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Deer Valley wants to better manage crowds after first year of Ikon Pass

Deer Valley Resort is known for its well-groomed runs and high-end experience. But this season, that’s not what had many skiers buzzing at the end of a day on the slopes.

Parking lots overflowed and many skiers complained of longer-than-normal lift lines as visitation numbers peaked. Resort leaders say multiple factors contributed to the high numbers, but the resort’s inclusion on the new Ikon Pass from Deer Valley’s owner, Alterra Mountain Company, unmistakably played a role. Next year, the resort hopes to better regulate the crowds.

Coleen Reardon, director of marketing for Deer Valley, said the resort was up 12 percent in visitation compared to previous years, which is a significant jump. Still, she said, the resort only hit its cap of 8,500 skiers on the mountain on six days, and all of the days were over the holidays. That stat was on par with previous winters.

Although the resort did not hit its cap later in the season, Reardon said visitation remained high during periods that are generally slower for the resort. March, for example, was one of the resort’s busiest months during the 2018-19 season. Reardon said snowstorms and the timing of spring breaks around the country contributed to the high visitation.

She also said the numbers peaked when Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons closed because of heavy snowfall or intense wind.

The near-constant flood of skiers was evident in the parking troubles the resort encountered, causing a dispute with City Hall earlier this month. The city allows the resort to use Deer Valley Drive for overflow parking from the Snow Park Lodge lots on 10 percent of the days the resort is open during a ski season. This year, the resort exceeded its permitted days, which amount to approximately 12 or 13 days, and has said it used the street for overflow parking 27 times.

After City Hall prohibited the resort from using Deer Valley Drive for parking, the resort briefly encouraged guests to park at the China Bridge garage near Main Street and use public transit to arrive at the resort and also directed skiers to park at Treasure Mountain Junior High on the weekends. Reardon said the change worked well, but the resort plans to work with the city before next winter to find a more efficient and long-term solution.

She said that could include more overflow parking and transit that goes straight to the resort. The resort also wants to have a better plan for snow removal, because Reardon said snow covered up approximately 100 of the resort’s parking spots.

As for the cap on the amount of skiers allowed on the mountain, Reardon said it can be difficult to determine an exact number when counting skiers at the resort. Typically, the resort combines anecdotal information from workers on the mountain, past data from visitation numbers and the quantity of day passes sold in order to count skiers.

This year, the calculation included the amount of Ikon Pass holders who were required to stop at the ticket office to get their passes scanned for the day. Ikon Pass holders have a limited amount of days at the resort. Deer Valley season pass holders are allowed to access the lifts without checking in.

Reardon said without RFID gates that scan every guest’s pass before they get on a ski lift, the exact number of skiers at the resort can get skewed. She said Deer Valley realized the importance of RFID gates, which use radio-frequency to scan ski passes, after seeing the consistently large crowds this season.

The resort plans to install RFID gates in the summer.

“We will be able to better control the numbers on the mountain,” Reardon said. “We don’t have a lot of data right now, but we will next year.”

The gates will also allow the resort to see what areas of the mountain have the most traffic and where the resort should focus its renovation projects.

Reardon said some guests were upset with the crowds, particularly those who have been skiing at Deer Valley for years and are used to short lift lines. But, she said, it is hard to place the blame for the packed mountain on one factor alone. Not only was Deer Valley on the Ikon Pass this year, the resort also had more than 300 inches of snow and the U.S. economy is doing well, she said.

“Being a part of the Ikon Pass, I’m not going to say it wasn’t busier. It sure was, but we felt like the mountain handled it well,” she said.

She said the pass was beneficial because it attracted new guests who had never visited the mountain before.

“We are thrilled about the new guests that are visiting us, they really love us,” she said. “It’s been fun to see the new folks experience Deer Valley and our product.”

She said being part of Alterra Mountain Company allows the resort to make bigger investments in its technology — such as the RFID gates and planned digital signage at the resort’s base — and future improvements to the resort’s infrastructure. She said the resort plans to update its day lodges to add more seating in the near future.

“Being family-owned we didn’t have the resources to really invest in expensive technology,” she said.

Curious Nature: Crows are curious, creative creatures to be admired

We have all seen their mysterious black figures soar across the sky and heard their loud “caws” from near and far. But have you ever thought about why crows seem to be everywhere in North America?

These birds belong to the Corvid family, known as some of the smartest birds in the world. Corvids include crows, parrots, jays, rooks, ravens, and magpies, a rather common bird around our valley. With large brains and the ability to work together, crows, in particular, have been studied and admired for their intelligence and ubiquitous nature.

There are 40 species of crow and they are found nearly worldwide. The species we see most around the valley is the American crow. Why are they so successful? Certainly, it has to do with their incredible ability to problem solve — for example, a group of crows figured out how to filter food from sand by using mesh wiring. We also have to credit their high level of understanding of the natural world around them — crows will participate in “anting” themselves by allowing ants to collect in their feathers in order to ward off unwanted parasites.

