Vail Valley grabs the spotlight in 2004
December 31, 2003
If we lived in a place that specialized in making sausage, we could call 2003 “The best of times and the wurst of times.”But we don’t.There were no Black Hawk helicopters or radiation monitors in 2003, even though John Ashcroft was here for Christmas. But we did use Eagle County’s only metal detector when Kobe came to town. Ryan and Trista needed no such security measures – love is their shield and they seem to be deep in it, and good for them.Here, then, are our favorite stories from 2003, or at least the ones we could make fun of.The Kobe ChroniclesKobe Bryant is not just a basketball player, he’s an industry and the folks who make their livings from him aren’t going to let their gravy train get derailed without a fight.For the uninitiated, Young Mr. Bryant showed up in Eagle County on June 30. About 15 minutes later he’d had his way with a local girl, who, the next day, accused him of rape. Cirque de Kobe ensued.He was supposed to get his knee scoped – which he did – without his employer, the Los Angeles Lakers, knowing about it – which they did not. As it turns out, Lakers coach Phil Jackson was about six miles away in Edwards and he didn’t know about any of it either.District Attorney Mark Hurlbert held a press conference in which he insisted Kobe did it. A few hours later, Kobe’s defense attorneys Pamela Mackey and Harold Haddon held a press conference at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in which they insisted Kobe did something silly, but not that. Kobe cried. His wife Vanessa stands by her man.That was July 18, and at the end of that momentous day lots of pithy questions were asked. Foremost among them was, “How much did Aquafina pay for product placement to get those four bottles of water placed on stage in the Staples Center, facing the cameras?”And, “Is it just us, or did all those talking television heads really sound like Dan Aykroyd doing a bad impression of chef Julia Child describing Jell-O molded into erotic shapes as they repeatedly repeated the word, “ConSENsual!?!”Cheers and jeersAnd so began the media circus that put Eagle in the national spotlight. It reached its shrieking crescendo on Aug. 6 when Young Mr. Bryant made his first court appearance, and about 300 people showed up to cheer and jeer. On Aug. 7, the Bryant family made a well-staged but probably ill-timed appearance in The Magic Kingdom, leading to another pithy question: “Kobe Bryant, you’ve just been arrested for sexual assault! What are you going to do now?”And speaking of pithy questions, a bunch of people from the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office managed to get themselves into the middle of a stinkfest for ordering 76 T-shirts that lampooned Young Mr. Bryant. It brings us to a multiple choice question for our law enforcement friends:(A) Are you eaten up with silliness?(B) Or what?About the only sensible advice from the conversational hurricane surrounding the case came from a caller to ESPN radio. He encouraged Young Mr. Bryant to fire all his bodyguards, who haven’t actually done a good job guarding his body or anything else, and hire a nanny and a couple junior high-aged babysitters to be named later. Bring the wife and daughter with you, said the caller. Unlike those body guards, if the wife and the nanny throw a defensive double team, they can keep Kobe away from teen-aged girls, and teen-aged girls away from Kobe – at least teen-aged girls he’s not married to – and save him from himself.Laker fans figured he’d be fine when he picked a fight with Shaq during training camp. San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings fans hoped Shaq would finally pound him into the ground like a tent stake.The case will take until summer to slog through the courts, with every subtle nuance dissected by analysts who keep asking local teenagers what they think, if anything. Local journalists have found themselves thrust into the fray, both revered and reviled around the globe, as dozens of television trucks surround the courthouse to beam to breathlessly awaiting masses the images of Kobe walking in and Kobe walking out.The alleged victim, we are told, is hanging in there as well as could be expected for someone whose phone rings all day every day with whack-jobs screaming into the answering machine to question her motives, morals, matronage, and threatening to kill her and work her over with a coat hanger afterward.For his part, to prove his love once and forever, Kobe got a tattoo featuring the names of his wife and his daughter. Love may be temporary, but tattoos are forever.Which leads us to …Sister golden hairWhen reality television collided with reality in Vail this year, it raised the question, “Do you have the right to run into a crowded firehouse and yell “MOVIE!’