Avalanches 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 Then I couldn’t breathe — oxygen had been replaced by snow crystals."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.
Better 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.
If 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. Earlier studies by researchers David Strayer and Frank Drews didn’t let hands-free phones off the hook. Apparently all multi-tasking drivers suffer from "inattention blindness," meaning that they look ahead at road conditions but don’t really see them.
Money 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. But everybody has to be nice: Founder Timothy Blixseth says, "Our target member is a good, down-to-earth humble person who is thankful for his or her success. No jerks allowed."
During a career day in Palo Alto, Calif., management consultant William Fried told eighth-graders that the key to a happy life was finding out what you love to do and then doing it. If their object is to make $250,000 a year, he said, girls should consider exotic dancing. "For every two inches up there," he added, "you should get another $50,000 on your salary," according to the Associated Press. Although stripping was just one of the 140 potential careers Fried talked about, his advice failed to go over well with some parents. Fried was unapologetic: "Eighth-graders are not dumb," he said. "They are pretty worldly." The principal explained that a substitute teacher let students ask Fried too many pointed questions.
A 13-year-old dog of mixed Pekingese parentage gets our award for bravery, surviving a snatch by an eagle and a week of sometimes subfreezing weather around Bozeman, Mont. The dog, named Freddie, came home covered with ice and insect bites. A veterinarian who examined Freddie said cuts around its neck indicated an eagle’s talons had airlifted the canine.
Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.