Mountain Town News: Hazards comprise a song of ice and fire |

Mountain Town News: Hazards comprise a song of ice and fire

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

A mixed message at best from Trump on fire danger
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – On Dec. 21, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for “active management of America’s forests, rangelands, and other federal lands to improve conditions and reduce wildfire risk.”

A few hours later, he shut down the national government, putting federal land managers on furlough. It is, says the San Francisco Chronicle, a mixed message.

“During the shutdown, no new logging projects went forward, nor did fuel reduction programs like brush clearing, controlled fires and slash-pile burns,” reports the newspaper’s Kurtis Alexander. “Also, much of the planning and hiring of firefighters that typically gets done in winter was put on hold.”

The story cites piles of woody debris gathered from forest floors in California’s Yosemite Valley that have sat idle since early December because staff at national parks were furloughed. Ditto for slash piles around Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

But many see Trump being off the mark in his assessment of the record wildfires. He has accused state officials of “poor” management of forests. Many of the state’s wildfires, such as the deadly Woolsey Fire last November in southern California, did not occur in forests, but instead in chaparral and oak woodlands. That fire destroyed 1,643 structures and killed 3 people.

LeRoy Westerling, a climate scientist and wildfire specialist at UC Merced, told the Chronicle he believes the president’s executive order altogether failed to acknowledge where the real fire danger lurks, in the dense forest understory. “His policy is not going to be helpful,” said Westerling of the executive order.


Mountain town needs a ‘big beautiful fence’
CANMORE, Alberta. – Clearly, Ed Mrozek had his tongue in cheek when he wrote about the invasion of wildlife into Canmore, at the gateway to Banff National Park. Needed, he said in a letter to the Rocky Mountain Outlook, is a “big, beautiful fence around the town.”

“With abundant food sources and no adequate border security, a caravan of invaders is crossing into town illegally and in many instances under the cover of darkness. How often have we Canmorites woke up to see these illegal aliens flagrantly eating our grasses, our berries, and our tree bark right in our own backyards.”

Canmore does have fruit trees and other attractions to everything from rabbits to bears, elk to those who eat elk.


Breath of life blown into blue face of buried skier
VAIL, Colo. – Michael Lausch was luckier than many skiers and snowboarders who end up vertical in the snow, upside down, their heads buried and their feet sticking out. He lived.

This simple fact has much to do with the chance passing of a group of physicians who were skiing on Vail Mountain proximate to his misfortune. Many people die of immersions, usually after they have plunged into tree wells. The 40-year-old man from Ohio, however, had plunged head-first into the snow without a tree nearby. Someone who had seen this began frantically calling for help.

“When I got there, there were two ski boots sticking out of the snow,” said Tom Nern, who was skiing with a group from Vail Dermatology.

It took the group 6 or 7 minutes to dig Lausch out. Lausch told the Vail Daily’s Ross Leonhart that he stands 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 270 pounds.

“He wasn’t breathing. He was purple. No pulse—nothing,” Tom Nern said.

“He was blue and purple,” said Dr. Karen Nern, a dermatologist and founder of the firm. “He was bluer than blue when we got him out,” said Beth McCann, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who was among the rescuers.

Karen Nern gave him three sets of chest compressions, and McCann provided six to eight breaths. Then, with a snorkeling kind of breath, he was alive again.

“This showcases the importance for people to be trained in CPR,” said Doug Lovell, chief operating officer at Vail Mountain.


At Jackson Hole, another immersion and good luck
JACKSON, Wyo. – Jenny Karns also counts herself among the lucky, and she very well knew that her odds were dwindling rapidly after she had inverted into the snow, head first, after skiing through the powder of one of her favorite ski runs at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Unable to move or to breathe, she thought about her kids, her family—and the hot pink bottoms of her skis that she hoped somebody would see. She had been inverted for 15 minutes, just beginning to lose consciousness, when somebody did.

“It was like a lawn dart,” said Nathanael Reeder of the one leg that he saw on his last run before he was to return to his home in Boulder, Colo.

Along with two other skiers, he dug furiously. Once she got air, she spit up blood and puked. Ski patrollers arrived and took her off by sled. In an Idaho Falls hospital, the native of Jackson was diagnosed with takotsobu cardiomyopathy and pulmonary edema. The latter is accumulation of fluid on the lungs, and the former is a temporary heart condition that develops after an intense emotional or physical experience. It’s also called broken heart syndrome.

As for the hero in this story, he was driving back to Colorado when he broke down crying. “I was just beside myself staring at the road,” Reeder said. “I needed a full night’s sleep before I could even process what had happened.”


Taos avalanche deaths put focus on value of beacons
TAOS, N.M. – In New Mexico, two skiers at Taos Ski Valley were not so fortunate. After their deaths from an avalanche, the first such fatalities at the ski area, there were questions about whether avalanche beacons might be in order when venturing into particularly dangerous terrain.