?”Someone double-dog dared Vail firefighter stud-god Ryan Sutter to send his application to the ABC television network, so that he might woo the Fair Trista Rehn – along with a dozen and a half other suitors – on “The Bachelorette.” Trista, to her great credit, saw past the silly-looking stocking cap and into his heart, which sprouted poetry and is apparently as pure as the driven snow upon which he so skillfully snowboards.Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, the Fair Trista is a woman of strong mind and strong spirit. She’s also apparently some sort of brainiac who spends a bunch of time helping kids do all kinds of stuff better. We witnessed her persuasive powers when, during her visit to Vail, she had the entire Vail Fire Department eating salads for lunch.Ryan was immediately smitten – Cupid’s arrow skewered the lad.As viewership grew and suitors were sent packing, viewers were split into two camps, fans of Ryan (Us) and fans of Charlie (Them). Public interest grew to the point that the Vail Fire Department had to post signs outside the fire house: “Ryan is on duty” and “Ryan is NOT on duty.” Mostly it was interest by eligible young women who were secretly rooting for Charlie, so that Ryan would be heartbroken and need comfort, which they would provide on several spiritual, emotional and physical levels.At that point, any single guy who said he didn’t want to be Ryan was lying. Let’s examine the facts: she’s stunning, she’s smart, she’s strong, and she’s looking at you. If you’re not looking back you don’t have the sense God gave gravel.Ryan looked back at her, and as the romance unfolded in the privacy of millions of American television households, he never looked back again. In mortal combat, Ryan bested the rest but the losers got to race go-karts on their way out, which is also pretty cool.The pair became a growth industry as magazines, newspapers and television made them international celebrities. Even Ryan’s brother got into the act. He’s a bartender at a local libation location, and some young women mistakenly thought he was Ryan. Ever the entrepreneur, he charged them $20 each to have their photos taken with him. Ryan, it turns out, did not get a cut of the money.But he got everything else, including the girl.ABC, Vail Resorts and few other sponsors funded the wedding to the tune of about $1 million. There was the mini-series of wedding planning in which Ryan protested pink China, and was seen wandering down the beach during his bachelor party with women who were not the Fair Trista. It was a brief rough patch, but love shall overcome.Like all soon-to-be-married guys, Ryan finally came to understand that weddings are about the bride and that his role is to be a human wardrobe accessory. His job is simple:- Show up.- On time.- Clean.- Dressed in the attire she chose for you.- Answer in the affirmative when you’re asked a question.They’re in the process of living happily ever after.Which leads us to …Sink Hole de MayoIf Interstate 70 in East Vail had had the good sense to collapse a week or two earlier, on May 5, we would have been blessed with the all-time greatest name for a semi-natural semi-disaster – Sink Hole de Mayo.The highway was brought low by the second-most destructive force of nature – running water (romantic love is first.) It left a hole big enough to hold all the red ink Vail Resorts hemorrhaged this year – $14.5 million before they “reassigned” their accountant- and attracted the attentions of everyone from U.S. congressmen looking sincere and concerned to government-funded construction companies hot on the trail of a cost overrun.When it was finally over, Our Government managed to pay for a bunch of it by handing out speeding tickets to scofflaws who ignored the giant flashing neon signs that guaranteed them a citation if the Colorado State Patrol – whose troopers were congregated at the sink hole construction site like it was the free world’s last surviving donut shop – caught them speeding down Vail Pass. When hauled before The Court, many of these motorists had the nerve to act surprised.Sink Hole de Mayo was finally repaired, and they all traveled happily ever after.Which leads us to …Big-box boogieSpeaking of happily ever after, Avon gave away at least 15 years of sales taxes to get a couple big-box stores in their town. Suffice it to say that you couldn’t get much on Trista’s bridal registry at The Home Depot, but Ryan would be right at home in the big boys’ toy store.Some folks say it was a royal hammering, but for Avon’s Powers that Be that orange shimmer in the night sky is the afterglow of a