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Breckenridge Ski Resort working with town, Forest Service to lengthen ski season

by Summit Daily- Eli Pace

It seems that little stands in the way of Breckenridge Ski Resort's efforts to elongate its ski season, but there's still some discussion to be had.

In an announcement heavily celebrated by plenty of winter enthusiasts, Breckenridge Ski Resort recently unveiled its plans to run lifts into late May, starting this year and continuing into future ski seasons.

The resort had previously set the closing date for the 2018-19 ski season on Sunday, April 21. After a healthy dose of early season snowfall, however, the resort now hopes to stay open through Memorial Day, as long as the weather and conditions will allow it.

What wasn't mentioned in the resort's Jan. 18 announcement, however, is how extending the ski season might affect Breckenridge's town operations, some of which work in conjunction with the resort.

A brief conversation between town staff and Breckenridge Town Council last week foreshadowed what some of these topics might be, as town manager Rick Holman mentioned potential implications on the town's public transportation system and the gondola as two examples.

Holman said the town needs to better understand what a longer ski season might do to its transportation system because the resort's plan to go into late May doesn't necessarily mean the town is going to run its winter operations that late into the year.

"There are several issues we have to consider," Holman added as he also brought up a long-standing agreement between the town and Breckenridge Ski Resort's parent company, Vail Resorts, regarding the resort's gondola.

"If you ran that realistically until the end of May and then they start up the summer in mid-June, you only have a two-week window without that operating," Holman said. "From our perspective, we need to talk about that with the ski area to see what they're looking at."

As part of the agreement the town committed up to $6.7 million toward the completion of the gondola. For its part the ski resort guaranteed parking at the gondola base, among other concessions.

On Tuesday, Breckenridge spokeswoman Haley Littleton said via email that town officials and representatives of Breckenridge Ski Resort had talked about the planned extension before the resort's public announcement, but those discussions did not go in-depth into operational details.

She added that representatives of the town and ski resort are going to get together again next week to talk about some of the specific operational impacts that might come with the resort's efforts to extend its season by over a month.

Breckenridge Ski Resort's efforts to extend its ski season are also subject to U.S. Forest Service approval, but district ranger Bill Jackson said he doesn't expect that to be too heavy of a lift.

"It isn't like analyzing a brand new chairlift," he explained as he said that resorts' efforts to adjust their open and closing dates are fairly typical.

All ski resorts that operate on Forest Service land do so under a 40-year permit. Within that permit, Jackson said, each resort has to submit winter and summer operating plans for annual forest service review.

Jackson said the forest service received Breckenridge Ski Resort's revised operating plan on Monday, and he expects to be in conversations with resort officials before making a recommendation to forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, who will ultimately decide whether to approve the request.

If approved, the amended operating plan will only cover Breckenridge Ski Resort for one season, and the resort will have to submit additional operating plans detailing the opening and closing dates for future seasons.

"We've connected with the town of Breckenridge and the U.S. Forest Service on our plans to extend the season at Breckenridge Ski Resort," a resort spokeswoman said Tuesday. "We'll continue to work closely with both entities to ensure successful spring operations and a seamless guest experience this season and beyond."

Overall, Jackson said he sees a trend with a number of ski resorts trying to elongate their seasons, too, but he sees many of them doing so by opening earlier in the year, not going later. It's like what another Summit County ski resort, Keystone Resort, announced it intends to do by opening in mid-October instead of November. Jackson said he believes more efficient snowmaking capabilities are one reason some resorts are eyeing earlier opening dates, and so the longer ski seasons aren't just happening at the tail end but on front end, too.

Strong January snow in Colorado is giving hope for a less eventful wildfire season

by Summit Daily Deepan Dutta

Winter continues to be kind to Summit County and Colorado. The past few weeks' snowy goodness is providing a rare, rosier outlook for drought and wildfire conditions in the summer — if the timing is right.

According to the National Weather and Climate Center, snowpack is at 114 percent of normal in the Upper Colorado Headwaters basin, which includes Summit County. Strong snowstorms passing through the last few weeks and cold temperatures have kept the pack healthy.