But we also have to acknowledge their outstanding ability to work together as a team. Crows, and many other Corvids, are very social birds. This is why we hear so much cawing when we see a group of crows — they communicate with one another constantly in order to optimize survival.

If you ever get a chance to witness a crow “funeral” you’ll see firsthand some of their unique social habits. During these events, up to 40 crows will gather together around the deceased, cawing loudly. They do this, some researchers argue, to understand how the bird died and how to prevent more deaths in the future.

As vocal as these critters can be, crows are significantly much quieter around their nests in an effort to stay hidden. Crows will typically stay within the same area where they were born. This is because they grow up memorizing their surroundings and also because they work together to survive with their families.

Crow pairs will typically mate for life and along with their offspring make a collective effort to raise newborns. After about two years, a pair’s offspring will go to start their own families — but may still roost with their parents.

The crow’s value of community plays a huge part in their success as a species. They learn and will teach each other good cache hiding spots, areas with plentiful food, and what other animals are threats and how to ward them off.  Surprisingly, crows can even recognize the faces of people who have wronged them.

Researchers found that, when they wore human-like masks and disrupted a group of crows and they later came back wearing the same mask without posing a threat, the crows would mob them. Researchers then found that the group of crows who were threatened would also teach other nearby groups about the enemy.

This was not only taught but remembered — researchers found that, after nearly five years, if an individual wearing the original threatening mask approached the same group, they would be mobbed. Just like we learn and teach certain things for our own survival, like looking both ways when crossing the street, crows apparently do the same in their own unique quest for survival.

Tessa Cafritz is a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center. Since she started working there last summer, she has become fascinated with the local corvids. From the Stellar’s Jay to the humble Black-Billed Magpie, Tessa has enjoyed observing and learning about the valley’s intelligent and admirable bird species. 

Thompson: Honoring the Vail Veterans Program (column)

It started 15 years ago, when one of our Vail neighbors met a combat-injured Army captain in a hospital far, far away. I wish I could have heard that conversation, but they made a pact that changed the world. It went something like: “You organize, I’ll get the troops.”

That pact created the Vail Veterans Program. This year that program is being honored for hosting over 3,000 seriously-wounded American veterans and their families to bask in the magic of Vail, from participating in skiing and horseback riding to savoring high mountains and long life vistas.

To commemorate this 15th anniversary, the Vail Symposium hosted an evening presentation entitled “The Journey Home: Celebrating the Resilience of the Human Spirit.”

Three of the Vail Veterans Program’s Purple Heart recipients participated in a live interview:

  • Col. Greg Gadson is a West Point graduate with two Super Bowl rings who lost both legs in an IED explosion.
  • Capt. Dawn Halfaker, also a West Point graduate, was a Military Police commander when her vehicle was hit by RPG rockets.
  • Lt. Jason Redman is a 20-year Navy SEAL whose team was chasing an al-Qaida target when the machine guns started firing.

When you enter the room, you see old injuries — missing limbs and angry scars.

When you listen, you hear tales of war, combat, injury and recovery.

When you leave, you remember the wisdom and grace of gaining another life.

These Purple Heart warriors answered questions posed by one of our local veterans, Capt. Pete Thompson. Pete asked a couple of easy questions concerning their entry into the military, but then asked the difficult and probing questions about their combat injuries.

“Tell us about the moment you were wounded and what you remember; tell us about your life being saved and the medical healing; tell us about the psychological scars and your recovery.”

Lt. Redman described walking into a night ambush and being hit at close range by rounds from an al-Qaida machine gun.

Three bullets slammed into my chest, and two bullets hit my left elbow,” he said. “Another bullet hit the left side of my head and exited through my nose, dislocating my left eye.”

Capt. Halfaker literally had her right arm blown off when an RPG rocket hit her vehicle, yet she described driving, in the damaged and bloody Humvee, back to base and medical treatment. Col. Gadson, whose lower body was mutilated by an IED explosion that threw him 10 meters out of his command car, remembered his men, to include his commander, with mournful expressions, rallying to retrieve and stabilize him.

All three expressed sincere appreciation that the American military provided them with the best equipment and the most rapid responses. Lt. Redman said that the armor vest that shielded his chest was absolutely life-saving. Capt. Halfaker remembered that although her Humvee had been hit twice by RPG rockets and gunfire, it drove them away from the ambush. And Col. Gadson remembered the sound of the Medivac helicopter which took him to the field hospital where he received 129 blood transfusions. All three said that because of the military’s focus on the “Golden Hour” following a traumatic injury, they survived.

Then, Capt. Thompson asked them what the Vail Veterans Program meant to them. This is the question that took their breath away. This is the question that they answered with their rejuvenated spirit. Unanimously, they said that this small, privately-funded program that brought them to the gorgeous mountains and the living activities of skiing and snowboarding was transformative.

