Gov. Jared Polis, first gentleman Marlon Reis test positive for COVID-19
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and First Gentleman Marlon Reis have tested positive for COVID-19, the governor tweeted Saturday night.
Both Polis and Reis are “asymptomatic, feeling well, and will continue to isolate in their home.”
“Marlon and I are feeling well so far, and are in good spirits,” Polis said in a statement.
Polis said he will work remotely and “continue to fulfill his duties and responsibilities.” Polis began quarantining Wednesday after learning he was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
The novel coronavirus has been surging in Colorado and around the country. The state estimated Tuesday that 1 in 41 people here were contagious, and Polis and other officials have been warning for weeks of a potential catastrophic overload of the state health care system.
BLM lands in Eagle, Gypsum to remain open to motorized vehicles until Jan. 16 for big game hunting
In conjunction with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s request for late season big game hunting access on public lands in Eagle County, several areas of Bureau of Land Management land will remain open to motorized vehicles until Jan. 16.
Hardscrabble Road between Eagle and Gypsum, East Castle Peak and Greenhorn/Cottonwood Creek north of Gypsum will close to motorized and mechanized vehicles from Jan. 16. to April 15 in 2021.
Annual winter closures to motorized and mechanized vehicles begin Dec. 1 in most other areas managed by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office to protect critical big game winter range and prevent road damage.
East Eagle-Bellyache Ridge with the exception of the Redneck Ridge and Boneyard mountain bike trails paralleling County Road 21 (east of Eagle) will be subject to the winter closures on Dec. 1. Most roads into these seasonally closed areas are gated.
Areas closed to motorized and mechanized use continue to be open to non-motorized and non-mechanized recreation opportunities such as hiking, snowshoeing, horseback riding and skiing, but BLM campgrounds in Wolcott and Gypsum are closed for the winter.
A complete list and maps of the areas affected by these winter closures are available at https://go.usa.gov/xP64j and at the Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt, 2300 River Frontage Road.
“We appreciate the public’s cooperation in helping us protect wildlife and public lands,” said BLM Colorado River Valley Field Manager Larry Sandoval.
People who use BLM-managed lands in the winter can help reduce stress to wintering deer and elk by observing wildlife from a distance and keeping dogs under control, preferably leashed.
For additional information or to report violations in these areas call the BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt, 970-876-9000.
Obituary: Ronald Braden
July 17, 1965 – November 21, 2020
Our beloved son, father, and brother, Ronald Braden, died in Arizona at the age of 55. Born in Illinois and raised in Iowa, he spent over 25 years of his life in public service to the good people of Colorado, as well as some time in the service of our country.
His fondest memories were of his daughters; watching them ski, climb, board, and swim was his greatest passion. He was always there to cheer them on and his schedule revolved around being at every event they were in. His other great passion was biking. He loved any spectacular and grueling climb up Arizona and Colorado mountainsides (especially one with a good view at the end), uploading the analytics on Strava, and then setting his eyes on the next fastest time or highest mountain.
He is survived by his beloved daughters, Montana and Malia Braden; his parents, James and Beverly Braden; his siblings, Laura (Tom) Stierman and Richard (Terri) Braden, and a host of nieces and nephews who loved him to the moon and back. He is remembered by several friends who loved, admired, and respected him to any end. To those friends, we extend our condolences and our deepest and enduring gratitude.
A private service will be held in Iowa and Colorado. Memorial gifts may be made to the Montana and Malia Braden Education fund at Wells Fargo.
Obituary: Linda McCall
September 8, 1951 – October 24, 2020
Linda Lovato Lujan McCall has joined her parents, Hank and Beth Lovato and siblings Cathy and Henry in the afterlife. She will be terribly missed by so many: daughter, Jennifer Lujan; granddaughter, Sadi, siblings Beverly, Mary, and Mark – as well as a multitude of friends and family. Unseen, unheard, but always near to our hearts.
Six more chairs running at Vail, Beaver Creek
In September, when Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz answered questions from investment banks in a quarterly call, one person had an unusual request.
