We welcomed the world in 2015
This story has been corrected to reflect that Sandy Treat was Sandy Treat III, not junior.
EAGLE COUNTY — While the rest of the world’s trip to hell in a handbasket seems to have found a new, faster speed in 2015, life in the Vail Valley was really pretty good — with a sprinkling of the weird, the unpleasant and the downright awful.
With that in mind, here’s a look back at the year that was, with advance notice that something important will almost surely be left out — with no malice intended. So let’s start with the cool stuff that came our way in 2015.
Welcoming the world
Our valley, and particularly the tireless folks at the Vail Valley Foundation, put on a roughly $55 million party for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. For two weeks, we had the pleasure of hosting the best skiers on the planet, and what a show they provided!
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We welcomed hometown heroes Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and Sarah Schleper — skiing for Mexico in the twilight of her career. Mikaela shined brightest — the way she beamed from the winner’s podium dimmed even the bright TV lights.
It was all good, friends. Rooms and restaurants were full; for the most part, the weather was just about ideal; and the people who packed the grandstands at the Red Tail finish stadium in Beaver Creek cheered like — well, pick the most rabid fans you can think of.
Best of all, while there were some on-mountain injuries — let’s all share a shiver remembering Bode Miller’s on-course crash — the two weeks of events ran smoothly, and whatever trouble police responded to barely rose to the level of mischief.
Absolutely everyone involved earned major kudos with this party.
Welcoming the world, part 2
With the cheers from Red Tail stadium still fresh in our ears, snowboarding’s brightest stars returned to Vail for the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships. While those not in the know may have a hard time telling the difference between halfpipe lingo and the latest marijuana strains, we do know great performances when we see them, no matter what they’re called.
It’ll be some time before FIS brings its biannual party back to our fair valley, but Burton has quickly become a welcome annual event. We can’t wait to see what tricks the sports brightest stars bring to the valley in just a few short weeks.
Welcoming the world, part 3
Speaking of annual extravaganzas, the GoPro Mountain Games once again brought kayakers, climbers, slackliners and others back to the valley in June. From whitewater to singletrack, we have several days to call these great athletes our own.
In a valley founded by, and full of, great athletes, these events really put jumping jewels in our crown.
With slow but steady growth in the nation’s economy, it’s no surprise that the valley’s tourism economy continues to grow, as evidenced by increases in sales tax collections.
As it has been from the start, Vail remains our biggest tourist attractions, with the most hotel and condo rooms, shops, restaurants and other bright baubles of leisure-industry commerce.
The admittedly good problem with all this is that the valley’s peak weeks and weekends can’t really grow much more, and there’s no new lodging on the horizon. That leaves us wondering how to bring people to the valley during slow periods — many of which are in the middle of the week. That’s a tough thing to do for a destination that touts its family-friendliness.
Real estate’s return
Like tourism, real estate in our economy largely depends on how the broader national economy is performing. For 2015, real estate sales have almost completely rebounded from the lows of the national economic slump that hit in earnest in 2008. The Eagle County real estate market will almost certainly top $1.5 billion in total sales this year. That’s still a good distance from the years of $2 billion or more during the boom years from 2005-07, but it’s also a long way from 2009, when the market failed to hit the $1 billion mark for the first time since the 1980s.
As we all know, real estate is all about location, but homes in general are selling, and values are rising. We aren’t in a seller’s market — yet — but the days of the screamin’ deal are a relic of 2010.
The flip side of an improving market is that first-time buyers again have trouble finding anything to buy. Brokers are complaining about lack of inventory, from high end to entry level. There’s building going on, but, as with most things housing-related in the Vail Valley, it seems that supply and demand are usually out of synch one way or another.
Housing — it’s a crisis again
Along with the lack of entry-level inventory, the rental market is once again out of whack. There are few places to rent, and free-market rental rates have risen. Local governments are again talking about housing — particularly in Vail, where it looks like construction will start in 2016 on a long-discussed for-sale project at the Chamonix property behind the West Vail fire station.
The Lion’s Ridge Apartments — the replacement for the east end of the Timber Ridge property in Vail — will be finished in 2016, and they’re nice. But expect demand to outstrip supply.
Any real relief is at least a few years out.
Pot finding its place
The local marijuana market continues to search for stability.
A marijuana-growing facility on existing agricultural land near Gypsum was approved in January, and other proposals are in the works.
Meanwhile, the Vail Town Council spent a good part of the year discussing whether or not to allow retail shops in town. In August, the council finally agreed to make permanent a temporary moratorium on retail shops — the town had earlier banned medical dispensaries.
That leaves Eagle as the only town in the valley where retail sales are allowed. The other outlets are in unincorporated Eagle County, particularly along the “Green Mile” in Eagle-Vail, along U.S. Highway 6 both east and west of the Vail Daily’s office. And yes, we’ve already heard all of the jokes.
An ‘off’ year in politics
While odd-numbered years are supposed to be relatively easy for those who cover local politics, there was still a good bit of interest and intrigue on the local political scene.
