Mountain Town News: Roaring rapids in the Sierras |

Mountain Town News: Roaring rapids in the Sierras

Allen Best, author of Mountain Town News.
Courtesy of Allen Best

And now the snow has started to roar

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – And now the water roars, as the giant snowpack of winter – augmented by an uncommonly cold and wet spring– begins to melt.

Parts of California got up to 400 percent of average snowfall in “Mayuary.”

“That monster snowpack is about to come melting down the slopes thorough rivers and streams with ferocity, pushing an already fast water flow into a furious rage,” says the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

In Colorado, where snow still blankets the San Juan Mountains, the Durango Telegraph has proclaimed El Niño as the winner of this year’s Hardrock Hundred. The race was scheduled for mid-July.

Organizers cancelled the 100-miler foot race among the peaks of the San Juans around Silverton owing to “unprecedented avalanche debris, unstable snow bridges and high water” that compromised 40 miles of the race course.

It was the third time in 27 years that the race had been canceled, the first being in 1995 because of too much snow and then in 2002 because of forest fires.

At the California Weather Blog, meteorologist Daniel Swain suggests a big view of weather extremes across North America: floods in Nebraska, tornadoes in Oklahoma, a massive forest fire in Canada, and record heat in the Arctic. They’re all connected, he points out.

Emerging evidence suggests that such weather extremes may be occurring with greater frequency and intensity as the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the planet.

“Interestingly, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the impacts we experienced in 2019 will be exactly the same the next time this pattern repeats,” Swain explains on his blog. Every iteration of the “wavy jet stream” produces new patterns of warmth vs. coolness and very wet vs. very dry.

Lively competition in utility board election

EDWARDS, Colo. – Larissa Read’s election to the board of directors of Holy Cross Energy was unusual in that she had to top three other candidates. The Vail Daily reports she got 39 percent of the votes compared to 27 percent for the first runner up.

Elections of directors for Holy Cross and other rural electrical co-operatives have traditionally attracted little notice. This one was no exception in that only 6.9 percent of members voted. In co-ops, members are also customers.

But often there is no more than one candidate, and rarely more than two for any spot. The difference may lie in the emerging prominence of Holy Cross in its concerted effort to decarbonize the electricity that it delivers to the Vail, Aspen, and other areas along Interstate 70 in western Colorado.

Adam Palmer, a director who has been on the board since 2009, suggests the greater awareness of the role of greenhouse gas emissions in causing climatic changes had a role in the number of candidates.

Too, a wildfire last summer at Basalt raised questions about resilience of delivery of electricity. The fire took out three transmission lines and very nearly eliminated a fourth transmission line. Had it done so, portions of Aspen and all of Snowmass would have been without power on the 4th of July weekend last year.

The co-op is also pushing ahead in the broader “beneficial electrification,” to replace fossil fuels in transportation and ultimately in heating of buildings.

Read, a consultant who provides planning, facilitation, and project management services to environmental, non-profit, and governmental organizations, helped facilitate creation of the Climate Action Plan for Eagle County.

In response to questions from the Vail Daily, Read said she wanted to continue her service role and “help guide a leading regional utility into a low-carbon future.”

Crusaders mascot likely to be replaced at Canmore

CANMORE, Alberta – It appears that the Crusaders, as a mascot, will soon be replaced at Canmore Collegiate High School. A student group has settled on Coyotes, Wolverines, and Cyclones as candidates for the replacement.

This was triggered by a letter to students in March from the school principal, Chris Rogers. His letter talked about the need for to “ensure an inclusive, safe and caring school for all.”

The name crusaders, like many other words, has several shades. The broader meaning is that of a person who campaigns vigorously for political, social, or religious change. The more narrow meaning refers to those who participated in religious wars sanctioned by the Latin church in the Medieval Period.

One person who had come up with the name Crusaders 40 years ago told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that it was the first, broader meaning that was intended. What, then, to make of the shield and sword that are part of the mascot? They’re a clear allusion to the religious soldiers dispatched to the Middle East.

Ruth Suffield, a teacher who is overseeing the student committee, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook she was confused by the name herself.

“I just recently spent quite a bit of time studying Islam, understanding that region better, and the tensions that exist between our countries and Islamic countries, so I can’t not notice the historical references of Crusaders to the Christian Crusaders in the past,” she said.

“I think it’s true that lots of student and perhaps people in the valley didn’t associate Crusaders as necessarily negative,” the teacher added. But it was useful to have the discussions about how the mascot might be perceived by others, such that they might not feel very welcome.

Also under the heading of inclusivity, the municipality of Canmore will be working with students from the high school to find a prominent location for a rainbow sidewalk, the symbol of acceptance for varying kinds of sexuality.

Basketball fans multiply in Whistler in NBA finals

WHISTLER, B.C. – It wasn’t quite like it would have been had the Montreal Canadiens been playing the San Jose Sharks for the Stanley Cup, but the excitement in Whistler on Monday night was notable nonetheless.

The Toronto Raptors played the Golden State Warriors in a win-or-go-home for the latter, and the bars in Whistler were full.

