Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mountain resorts record increased winter bookings and revenues

#Breckenridge, Colorado.

Daniel Dunn/Breckenridge Ski Resort

Lodging is looking good. The record-breaking summer for both occupancy and revenue among western mountain resorts is carrying positive momentum into the winter.
That trend information comes from DestiMetrics, a Denver-based organization that tracks lodging bookings at 19 mountain resort communities in six western states.
The company recently announced that, as of Sept. 30, winter bookings for November through March showed an aggregated 7.4 percent gain in occupancy for the upcoming season compared to the same time last year. Aggregated revenue is also strong with a 15.5 percent increase for the first five months of the 2014-15 season.
Early season patterns show a “robust advanced booking pace,” said Ralf Garrison, director of DestiMetrics, “but when it is this early in the season, the role of Mother Nature and the recent volatility of economic and global conditions give rise to a note of caution.”
Data for western resorts is analyzed from a sample of about 290 property management companies, representing about 27,500 rooms across Colorado, Utah, California, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming, and DestiMetrics says it may not reflect the entire mountain destination travel industry.
The company also analyzed the data from a regional perspective comparing the Rocky Mountain resorts in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to the Far West resorts in California, Nevada and Oregon.
Snow conditions from last season, or “snow equity,” a phrase coined by Garrison, is having a different impact on bookings for the two regions. While the Rocky Mountain resorts are tracking 8.9 percent higher in occupancy with a 16.4 percent increase in overall revenues, the Far West resorts are experiencing the opposite effect. As of Sept. 30, their aggregated occupancy was down 6.5 percent and related revenues down 7.7 percent.
DestiMetrics also closely monitors economic variables and analyzes trends and indicators to see how they may impact the industry. In the October Mountain Market Briefing distributed Oct. 15 to DestiMetrics’ subscribers, the economic assessment carried a more cautionary note than in recent months.
Reporting that as of Sept. 30, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined a scant 0.3 percent, it did mark the second decline in the past three months. More significantly, the briefing included a Dow Jones update after recent volatility in the stock market and a sharp drop of more than 900 points.
“The recent dramatic drop in the financial markets may simply be the start of a long overdue correction in an overvalued market,” said Tom Foley, director of operations for DestiMetrics. “However, we have a lot of national and international variables that are also impacting investors with the European market tilting toward a fresh recession overseas while the Ebola crisis in West Africa has now appeared outside of the region. When we include an increased U.S. and international commitment in the Middle East conflict it is not surprising that markets are waffling about the future.”
The sharp decline in the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) during September was also cited as cause for concern. The 7.9 percent decline in September took the index below 90 points for the first time since June and was the first decline recorded since April.
One optimistic indicator was the two basis points decline in the unemployment rate to 5.9 percent to reach its lowest level since April 2008 as employers’ added 248,000 new jobs.
DestiMetrics concluded that while skiers and riders are loyal and committed mountain travelers even in tough economic times, weather and global geopolitics will be factors this season.
“At this point, we’re seeing skiers and riders taking up right where they left off last year because of snow equity,” Garrison said, which is working to the benefit of Rocky Mountain destinations but challenging Far West mountain resorts. “A major break in the drought or a few good early season snowstorms would be a powerful antidote for what ails them.”
Courtesy of the Summit Daily News.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Winter will bring more plowing, metering on I-70

#Breckenridge, Colorado.

