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Vail Veterans Program back on snow with vets, families

The Vail Veterans Program invited 11 veterans and their families to participate in the family programming on Vail Mountain with the Vail Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School.
Vail Veterans Program/Courtesy photo

After almost two years, the Vail Veterans Program welcomed 11 veterans and their families back to Vail Mountain this week. The Vail Veterans Program, which was formed in 2004, offers military injured and their families free world-class therapeutic programs designed to build confidence, create life-long relationships and tap into the freedom the mountains bring out in all of us.

Some vets come directly from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX and the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, CA. Other vets are literally veterans of the program and have been involved in these trips a few times, like Mark Haegele, United States Marine Corps Corporal (RET.), who has been to three programs in the past decade.

“I first came to the winter program 10 years ago, but I had come straight from Walter Reed and I don’t remember a lot,” said Haegele, who is a double above-the-knee amputee.

Mark Haegele, United States Marine Corps Corporal (RET.), and his family enjoy a week of skiing, snowboarding, bonding and healing at the Vail Veterans Program week in Vail.
Vail Veterans Program/Courtesy photo

“It’s so much fun this time around. My kids are five and six and learning, and my wife is snowboarding and loving it,” Haegele said.

Haegele is on a mono-ski and has progressed to advanced terrain on the top of the mountain. “I give all the credit to my instructor, but he’s getting to know my style. He knows my mindset from being in the Marines that for me to get something done, he’s got to let me fall and get after it and it’s working, I’m picking it up rather quickly.”

Not all injuries are physical

The Vail Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School provides instruction and modified equipment for the Vail Veterans Program but not all wounded warriors have physical injuries. Cindi Craig was in the U.S. Navy for 22 years and refers to her wounds as being the invisible type.

“I’m very talkative and have a bubbly personality and I mask everything. As a counselor in the Navy I was dealing with everybody else’s pain and not taking care of myself and it just got to be too much,” Craig said.

Craig finally sought treatment in a program called Safe Harbor and one of the therapists recommended she attend a Vail Veterans Program in the summer of 2019. She also attended the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute through the Vail Veterans Program and was thrilled to come to a winter program.

“Being here, I realize that I’m not alone and it makes you realize that you can do all these things no matter what’s going on in your life. So, it sparked some sort of fire in me,” Craig said.

As for the snowboarding, Craig is fired up about that, too.

“I’m bruised and sore after three days of learning, but I’m going to get after it out there today,” Craig said.

Cindi Craig, U.S. Navy Chief (RET.), snowboards down Gopher Hill on Vail Mountain during the Vail Veterans Program event this week as her instructor, Florence Linet, looks on.
Vail Veterans Program/Courtesy photo

The group is small, and even though the schedule is full of skiing and snowboarding during the day and dinners and activities like bowling and tubing at night the bonding that occurs creates life-long friendships.

“You share so much here. Someone at dinner last night said ‘I think meeting you is the reason I was meant to be on this trip,’ and it made me cry, because they can’t see my physical wounds but I shared with them my invisible wounds and it showed that person that I have problems just like them, we can all relate. The connections we’ve all made this week have been amazing,” Craig said.

The Vail Veterans Program offers these events and others throughout the year at no charge to the veterans and their families. To learn more, go to vailveteransprogram.org.

Local photographer selected for Art of the State exhibition

“Juniper’s Last Gasp” by Raj Manickam overlays a photo of a dead juniper tree taken at the Colorado National Monument with an image of a trash pile taken during a tour of a local Eagle County landfill.
Raj Manickam/Courtesy Photo

Local photographer Raj Manickam is one of 142 Colorado artists who have been selected to show their work in the Art of the State 2022 exhibition at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.

Every three years, the Arvada Center holds an open call to Colorado artists to submit their work to a panel of jurors, who then select works that reflect the diversity, quality and depth of work of Colorado artists.

This year, the jurors received 2,067 submissions by 734 artists, ultimately selecting 149 works by 142 artists for the 2022 exhibition.

Manickam’s image of two overlaid photographs, “Juniper’s Last Gasp,” was selected by the jury and is now on display at the center. The Art of the State exhibit began on Jan. 20 and will be up through March. 27.

Manickam only began producing fine art photography six years ago, after taking a class at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards. Since then, his work has received numerous awards and been featured in various galleries across the state. He said to be recognized alongside Colorado’s leading artists in the Arvada exhibit is an affirmation of the work he has put into his craft.

​​”The six-year journey is acknowledged in a lot of ways locally here, and to get that same recognition in several galleries in Denver – it’s like some validation is being seen,” Manickam said. “People are noticing what I put out, and I am grateful that they can get a glimpse of what I see. It feels like they know what I’m talking about.”