"The snowpack to date is certainly an encouraging sign," said Peter Goble, drought specialist at the Colorado Climate Center. "Snowpack in Summit County has been above normal, if we were to get even average snowpack from now onward, we'll be in pretty good shape for water in the summer."

The National Climate Prediction Center is also forecasting above-average precipitation for the region over the next three months. Precipitaiton so far this winter has enhanced drought outlook, with the National Drought Monitor seeing improving conditions in western Colorado.

However, there are still two hard barriers before the years-long drought is broken. The first is the timing of the snowmelt. The other is how much of it will actually wind up in rivers and reservoirs due to moisture deficits from years before.

This year has seen a very healthy early snowpack. However, even with good snow, an early spring can mean much of it gets dried up before the hottest days of summer arrive.

"One concern we always have in the back of our minds for an early snowpack is that a longer warm season can deplete the moisture that the snowpack normally provides," Goble said. "That makes the region marginally more vulnerable to fires. From a drought perspective, you want a later snow melt for more water later in the summer."

That means the timing of the snowmelt is critical. In the Upper Colorado, snowmelt typically shouldn't start really rolling down until early May. In 2018, the snowmelt started two weeks earlier, in April — when snowpack is usually meant to peak. By the time June rolled around most of the snow was gone. That two-week difference dried up the snowmelt early and set up a devastating wildfire season across the West.

Even if the snow starts melting down the valleys and into the rivers on time, the thirst lingers from previous years, with a running tab on soil moisture that needs to be paid. Goble said that despite above average snowpack in 2017, the spring runoff that year turned out to be merely average because of how dry 2016 was.

2018 saw a bit of a perfect storm for wildfire conditions, with snowmelt beginning early and drying out well before summer really began. All of that dryness last year left a negative balance when it comes to soil moisture. So when the runoff does start in 2019, a lot of it will go into the ground and stay out of the rivers.

"One concern on the heels of bad drought year in 2018 is that we know when the snow melts we have some dry soil profiles to fill," Goble said. "It's probable a greater fraction of the snowpack will go directly into the soil. That's good for the forest of course, and fuel moisture, but also a bit troubling from a water supply perspective."

To avoid another nasty wildfire season, the bottom line is to hope winter lasts as long as possible, and that the High Country does not see snow start melting until May. For the moment, things look like they're on the ideal path.

"The short-term picture is encouraging, and the seasonal outlook also encouraging," Goble said. "I'm cautiously optimistic for a much better summer this year."

Summit County is reminding residents of the dangers of radon, offers free testing kits

by Summit Daily Deepan Dutta

Summit County's commissioners have once again declared January "Radon Action Month," spotlighting the dangers of the silent, toxic gas lurking in some Colorado homes. The annual campaign reminds homeowners to get their homes tested for radon during the winter, when radon danger is at its highest.

Radon is a carcinogenic, naturally occurring radioactive gas that emanates from soil as radioactive metals decay underground. Radon is especially prevalent in Colorado due to the uniquely uranium-rich geology in the state. In mountain communities like Summit, the danger is even higher due to the presence of many heavy metals in the earth.

The Environmental Protection Agency suggests radon mitigation measures for homes and businesses if radon is detected at levels of 4.0 or more picocuries (a unit of radioactivity) per liter. The average radon level in homes nationwide is 1.3 pCi/L, while the average radon level in Summit homes is 10 pCi/L. The county says that's the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. It is estimated that radon is the cause of at least 21,000 deaths across the country each year.

"Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to EPA estimates," Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said in a press release. "Overall, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. And because of the high radon levels we see in Summit County, every home in our community should be tested."

While county and town building codes require radon mitigation in new construction, older buildings that were grandfathered into the current code do not usually have radon mitigation built in.

Without mitigation, radon can easily enter homes through the foundation, gaps around piping and other spaces around a home. During the winter months, when doors and windows tend to stay closed, the gas can get trapped in dangerously high concentrations. Ironically, that means there's actually a benefit from living in a poorly weatherized or insulated home.

