TIME Congress

Republican and Democratic Congressmen Bond Amid Canyons and Grouse

Jason Chaffetz
Elijah Cummings, left, walks around Utah’s red rock Window Arches with Jason Chaffetz. Jason Chaffetz—Flickr

Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) head to the rivers and red rocks of Utah to change the tone of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, a 63-year-old black Baptist congressman from Baltimore, spent Monday in Utah, looking through the soaring red rock Window Arches surrounded by desert. He was still digesting the “excellent” barbecue chicken from a Dutch-oven the night before, when he rode a flatbed boat on the Colorado river in Canyonlands National Park. And he still wanted to talk about his weekend trip in the King Air twin-propeller plane used by Utah Governor Gary Herbert and his chance to meet a state county commissioner whose wife had been recently treated for cancer. “That was so significant to me,” Cummings told TIME, who has called his vote for the Administration’s signature healthcare law the most important of his 18-year career. “Cancer is a big factor in my family and in my district.”

All along this voyage of discovery, Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a 47-year-old Mormon who opposed Obamacare, was by Cummings side, and neither would have had it any other way. The two-night Chaffetz-Cummings trip was designed to deepen a bond first forged in June, when Chaffetz went to Baltimore to better understand the seniors, former convicts and AIDS patients in Cummings’ district. Now Cummings, his black Under Armour t-shirt poking out underneath his polo, trekked west to learn about the consequences of putting the Gunnison Sage-Grouse on the endangered species list and economic impacts of designating 1.8 million acres around Canyonlands as a national park. Chaffetz, whose mother died from cancer, said their talk about the disease was “a reminder to [Cummings] that we have a lot in common.”

Commonality matters because Chaffetz and Cummings may soon control one of the most bitterly partisan and dysfunctional bodies in the U.S. Congress, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The current chairman, Republican Darrell Issa of California, will be stepping down in January because of term limits, ending a tenure that has been marked by ceremonial shout fests, banging gavels and few measurable accomplishments. Democrats have attacked Issa for exploiting partisan outrage and forging few legislative responses to legitimate scandals, including the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking sting, the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of political groups. Some Republicans have also, more quietly, expressed dismay at the committee’s lack of accomplishments. In March, committee decorum hit a new low-point when Issa shut off Cummings’ microphone during an IRS hearing, which Issa quickly then adjourned before later apologizing.

Few can imagine Cummings ever choosing to spend recreational time with Issa. But with Chaffetz, whose reputation is both conservative and cordial, the two men seem to have hit it off. Cummings says Chaffetz would not wield the gavel like Issa if chosen as the next chairman, even though the two Republicans are close on the political scale. “Although we have disagreements, I have always found him to be non-disagreeable,” says Cummings. Like a twin, or at least a congressman used to sharing the stage, Chaffetz agreed almost word-for-word with Cummings in a separate phone interview. “We’re going to disagree on most issues,” Chaffetz told TIME. “I just don’t want to be disagreeable.”

On Tuesday, the two men showed up together on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to show a united front. “I want a relationship which will allow us to get things done,” said Cummings. “I actually want to get some stuff done,” said Chaffetz.

In interviews, the two men brought that same level of comity in their descriptions of each others districts, which lie on opposite ends of the political spectrum. “They wanted to preserve their environment but at the same time they wanted to be able to use their land,” said Cummings, who noted that some ranchers he met were their families’ seventh generation working the land. “I thought I would hear from folks who were just one-sided. But I felt that they were trying to reach some kind of balance.”

“We’ve got some issues in Utah that are uniquely western,” said Chaffetz, who wore jeans and brown leather cowboy boots around Canyonlands. “You can’t truly appreciate that until you feel and see it. The same is true in Baltimore. They’re dealing with a ton of issues such as food deserts [neighborhoods lacking in healthy food options] that I’ve never heard before.”

