Mountain Town News: Making lemonade out of snow lemons, | ParkRecord.com

Mountain Town News: Making lemonade out of snow lemons,

Allen Best
Park Record contributing writer

Making lemonade during a winter of almost no snow

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Can you have a ski resort without snow falling from the heavens? That's the proposition Telluride and a good many other resorts have been unwittingly testing this winter.

There has been scant snowfall in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Surveys conducted last week found snow depths 22 percent of normal. To the north in Colorado, they were reported to be 65 percent of normal. Aspen got nine inches over the weekend, hardly worth mentioning in most years. This year it's the equivalent of a man biting a dog.

In Telluride, the chief executive of the community's promotional arm reports no grim hits to the tourism economy – not yet at least. "It's not all about snow," says Michael Martelon, of VisitTelluride. "But if we had it, it would make everything else better."

Martelon is quick to note that Telluride differs from resorts close to cities in that its customers mostly come from long distances. Denver is six hours away, Phoenix eight. Snow is somewhat less important to its visitors than weekend skiing customers on Colorado's I-70 corridor or those from Utah's Wasatch Front.

Telluride still has skiing, thanks in part to $15 million in snowmaking investments in the last six years. But for many visitors, skiing is not the end all, be all. There are galleries, restaurants, and even the Jud Wiebe Trail. Located on the south-facing slopes above Telluride, it was still accessible even after the storm left seven inches of snow over the weekend.

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Christmas was strong, and the only repercussion so far has been a softening in bookings for spring break. Lodges require 45-day advance payment, he notes. But for the moment, bookings are pacing to be ahead of last year.

Martelon sees lemonade when others, especially locals accustomed to daily blasts of powder, see lemons. "It might be a blessing in disguise," he says. "Taking care of the guest becomes the absolute priority, because the snow isn't doing it for you."

That said, he suggested checking back in May, to see if his optimism was fully justified.

Elsewhere in the West's ski towns, Ketchum and Sun Valley reported a lucrative holiday season, better in most cases than the year before. Before, there was powder to ski in the morning. This year, there was little compelling reason to arise, so people stay out at night, explained the Idaho Mountain Express.

At the foot of the ski area, the Ketchum Ranger Station had no measurable snow on the ground on Jan. 1. That's a first since record-keeping began in 1938, according to the National Weather Service.

In Aspen, there was optimism that snowmaking – helped by cold nights – will save the day for the X Games Aspen on Jan. 25-28 "It really is impressive what the snowmaking and grooming teams have been able to do," Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the company, told the Aspen Daily News.

In California, an early January snow survey near the entrance to the Sierra Tahoe ski area revealed an average depth of 1.3 inches of snow. The water in that snow is 3 percent of the long-term average for the location, at about 6,640 feet (2,020 meters) in elevation, reported Lake Tahoe News.

Will this change? "There is still a lot of winter left," Frank Gehrke, who conducts the survey, said. "January, February and into March are frequently productive."

Study finds fewer trees after wildfires in Rockies

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – More evidence has arrived that climate change is here and now, not something that will happen decades hence. The testimony is found in the scars of wildfires in the Rocky Mountains.

Researchers measured more than 63,000 seedlings found within sites of 52 fires that burned between 1985 and 2015 in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The purpose was to understand if and how the changing climate affected post-fire tree regeneration.

They found that during the 21st century, a time that has been markedly hotter and drier than the late 20th century, tree regeneration decreased significantly.

"We often talk about climate change and how it will affect us in the future, but the truth is we are already seeing those changes," said Camille Stevens-Rumann, assistant professor in the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship at Colorado State University.

"Disturbances like wildfires are a catalyst for change. In many places, forests are not coming back after fires."

Historically, forests change over time. But this study suggests that it will take much longer after a wildfire for sites to return to forests—if they return at all.

"Even if we plant trees in those areas, it's unlikely to be successful," said Stevens-Rumann. "We need to start expecting that these landscapes aren't going to look the same in the future, whether it's reduced density of trees or no longer a forest."

Instead, the researchers predict more forested areas to be replaced with shrubs or grasslands after fires. They attribute the change to warmer temperature and prolonged dry periods. These changes are most prominent in lower elevations.

New cannabis policy not likely to upset apple cart

ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen has seven stores that sell cannabis, either for medical or general recreational proposes. Now that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed the Obama administration's hands-off policy, does that mean federal agents will soon be swooping down to make arrests?

Not likely, local law enforcement officials tell the Aspen Daily News.

When you look at the practicality of what that would look like, there just isn't the manpower to do that," said Jeff Cheney, Colorado's 9th Judicial District attorney. That said, he told the Aspen Times he's "confused about the future."

By federal law, marijuana possession and consumption remains illegal in the United States. Following California in 1996, 29 states and the District of Columbia now allow use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Colorado and seven other states allow sale and use of cannabis for non-medicinal purposes.

The Obama administration indicated it wouldn't enforce the federal law. But Sessions, when he was a U.S. senator, always disliked marijuana. It was no surprise that he has reversed the Obama administration's policy.

