Mountain Town News: Record-smashing powder weighs on Tahoe residents’ minds and roofs

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

Slow doesn’t cut it: Jasper bans freebie plastic bags

JASPER, Alberta – The two million visitors expected this summer in Jasper, the town within Jasper National Park, will be advised they need to have reusable bags when purchasing groceries and other items. Enforcement of the ban on plastic bags will not begin until next January.

Jasper joins a growing number of jurisdictions in North America and around the world trying to curb the proliferation of plastic that is now sullying water, soil, and all else.

Elected officials took action after hearing a proposal for a roll-out spread across 22 months. Too slow, they decided. Instead, they made the distribution of the thin plastic bags by merchants illegal effective this summer but with teeth to be applied in January.

More may be coming. The Jasper Fitzhugh says the plan approved by the councilors contemplates targeting other single-use plastic items, including straws and utensils, take-out food containers, polystyrene foam cups and containers, drink cups, and “flushables.” Flushables are products such as wet wipes, which are partly made of polyester.

A fee attached to distribution of plastic bags instead of a ban was considered, but stakeholders consulted by the municipality thought that it would be ineffective. Locals would gravitate toward reusing bags, but visitors would merely pay the fee. In that case, there would be little reduction in proliferation of bags.

In assessing how to move forward, Banff reviewed bans in Vancouver, Montreal, and Fort MacMurray, the latter more technically called Wood Buffalo. It’s the center for oil/tar sands extraction in North America, and it banned distribution of plastic bags in 2012.

Elsewhere in the world, the European Union last fall voted to ban single-use plastic across the board by 2021. Included will be straws, plates, and cups.

But the most intriguing story comes from Africa. In Kenya, plastic bags were ubiquitous. One common practice was to defecate into plastic bags then throw it all up on to roofs.

The Guardian in November reported that the ban has resulted in clearer water, a food chain less contaminated and, too, fewer of the “flying toilets.”

A year after Kenya adopted the ban on plastic bags, including a prison sentence for those who violate it, several other African nations are considering following suit.


Suncor gives $10 million for indigenous program at Banff

BANFF, Alberta – Colorado has only one oil refinery, Suncor, located north of downtown Denver. It refines oil extracted locally but, at least as of a few years ago, also bitumen from Alberta’s oil/tar sands, where the company has extensive operations.

Now, Suncor, has committed $10 million over five years to the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity. The money, according to a press release cited by the Rocky Mountain Outlook, will secure the future of a program designed to empower the next generation of indigenous leaders to navigate the complex world of today’s society.


Whistler-area towns look at dikes to hold sea at bay

SQUAMISH, B.C. – Squamish lies along Howe Sound, an arm of the Pacific Ocean. This is where the highway from Vancouver begins rising to reach Whistler, which has a base elevation of about 2,200 feet (670 meters).

The town of about 20,000 people was created 109 years ago as a railway terminal connecting to the port. But the infrastructure created during the 20th century will likely be inadequate in a warmer world of the 21st century with more extreme weather.

Because of that, a study was launched several years ago to assess the risk to the town if sea level rises a meter by 2100, which looks to be quite possible, given the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Sea level rise of this magnitude would have significant impacts on Squamish, since the existing downtown core and surrounding area sit at an elevation just above present-day sea level and significant coastal development is anticipated over the next 10 to 20 years,” David Roulston, a municipal engineer for Squamish, wrote several years ago in a publication called Ocean Watch.

Two rivers flowing into Howe Sound at Squamish add to the risk, given the predicted increase in extreme weather, including rainstorms. There are dikes now to protect the town, particularly from flooding, but they will not be sufficient for the future.

A recently completed report found that the benefits of elevating the sea dike would outweigh costs by a factor of more than 100 to 1. The lengthy river dikes would have a substantially lower cost-benefit ratio of 2 to 1. The report also evaluated the reduced risk of human mortality.


The weight of snow groans on roofs, psyches in Sierras

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Snowfall in the Truckee-Lake Tahoe area of the Sierra Nevada has been both a thrill and a curse, says the San Jose Mercury News.

February was a month for the history books. It wasn’t just the whitest February on record. It was the whitest month, period. There have been bigger winters, but not bigger months—ever.

“The snow is so deep that there’s no easy way to drive here – and once you’re here, fierce winds and avalanches are limiting access to the best terrain. Many visitors are disappointed by delayed or closed lifts,” says the newspaper.

Then there’s life for the locals, trying to dig their way out on a daily basis.

“Life has really come to a stop,” Bill Oudegeest of the Donner Summit Historical Society told the Mercury News. “It’s just digging and blowing, digging and blowing.”

Adds the newspaper,; “That’s both the blessing and the curse of this unforgettable winter: blissful conditions but also major headaches, with nearly buried homes, unsafe driving, high avalanche danger, collapsed roofs and elevated risk of carbon monoxide poisoning due to clogged vents. And near constant shoveling.”

That shoveling includes roofs.

“The load is so tremendous. Windows are shattering from stress. It seeps into cracks, then freezes, ripping roofs apart,” said Tim Smith of Mountain Valley Roofing in Lake Tahoe. “These are the worst conditions that I’ve seen in 30 to 40 years,” he added.

