Heard around the West

 

Vail and most other ski resorts in Colorado have enjoyed deep snow and sunny days lately, and everything should be hunky-dory, right? Wrong. Vail and other destination ski areas are "desperate" because they lack lift operators, maids and other workers, reports the Steamboat Pilot. Part of the problem stems from pre-employment drug testing that screens out some people; another part is that workers don't apply because they can't find affordable housing. So resort execs such as Chuck Porter in Steamboat Springs say they've been vacuuming and taking out trash, while ski industry insiders contemplate an even more radical idea than raising wages: a do-it-yourself vacation where skiers cope with irregular room service and (gasp) make their own beds.

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We're convinced: Snowboarders are different. When 20-year-old Conan Wachsnicht, an auto mechanic, got lost recently in waist-deep snow on Mount Hood in Oregon, he made a nest the first night in a deep tree well. Then he got up to march in place every 15 minutes to avoid frostbite. When rescuers found him after he'd spent three nights out alone, the snowboarder was whistling to himself while perched on a boulder and drying his socks in the sun. "Are you in the search party?" they asked. No, he said, "I need to be rescued." Wachsnicht had eaten only snow for three days, AP reports, and was definitely hungry.

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If you want a state legislature to designate your favorite animal, it helps if you select a jaunty mountain bluebird, a delicate monarch butterfly or something equally bright and beautiful. In Idaho, rattlesnakes - even though they chow down on gophers and other rodents - need not apply, AP reports. After the "state snake" idea was advanced by a Boise, Idaho, fourth-grade class, one representative took the floor to tell of a cow's agony after a rattler bit it in the face; another said her husband threatened to divorce her if she voted for the bill. The reptile lost, 57-13.

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Perhaps this bias is not surprising in the West, given the sheer number of bovines. Montana State University in Bozeman tells us there are more cattle in Montana than people: As of 1990, the four-leggeds outnumbered two-leggeds 2,750,000 to 799,065.

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From Utah, different surprising statistics: More people died from horse accidents between 1984 and 1994 than from encounters with rattlers, bears, cougars or elk. Falls from horses and horse-car collisions caused 37 of the total of 45 animal-related deaths; others resulted from bee stings, an infected insect bite, a rodeo bull goring, and kicks - one from a mule and one from a deer.

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Wildlife can be dangerous, but Chuck Stearns of Mount Crested Butte, Colo., notes that it's a new world when some subdivision residents conclude that the West's big game animals belong behind bars. The saga began in an area near the ski resort when police were called out to stop four huskies from harassing a small herd of elk, not an infrequent occurrence in this winter of exhausted, hungry animals. Police rounded up the dogs, and owners were greeted with fines totaling $1,100. Miffed is a polite way to describe the owners' reaction. Said Police Chief Hank Smith: "These people from the Meadows subdivision were apparently appalled that the national forest would let wild elk run loose on the forest. They had the attitude that the elk shouldn't be there and that dogs should have priority."

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And that just may happen since dogs are apparently learning to lobby. On the floor of the state House of Representatives in Cheyenne, Wyo., a black Labrador named Abby showed up to accuse Casper Rep. Rick Tempest of slander and libel. What had Tempest done? The Casper Star-Tribune quoted him saying he'd been forced to make compromises on a bill at a late-night meeting at the home of Abby's owner, Sheridan Sen. Tom Kinnison, because "Kinnison's dog was beginning to smell at this point, so we had to move." An insupportable insult, insisted the Labrador in her complaint. It implied that she "might not be a suitable companion for genteel company." Apologies were promised.

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Abby's huffiness about her odor offense reminds us of a roadside sign in rural New Mexico, spotted by Colorado reader Linda Jones: "Tacos, Burritoes, Enchiladas, Gas." From reader Terra Hegy in Olympia, Wash., we pass on the newest way for the Northwest to combine its passion for both strong coffee and computers. The Crazee Espresso Internet Cafe in Olympia lets you sip a latté or cappuccino while cruising the Net at $6 an hour. Reader Susan Lenard sends news of the Darwin Award, an annual honor given to the person who did the gene pool the biggest service by killing themselves in an extraordinarily stupid way. "Last year's winner was the fellow who was killed by a Coke machine which toppled over on him as he was attempting to tip a free soda out of it," she reports. A nominee for this year? Whoever allegedly got into a "67 Chevy Impala in Arizona, stuck a solid-fuel rocket to the car, and then launched it into a cliff. The jet-assisted vehicle took off like a missile, exceeding speeds of 350 miles per hour and hitting a cliff face 125 feet above the road. No driver was found, says Lenard, to identify for the award.

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Idaho's Republican Rep. Helen Chenoweth is on the warpath again, but this time not against endangered salmon. Her target is a law passed last year that bars anyone convicted of misdemeanor spouse or child abuse from owning a gun. Chenoweth said the law violates the constitution because it creates severe penalties for "obscure and minor" offenses of up to 20 years ago, reports the Idaho Statesman. Not surprisingly, the National Rifle Association agrees with the second-term Republican, since firearms always trump other rights in the group's view. What's surprising is the NRA's rationale - that unless the law is changed an estimated 60,000 police officers could lose their jobs.


Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

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