It’s time for a look back at the past year
December 30, 2013
Editor's note: This is the first part of a three-part series.
VAIL — People who suffer from triskaidekaphobia — the fear of anything related to the number 13 — have had it rough the past 12 months. For the rest of us, though, it's been a year like many others — some good, some bad, a little spectacular, a little bit awful for some. So since we're the kind of people who do these things, it's time to take a look back at the year that was.
Let's start with a look at a couple of evergreen issues:
Drought: With relatively abundant snow right now — and the fact that a massive spring storm prompted Vail Resorts to give us a bonus ski weekend in April — it might be easy to forget we're coming out of a pretty severe drought that's now ending its second year. In fact, it's only in the past few months that the people who track these things eased the drought status of the upper Colorado River Basin — of which we're a significant part.
Weed: Government lawyers have spent a lot of time trying to create a regulatory framework for retail sales of small amounts of marijuana, something made possible by the 2012 passage of a state constitutional amendment legalizing the possession, use and sale of said weed. While the state recently approved more than 130 licenses for growing, producing and selling retail pot as of Jan. 1, none of that activity will happen in Eagle County for at least a few months.
Vail being Vail: Talk about first-world problems. Despite unprecedented success in lodging, sales tax and other financial items. the heart of our economic engine spent an inordinate amount of time on the pressing issues of spending millions of dollars on upgrades to its golf course and its biggest park.
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With that little summary, let's dive into a month-by-month look at some of the year's headlines:
• After years of skating on contributions from local governments and a handful of businesses including Vail Resorts, local business leaders started a public campaign based on a years-long decline of passengers flying into the Eagle County Regional Airport. A campaign that actually began in 2012 ramped up, trying to drum up more business support — and money — to help finance "revenue guarantees" that airlines usually require to start new routes.
• On the subject of marijuana, the Vail Town Council in January approved a temporary ban on any new recreational marijuana businesses. Town officials said they'd prefer to wait until the state's regulations were in place before considering where, or if, retail pot would be allowed in town.
• Verizon Wireless won the race to bring 4G cell service — the latest technical upgrade — to the Vail Valley. While Verizon won the race, its 4G service was still relatively limited. Other carriers were expected to follow suit later in the year.
• After the limited snowfall of the 2011-12 season, skiers and boarders were a bit mopey about a similarly snow-slim start to the 2012-13 season. Then we got a big shot of the white stuff all at once. A 2-foot snow week for Vail and Beaver Creek had locals smiling in coffee shops, on social media, and, of course, on the slopes.
On the Vail Daily's Facebook page, SkiBum Mum wrote, "Best day of the year!"
Vail Resorts posted a Facebook video that quickly rang up more than 2,000 "likes."
When it snows, people are happy in Happy Valley. While 2 feet of snow is always welcome, the actual snowpack numbers were nothing to cheer about. The National Resource Conservation Service reported that January snowpack in the region was still just 61 percent of the multi-year average.
• In less joyful news, the flu hit the valley hard, affecting both local schools and workplaces. Like earlier this year, if you haven't had a flu shot, it's a good idea to get one.
• In Avon, Wyndham Worldwide announced it would build a 58-unit timeshare condo building on "Lot 61," a long-vacant parcel of land adjacent to the town's main bus stop.
• Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz rang the New York Stock Exchange's opening bell at the base of Vail Mountain.
• Lindsey Vonn did a lot of growing up in Vail. After tearing up her knee in a World Cup downhill race in Austria, Vonn's surgery was performed by local surgeon Bill Sterett, a surgeon with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics.
"Everyone's been happy to see how upbeat she is through all this," Sterett said after examining the best American ski racer of all time. "The best way to describe it is that she's determined; she's extremely determined and very focused."
• Schladming, Austria, officially handed over its stewardship of the World Alpine Ski Championships to Vail during a ceremony at the end of this year's Championships. It's a bit difficult to believe the next Championships are a little more than a year away. And they'll be here.
• The Teva Mountain Games over the course of a decade became a late-spring staple on the valley's event calendar. After Teva dropped its sponsorship, it didn't take long for GoPro — which makes most of the helmet cameras you see on the mountain — stepped into the void, announcing it would be the Mountain Games' title sponsor.
• While most of the 2015 Championship racing events will be in Beaver Creek, the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships is Vail's baby. The U.S. Open hit Vail for the first time in late February and early March, packing the town with both spectators and athletes, and a fine time was had by all.
• The valley's first school-based health care clinic opened Feb. 14 at Avon Elementary School. Doctors Plus Kids Care is designed to provide affordable health care to Eagle County students. The clinic will provide medical, dental and behavioral health services to any Eagle County student, ages 3 to 18.
• The Colorado Department of Transportation started working on a "public awareness" campaign about a lengthy road improvement project on Interstate 70 just east of Idaho Springs.
