Mountain Town News: Ski towns negotiate hotels and e-bikes
June 19, 2018
One ski town gets another hotel, but proposals elsewhere struggle
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – In six or seven months, Snowmass Village will get another hotel as well as two other buildings.
The 99-room hotel, will be branded as a Limelight, a relatively new chain of four-star lodging created by the Aspen Skiing Co. The company also has a Limelight in Aspen and in Ketchum, Idaho. The company has also investigated other markets, including non-traditional ski towns, like Boulder, Colo.
The Aspen Daily News reports that the hotel will have an unusual feature: a climbing wall. One of the three lanes climbs the entire five stories of the hotel, and another climbing lane is to be more family friendly, explained Andy Gunion, who is managing construction on behalf of East West Partners. East West owns the development along with Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital.
The project goes back almost 20 years, when the Aspen Skiing Co. decided that its most heavily used ski mountain needed a more inviting base area. It partnered with Intrawest, then sold the rights to a company that went bankrupt during the recession. Work finally resumed in 2017.
In Ketchum, town officials 15 years ago were also trying to buff up the aging lodging at the base of the Sun Valley ski trails. It took several years, but when all was said and done, hotels were allowed to be bigger and taller. Altogether, four of them were authorized—just as the recession arrived.
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Aspen built the aforementioned Limelight after obtaining development rights from another developer. The Auberge, a second hotel, has excavated a site but done nothing more. Its previously deadline was for completion this year. Last week, the Ketchum City Council extended the deadline to 2021. But the developer, Jack Bariteau, must get a plan for 18 employee housing beds squared away by the end of October, reports the Express.
Two other hotel proposals in Ketchum, Warm Springs Resort and Sun Valley Resort, have been approved but have done nothing yet.
Vail Resorts also had dreams of developing lodging at the base of its namesake Vail Mountain, in effect creating a third base-area portal to the mountain. That plan was first hatched in 2006. Called EverVail, it was even then called a $1 billion project, both because of the expansiveness of the lodging product envisioned but also the work to get everything right on the 12.6-acre site. Among other chores, the company needed to relocate a two-lane highway.
Since the plan was approved by town officials in 2012, Vail Resorts has largely gotten out of the business of developing real estate. But whether this project will get developed is uncertain. The highway relocation must be completed by the end of 2020. If not, explains the Vail Daily, then the approval granted by the town will expire. A developer would have to start fresh at the site.
One developer, speaking on condition of confidentiality, said the project as originally envisioned almost certainly will never happen, because of the cost.
Greg Moffet, a member of the Vail council, said during a meeting covered by the Vail Daily that the plan envisions using at least a portion of the housing units for fractional-fee use, a market that has essentially vanished. "This is going to have to get revisited kind of soup to nuts," Moffet said. "There's not a lot (a developer) can take to a bank."
At least one other hotel approved in Vail before the recession also remains unbuilt, a Marriott at the site of a 1960s property called the Roost Lodge.
In Breckenridge, a 150-room hotel with 50 wholly owned condos is being parsed by the community. Breckenridge Grand Vacations has been working with a Miami-based firm, Lionheart Capital, to build a branded, four-star hotel at the base of Peak 8, reports the Summit Daily News.
Meanwhile, a 123-key time-share resort is being built on six acres north of downtown. The developer, Welk Resorts, was founded in 1964 by popular TV bandleader Lawrence Welk and has remained mostly family owned since then. The Daily News says the resort will open next year.
Ski towns figuring out whether e-bikes belong on trails or not
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – Elected officials in Snowmass Village have decided to allow the lower-powered versions of e-bikes for use on paved trails in the town. This decision follows adoption of a similar policy by Pitkin County.
Pitkin County commissioners, reports the Aspen Daily News, last month ended their prohibition on e-bikes on a section of a major trail along the Roaring Fork River that had been in place since 2011. Other prohibitions on county trails were also lifted.
Colorado law recognizes three classes of e-bikes and allows the lesser-powered e-bikes on bike and pedestrian paths, unless local jurisdictions specified different restrictions.
In Wyoming, Jackson Hole is debating the virtues of e-bikes. The Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board Commissioners overwhelmingly supported allowing e-bikes on town and county paths last December. But a small cohort of the local community has pushed back, saying e-bikes are capable of traveling 28 mph and hence incompatible with non-motorized uses.
The Jackson Hole News&Guide says that Wyoming law leaves e-bikes in a gray area, forcing towns and counties to navigate while determining how best to handle the trendy form of transportation.
The town and county officials decided not to specify speed limits of e-bikes, because of the challenge of enforcing it. However, they specifically reserved the right to do so at any time.
A smoky week in San Juans as fire inevitably seizes its chance
DURANGO, Colo. – Compared to fire 16 years ago, the fire underway in southwest Colorado near the Purgatory ski area as of Tuesday morning was still much smaller, 22,130 acres.
The Missionary Ridge Fire, across the Animas River Valley, burned about 79,000 acres before it was finally quelled after weeks of burning in 2002.
Still, this fire has been big enough to send smoke billowing into the sky and to force the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes, including housing associated with the Purgatory ski area. The ski area is 27 miles north of Durango. Seven helicopters were enlisted to aid the 813 firefighters on the scene.
"Although smaller than the Missionary Ridge, this one is almost worse, due to the number of houses involved, and that it has shut down the train, Highway 550, the resort and the entire San Juan National Forest," reported Missy Votel, editor of the Durango Telegraph.
"It's smokier than a Las Vegas lounge right now," she reported Tuesday morning.
Firefighters expect a slog, what their spokesman told the Durango Herald called a "long duration event."
