asking a parallel question about ski areas and snowmaking. Wilderness Workshop argues that the U.S. Forest Service – the landlord for most of the ski areas in the West – needs to do a comprehensive analysis of the impacts of increased water diversion from rivers to endangered fish in the Colorado River, changes in runoff patterns, and increased energy use associated with the expansion of snowmaking.

“Climate impacts are often meaningless on a project-level, but can be significant on a program level,” says Peter Hart, staff attorney for the group.

The Forest Service has approved expanded snowmaking at Vail, Copper Mountain, Steamboat, and other ski areas in Colorado in recent years, and now it is looking at allowing expanded snowmaking and terrain on Aspen.

Ski areas have been adding snowmaking almost annually for decades to remove the uncertainties of weather. The warming climate will have a general effect of shortening the ski season and more often replacing snow with rain.

In response to the lessened reliability of natural snow, the ski companies “need to use more diesel fuel and coal to generate the electricity to pump water to the snow guns and fan it out over the slopes,” says the Wilderness Workshop. “They rely on diesel-powered snow cats to spread the snow into a skiable surface.”


Words sharpening as youth take to streets about climate

WHISTLER, B.C. – Students from many and perhaps all the ski towns of the North American West joined hundreds of thousands from elsewhere in the world on March 15 in leaving their classrooms to vent about the absence of adequate response to the risks of climate change.

In Wyoming, 30 students marched under the famed arches of elk antlers in the Jackson town square carrying signs such as “Denying Climate = Denying Us,” and “The climate is changing so why don’t we?”

In Utah, students from the high school in Park City joined their compatriots in Salt Lake City to urge more action.

In British Columbia, the youth climate change march was a family matter in the household of Clare Ogilvie, editor of Whistler’s Pique newsmagazine. Her son, Matthew, had spearheaded the march. It was entirely his own endeavor, she disclosed in her weekly column, although she fully supported it.

Like many ski towns, Whistler has failed to meet its climate goals. Community greenhouse gas emissions have grown 16 percent since 2015.

All around her, said Ogilvie, is evidence that Whistler can’t deal with the little things.

“Youth are frustrated and dumbfounded that adults can’t create change to address obvious problems, such as propane fireplaces burning all day outside at local businesses with no one sitting around them or shops opening their doors during a polar vortex, or why we still have single-use plastic bags or … well, the list was lengthy.”

Unlike on social media and, to a great extent the national press, words of criticism in most ski towns newspapers tend toward restraint. It’s harder to get outuse the verbal knives in the newspaper when you run into the other person at the rec center.

The Whistler editor, though, accused an elected councilor in the municipality of “head-in-the-sand thinking” for opposing creation of a coordinator to push along the Community Energy and Climate Action Plan.

“That is exactly the type of denial that has landed the world where it is today, facing an environmental crisis,” she wrote.


More on the receding glaciers of Montana

WHITEFISH, Mont. – How long before the glaciers in Glacier National Park will be gone? Not any time soon, reports Erich Peitzsch, a physical scientist from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Glaciers are going be around for awhile,” he told the Whitefish Pilot. “They’re not going to look like they did in the 20th century, and in the future they won’t look like they do today. But they will be around.”

In 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that the glaciers had reduced in size by 37 percent. The decline has been driven by temperature increases, which in northwestern Montana have been 1.8 times greater than the global average. Upper elevations have been warming faster than lower elevations.


Housing doesn’t get more affordable than squatting

ASPEN, Colo. – Why live in a down-valley trailer when houses in Aspen are sitting empty?

That was the thought process for two men who have been charged with squatting in an unoccupied house. To make matters worse for the two men, police found heroin on the premises as well as a stolen trailer and a stolen motorcycle.

The Aspen Daily News reported that the house is registered to a couple that lives in California. One told a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy that they had been trying to sell the house and did not have caretakers for the property.

The couple’s daughter told the deputy she had noticed the utility bill was higher than usual for the last month for a property that was supposed to be vacant.


A story to beat all stories from a snowslide survivor

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Alex Theaker will likely have the most interesting personal story in anybody’s room for the rest of his life. The 28-year-old Crested Butte resident almost lost his life in early March when he went to shovel at a house in Mt. Crested Butte, the slope-side town.

He sat down with Mark Reaman of the Crested Butte News to share his full story. He thought the roof might be ready to avalanche, but was very close to getting his work done. He wasn’t quick enough.

Buried, he immediately started wiggling.

