EAGLE COUNTY — The 2013-14 ski season has started as the previous season ended — with grin-inducing snow. But autumn in Colorado also brought historic flooding to the eastern half of the state, which brought out some local heroes who are always ready to help.
With the big ball ready to drop on 2014, here’s the end of our look back on the year that was.
• Vail is home to pirate ships, towering steel men and now, giant birds’ nests.
The town’s kids got a new playground at Lionshead Park, located in a plaza tucked between Vail Ski Tech and Billy’s Island Grill. But this is no run-of-the-mill city park — the pieces of wood and steel going into the new public area create a jungle gym incorporating a rock-climbing wall and giant birds’ nests, designed by artist and architect Mike Moore, of Tres Birds studio in Denver. The art and playground equipment will join a new pop-jet foundation that was installed earlier this spring to complete a new play spot for families.
The park joins several other custom playgrounds that double as art installations in Vail, including the pirate ship jungle gym, located next to Vail Village’s Gondola One, and Red Sandstone Park, featuring a playground made up of large steel figures “lifting” and “moving” a series of huge boxes and spools.
• Maj. Tony Somogyi turned his tired eyes to the gray, drizzling skies over Colorado’s Front Range as he and the rest of the High Altitude Army Training Site (HAATS) crew pulled on their helmets and got to work.
Colorado National Guard aviators from the HAATS were among almost two dozen military crews flying rescue missions to flooded areas along the rain-soaked Front Range in September, or trying to. Continued heavy rains made flying anywhere from dangerous to impossible.
Despite the conditions, helicopter crews pulled out more than 600 people during the rescue mission. The local HAATS crews rescued 207 people, 45 animals and delivered 7,000 pounds of cargo — water, food and medical supplies.
“This is what the National Guard should be used for,” Somogyi said.
• The Saint Patrick Parish in Minturn celebrated its 100th anniversary in September. Over the years, the church had welcomed the faithful from near and far, including at least one visit from Jacqueline Kennedy — widow of the slain president — in the 1960s.
• Cal Wettstein was working for the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon the last time many federal workers got “go home” orders due to a partial shutdown of the federal government. That was in 1995. He sympathized with the people on the ground — folks who were just trying to get their work done.
Back then, Wettstein — who today is retired from the Forest Service and is now working for Habitat for Humanity — had a home and a family to keep going. Missing a couple of paychecks — the shutdown lasted nearly a month — was a worry.
To help during October’s brief, partial federal shutdown, Alpine Bank announced it would provide interest-free loans to federal workers to help cover their immediate expenses, just as it did in 1995. Thanks to the brevity of this shutdown, the bank only used a portion of the $13 million it had set aside for assistance.
• Barry Parker believed he’d been flimflammed by Vail Resorts. So Parker, and other members of the Beaver Creek Property Owners Association, headed to court over plans for an “alpine coaster” at Beaver Creek around and near the top of the Buckaroo Express gondola.
The company earlier in October announced it was starting a project that would put a ropes course, zipline, summer tubing hill and, most important, an alpine coaster — which the company calls a “Forest Flyer” — on private property in the area.
This suit is a continuation of a lawsuit filed by property owners in 2006, in an attempt to stop the resort company from building an alpine slide.
• After more than 20 years of talk, a plan to put an underpass beneath Interstate 70 near the Simba Run condos may become a reality before this decade ends.
The Colorado Department of Transportation in October announced it would fund a big portion of a new underpass between town’s north and south frontage roads, using money from the department’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships fund. Preparatory work could take 18 months or more, which makes 2016 the most likely year for construction to start.
• The top half of a skull uncovered in the Holy Cross wilderness area in October was among the remains of a hiker who went missing in 2010. Summer hikers found the top of a skull near James Nelson’s campsite. Medical examiners determined in October that the skull was Nelson’s.
Nelson, 31, of Chicago, set out Oct. 3, 2010, for a five-day, 25-mile hike in the Holy Cross Wilderness. His fiancee reported him missing Oct. 8. Over four days, 116 people searched for more than 1,000 hours for Nelson.
• Astronaut and Vail resident Scott Carpenter died at the age of 88. Carpenter was the second American astronaut to orbit Earth and lived in Vail for more than 25 years.