On Monday, the entire San Juan National Forest of southwestern Colorado was closed to public access, a reflection of the tinder-dryness of the vegetation. Even in May, 2X4s in local lumberyards had more moisture in them than trees standing in local forests. This is the first time since 2002 that a national forest has been closed in Colorado and the first time ever for the San Juan.
The fire was not a shock. People in northern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado have been dreading a long, hot summer after a low-snow winter. The Natural Resource Conservation Service says the water year—not the same as a calendar year—in southwestern Colorado is only marginally better than the driest year on record, based on automated SNOTEL measurement site data. That worse year was 2002.
Another fire, called Burro, was flaring 10 miles to the west. And elsewhere in Colorado, a blaze in the pinion-juniper-and-sagebrush country about 15 miles west of Vail captured at least local attention while closing the highway between Vail and Steamboat Springs.
Even in areas that got more snow, people were taking precautions. In Red Cliff, a town of 300 people in a tree-lined bowl near Vail, one homeowner Sunday morning was removing flammable vegetation from around his house and preparing to put metal siding on a wooden outbuilding.
In nearby Summit County, county commissioners from across Colorado gathered to talk about wildfire threats. A focus was on what is called the wildland-urban interface. One take-away from the meeting, reported the Summit Daily News, is that more and more people will be wanting to live in such dangerous areas. The state's population, now at nearly 5.7 million, is expected to grow to 9 or 10 million in the next three decades.
Logan Sand, a state official said that a third of Colorado's population already lives in the wildland-urban interface, "and that's going to continue increasing for the next 30 years or so."
Along the shores of Lake Tahoe, which is split by California and Nevada, at similar discussion has been underway.
"It's not a matter of getting better at firefighting; it's now a matter of too much stuff for fires to burn," said Malcolm North, a forest ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service.
"Despite costs to the federal government now above $3 billion annually of waging war on fire, it's a failure."
We're losing the forest fire battle. It's not whether fire will occur, it's when," he told the Lake Tahoe News.
"We have two choices. We can continue to deny that we can control fire, or we can get in front of it and learn how to be smarter when it comes to forest fires."
Like others, he blames clear-cutting during the early Eurosettlement for creating even-stand forests.
"Large, fire resistant trees were cut and 'defect' trees were eliminated," he said. "But in actuality, these gnarled, crooked trees (defect trees) are the nexus for wildlife such as owls. That was not a good idea."
Then came many decades of fire suppression, not just in the Sierra Nevada but across the West.
"Fire is actually essential in a forest," he went on to explain, as fire ecologists have been saying for decades. Eliminating periodic fires of every 10 to 15 years has resulted in more powerful crown fires when the fires inevitably do occur.
A typical healthy forest in the past supported about 64 trees per acre with a diameter of about 26 inches; now, there are about 320 trees on an acre with girths of 14 inches or so.
What exactly drew Kanye West to Jackson Hole?
JACKSON, Wyo. – Kanye West flew in Chris Rock and 300 to 400 rap artists, models, actors, and other friends of the singer into Jackson for a release party of his new 7-song tape.
The release party— apparently used commonly as a promotional device in the music industry—got significant national attention. The unusualness of the setting may have had something to do with it. There were a bonfire and the Tetons in the background.
The Jackson Hole News&Guide explored what it called the "Kanye effect." The most obvious question was how much all this publicity was worth for tourism promotion. By one off-hand estimate, it was worth as much as all the annual $1.6 million promotion budget for Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board.
But Jonathan Schechter, an economist who operates a think tank in Jackson Hole, suggested the more interesting question was what attracted Kanye West to Jackson Hole in the first place.
One possibility, Schechter said, was the relative naturalness of the environment.
"The thing that distinguishes Jackson Hole and the Tetons region from basically every other major resort community is the quantity, quality and health of our ecosystem. So the question to Kanye would be: 'Is that something that matters a lot to him? Or did he find other things that attracted him to this place?'"
Surprised mama grizzly will naturally be a bit defensive
BANFF, Alberta – If not for bears, it's a wonder what kind of news there would be in Banff.
The Rocky Mountain outlook reports that at lone hiker had a lucky escape after he surprised a female grizzly bear and her cub along a shoreline trail in Banff National Park. The cub dashed across the trail, followed quickly by the sow, who charged and took a swipe at the man's backpack.
"It was a classic surprise encounter," explained Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for Banff National Park. "A lone hiker, not great sight lines, and they caught each other by surprise. She reacted as a bear will, and once the surprise part was over, the bear disengaged."
At Canmore, at the entrance to Banff National Park, a curious black bear caused a stir after it nearly wandered into the lodges at Canmore. It was turned back by a second set of doors.
A report on human-wildlife coexistence released recently has 28 recommendations about how to reduce the probability and severity of wildlife encounters in the busy and highly developed Bow Valley. The Outlook says many of the recommendations contained in the report have already been implemented to varying degrees.
County commissioners speak out about EPA relaxing mileage rules
EAGLE, Colo. – Those county commissioners in Eagle County have become an opinionated bunch on environmental issues. The trio recently had an op-ed in the Vail Daily that declares that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a wrong move in April when it said it would weaken the clean-air standards.
The standards required cars and light trucks sold in the United States to average around 50 miles per gallons by 2025. That improved gas mileage would prevent 6 billion metric tons—roughly one year's worth of total U.S. carbon emissions—over the lifetime of the vehicles sold.
If current emissions standards get rolled back, the replacement will nearly wipe out the carbon pollution gains from two coal-fired power plants in Colorado proposed for retirement. The plants, Comanche 1 and 2, provide electricity directly or indirectly to much of Colorado, including Summit County and Steamboat Springs.
The EPA in April said that transportation was responsible for 28.5 percent of greenhouse gases in the United States followed by electrical production at 26.4 percent. Industry follows at 22 percent, then residential and commercial buildings at 11 percent, and agriculture at 9 percent.
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