‘Epic Discovery’ shakes up Vail’s summer
December 30, 2012
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part year in review.
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – A whole year of Vail Valley news is simply too big a project for just one day. Here’s the continuation of our look back at 2012.
A year sometimes has stories that just won’t go away. Here’s a brief look at some of what we followed through the summer and into the fall:
Golfpocalypse now: It all sounded so simple in 2011: The Vail golf course would benefit from a portion of the money once intended to build a conference center. The 18th hole would change a little, the clubhouse would be rebuilt – including space for weddings and similar events – and everyone would be happy.
But, in the words of sportscaster Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”
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Many golf-course regulars fought the idea of turning the 18th hole from a par-5 to a par-4, in the process describing the 18th as a “crown jewel” of the valley’s golf holes.
Golf-course neighbors didn’t much care for the idea, either. They didn’t like the idea of more people, more cars, more light and more noise if more wedding parties started using the clubhouse.
Lawyers got involved, and a lawsuit against the town was filed in October.
Moving, moving: Besides nature, of course, there aren’t a lot of 100-year-old artifacts in the Vail Valley. That’s why a group of Edwards residents got excited, and involved, when Mike Eaton decided to build a new house. The old house, you see, is more than 100 years old and at one point was a railroad station in Edwards.
Money was raised, through both private and public channels, and the house was cut into pieces and moved to the Eagle River Preserve property just across the Eagle River from Eaton’s place. The ultimate goal is to turn the old home into an “interpretive center” at the open space.
Let’s make a deal: This story actually dates back years, but 2012 was the year the Eagle Valley Land Exchange got done. Here are the bare bones of the deal, which Eagle County Open Space Director Toby Sprunk called “the most complicated I’ve ever been involved in.”
• A 478-acre parcel will be transferred from the U.S. Forest Service to the town of Avon.
• A 640-acre Colorado State Land Board parcel north of Berry Creek will go to the Forest Service.
• A 160-acre parcel near Cordillera will become Eagle County open space.
• A 184-acre parcel near the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness will be transferred from a private owner to the Forest Service.
• Most of the roughly $6.5 million cash in the deal will go to the land board, to be put into that board’s school-funding trust fund.
• The lack of snow during the winter was only made worse by an early-summer heat wave that made the public lands in Eagle County as dry as they’d been in recent memory. The conditions, combined with trauma from Front Range wildfires, led local towns to cancel their Fourth of July fireworks shows.
The last-minute cancellation in Avon, which puts on one of the biggest shows in the state, meant that hundreds, not thousands, turned out for the town’s annual Salute to the USA.
• A little moisture fell in July, which allayed wildfire fears and actually led to the easing of some fire restrictions. But thunderstorms bring risks. There’s lightning, of course, and there’s also the chance a storm cell can release a deluge.
One of those deluges hit Sweetwater Road northwest of Dotsero in late July. The storm caused both floods and mudslides and closed the road for much of one night. Land owners in the area are still dealing with the damage from the storm, which poured mud, boulders and trees over fields and fouled ponds.
• One of these years, the earth will open up in May, so we can use the headline “Sinkhole de Mayo.”
This year, it was July when the earth opened up near the summit of Tennessee Pass on U.S. Highway 24. An old railroad tunnel under the pass collapsed, creating an unexpected highway repair project for the Colorado Department of Transportation. The hole forced traffic between Leadville and Minturn over Fremont Pass and through Copper Mountain.
The road was fixed in time for the U.S. Pro Challenge cycling race in August.
• Vail Resorts unveiled “Epic Discovery,” an ambitious plan for summer recreation on Vail Mountain. The project was made possible by the 2011 passage of the “Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act,” a bill that expands what resort operators can do on land they lease from the federal government.
Plans include ziplines, climbing walls, new trails, using existing chairlifts and restaurants and something called a “forest flyer,” essentially a gravity-propelled mountain coaster.
Vail Resorts officials expect to generate more revenue, of course, but people in Vail are excited about the prospect of opening up more year-round employment and, of course, more business in town.
The first phase of the project will start this year, but the more extensive work requires approval from the U.S. Forest Service.
• Burton Snowboarding and Vail Mountain announced a partnership that will bring the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships to Vail for the foreseeable future, starting in February.
• The Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary over the summer, which seemed to be a perfect time for festival founder and executive director John Giovando to call it a career.
Giovando and violinist Ida Kavafian founded the festival on a shoestring and helped build it into one of the Vail’s Valley’s cultural cornerstones.
“Mozart is alive and well and lives in the Vail Valley,” Giovando said.
• Pepi Gramshammer was the first big-shot ski racer to come to Vail, founding the lodge that bears his name. Pepi and his wife, Sheika, raised a family here and, nearly 50 years on, still live in Vail Village. Pepi turned 80 in August, an event that was recognized with a Vail Town Council proclamation declaring Aug. 6 as Pepi Gramshammer Day.
“I could never have done this in Austria,” he said. “You can’t believe how lucky I am. No one is luckier than I.”
• If you’re Dr. Tom Hackett, swimming the English Channel is the second most fun you can have in the dark.
It really was a dark and stormy night when Hackett, orthopaedic surgeon with the Steadman Clinic, swam 34 miles across the English Channel in 62-degree water, starting at 3 a.m. in 6-foot seas that tossed him around like the flotsam he kept colliding with.
• Courtney Holm was a relatively last-minute entry into the 2012 elections for Eagle County commissioner, challenging incumbent Democrat Jon Stavney for the District 2 seat. Holm replaced Shayne Mitchell, who withdrew from the race earlier in the summer due to personal problems.