 Drivers traveling on the Interstate 70 corridor this winter may notice a number of changes on the roads this season. Some of the changes are subtle, but may make for a faster, safer trip — that’s what the Colorado Department of Transportation hopes.
CDOT and a number of other state agencies and concerned groups — the Colorado State Patrol, towns along the I-70 corridor, and skiing, lodging and tourism groups — have been working on a plan to make the stretch between Glenwood Springs and Denver a better place to drive in the winter. Last year brought pass closures that lasted for hours, frequent pileups and standstill traffic.
CDOT’s strategy to improve upon last winter includes a number of subtle and not-so-subtle changes that will be announced in its I-70 Winter Operations Plan later this month.
Big changes with few dollars
The winter plan comes alongside some big-ticket projects that are already underway, including the widening of the Twin Tunnels, which should be completed in December, and the addition of a right shoulder toll lane from Empire to Idaho Springs. Among other measures that aren’t obvious to the casual driver are $8 million of improvements on the corridor that includes better signs and more road maintenance staff. A full-time “corridor commander” was hired specifically with the task of improving travel on that I-70 stretch.
Less costly, but more noticeable changes that are part of the winter plan will include more snowplows on the passes more often, and for the first time, the holding of commercial trucks farther west in times of bad weather on the passes. A larger truck chain up area is also being planned along I-70 near East Vail.
“One of the biggest changes is that they will be staging trucks down in Dotsero in bad weather,” said Vail Town Council member Dale Bugby. “I know it’s hard to go against the Colorado Motor Carriers, but I think that will help a lot. The truckers need to understand that keeping I-70 passable benefits them as much as the general public.”
The Colorado State Patrol has begun doing chain checks and plans to more strictly enforce chain laws for commercial trucks. Variable message signs will warn truckers earlier down the road that they need to put on chains, and the messages will also give drivers earlier warning of delays.
Drivers can also expect the return on metering on heavy traffic days through Summit County. Cars will be fed onto the interstate intermittently in order to avoid backups at Eisenhower Tunnel. CDOT also has a plan to use “snowplow escorts” to clear the steepest, iciest parts of the passes ahead of vehicle traffic on the snowiest days.
Then, there is driver education. The town of Vail and hotels around town are working to give guests fliers explaining what kind of tires and vehicles are needed for getting over the passes. Local tire stores are also pitching in by offering snow tire discount coupons, distributed by municipal and state law enforcement. Other efforts are encouraging drivers to change their driving habits and leave the mountains earlier or later.
Changes you won’t be seeing yet
While town of Vail officials say they are pleased with the steps the state has taken to alleviate road conditions, they also say they hope that subsequent years will bring even more changes on the legislative level.
Some legislators have made promises to take up the cause, including state representative Diane Mitsch Bush, who wants to introduce new enforcement legislation, and state gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez to consider another four-lane highway to access the mountains from the Front Range.
Industry and municipality leaders have suggested keeping commercial trucks off the interstate during peak times, but CDOT officials say that’s not possible.
“Federal law does not allow for limiting trucks on an interstate based solely on time of day or time of year,” wrote CDOT executive director Don Hunt in a recent letter to Vail Mayor Andy Daly regarding I-70 traffic. “However, CDOT will use its authority to hold commercial motor vehicles when adverse weather combines with significant congestion to create public safety concerns.”
Daly said he would like to see state lawmakers set up stricter laws and harsher penalties for drivers without proper tires or equipment.
“I’m hoping that in the next several years there will be more aggressive enforcement, tickets or fines for not having proper tires,” he said.
Courtesy of the Summit Daily News.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Summit County marks milestone as Pennsylvania Mine receives one of two pollution-preventing plugs

#Keystone, Colorado.