• A lot of local residents got an unpleasant surprise when they received their first homeowner's insurance bills for the year — higher premiums. Not everyone got bigger bills — but some property owners were dropped by their insurance companies. The reason, at least in part, was the destructive wildfires that hit the state's Front Range in 2012.
• The local group seeking to bring new air service to the Eagle County Regional Airport announced it had secured a new United Airlines flight from Houston for the summer. The five-day-per-week nonstop flight was scheduled to begin service June 27 through the month of August. Service will run from Houston to Eagle Thursdays through Mondays, and from Eagle to Houston Fridays through Tuesdays.
• Jon Stavney had just won a second term as an Eagle County commission in November of 2012 and had only been sworn in in January. But when longtime Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell announced his retirement, Stavney applied for the job.
• After several years of off-and-on negotiations, a wild but ultimately fruitless auction and, finally, a $2.3 million payment, Minturn landed a piece of precious open space to call its own.
The 4.4-acre "Boneyard" property had belonged for years to the U.S. Forest Service. In the past decade, that land was listed among Forest Service land that could be disposed of. Minturn officials were interested from the day the list was issued. But Minturn has never had much money in the bank, and federal regulations require selling land for its market value. So the sale was stalled for several years, until Eagle County officials offered to participate, using money from the county's dedicated open space account.
• After approving a plan for improvements at Ford Park, roughly 75 people showed up at a Vail Town Council meeting to hear whether the council would reverse that decision. The council that night voted 4-3 to "withdraw the owner's consent," meaning proposals currently under review can't continue through the review process, with members Ludwig Kurz, Margaret Rogers and Mayor Andy Daly opposing.
That decision prompted the council to ask for a new management plan for the park to better determine how and where improvements could be made.
• Colorado's Superintendent of the Year announced her resignation from the Eagle County School District. Sandra Smyser was selected from among three finalists to head the Poudre School District, headquartered in Fort Collins.
"I have to say I have mixed feelings. I'm excited and enthusiastic about the new opportunity, but I'll miss the Eagle County School District. It's an amazing place," Smyser said.
Smyser was recruited to lead Eagle County schools in 2008.
"The five years I have served as your superintendent have been the best of my career," Smyser said. "I've had a steady stream of emails from people wishing me the best."
• Andrew Wells admitted he tried to burn down two apartment buildings where seven people were sleeping in 2012 because his former girlfriend broke his heart. Wells, 32, pleaded guilty in March to three felonies. He'll spend between 26 years and 48 years in state prison.
• With ski season winding down, Vail and Beaver Creek entered the first of many summers of construction as the resorts prepare both for the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships, as well as the building of Vail Resorts' Epic Discovery summer recreation projects.
• But the ski season wouldn't wind down easily. With 13 inches of fresh snow, it was just about impossible to have a bad time on Vail Mountain for what we all thought was the resort's Closing Day.
"It's symbolic we got 13 inches of snow on Closing Day 2013," said Pavlos Katsorchis, of Vail. "We're all out here getting the best pow of the season on the last day."
Of course, the late-season snow kept coming — 2 feet in just a few days after the resort was supposed to close.
Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot said resort officials started talking about reopening almost as soon as the resort closed thanks to a massive snowstorm.
"We were up yesterday for our employee (ski) day and it was absolutely incredible and then when it just kept snowing as hard is it did all day long — and we knew there was more in the forecast — we started talking about 'We should do this,'" Jarnot said. "This is why all of us are here — (the snow's) too good not to take advantage of and share. We talked about it last night and pulled the trigger."
Reopening a resort after it has officially closed is tough work. Jarnot said the resort had to figure out which employees were still in town, then rehire them and redistribute uniforms, among other logistics.
The bonus weekend was a big hit, too: It had been years — like when Vail Resorts was still Vail Associates — since the resort had re-opened after Closing Day.
• The town of Vail and people who own homes around the town's golf course have through most of this year been locked in a battle over plans to remodel the course's aging clubhouse. In April, the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission approved a revised plan for the clubhouse that reduced the capacity of the banquet room from 200 to 160 people and a parking plan for 125 spaces.
But neighbors said the plan wasn't sufficient to ease their worries about extra noise, lights and general hubbub from the multiple weddings the new clubhouse might draw and persisted in their legal efforts to stop the plan.
• Eagle Valley High School was rated among the top 10 percent of high schools across the state and nation in rankings released in April by US News and World Report. Eagle Valley was ranked 38th of 458 Colorado high schools and 2,160th of 21,035 high schools nationally. That earned the school a silver medal designation.
The US News calculations put more emphasis on the how a school's minority and disadvantaged students fare. Schools in affluent areas with largely white student populations might have had higher marks in some US News categories, but Eagle Valley was ranked higher.
Of Eagle Valley's 700 students, 30 percent are on the federally-subsidized free and reduced lunch program, the benchmark for measuring the percentage of disadvantaged students.
Part one of three