It takes more than one day to review a year |

It takes more than one day to review a year

Scott N. Miller and Alex Miller

Down at the CrossroadsWhile Vail voters decisively rejected more taxes to pay for a town-built conference center – kind of too bad, really, because the ultimate design was going to be a doozy – a private-sector project may have cost a couple of incumbent council members their jobs.Dick Cleveland and Diana Donovan were forcefully, unapologetically opposed to both the conference center and developer Peter Knobel’s plans for a new, improved, and much bigger Crossroads.The conference center went down in flames, Donovan and Cleveland lost their jobs. Do the math.Crossroads is back now, with Knobel obviously hoping that new council members Mark Gordon and Kevin Foley are more willing to vote for it than Cleveland and Donovan were.DisastersIn what could be construed as Mother Earth’s continued retribution for nasty humans and their evil ways (or simply a bunch of geological and meteorological coincidences), 2005 had its fair share of natural disasters. The biggie for the U.S., of course, was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast at the end of August.While many people in the region were able to flee the storm and the widespread flooding that followed, many poor people mostly black were stranded. Many died, and even more lost their homes. Almost overnight, the Big Easy went from being one of the country’s top play spots to a scene of almost unimaginable destruction.The storm also wreaked havoc politically, with just about any politician who could be blamed getting a healthy dollop of mud in the face (toxic mud, at that). The silver lining on this very dark cloud was the great, charitable heart of the American people, who donated billions of dollars and countless hours of labor to help storm victims. Eagle County responded with a variety of outreach efforts. Mostly, that involved raising money, first for the victims of the late-2004 tsunami in southeast Asia, then for those who lost so much to Hurricane Katrina and other storms.Children were especially involved. A special education class at Gypsum Creek Middle School spearheaded efforts there to raise money, with the cash going to buy farm animals for those who had lost everything.In August, when Katrina devastated so much of the Gulf Coast, the kids again jumped in. Schools across the valley raised money for the local chapter of the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other charities.Meanwhile, adults in the valley held dinners and silent auctions to raise money. There was at least one spinning class at the Cascade Club that raised money for hurricane relief, too.Eagle County “adopted” Gulfport, Miss., sending crews and attention to that city.But while Katrina was bad in terms of loss of life and property, it couldn’t compare to the earthquake that hit Kashmir in October. More than 87,000 people perished in the quake, with survivors struggling to get by without homes as winter set in.While large parts of Indonesia continued to recover from the December, 2004 tsunami that killed over 283,000 people, an earthquake in March visited further devastation on the people of the region. More than 1,300 were killed.On the other side of the world in Central America, Hurricane Stan killed over 2,000 in October. Later in the month, yet another Category 5 hurricane, Wilma, wreaked havoc from Cuba to Cozumel and left millions in Florida without electricity.Train wrecks in Japan, fires near Los Angeles, toxic spills in China, plane crashes in Iran and Nigeria, mudslides in California, flooding in Europe … there seemed to be no end to it all. Also seems like it happens every year …MurderLife in Eagle County took a serious turn in October.Maria Madrid, 35, her husband Eliseo and their son Joel had just finished a picnic at a campground north of Dotsero, when a man approached their truck. After an argument, the man went back to his pickup, grabbed a gun and started firing. Eliseo was wounded. Maria was killed.Charles Gross, 55, has been charged with first degree murder in the case.CrimeNot usually a big concern for us here in Happy Valley, there were a few odd and disturbing cases in the courts this past year. The biggest concerned two young men from Australia and New Zealand, who became famous Down Under as the “Dumb and Dumber” bandits.That’s because Luke Carroll and Anthony Prince decided to rob the WestStar bank in Vail last March even though they were known not only to bank employees but to local police as well. They made off with over $130,000, but they didn’t get far. At DIA, they were quickly ID’d by airport security and apprehended. Still, they made time to pose in the airport’s restroom holding wads of cash and mugging for the camera.Also in the news this year was Alberto Vilar, a philanthropist known worldwide for giving millions to arts organizations – including the performing arts center in Beaver Creek that bears his name. Vilar and his partner in Amerindo Investment Advisors, Gary Tanaka, were charged with defrauding an investor – actress Phoebe Cates’ mom Lily Cates – out of $5 million.Vilar, who also donated $2 million for the renovation of Ford Amphitheatre in Vail, faces trial in AprilAnd then there was Jonathan Schut, who is accused of raping a 29-year-old Denver woman in the Vail parking garage on March 12 and attacking another girl in her Eagle home. With a devilish goatee, bizarre tattoos and comments to the press that almost sound like a confession, Schut could face life in prison for his alleged crimes. Meanwhile, he unsettles the Vail Daily newsroom by sending creepy letters to our reporter, written in a hand that would do credit to a Hollywood stalker movie.Also in the “news of the weird” category is Michael Moore (no, not that Michael Moore), accused of staging his own kidnapping last