Thrills & Spills
Editor’s note: The Vail Trail, as a nod to the source of many a good news tip the Vail Valley’s bartenders tries a new approach to reviewing the year that was: here then, are our Thrills & Spills for 2002:[Spill] Vail Resorts, citing the sagging economy, lingering travel fears in the wake of 9/11 and the possibility of a war in Iraq, started cutting at the top in October, ousting President Andy Daly, senior vice president of public affairs Porter Wharton III and 48 others. Another 50 mid-level management positions were left unfilled company-wide. The downsizing was part of a $20 million cost-cutting push in fiscal 2003. The cuts were pinned on disappointing earnings for the fourth quarter, though the company bounced back nicely in the first quarter of fiscal 2003, beating analyst’s expectations. “Our principle responsibility is to the shareholders,” Daly told the Vail Trail after his termination. “Public companies whose livelihoods are tied to small mountain communities that sets up a dynamic tension that is at time both draining and sets up so many potential conflicts.”[Spill] Vail Resorts wasn’t feeling too neighborly in early September when Copper Mountain-owner Intrawest announced a deal to develop and operate Winter Park ski area, owned by the city of Denver. VR, which owns Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone and controls nearly 45 percent of the skier days in the state, apparently takes a dim view of two ski areas that each do just under a million skier days teaming up. Citing a non-compete contract between Vail Resorts and Intrawest preventing the two bitter rivals from developing real estate near ski areas they don’t own, VR officials said they would sue to stop the Winter Park deal, which has the Canadian developer, Intrawest, pumping $99 million into the aging Front Range favorite over the next 10 years.[Spill] More than $26 million in allegedly ill-gotten Eagle County real estate hit the market over the summer, the booty from the plundered coffers of companies like Tyco International, Adelphia Communications and WorldCom. Ex-CEOs ranging from Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco to John and Timothy Rigas of Adelphia Communications were forced to put Beaver Creek condos and Bachelor Gulch homes on the block after being indicted by federal prosecutors on charges from fraud to tax evasion. WorldCom’s Bernie Ebbers, an embattled ex-CEO who was forced to quit in disgrace, apparently got out while the getting was good, selling his Beaver Creek condo for $1 million March 21. In November, after pulling more than $17 million in trophy homes and condos off the market, Kozlowski was given permission by a New York Supreme Court justice to visit the Vail Valley for four weeks at Christmas. Assistant District Attorney John Moscow told the judge, “Mr. Kozlowski does not want to miss the Christmas holidays while people who invested in Tyco stock may not be able to afford a Christmas.”[Spill] By a 41 vote, Vail’s Planning and Environmental Commission (PEC) approved the bitterly contested Middle Creek affordable housing project in late September, the first bit of good news in nearly a year for the embattled 142-unit development north of the main Vail roundabout on the old Mountain Bell site. Vail Village Homeowners Association representative Jim Lamont, who led the charge against the largest such project in town history, lamented that Vail was “beginning to look more like Las Vegas.” Former Vail owner George Gillett, who owns a Spraddle Creek home high above Middle Creek, decried the project as too large for its prominent place near the entrance to Vail and unnecessary in the wake of a post-9-11 economic downturn. “This is not a NIMBY’ effort," Gillett said at a public meeting. "I would call it a NIVFY effort. Not in Vail’s front yard."[Thrill] Legendary Vail rabble-rouser Packy Walker says more than 1,300 people who lived in Vail between its opening season in 1962 and the bicentennial year of 1976 turned out for Vail Pioneer Weekend Sept. 20-22. An unofficial kickoff to Vail’s 40th anniversary celebration, everyone who was anyone in the early days of Vail got together for a weekend of serious and not-so-serious reminiscing. “Three days? Friday, Saturday, Sunday? I haven’t done that since I was 18 years old,” Walker said before the event. “It may kill me. Could be my last hurrah for my life, but I’m going to give it hell.” After the fact, seeming somewhat surprised he survived, Walker says he’d like that Oktoberfest weekend to become an unofficial reunion every year in Vail. Why get together just for weddings and funerals, right?[Spill] By mid-June, Colorado was a parched and prickly place. Over one weekend, eight major wildfires sprang up, scorching nearly 150,000 acres of forest by June 13 and forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 people statewide. The word in the major metro areas of the eastern United States was that the entire state of Colorado was engulfed in a sea of flames. Of course, it didn’t help that Gov. Bill Owens infamously uttered that “all of Colorado is burning today,” a quote widely printed in newspapers with the weight of the Washington Post and the New York Times. By mid-July, it indeed seemed that Vail was surrounded by flames, as smoke from fires near Glenwood Springs and in the Flattops Wilderness Area hung over the valley in thick clouds. Ultimately, many tourism experts say the state’s tourism industry never fully recovered from the “Summer of the Wildfire.” But luckily, the Vail Valley was spared from any major blazes, though one minor brush fire forced an early-morning evacuation of the Wildridge subdivision in Avon.[Spill] The dreaded “D” was on everyone’s dry and cracked lips (OK, it wasn’t quite that bad) last summer. Drought conditions prevailed hence the fire danger making for a rather a pitiful rafting and kayaking season and causing some somewhat draconian watering restrictions. But the good news came in buckets in late August and early September, when above-average rain fell and snow even dusted the ski slopes. Even before the rain, Vail Resorts promised plenty of snowmaking this season because of their senior water rights and ample storage in four reservoirs. And best of all, the Farmer’s Almanac was calling for a huge snow year in Colorado. Turns out, so far, they were right.[Spill] Vail is refreshingly crime free, but 2002 was marked by several high-profile criminal cases. The first was the May 20 murder of Melba Jean Ginther, 57, at Camp Hale. Ginther was shot in the back of the head with a shotgun. As of this week, the Sheriff’s Department has made no arrests on the case and is still investigating the murder. Another murder occurred in Eagle in late June at the Draggin’ A Ranch owned by Kathleen Denson, 44. Her sometimes boyfriend Gerald “Cody” Boyd, 45, was shot in the chest. Denson is the prime suspect. After several delays, Denson will have her preliminary hearing on Jan. 7 at 2 p.m. at the Eagle County Courthouse. White collar crime also invaded the valley this year. Summit Habitats of Edwards claims a former employee of theirs, Karen Sue Kaffka, stole $2 million from them over a 5-year period beginning in 1997. Kaffka has her first appearance in front of Eagle County Judge Tom Moorhead Jan. 15 at 9 a.m. Another embezzlement case starts working its was through the Eagle County Court system Jan. 7, a half hour before Denson’s appearance. Local real estate salesman Mark Mogul of Edwards has been accused of stealing approximately $350,000 from his former employer, Crescent Club Investors, Ltd. of Denver. And alleged high-tech crime also hit home: Peter Buckley, an Avon council member and owner of InternetVail.com, was charged earlier this month with three counts of computer crime, transmit virus, according to deputy Eagle County district attorney Brenda Parks. Buckley faces two to six years in a department of corrections facility and anywhere from a $2,000 to $500,000 in fines if convicted. Parks, the prosecuting attorney on the case, alleges that on Sept. 6 and 7, 2001, Buckley overloaded the system of rival Internet provider VailNet by sending thousands of “Spam” e-mails to its server, causing VailNet to shut down. His first appearance in Eagle County Court is set for Jan. 15 at 2:30 p.m.
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