“Hopefully you’ll have the Cascade lift running early this year,” said Patrick Scholes, a Wall Street analyst at Truist Financial.
“Absolutely, we’ll make sure to do that,“ Katz replied.
The Cascade Village chair and Pride Express are not often a high priority for the mountain; in 2016, those chairs did not open until mid-December, after the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin had opened for the season.
But this is a much different season, and more base areas open means more space for guests to disperse, even if those base area openings don’t translate into actual terrain openings.
Such is the case with Vail’s Saturday opening of the Cascade and Pride Express chairs; while those openings added another base village from which guests can enter the mountain, the mountain’s total terrain offering remained at 272 acres with the opening of the new chairs, said John Plack, senior communications manager for Vail and Beaver Creek.
Beaver Creek: From Avon to top of Cinch
Beaver Creek also began offering access from a new base area on Saturday with the opening of The Landing at Lower Beaver Creek Mountain Express (No. 15).
That option not only makes the already running Bachelor Gulch lift more easily accessible, it makes the bus ride a lot shorter for guests who are parking in the Bear Lot.
Beaver Creek Communications Manager Jessie Vandenhouten said the resort is making efforts to use snowmaking to create a larger footprint to disperse crowds.
“Skiers and riders will be able to access Bachelor Gulch and Beaver Creek from the Landing/Chair 15,” Vandenhouten said, in an email. “Skier access is available from Bachelor Gulch to Beaver Creek for intermediate skiers and above via Intertwine, but there is currently no ski/ride access from Beaver Creek to Bachelor Gulch (guests must utilize village transportation).”
Vandenhouten also offered a tip for guests looking to access Bachelor Gulch from Beaver Creek: “For guests looking to head back to Bachelor Gulch prior to 3:30 p.m., they can utilize the Bear Lot shuttle (rather than Village Connect) for quick access to Beaver Creek Landing (and ride Lower Beaver Creek Mountain Express (#15) to Bachelor Gulch).”
Guests can also access the landing from the Avon town core through the Riverfront Gondola Express (No. 7), which opened on Saturday, as well.
Beaver Creek also began offering top-to-bottom skiing on Saturday with the opening of the Red Buffalo Express Lift (No. 5) and the Cinch Express Lift (No. 8).
Summit woman survives 30-foot drop in climbing accident
A local woman was seriously injured after falling while climbing last week, according to the Summit County Rescue Group.
On the afternoon of Nov. 19, a woman climbing at White Cliffs near Frisco with two other individuals ran out of rope and fell approximately 30 feet down a steep grade to the ground. The woman suffered serious injuries that were not life-threatening, according to rescue group spokesman Charles Pitman.
“This could have ended a lot more tragically than it did,” Pitman said. “She was fortunate it didn’t end up a fatality. … There were a lot of lessons learned for that climbing party, and I think for other climbers that hear about this and hopefully take some extra steps to be careful.”
The rescue group received a call that the woman had fallen at about 3 p.m. that day. The woman was climbing up a set bolted route with a person below belaying her when she fell. Pitman said typically climbers will make their way about 100 feet up the cliff to clip into protection, and begin making their way back down so the party can start trying different routes.
The rope apparently slipped through the belayer’s brake device, and the woman fell. Pitman said the group seemed to have underestimated the amount of rope they needed for the climb.
“The problem was that protection they thought was 100 feet high was really more like 130 or 140 feet,” Pitman said. “Because the rope has to go from the bottom up to the protection and back down to the climber, they needed more than 200 feet of rope. They didn’t have that much. On the way down as he was lowering her the rope went through the brake device, and down she went.”
Pitman said the woman fell about 30 feet down a near-vertical slope, and that her helmet may have come off before she landed. Rescue workers were able to easily access the woman by the base of the cliff. Rescuers loaded her onto a litter and brought her back down the path to an ambulance over rocks and scree. She was later transported to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center.
Pitman said that climbing accidents are relatively rare in the area, but that recreationists should take note of the incident to prevent injuries in the future.
Typically, climbers tie a knot in the rope so that the knot would jam in the braking device to prevent anyone from falling.
