Mountain Town News: The ridge ruining ski plans, a catfight in Jackson Hole and celebrating Whitefish and Snowmass’ birthdays |

Mountain Town News: The ridge ruining ski plans, a catfight in Jackson Hole and celebrating Whitefish and Snowmass’ birthdays

Allen Best
Park Record contributing writer

That ridiculous ridge getting in way of Christmas skiing

KETCHUM, Idaho – It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Ketchum — but not the scenes found on holiday cards. Rather, it looks a lot like that of December 1936, the inaugural year for the Sun Valley Lodge.

Hillsides were brown that year at Christmas. Guests had to wait several days until a big storm arrived, notes the Idaho Mountain Express.

This year, save for what snowmakers so expertly can deliver, guests might have to wait longer.

The Weather Channel, in its 10-day outlook for Ketchum posted on Sunday, sees no better than a 50 percent chance of snow through December. Most days, the chances are rated at 10 to 20 percent.

In Colorado, Snowmass also was snow-shy as opening day approached 50 years ago. A dump arrived just before the Dec. 15 opening. This year, the 50th birthday party had no such miracle storm, only 93 acres of mostly manufactured snow for the 12,400 people who paid for commemoratively-priced $6.50 lift tickets.

The problem in Idaho, Colorado, and elsewhere is another manifestation of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge off the West Coast. The high-pressure ridge is acting like a hulking NFL lineman standing in a doorway, causing moisture to go around. The Sierra Nevada and the Rockies have been dry of late and, in November, uncommonly warm.

In the Tahoe Basin of California and Nevada, the snowpack this past week was described as “grim.” If Heavenly and Squaw Valley can boast of snow somewhat close to average at high elevations, not much snow could be found below 8,000 feet, reported Jeff Anderson, water supply specialist with the Nevada Natural Resources Conservation Service. What is above average is rainfall.

This narrative can turn on a dime, and it often has in the past. “A cold storm would really help. We’ll forget all this again next year if a big, cold storm comes through,” Anderson told the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Last winter, the storms that pounded the Sierra Nevada, leaving it drenched, came in January.

But at least in California, the odds are against anything approaching normal. Michael Dettinger, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, reported last week that chances of a normal “water year” in northern California had fallen to about 30 percent. In the southern half of the state, he put chances as low as 14 percent. His findings were reported on a blog run by UC San Diego’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes and reported by the Sacramento Bee.

A cat fight in Jackson Hole about display of dead lion

JACKSON, Wyo. – Trophy hunting became the topic du jour in Jackson Hole recently when a hunter bagged a male mountain lion, strapped it atop the back of his pickup, then drove down slowly on a road through the National Wildlife Refuge.

The hunter, Mark Veilleux, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide he didn’t drive slowly in an attempt to goad the photographers who had gathered along the road to see bighorn sheep.

“I guess if I see nine photographers on that freakin’ road again, maybe I’ll jam on my brakes and put something over it,” he said. “I don’t want to make people cry. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings.”

But he also had this to tell the newspaper: When driving on the road, he was “minding my own f—ing business.”

Veilleux, a road grader who grew up in Jackson Hole and now lives across Teton Pass in Victor, Idaho, had hunted mountain lions in that same area for years. It’s known as a place with a high density of lions. There are no grizzly bears there, and few wolves, because of the nature of the topography.

While he had treed other lions this year, he did not shoot. This time his dogs chased the tom cat for two hours before it climbed a tree, then jumped from one tree to another. He harvested the meat, which he described as being like pork and had the hide cured by a taxidermist.

The News&Guide reports sometimes vitriolic and petty debate in online forums. One of the photographers that had seen the lion said she didn’t think Veilleux is a horrible person. “Hopefully he won’t go and shoot another cat.”

The newspaper, in an editorial, didn’t go that far, but it did quote Jim Posewitz, author of a 1994 book called “Beyond Fair Chase: the Ethic and Tradition of Hunting.” “Any dead animal in transport should be discreetly covered,” Posewitz wrote.

A push in Canmore for the diversion of organic waste

CANMORE, Alberta – Banff, the town just inside the eponymously named national park, is diverting organics from its waste stream. Calgary is starting up. Why can’t Canmore, the gateway town to Banff National Park, do the same?