Ben Trollinger / btrollinger@summitdaily.com

Sometimes, old mines burp.
Without warning or a “pardon me,” they let rip a mixture of heavy metals such as aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, manganese and zinc. Like adding ice to absinthe, streams change colors, from milky blues to melted-caramel oranges and browns.
Fish and insects can’t survive long in the toxic soup. Humans wouldn’t want to drink it either.
Cleaning up the disastrous environmental legacy left by a century of mining activity has been, and will likely always be, at the top of Summit County’s to-do list. However, over the past two years, a series of legislative benchmarks and newly forged partnerships have enabled the county to deal with the problem more effectively than ever before.
And now the county is asking taxpayers to lend their support on Election Day. Part of ballot initiative 1A calls for increased funding over eight years for water quality efforts, including scrubbing the toxic mines that dot the backcountry.
Of the money raised by item 1A, about $630,000 a year would go toward environmental protection efforts, including mine reclamation projects.
“It’s a really conservative ask,” County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier told the Daily earlier this month. “We could spend truly billions of dollars to actually clean up the mess that we have.”
On Friday, Oct. 17, Stiegelmeier was one of several federal, state and local officials marking a milestone for the centerpiece of the county’s current mining cleanup efforts — plugging the Pennsylvania Mine.
About 8 miles east of Keystone, the abandoned mine is Summit County’s biggest mess. The mine, considered the worst in the state, spews toxic heavy metal concentrates and acidifies water flowing into the Peru Creek, a tributary of the Snake River, which feeds Dillon Reservoir. Peru Creek is without fish, insects or other aquatic life. The Snake River has life, but it’s sparse and found only in the lower reaches. In 2007, a burp of acidic water from the abandoned mine killed fish all the way to Keystone, county officials said.
This past week, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety finished installing one of two bulkheads, massive plugs of concrete and steel built about 500 feet inside the mine.
According to project manager Jeff Graves, once both bulkheads are installed, toxic burps and blowouts will be a thing of the past.
“That won’t happen again — it can’t,” he said.
The bulkheads prevent water from flowing through the mine. Water will back up inside, reducing the amount of oxygen the metals and sulfides are exposed to, which should improve water quality.
Though the more than $3 million project still has far to go, reclamation efforts seem to have had positive impacts already. Last year, the Peru Creek turned reddish-orange seven or eight times. That hasn’t happened once this year.
In addition to the bulkheads, new drainage ditches channel water away from waste-rock piles. Those piles have been capped. Eventually, they’ll be revegetated. Limestone has also been strategically added to raise the pH of the water, which could help filter out metals into settlement ponds.
Organizations involved in the project include: the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Safety, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service, Summit County Open Space and Trails, Northwest Council of Governments, the Snake River Watershed Task Force, the Blue River Watershed Group and the Keystone Center.
Courtesy of the Summit Daily News.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Colorado ski season gets rolling at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Arapahoe Basin, Colorado.

Summit Daily News

The alarm in Brian and Hilary’s — let’s call it Front Range — house went off some time around 4 on Friday morning.
Brian wanted to hit the snooze button but Hilary insisted that it was go time. They had a season to start.
“She’s a little more dedicated,” he later said.
By 5:15 the pair were first in line at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area — but without skis, snowboards or boots anywhere in sight.
The couple were reluctant to share their last name with the Daily. Not because they’d left their gear at home, but because they might or might not have called in sick to work in order to make the trip.
That their boots and gear were at home was fairly inconsequential. They were, after all, in line to join A-Basin’s beer mug club and had no intention of getting their on-hill season started.
Instead, with their car loaded up with bike gear, they were bound for Moab, Utah, for an end-of-season mountain biking excursion.
When the announcement came that A-Basin was opening, the two decided to kick off their road trip with a stop at the ski area to celebrate a slightly different season opening for their second year in a row as club members.
“We really didn’t think we’d be the first people,” Hilary said, surprised to find herself at the front of the line. By the time the 8 a.m. sign-up approached, the line of more than 100 stretched up the stairs and deep into the A Frame. By 10:30 only 178 of the club’s 472 mugs were still available.
So why get in line so early to skip skiing and get a mug? It’s simple. “You gotta get your mug and get ready,” Hilary said, clarifying that if it were a powder day it might be a different story.
But more than the mug, it’s the A-Basin community that they enjoy being a part of year after year.
“It’s like coming back to summer camp,” she said, describing the neighborhood feel of the bar. “We know more people up here than we do in our hometown.”
While the couple sipped their season-opening beers in the comfort of the A Frame’s bar, down on the snow the annual traditions continued.
To no local’s surprise, the man known only as Nate Dogggg — together with his “4G” crew — was once again at the head of the lift line. For Nate, it was year number 19 on first chair. Once again, he earned it the hard way, getting to the mountain two days prior to opening and camping out near the chairlift with a couple of friends. This year he even beat A-Basin’s official opening announcement by at least a few hours. It came Wednesday afternoon.
“Over 19 years we know what to look for,” he said, asserting he had no insider knowledge.
Friend Jeff Meyer explained that Nate’s annual ritual also includes “site visits” in the days leading up to an announcement to confirm his suspicions.
As 9 a.m. approached, an official from Loveland Ski Area congratulated A-Basin staff members on winning the annual opening day race, and with the traditional countdown the season got rolling.
The morning conditions, as expected, weren’t optimal, but that’s not what anyone was there for. By the time the sun had a chance to fully crest the Continental Divide the snow softened and those who braved the line were treated to spring-like corn.
Friday’s opening was the Basin’s third consecutive win in the race to be first to open in North America. Wolf Creek technically beat the Basin four years ago, but had to close before opening again for the full season.
Loveland officials said they still hope to be next in line to open, but warm weather the last few days has slowed their snowmaking efforts. Loveland’s communications manager, Dustin Schaefer, said the ski area is hopeful it will be able to ring in the new ski season next week.
A-Basin officials reported that they currently have an 18-inch base — the required amount to open — and also plan to continue snowmaking efforts as conditions allow.
Currently only the High Noon run is open, and ski area officials remind their guests to expect early-season conditions and that no beginner ski terrain is accessible for now.
Courtesy of the Summit Daily News.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Breckenridge woman tireless in spreading Bear Aware gospel

