An appreciation of 2016, which was actually a pretty good year despite the whiney press it’s getting |

An appreciation of 2016, which was actually a pretty good year despite the whiney press it’s getting

Vail turned 50 years old in 2016. Those are horses tied up outside the Rucksack in the early 1960s.
Colorado Ski Museum |

Poor 2016.

It was a perfectly good year, but some Gen Xers facing mortality for the first time are wailing like their hair is on fire and their faux furs are catching. It seems some of their pop icons are now tweeting from that 4G Hotspot in the sky.

Here’s the deal, youngsters.

People and things come and go. About the only things that last are true love and the Vail town council’s hand-wringing and angst about parking and housing.

Our buddy Scott Miller put it best about 2016’s toll on the famous:

“Too many David Bowies, not enough Fidel Castros.”

Speaking of the two unavoidable things in this world, death and taxes, that leads us to …

Death and Taxes — Death of Taxes

Eagle County voters were apparently feeling pretty darned good about their financial future, because we voted for four separate tax increases. Here’s a cause-and-effect that might have escaped your attention. Among those tax increases was the fire district that encompasses much of Vail Resorts’ local property.

Shortly after having its taxes raised, the company in our company town announced it would begin charging for parking in Beaver Creek.

And like teenagers who got their ski passes yanked for picking fights with thunderstorms and biting out-of-bounds tree trunks, some locals acted surprised.

When those surprised people receive their property tax notices in January and begin to feel light-headed, suffer from the vapors and need immediate medical attention, they’ll be looked after by very nice and professional people from our local ambulance district. We also gave the ambulance district a tax increase. It turns out that the Affordable Care Act is, again, not terribly affordable and was reimbursing our local ambulance folks at a rate lower than the scoring average of the Denver Broncos offense.

The third time was the charm for Gypsum’s fire department. The fire folks in that town had twice before asked voters for more revenue, and had been refused. Gypsum was pretty much down to using the horse-drawn fire wagon from 1911 when the town was founded, and voters gave finally agreed to help.

The Eagle County Schools’ tax increase is the largest in Eagle County history. Voters gave schools permission to borrow $230 million for new buildings and other items, plus $8 million per year, mostly for staff and teacher salaries.

But the thing about property taxes is that someone else tends to pay most of them; 60 percent of residential property taxes are covered by second homeowners, God bless them every one.

Sales taxes are more egalitarian, which might explain why Eagle County’s body politic sent a workforce housing sales tax careening into the political abyss.

Vail took housing into its own hands. That town continues to work on a plan for the Chamonix townhomes, a 32-unit, for-sale neighborhood. There’s more work to do, but it could break ground in the spring.

Also, Vail adopted a housing plan that called for the town to buy 1,000 deed restrictions throughout the next decade.

We also decided to let our open space tax sunset in a few years, reasoning that 85 percent of Eagle County is already open space.

If your coming property tax bill is something of a shock, remember, those property tax increases are a self-inflicted wound and, like hangovers, there’s no whining about self-inflicted wounds.

Speaking of self-inflicted wounds, that leads us to …

Indecision 2016

The late NBC news deity Tim Russert invented Red State/Blue State labeling on the fly, on national television with a couple of markers and a white board. Tim was explaining presidential politics and the Electoral College, which isn’t generally taught in colleges any longer.

Eagle County is so blue that the Eagle River feels like blue Kool-Aid as it cascades through our valley. We elected a whole bunch of Democrats in November.

However, these things are cyclical and Republican red is rolling back around, making us more purple than, say, Aspen.

Our British buddies started all this election-year upheaval with “Brexit,” in which United Kingdom voters decided to leave the European Union. That does not mean they cannot fly to the beach in Magaluf, Spain, for the weekend, to get sunburned and dance the night away in the world’s sixth-largest dance club, whose bass can be heard all the way to the 13 original American colonies, where that same bass noise was the sound of Donald Trump winning the presidency of the United States.

The Donald, by the way, flew through Eagle County, on his way to Aspen to pick up a massive pile of American money from campaign donors.

Speaking of sports that only adults should be allowed to play …

Dirt bikes and firearms and horseshoes, oh my!

Gypsum has been a Playful City USA almost since the invention of play. Gypsum is a good town, an honest town, a town where aromatherapy combines gunpowder and burning fossil fuels and essential oils are what lubricate your dirt bike.

Among Gypsum’s many city parks are a gun range and world championship caliber horseshoe courts.

You’ll soon be able to add a motorsports park, 157 acres devoted to the glory of dirt bikes and the internal combustion engine.

It’s all part of a 275-acre open space deal with Eagle County. The rest of the open space will be ridgeline protection, where you ought not be riding dirt bikes anyway.

At the other end of the valley, Vail gave its skate park a permanent home.

It’s Vail, so they spent $1.7 million on it.

They named it for Zeke M. Pierce, a Vail teen who died in a 2013 mountain bike accident. Vail’s skate park started life as a design exercise by Cameron Chaney, a former Vail kid whose family has since moved to another state.

This doesn’t have much to do with recreation, except in a watching-a-Dumpster-fire way, but …

Cordillera’s High Altitude High Dollar Halfway House

Noah Nordheimer is buying The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, and spending millions of dollars converting it into a drug and alcohol rehab center.

Cordillera residents include many captains of industry, legal eagles and folks who’ve made enough money that they don’t have to worry about the downstairs neighbor waking them up at 6:30 a.m. on a holiday by hollering at her kids.

The Cordillera Captains do not like this, not one little bit.

Lots and lots of lawyering has ensued, and shall continue to ensue.

Speaking of things ensuing, that leads us to …

Fifty Years of Vailites

Vail celebrated its 50th anniversary as a town in 2016. It was a smaller celebration than the mountain, but still a pretty big deal. The celebration was at Donovan Pavilion, named for John and Diana Donovan, who owned and operated Donovan’s Copper Bar back in the day. As part of the celebration, the town presented Dr. Tom Steinberg its first Vail Trailblazer award. Steinberg was Vail’s first full-time physician.

Speaking of our annual laps around the sun, that leads us to …

Comings and goings

In 2016, we said goodbye to some greats.

Vail Pioneer Keith Brown left us. He was one of the last surviving members of the original Vail board of directors.

American Everest climber Dick Pownall made his final ascent. Pownall was part of the first American Mount Everest expedition in 1963. By that time he was already building his cabin on Vail’s Rockledge Road, mostly from recycled building materials he rescued from buildings destroyed by flooding in Denver. In between, he raised great kids and spent a career in education.

Bill Smith loved to go fast, but took his time getting to heaven. The Vail icon was a founding member of The Game Creek Club, Camp Robbers, successfully drove race cars, became the nation’s youngest Ford dealer and had fun at the speed of life. He was 89.

Suzanne Elaine Dauphinais was one of those people who made the world a better place just by smiling at it, and she was always smiling.

Local landmark Helmut Fricker turned 80.

Local landmark Brian Hall’s Beaver Creek Children’s Theater turned 30.

Local landmark and Veterans of Foreign Wars stalwart Herb Rubenstein turned 95.

The Vail Valley Charitable Fund’s Vail Undressed calendar returned.

And finally, the proposed Beaver Creek ski instructors union went the way of Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations.

Saying goodbye to 2016 reminds us that it was one of those years that lives up to the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

We do.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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