Chaffetz and Cummings may even start to dress alike. Waiting for Cummings in his Capitol Hill office is a gift, a brown, felt cowboy hat from Burns Saddlery, “a real one,” says Chaffetz, who owns a black version.

“I don’t know that I’d recommend he wear his hat in his district, but if he comes out West again he’ll look right at home,” Chaffetz said. “And I’m not wearing a cowboy hat in Baltimore unless I want to get my butt kicked.”

TIME Utah

Explosion at Civil War Re-Enactment Sends 3 Children to Hospital

Authorities say the children are in stable condition after a spark from a cannon set off nearby ammunition

Three children were sent to the hospital after a cannon caused an explosion at a Civil War re-enactment event in Orem, Utah. Two of the three children were engulfed in flames when the blast occurred at the beginning of a parade, KUTV reports.

“When the flames went up in the air, these three children started crying. One little girl’s clothes were on fire, we’re told,” witness Brittany Tait told the local station. “People were running with water to douse her.”

When the cannon was fired, a spark landed on additional ammunition and triggered the explosion, according to a statement from Orem’s Department of Public Safety. Authorities did not elaborate on the children’s injuries but said their conditions were stable as they were taken to a hospital nearby.

[KUTV]

TIME U.S.

This Is The Nerdiest State in America

Trekkies, Doctor Who lovers, and Dungeons & Dragons role-players take heed: this study claims to have found your natural habitat

Utah is known for many things: the Great Salt Lake, its high Mormon population, hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics and, now, being the ultimate nerd capital of the United States, apparently.

Real estate website Estately published a list of the nerdiest states in America this week and the Beehive State came out on top, followed closely by Alaska, Wyoming and Idaho. On the other end, Washington, D.C., Mississippi and New Jersey were named the least nerdy.

Estately created the list by calculating the percentage of users in each state, plus the District of Columbia, who listed one of the following as an interest on Facebook: cosplay, anime movies, fantasy lit, comic books, Dungeons & Dragons, LARPing, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Magic: The Gathering, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The data revealed a few trends: Nerds prefer less-populated, more rural states over places like California, New York, Texas and Florida, and they also seem to avoid the South like the plague.

There are some issues with the list, however. For starters, anyone who thinks Washington, D.C. is the least nerdy place in the country has clearly not spent much time in the land where people openly identify as “policy wonks.”

Second, because the list is determined by Facebook interests, it only charts the openly nerdy among us — Mississippi may not seem like a nerd paradise, but for all we know, it could have the largest secret network of social media-averse Dungeons & Dragons players meeting up in the dead of night to roll their polyhedral dice in peace.

TIME Tourism

Ski Resorts Want You to Pay for Next Season’s Skiing Right Now

Resorts are trying to get skiers locked in as loyal guests next season—and simultaneously keep them away from competitor mountains—with major deals for early-bird purchases.

America’s biggest ski resorts are at it again. For a variety of reasons, starting with recent seasons of less-than-stellar snow and ending with increasingly aggressive tactics in the pursuit of customer loyalty throughout the industry, resort companies are upping their game to convince skiers and boarders that they should pay for next season’s skiing mere days after the current season has ended.

And how do they get customers to commit so far in advance? By waving special offers that are often so good customers can’t refuse.

Two of the industry’s biggest players, Vail Resorts and Intrawest, make it easy even for those who are currently struggling to pay off credit card bills related to the ski season just in the rear-view mirror, by allowing customers to lock in pass prices now with only a $49 down payment. Once that’s been paid, the company has your credit card information—and before next ski season begins, your card will automatically be charged for the balance.

Vail, which owns and operates ten major ski resorts, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Heavenly, and Kirkwood, offers a wide variety of passes. The unrestricted Epic Pass is at the top price-wise, running $729 (up $40 from special prices available last summer), with a range of cheaper options for special buyer categories (kids, seniors, college students) and for skiers who can live with more restrictions (blackout dates, fewer resorts, etc.). Considering that a single-day walkup ticket can run well over $100 at a place like Vail, it’s easy to see how these season passes are well worth the money for even a moderate skier who figures to log in, say, 10 or 12 days of making turns each winter.