• The USA Pro Challenge cycling race zipped through the Vail Valley again in August. In the race’s second year, a stage came over Tennessee Pass, rolled through Minturn and Eagle-Vail and then ended in Beaver Creek. Minturn’s streets were packed for much of the afternoon, just to watch the peloton take a few seconds to fly through town.
• Local government can be serious business, except for the times it isn’t
At a Vail Town Council meeting in early September, council members debated how to spell “Lionshead” on town signs. For years, there had been two spellings – the one in the previous sentence and the sometimes-used “LionsHead.” Council members decided on the first spelling for town documents and signs.
• When the economy went sour a few years ago, marketing experts in the Vail Valley decided to bring in events. A new one – Living at Your Peak – came to Vail in early September. Sessions ranged from secrets of meditation to the latest in high-tech medicine, and presenters were some of the top people in their fields, including tennis legend Martina Navratilova.
• Vail Resorts stock headed up after the company announced its fourth-quarter earnings. At the end of that trading day, the company’s stock had gained more than 8 percent in value.
• After the previous season’s dismal snowfall followed by a warm, dry spring and summer, any hint of snow was greeted with happy dances around the valley. A mid-September dusting of snow on Vail Mountain did just that.
“Everybody’s itching (for winter) a little bit,” said Matt Carroll at the Double Diamond ski shop in Lionshead. “Locals come in, and they’re psyched for a good snow year.”
• While summer is generally packed with events these days, those events dwindle as October rolls around. One exception is the Vail Cup youth soccer tournament, which once again brought more than 100 teams, along with their families, to the valley.
• Temperatures need to be just right for ski resorts to make snow. This year, Vail Resorts started the guns the first week in October.
• The annual Ski magazine resort ratings are generally greeted one of two ways here in Happy Valley. A top rating generally prompts cheers and huzzahs. The magazine’s 2013 rating ‚ with Vail at third on the list, usually brings the other kind of reaction:
“It’s not that critical in terms of the guest perception,” Vail Town Council member Ludwig Kurz said. “I’d be more concerned if this was a scientific poll, but it’s a perception rather than something really scientific.”
• A dip in ski-season air service to the Eagle County Regional Airport brought changes to the group responsible for bringing that service to the valley. The local “air alliance” was brought into the Vail Valley Partnership’s umbrella, with a mission of growing flight service but with a more organized focus.
Director Chris Romer said bringing the alliance under the leadership of the Partnership should open the door to more successful fundraising followed by – hopefully – growth at the airport.
“Right now, about 20 businesses participate in the (alliance),” Romer said. “We plan to grow it to about 200 to 250 businesses or more.”
• Local elections showed Eagle County in a blue mood, with most contested elections going to Democrats.
County voters followed the rest of the state in casting a majority of votes for President Barack Obama. Jon Stavney won re-election to his Eagle County commissioner’s job, and Jill Ryan will replace outgoing commissioner Peter Runyon in January. Bruce Brown was elected as the new district attorney, and Jared Polis was re-elected to Congress.
While Republican Rep. Scott Tipton was overwhelmingly elected to a second term in the 3rd Congressional District, which now includes much of Eagle County, challenger Sal Pace carried the local precincts. And Steamboat Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush was elected to a newly drawn district in the Colorado House of Representatives.
Of Republicans on the ballot, only Glenn Gallegos, a candidate for the University of Colorado Board of Regents, carried the county.
• County voters also were in a more generous mood than they were in 2011. The Eagle River Fire Protection District’s proposal for a tax increase passed in 2012 after being defeated the year before. Of course, the district’s need for “rolling closures” among its four fire stations might have had something to do with the voters’ change in mood.
• In Avon, Town Council candidates Jennie Fancher and Buz Reynolds knew they were winners on Election Night. But it took a few days of detailed counting to decide the race for the third available seat. In the end, Jake Wolf won a seat by just a handful of votes.
• In nonelection news, the Steadman Clinic dropped a bombshell when it pulled out of a partnership with Vail Valley Medical Center to build an office complex on land owned by the town of Vail. The clinic’s move – coming after months of negotiations and planning – essentially scuttled the project, including plans to build a new town hall.
• Vail Mountain celebrated its 50th anniversary with a big, shiny present to itself – a new gondola, called, simply, “One” in honor of the first lift that rumbled out of Vail Village. Each car in the new gondola can carry 10 skiers at a time to Mid Vail, and cars are Wi-Fi equipped.
• As the year’s final month started, skiers started getting antsy for snow, which had so far just come in fits and starts. But the weather patterns started changing about the second week in December, which has brought decent, if not overwhelming, amounts of the white stuff to the ski slopes.
• Vail’s anniversary celebrations kicked off in earnest in December, including concerts and the premiere of “Vail, The Rise of America’s Iconic Ski Resort,” a film created by Roger Brown. The movie is really something. You should see it (copies are available for sale at the ski museum).
• After years of discussion and more than 80 public meetings, the Vail Town Council approved a plan for Ever Vail, a proposed new portal to the mountain between Lionshead and Cascade Village. Despite the work that’s gone into the plan so far, Vail Resorts still isn’t ready to start work on the project. That won’t happen until the national economy is stronger.
• Seventeen-year-old Eagle-Vail ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin picked up her first World Cup win in Sweden.
Shiffrin became the third youngest American woman to win a World Cup race, behind Kiki Cutter, who won slalom in 1968 at the age of 16, and Jody Nagel, who won slalom in 1969 at just three months younger than Shiffrin.