Pitman encouraged others to practice some of the safety measures the rescue group takes for technical rescue missions. He said the rescue group will designate someone who didn’t help set up the rope apparatus to oversee the safety check before anyone begins to climb.
“We have one person whose whole purpose is to check every knot, make sure every carabiner is locked off, and the anchor is proper,” Pitman said. “Having one person that wasn’t involved in setting it up who checks the system is key. It’s how we operate, and most climbers do that. But it’s something everyone needs to get in the habit of doing.”
Officials investigating source of loud explosion at Smuggler Mine near Aspen; no injuries reported
Officials are investigating the source of a loud explosion Saturday morning coming from the Smuggler Mine area, which is located at the base of Smuggler Mountain in Aspen.
The explosion occurred right around 9 a.m. and visible smoke, with reported flames, was seen rising over the area of the mine. Numerous fire and medical vehicles arrived on scene, but found no flames or damage to any of the area buildings or structures.
According to a news release, “the explosions are believed to be related to mine operations that were currently taking place within the Smuggler Mine. No damage or injuries were reported to authorities and an investigation is currently ongoing.”
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s office also tweeted that morning that the activity at the mine did not involve an aircraft, but came from within the mine. The mine is the oldest operating silver mine in the Aspen mining district and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Curious Nature: Wild winter fun with your dog
Winter outdoor recreation provides us with a variety of opportunities to enjoy the snow and cold weather. And if you have a dog, they can participate in many of these options and enjoy winter too.
From ski touring to wintry walks, you and your faithful canine companion can frolic in the snow throughout the season.
Dogs are not wild animals. Although domesticated dogs are cousin to wild coyote, wolf, and fox species, thousands of years and generations of living in homes with people has made our dogs less capable of surviving in the cold winter environment. There are some things that you should consider when taking your dogs on outdoor winter adventures and also some great opportunities for fun together.
Your dog has a fur coat, but that doesn’t mean it will be warm enough for every adventure. Think about the layers of clothing we don to stay warm. Even if your dog has a thicker coat, it may also need an insulation or moisture protection layer to help it to stay comfortable.
The breed of your dog may influence if it already has a closet of attire at home, but think functionally before saying, “My dog doesn’t wear clothes!”
When it is especially cold out, consider how you will protect your dog from factors like hypothermia and frostbite. On backcountry adventures, a set of booties can defend against snow and ice balls building up between your dog’s pads. These balls can be uncomfortable for your dog, and can lead to frostbite if they remain in place too long. Booties also protect your dog’s paws from salt and other road chemicals on walks around the neighborhood.
As always, think safety first for your pet. An extended ski or snowshoe tour may not be the safest adventure for your dog, but shorter routes might be the perfect thing to give your dog the snowy playtime it needs.
Watch for your own and others’ off-leash dogs in the backcountry. And for their safety and yours, keep dogs away from avalanche terrain, terrain traps, and thin ice near waterways. A collision between a dog and skis or snowboard edges can cause cuts and other injuries that could lay your dog up for the rest of the season. As always, know the rules of the forest as some of our local wilderness areas require dogs to be leashed at all times.
Be sure to clean up after your dog on winter hikes and adventures. It’s easy to be lazy and hide dog poop under a layer of snow. However, after the snow melts, all that waste will still be there.
There is nothing worse than hiking a popular trail on the first warm spring day and smelling the fragrance of a winter’s supply of dog poop! In addition to negatively affecting other people’s experience, bacteria and high nitrogen and phosphorus levels from dog waste can be washed into creeks and rivers during runoff, a major contributor to water pollution.
Sometimes it’s just too cold for you or your dog to spend much time outdoors. On those extra frigid days, make sure to give short outdoor bathroom breaks, but consider alternative forms of activities to keep your dog stimulated indoors. Indoor fetch or tug might be more fun than freezing your tail (and theirs) off on a long walk.
Mental challenges can be as tiring for dogs as physical activities. Games like find-it or basic canine scent work can help keep your energetic dog occupied indoors. Scent work challenges help develop search and rescue-type skills for pet dogs. It’s fun for you and your dog and there are even competitions if your dog gets really good a using his or her nose!