“It saved my life.”

They each emphasized the many different aspects of the VVP: family, friends, activity, involvement, humor, learning, and learning that the only disability in life is a bad attitude.  

Col. Gadson described sharing a life experience with his family on the back of a horse less than five months after his legs were amputated. In describing that moment away from the hospital, but securely with his family, he had a tear in his voice.

To close, Capt. Thompson reiterated why the Symposium was honoring this noble program: “Please understand that combat injuries are something that we should all know about, because it is happening to our children, to our American soldiers, somewhere in the world … every day. And the Vail Veterans Program is a transformative experience to rebuild confidence, rebuild friendships, and rebuild lives … every day.

Pete Thompson lives in Vail, is a part-time instructor for Colorado Mountain College and Vail Resorts, and he is a member of the local veterans’ organization. He can be reached at 970-476-7575

Letter: Is Reserve at Hockett Gulch right for Eagle?

The Reserve at Hockett Gulch is incorrect in scale for the town of Eagle and compromises the Eagle Area Community Plan’s vision which states “Eagle will continue to be a high-quality livable community.” The requested long list of variances from our Land Use and Development code and EQR fee structure do not make this a good deal for Eagle. Forty-five-foot tall apartment buildings, 10 feet over the allowed height, and the lack of required open space will make these apartment buildings permanent eyesores in this area of our community where all others have adhered to the codes, while the millions of dollars in discounts requested would make this a liability on the town.

The Reserve at Hockett Gulch is not responsible population growth. It would increase the population of the town of Eagle by 12 percent. And let’s not forget the impending and monstrous Haymeadow development breaks ground this June, adding another 873 homes to Eagle. It isn’t fiscally responsible to approve a development that would burden the town by increasing the use of Highway 6 ahead of its redevelopment with only $366,000.00 in impact fees to the developer.  

The Reserve at Hockett Gulch would place a considerable amount of additional hours on town staff, which is already compromised as we search for a new town planner/community developer. I second Willy Powell’s remarks from the March 12 board of trustees meeting that the town must begin to consider long range planning in its decisions, begin to connect information and simply pause before approving more development.

I support suitably-sized rental unit developments in the town of Eagle. A perfect example is the Broadway Station — a properly-sized rental apartment building with 22 units, constructed and managed by a resident of the town of Eagle that includes a new restaurant to downtown Eagle and a new space for an existing downtown business owner. 

I encourage the town’s board of trustees to engage in long-range planning and preserve the small-town feel and character highly valued in Eagle. As a community we have established a desirable town. I believe a 45-foot tall, 400 rental apartment complex with only 30 percent guaranteed as affordable, and the requested concessions to reduce required open space and parking spaces is not in alignment of Eagle’s character or vision. The board of trustees should not approve the Reserve at Hockett Gulch’s current land use application.

Ellen Bodenhemier

Eagle

That Gustafson Gusto: Celebrating the life of Dick Gustafson

Editor’s Note: The Vail Daily published dozens of stories about Dick Gustafson, as well as columns he penned. This is drawn from that material.

VAIL — Dick Gustafson was many things: husband, father, politician and conservative firebrand, business owner, entertainer … American.

His list of accomplishments is long, distinctive and will outlive and benefit us all.

Gustafson was not fond of indecision, not in himself or others. And he wasn’t one to wait for someone else to solve problems. For example, when the early Vail resident grew frustrated that he couldn’t find the tools and material he needed, he opened Vail’s first hardware store, Ace Hardware. He wasn’t certain it would succeed since it was “all the way out in West Vail.”

How HAATS landed here

An airport is a hole in the sky through which money falls, and Gustafson was curious why money wasn’t falling into Eagle County. With typical Gustafson gusto, he did something about it.

Gustafson was an Eagle County commissioner in the 1980s when the region was mired in the oil bust and recession. The Eagle County airport did not have enough operations — takeoffs and landings — to get any money from the federal government.

So Gustafson flew to Washington, D.C., for a Pentagon meeting with Gen. Herbert Temple, the guy in charge of the National Guard. Sen. Bill Armstrong set up the meeting, for 5 p.m. Friday.

Gustafson strode into Temple’s office, extended his hand and said, “I’m from Eagle, Colorado!”

Temple barked, “Where in the world is Eagle, Colorado?!?”

“It’s up near Vail,” Gustafson said.

Temple had heard of Vail and after a little more bluster, they got down to business.

“How many of your enemies have mountainous territories?” Gustafson asked.

“All of them,” Temple answered.

“And how many of your pilots are trained to fly in the mountains?”

Temple’s shoulders slumped a little as he answered, “None of them.”

They talked about it for a while and Temple began to see the wisdom in a mountain training center.

“What do you need?” Gustafson asked.

Temple thought about it and answered, “land and $300,000.”