#Breckenridge, Colorado.

Like the bears she loves, Gail Marshall approaches people’s yards and front porches every summer and looks around to see if anyone is home.
For the last 16 years, she has knocked on Summit County doors and talked to residents about how to live in the bears’ backyards. When no one answers, she leaves information about helping the bears stay alive by keeping them from getting into trouble.
Marshall started volunteering with Bear Aware, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife outreach program, in 1998, and since then she has set up educational booths at festivals, given PSAs on the radio, talked to HOAs, presented at schools and read to children (and their trash-disposing parents) at local libraries.
“She is very passionate about wildlife and bears specifically,” said Elissa Knox, one of two Parks and Wildlife officers who cover Summit County. “She’ll talk your ear off about bears.”
Marshall has gone door to door through the entire county three or four times, visiting trouble spots over and over. She has taken her passion to town council and county commission meetings, fighting for government action to help protect the bears.
“When we only had one waste management company in Summit County I could tell you on any given night where our bears would be.”
Gail Marshall
“She’s really gone above and beyond as a volunteer,” Knox said. “Having Gail just allows us to reach a lot more people every year.”
Knox accompanied Marshall in support of her latest effort to pass a countywide trash ordinance at a commission meeting on Oct. 7.
Many of the repeat problems are in unincorporated areas of the county, Marshall said. The longtime locals know what to do. It’s the vacationers and newcomers who aren’t aware that leaving their trash out can mean a wildlife officer might have to kill a bear.
“It’s very scary to me what happens. People moving up here unaware of our wildlife,” Marshall said.
At least her Summit County Bear Aware program has the best record in terms of bear problems of the dozen or so programs in the state, she said. The Aspen area is the worst.
Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork Valley usually experience the most bear incidents, and this summer was particularly bad.
“That’s the example of what we don’t want to happen in Summit,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier.
Stiegelmeier said the county would favor efforts to educate people and help them afford bear-resistant trash bins over an ordinance that fines and punishes people.
Originally from Massachusetts, Marshall, 58, of Breckenridge, started working with bears in 1977.
She was volunteering at the Squam Lake Natural Science Center in New Hampshire, and though the center housed plenty of wildlife, she connected most with an orphaned cub named Winnie.
Marshall couldn’t pick up the baby bear because of her claws, but she found she could get Winnie to cooperate using yogurt from the fridge.
“I’m sure I took somebody’s lunch while I was doing all this,” Marshall said, “but I had a job to do.”
A lifelong animal lover, Marshall was accepted to the pre-vet program at the University of New Hampshire, but she chose not to start it while her mother was dying of cancer. Instead she graduated from the university ready to work as a veterinary technician.
Then she joined the world’s largest veterinary hospital at the time, the Animal Medical Center in New York City, where celebrities brought their pets.
In eight years, she rose to become director of education at the hospital, then left to earn an MBA in marketing.
In 1993, she moved across the country to work in marketing at Breckenridge Ski Resort, and she’s been in Summit County ever since.
When she first moved to Summit, bears were eating hay in the stables and breaking into kegs on Peak 8.
“Oh, they love beer,” she said.
The local police departments weren’t doing a good job helping with bear problems back then, she said, so she got involved with the Bear Aware program.
Marshall said she has struggled with full-time work since being injured in a car accident, and spending so much time focused on Bear Aware has helped her cope.
“That’s what has really kept me going and happy,” she said.
She has become an expert on bear public relations and was once called down to the Florida panhandle to help with bear problems near Apalachicola.
She discovered the job also involved snakes and alligators, though, so she turned it down.
“I don’t do reptiles,” she said.
She does sometimes talk about animals other than bears.
Over the years, Colorado’s Bear Aware programs expanded to include more wildlife species, and Marshall said she always talked about mountain lions and is now trying to learn more about moose.