A study conducted in 2016 found that 37 percent of the landfill is organic material. Over half of that is food waste, and the rest comes from yards and such things as paper. Composting organic matter would reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also landfilling costs.

But if the other communities have mostly figured out how to compost organic material, Canmore is finding problems. A new community group is pushing elected officials to move forward, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, but those same elected officials are hearing words of caution from staff members.

Syrian refugees adjusting very well to life in Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. – Syrians who arrived in Whistler as refugees from the war-torn country seem to be doing well. Three of the four have jobs: one as a hairstylist, another working in after-school daycare, and the third on the breakfast prep crew at the Four Seasons Hotel. The matriarch of the family is keeping house and cooking meals.

Dani Alshami, a hairstylist, told Pique Newsmagazine that he was shocked by the reception of Whistler, both locals and tourists. “It was great. It was a positive shock,” he said. But in addition to this warm welcome he was surprised by how cold it could get. “It gets really cold,” he said.

Skiing milestones celebrated at Whitefish and Snowmass

WHITEFISH, Mont. – Several birthday parties have been held recently at ski areas in the West, most notably at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana and Snowmass in Colorado.

Big Mountain, as Whitefish was then known, opened on Dec. 14, 1947. Lift tickets were $2.

Big Mountain might best be seen as an echo of Sun Valley. Averill Harriman wanted to produce passengers for his Union Pacific trains, and Sun Valley was the answer in 1936. IN 1940, Great Northern dispatched Al and Grace Carter Lindley, two skiers from the 1936 Olympic team, to scout out possibilities. About the same time, there were efforts underway in Aspen, another place at the end of a railroad line.

Both Big Mountain and Aspen had to wait out World War II. In both cases and many more, there were 10th Mountain Division veterans involved. Karl Hinderman, who had helped train Army skiers on Mount Rainier in Washington state, fought in Italy’s Apennine Mountains and Po River Valley, ran the ski school at Big Mountain. Another figure at Big Mountain was Ole Dalen, who lost his right arm to shrapnel, but returned to skiing at Whitefish.

The Whitefish Pilot recounts many financial struggles over the decades for the ski resort and also prices that now look incredible: a two-bedroom cottage renting for $30 a month.

The name Big Mountain was replaced by Whitefish Mountain in 2006, in an effort to improve the marketability and link the resort to its town. This change didn’t go over well with everybody, the local heartburn evident in a spree of graffiti. But the long-discussed change now has taken hold even as Whitefish as thrived in recent years, says the Whitefish Pilot.

In Colorado, Snowmass turned 50 on Dec. 15. It’s a few miles from Aspen but, in a way, the model for it was Vail, which had opened five years before. There was no town of Snowmass before the Snowmass ski area, just as there was no Vail before the Vail ski area. But 10th Mountain Division veterans had their fingers in both.

The Aspen Daily News describes an NBC film made in 1967 that described with rapturous detail the glamour of skiing. A central figure was Stein Eriksen, the first director of skiing at Snowmass. “I stress beauty and grace as the most important things,” he says in the film.

An audience that saw the film recently was taken yet again by Eriksen, ever ageless and dashing with his flowing golden locks, narrow stance, and extreme angulation. “His December 2015 death still feels recent,” noted the News correspondent Madeleine Osberger.

Snowmass did not become the largest ski area in the world, as Ericksen predicted in 1967, but it did become the meal ticket for Aspen. Most people, when they go to Aspen, ski the more moderate slopes of Snowmass.

A commentator for the Aspen Daily News described it as the Rodney Dangerfield of ski areas. “It gets no respect, from Aspenites anyways,” said the unidentified writer. “Snowmass has always been Aspen’s punching bag, the brunt of endless jokes, like a relative who lives next door that never gets invited to the party.”

But in the stable of four ski areas owned by The Aspen Skiing Co., “it’s the Clydesdale workhorse… where the big numbers happen.”

Amazon responds quickly to complaints by Crested Butte

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Well, fancy that. Within two days of dispatching an e-mail of complaint to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, an Amazon rep responded.