Gustafson put the ask for $300,000 and land on the commissioners’ agenda for the following Monday and the commissioners approved it that day.

The High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, known to locals in the valley as HAATS, was founded in 1986 in a trailer and a Quonset hut on the north side of the Eagle County Regional Airport. The helicopter they used is now mounted as a monument on a rock outside the new building’s front door.

George Gillett owned Vail Associates at the time and came up with the $300,000, Gustafson said.

Before long, there was enough happening at the airport to get $25 million from the FAA. Not long after that, the FAA had spent $40 million at the airport and it had officially taken off.

America and American music

Young people should know about America and American music, so Gustafson set about teaching them.

He took his collection of more than 1,000 LP records to Radio Free Minturn and launched a Saturday morning radio show. It featured some of America’s most timeless music from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s — Glenn Miller, Billie Holiday, big band and patriotic music — the kind of music that can inspire you to “get up and dance around the breakfast table,” Gustafson said.

“It’s the kind of music where two people can hold each other and dance, and just connect with the music,” he said.

When he migrated down to the Front Range later in life, he took his radio show with him.

We can always do more

There was that time that Gustafson was attending a Fourth of July Ford Amphitheater concert and heard baritone Daniel Narducci sing with the Rochester Philharmonic. The  final line touched his heart: “Let me know in my heart when my days are through/America, America, I gave my best to you.”

Gustafson thought about what he’d done for his country lately, then he overheard someone insist that Abraham Lincoln was president during the Revolutionary War. He shook his head and went to work, spending three years compiling and producing “Spirit of ’76 Renewed,” a two-hour audio history of the United States of America.

“I kept hearing these horrible stories about what kids don’t know,” Gustafson said. “One study found that many high school seniors thought America fought Russia in World War II, and that Germany was our ally.”

It hits the highlights, beginning with the first settlers, the American Revolution, Civil War and World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the War of 1812 and others. It rolls through the Reagan years and stops around 9/11.

Anything more recent is subject to much more political interpretation.

“Change comes out of conflict, and the ultimate expression of that is war,” Gustafson said.

The CD is designed to help rekindle a “Spirit of ’76” Gustafson said was lacking in contemporary America. He did not pretend that it’s an exhaustive history.

He narrated it himself, his rich baritone voice over stirring American music, focusing on what’s good about America and how we’ll all be well served by knowing more of our own history.

Gustafson said compiling that history and almost everything else that went with his large American life was time well spent.

“If I can spark one kid to run for office, to have a little pride in our country and stand up to the America haters, I’ll have accomplished my goal,” Gustafson said. “We’re not perfect, but we’re better than anything else.”

Eagle opts into broadband project

EAGLE — Eagle will spend more than a quarter million dollars to bring fiber-optic cable into town.

In a 4-3 Town Board vote, Eagle became the ninth entity to join Project THOR, a “middle mile” broadband project coordinated by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

THOR will and will not

  • THOR will not provide fiber-optic broadband speed to homes and businesses. That’s “last mile” service.
  • THOR will create a 178-mile fiber-optic loop around northwest Colorado. It would tap into the fiber-optic cable that the Colorado Department of Transportation already installed along Interstate 70. That loop will reach up to 12 community centers around the region, according to Mammoth Networks, the Gillette, Wyoming, company that would build THOR under a contract with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

Jon Stavney, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments executive director, says it will cost $2.5 million to build the network infrastructure. A Colorado Department of Local Affairs grant will cover $1 million of that.

Eagle’s share is $308,909, at least for now. That cost will go down if more governments and entities join, Stavney said.

Cost savings

Costs will also drop — or at least be partially offset — if Eagle can connect other local entities. Eventually, homes and businesses in town could connect through local internet service providers.

Some Eagle town board members likened THOR to federal projects that provided electricity to rural areas, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Board members said they’ve been unsuccessful in convincing Comcast and Century Link to provide “middle mile” service to the town.

First, middle and last miles

In any utility system there are beginning miles, middle miles and last miles.

For the THOR broadband system, the “beginning mile” was CDOT running fiber-optic cable along I-70.

The “middle mile” brings it into a community center. In Eagle’s case this would be the town hall — ironically, about an actual mile from the fiber-optic cable CDOT laid along I-70 to the town hall.

The “last mile” takes it to homes and businesses. While THOR will push fiber-optic capability into towns around the region, homes and businesses won’t be able to connect to it right away.

“That’s up to the entity. This will create a market for a lot of hungry smaller internet service providers to create that last mile connection,” Stavney said.

Stavney said that while broadband service is not a public utility — like water, sewer and electricity — it often functions like one.

“In terms of its importance, it’s as important as a utility,” Stavney said. “Try doing business in the modern world without it.”

Eagle will be subsidizing more remote communities like Craig and Meeker — spending money it would not otherwise need to, Ken Bauer, sales director for Forethought and San Isabel Telecom said.

