Mountain Town News: The goal of pedaling through highest auto tunnel in U.S.

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

Twice as good as last year, but still sub-par in Utah
PARK CITY – Snowfall at Park City this winter has been double that of last winter. But that’s not saying all that much. The snowpack as of early January was still below the long-term average, according to measurements of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Smartwool exits mountain town birthplace for Denver
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Smartwool was founded in 1994 by two ski instructors in Steamboat Springs who figured out that merino wool could be used to produce warm, moisture-wicking clothing that is neither itchy nor stinky, as wool can be.

In time, Smartwool became a semi-big business, capturing 55 percent of market share for its products, mostly socks but also other sporting goods items. As smooth as silk, says one product review.

If the manufacturing never was done at Steamboat, the headquarters remained there even after as the company was sold first to a larger company in 2005. That company was in turn swallowed in 2011 by an even larger company, VF Corp.

VF Corp is now consolidating offices for its various brands in Denver’s trendy lower-downtown neighborhood. They include The North Face, Altra, JanSport, and Eagle Creek. With this move, Steamboat will lose 90 employees. The new corporate headquarters will have 800 employees.

The location in Denver is just a few blocks from the headquarters for the Alterra Mountain Co., which owns the Steamboat ski area. Alterra chose Denver for its headquarters because ski towns are too expensive. That seems to be part of the logic for the clothing manufacturer. A representative of Smartwool told the Steamboat Pilot that Denver’s transportation network was a factor. It’s a few blocks from Union Station, the flight, rail, and bus hub for the metropolitan area.

“There are a lot of positives in that particular area, and it’s a really vibrant part of the city,” said Molly Cuffe, the company’s director of global communications.

Also a factor in the new corporate headquarter’s move to Denver: $27 million in state incentives over eight years, according to The Denver Post.


Name of new brewpub nods at snow sliding technology
FRASER, Colo. – A new brewpub called Camber Brewing has opened in Fraser. The name refers to the slight convex or arced shape of a traditional ski or snowboards. The camber permits easy handling and carving, especially on groomed slopes.

Nick Crabb, the owner, tells the Sky Hi News that he began brewing five years ago after his wife gave him a homebrewer’s kit. He took to it immediately.

In creating his brewpub, Crabb has chosen to make it as family friendly as he can. But that does not include TVs. “I really want to focus on conversation versus entertainment, and helping people reconnect,” he said.

If the names of his brews reflect the town’s history, he’ll have ample possibilities. Take the main street, where the new brewpub is located. Fraser agreed to name Zerex Street in the 1950s in a deal with the manufacturer of the antifreeze.

At the time, volunteer weather-readers were arising at all hours of the night to record the temperature, that being long before such measurements were automated. The numbers documented deep cold. For a time, the town was commonly called the Icebox of the Nation—although International Falls, Minn., has vigorously argued that no, it’s the coldest town in the lower 48 states.

Everywhere has become warmer, but at least a couple of decades ago Fraser had an average annual 19 frost-free days.


The goal of pedaling through highest auto tunnel in U.S.
IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. – Nobody apparently has ever bicycled through the Eisenhower Tunnel, which pierces the Continental Divide 60 miles west of Denver, reaching an elevation of 11,158 feet (3,401 meters).

Bicycle Passport hopes to make that happen. The group is seeking permission from the Colorado Department of Transportation to organize a group pedal of 1,500 to 2,000 cyclists through the tunnel on a Sunday morning in September.

Eisenhower and a parallel bore, Johnson, are 1.7 miles long. They remain the highest vehicular tunnels in the United States, although there are now higher tunnels elsewhere in the world. The two tunnels were completed in 1973 and 1979 respectively.

Passport’s Mark Nadeau proposes using Idaho Springs as the launching site for the Sunday morning ride to Silverthorne. The Clear Creek Courant reports that the idea got a polite reception from city officials but no more. Two officials, including the mayor and the police chief, said their city usually doesn’t generate revenues from hosting bicycle riders.


Busyness and nastiness at trailheads in Colorado
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Backcountry trailheads near Crested Butte have been getting congested, more commonly in summer but now in winter. Too, there’s been some nastiness.

The Crested Butte News reports that Marlene Crosby, the deputy county manager in Gunnison County, told elected officials there that people have been using bigger trailers and other toy-haulers and also leaving snowmobiles at the trailhead overnight. The situation is particularly nettlesome just outside Crested Butte, where the road over Kebler Pass is unplowed during winter.