successful coupling. The project even comes with its own Wal-Mart Supercenter as well as a set of brand new Avon roundabouts, so you remember what town you’re in.Magnus Lindholm is the developer, and he’s talking about a couple cut-rate gas stations and a discount liquor store.There are no big boxes planned for Edwards, but Eagle is getting into the act with something about the size of Mile High Stadium, all surrounded with a bunch of All American urban sprawl.When it’s all done, you’ll be to able purchase fossil fuels, alcohol, firearms and first aid supplies in one location – the makings of a wonderful celebration. Pencil it in for next New Year’s Eve, or maybe Arbor Day.The party continues.Which leads us to …Taped for terrorAmerica went to war last spring to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq. He was finally fished out of a hole under a farmhouse a couple weeks ago sporting a huge beard and a suitcase stuffed with $750,000. Among the words he squeaked when he was caught were, “I am the president of the people’s republic of Iraq.” Apparently he hadn’t seen a newspaper in a while.Between opening fire and catching the scoundrel, tourists apparently became a little jittery about traveling, especially during March when Vail does about a quarter of its business for the year – this despite President Dubya’s reassurances that we’d all be just fine if we’d gird our loins – and gird the rest of ourselves in plastic sheeting and duct tape.As a result, Vail Resorts says it lost $14.5 million last year. The Company in the Company Town said that right up to the time it got itself a new chief financial officer.The Securities and Exchange Commission is casting a wary eye over The Company’s ledger books. We’re not sure who’s casting a wary eye over the SEC.Which leads us to …The $8 million manVail Resorts Big Kahuna Adam Aron was handed an $8 million bonus for his performance leading the company the past few years, which was actually pretty good, if you don’t count his goals against average as a goalie in pick-up hockey games.The bonus is good; the timing is bad. It comes during another round of layoffs, spending cuts and other austerity measures that do not reach as far as the buffet table at Vail Resorts board of directors meetings. Those meetings tend to be confabs of movers and shakers who mightily influence stuff like presidential politics, but huff because they can’t get a town councilman elected.Which leads us to …Presidents on paradeWhile the Biased Media (and remember that no one really wants an unbiased media, they want a media biased in their direction) are absolutely aglow over finally having Something Meaningful to write about with the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary just around the corner, Mr. Aron and other owners of bunches of disposable income are the darlings of presidential aspirants looking to round up renegade dollars for their campaigns.The First Law of Campaigning was written for places like Vail, Beaver Creek and Eagle County, which is: “Go where the money is.”Among the Facts of Financial Life are these: The People Who Must Be Seen go to Aspen. The People Who Own the People Who Must Be Seen come to Vail.And that pretty much explains why Democratic contenders like Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark beat a path through the Happy Valley.Thar’s gold in them thar hills, and party politics parties on.Which leads us to …BB&B bites the DustThe party is over, at least this one. Those faithful practitioners of revisionist history will insist that it was Minnie’s Deck to which Vail founder Pete Seibert took prospective investors. It was there, the legend goes, that he would wine and dine them as they absorbed the alpine splendor and enough alcohol to convince them to cut loose with their checkbooks.That’s mostly not true, but neither are most of the other tales spun on Minnie’s Deck, especially during the annual season-ending party, BB&B. The whole thing started as an excuse to call in well to work and spend the day on the mountain.It began to fall apart when revelers began ingesting the kinds of substances that make them climb to the tops of trees, stick their thumbs in the air and try to hitch a ride off the planet.It also didn’t help that they left enough trash behind to practically get Minnie’s Deck declared a Superfund site.At the behest of The Company in the Company Town, the Forest Service, who had to clean up the mess, pulled the plug.Which leads us to …High heatSummer travelers, known to the Happy Valley’s many marketeers as “rubber tire tourists” because they generally drive, could actually fly this year. But it was helpful if they were from Texas, or didn’t mind flying through