Best of the West: Ski resorts in West see strong visitation uptick; Colorado’s bark beetle study; Nevada inmates restore sagebrush

The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting April 29, 2019 that you don't want to miss.

Big snow meant big crowds at ski resorts this past season, especially in the West.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, visits to member resorts in the U.S. topped 59 million for the 2018-19 season, an 11% increase over last year. “Abundant snowfall – up 31% nationwide over the previous season – and continued improvements to the guest experience contributed to increases in visitation in every region across the country,” stated the Association.

Growth was most dramatic in the Pacific Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions. In the Rocky Mountain Region (New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Colorado) visitation rose 15.6%, with more than 24 million visits. Vail Resorts, which operates 11 mountain resorts and three urban ski areas across eight states and three countries, reported season-to-date lift ticket revenue at its North American mountain resorts was up 9.3% compared to the prior year period. The Pacific Southwest, which includes California and Nevada, jumped 22.9%.

In California and Nevada, The Lake Tahoe area had its fourth snowiest winter on record, boosting occupancy rates and prompting ski resorts to extend their seasons. “It’s good everywhere right now. Years like this are phenomenal for the industry,” said Tom Foley, with Inntopia. “North Lake is enjoying sometimes too much snow, but it’s a good problem to have.”

Beetle Barrage: Bark beetles have swept the West in recent years, invading more than 4 million acres in the southern Rocky Mountains. Now, Colorado researchers have published one of the first comprehensive studies about their impact on wildlife. Learn about the report.

Alternative Energy Update: A new wind energy project is coming to South Dakota. Xcel Energy plans to install 72 wind turbines in the northeast part of the state; they are expected to power 160,000 homes by 2021. “Our customers want clean, reliable, affordable energy,” said Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy-Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

Saving Sagebrush: A federal plan to restore sagebrush habitats in the West was released this month to combat invasive plants and wildfires. And in Nevada, incarcerated volunteers are planting and tending to hundreds of thousands of sagebrush seedlings as part of an effort to restore the native plant and support sage grouse.  

Study Buddies: Citizen scientists are being tapped to study plant and animal species at Glacier National Park in Montana. “The reason we do these projects using citizen science is because they’re very large scale geographically. And you need a lot of bodies to do that because the park’s pretty big," says Jami Belt, a biologist with Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center.

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