April. While we never quite figured out why Moore did what he did, we do know that it carried some serious consequences: He was charged with aggravated robbery, false imprisonment, menacing with a deadly weapon, theft, false reporting to authorities and domestic violence.Trouble in the forestTexas teen Willam McCann was bouldering in the Holy Cross Wilderness last July when a boulder shifted and trapped his foot. He was held captive by the boulder for 15 hours before rescue workers were able to free him. Remarkably, no bones were broken even though one doctor said McCann’s foot looked like a pancake.There was no happy ending in the case of Michelle Vanek of Lakewood. Hiking Mount of the Holy Cross with companion Erik Sawyer on a cold September day, Vanek couldn’t make the summit and Sawyer went on without her. When he returned, she was gone.An extensive search of the area over the next several days yielded no clues as to Vanek’s whereabouts, and early winter snows soon closed in. Vanek, 35, was a triathlete and mother of four.SkiingIt snowed a fair amount in 2005, so much so, in fact, that we almost forgot about the dreaded drought of ’01-’02 (although the prophets of doom – aka “hydrologists” – keep reminding us we’re not out of the woods yet).This fall, it started snowing steadily in early November and it hasn’t much let up yet. Ski area publicists have nearly press-released themselves into early retirements thus far, issuing a steady stream of breathless reports of the record snowfall. “Mountain receives over 4,000 feet of snow in one day!!!!” read one. Another heralded “Record snowfall threatens to cover lift towers.”So, yeah, lots of snow, and with snow comes green. Vail Resorts had a good year, with its stock rising in price from a low of $21.35 to the $35 range even as revenues were a little wobbly for this, that and the other reason. VR honcho Adam Aron did OK, cashing in some stock options for a few million in spending change to build a new house. Word is he also scored a decent flat in the new Arrabelle, under construction in Lionshead.In other cool Vail news, two local boys – George Gillett and Dick Hauserman – were inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame this year. Gillett, who owned and ran Vail Mountain in the ’80s and ’90s, is remembered for upping the level of guest service at the resort, not to mention spearheading the installation of the first high-speed lifts.Hauserman, who can still be seen occasionally wandering the halls of the Vail Daily on his frequent visits to town from Florida and New York, was one of Vail’s founding fathers and an original member of the board of directors. They’re both great guys and both deserving of high honors from an industry that owes them a lot.The only bad news so far this ski season came when SKI magazine announced the results of its annual rankings and, horror upon horrors, Vail had dropped to No. 2! (Some area in a place called “Utah” got the top slot this year.)To all those fretting about the precipitous plunge from No. 1 to No. 2, we offer the following solace: Nobody really reads SKI anyway, and those who do are usually perusing a year-old copy in the dentist’s office, by which time Vail will be No. 1 again. We know what our mountain is all about, and all we need do is silently chant “We are No. 1! We are No. 1!” anytime we feel like a quick boost of self-administered reaffirmation.Finally, the year wound down with what appears to be a break in the seven-year-old case of the arson attack on Vail Mountain in 1998. Over $12 million in damage was caused when vandals (or saboteurs or eco-terrorists) torched the Two Elk lodge and several other buildings, and a shadowy group called the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility.Chelsea Gerlach and William Rodgers have been named as suspects in the fires, although they have yet to be formally charged. The two were part of a round of arrests of suspects allegedly associated with the Earth Liberation Front and accused of involvement in other acts of arson and vandalism in the name of the environment.Random fun stuffAlong with the mountains, the rivers, the snow, the air and all that other good stuff, one of the things we love about living in the Vail Valley is all the fun, cool stuff going on all the time. Even in what used to be considered part of the mud or shoulder season, we had the Teva Games, with legions of ballsy people in funny clothes ready to hurl themselves into a raging river or down a hillside for the pure thrill of it all (and, yeah, some prizes and swag).This past year’s Teva Games were bigger than ever, and they should be an even bigger kick this coming spring when the rivers should be good and high.In a firm rebuke to those who say Vail is run by a stodgy cadre of old-timers who yearn only for the good ol’ days of bear-trap bindings and schnapps-filled bota bags, MTV announced it would launch a high-definition cable channel called MHD from a studio atop Vail Mountain this January.Take that, Deer Valley! We may be No. 2, but we’ve got MTV! Of course, we may be all in bed by the time the shows come on, and we may not understand all that youthful banter and edgy dialogue even if we did bother to Tivo the show, but that’s neither here nor there. What’ve you got, Deer Valley, the friggin’ History Channel doing fawning documentaries about Stein Eriksen?Ha, Vail rules.Green doin’sIt was a big year for the environment, and we say that only because we couldn’t think of another way to begin this sentence. As noted earlier, the drought ended, more or less, with most reservoirs in this part of the state filling close to or at capacity. Barring a tremendous dip in precipitation in the coming months, the bumper crop of snow we’ve received so far this year should also mean a bright outlook for summer water supplies, rafting, fishing and all that.In other