“It’s not that complicated. You don’t need Mammoth or anyone else to do this. We don’t need THOR as a middle mile provider,” Bauer said.

A pipeline for providers

THOR is not designed to compete with local internet service providers, but to allow them to tie into the system, Mammoth Network’s Evan Biagi said.

“This is not a last mile project,” he said. “It will not connect customers or businesses. That’s a local service provider.”

These sorts of networks already exist in urban areas. This would create a rural version of that in northwest Colorado, Biagi said.

Rural areas don’t have it because there are not enough potential customers to make it a paying proposition for most telecom companies.

Eagle voters, like voters across the county and state, approved a ballot measure that allows towns and other governments to do exactly this, Eagle Mayor Anne McKibbin said.

“It has never been represented by us that if we sign this tonight and we can flip a switch tomorrow and it will be there,” McKibbin said during Tuesday’s town board meeting.

Eagle County eyes May start for Two10 at Castle Peak workforce housing project

EAGLE — Eagle County plans to break ground on its latest housing project — Two10 at Castle Peak — this spring. This week county officials discussed how they will pay for the project.

Two10 at Castle Peak is a $9 million joint project of Eagle County and Cassia, formerly known as Augustana Care. Two10 will be located at the corner of Sylvan Lake Road and Eagle Ranch Road, just east of Castle Peak Senior Life and Rehabilitation. Initially, the 22-unit project will function as workforce housing with plans to eventually transition the apartments into independent senior housing. When that transition happens, Cassia will have first right of refusal to purchase the project.

Eagle County will provide the land for Two10 as well as financing the construction. Tuesday, the county commissioners looked at the various options available for them to pay for the project.

“I will say that while we think this is a good project … it is not a financial win for the county,” said Eagle County Finance Director Jill Klosterman.

Two10 will not generate dollars for Eagle County, but it will partially address one of its major goals by bringing new workforce housing units to the area. Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney noted that the costs of Two10 illustrate how difficult it is to build affordable housing in the county.

“This is 22 units are we are losing money on them. But this is our investment in the community,” McQueeney said.

While they are committed to bringing the project out of the ground this year, the commissioners also indicated they wanted to make the best financial deal to do it. Tuesday they looked at three scenarios for financing Two10 construction.

Cash

Eagle County could pay cash for the Two10 project. Klosterman said the county contemplates that it will have $24.6 million in reserves at the end of 2019. However, the county has also identified $23 million of strategic priority projects. That means if it spends nearly half of its reserves on Two10, there won’t be money for other projects.

“That’s a pretty big con, because you are limiting yourself on what you are doing in the future,” said Klosterman.

The other big con is the nature of the Two10 project. Because it is an actual bricks and mortar effort, there are other financing options available to make it happen. Other county priorities cannot be financed and require cash payment.

Bank Financing

The second alternative for Two10 financing is a bank loan.

“The pro is it is tied directly to the project,” said Klosterman. She added that this alternative might even involve a local lender.

“Unfortunately, it does have the highest cost of capital,” she continued.

A bank loan could also include other stipulations including control of how much rent is charged to tenants or project changes. Additionally, Klosterman said a bank would likely limit the amount it lends on the project to around $3 million. That would mean the county would still have to pay a substantial sum from its cash reserves.

Certificates of Participation

Certificates of Participation are tax-exempt lease-financing agreements that are sold to investors as securities resembling bonds. Colorado courts have approved use of COPs and ruled they are exempt from the regulations of Colorado’s TABOR Amendment. The county has used certificates of participation to finance construction of the justice center addition and the maintenance service center in Gypsum.

“From a staff perspective, we believe certificates of participation are the way to go with this project,” said Klosterman. “We are in a market today where interest rates are low and I don’t see them going down. This is a good time to finance projects.”

She added it is a doubly good time to look at certificates of participation for Two10 because the county just made its final payment on the maintenance service center in Gypsum. That means the county isn’t carrying much debt, Klosterman said. She added that spending down the cash reserves would actually have a bigger impact on the county’s credit rating than issuing certificates of participation for Two10.

Given the three alternatives, the commissioners agreed that certificates of participation is the preferred Two10 financing option.

“I am very comfortable with COPs and we are legally allowed to use them,” said McQueeney. “This would be the most fiscally responsible choice for us.”

Commissioner Matt Scherr asked if issuing certificates of participation would hold up the project. Tori Franks from the county’s housing department said it may be a stretch to plan a May 1 ground-breaking, but the project is still on track to break ground sometime that month.

Franks noted the Two10 architects are meeting with the Eagle Ranch Design Review Board this week and the team hopes to have a building permit in hand by April. Franks added that one year after construction starts, the project should be ready for tenants.

“I am a little concerned you are going to start getting phone calls (from prospective tenants) now,” said McQueeney.

“We will start a list,” Franks responded.