If federal agents can't treat everyone equally and raid all dispensaries, that poses questions of whether actions were taken arbitrarily, Cheney said. He believes this will force Congress to get involved.

"It seems like Congress is going to have to reaffirm the law … or revise it and evolve with the changing expectations of folks," he told the Times.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe Di Salvo has largely the same position. He told the Times he doesn't know how the federal government can fight with the millions of people who live in the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana. "There's probably 60 million people in those states," he said. "They're going to have a hard time doing this."

DiSalvo would like federal agents instead to look for rogue growers and rogue dispensers. Better yet, he'd like to see federal resources devoted toward combating the opioid epidemic in the United States.

Elsewhere in ski towns of Colorado, cannabis sellers in the Winter Park area are of mixed opinions about how it will affect their access to banks, nearly all of which are part of the federally regulated banking system.

Dan Volpe, owner of Serene Wellness in Winter Park, said banking has been a major issue since he joined the industry, and he fears it will get worse. He told the Sky-Hi News that inability to have bank accounts or get construction loans or mortgages has been "crippling."

But an attorney for Igadi, Ltd., seemed to take the memo from Sessions in stride. The company seems to have a comfortable relationship with the banking system. Banks exercise oversight to ensure comfort that nothing is being done outside of Colorado laws. "They can tell we're not laundering money or engaging in any activities that are not within the regulatory regime that the state has set for us," said David Michel, general counsel for the dispensary.

Colorado elected officials have responded with indignation to the memo by Sessions. Gov. John Hickenlooper, in an interview on CNN, pointed to the need to have access to banks. "Banks are as skittish as a young colt," he said. "I'm afraid they're going to spook some of these banks out of the business completely, and then we're in an all-cash business. That's a way to get more cartels and underworld activity."

Better but more costly bear-proof trash barrels

JACKSON, Wyo. – Some places in the world want a better mousetrap. In Jackson Hole, there is talk about a better bear-proof garbage container.

A new prototype seems to be better because it can be unloaded with a truck's mechanical arm. That compares with other bear-proof cans that tend to break down and are inefficient. But then again, there is a cost: $240 for these new containers, compared to $70 for the older models that are more commonly used, notes the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Just much to weigh the stars in hotel rankings

VANCOUVER, B.C. – So, who do you believe when you're wanting to stay at a five-star hotel?

That seems to be a question involved in a curious dispute working its way through the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The case very fundamentally addresses what it means to be a "first-class luxury hotel," says Business in Vancouver.

The case involves the Four Seasons hotel in Vancouver. Landlords of the hotel want to be able to kick it out and bring in another luxury brand, perhaps a Ritz-Carlton or W Hotel. The landlord alleges that the hotel's appearance is "tired, dated and not in keeping with typical first-class luxury hotels."

Forbes Travel Guide has a different impression. Last year, it ranked the Four Seasons as being one of two five-star hotels in Vancouver. But the American Automobile Association, or AAA, only gave it four stars. TripAdvisor—the customer survey—ranks it only 15th out of Vancouver's 92 hotels.

Rod Harris, an adjunct professor of tourism and hospitality management at Royal Roads University, says peer reviews can be helpful but that they should be taken with a grain of salt. "There is no perfectly objective system in place."

Rental cars without snow tires create a royal mess

WHISTLER, B.C. – A heavy snowstorm in Whistler over the holidays reignited a pet peeve among locals. Too many rental cars in town had inferior tires for the snowy conditions. Car-rental companies at the airport in Vancouver should not be allowed to send out cars on the Sea to Sky Highway that links Vancouver with Whistler, opined Pique Newsmagazine editor Clare Ogilvie.

"It is absolutely outrageous that rental cars put people's lives at risk by allowing guests to drive up to Whistler from the Vancouver airport in cars that are not equipped with the right tire for the conditions," she writes.

In Quebec, it became mandatory in 2007 to have proper winter snow tires on a vehicle from mid-December to mid-March.

The highway from Vancouver to Whistler requires better-than-summer tires, but not necessarily snow tires. "A big mistake, in my mind," she comments.

First $2 billion year for sales of real estate since 2008

VAIL, Colo. – Real estate sales by Thanksgiving had nudged ahead of $2 billion in Eagle County for the first time since 2008. The county includes Vail and Beaver Creek. The Vail Daily reports that sales through the first 11 months of the year had exceeded those of the prior period in 2016 by 16 percent.

Winter Park area creates affordable housing bodies

WINTER PARK, Colo. – A Winter Park Housing Authority has been established, a reflection of the tightening housing market in the resort town.

Full-time residence in housing within the town dropped 7 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to a housing needs assessment study, while construction costs now exceed $350 per square foot, reported in the Sky-Hi News.

In the adjoining town of Fraser, elected trustees have created a Community Housing Task Force and have given the body responsibility for identifying potential properties for development. The trustees had previously appropriated $500,000 for development of community housing.