Ultimately, you know your dog, its abilities, and tolerance for winter. You and your dog should enjoy winter in a way that makes you both comfortable. Older and younger dogs can be more susceptible to challenges from cold, so make choices with your dog’s best interests at heart. Winter can be an incredible opportunity to adventure with your dog and winter recreation offers something for everyone.
Lara Carlson is the senior programs director at Walking Mountains Science Center. She can often be seen romping around through deep piles of snow with her dog, If you are concerned about a dog that is left out in the elements, please call Eagle County Animal Services at 970-328-3647and press 2.
Vail Interfaith Chapel launches $10 million capital campaign
It took a concerted community effort to build the Vail Interfaith Chapel, now 50 years old. It’s going to take a similar effort to keep the chapel vital for the next half-century.
Supporters have launched a $10 million fundraising campaign for the chapel, which includes a lot of immediate work, money for a new roof in a few years and, importantly, a reserve fund.
Katie Campbell, who’s running the campaign, said the reserve fund of $2 million will keep up with maintenance over the next 25 years.
Another $6 million to $7 million will help replace the roof, the current heating system — which is original to the building — and re-pave the parking lot.
The parking lot was re-paved with a snowmelt system during the last renovation in the 1990s. But the snowmelt system failed about seven years ago, and there was no money to replace it. That project will include the parking lot, the walkway and chapel steps. The roof is wooden-shake shingles, and no longer meets town codes. The project also calls for replacing the chapel’s windows, also original to the building.
The immediate project also includes landscaping for the property running down to Gore Creek. That area is frequently used for weddings, and improvements will mesh with the town of Vail’s “Restore the Gore” campaign to improve water quality in the stream.
Rod Slifer was in charge of the original campaign to build the chapel.
“The line I used was, ‘It’s going to be a nondenominational church; if you give, you’ll have a better chance of going to heaven.’ Nobody turned me down,” Slifer said.
The idea then, as now, was to provide one home for many different faith families. Even 50 years ago, Vail was short on land for community amenities such as churches. Pastor Don Simonton and others decided that several congregations could share one space.
It’s a unique idea. While military facilities serve different faith groups, very few communities have shared chapel spaces.
The idea has worked well over the years.
Pastor Carl Walker followed Simonton as leader of the Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran congregation, and was chairman of the Vail Religious Foundation for 14 of the 15 years he was pastor of the church.
In that role, Walker led the fundraising for a chapel renovation in 1990.
Now retired and living in Gypsum, Walker is working again on this capital campaign.
“There’s been a lot of interest, but we still need some major donors,” Walker said. “We’re working on that.”
That interest comes because the chapel remains a “really good idea,” Walker said. “It’s kind of the soul of the valley.”
While Walker likes the current campaign’s chances of meeting its goal, he added that times have changed in recent years.
Fewer people are attending church these days, he said. Still, the chapel is well-used for weddings, and the facility serves many community needs, from several Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every week to classical musical performances during the Bravo! Vail music festival. The chapel also serves as an overflow shelter when storms close Interstate 70 over Vail Pass.
Walker still marvels at the cooperation between the congregations that call the chapel home.
He noted that he had a medical emergency on a trip to Africa several years ago. On his way back, “I think I got more calls, cards and expressions of support from B’Nai Vail (the Jewish congregation) than I did from my own.”
Walker added that it’s been a challenging year for the congregations that use the Vail chapel, with little in-person use.
“In spite of that, we’re going ahead, Walker said. “We have the vision, and this is the time to fix it up for the next 50 years.”
Slifer said the campaign hasn’t really started rolling yet. But, he added, “I hope we can get a meaningful amount (of donations) during the holiday season. Christmas is a good time for giving.”
And, while the chapel campaign can be explained in lengthy presentations, the mission is simple, Slifer said: “Send money, send money.”
By the numbers
6: Congregations that use the chapel in Vail, including Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, Prebyterian, Episcopalian and Baptist.
34,000: Residents and guests per year that attend worship services at the chapel.