Eagle County to help fund four more local mental health efforts

EAGLE — Eagle County has nearly $1.3 million available to help fund local mental health programs in 2019 and 11 entities are lined up to split that pot.

For 2019, the county is anticipating $400,000 in revenue from its marijuana sales and excise tax along with a healthy carryover ($898,000) from 2018. Part of the reason there is such a sizable carryover ties back to the Eagle County commissioners’ 2018 decision to make a one-time contribution of $500,000 from the county’s general fund to jump-start mental health services funding.

In the year ahead, the largest expenditure from the county’s mental health fund will be $400,000 for school-based mental health counselors. Last year the commissioners approved a five-year plan for the school-based counselor funding.

“That funding decreases a bit every year, but we are continuing to provide the school mental health counselors through 2022,” said Dana Erpelding, deputy director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment.

Additionally the county had previously approved 2019 funding for six other organizations/programs:

  • $80,000 — Jail-based counselors
  • $100,000 — Hope Center crisis response
  • $114,367 — Mind Springs crisis response
  • $21,600 — Eagle River Youth Coalition Eat Chat Parent
  • $20,000 — Valley Settlement Bilingual therapists
  • $50,000 — SpeakUp ReachOut suicide prevention training

Last week, the commissioners followed up those commitments by agreeing to fund four more programs, totaling $139,120. The funding requests were endorsed by the Eagle County Mental Health Advisory Committee.

“These requests were vetted through the mental health committee, and they are all operating in Eagle County and are evidenced-based programs,” said Erpelding. In their presentations to the committee members, organizations were asked to identify the specific problems they address and provide infamation about how they will measure the impact of the grant dollars they receive.

“The Mental Health Advisory Committee was given the opportunity to ask questions about how the requested funding would make improvements,” said Erpelding. “Each organization will have to provide data on a quarterly basis to show how they are making a positive impact.”

MIRA

Launched in 2018, the Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance vehicle brings programs and services directly to county residents. This year, MIRA will get $60,000 in mental health funding.

As noted in the MIRA funding request, approximately 30 percent of the adults in Eagle County are Hispanic and 32 percent of Eagle County Schools students are English language learners.

“Behavior health issues do not discriminate. Our Hispanic/Latino community shares the burden of mental illness with the rest of our community, with added complexities such as the lack of inclusivity, English as second language, limited cultural awareness/competence by organizations/providers, lack of trust, legal status and more,” noted the MIRA funding request. “Eagle County is rich with resources to support life challenges that can lead to poor mental health, but the system for doing so is fragmented, challenging to access and/or not culturally competent.”

Erpelding said the $60,000 will be earmarked for a full-time bilingual specialst position who will travel with the MIRA van to help link people to community mental health services.

Buddy Program in El Jebel/Basalt

A portion of the county’s marijuana tax is collected in the Roaring Fork Valley and the commissioners have committed to providing funding to community organizations in that area that address mental health.

According to Erpelding, the county will provide $15,000 to the Buddy Program, which provides outdoor education and mentor opportunties to youth. The organization has a 25-year history in Roaring Fork Valley.

Bright Future Foundation

As Eagle County works to provide better mental health services to the community, a key problem has become apparent — the current behavioral health workforce does not sufficiently meet the needs of the community. Eagle County has officially been classified as having a mental health provider shortage.

The Bright Future Foundation’s student training program works to help fill the gap. In 2019, the program will receive $15,000 in mental health funds for its Eagle County internship program.

Through the local program, master’s- and doctorate-level behavioral health students complete clinical internships in Eagle County, expanding the local provider base.

“The students have to meet certain criteria to be eligible. They come from universities all over the country, ” said Erpelding.”It is a great way for students to finish their educations and learn about practicing in a rural area.”

“It’s also a great way to recruit and retain students,” Erpelding continued. “When students come to intern in a community, they often put down roots in the area.”

Early Childhood Partners

Finally, the county has earmarked $49,120 for the Early Childhood Partners.

“The science of early childhood development shows that the foundation of sound mental health is built early in life,” noted the organization’s funding request.

The money will pay for a half-time position dedicated to early childhood mental health consultation and a new program called Seedlings. Seedlings is a 10-class series for parent that focuses on healthy childhood development and teaches parents methods to protect their kids from adverse childhood experiences.

Vail Mountain expansion of Golden Peak to start in summer 2019

VAIL – Construction will begin in a few months on Vail Mountain’s first expansion since Blue Sky Basin some 20 years ago.

The idea to take Golden Peak to the top of the slope, a project that’s been dubbed as “two years away for the last three decades” by Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, received final approval from the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday.

Using an existing cut up the slope that is visible from Gondola One, a new surface lift will take skiers and snowboarders to the top of Golden Peak, an additional 760 vertical feet higher than Chair 6 now takes guests.

The terrain will be used primarily by Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athletes, but it will also be available to the general public.