Marshall’s husband, Jack Rueppel, said he can’t imagine Marshall not being involved with Bear Aware. When the two first met, he said, he was impressed with the volunteer work she did with the program.
“She was kind of filling a need that nobody else in Summit County was doing on a consistent basis,” said Rueppel, 50.
For years Rueppel has donned a bear costume when he walks with Marshall in the Fourth of July parade. The couple own a couple of stuffed toy bears, a bear-inspired ottoman and a large library of bear books. Rueppel joked that their two Bernese mountain dogs, Choxie and Henri, kind of look like bears.
When Marshall goes door to door, she is often accompanied by her friend Debbie Sodergren.
“She’s put a lot of heart and soul into it,” Sodergren said of her friend’s efforts.
“She makes it fun to go canvass a neighborhood,” Marshall said, and then laughed. “Well, she makes the popcorn.”
Sodergren’s homemade popcorn has been a bear-canvassing tradition for more than a decade, and the two women laugh almost nonstop when they’re together.
A couple years ago, they partnered to stake out a trash bin they knew might attract a bear that night in hopes of scaring it away before law enforcement could get involved and give the bear one strike in the two-strike policy.
“When we only had one waste management company in Summit County I could tell you on any given night where our bears would be,” Marshall said.
She used the night-vision binoculars her husband bought her, and soon the women found a wild animal poking around as they suspected. The creature, however, was a raccoon.
The two women burst into a fit of giggling at that.
When Sodergren’s daughter was a teenager, Marshall took the girl and her friends canvassing to help them rack up volunteer hours.
Ashley Rafferty, of Breckenridge, said she spent five to seven years with Marshall walking neighborhoods talking about bears, and people usually invited the group into their homes.
“People were always excited to learn,” said Rafferty, now 24. Or maybe they wanted to soak up some of Marshall’s enthusiasm. “She just lives and breathes it.”
Marshall said another one of her former helpers, Brian Metzger, will soon graduate with a degree in wildlife biology and is interested in becoming a wildlife manager.
“I, of course, want him to go to vet school,” said Marshall, who wrote an instrument guidebook for vet techs she published in 2011.
She has posted videos of bears and parades on YouTube under the username “MsBearlady.” She also runs a Summit County Bear Aware page on Facebook where she shares bear stories and advice.
Marshall would use her network of friends and social media to keep wildlife manager Sean Shepherd updated, he said. Shepherd worked with her in Summit from 2008 to 2013.
She was his eyes and ears around the county, he said, and she was persistent, reliable and caring.
“What Gail’s good at,” he said, is “she gets a personal connection with people so she can change their opinions.”
Marshall described one incident working with Shepherd that broke her heart.
A property management company in a Breckenridge neighborhood was telling renters to leave out food, so the bears would come close for photos.
The practice resulted in Shepherd and his partner Shannon Schwab having to euthanize a mother bear and her two cubs.
“It was pretty awful,” Marshall said. “I’ve never seen Sean and Shannon so somber.”
On the flip side, one of her favorite moments working with wildlife was helping to release orphaned cubs.
Years ago near Hoosier Pass, a scared mother bear shooed her two cubs up an electrical pole, and when she followed them she was electrocuted.
The cubs came down from the pole the next day, and later Marshall got to watch as wildlife managers released the bears at a den built in the backcountry.
“That was my first release. That was incredible,” she said. “That kept me going for years, and I was such a happy camper.”
Educating people in Summit about proper bear etiquette is a neverending task, but Marshall said she’s happy with how her work has touched others in the community who now help teach about the bears’ feeding habits and spread her message about helping them.
“I’ve given up a lot for this program,” she said, and as much as she loves it, she didn’t plan on doing it for so long.
Sooner or later, she will pass on her role to someone else. She’s got a few volunteers lined up to help next year.
Courtesy of the Summit Daily News.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area announces opening day set for Friday

#Arapahoe Basin, Colorado.