For diehards putting in a few dozen days per season on the mountain, these passes are no-brainers. They’re probably even underpriced. Why, then, do ski companies keep prices so low?

The big reason is that they want skiers to commit their money—and their loyalty—early, long before anyone can tell if the season’s snow will be good or bad (and potentially not worth the trip at all). They also want customers to commit because doing so largely eliminates the possibility that these skiers will wind up spending a day, let alone an entire week’s vacation, at a competitor resort. After you’ve already coughed up a few hundred bucks for a pass, after all, you’ll want to use it rather than paying more money out of pocket.

The ski companies are also well aware of the powerful trickle-down effect of selling one pass. The likely result is that the passholder will wind up spending money in resort-area restaurants, bars, and hotels, perhaps over the course of seven, ten, or many more days. And pass purchases beget pass purchases, as skiers and boarders tend to buy passes at the same places as their skier and boarder family and friends.

In fact, the Intrawest Passport pushes group sales by directly incentivizing family and friends to buy their passes together. One adult pass, which grants six days of mountain access at each of the company’s six North American resorts (including Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, Stratton in Vermont, and Tremblant in Quebec), costs $589. But up to five additional adult passes purchased at the same time cost $449 each, and up to five kids ages 12 and under are totally free. The deal gets more appealing when you add more people to the mix—and bringing more customers to Intrawest’s resorts is exactly what the company wants.

Each of the many ski pass programs in North America features different price points and inclusions, but they all have one thing in common: They want your money asap. Intrawest is only guaranteeing current pricing through April 30. The Mountain Collective, which provides two days apiece at resorts like Whistler-Blackcomb and Aspen-Snowmass and 50% off the regular rate thereafter, is throwing in an extra free day at your choice of mountains for a vague “while supplies last” period. The Mountain Collective pass is now $359, up from $349 last season, and runs $99 for kids 12 and under.

Another pass partnership, the Powder Alliance, hasn’t announced its policies for the upcoming season yet. If they remained unchanged from 2013-2014, all season passholders from a dozen resorts will automatically get three free days each at all of the other participating resorts, including Stevens Pass in Washington, Crested Butte in Colorado, Snowbasin in Utah, and Schweitzer in Idaho. And yes, you can expect discounts for buying passes early. The pricing at Schweitzer, for instance, generally calls for 2014-2015 passes to rise by $100 as of June 1. The takeaway is pretty obvious: Smart skiers will want to lock in a lower price now.

TIME Crime

Utah Mother Admits to Killing Six Of Her Infant Children

Seven Dead Babies Arrest
Police tape surrounds the Utah home of Megan Huntsman, who admitted to killing six of her infant children and hiding their bodies Rick Bowmer—AP

Authorities have set bail at $6 million for Megan Huntsman, 39, who has admitted to killing 6 of the 7 infant children whose bodies were found at her home near Salt Lake City that she shared with her husband, who police say is not suspected of any involvement

The Utah woman accused of killing six of her infant children has admitted to the crime and been given $6 million bail.

Megan Huntsman, 39, has been cooperating with detectives, said Pleasant Grove Police Lieutenant Britt Smith, who was not at liberty to disclose the woman’s motive.

“It’s just an absolutely heinous crime that’s going to leave everybody asking, ‘why,’ even when they hear the motive,” Smith told Reuters.

The dreadful story unfolded when Huntsman’s estranged husband discovered the body of a baby in a cardboard box, stuffed into a cabinet in a garage along with six others. Huntsman had apparently been keeping her pregnancies secret, then strangled or suffocated the infant children directly after giving birth to them, before wrapping up the bodies and hiding them.

Authorities believe one of the babies was stillborn. The bail sum represents a one million dollars each for the other six infants.

The case will be heard on April 21.