Texas.American Airlines launched daily summer flights between Dallas/Fort Worth and the Eagle County airport. It was a huge success, which made everyone in Aspen absolutely nuts – another added bonus.Which leads us to …Towering infernalSpeaking of people going in and out, the Eagle County airport is home to a dandy new air traffic control tower. Pilots and air traffic controllers can keep track of each other at all times, which works out well. Sen. Ben Nighthorse-Campbell corralled the millions of federal dollars needed to build the thing, after being lectured severely about the head and shoulders for years by various local political Powers That Be.Which leads us to …County coughersEagle County’s towns, which all claim to be in desperate financial straits, committed at least six of the Seven Deadly Sins when they cast an amorous eye on Eagle County’s budget reserves.State law requires the county to stack up a bunch of money in case hard times happen to befall us – real hard times, not the faux financial follies in which places like Aspen are forced to make the brutal choice between brie and cheddar snacks at their town council meetings.Vail felt particularly strained. We’re trying real hard to understand how a town of fewer than 4,000 people with a budget of more than $30 million can’t seem to make ends meet. As it turns out, the towns have their own savings accounts of proportional size, and the county more or less told them to go pound sand.It opened a whole new chapter in community relationships.Which leads us to …Big bam boomAvon’s Fourth of July fireworks were cancelled for the second straight year, then uncanceled, creating more emotional gyrations than a daytime soap opera, which could lead us straight back to the Kobe Chronicles, but won’t. In the meantime, Eagle and Gypsum put together a dandy July 4 celebration at the Eagle County fairgrounds. As it turns out, while the Eagle/Gypsum celebration was going on, one of those private planes flying overhead to land at the Eagle County airport contained Kobe and Vanessa Bryant, winging Kobe to the Sheriff’s Office where he turned himself in for alleged felony misbehavior.He was headed back to L.A. about an hour later, riding off into the sunset. It gave a whole new meaning to the term, “Independence Day.”Which leads us to …And they’re offYou’d think they’d proposed Communism when the Eagle County school district changed school start times. Like most government proposals that don’t deal with a new football stadium, this one went pretty much unnoticed until a bunch of parents realized they’d actually have to deal with their own children, when all they really wanted were some nice-looking young people they could send off to college on a full scholarship.They threatened stuff like lawsuits, until they realized that lawsuits, and lawyers, cost a bunch of money. They also realized they’d be also shelling out the bunch of money the school district would use to defend itself against them.In the end it had the added attraction of getting the Body Politic involved in the school district – both a blessing and a curse for the school district. Parents are like horses – they’re generally great from a distance of about 500 yards.Which leads us to …Eagle on iceEagle opened a new swimming pool and ice rink, not on the same puddle of water. At one time there was a moderate outcry from the Body Politic because it claimed it had made its wishes perfectly clear for an indoor pool and an outdoor ice rink. Apparently, either Eagle’s Body Politic or Eagle’s Powers That Be are dyslexic because they got an outdoor pool and an indoor ice rink.Still, the whole complex is seriously cool, especially the ice rink (insert rimshot – or slapshot – here), and there was great rejoicing when it was opened last summer and fall with an Octoberfest that included all kinds of beer.The ice rink opening sparked great revelry among dentists who are already counting on a couple extra boat payments from the parents of an increasing number of hockey players.Which leads us to …Roundabout-us interrruptusThe good folks in Gypsum were about to jump on the roundabout go-round, and were planning to build a roundabout at the I-70 interchange. They had the money, the plans in place and the determination To Get the Job Done. They even moved in a big bunch of dirt to do it.They came to find out, though, that it’s a state highway, and the Colorado Department of Transportation thought that if someone was going to build a roundabout on their highway, they’d like to be informed and involved.CDOT handed down from On High its official Okey Dokey, and the city of Gypsum should start pulverizing pavement sometime this spring.They’re also looking at what can only be described as an Oblong-About where U.S. Highway 6, Valley Road, Estes Lane and Eagle Street all meet.If you look both ways before proceeding, you’ll just about have to go to a chiropractor.Various wonderfulness- Road construction finally finished on Highway 6 through Eagle-Vail in November. The official line was that the sun would burn out in about 13 billion years and the project would have to be finished in the dark.