In “Juniper’s Last Gasp,” Manickam overlaid a photo of a dead juniper tree taken at the Colorado National Monument with an image of a trash pile taken during a tour of a local Eagle County landfill. While the resulting image has a clear aesthetic pull, with the reaching branches of the dead juniper mingling with the formerly bright colors of plastic bottles, Manickam believes it was selected because it has such a clear and poignant message.

“Photos like this evoke more than emotion,” Manickam said. “It brings out the depth of caring for our environment, caring for our surroundings, seeing things that are beyond what we see day to day – if you care enough to pay attention.”

Manickam always seeks to tell a story with his photography, which he writes up alongside the images on his website, AllInGoodLight.com. In describing the story behind “Juniper’s Last Gasp,” Manickam writes:

“Junipers will withstand bone-chilling cold temperatures, scorching heat, intense winds, and with very little water. Enduring all challenges, even the indomitable Juniper will perish if we pollute indiscriminately. Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.”

In addition to being featured in the Art of the State this month, Manickam is also showing his work with photography group Photo Pensato at the The Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center in Pueblo. The exhibit started on Jan. 22 and will run until May 7.

For more information about Manickam and his work, visit AllInGoodLight.com.

Art Walks resume in Vail Village

Learn about the Town of Vail’s public art collection and discover hidden treasures, such as these riddles by artist Carolyn Braaksma.
Art in Public Places/Courtesy Photo

Art in Public Places is offering its first free Art Walk of the year this Wednesday, with four additional dates scheduled between now and the end of the winter season.

The Art Walk is a one-hour tour of the Town of Vail’s public art collection in Vail Village, led by Art in Public Places Coordinator Molly Eppard. The town’s collection grows every year, and currently includes over 60 works ranging from sculptures, murals and playground components to site-integrated art.

While the works of art are strategically installed in public sites and available for viewing by all, the Art Walk presents a unique opportunity to learn the history and background behind both the works and the artists who created them.

Eppard has been the coordinator for the Art in Public Places program for over a decade, and shares how the public art collection has grown in tandem with the overall development of the town.

Tour goers will learn about the myriad of ways in which beauty and design have been a focus for the town since the beginning. In addition to the more prominent works of art, Eppard also shares lesser-known efforts to enhance the visual experience of Vail, such as art-commissioned sewer grates and protected view corridors located throughout the village which ensure that certain views of the surrounding environment will never be blocked by future construction projects.

“What’s great is that you get a bit of everything, from the historical works like the 10th Mountain soldier, to the street integrated art,” Eppard said. “Everything from the trash bins, to some of the sewer grates – which were public art commissions – and then talking about the ornamentation and design of some of the older buildings as well.”

The one-hour Art Walk tour shows how the town’s public art is intricately tied to Vail’s broader history.
Art in Public Places/Courtesy Photo

February is also an optimal time to join the Art Walk, as it will likely be the last month that the Winterfest ice sculptures are incorporated into the tour.

“What will be fun about this tour is that we will go by the Winterfest ice installations, so the guests will be able to make that direct connection between Olive’s mural at the transportation center to what the Winterfest ice looks like this year,” Eppard said.

Eppard includes around 25 works in the tour, all located in Vail Village, and the tour will start and end at the Vail Transportation Center. In addition to sharing the background behind the art, the tour also goes into the larger history of Vail’s development as a resort and town, as Eppard said that the two histories are inextricable.

“We also discuss a lot of the history of the valley, the founding of the mountain, and really how a lot of the public art plays into that history,” Eppard said. “It’s more than just the public art. It’s about the development of the town and how it all came to be.”

The first Art Walk will take place this Wednesday, Feb. 2, from 11 a.m. to noon. The next tour will take place at the same time on Feb. 16, followed by two dates in March (March 2 and 16) and a final winter date on April 6. Art Walks resume again in the summer season.

Art in Public Places Coordinator Molly Eppard, left, with Denver artist Olive Moya, in front of Moya's recently completed mural in the Vail Transportation Center on May 4.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Those who are interested in delving into Vail’s public art collection on their own can explore the ART in Vail digital interactive map, which can be found at ArtInVail.com. Over 60 works have been cataloged, with location, image, artist, year and additional information now available online.

The Art Walks are free for all and require no reservation. For more information about the art collection or the tours, visit ArtInVail.com or contact Molly Eppard at meppard@vailgov.com.