This snowpack will be good for California’s reservoirs, which had not fully recovered from extended drought, despite a big, big winter just two years ago. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir, rose 39 feet in depth from Feb. 1 to Feb. 25. Other reservoirs on the flanks of the Sierra Nevada had similarly startling increases.

In Colorado, snowfall has been healthy but not oppressive. A storm over the weekend was expected to produce snowfall measured in feet, not inches, at some locations. More generally, though, the snow has been more manageable, even delightful.

Compared to the 300 inches of Squaw Valley and the 200 inches of Jackson Hole, Snowmass got 66 inches. Instead of a few really big dumps, snow fell in smaller amounts but frequently, altogether 17 days of snow over the month, reports The Aspen Times.

“I like skiing fresh, upon fresh, upon fresh,” one ski patroller told the newspaper’s Scott Condon.

Snowpack at the head of the Roaring Fork River was healthy but nothing to compare with that of the Sierra Nevada: 108 percent of average.


Another tree well death at Bachelor, third in a year

BEND, Ore. – Another skier has died after falling into a tree well at Mt. Bachelor, the third victim in the last 12 months, reports the Bend Bulletin. Prior to the deaths of a 19-year-old skier and a 24-year old snowboarder, the ski area had not had a tree-well death since 2000.

But in January, two other tree well deaths were reported in Oregon resorts, one at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood and the other at Mt. Ashland.


Story of 10th Mountain Div. gets told yet again in Vail

VAIL, Colo. – The story of the 10th Mountain Division gets retold time and again at Vail, for understandable reasons. The resort was co-founded by Pete Seibert, a veteran of the division, which had trained from 1942 to 1944 a short distance away at Camp Hale.

The town and the ski area this Friday will hold the fourth and final torchlight ski-down of skiers dressed in traditional 10th Mountain Division Ski Trooper uniforms. At the base, they join a parade of military veterans, also in uniform, to walk down the community’s Bridge Street to a statue of a 10th Mountain soldier along Gore Creek.

The ski area also hosted ski and winter training by the Colorado Army National Guard in conjunction with the Legacy Days celebration in mid-February.

The story of the 10th Mountain Division has had more reruns than “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Groundhog Day” combined. The division was formed in 1942, after the attack at Pearl Harbor led to U.S. entry into the war. The premise was that the United States might well need soldiers trained in snow and cold-weather situations.

Several training sites were examined, including one near Yellowstone National Park. But a valley called Eagle Park, located along the Continental Divide in Colorado was chosen, in large part because it was then located on a transcontinental railroad but also because it was also largely unoccupied. It became Camp Hale.

Soldiers trained from late 1942 until April 1944 at Camp Hale. On weekends they often went to Aspen and other towns. Ironically, Seibert, who trained at Camp Hale, never visited the ski area that he would create, with aid of others, or see the ski area’s signature Back Bowls, despite being just a valley away.

The 10th Mountain did not end up being a major factor in World War II, but when the soldiers finally saw combat in February 1945 in Italy’s Apennine Mountains, they did perform well and took extremely heavy casualties, losing more than 1,000 men in the rapid, bloody push. Germany surrendered just as they entered the foothills of the Alps.

After the war as ski troopers returned to civilian life, many were involved in creating new ski areas.

For Vail, it’s a story that keeps getting retold. Last week it was on national television, the Today Show. Among those telling the story were a pair of 10th Mountain veterans, who are now well into their 90s.


Biliteracy on the upswing in schools of Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. – In five years, 30 to 40 percent of Jackson Hole High School students could be biliterate in Spanish and English.

A person who is bilingual can fluently speak two languages. A biliterate person can read and write proficiently in two languages.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports an evolving dual immersion program. One local elementary school, Munger Mountain, is fully dual for all students. Students there spend half the day speaking (ideally) only English and half the day only Spanish.

Educators report that there seems to be evidence of cultural integration of presumably native Spanish language speakers and Anglos. But soccer, not just language, could be the tie that binds.


Meth addiction no excuse for brutal murder of wife

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – In 2016, Gustavo Olivo-Tellez shot and killed his estranged wife, Blanca Salas-Jurado, after first taking their son into a hallway outside the apartment near Glenwood Springs, about 40 miles down-valley from Aspen.

He then tried to hide the evidence, throwing away the handgun he used, the box of bullets, and his cell-phone battery into the Roaring Fork River.

As to his guilt, there was no real doubt. The real question posed at the 12-day trial was whether he should get a reduced sentence. Defenders, reports the Aspen Daily News and Glenwood Post-Independent, tried to paint a picture of a man whose brain was clouded by drugs.

Dr. Dawn Obrecht, a board-certified expert in addiction, testified that Olivo-Tellez’s brain was acutely afflicted by the meth and alcohol and had “sabotaged” his thinking.

“If it weren’t for methamphetamine, this homicide wouldn’t have happened,” said defense attorney Garth McCarty. He said that the man was trying to reconcile with his wife, a graduate of Aspen High School, but she angered him when she said she had been having sex with others, even his brothers. There is no evidence that she had.

Prosecutors painted a picture of cold-blooded murder, one premeditated at least four days prior when he had his then girlfriend buy him a box of bullets at a Walmart.

Jurors found Olivo-Tellez, 29, guilty of second-degree murder, meaning he could be released within 16 to 48 years. Had they convicted him of first-degree murder, he would have faced a longer prison sentence.

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