"An old cabin that's very drafty is less of a problem since radon can escape," said Summit County environmental health manager Dan Hendershott. "The tighter a house is constructed and insulated, the more entrapment."

Fortunately for Summit County homeowners, the county has a program that offers free radon testing kits to residents to check how they're doing on levels. A similar statewide program handed out 6,000 free kits to Colorado residents within a day before running out.

There are different kits for short-term and long-term testing, with the short-term test lasting three to seven days and the long-term kit checking for radon over the course of three months to a year. While the latter will be more accurate about radon levels over time, either one can tell if there is a dangerous level of radon in the home.

The short-term test kits are about the size and shape of a postcard. The device should be hung in the lowest level of the home that's used on a regular basis, within the normal breathing zone — 2 to 6 feet from the floor. Once the test period ends, the device is mailed to a laboratory in the enclosed pre-addressed, postage-paid envelope. Test results can be retrieved online. If previous tests have not been performed properly, Summit County Environmental Health recommends retesting.

For more information on radon, including how to obtain a free test kit or finding a certified mitigation contractor, visitSummitCountyCO.gov/radon. You can also stop by the environmental health department office at the County Commons in Frisco at 37 Peak One Drive. Free kits from the county are available while supplies last, and only available to Summit residents.

Summit School District continues to be one of the more successful districts in the state, maintaining a graduation rate significantly above state average while also keeping a very low dropout rate. That's according to the Colorado Department of Education, which released graduation and dropout statistics for 2018 this week.

The state's overall graduation rate continues to rise and the dropout rates fall as more students are staying in school and graduating in four years, completing with a High School Equivalency Diploma or a non-diploma certificate.

Colorado's four-year graduation rates have been steadily increasing from 77.3 percent in 2015, 78 percent in 2016, 79 percent in 2017 and 80.7 percent in 2018. Across Colorado, the 2018 graduating class had a rate of 1.7 percentage points higher than the 2017 graduating class, a difference of 2,540 more graduates from the year before. The 2018 graduating class also had a completion rate of 82.5 percent, which includes an additional 1,159 students who completed with an HSED or non-diploma certificate.

Female students continue to have higher graduation rates statewide. The four-year graduation rate for females was 84.6 percent and the male graduation rate was 77.1 percent.

Summit School District was above the state average with a graduation rate of 95.02 percent in 2018. The graduation rate in 2018 remained the same as 2017, while 2017's graduation rate was 5 percent higher than 2016. The high graduation rate placed Summit School District 14.3 percent higher than the state's graduation rate, ranking Summit near the top 25 percent of all Colorado school districts in 2018.

Summit also had a completion rate of 96.3 percent, which includes students who completed with an HSED or non-diploma certificate. The completion rate increased 0.4 percent from 2017, which was 95.9 percent.

In all Colorado schools, the dropout rate has been decreasing over the past several years. In the 2017-18 school year, Colorado's dropout rate was at an all time low of 2.2 percent. The rate was a tenth of a percent lower from the previous anticipated year of graduation.

Last year, Summit School District was well below the state average with a mere 0.4 percent dropout rate. That rate remained the same as 2017, which was a tenth of a percentage point lower than 2016.

"We are proud of all the hard work and dedication by students, families, teachers and staff," Summit School District superintendent Kerry Buhler said in a press release. "Summit School District remains committed to supporting student achievement, growth and success."

Buhler added that Summit has even more ambitious goals, striving to be one of the top school districts in the state for academic performance.

The goal is part of "Vision2020 v. 2.0," a new five-year roadmap that aims to better support the social-emotional and physical well-being of students, deliver student-centered instruction in every classroom, and achieve top-tier academic performance ranking in the state.

"With Vision2020 v. 2.0, Summit School District strives to 'champion student success' as we work toward ranking in the top 5 percent of school districts in Colorado for academic performance," Buhler said.

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