What: Art in Public Places guided Art Walk

Where: Meet at Vail Transportation Center

When: Wednesday, Feb. 2, 11 a.m. to noon

Price: Free


Sustainable Film Series explores water conservation

The screening includes one short film and one feature length film.
Braker Brothers/Courtesy Photo

The Sustainable Community Film Series from the Walking Mountains Science Center continues this Tuesday with a screening of two films focusing on the topic of water scarcity and conservation. The screening will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Riverwalk Theater in Edwards.

The series tackles a different environmental subject each month, and series director Melissa Kirr selects a film – or, in the case of this week, multiple films – that reveal new insights into complex issues and provoke conversation on how to address them on a local level.

Kirr said that she wanted to focus on water scarcity and accessibility this week to emphasize how close to home the issue actually is.

“I think living in the United States, a lot of people think everyone has clean water,” Kirr said. “That it comes out of our pipes and we don’t have issues around clean water and sanitation, but we do.”

Tuesday’s screening features one short film: “A Journey Upstream,” that delves into the health and ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay, and one feature film:“Brave Blue World,” which highlights several innovators who are tackling global water problems at the local level.

After viewing the films, the audience is invited to participate in a community forum to discuss the films and pose follow-up questions. Walking Mountains also provides a “What’s Next” document that summarizes the information learned in the film and directs viewers to local organizations and initiatives that are addressing water scarcity right in Eagle County.

“A lot of it is things that you can do around your home, or in your landscaping, or how to reach out to other local organizations that this is their focus,” Kirr said. “Encouraging people not to just act, but look at the resources and opportunities that we have here through other organizations.”

The screening is free for all community members, but requires a reservation, during which audience members have the option to make a donation to Walking Mountains Science Center.

A Journey Upstream

The first film that will be played on Tuesday is a short film about the Chesapeake Bay watershed, produced and directed by brothers Andrew and Eric Braker.

Andrew Braker completed a year-long internship as a naturalist with Walking Mountains Science Center in 2017, an experience that helped to inform and inspire the direction of the film.

“I learned about how interconnected the natural world is, and that’s a major theme of what we tried to achieve with ‘A Journey Upstream,’” Andrew Braker said. “Whether you’re talking about the Chesapeake Bay watershed or you’re talking about the Gore Creek watershed, the same idea applies: what starts up in the headwaters is eventually going to affect what’s downstream.”

“A Journey Upstream” follows the Braker’s exploration up into the headwaters of their local watershed environment back home in Maryland. At each stop along the way, they conduct interviews with fishermen and environmental scientists to broaden their understanding of the ecosystem’s health, using two fish species as markers.

“A Journey Upstream” follows the Braker’s exploration up the Chesapeake Bay.
Braker Brothers/Courtesy Photo

Eric Braker said that their approach to learning about the Chesapeake Bay can be replicated in watersheds around the country, and hopes the film encourages people to delve deeper into their own water environments.

“A great way for someone to connect with their own environment is reaching out to like-minded people of the older generation,” Eric Braker said. “The stories, the conversations we had with them, lasted hours, and what they had been able to teach us from their countless years of experience in these environments – you just can’t match that.”

The Braker brothers’ next film, titled “Phoenix,” takes place in the Vail Valley and centers on the story of a female fly fishing guide. The film is currently on the 2022 Fly Fishing Film Tour.

Brave Blue World

Zooming out to a more global angle, the feature film “Brave Blue World” focuses on the groundbreaking technologies being created and tested around the world to tackle pressing water problems.

The innovations featured in the film include ​​a mobile water filtration system in Flint, Michigan, a machine in Kenya that harvests water out of thin air, and a new greywater recycling system in Denmark, among others.

“Brave Blue World” highlights emerging water innovations around the globe.
Brave Blue World/Courtesy Photo

The 2020 documentary stars big Hollywood names like Liam Neeson, Matt Damon and Jaden Smith, and was created to paint an optimistic picture of the possibilities for water management solutions in the future.

“Coming to watch the films and have that conversation can be really impactful,” Kirr said. “This is a really good way to learn about an issue that is both local and global, and how it all connects together. We’ve had a lot of people learn, and we’ve seen behavior changes happen from viewing these films in the last ten years.”

To register for the upcoming screening, and for more information and trailers, visit WalkingMountains.org.


What: Sustainable Community Film Series

When: Tuesday, Feb. 2, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Riverwalk Theater in Edwards

Price: Free, registration required at WalkingMountains.org


Aspen’s historic Red Onion to open this fall

A woman and her poodle on Thursday walk by The Red Onion, which is hopefully reopening in fall of this year, in downtown Aspen. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The historic Red Onion in downtown Aspen is set to open by Thanksgiving, according to Mark Hunt, the building’s owner.

