Vail’s year in review
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part year in review.
By Scott N. Miller
EAGLE COUNTY – Now that the world hasn’t ended (silly Mayans), the Vail Daily’s annual year in review remains on the to-do list. So let’s dive on into the year that was, as long as we all understand that we might miss an item or few along the way.
Most news stories come and go, but there were a few things that, like dandruff or sensitive teeth, just wouldn’t go away. Here they are:
Vail’s 50th: We’ll start with best long-running story in the valley. The people who created Vail had no idea that their idea for a new ski area near Vail Pass would turn into all this. Still, they thought big, worked hard and paved the way for what became one of the premier resorts in the world.
It’s taken years of work, along with some hefty spending, to pull off a party worthy of Pete, Earl and everyone else who came that first winter and shortly thereafter.
That’s worth a party, and the celebrations so far have been a fitting tribute.
The drought: When Vail’s Back Bowls didn’t open until well into January, we all thought, “We’re just going through a (literal) dry spell. The snow will come soon enough.”
We were wrong. A cruddy snow season turned into a year of low streamflows, dry ground and forests that quickly turned tinder-dry. We got through the year with lawns still mostly green and fish still mostly alive, but we need the snow to return this season, for all the reasons above and more.
Politics: It’s over now – and, like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, doesn’t it feel good now that it’s stopped? – but people all over the state were subjected to endless TV and radio ads pretty much demonizing anything having to do with things political. The good news is that local and regional politicians pretty much stayed on a positive path. Still, yuck.
Traer Creek: The town of Avon and the developers of the Village at Avon spent almost all year locked in a legal wrestling match that chewed up countless hours and bunches of taxpayer and private dollars to reach a settlement in a long-running legal battle. The battle also gave us a virtual river of righteous indignation from neighbors of the project, who really, really, really didn’t like what the settlement produced.
After announcing the framework of a settlement in October of 2011, the parties finally got most of their work done by the end of November. If the brains of those involved could talk, they’d all still be saying “ouch.”
The slowest bounce: The Vail Valley’s real estate market continued its slow crawl back from the depths it hit in 2009. Most months this year have shown improvements in both transactions and dollar volume from 2011. And, as of the end of October, the most recent month for which data is available, the dollar volume for 2012 was nearly equal that for the entire year of 2011.
Prices are still low, and there are still a lot of bank sales and foreclosures in the valley, but it looks like a slow, steady climb has begun.
Now, on to a roughly chronological look at the year that was.
• Vail’s founders brought in a group of snow dancers from the Southern Ute tribe before opening the ski area in December of 1962. They came, and the snow stayed that winter.
Vail Resorts tried the same thing in January. The dancers got some results, but not enough to stave off what was to come.
• A light snow year created havoc in Red Cliff when the town’s water lines froze tight. The town depends on insulation from snow to keep its water lines running
• With little snow on the mountains, there was still less on the valley floor at Gypsum. With bare ground abounding, the Gypsum Creek golf course opened for limited play.
• Four members of a deeply split Avon Town Council decided it was time to change town managers. Larry Brooks, who had held the town’s top administrative job for nearly a decade and had worked for the town for nearly 30 years, announced his resignation. Brooks received a generous severance package – he was paid nearly his entire 2011 salary to serve as a part-time consultant.
• Dave and Renie Gorsuch were inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame. The Gorsuches, who started their sporting goods and clothing business near Crested Butte in the early 1960s but quickly relocated to Vail, are still hard at work. The couple still put in 10-hour days and seven-day weeks on buying trips.
• Taft Conlin, 13, was killed in an avalanche on Vail Mountain. Nearly 1,000 people attended his memorial service.
• More than two years after shooting four people – and killing Dr. Gary Kitching, of Carbondale – at the Sandbar in Vail, Richard “Rossi” Moreau went on trial in a courtroom in Georgetown. While the shooting was captured on the bar’s video cameras, various motions and hearings – including a psychological evaluation to determine whether Moreau was mentally competent to stand trial – delayed the trial. A change of venue to Georgetown further delayed the trial.
Moreau was convicted of first degree murder and seven other crimes related to the shooting and sentenced to life in prison plus 80 years.
At a sentencing hearing in early March, Moreau showed no remorse for the shooting.
“This is somebody that has shown no remorse for the crime, for the death of a human being and near-death of two others,” District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said.
• The first Teva Winter Mountain Games came to Vail for a weekend of telemark big-air skiing, snowshoe racing, ice and rock climbing and similar events.
• Since 2008, the town of Minturn has had more than $11 million in the bank it couldn’t use. That changed in February.
The town and the developers of the proposed Battle Mountain Resort completed an agreement – and unanimously approved a set of resolutions – for the two entities to release about $11.6 million in escrow funds that were first put on deposit in 2008, when The Ginn Company first sought approval for a private ski, golf and residential resort on Battle Mountain.