TIME Crime

Woman Arrested After 7 Dead Babies Found in Utah Home

Megan Huntsman at Pleasant Grove County Jail in Pleasant Grove, Utah on April 13, 2014.
Megan Huntsman at Pleasant Grove County Jail in Pleasant Grove, Utah on April 13, 2014. Pleasant Grove County Jail/Reuters

A woman was arrested after seven bodies, thought to be children she gave birth to between 1996 and 2006, were found in cardboard boxes in her home near Salt Lake City that she shares with her husband, who police say is not suspected of any involvement

A woman was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of killing seven babies found dead in her former home, south of Salt Lake City.

The grisly discovery was made in the former abode of Megan Huntsman, 39. On Monday, police released a probable cause statement in which Huntsman confirmed to authorities that she gave birth to the seven babies between 1996 and 2006, and that she either strangled or suffocated them as soon as they were born. She then wrapped them in a towel or shirt, put them in a plastic bag, and placed them in boxes in her garage. Six of the seven babies were born alive, one was stillborn.

Her husband, believed to be the father of the infants, apparently alerted police after stumbling across one in a cardboard box. The six other corpses were discovered once officers arrived at the scene.

So far, police have not commented on either a motive or Huntsman’s reaction to her arrest. Police Captain Michael Roberts has said the husband, who the Associated Press reports is named Darren West, is not suspected of any involvement.

Huntsman’s three daughters, aged around 13 to 20, are still understood to live with their father at the house.

The bodies are currently at the state medical examiner’s office in Salt Lake City, where they are undergoing tests to reveal the cause of death and the parentage of the deceased.

[AP]

TIME Wellbeing

Study Names Provo, Utah Most Feelgood City In America

Washington State v BYU
BYU fans cheer during a game against Washington State in 2012 in Provo, Utah. George Frey—Getty Images

A new Gallup survey of 189 American communities finds that people's overall well-being is generally higher in the Midwest and West—especially California, Colorado and Utah—but lower in the South. Hint: the top city is also one of the most religious

The secret to happiness might just be good, clean living.

Provo-Orem, Utah, ranked number one in the United States for overall wellbeing in a Gallup survey of 189 American cities released Tuesday. In the past, Gallup has also found that Provo is the most religious city in America—religiosity seems to correlate with higher levels of wellbeing in general—and that Utah has the lowest smoking rate among all 50 states. Boulder and Fort Collins, Colo., come in at the number two and three spots, and three of the top ten highest overall wellbeing communities in America are in California.

The place with the lowest level of wellbeing—a composite index of six metrics: life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities—is the Ashland-Huntington area, where Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia meet. The region has seen hard times as its economic fate has declined with the coal industry in recent years. Kentucky and West Virginia are also the two states with the highest smoking rates in the country.

Among metro areas of one million or more in the U.S., the San Francisco Bay and Washington, D.C. areas score highest in Gallup’s well-being index. Perhaps unsurprisingly, residents of these two regions also told Gallup they felt the most confident about the economic prospects of the U.S. in a recent poll. And it’s not just that Americans in D.C. and San Francisco are glass-half-full people—their glasses really are half full, or fuller, as residents of two of the wealthiest population centers in the country.

[Gallup]

TIME Tourism

Forget the Alps: 100-Lift, 18,000-Acre Mega Ski Resort Planned in Utah

Denmark's Christoffer Faarup goes airborne during the downhill run of the men's alpine skiing super combined training session.
Denmark's Christoffer Faarup goes airborne during the downhill run of the men's alpine skiing super combined training session. Mike Segar—Reuters

Plans are in the works to create what would be by far North America’s biggest ski resort complex, with 100 lifts and more than 750 runs spread over some 18,000 acres—all accessible with a single lift pass.

