Resort Report: Snowbird, Wolf Creek, shrinking Vermont & backcountry lawbreakers

There is a lot going on as ski areas prepare to shut down. From Snowbird's new tram proposal, to Wolf Creek's trouble with OSHA, to shrinking ski towns in Vermont and a Scottish scientist's plan to save the slopes with bubble wrap, SNEWS covers it all.

Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort’s proposed summer roller coaster got the early kibosh by the Salt Lake County Board of Adjustment on April 19, 2011, despite being approved earlier by the county planning commission. According to the Deseret News, the board’s preliminary denial is because the roller coaster is not a snow-related activity. The board's final decision will be issued in May.

But a proposal for a second tram beginning where the existing one ends is still very much alive. The project, which would use 2,500 acres around the resort--including nearly 400 acres in two national forests--and would provide access to the backcountry terrain in the American Fork Canyon, is presently under review by the U.S. Forest Service. According to the Associated Press, because of watershed, skier traffic and construction issues, “A complete analysis could take years to complete.”

OSHA fines Wolf Creek for ski patrol director death

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has fined Wolf Creek Ski Area $17,000, alleging “serious” workplace violations following an investigation into the avalanche death of ski patrol director Scott Kay at the area on Nov. 22, 2010. The penalty was the result of several fines levied against the area because Kay was not working with another employee while using explosives for snow control, because he was not wearing a helmet at the time slide occurred, and because he did not follow proper snow safety protocol. In a description of the accident, the OSHA report reads: “The employee, working alone, set off an explosive charge and then skied across the face of the slope instead of skiing across the top of the slope.”

Bloomberg story says Vermont ski towns are getting smaller

There may have been plenty of snow in Vermont this season, but there were a lot less locals to enjoy it according to the Bloomberg news. In a story, titled, “Vermont Ski-Town Population Slides on ‘Bad Times,’ Census Shows,” Bloomberg says that a collapse in the second-home market and a drop off in tourist traffic are causing many locals to leave ski towns in search of work elsewhere. In particular, the town of Deerfield lost one-fifth of its population in the past decade, and towns including Killington, Ludlow and Wilmington lost nearly 20 percent of their population in that same period of time. Read the entire story right here.

OB bill wins but daylight fades

A bill making it illegal to ski in-bounds closures at ski areas in Washington State passed on April 15. Criminal trespassing charges and fines of up to $1,000 are now possible for anyone caught skiing closed areas. Sponsor of the bill Sen. Jim Kastama, who is a volunteer patrolman at Crystal Mountain, told the Seattle Intelligencer, “These areas are closed for a reason, and the people who trespass into them risk not only their own lives but the lives of ski patrollers who follow them to assist or rescue them.”

In Colorado, Sen. Greg Brophy’s attempt to put the state on daylight savings time year-round was voted down after vigorous opposition from the ski industry, which said it would have a serious impact on both on-mountain operations and the travel schedules of its guests. “The sun just set on my bill,” Brophy told the Denver Post following the vote.

La Parva builds freeski training facility in preparation for 2014

With the latest announcement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approving Ski Halfpipe for the 2014 Olympics, Chile’s La Parva is building a training facility to be ready by 2012. The resort (pictured right) has begun the process with the addition of a new high speed “Fabres” chairlift that gives access to five new on piste runs. This sector is the prospective location for the area’s new halfpipe and freestyle training area. La Parva is home to several FIS sanctioned courses and expect to expand training opportunities with the construction of a new halfpipe and freestyle terrain. Halfpipe X Games Gold Medalist Jen Hudak said, “Having a halfpipe training facility in La Parva would be a dream come true!”

In other news

Colorado is still open with Aspen Highlands, Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Loveland and Winter Park all reporting fresh snow out of yet another mid-April storm that hit this week…Loveland hit the 100-inch base mark for the first time since 2003…The BBC reports that a scientist has suggested covering snow in 'bubble wrap' to help prolong the ski season in Scotland. Prof John McClatchey said it would slow down the melting of snow by protecting it against rain and sunshine…Whitefish Mountain Resort set a new record for total skier visits and had an upswing in activity that beat the previous record in 2005-06 by 5 percent, resort spokeswoman Riley Polumbus told the Daily Interlake. Whitefish skier visits increased by 12 percent, season-pass visits were up 15 percent and window ticket visits jumped 10 percent…The 2011-12 dates are out for next season at Aspen Ski Co.’s four ski areas. Aspen Highlands will be open from Dec. 10 through April 22. Aspen Mountain and Snowmass will be open Nov. 24 through April 15. Buttermilk's season is Dec. 10 through April 8.

--Peter Kray

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