A majority of trailhead users accept the good intentions of the county staff attempting to create order amid the chaos, “but there are those in that community that are brutal and vicious,” she said.

Mention was made of the effort along the Interstate 70 corridor, where Vail and other local towns as well as Eagle County have offered to chip in to funding Forest Service personnel to better manage the trailheads and other portals to the backcountry.

Within Crested Butte, Christmas was a happily crazy time. Phone calls got dropped, the internet was slow, and lines at the post office were extraordinarily long—all a reflection of a ski town being a ski town, says Mark Reaman, the newspaper’s editor.

Still, he can’t help observing that it would be nice to spread out the busyness more smoothly in January and February. He’s had that wish for about as long as there have been destination ski towns.


Whistler feels climate change in feast and in famine
WHISTLER, B.C. – First Whistler had unseasonably warm weather and then record snowfall in December, 384 centimetres (151 inches). That’s nearly 13 feet of snow.

But neither of those extremes seems to fully explain why Whistler Blackcomb was sluggish, which is part of a pattern at Vail Resorts properties. Rob Katz, the chief executive, reported “much lower” destination guest visits than expected before Christmas. It was, he said, probably driven by concerns from the two prior years of poor pre-holiday conditions. And the arrival of snow in December didn’t appreciably bump the numbers.

In Whistler, the heavy snow has continued into January. And it fits into a pattern says Pique Newsmagazine editor Clare Ogilvie. This big early-January story was preceded by a windstorm that cut off power to 750,000 in British Columbia. Such weather extremes will become even more likely in future years, the result of increased greenhouse gas emissions, now pushing at 410 parts per million.

British Columbia, for all its reputation as a “green” province, has struggled along with everybody else at taming its emissions. It is very likely the province will not meet its 2020 emission reduction target of 33 percent below 2007 models, according to a recent report by the B.C. auditor general.


Even in mountain paradise opioid epidemic takes toll
CANMORE, Alberta – Banff and the Bow Valley get their fair share of people dying young, mostly the result of climbing accidents and other outdoor activities. But since 2016 three people have died from opioid poisoning and scores more have been admitted to local hospitals for treatment.

In Banff, at least 10 people have been hospitalized or visited the emergency room each year since 2015 because of opioid use. Down-valley 20 minutes at Canmore, at the entrance to the park, the count is a little higher.

Almost all opioid poisoning deaths are now related to fentanyl. In the first half of 2018, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, fentanyl accounted for 92 percent of all opioid-related deaths in Alberta.

In recent months, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seized drugs that contained fentanyl as well as carfentanil, a synthetic derivative considered 100 times more deadly than fentanyl.

Local police say that it could be worse. “We know that a lot of the drugs that are being sold here originate either from Vancouver or from Calgary, and we see what’s happening in both of those communities in terms of opioid overdoses and death. “Why we’re not seeing it as large here, I don’t really know,” said Staff Sgt. Mike Buxton-Carr.

But it can take just one bad batch of drugs in a community to create devastation, he added.


Whistler drawn into fight between U.S. and China
WHISTLER, B.C. – Tourism Whistler has paused its marketing efforts in China, the result of the U.S.-China tensions. In doing so, it follows the lead of Destination British Columbia and Destination Canada.

The rift stems from the Dec. 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer for Huawei Technologies. Detained in Vancouver, she remains there on bail pending possible extradition to the United States on suspicion of fraud involving American sanctions in Iran.

The diplomatic situation has put Canada in the uncomfortable position of being in the middle of a U.S.-China conflict, says Amy Hanser, a sociologist at the University of British Columbia.

“There is a history of Chinese consumers (making) consumption choices based on national interests, and this is a moment in which Chinese consumers are recognizing that they are globally powerful as consumers,” she told Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine.

If the Chinese market has grown for Whistler, it remains “very small,” said Shawna Lang, director of market development for Tourism Whistler. However, Whistler expects growth in Chinese visitors as China gears up for hosting 2020 Winter Olympics.


Shutdown could hamper wildfire fighting efforts
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Federal employees will eventually return to work, but there will be lingering effects on wildfire fighting capacities next summer. So says Keegan Schafer, supervisor of a crew on the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District.

In January, the U.S. Forest Service typically begins preparation for the coming fire season, including hiring fighters and other personnel, he tells the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Normally, his phone would be ringing with reference checks and other hiring inquiries. This year, it’s been quiet.

With each year seeming to set a new record for fire devastation in California, he says, his agency cannot afford to be put at a disadvantage.

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