Adrienne Saia Isaac / Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Here we go.
The Colorado ski season will officially begin when Arapahoe Basin Ski Area becomes the first resort to open Friday, Oct. 17.
The resort announced around 2 p.m. Wednesday that skiers and snowboarders will be able to make turns on about 700 vertical feet of the intermediate High Noon run starting Friday at 9 a.m.
“Conditions have been outstanding for snowmaking, and we are very excited to open this Friday,” said Alan Henceroth, A-Basin’s COO. “It is always great to watch people have fun skiing and riding. I look forward to catching up with old friends and getting the Basin rolling.”
On Friday, A-Basin will win its annual race with neighboring Loveland Ski Area to open first.
“We’re working hard to get open as quickly as we can,” said John Sellers, Loveland spokesman.
Loveland won’t open Friday, he said, and Saturday and Sunday are unlikely as well.
The resort aims to open about 1,000 vertical feet of the green run off Chair 1, from Catwalk to Mambo to Home Run, and Loveland’s snowmaking system doesn’t allow crews to make snow along the entire run at the same time. Workers start at the top, and the base area, at 10,800 feet, still needs some work, he said.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “As soon as we know we’ll get the word out.”
Loveland’s announcement, like A-Basin’s, typically comes 24 to 48 hours before opening day, so excited skiers should stay tuned.
A-Basin’s mountain operations team started making snow early on Oct. 2, and were able to create the 18-inch base necessary for opening. The ski area also received about 12 inches of natural snow this fall.
The resort could be the first to open in the country, said spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac, if you don’t count Timberline Lodge, the Mount Hood, Oregon, resort on a glacier that offers the only year-round skiing in North America.
The guaranteed lowest price on A-Basin lift tickets is found by buying in advance at ArapahoeBasin.com. Current lift-ticket window pricing will run through Dec. 19, with adult (ages 19-59) full-day tickets priced at $69, youth (ages 15-18) tickets at $57 and children’s (ages 6-14) tickets at $34. Children under age 5 ski free every day all season.
The resort will be open seven days a week starting Friday, with rentals, lessons and dining at both the midmountain restaurant and the base area. The 6th Alley Bar & Grill will open its bar at 8 a.m. and lunch service starts at 10:30.
The A-Basin Mug Club sale, a tradition for at least 10 years, will start selling $45 mugs at 8 a.m. in the A-Frame on Friday. Mug holders receive discounts throughout the season. Isaac said the line for the Mug Club sometimes looks almost as long as the opening-day line to ride the chairlift.
The base-area cafeteria will be open only for breakfast at the beginning of the season, and for those who enjoy skinning, uphill access will not be allowed for at least the first couple of weeks until the ski area can move snowmaking equipment and open more terrain.
A-Basin will keep making snow on the High Noon run and then work on opening the adjacent run, Ramrod. Skiers can expect the top of the resort above the midmountain restaurant to open in November.
Since snowmaking started at A-Basin in 2001, the resort’s earliest opening day was Oct. 9, 2009.
Last year, the ski area closed after 241 days of skiing on June 22.
Nate Dogggg, the Summit County local known for camping out every year for nearly two decades to ride the first chair at whichever resort opens first, was spotted in A-Basin’s main parking lot Wednesday.
Courtesy of the Summit Daily News.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Summit County wildlife officer shoots mountain lion hit by car on Vail Pass

#Breckenridge, Colorado.