10,000: People per year that attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at the chapel.
100: Families in the past five years who have used the chapel as emergency shelter during winter storms.
Advanced backcountry travelers more likely to be involved in avalanches
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The snowfall has been lacking so far this season causing the Steamboat Resort to move back its start date to Dec. 1 due to a “well below average” snowpack.
“Sometimes we have good starts to the season, and sometimes we have not so good starts to the season,” said Mike Weissbluth, a local meteorologist who runs the forecasting website snowalarm.com.
One potentially bright side of the lack of early season snow, Weissbluth said, is that early snow often turns into a rotten snowpack in the backcountry, which can lead to avalanches.
When the pandemic closed the ski resorts in March, there was a noted uptick in people turning to the backcountry to meet their skiing needs, and that increased backcountry activity is anticipated to continue this winter.
A report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center released earlier this month studied avalanche incidents last season and found that most people who were involved in an avalanche had significant levels of avalanche experience.
“This begs the question: Does formal, field-based training or avalanche experience increase or decrease your chance of getting caught in an avalanche?” the report asks.
The authors of the report, Ethan Greene the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Spencer Logan who maintains their avalanche data, say they cannot answer that question with the data available.
They do say that those with formal, field-based training or avalanche experience may put themselves in more precarious situations, venturing into avalanche prone areas not out of ignorance but in confidence.
The report looked at 86 different avalanche incidents involving 126 people from last season. Of those, 88 people were caught up in the avalanche, six were fully buried and six people died.
Other studies have explored the relationship between education and involvement with avalanches but in many of those, researchers knew what classes or experience people had participated in prior to the avalanche. In this study, they were limited because they could not talk to all the people involved in an avalanche in Colorado last year, so they devised a way to classify education and experience of a person with avalanches based on the information they already had.
They found that nearly 40% of people caught in an avalanche or in a group with someone caught in an avalanche had taken a Level 1 avalanche course. About 70% of people caught in avalanches had intermediate or advanced experience.
Avalanches are rated on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being low and 5 being extreme. The current avalanche rating from the avalanche center for the Steamboat and Flat Tops area is low, though Vail and Summit areas as well as several other areas to the south are considered moderate risk.
The review of last year’s data was consistent with previous research that showed most avalanches happen when the area has a Level 2 Moderate or a Level 3 Considerable rating. About 60% of avalanches happened when the area was given a moderate avalanche rating.
An interesting finding was the difference in who was involved in an avalanche before and after the ski resorts closed because of the pandemic. They noticed that as many skiers moved to the backcountry after March 13, more of the people involved in avalanches were advanced backcountry travelers.
“As recreation increased after pandemic closures of ski areas and other activities, easily-accessible areas became crowded and tracked up. More skilled recreators used those skills to push into less-familiar terrain or explore new areas,” the report says.
Throughout the 2019-20 season most of the people involved in avalanches had either intermediate or advanced levels of experience, something that has been shown in research before. A 2002 study went so far as to say that avalanche education did not reduce exposure to avalanches, but Greene and Logan put it differently.
“Instead, our results suggest people were using their training and experience to spend more time traveling in avalanche terrain, or traveling during more avalanche-prone conditions,” the report says.
They also saw a striking difference in number of avalanches that happened in considerable risk areas before and after resorts closed. While half of the avalanches in a Level 3 Considerable area studied took place after March 13, just 17% of the rest of the days in the season had been forecast to have considerable risk.
This was another indication to Greene and Logan that backcountry travelers were accepting more risk to avalanche exposure when they ventured out this spring. Overall, the report suggests that more experienced backcountry travelers put themselves in situations that make their additional experience a wash when it comes to risk.
“People that invest in avalanche education and gain experience in the mountains typically do so because they spend time in avalanche terrain, which increases their exposure to avalanches. In aggregate, the additional exposure may offset the application of risk-reduction strategies,” the report says.
The takeaway: “We should all take a hard look at the assumptions we make about ourselves and our riding partners.”
