Mountain Town News: Could summer be the new winter? |

Mountain Town News: Could summer be the new winter?

Aspen Skiing sees summer someday rivaling winter

ASPEN, Colo. – The Aspen Skiing Co. sees future economic growth occurring primarily in summer, not winter.

The company has four ski areas, but Snowmass generates the majority of its roughly 1.5 million skier visits. And Snowmass, reports The Aspen Times, is where the company sees the greatest potential for summer growth.

The company invested $10 million on the Lost Forest, which has 8 ziplines, an alpine coaster, and a climbing wall. Getting to the play area tucked among the trees of Snowmass requires riding the Elk Camp Gondola. Ridership on the gondola increased 50 percent this summer. That’s half the number of passengers that the Silver Queen Gondola hauls on Aspen Mountain during summer.

“We’re not there yet,” said Mike Kaplan, the company’s chief executive, at a recent community event. “We’d like to keep increasing by 50 percent, and I think we can and will. It’s going to raise all ships. We’re starting to see glimpses.”

Kaplan said he thinks all the pieces are in place for additional summer growth. Coming soon will be completion of Base Village, the big real estate project at Snowmass Village. Included will be the company’s 99-room hotel, called the Limelight.

“If you look at it compared to the winter months, I think the peak summer month is about 40 percent of what January, February and March look like,” Kaplan said.


Alterra Mountain Co. plows money into new snowmaking

WINTER PARK, Colo. – Alterra Mountain Co. promised to invest money into the operations of its many new ski areas acquired in the last 18 months. At Winter Park, that promise has yielded $4 million in new pipes, snow guns, and compressors to more efficiently create snow. Alterra has pledged $28 million in capital improvements at the ski area, the Sky-Hi News reports.

At Steamboat, located about 90 miles to the west, the U.S. Forest Service has authorized Alterra to install a new lift to serve 355 acres currently reached by a backcountry gate. New snowmaking and a small trail were also approved. The work, altogether the largest in recent history at the ski area, hasn’t yet been funded by Alterra, reports Steamboat Today.

Wolf Creek Ski Area opens first with all natural snow

PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. – Wolf Creek Ski Area opened last weekend, the first in the nation this year. It snowed 30 inches last week, allowing 3 lifts and 12 runs to open, virtually the entire mountain.

The ski area in the San Juan Mountains, a few miles north of the New Mexico border, has snowmaking, but only sufficient to cover 5 acres. What the 1,000 skiers who arrived each day found from Durango, Summit County and elsewhere was natural snow, straight from Mother Nature.

Rain preceded the snow, which at first was heavy then light and powdery. “We were thrilled with the 20 inches, and then we got another 10. We knew we would be able to open all of the mountain. We were really excited about that,” says Rosanne Haidorfer-Pitcher, the vice president of marketing & sales.

Wolf Creek is often the snowiest ski area in Colorado, getting an average of 430 inches annually. But totals vary widely from year to year. Last year was down substantially, just 230 inches, among the worst ever. Snow arrived late, not until just before Thanksgiving, and then again just before Christmas. But even in March, normally the snowiest month in Colorado, south-facing hillsides across the valley remained bare.

If earlier than some, this was far from the earliest opening of a ski area in Colorado. In 1985, Loveland opened on Oct. 6, according to the incomplete records of Colorado Ski Country USA. Loveland has often been the first ski area to open, but since it added snowmaking early this century, Arapahoe Basin sometimes gets there first. This year Loveland opens Friday and A-Basin on Saturday,.

Banff visitor numbers up sharply. Is that a problem?

BANFF, Alberta – The growing popularity of Banff National Park has reignited a decades-old debate over limits to the number of people at certain iconic tourist hot spots, including Lake Louise.

During summer, only standing room is available on the shores of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. The lakes themselves serve as backdrops for Facebook selfies, says the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Some conservationists want Parks Canada to limit the number of people. “Banff is bursting at the seams with both cars and people,” says Peter Zimmerman, parks program supervisor for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Zimmerman says there’s no single solution but much can be gained by getting people out of their cars. He also wants some areas of the park to have limits on the number of people, regardless of how they travel.

“We have done this for years in the backcountry, and even some road accessible areas have access controls,” Zimmerman said. “Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park limits the number of visitors to the number of seats on the bus. No private cars allowed.”

Visitors to Banff are intolerably impacting the park wildlife, their habitat, soil and vegetation, and other components “that are the heart of nature’s ecological orchestra,” he says. “We can’t just keep packing more and more people into the theater to hear the music. At some point, we will simply overwhelm the musicians and the music will turn to noise or stop altogether.”

Banff had 4.2 million visitors in 2017-18. That’s a 28 percent increase from just five years ago and, says the Outlook, at least partly a result of efforts by Parks Canada to boost visitation.

Quotas won’t work, say the Banff & Lake Louise Hospitality Organization and other pro-tourism organizations. Banff, they say, is a “bucket list” destination for people around the world, and they should not be denied.

“The progress on bike-friendly access and mass transit has been remarkable in the last few years and should be celebrated as so many communities and agencies have come together to provide enhanced ways for people to get to and around Banff and Lake Louise,” said Casey Peirce, executive director of the Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment.