Whistler has its basketball fans but they mostly fly under the radar in a town obsessed first with hockey but also downhill skiing, mountain biking, and other outdoor pursuits, reports Clare Ogilvie, editor of Pique Newsmagazine. But the NBA playoffs this year has made fans of others—including herself.

“Now everybody is on the bandwagon, and people are going into bars all over the place and finding places to cheer,” Ogilvie reports.

Oakland, home of the Warriors, is closer to Whistler than Toronto. But in this case, national pride matters more than physical proximity. “We have only one team (in the NBA), unlike America, where there are a lot of basketball teams at this level,” she says.

Vail mum about plans for Crested Butte expansion

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte Mountain Resort has the final approval it needs for a major expansion of ski terrain. The Forest Service OK’d the addition of 500 acres plus three new lifts to service intermediate and advanced terrain. The Crested Butte News reports that Vail Resorts, the ski area owner, has not yet disclosed what it intends to do with this expansion, which had been initiated by the previous owners.

Uranium mining unlikely in area west of Telluride

TELLURIDE, Colo. – About an hour and a half west of Telluride, where the San Juan Mountains give away to sandstone canyons, uranium mining occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.Then, it went away, leaving a number of messes.

It does not look to resume again any time soon. There had been considerable worry among environmental groups in Telluride, and the town itself, about potential for resumption of uranium mining and processing. The most significant worry was about creation of a new Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, with the possibility for radioactive dust to blow into the town’s watershed.

The Telluride Daily Planet points to a paradox. A federal judge recently issued a decision that ends a seven-year ban on uranium mining in the Naturita-Paradox Valley west of Telluride. But this also means that the Department of Energy can get to work on stalled-out reclamation plans in the area.

Energy Fuels, the proponent of the Piñon Ridge mill, has shifted its focus to other projects and no longer has much stake in its leases from the Department of Energy in the area west of Telluride.

“They are really not in our short- or medium-term plans,” said Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore. “There are some resources out there, and a lot of those are former mines operated in the 1950s and 1960s. The mines could still operate, but it would take a lot of work to bring them into compliance with modern regulations. It’s not a priority for us.”

After another narrow miss, concern about worker safety

JACKSON, Wyo. – Recently a dump truck carrying roofing supplies lost its brakes while descending Teton Pass into Jackson Hole. Nobody was hurt, no cars were forced off the road. But it was yet another close call.

But why were the two workers not better trained and equipped? The Jackson Hole News&Guide sees a pattern. Employers need to be more accountable, it declares.

Two men were killed last year in a trench. The developer that ultimately employed them was fined $19,532 by Wyoming’s Occupation Safety and Health Administration.

As for the recent roll-over, the newspaper notes, the employer’s punishment might be limited to the lost roofing supplies strewn across the highway and the totaled truck. So far, investigators have been unable to pin down the construction site where the men were working. The truck had Oklahoma plates and was not registered to a business.

“With a hot economy, the construction industry is humming, but at what price?” the newspaper asked in an editorial.

“We’re calling on employers – from homeowners to general contractors – to quit cutting corners, recognize the legitimate cost of licensed and bonded subcontractors and keep our workers and community safe.”

In Park City, a dump truck’s brakes also failed. The 36-year-old driver avoided catastrophe by steering the truck as it sped down the road onto a runaway truck ramp. This is between Deer Valley and the Old Town portion of Park City. The Park Record said police found that 4 of the truck’s 10 brakes were ineffective.

Robust economy produces hotel proposal in Ketchum

KETCHUM, Idaho – A four-story, 100-room hotel has been proposed for downtown Ketchum. Utah-based PEG Companies has purchased the property, called the Gateway parcel, and hopes to begin construction next spring. It would be part of the Marriot Autograph Collection, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

The hotel, if it goes forward, would be across the street from the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Limelight Hotel. Ketchum officials approved four or five potential hotels before the real estate recession 11 years ago, but the Limelight – recreated from another hotel plan – has been the only one to go forward.

Meanwhile, in the Aspen area, the Aspen Skiing Co. has been working for several years to build more affordable housing in Basalt, which is located 18 miles down-valley from the ski company’s marquee Aspen and Snowmass ski areas. The current iteration calls for 36 units with 148 bedrooms.

But the Basalt Town Council has deadlocked on whether to approve it. One stickler of a problem is parking spaces, reports the Aspen Daily News. Options seem to be narrowing.

David Corbin, the senior vice president for planning and development for the Aspen Skiing Co., told Basalt officials that costs have increased 17 percent since December. Rising costs and the changes Basalt wants would push the costs 32 percent higher. That, he suggested, kills the project.

From highest to lowest airports in record time

LEADVILLE, Colo. – On June 2, Kent Holsinger broke the record in one of those categories that might be called dubious superlative. He set a record for the fastest flight between the highest airport in the continental United States to that of the lowest.

The highest is at Leadville, where the airport lies at an elevation of 9,993 feet in the shadows of Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, Colorado’s two highest peaks. The lowest airport in the United States lies 530 miles away in California’s Death Valley. There, the Furnace Creek airport is 210 feet below sea level.

The flight took Kent Holsinger, an attorney, 3 hours and 13 minutes. He flew at an average speed of 164 mph.

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