The year started with Gypsum-area Democrat Jeanne McQueeney’s swearing in for a seat on the Eagle County commissioners, replacing term-limited Sara Fisher. James van Beek was sworn in as the county’s new sheriff, replacing Joe Hoy.
That left a fairly fallow period in local politics, but the scene got active in the late summer and early fall.
The Eagle County School Board was by far the most interesting race, in which a slate of candidates backed by the district’s teachers faced off against a group of candidates seen as backing the Eagle County Charter Academy in Edwards.
There were allegations that the Charter Academy candidates were running as a group with the intent of riding Superintendent Jason Glass into the sunset, as a way to maintain the virtually all-white status of the school.
Among the problems with that line of thinking was that while there were contested races for all four available seats, only three charter-favoring candidates were running for election to a seven-member board — that’s not a majority.
In the end, Carolyn Knox Keep and Kevin Kottenstette joined incumbents Tessa Kirchner and Felicia Battle on the board.
In Vail, the fall election season was fairly quiet. While a majority of seats were available on the Town Council, and only one incumbent was running, only seven people ran for office.
On election night, Kim Langmaid — who grew up in Vail — earned the most votes, followed by fellow newcomer Jen Mason. Kevin Foley, who has been on and off the council over the years, also earned a seat.
But the evening ended in a tie between incumbent Ludwig Kurz and Dick Cleveland, a former council member and mayor. Cleveland ultimately won the seat by a mere four votes.
The weirdest political story of the year also happened in November, but away from the ballot box, in Eagle. There, the Town Board unanimously suspended Town Manager Jon Stavney in late November and ultimately accepted his resignation a couple of weeks later.
The move set off a firestorm in town, since Stavney had served a decade on the board and had twice been elected county commissioner. Two Town Board members, meanwhile, were sanctioned — without further fines or penalties — by state officials earlier in the year for what turned out to be an illegal trip to Florida paid for by a developer.
By the way, five Town Board seats are up for election in April.
Our seamier side
While the Vail Valley is widely known as a playground, we’re not immune to some of the worse elements of human nature.
In July, Timothy Joseph Hay, a former Eagle County Sheriff’s Deputy, pleaded guilty to a pair of misdemeanors, avoiding a felony trial on three counts of sexual assault stemming from a 2014 incident in Gypsum.
Holly Sandoval also pleaded guilty, in this case to felony theft after she embezzled thousands of dollars from Eagle Valley High School’s Project graduation program.
Traci Cunningham was just passing through Eagle County and picked a remote area south of Gypsum to murder her adoptive mother, Penelope.
After her trial was moved from Eagle to Georgetown, Cunningham was tried and convicted, and in early September was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jesus Manuel Miranda Jr. is facing more than two dozen charges for a September incident that involved two attempted robberies, the shooting of a man in Gypsum and a chase that extended into Garfield County. Schools in Gypsum and Eagle were put on lockdown, and the manhunt lasted more than 12 hours.
Avon’s Salute to the USA event is one of the biggest parties in the Vail Valley. The July 3 festivities this year was marred by the misfire of a five-inch shell, which tipped over a rack of other shells, causing it to zoom into the crowd. Nine people were injured and treated at Vail Valley Medical Center.
The company in our company town, Vail Resorts, always makes plenty of news, and 2015 was no different.
The biggest news was the July announcement that the company would combine its two Utah resorts, Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, which the company acquired in 2014. That combination created the largest single ski resort in North America, at more than 7,000 acres. The company also spent $50 million on improvements to the resorts.
In late June, the company closed the deal for its purchase of Perisher Ski Resort in Australia. If the company hasn’t yet used “It’s Epic, mate” in its advertising Down Under, why not?
Earlier this month, the company announced the creation of a new foundation to help employees, as well as that it would provide $30 million toward employee housing in the resorts its serves.
That latter piece will have to stretch over several resorts. Still, it’s money in the pot for projects.
In October, Beaver Creek’s ski instructors announced they were working to unionize. No vote has been held or is scheduled at the moment. If the effort succeeds, the instructors will join the ski patrol in Telluride as the latest resort workers to unionize.
In November, Cintas, a business-supply company, announced that the new public restrooms in Eagle Town Park in Minturn had won the firm’s America’s Best Restroom contest.
It took years to pull together a land exchange in and around Avon. Far more quickly, the West Avon Preserve was created, opening a haven for cyclists and hikers. The town’s dedication to leaving the area as truly open space was reinforced in August, when the Town Council voted to deny a proposal to host a portion of the GoPro Mountain Games on the parcel.
The valley lost several notable residents in 2015.
In January, Sandy Treat III, a well-known local builder and developer, lost his battle with cancer.
In March, we lost Don Simonton. Simonton was a dynamo in the budding Vail community, starting the first full-time Lutheran ministry in town. He helped create the Vail Interfaith Chapel and the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum, and touched countless people along the way.
He also left two sons, Denny and Cliff, as well-respected community members.
In October, we lost Minturn native and Turntable restaurant owner Darla Goodell.
All are missed, and still loved.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.