Greene and Logan question whether people are using their experience to avoid avalanches, make good decisions and properly assess hazards or if they are relying on experience that is built on a series of positive feedback events to get by.
“A common tendency is to look for reasons why we would have done something different or why our education or experience would have produced a different result. This tendency, known as the blind-sight bias, can limit our ability to avoid a similar outcome when faced with similar circumstances,” the report says.
Greene and Logan admit there are limitations to their findings because of the small sample size. They were only able to use data about avalanches that were reported to them from one season in one state and they were only able to collect data about avalanches that involved people.
Still, the findings make logical sense to many that have to deal with avalanches.
An ounce of prevention
Dan Gilchrist, a team leader with Routt County Search and Rescue said that there are several traps that people can fall into that gets them in trouble in the backcountry.
One of the most important parts of avalanche awareness classes is to be able to identify and avoid avalanche terrain. He said that while having more expertise could potentially lead to someone putting themselves in situations where they are more likely to be involved with an avalanche, he feels the expertise allows people to make good decisions to avoid being caught up in a slide.
“I agree that people that put themselves in those situations are more likely to be affected by those situations,” Gilchrist said. “But I also feel that people that are educated in that respect are also less likely because if they make sound judgments they can avoid that.”
Gilchrist said that he is worried that this year in particular new backcountry users will get themselves in trouble because of their lack of experience. He said he anticipates a lot of people to head to the backcountry this winter, which could push newbies to do more than they are comfortable with.
He also stressed that if someone is in trouble they should call Search and Rescue as soon as possible as it often takes them a while to get to where someone is in the backcountry. Search and Rescue does not charge for its services.
“We’re there for people to help. We want people to be prepared not only in their knowledge of the backcountry but being willing to call for help,” Gilchrist said.
Another potential trap is the scarcity of winter sports, Gilchrist said. Because of the uncertainty with ski areas this season and people’s pent up desire to lace up their ski boots it could lead them to get overly ambitious early in the season, especially when snow can be weaker in spots.
The continental United States generally gets a dry early season snow, which creates a somewhat rotten layer of snow on the bottom where as now, on the coasts normally has more moisture. Gilchrist said this can make the snowpack more fragile and have more avalanches.
Know before you go
Gilchrist said that it is important to know before you go by reading the forecast and understanding how the snowpack has changed in an area throughout the year.
“If you are skiing an area on a regular basis, and you know what happened a week ago of a month ago in the snowpack that can help you identify the danger,” Gilchrist said. “Dig into the snow, be inquisitive about what is in there and watch for red flags and warning signs.”
Things like storm snow, where it has snowed a lot in a short period of time, high winds and rapidly increasing temperatures are all things that can contribute to avalanches. Gilchrist suggested that people go into the backcountry with people that are on the same level of experience and have the same risk threshold.
Routt County Search and Rescue has not been on many avalanche calls lately with the most recent one incident commander Kristia Check Hill can remember being several years ago. Gilchrist said that most avalanche rescues are done by someone nearby simply because it takes them too long to get there.
Check Hill said that everyone going into the backcountry should have a beacon, shovel and a probe in case there is an avalanche. When they go out on a rescue, everyone on the rescue team has a beacon not only to help find someone, but also because they often are traveling through avalanche risks to get to someone.
Not only is it important to have these items, but the biggest thing is practicing with it and knowing how to properly use it, Check Hill said.
“When you have these tools, which are all great and you need to have them, know how to use them,” Check Hill said. “The time you are there is not the time to pull out the instruction manual.”
She said when Search and Rescue practices, they will bury something that feels like a body in the snow and practice finding it. She also said it is important to know what kinds of equipment people in the group have, if they had a beacon and what they were wearing.
“Those kind of things you don’t think about, what your buddy was wearing, but it could help you see clues on the mountain on the debris field,” Check Hill said.
She emphasized that it is important for everyone to have a beacon to find each other if there is an avalanche and to know how to use properly to help other people in the group.
“It is important for everyone in the group too have a beacon and a shovel and a probe and to know how to use it,” Check Hill said. “Because my life is depending on you knowing how to use it to find me and vice versa.”