“The snow was really heavy. If it had happened in December, I might have been able to pop right out of there. But that snow was so wet and heavy, it formed like cement around me. I was kind of on my side and barely had any room to move my legs or anything. I had my phone in my pocket but couldn’t get my hand down to my phone because the snow just had me. Luckily, I had both hands up by my head.”

That may have made all the difference. He was able to move his hands just enough to carve out a portal of air. He thinks he was also able to create just enough of a passageway to allow oxygen to reach him.

Then he stayed calm. “I only remember about 10 minutes of it, and then I remember waking up in the hospital.” He had been buried in the snow for up to two and a half hours. His core body temperature was 86 degrees.

In that time of darkness, he remembers trying to channel to his wife. “I couldn’t get to my phone so I was trying to communicate with her mentally or through my energy, saying ‘I need help. I need help.’”

He also had Tupac’s Greatest Hits playing in his ear and sort of trying to getting to a world of dance beyond this one. “But they were telling me, ‘Nope, you’re not ready. You forgot the ticket of the party so you gotta go back and remember the ticket next time, you idiot. You can see what it’s all about, but you can’t get in. You have to dance from the outside.’”


Crested Butte likely to get an OK for terrain addition

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Vail Resorts continues on its mission to reshape Crested Butte Mountain Resort into a more valuable member of its money-making fleet of ski areas.

Even under the prior owners, the Mueller family, and the owners before, Crested Butte felt the need to grow, to better compete with the larger ski areas of the West. But they had a hard time pushing forward the expansion, in part because of ill-advised designs (think Snodgrass Mountain) but also because ski area expansions take a lot of front-end money for planning.

The Crested Butte News reports that the U.S. Forest Service has given the ski area preliminary approval for a 50-acre terrain expansion. Included in Vail’s plans are two new chairlifts and reconfiguration of an existing lift.

One of the local environmental groups, High Country Conservation Advocates, raised no flags.


Colorado towns take aim at nicotine use by youth

ASPEN, Colo. – Two Colorado ski towns have been moving forward with efforts to discourage youthful use of nicotine.

In Aspen, the city government will soon consider a law that would ban all flavored tobacco sales, including menthol cigarettes and many types of chew and vaping products.

The intent is to discourage young people from experimenting with nicotine. “Dr. Kim Levin, medical officer for the Pitkin County Board of Health, said flavored tobacco products clearly intend to manipulate young customers into becoming lifetime customers.

The law would be modeled on one adopted by San Francisco. That law includes all types of flavored tobacco products, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and cigars. All flavors, including menthol and spice flavors such as clove, would be banned.

Jim True, the city attorney for Aspen warned the council that adopting the law could trigger a lawsuit. However, Aspen has restricted free market sales in the past with both plastic bags and, decades ago, a ban on the sale of furs.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration reported a 78 percent increase in adolescent use of e-cigarettes nationally within the last year. The Pitkin County Health Department found that the numbers for the Roaring Fork Valley were nearly three times higher than the national average.

If Aspen adopts this restriction on flavored tobacco products, it will be the first in Colorado. It was also the first in Colorado to raise the age for purchase of tobacco products from 18 to 21.

In Crested Butte, town officials are considering a law that would prohibit the possession of tobacco and nicotine by those under the age of 18. Nobody disagrees with the intent of the proposed law, which is to create conversations between youth and adults about the dangers of tobacco use.

But there’s considerable discussion about whether violations would force youngsters into the judicial system, possibly leaving a lasting record of guilt.

“Think of a 14-year-old who gets caught at school with a vaping device and now has to be part of the court system,” one community resident told the Crested Butte News. “He or she has to go in front of a judge, and the record stays with them.”

The executive director of the Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project sees this not as a criminalization, but rather as a useful tool in the pathway of education. The proposed law is based on one adopted by the town of Gunnison, where tobacco use by local students has declined.


What’s with all the moose loitering in town of Jackson?

JACKSON, Wyo. – What’s up with moose? They’ve been loitering around businesses and homes in Jackson in ways rarely seen.

The long-legged, dopey-looking ungulates, as Mike Koshmrl of the Jackson Hole News&Guide describes them, have lingered near bus stops, lunched (on aspen leaves) at McDonald’s, and hung around the local Wells Fargo Bank. Some people have had trouble getting into their garages because of the moose.

Their uncommon presence is really not a mystery. As of March 19, the snow stood 28 inches deep in Jackson, tied with 1952 as the deepest snowpack ever for that date in the town.

Even with their long legs, the moose are having trouble getting around. Plus, there’s not much to eat after a long winter. As for why hang on roads? Because it’s hard to get off, owing to the berms that have accumulated after a long, hard and wonderful winter.

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