“He had that worldwide perspective of having seen the entire planet, and after space and under water, the next view for him was looking at the Gore Range,” Patty Carpenter, Scott’s wife said. “We’d stand at the top of Vail Mountain on a powder day thankful that we are lucky enough to live here.”
• The wrongful death case stemming from an avalanche that killed a local teen in 2012 appears headed for trial after the two sides failed reach a mediated agreement.
Earlier this year, a Broomfield District Court Judge had ordered Vail Resorts and the family of Taft Conlin to mediation, to try to settle their case without going to trial. After a day of negotiations, the two sides failed to come to an agreement.
The trial is scheduled for June 2014.
• Vail’s Steadman Clinic and Steadman Philippon Research Institute announced that former Walmart executive and institute board member Tom Mars was named CEO of both organizations.
Mars will guide the direction of both the prestigious orthopedic clinic and the internationally recognized research branch of the organization — the clinic and institute previously had separate CEOs. In the newly created position, Mars partially steps into the shoes that would have been filled by the former president and CEO of the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, Mike Egan. Egan died in a bike accident in 2011.
• For an “off” year, election season was fairly busy and packed an unambiguous message: Pot smokers can pay taxes, and that’s about it.
The towns of Avon and Red Cliff asked voters to either extend or raise property taxes, and both questions failed. Meanwhile, Red Cliff and Eagle voters approved new taxes on retail marijuana sales, despite a the efforts of a group of Red Cliff residents to ban retail sales in that town.
In Eagle, voters approved new taxes on retail marijuana and also voted to allow retail sales in town, the second time in less than two years town voters had approved either medical or retail sales in town.
The local votes on marijuana mirrored the results of a state ballot question asking for taxes on wholesale and retail marijuana transactions.
Local voters also mirrored the rest of the state in soundly rejecting a state income-tax increase that supporters claimed would have helped public schools.
• Vail had its own election Nov. 5, for the town council. Voters there returned incumbent Greg Moffet to that board, and elected three newcomers: Dale Bugby, Dave Chapin and Jenn Bruno.
• When the snow guns started blowing snow in the fall most skiers and riders didn’t notice anything different. But the slopeside snowmaking system has gotten major upgrades that not only create better snow, but save massive amounts of energy.
Both Vail and Beaver Creek have installed top-of-the-line, highly efficient snowmaking compressors — the part of the machinery that pushes air through snowmaking pipes to different locations around the mountain. The company estimates the equipment will save 3.3 million kilowatts of energy between both mountains. That’s the equivalent of the energy used to power more than 300 homes in one year.
• Workers from Vail Mountain and lift company Doppelmayr were busily putting the finishing installments on Mountain Top Express (Chair 4), one of the most frequently used lifts at the resort in the days before the resort opened for the season. The new Chair 4, the mountain’s first six-passenger capacity lift, is expected to increase the lift’s capacity by 33 percent. That means the chair could feasibly transport 3,600 people to the top of Vail per hour, the same capacity as the new Gondola One.
• One more summer music series is coming to Vail. This one is a summer bluegrass concert series, set for Wednesdays in Lionshead. The Vail Town Council approved a one-time contribution of $50,000 to the new festival. The money will be pulled from the town’s general fund reserve account.
The bluegrass series will be added to the commission’s proposal to spend $843,300 on events in 2014.
• When the news started rolling around the valley about Vail Resorts’ plans for a new, six-seat lift uphill from Beaver Creek’s base area, the reaction was uniform — this is a good thing.
“Oh, nice!” was the simple response from Adam Bristow, owner of the Vail and Beaver Creek division of Black Tie Ski Rentals. Vail Resorts officials announced in December that the current Centennial lift would be replaced with a new, six-pack lift in time for the 2014-15 season.
• The cookie bakers at Beaver Creek baked extras to welcome the first passengers arriving on a new flight from Toronto.
• After arguing with her adoptive mother, on a U.S. Forest Service road south of Gypsum, an Aurora woman went looking for beef jerky in the back seat of their car and instead pulled out a handgun that police say killed her mother.
Traci Cunningham, 28, is accused of first-degree murder in the death of Penelope Cunningham, a schoolteacher and former nun who adopted Traci Cunningham when Traci was 14 years old, according to an arrest affidavit.
The murder was the first in the Vail Valley since 2009.