- Speaking of construction, Vail’s four redevelopment applications were approved during the year, launching what’s being called Vail’s New Dawn. We’re not sure what happened with the Old Dawn. The four projects are Vail’s “Front Door” submitted by Vail Resorts, the Four Seasons Resort, the Tivoli Lodge and the Sonnenalp Swiss Haus.- Vail bought Timber Ridge, so they’d have somewhere to put the people who polish the Beemers. They needed to polish Timber Ridge, which is having mold problems. The Middle Creek affordable housing complex also broke ground next to swanky Spraddle Creek In Vail, putting pirates next to the palaces. Vail Resorts, which didn’t get the bid, claimed Middle Creek was too big, although they had proposed building an even bigger project. Go figure.- The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper was named the best album of all time, again, and Vail stole an idea from it. Twenty years ago today, more or less, Vail started talking about building a fire station in West Vail. Unlike the Beatles, Vail’s still talking.- The Vail Daily’s Bob Brown was named Colorado Newspaper Person of the Year. If you think we’re going to lampoon our company’s Big Boss, you’ve been drinking mag chloride. Congratulations, Bob.- A Freeway Runs Through It, and while freeways carry stuff like cars and trucks, the Vail town council apparently thinks they should make no noise. They threatened to hammer trucks that sound like trucks with huge fines. In the end, they decided to study the matter.- Red Cliff’s drinking-water problems put a new spin on that line from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet:” “To boil or not to boil.”- Vail finished its 40th anniversary celebration and started on year 41. On that inaugural opening day in 1962, about two dozen paying customers showed up. The worst day was in January 1963, when 12 skiers rode the lifts, paying $5 each for their lift tickets. On another day that opening season, Vail founder Pete Seibert counted 50 employees and 38 paying customers scattered over Vail’s seven square miles.- And while we’re in the Crossbar Hotel, accused embezzler Brandon Outlaw allegedly stole about the same amount of money from local homeowners associations that Saddam Hussein had in his suitcase when he was caught. While he was awaiting sentencing in Eagle County – Outlaw, not Hussein – he was busted in Oklahoma for allegedly selling drugs. Turns out he has at least one other felony conviction in the Sooner State.- For the third-straight year, a bunch of Vail women trekked to the Redneck Riviera and won the Flora-Bama Lounge Mullet Toss. Basically, they throw fish as far as they can. With the possibility of golf, softball and Beaver Creek’s Extreme Musical Chairs, it’s as good an excuse to drink beer in the sunshine as exists on this planet.- The Teva Mountain Games returned to Vail despite Sink Hole de Mayo, creating the possibility of a new marketing slogan: “In Vail, everyone deserves a paddling.”- In June, the new Harry Potter book came out, “Harry Potter and the Bushel of Money.”- The sun came up in the east, set in the west, and Michael Cacioppo sued the school district.- Mel Preusser retired as school district superintendent, leaving John Brendza to deal with the new school schedule, and Michael Cacioppo suing the school district with more regularity than a sunset on laxatives – which depicts regularity on several levels.- The county commissioners decided to spend $2 million in Eagle County tax money for a conservation easement on the Bair Ranch, most of which isn’t in Eagle County. The deal flew apart, and they’re now talking to the Bair Brother who actually owns the 1,000 or so acres in Eagle County.- About 30 years ago, Vail’s Rod Slifer started a distinguished tenure as Vail’s Mayor.- About two months ago, Vail’s Rod Slifer started a distinguished tenure as Vail’s Mayor.- If you do everything right when you raise your kid, she’ll turn out like Kim Smith of Eagle. Besides pulling a grade point average so high that it poked a new hole in the ozone, the Eagle Valley grad won her third straight state track title in the 800 meters, setting a state record. Then she walked away from track to pursue higher education.That’s it. Feel free to turn to the person next to you and think up stuff we left out.