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Heard around the West

Staff Reports

COLORADOAvalanches were so frequent this winter in the San Juan Mountains of western Colorado that for days the town of Silverton and its winter population of 400 were cut off. In early January, two miles of the highway leading to the town became “entombed” by snow, reports the Denver Post, as 62 avalanches pummeled three passes above 10,500 feet. For highway department crews, the work of clearing the roads was harrowing. They had not seen so much snow falling so fast for decades, they said, and workers never knew when the next avalanche would bury U.S. 550. Students from Prescott College in Prescott, Ariz., who’d come to study avalanches, got to experience one closer than they might have dreamed. They were watching as experts from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center caused the aptly named Battleship slide to give way. It took a nine-pound shell from a World War II howitzer to free the pent-up snow at 12,400 feet. But once it let go, the avalanche reached a speed of 150 miles per hour as it barreled down the mountain and up the other side of a gorge. Editor Jonathan Thompson of the Silverton Standard photographed the slide until he finally heeded the advice of avalanche expert Jerry Roberts, who yelled, “Run like bastards!” Thompson made it back to the safety zone in time, though he and the students didn’t entirely escape the Battleship’s furious run: “All went white and absolutely silent,” Thompson said. “I seemed to be floating, and for a split second it was a pleasant experience. Then I couldn’t breathe — oxygen had been replaced by snow crystals.” The air cleared in seconds, Thompson said, and hysterical laughter broke out: Everyone was white with snow.WYOMINGBetter not flout Teton County’s land-development regulations: They can cost you big-time. A Jackson, Wyo., couple got a permit five years ago to build a log mansion only two square feet shy of the maximum 10,000 square feet, but that wasn’t enough. They got their contractor to secretly add three bathrooms and some other rooms, for an additional 3,000 square feet. The county found out and sued; now, a district judge has fined Thomas and Carol-Ann Crow $363,000 for “deliberate, premeditated and egregious” conduct. That’s the maximum fine allowed under state law, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.UTAHIf you want to know what it’s like to be 70 years old, just talk on your cell phone while driving a car. That’s what University of Utah psychologists found through studies using a driving simulator. Young drivers on cell phones were as slow to brake as old people and suffered more rear-end collisions, though they allowed greater following distance as if to compensate for delayed reaction times.MONTANAMoney isn’t everything, even if you have the necessary $3 million in ready cash that it takes to join the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Mont. Members include former Vice President Dan Quayle and former Rep. Jack Kemp, both Republicans, along with some 200 other millionaires, reports the Los Angeles Times. VTBetsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (betsym@hcn.org).


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