“I was pleasantly surprised to receive a response at all from such a large corporation, never mind a response that actually addressed the concern presented,” said Dara MacDonald, the town manager.

Amazon has taken to sending packages through the U.S. Postal Service, to avoid the expense of United Parcel Service. This resulted in people journeying to the post office, which is in the middle of town, clogging traffic, along the already busy Lincoln Avenue.

The solution? Amazon will return its business to United Parcel Service, but advised Crested Butte residents that they must, if they want home delivery, use their street address, not their post office boxes, when ordering for merchandise on-line.

Objections filed to proposed wilderness mountain biking

KETCHUM, Idaho – The battle over whether wheels should be allowed in federally designated wilderness areas continues.

The latest in that long-simmering argument is a letter signed by 133 conservation groups that was submitted last week to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee.

The Subcommittee on Federal Lands on Dec. 7 heard testimony on the bill introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican from California. The bill, H.R. 1349, would amend the 1964 Wilderness Act by adding: “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized wheelchairs, non-motorized bicycles, strollers, wheelbarrows, survey wheels, measuring wheels or game carts within any wilderness area.”

A California-based group called the Sustainable Trails Coalition is behind the proposal. The organization insists that land managers misunderstood the original congressional intent in1964 in the blanket ban on bicycles and other wheeled vehicles in wilderness areas. With this blanket ban eliminated, federal land managers will then have discretion about the limits on mountain bikes in wilderness areas.

The letter submitted by the conservation groups points to precise language within the 1964 law, which specified “no other form of mechanical transport.” Furthermore, in its declared purpose of the Wilderness Act, Congress in 1964 stated this was to protect those areas from “expanding settlement and growing mechanization….”

Lest it be missed here, the key word is “mechanized.”

The conservation groups also object to the “seemingly cynical attempt to use people with disabilities as a justification for the bill.” The proposed legislation lists “motorized wheelchairs” and “non-motorized wheelchairs” as the first users to be authorized in the bill.

In fact, noted the letter, the Americans with Disabilities Act has allowed wheelchairs in designated wilderness areas since 1990.

Sierra Nevada grew inch during four-year drought

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Sierra Nevada rose nearly an inch (2.5 centimeters) from October 2011 to October 2015, according to a new study by NASA. Scientists say that the drought caused loss of water in the rock.

But since that drought ended two years ago, the mountains have risen a half-inch.

“This suggests that the solid Earth has a greater capacity to store water than previously thought,” said study leader Donald Argus of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The study used data from 1,300 Global Positioning System stations in the mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Aspen reps take case for mobility lab to Michigan

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen municipal officials are finding it somewhat difficult to secure major funding for a three-month mobility lab planned for next summer.

The fundamental problem perceived by city officials is that cars, for all the wonders of their mobility, make Aspen an unpleasant place. The goal of the living laboratory is to experiment with ways to get people to voluntarily leave their cars behind at intercept lots at the city’s entrance.

To pull off this experiment, city leaders think they need to round up $5.5 million. To that end, they have been pitching to foundations, auto manufacturers, and telecom and media companies. This necessitated trips to Silicon Valley and also Detroit.

Aspen’s affluence has dampened interest of foundations, so now the city employees are tailoring appeals to auto manufacturers. Candice Olson, who was hired to run the mobility lab, told elected officials last week that the auto experts “like our story” but are reluctant to contribute something to an effort in which they can see little long-term benefit.

Ashley Perl, the city’s climate action manager, told the Aspen Daily News after the city council meeting that Aspen is offering auto companies the opportunity to deploy specific products they are developing, including electric vehicles, pedal-assisted vehicles, and micro-transit shuttles as in-kind contributions.

The companies are also being asked for cash to support general lab expenses. Aspen is offering sponsorship opportunities tied to specific summer events, but also so far has looked to avoid having a title sponsor for the mobility lab.

Despite these challenges, council members remained upbeat. “It was,” said Councilwoman Ann Mullins, an example of “what makes me proud to sit at this table.” But Adam Frisch warned that planners must ensure there are a “bare minimum of operational” endeavors that can be put in place.

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