Forest Service crimps use of popular Hanging Lakes

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – By next May, those visiting Hanging Lake among the limestone cliffs of Glenwood Canyon will have to buy a permit and take a shuttle.

The U.S. Forest Service has decided that the popular destination can stand a maximum 615 users per day year round to “protect resources, manage congestion, improve safety and visitor experience.”

One Forest Service worker said she had seen a lot of trash and graffiti when she last visited Hanging Lake.

Details, including the shuttle and cost, have yet to be worked out.

The Forest Service says that requiring use of a shuttle will address congestion, capacity, and public safety during the peak season, May through October. During November through March, reservations will be required and fees charged, but shuttles will not be necessary. People will still be able to drive on their own.

Interstate 70 goes through the canyon about 50 miles west of Vail.

Visitors reach the waterfalls and lake by hiking up a 1.2-mile-long trail that has a moderate grade. Some 184,000 people did so in 2016, a 23 percent increase over the prior year. The Forest Service says visitation doubled in five years.

At Maroon Bells, the tipping point was reached long ago. The twin 14,000-foot peaks noted for their sloping striations of sedimentary rock were long a popular daily outing. Some years ago the Forest Service instituted a ban on personal vehicles to the base of the mountains, at Maroon Lake, from about 8 to 5 p.m. during warmer-weather months.

Unlike Hanging Lake, the bus to Maroon Bells is free and no reservations are required. However, parking in Aspen or Aspen Highlands, where the buses pick up passengers, costs between $15 and $25 a day.

Those planning to climb the mountain or take sunrise photos of the changing aspen leaves can drive to Maroon Lake. New this year are ropes and signs that seek to keep people on paths and away from the lake.

Olympics financial pledge hinges on plebiscite vote

CANMORE, Alberta – The province of Alberta is willing to provide $700 million toward a potential 2026 and Paralympic Winter Games co-hosted by Calgary and Canmore. But this promise is only good if Calgarians vote yes in a plebiscite on Nov. 13.

Canmore, located an hour to the west of Calgary, at the entrance to Banff National Park, has no plebiscite planned. The council, however, will likely vote on Nov. 7 whether to support the bid.

Organizers estimate that hosting the 2016 Olympics will cost $5.23 billion. Altogether, $3 billion is being asked of the federal, provincial, and local governments, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

The International Olympic Committee has recommended that Calgary be a candidate for the 2026 Winter Games but also Milan/Cortina D’Ampezzo and Stockholm.

OK in Oregon come 2019 to dress out the road kill

BEND, Alberta – In Oregon starting in January it will be legal to salvage road-killed deer and elk.

New rules adopted by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission allow deer and elk that are accidentally struck by a vehicle to be salvaged for consumption only. The rules, reports the Bend Bulletin, also mandate that the entire carcass of the animal must be removed from the road and the right of way during the salvage. No guts can be left behind.

Good thing this hunter had partner with spray

GARDINER, Mont. – A bow hunter from Idaho got off with a broken arm and a couple of scrapes across the face after accidentally surprising a sow bear and her two cubs near Yellowstone National Park.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle says that the hunter and his partner were creeping up on elk when they came within 12 yards of the bear. The bear charged the hunter before he could reach for his bear spray, kicking him to the ground as he tried to protect his face with his arm. The man’s hunting partner deployed bear spray, causing the bear to stop biting. A second blast of the spray caused the sow and cub to retreat.

Kevin Frey, bear biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the state has no immediate plans to find and capture the bear. “It was a classic surprise encounter,” he told the Daily Chronicle. “Unfortunately, that’s how female bears react when a cub is around.”

Not much water in the Yampa River this year

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Commercial tubing operations in the Yampa River this year were brief, just 38 days. Blame it on the drought.

In years of good snow, there’s so much water in the river as it passes through Steamboat that commercial tubing cannot begin until after the 4th of July. This year, there was so little runoff that commercial tubing began in early June but had ended in early July. Because of impacts to aquatic life in the river, the river needs minimum flows of 85 cfs.

Steamboat Today says the river was closed to recreation on July 9, then opened for 11 days in August before being closed again. After new rain recently, it was finally reopened—just in time for winter.

Flows on the Yampa River remained low through the summer. In late August, they had declined so much at Deerlodge Park, at the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument, about 100 miles west of Steamboat, that the state water official responsible for administering water rights on the Yampa issued the first ever “call.”

Western states use a former of water law called prior appropriation to determine who gets how much water and when, all based on the date of legal adjudication. This does not matter when there’s sufficient water for all. But in river valleys where much water is diverted or in times of drought, the place in this pecking order matters entirely.

The call issued by the water administrator in the Yampa required all water users with rights newer than, or junior to, 1951 to cease their diversions.

This was the third major drought on the Yampa River in the 21st century. But many locals are seeing a trend of warming temperatures that aligns with the predictions of climate scientists. It hasn’t gotten deeply cold the way it used to in winter, and summer temperatures can top 90 degrees, sometimes for several days in a row.

The evidence in recent years has deepened that instead of drought, as conventionally understood, something else is at play in the 21st century: increased temperatures are reducing the amount of water in the Yampa and other rivers in the Colorado River Basin. One recent paper calls it a “hot drought” as opposed to a “dry drought.”

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