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July 2006

Blue Pages :: July 2006

How Much Global Warming?... How'd the Government Get in Our Pants?... Moving Ginn-Gerly Ahead... Jackson's Temporary Tram Solution... Look Out-Here Come the Beatles!... Sliding Into Summer... Shortswings.

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How Much Global Warming?
When Colorado College forecast that the intermountain West’s ski areas could see a temperature rise of 5˚C to 7˚C and a corresponding 50 percent drop in snowpack by 2085, it shocked some industry leaders. The forecast, part of the College’s annual “State of the Rockies” report, caught national attention and added to the spate of global warming warnings that have peppered the news lately.

But is this a case of Chicken Little? Emphasis in that first paragraph should be on the “could.” Colorado College used two models to predict the future, then selected the worst-case scenario as the basis for its report. That scenario assumes that the entire world continues on its ever-increasing fossil-fuel-burning vector. But it seems likely that won’t happen, for a variety of practical and political reasons. The report briefly acknowledges that its more conservative model, along with a reduction in fossil-fuel use, would produce less than a 50 percent reduction in snowpack in the mountains, though some lower-elevation locations could see a drop of that magnitude.

How’d the Government Get in Our Pants?
It’s not often that the government gets into the pants of the ski industry, and even less often that the industry feels good about it. But anyone who gets their ski pants out of China—and that’s just about everyone—can now breathe easier. As part of the 2005 U.S.-China apparel agreement, ski pants were exempted from the quota on imported man-made fiber pants. But the definition of a ski pant was loose enough that U.S. ports were interpreting it differently, causing delays and headaches for importers. So the interagency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA) has revised the definition to clarify which pants qualify.

The revised definition reads: "the term 'ski and snowboard pants' means ankle-length pants made of synthetic fabrics, with or without insulation for cold weather protection, with pockets, at least one of which has a zippered or hook and loop closure, sealed seams at the front (up to the zipper or other means of closure) and back rise, hidden leg sleeves with a means of tightening at the ankle, and with one or more the following: side openings, scuff guards or reinforcement in the seat. A sealed seam is one that is sealed by the means of taping, gluing, bonding, cementing, fusing or similar process so that air and water cannot pass through." And we thought they were just heavy-duty pants.

Moving Ginn-gerly Ahead
Bumping into the representative from Ginn Company at the recent NSAA convention reminded us that for a bunch of industry newbies, Ginn has operated very smoothly in fostering support for its major new projects in Minturn, Colo., and Burke, Vt.

For those who haven’t been following the news, Ginn recently revealed its blueprint for a major winter resort with eight lifts, a 1,700-unit residential development, 18-hole golf course and an aquatic center in Minturn, Colorado, on Vail’s backside. The company released details of wildlife studies, along with its plans to accommodate the native fauna. To serve guests, Ginn plans to pay full-time staff competitive salaries on a “tip-less” model that company brass believe will allow employees to afford their own homes. Even so, Ginn is considering the use of subsidized housing onsite, in Minturn, or in other neighboring communities. The company, in short, is trying to anticipate objections or obstacles to its plan and to have an answer for every one. So far, it’s working—the Ginn plan appears to have solid local support.

In Vermont, town officials have banned commercial development for the rest of the year, to give the town time to write a town plan and amend its zoning laws. But Ginn isn’t the target—possible related development is. Ginn, for its part, is working through the state’s Act 250 process, and won’t be in a position to begin anything before the end of the year. The company supports the town’s planning and zoning review, undoubtedly to protect Ginn’s own vision for 850 housing units, hotel and golf course around the existing Burke Mountain complex.

Jackson’s Temporary Tram Solution
Jackson Hole is moving toward a decision on a permanent replacement for its fabled tram, which won’t be in place until the 2008-09 season. In the meantime. it is also preparing a temporary solution: boosting capacity on the Bridger gondola and Thunder chair, and installing a double chair up the otherwise-unserved 600 vertical feet of Rendezvous Bowl to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain. The chain of lifts will take longer to reach the summit than the tram, but may provide greater hourly capacity (the tram moved just 300 people an hour). The double will eventually be relocated elsewhere at Jackson (pending Forest Service approval, of course) once the tram’s successor is in place. Betting is the new lift will be another aerial tram, although the area is also considering a bi-cable gondola. The current tram will serve as one of the world’s most expensive and elaborate work lifts and ferry people and material to their work sites.

Look Out—Here Come the Beetles!
It’s not enough that areas have to worry about global warming. Many Western areas also face a challenge both bigger and smaller: bark beetles. The little devils have been killing off various species of spruce and pine weakened by overprotective forestry policies and drought, and the end of the rampage is nowhere in sight. In the meantime, the damage is visible across the West—and it will likely be more so in the future.

Resorts have several concerns: destruction of prized glades, loss of trail divisions and boundary areas, increased fire danger and diminished aesthetics. Brian Head, Utah, has perhaps been hit hardest by the blight, which turns entire stands of trees red from dead needles. Steamboat has been combating the spruce beetle for a decade, and has seen reduced damage recently. But now the mountain pine beetle is becoming more active. Both Keystone and Vail are also stepping up their efforts to combat the bug.

Steps include logging the infected trees (there is no saving them once they are hit) and peeling the bark, spraying insecticide, and baiting and trapping using bark beetle pheromones. All of which can be effective in the limited acreage in and around a resort. But the larger battle against widespread infestation is more difficult. The government is considering bills that would pay for control, primarily as a means of wildfire suppression. But as we’ve seen before, it’s practically impossible to control the forces of nature once they have been set in motion.

Sliding into Summer
Hold a major promotional event in January, and the media ignores it. But stage a rail jam in May or June on a huge stockpile of snow, and the media beats a path to your door—as do hundreds of sliders and spectators. That’s what happened at three Midwestern areas this past May and June.

All the areas had closed by early April, then reopened for a brief spring fling. First up was Welch Village. Having collapsed its halfpipe into a huge whale at season’s end, the area watched as the pile shrank leading up to its May 7 May Fly event. Welch set up six park features on the snow that remained and drew about 200 sliders, plus three TV stations and a slew of local newspapers. Watch for the three-minute video to pop up on the website.

Spirit Mountain was next, hosting “Damage Revisited” on May 13. Organized by a local snowboard shop, the event drew 200 sliders to a 50-foot by 500-foot minipark (the remnants of the winter’s halfpipe) despite cold, rain, and fog.

And last of all was Badlands Sno-Park, which had plowed snow into a shallow ravine and covered it with hay. Almost all the original stash remained in early June, and Badlands turned it into a 150- to 200-foot-long run with a jump and a few rails. With the experience gained from this first go-round, Badlands plans to make snow specifically for the event next year and shoot for July 4.

The winter-in-summer idea has also caught on in the East. Stowe held its third annual Last Trick Rail Jam on Memorial Weekend, with a collection of rails and boxes, and with major sponsor Burton providing pro athletes, an MC, music, and prizes for those who impressed an informal panel of judges. Several hundred riders and spectators hiked the short climb to what remained of the wintertime halfpipe. Some ideas never grow tired.

K2 Sports, which has bought up several companies in the past few years, acquired Line skis and the North American rights to the Karhu brand, and will move operations to Vashon Island this summer . . .Indian officials have approved the $300 million Ford-driven resort being planned in the Himalayas, despite the objections of the local deities. Now the developers must simply overcome the logistics of bringing in supplies to the resort, a 15-hour drive from Delhi, the nearest major hub. . .Skier-cross and women’s ski jumping are making a run at becoming Olympic events for the 2010 Winter games in Vancouver. The IOC has the proposal in hand.