The avalanche occurred on one of the steep chutes on the north face of Kachina Peak. Ski patrollers had been in the couloir earlier and had used explosives in an effort to provoke unstable snow.

In 2015, a lift was installed to the peak, but not quite to the top. Skiers must still climb a rise and then traverse several switchbacks. This design as well as signs are intended to give people time to consider whether they are skilled enough to navigate the expert terrain, explained David Norden, the chief executive at Taos Ski Valley.

The Taos News reports that by one estimate it took rescuers 25 minutes to find the body of the first individual, and then another 25 minutes to find the second victim. Resuscitation of one victim with a defibrillator restored a pulse, but he later died at a hospital in Albuquerque. The first victim was declared dead the day of the avalanche.

Neither man was carrying a beacon, which might have allowed rescuers to more rapidly detect their whereabouts. At Colorado’s ultra-steep Silverton Mountain, all skiers are given beacons.

Avalanches can kill you in multiple ways, though. If thrown over a cliff or slammed into a tree, the trauma can kill. But even if merely covered by snow, suffocation can kill. There is no magic time for survivability.

In Idaho, in the sidecountry near Sun Valley, two men – one on skis, the other on a snowboard – got lucky. They were carried about the length of a football field down the mountain. One was fully buried but able to dig himself out in about 25 minutes. The other was also able to extricate himself.

“These individuals are fortunate that they were not seriously injured or killed,” said Scott Savage of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center. “The terrain in this area is heavily treed, so most people caught in avalanches here sustain significant trauma. Picture riding a bike downhill at 30 mph and jumping off into a forest,” he said. “It usually doesn’t end very well.”

In Colorado, ski patrollers at the Steamboat ski area have upgraded their avalanche beacon training station in an effort to encourage public use. In Beacon Basin, located next to the ski patrol headquarters, the public can test their own avalanche beacons and make a practice rescue.

“We always want the public to have more avalanche training,” Dave Thomas, a long-time ski patroller told the Steamboat Today. “With this system, we are able to train people throughout the day and throughout the year.”


Newspaper in ski town struggles to stay afloat
BEND, Ore. – The bottom line for ski town newspapers continues to deteriorate. The latest sign of anguish comes from Bend, Ore. where owners of the Bend Bulletin have filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the federal code.

The editor, Erik Lukens, tells readers to expect changes in coming months designed to create an economically sustainable product.

All newspapers everywhere have been struggling. The Bulletin, like most papers, makes its money primarily on advertising revenues. In many cases, subscriptions pay only for the cost of paper and maybe the delivery.

But Facebook, Google, and others have disrupted that model. One clear example is the New York Times. There, according to The Atlantic, advertising formerly accounted for 60 percent of revenue. Now, it’s just 40 percent. And that is a national paper.

Regional papers like the Denver Post have struggled even more. And, of course, bunches of papers have gone bye-bye.


Whistler steps up message about plastic water bottles
WHISTLER, B.C. – Visitors to Whistler often check into their hotel rooms and then, after getting settled in, head to the grocery store. There, they will load up a case of plastic water bottles.

Save your money, is the message in a new campaign orchestrated by the municipality in cooperation with the Hotel Association of Whistler. Each hotel will decide how to communicate this message.

“We have some of the best-tasting tap water in the world. British Columbia is water-rich, so why drink water from a bottle when you can drink wonderful glacier water right out of the tap,” said Jack Crompton, the mayor.

Some hotel guests have been getting this same message subtly for years. At the Four Seasons Resort, for example, staff members place carafes with tap water on each nightstand, alongside a glass.

The municipality ended sale of plastic bottled water in its own operations in 2010.


Shedding light on the dark side of hospitality sector
CANMORE, Alberta. – A workshop was planned this week in Canmore about the dark side of the hospitality industry. Local restaurateur Todd Kunst and the Community Helpers program wanted to expand the conversation about drug and alcohol abuse.

Goal of the one-day session was to teach employees how to help each other and connect them with community resources.

“It’s always been an issue, but people are starting to talk about it more. Anything that brings more awareness to it, I think, is beneficial to the community and the industry as well,” Kunst told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

“Lots of people, especially in the Bow Valley, are away from home for the first time and experimenting with different things, and over time that can lead to addictions and mental health issues,” said Kunst.


Aspen Skiing Co. forms a hospitality division
ASPEN, Colo. – The Aspen Skiing Co. has formally created a new hospitality division, called the Little Nell Hotel Group.

Aspen has been in the business of building hotels for several years, first buying a hotel in Aspen called the Limelight and then going on to build two more elsewhere. The company has looked at other possible locations, including Boulder, Colo.

“We are focused on expanding to leisure destinations that are of unique character and that attract the adventurous, nature-oriented and socially active clientele that come to our properties,” said Alinio Azevedo, the managing director of the new division.


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