Pete Seibert Jr., the son of Vail Mountain founder Pete Seibert, calls it the Golden Peak completion, rather than the Golden Peak expansion.

“There’s a reason why there was an old lift line cut to the top of (Golden Peak),” Seibert said last fall. “It was always the intention to get there. … I was on the Ski Club Vail board for 16 years, and we were always two years away from getting that done.”

If at first you don’t succeed …

The project has been submitted to the Forest Service and denied in the past, due to concerns with stream health, soil stability and sedimentation.

Vail, in collaboration with Forest Service hydrologists, addressed the environmental concerns in the project proposal area with the development and implementation of a drainage management plan and slope stability analysis, which improved the resource conditions on Golden Peak, said Aaron Mayville, a district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service. Mitigation measures also include restoration of native vegetation on 7 miles of the Mill Creek Trail near Golden Peak to improve conditions in nearby Mill Creek.

The newest version of the project has been under examination since 2014.

“After many years of work, I’m happy to have a final decision for the Golden Peak Project,” Mayville said in a Forst Service release. “While race facilities at Vail are already world-class, I’m confident that the robust and thorough analysis of this project will go a long way in making it even better.”

The world class competition facilities cited by Mayville were also mentioned by Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, in authoring the decision.

“I believe that the approved projects will enhance the visitor experience of competitors and the general public alike by expanding the competition and training terrain and providing adequate separation between the general public and the athletes,” Fitzwilliams wrote.

Double the size

The expansion will double the training space on Golden Peak and create three new trails — two that will primarily host alpine ski racing activities and one that will serve as a dedicated mogul venue. A third alpine trail on the north side of Golden Peak that was also approved has been postponed for a future phase of construction.

“By moving forward with the Golden Peak Improvement Project, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail will fulfill its top strategic priority and create the single-best training environment in the United States,” Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Executive Director Kirk Dwyer said in a statement. “The expanded terrain will provide a higher-quality, safer and more productive training arena for our athletes, allowing families to save on travel expenses while providing an economic benefit to the Vail community. We couldn’t be more thrilled about this development and thank Vail Resorts and the U.S. Forest Service for their dedication to the project over many years.”

The two new alpine trails will extend the current training and competition arena to the top of Golden Peak, adding 760 vertical feet to the venue for a total of more than 1,500 vertical feet, top to bottom. This extended race hill could be FIS-approved for a women’s World Cup downhill and men’s NorAm downhill. Additionally, these upper two trails will be serviced by a new surface lift from the Riva Bahn Express (No. 6) mid-station — enabling racers to access higher elevations earlier and later in the season with maximum productivity.

The project also includes the creation of a dedicated mogul venue not far from the base of Golden Peak. The addition of the mogul venue will provide easier access for the club’s athletes and provide a more prominent mogul course near Vail’s base, making it an attractive site for high-level competitions. 

“There are huge advantages to having a site over on Golden Peak,” John Dowling, the club’s mogul program director and 2018 Domestic Coach of the Year, said in a statement. “It’s really going to save us a lot of time. It’s going to allow coaches to get to the site early, start prep and get our athletes right to work. Plus, by allowing us to get a full course open so much earlier in the season, for our development-level athletes and our top-level athletes, that’s the most important part of the training season.”

Along with the expanded terrain, Vail plans to install a high-powered, state-of-the-art snowmaking system on the new trails and enhance its snowmaking infrastructure on the existing Golden Peak terrain. The project entails roughly 30 new fan-gun towers, plus additional carriages. Also part of the improvement project, Vail is set to build a new pump house, allowing for increased productivity and efficiency.

The Golden Peak Improvement Project is occurring alongside development of Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s new clubhouse at the base of Golden Peak.

“The expansion represents another element of the incredible progress that is happening at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail,” Chief Operating Officer John Hale said in a statement. “Both the expansion and the new clubhouse have been projects that have long been dreamed about at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Happily, within the next year, they will both become reality.”

More information about the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail can be found at www.skiclubvail.org.

— This story contains material from a Ski & Snowboard Club Vail press release.

Policymakers, business interests battle over how to fix Interstate 70

When transportation lobbyist Sandra Hagen Solin was a girl growing up in Vail, she remembers driving home with her family after a weekend in the city and seeing bump-to-bumper traffic crawling back down to Denver on Interstate 70. She thought there’d been a disaster and people were fleeing the mountains.

Turns out there was no immediate catastrophe — just the slow-motion strangulation of Colorado’s key east-west corridor between its major metropolitan areas along the Front Range and the mountain resort playgrounds that make the state a world-famous tourist destination. All these years later, the actual disaster of a booming population and dwindling highway budget continues.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado’s population has increased 53 percent since 1990 but the lane miles on the state’s highway system have increased just 2 percent due to crippling budget constraints. CDOT has a $9 billion backlog of improvements.

A Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce study found that I-70 congestion costs $839 million in 2005 dollars every year in lost time, productivity, tourism and local and state tax revenues. About 70 percent of CDOT’s annual $1.4 billion transportation budget goes to maintenance, and Colorado’s 22-cent gas tax — the 12th lowest in the nation — has not been increased since 1991.

“We have long been promoting Colorado on its quality of life, and we will quickly lose that argument if we don’t invest in our ability to move, to get to the places we love and get to the places that provide us income,” said Solin, spokeswoman for Fix Colorado Roads. “And if we don’t address something soon, it gets increasingly difficult and just gets worse and worse.”

Latest legislation to fund roads

Colorado voters in November decisively turned down both a sales tax increase (Proposition 110) that would have funded a $6 billion CDOT bond issue and Proposition 109 that would have authorized a $3.5 billion bond sale. Now state lawmakers have introduced legislation to let Colorado voters once again have a crack at carving out some extra funding for roads.

HB 1257 refers a measure to the November 2019 ballot asking voters to let the state retain and spend state revenues in excess of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) cap, the constitutional limitation on state spending. HB 1258, contingent on voters approving HB 1257, would split that revenue up one third each on public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges and transit.

Just how much money would wind up being spent on I-70 and other road projects is subject to debate, but most experts agree that even if the legislature approves the measures for the ballot and voters then give the state the OK to “de-Bruce” (TABOR was spearheaded by anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce), new revenue will still be needed to fix the state’s failing roads.

The Joint Budget Committee last week completed negotiations on the budget and approved the “Long Bill” package for introduction to the state Senate this week. It contains a proposed $230 million in general fund spending on transportation, but business interests would like to see a lot more for roads.

“It’s an economic development issue,” said Colorado Ski Country USA President and CEO Melanie Mills. “We are hustling to bring all these great companies and employers to live in our state because we have this great quality of life for their employees, but, gee, hop in your car on Friday evening after work and get ready to sit. It’s a problem.”

In search of new money

Mills, whose lobbying group represents the majority of the state’s ski areas, says the state must increase overall spending and find new revenue streams. Neighboring Utah has 2.4 million fewer residents but nearly the same annual transportation budget, and it collects nearly 30 cents a gallon in gas taxes while also tapping into state sales taxes revenues to fund transportation.

“We’re not just saying that the general fund is the only place that we should be identifying money for our transportation needs. We think we need new money, too,” Mills said. “But it’s really inexcusable to us that it seems to be such a low priority for the legislature.”

State Sen. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, thinks a gas-tax increase is what’s needed as a long-term funding solution, even though it continues to poll poorly in tax-adverse Colorado. In the meantime, the Joint Budget Committee member is also dismayed there has not been more emphasis on transportation funding this session.

“Everybody has their priority system, and I guess campaign promises come first, and kindergarten is $220 million,” Rankin said before Democratic Gov. Jared Polis settled on $185 million from the JBC for that policy priority. “That could make a difference for transportation, but that’s not where we’re being asked to do this year.”

Solin, who works for the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance — the public policy arm of the Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley chambers of commerce — is focused on expanding Interstate 25 north of Denver. But she also works closely with the Vail Valley Partnership on I-70. Her groups sees a gas-tax increase with an index as the most viable option with voters.

Other possible solutions

Mills’ organization would also be open to exploring a gas tax increase on the ballot, but she says that the costly and arduous 17-year process that led to 2011’s I-70 Record of Decision identified some sort of advanced guideway mass transit system as a preferred alternative for the corridor and recommended that a funding source should be secured by 2020.

Because that hasn’t happened, she thinks it’s time to start talking about reversible bus lanes on peak weekend skier traffic days and possibly restricting truck traffic. Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association trucking lobby, says less than 2 percent of the traffic during peak skier periods is commercial trucking and that his industry needs to deliver goods.

“What people tend to forget about I-70 and what we have to always remind folks is it’s an interstate corridor,” Fulton said. “It serves so much more [than skiers] and it’s not like a local road. It is an interstate, and it is critical to the economic welfare of the state, and even the country in many ways.”

Fulton’s lobbying group also strongly supports raising the gas tax.

CDOT seeks real improvements

CDOT, meanwhile, has a wish list of big-ticket projects it would like to start working on along I-70, including another climbing lane on the west side of Vail Pass. Also on the list, a westbound toll lane from Idaho Springs nearly to the Eisenhower Tunnel, expanding the popular Bustang bus service, fixing the Silverthorne interchange, and a $500 million project to replace the aging bridge at the bottom of Floyd Hill where Kermit’s used to be, including tunneling under and straightening the interstate where it’s too curvy for such steep descents and ascents.

But such projects will have to wait until long-term funding sources are secured. A spokeswoman would not weigh in on what type of funding the state should pursue.

“It’s fair to say that additional funds for transportation would be put to very productive use and to real projects that would make a difference in the corridor,” CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said.