The final agreement gives the town access to more than $4.3 million for various projects and improvements. Battle Mountain gets the bulk of the money to help the company fight a pair of lawsuits that have challenged the town’s 2008 annexation of the property and another suit over ownership of the land. Battle Mountain will also use the escrow funds to help gain Environmental Protection Agency approval to expand Bolts Lake, an essential source of water storage for the project.
• After failing to pass a tax increase in 2011, the Eagle County School Board had to try to close a nearly $5 million hole in its budget. Cuts ultimately included teachers, transportation and programs, including some high school language programs.
• There’s snow, and there’s business. While most of North America was suffering from a snow drought, Vail Resorts still had good news for investors during its quarterly earnings call in March. For the second quarter of its fiscal year – December, January and February – the company announced an increase in shareholder dividends. The company also announced that pass sales had increased even while skier visits had declined. The company was charging more for both lodging and dining, and international visits grew even while skier numbers fell.
Not bad for what company president Rob Katz called a “worst case” snow season.
• The SnowBall Music Festival came to Avon’s Nottingham Park for the second year. While people seemed to have a good time, and town businesses reported brisk sales of just about everything, the festival still rankled many residents.
There were more than 140 arrests – mostly related to drugs and alcohol – and neighbors continued to complain about the noise from the performances.
• With snowpack on the hillsides continuing to languish, golf courses in Eagle and Gypsum both opened for the season.
In Gypsum, course manager Susie Helmerich said the course recorded about 1,500 rounds in two weeks, with many of those golfers coming from Vail and Beaver Creek. In fact, the folks in Gypsum had to borrow rental equipment from the Vail Golf Club to meet the demand.
• After months of discussion, the Vail Town Council authorized a $5 million sale of a portion of its municipal site to a partnership of Vail Valley Medical Center, the Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute. Plans called for the medical partners to build a new building on the western portion of the property, while the town would build a new town hall, using money from the property sale and its cash reserves. The sale wouldn’t close until the medical building had been issued a building permit.
• Voters in Red Cliff, Eagle County’s oldest town, elected a new mayor and three new town board members and returned an incumbent to office who had been appointed earlier in the year.
Scott Burgess won the mayor’s job. Newcomers Jake Spears, Jaclyn Parks, Kelli Holtz and Chris Keran also earned seats on the town board. Anuschka Bales, appointed earlier in the year, returned to the board.
• The U.S. Postal Service had earlier in 2012 announced it might have to close some rural post offices, including those in Red Cliff, Bond and Burns. In April, the U.S. Senate passed the “21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012,” that included language requiring the postal service to keep its rural post offices open for at least another year.
• Eric Callaghan, who had broken into numerous automated teller machines in Eagle and Summit counties, pleaded guilty to seven felonies related to a nearly two-year crime spree.
• John Kedrowski, who started out at Eagle Valley High School, successfully climbed Mount Everest.
• A massive truck crash on Mother’s Day killed the driver and badly damaged the Interstate 70 overpass in Avon. The first firefighters from the Eagle River Fire Protection District were on the scene in less than two minutes, but the flames still raged.
Avon residents Lara Wahl and Bradley Zellefrow were driving under the I-70 bridges when the crash occurred. The truck’s two trailers flipped over the bridges and landed on the road below, on the couple’s car. They escaped with just minor injuries.
• The second time was the charm for the proposed Eagle River Station commercial and residential project in Eagle. Voters in 2010 had rejected the proposal, but after a second trip through the town’s approval process, and a second special election, the project was approved by 55 percent of voters.
• Just weeks after the truck crash, the Chambertin Townhomes in Avon caught fire. Again, firefighters were on the scene in mere moments. But given the winds gusting to 40 mph or more that day, crews could only keep the blaze from spreading to neighboring buildings and the sagebrush hillside across the street.
No one was injured in the fire, but residents at the townhomes lost everything in the fire, from eyeglasses to cars. A fund-raiser in early June raised more than $18,000 for the fire victims.
• Rapidly-dwindling snowpack meant spring streamflows peaked early, and well below their seasonal averages, to boot. As the valley dried out, local fire officials were worried, and many agreed that it would be remarkable if the valley avoided a major wildfire.
Those fears proved unfounded, with just a few small fires reported. But, anticipating that any small fire could quickly become a big one, local fire chiefs pledged to hit every fire with just about everything they had.
Proof of the formula came during a small wildfire on Castle Peak near Eagle. That fire, which burned fewer than 10 acres, was hit by crews from multiple agencies, along with air drops from both helicopters and tanker planes.
Given what happened in Colorado Springs and near Fort Collins, that strategy was probably well-founded.
• The owners of the Club at Cordillera filed for bankruptcy in June, the day a $12.7 million loan was due to a local bank.
The club – which does not include the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera – was also embroiled in a legal dispute with its members.