environmental news, the cleanup of the old Eagle Mine near Minturn continued to be debated between those charged with paying for the cleanup who think enough’s enough and those who think more could and should be done. To summarize months of complex legal and scientific mumbo-jumbo, the latter party won, and the Eagle River will continue to be monitored for zinc levels while the fish flap their fins in glee and the folks at a certain international entertainment conglomerate wish they’d never heard of Minturn, Colorado.Road pizza, it’s a problem. Those pesky animals who just won’t stay in the woods but come leaping, crawling and cavorting onto the interstate. Well, if they won’t pay attention to the warning signs, one idea is to put up a bridge for them to walk over.That’s the brainchild of the folks at the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project who, with other partners, are studying the idea of building a wildlife overpass not far from the summit of Vail Pass. Word is they’re trying to also figure out a way to incorporate that Eagle County favorite – the roundabout – into the design. That way, elk, deer, marmots and the occasional lynx can circle ’round each other while crossing the interstate, exchanging news and views while Division of Wildlife workers issue tickets for improper roundabout roundabouting.With all the building going on hereabouts, some people at the county level thought it might be a good idea to suggest that new structures be built with an eye on energy efficiency, use of not-so-toxic materials and other such forward-thinking things. Seems like a good idea to us, as is the push to get a better, countywide recycling program together.If we’re going to build the #%# out of this place, maybe it’s a worthy goal to reduce the footprint a little – just so long as it doesn’t cut into our bottom line one little bit!TerroristsIraq continued to be ground zero for a seemingly endless series of terrorist attacks. Some were directed against U.S. troops, but a great many were perpetrated on Iraqis themselves. Suicide bombs in front of police stations, roadside bombs everywhere, bombs in mosques, hotels … it was hard to keep up with it all and to remember how our presence there was helping.Another year passed with no attacks in the U.S., but London was targeted July 7 with a series of bombings that killed 51. In September, peaceful Bali was the target yet again, with 22 killed. A series of hotel bombings killed another 57 in Jordan, Lebanon.No word yet from the terrorists on how any of this has improved life for anyone on Earth.French toastAfter decades of claiming race simply wasn’t an issue in egalitarian, oh-so-progressive France, a good portion of that country’s black and/or Muslim population spent a couple of weeks rioting and car-burning. Hmm, maybe race is something the French need to confront after all.Air bloopersWhile plane crashes in other places killed hundreds last year, two local mishaps had somewhat happier outcomes. When a jet skidded off the runway at Eagle County Airport in July, no one was killed but one man is suing for injuries he sustained in the incident.In August, a motorcyclist on Vail Pass had to duck when a small plane crashed into the hillside next to the interstate. Again, no one was killed; one man walked away from the wreckage. The pilot suffered greater injuries but was expected to recover.DeathsOften when people die, their most important life’s work is behind them, and that was certainly the case with “outlaw journalist” Hunter S. Thompson. Well-known in Colorado since he was a long-time Aspen-area resident, Thompson’s outrageous brand of journalism was captured in groundbreaking books like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “The Great Shark Hunt” – both written more than 30 years ago. Friends said that gap in greatness likely contributed to the writer’s decision to end his life.Always one to enjoy making a splash, Thompson killed himself with a gun in his kitchen last February, leaving behind instructions to shoot his cremated remains out of a cannon. With the help of actor Johnny Depp – who portrayed Thompson in the film version of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” – that wish was granted in August.On the national level, perhaps no other death had greater reverberations than the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. Liberals were terrified that Bush would nominate someone even more conservative, while conservatives fretted that he wouldn’t find someone conservative enough.Bush managed to satisfy both sides, more or less, by appointing John Roberts to the slot. Conservative, yes, but also admired by both sides for his smarts and fairness, Roberts has, by most accounts, been a good leader of the court so far.Next up: A great battle looms in replacing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who announced her retirement from the bench (but who is still serving until her replacement is confirmed). Bush first fumbled, picking the inexperienced Harriet Miers, a member of his staff. She withdrew, and Bush returned with Samuel Alito. While a more seasoned jurist, Alito’s stance on sensitive issues – notably, abortion rights – has liberals in a tizzy and senate Democrats threatening filibuster.So long, John PaulOn the subject of grief, much of the world mourned the April 2 death of Pope John Paul II. Locals mourned, too.”I was 15 when he came to Mexico for the first time,” said Jose Deanda, 38, a Mexican national who lives in Edwards. “You could feel an inexplicable joy that paralyzed the whole city with his visit. Everybody wanted to be close to him.”The pope’s visit changed his life, said Deanda.”I saw him and it was a magnificent experience,” Deanda said. “It was his charisma, the peace he projected to other people.”Vail, Colorado

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