This week, ski industry leaders in Utah unveiled plans for a project called One Wasatch. Essentially, it’s a Voltron-like mashup of seven existing ski resorts that neighbor and back up into each other in the Wasatch Range east of Salt Lake City: Alta, Brighton, Canyons, Deer Valley, Park City, Snowbird, and Solitude. The proposal calls for a few connecting lifts to be added that would make it possible to traverse from resort to resort. The result would be that a skier with one lift ticket has instant access to a staggering amount of terrain, the likes of which has never been seen in North America: a grand total of 762 runs over 18,316 skiable acres.

“With this concept coming to life, there’s not a ski area or community in this country that can beat us,” said Jenni Smith, general manager for Park City Mountain Resort, per the Salt Lake Tribune.

Among the biggest resorts in North America right now, Vail, in Colorado, features 5,289 acres of terrain, while Whistler-Blackcomb, in British Columbia, boasts a total of 8,171 acres. Skiers would have to go to Europe to experience anything on par with what’s being proposed in Utah. (France’s Les Trois Vallées is generally credited as the world’s largest lift-accessible ski area, with 183 lifts connecting eight separate resorts.)

(MORE: Why Ski Resorts Are Pushing Lift Tickets in August)

How much would such a pass in Utah cost? When might this plan become a reality? Will it actually happen? As of yet, there are no definite answers to any of these questions.

For now, One Wasatch is merely a concept. It’s an idea that’s been discussed for decades, actually, and that has picked up pace since the region was in the international spotlight while hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics. This week, however, represents the strongest, most concerted push thus far to make the vision a reality. All seven resorts—which, remember, regularly battle it out in a fierce competition to attract snowboarders and skiers—are on board. The project calls for an infusion of $30 million for new lifts and other infrastructure, “100% privately funded,” One Wasatch organizers are quick to point out.

For the most part, the larger ski community embraces the idea as well, so long as it’s handled thoughtfully and carefully. “One Wasatch would catapult Utah into the category of a true international destination,” reads a statement from Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, on the One Watch testimonials page. “It will be one of those situations where the sum of the whole is far greater than the parts…a game changer.”

Critics say that One Wasatch will absolutely destroy much of the region’s pristine beauty, while also potentially ruining key watershed areas. “The Wasatch is too amazing of a place to be lost for a marketing ploy by the ski industry,” a group called Save Our Canyons announced in response to the One Wasatch proposal, redubbed as “One Horrible Plan for the Wasatch Mountains” by the organization.

(MORE: How to Ski Like an Olympic Medalist)

Another group opposing One Wasatch, the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, released a statement reminding, “These mountains are an ecological and scenic treasure, the source of the water we drink, a place to find solitude and respite from the noise and stress of city life and to experience wild open spaces and wilderness on their own terms.” Speaking to the Salt Lake Tribune about One Wasatch, Jamie Kent, president of the group, added, “I have no confidence they can protect the backcountry.”

TIME Smoking

Kentucky Is For Smokers

86364911
Getty Images

A greater share of Bluegrass State residents smoke cigarettes than in any other state, according to a Gallup poll released Thursday

Kentucky still has the largest share of smokers in the U.S, according to a new Gallup poll.

A total of 30.2% of residents of the Bluegrass State smoke cigarettes, narrowly beating out nearby West Virginia’s smoking rate of 29.9%. The states have held the top two positions since 2008.

The state with the nation’s lowest smoking rate, 12.2%, is Utah, where six in ten residents identify as Mormon, a religion with a strict prohibition against smoking.

In all, 19.7% of Americans smoke cigarettes according to Gallup, down from 21.1% in 2008. For purposes of the poll, a cigarette smoker is defined simply as someone who responds “Yes,” to the question: “Do you smoke?”

The state where the smoking rate has fallen most since 2008 (the first year Gallup gathered sufficient data on the question) is Alaska, where 18.7% of the population smokes. That’s 6.5% fewer smokers today than in 2008.

And while smoking rates decreased in nearly every state of the Union between 2008 and today, they ticked up ever so slightly in one: Hawaii, where 19.4% of the population smokes.

But maybe Gallup just happened to call while President Obama was vacationing back home….

[Gallup]

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