“It will be a bar,” he said this week, adding it will not be a bougie one. “It will be a better version of itself.”

The Onion, as longtime locals refer to it, serves a symbol of Aspen’s history and vitality, and it has been shuttered since December of 2020 when the operators of the bar and restaurant permanently closed in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions.

Hunt had planned to renovate the space and have it open by the fall of last year, but complications with his development next door, formerly known as the Bidwell building, slowed the process down.

It was realized after the city’s approvals for development that the Red Onion kitchen was encroaching on the Bidwell property and needed to be relocated.

Hunt sought and received approval in February 2021 to demolish the Red Onion kitchen and move it to the east onto the property in which it serves, 420 E. Cooper Ave.

A change order application and a subsequent notice of approval to do that work was based on a set of conditions and timelines in an effort by the city to keep the project alive and the Red Onion delivered back to the community.

“No later than four months after the issuance of the building permit for the kitchen relocation, the applicant shall complete the relocation of the Red Onion kitchen, as evidenced by receipt of a letter of completion,” reads the notice of approval. “Failure to meet the timelines approved in this notice of approval will result in the city withholding the issuance of building permits or certificates of occupancy for 434 E. Cooper Ave. until the letter of completion is issued for the Red Onion renovation.”

There have been delays in the rebuilding of 434 E. Cooper Ave. as well, since the prospective tenant and part property owner, RH, formerly known as Restoration Hardware, has made significant changes to the plan.

Regardless, Hunt did not move on the Red Onion at the pace city officials had hoped.

“We were putting pressure on them to open the Red Onion and it didn’t come together,” said Amy Simon, the city’s director of planning. “They didn’t uphold their end of the deal.”

Hunt said when his tenants decided to close the Red Onion, he saw an opportunity to do a full remodel of the restaurant, as well as the two buildings on either side at the same time.

Construction crews work Thursday at the former Bidwell building site near the Red Onion in downtown Aspen. Red Onion is slated to reopen in the fall of this year. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Those buildings are slated to become a jazz performance center owned and operated by Jazz Aspen Snowmass.

The JAS Center was originally scheduled to be open in June of 2021 but with construction delays and the pandemic, those plans are delayed by three years.

“We looked at the buildings and saw an opportunity,” Hunt said. “(The Red Onion building) was not in good shape and we needed to straighten up lot line issues, move the kitchen and do it right.

“The city became aware that these were connected properties and how complicated it all is.”

Required stormwater retention improvements under the properties, mechanical systems on the roof and egress between buildings are some examples of the complexities the developer and the city have been going back and forth on.

Delivering a performance center and a remodeled Red Onion to the community at once, and trying to do construction holistically was a tradeoff Hunt was willing to make.

“We could’ve picked one over the other but there are a lot of moving pieces,” he said. “It is what it is.”

Eventually, Hunt chose to renovate the Red Onion separately from the larger project that includes the JAS Center.

“The city has supported this shift in plans to the extent that re-opening of that long-standing business is a high priority and we hope to see the business open while the JAS project proceeds around it,” Simon said.

That is precisely the plan Hunt and JAS President and CEO Jim Horowitz are operating on.

Hunt said he plans to remodel the buildings surrounding the Red Onion and deliver the unfinished interior space to JAS in the spring of 2023. A building permit application will be filed with the city in the coming days, he added.

An “Evict Mark Hunt” sticker is strategically placed at the top of the door of the Red Onion in downtown Aspen on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

JAS is under contract to purchase the existing second floor of the Red Onion, plus the adjacent spaces and the street level entrance to create the JAS Center.

The 9,000-square-foot space will include a full bar, an elevated stage for performances, a recording, mixing and finishing studio, a terrace overlooking the Cooper Avenue Mall with views of the patron lounge, a photo gallery showcasing the JAS archive from the nonprofit’s past 32 years and more.

Ultimately, it will be a multi-use, multi-purpose space with four functions: A club for listening to live music, a classroom, an event space and a recording studio, Horowitz said.

“It’s a pretty exciting use for the downtown core,” he said. “This is a chance for the town to help ensure this cool building keeps its soul and turns into a gathering place.”

He said his development team has been working with Hunt’s team and plans for buildout are taking shape.

“We have a real sense of momentum about the project,” Horowitz said. “In a perfect world, we will be open by summer of 2024.”

Meanwhile, JAS has been working on what is called a “pace setting” capital campaign, focusing on the organization’s fundraising leaders.

“We have $11 million in pledges,” Horowitz said. “This is unprecedented for us.”