It’s almost always a case of wrong place at the wrong time.
Cars have been roaming the nation’s roads for less than a hundred years, and wildlife certainly haven’t adapted defense mechanisms to avoid collisions with them. That evolution will take millennia, if the creatures can catch up at all. What’s an animal — human or non — to do?
Around dawn on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 7, a driver headed up Interstate 70 toward Vail Pass hit a mountain lion. The animal lay broken, but alive, in the road.
Soon a couple Colorado State Patrol troopers and a Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer arrived to the scene about a mile and a half up from the Copper Mountain exit. They found the lion could lift its head but didn’t react when they approached.
“That is really strange behavior. Normally a mountain lion would be gone,” said Elissa Knox, one of two wildlife officers for Summit and Grand counties. Mountain lions typically run away from people or don’t let people come close.
“If it can get up and run away from us, we leave it alone ’cause some wild animals do fine on three legs.”
Elissa Knox
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Part of Knox’s job as a wildlife officer is euthanizing wildlife too injured to survive.
“If it can get up and run away from us, we leave it alone ’cause some wild animals do fine on three legs,” she said.
This lion, however, seemed to have a broken back or pelvis and a broken hind leg.
From about 30 feet away, Knox raised her gun. She wanted to be close enough for an accurate shot but far enough away in case it tried to swipe at her. The lion was also on a bridge, and Knox didn’t want to encourage it to crawl away and potentially fall off the bridge.
She waited until no cars were coming to avoid scaring drivers. Then she aimed and shot the animal in the chest.
“Having to kill things is probably the worst part of my job,” Knox said. “It’s sad, but on the flip side this animal is injured, it’s suffering and the sooner that I can end that the better.”
Around Summit County, folks sometimes say that if you regularly drive in the Colorado mountains and haven’t hit a wild animal yet, just wait.
A week or so before Knox shot the mountain lion, a driver on Highway 9 north of Silverthorne hit a bear. The bear was the latest of six to eight bears killed by cars this year.
Knox said she also knows of four moose, two on I-70 and two on Highway 9, that have been hit since January. The larger animals were all dead when she or her partner officer arrived.
She couldn’t put a figure on the roadkill elk and deer. In the winter, a driver hits one almost every night somewhere in Summit or Grand counties, she said.
Mountain lions are rare car-accident victims, but Knox said she still sees one or two a year.
“They’re so agile it’s kind of shocking that they get hit,” she said.
Collisions with large animals not only threaten the wildlife, they also cost people thousands of dollars in car repairs. Sometimes the human drivers or passengers are the ones who end up dead.
Parks and Wildlife regional spokesman Mike Porras reminded drivers to stay vigilant, especially this time of year when the days become shorter, visibility worsens and animals are moving and migrating.
Daylight saving time approaching in early November could mean more drivers on the road around dawn and dusk, when wildlife are most active.
Sections of Highway 9 north of Silverthorne and between Green Mountain Reservoir and Grand County are especially notorious for animal-vehicle accidents.
Around 30 years ago, Parks and Wildlife changed its policy to allow people to collect roadkill meat.
First priority goes to anyone on scene, whether it’s the driver who hit the animal or a passerby who expresses a desire to take the meat home.
Area wildlife manager Lyle Sidener said more and more people have become interested in the locavore movement and want their food to come from closer to home. Others are drawn to roadkill wildlife for financial or health reasons or because they don’t support conventional agriculture practices but might not be able to hunt wild game.
Those who find freshly dead deer or elk in the road can collect the carcass on the spot as long as they obtain a roadkill permit from Parks and Wildlife, state patrol or their local government within 48 hours.
People who stumble upon roadkill mountain lions, bears, bighorn sheep and mountain goats must call Parks and Wildlife first before moving the animal.
The agency salvages any trophy parts — hides, heads, antlers — for an annual auction put on in the winter by the nonprofit Colorado Trappers Association and adds the money it makes from sales to taxidermists and the like to its general operating budget.
Knox said when she finds roadkill in Summit County that isn’t spoiled or destroyed she contacts a handful of residents who have asked her to call them.
“It’s nothing formal. It’s just sort of a list we have,” she said.
Someone took home the roadkill mountain lion last week.
Courtesy of the Summit Daily News.