Renovation of the Red Onion includes putting two bathrooms on the first level, and adding booths, new light fixtures and a fireplace.

The construction is scheduled to begin in May and end in September, according to general contractor G.F. Woods Construction as part of the building permit application submitted to the city.

Hunt declined to identify who the new operator will be, but it won’t be former owners Brad Smith and Michael Tierney.

Hunt said he is keenly aware that some people in the community are frustrated their beloved watering hole has been shuttered for so long.

“We missed a season or two of drinking but it will be worth it,” he said. “We are super excited about it and I think the town will be happy with it.”

If the Red Onion opens on Hunt’s timeline, it will be quicker than the turnaround from the previous building owners, Ron Garfield and Andy Hecht, who kept it closed for nearly three years.

The space shuttered in 2007 after a blowout closing party in March of that year, following a couple of years of remodeling and an eventual opening in May of 2010.

Financial Focus: Watch for changes in required minimum distributions

If you’re a certain age, you’ll need to withdraw money from some of your retirement accounts each year. But in 2022, the amount you must take out may be changing more than in other years — and that could affect your retirement income strategy.

Here’s some background: Once you turn 72, you generally must start taking withdrawals, called required minimum distributions, or RMDs, from some of your retirement accounts, such as your traditional IRA and your 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan. Each year, your RMDs are determined by your age and account balances. This year, the life expectancy tables used by the IRS are being updated to reflect longer lifespans. This may result in lower annual RMDs than you’d have to take if this adjustment hadn’t been made.

If you’ve started taking RMDs, what does this change mean to you? It can be a positive development, for a few reasons:

  • Potentially lower taxes – Your RMDs are generally taxable at your personal income tax rate, so the lower your RMDs, the lower your tax bill might be.
  • Possibly longer “lifespan” for retirement accounts — Because your RMDs will be lower, the accounts from which they’re issued — including your traditional IRA and 401(k) — may be able to last longer without becoming depleted. The longer these accounts can stay intact and remain an asset, the better for you.
  • More flexibility in planning for retirement income — The word “required” in the phrase “required minimum distributions” means exactly what it sounds like — you must take at least that amount. If you withdraw less than your RMD, the amount not withdrawn will be taxed at 50%. So, in one sense, your RMDs take away some of your freedom in managing your retirement income. But now, with the lower RMDs in place, you may regain some of this flexibility. (And keep in mind that you’re always free to withdraw more than the RMDs.)

Of course, if you don’t really need all the money from RMDs, even the lower amount may be an issue for you — as mentioned above, RMDs are generally taxable. However, if you’re 70½ or older, you can transfer up to $100,000 per year from a traditional IRA directly to a qualified charitable organization, and some, or perhaps all, of this money may come from your RMDs. By making this move, you can exclude the RMDs from your taxable income. Before taking this action, though, you’ll want to consult with your tax advisor.

Here are a couple of final points to keep in mind. First, not all your retirement accounts are subject to RMDs — you can generally keep your Roth IRA intact for as long as you want. However, your Roth 401(k) is generally subject to RMDs. If you’re still working past 72, though, you may be able to avoid taking RMDs from your current employer’s 401(k) or similar plan, though you’ll still have to take them from your traditional IRA.

Changes to the RMD rules don’t happen too often. By being aware of how these new, lower RMDs can benefit you, and becoming familiar with all aspects of RMDs, you may be able to strengthen your overall retirement income situation.

Romer: Why replenishing unemployment insurance trust fund is important

Replenishing Colorado’s unemployment insurance trust fund is a key legislative priority at the state Capitol. This issue should be especially concerning to the business community.

First, some background. All employers pay into the fund to provide unemployment benefits. The fund is insolvent, and the state owes $1 billion to the federal government to repay an existing loan. Gov. Jared Polis has proposed providing $600 million to help pay down the debt and assist small businesses as their fees rise in the coming years.

We applaud the governor for this investment, and we are part of a coalition of business advocates advocating to the Legislature that even more is needed to avoid crushing future costs to our businesses.

From the Common Sense Institute: Colorado’s unemployment levels spiked in early 2020 and caused the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund to become deeply insolvent. As of July 2021, the fun’s balance is -$1.014 billion and is not projected to become solvent until the 2024 fiscal year. Because employers are responsible for paying payroll taxes to the trust fund, a depleted fund forces Colorado businesses to pay high payroll taxes on each employee and incur financial harm as a result.

The coalition sent a letter to the Legislature advocating for investment to backfill the unemployment insurance trust fund. It read in part: On behalf of employers across Colorado, we are reaching out to share our concerns with the long-term effects of the pandemic and the opportunities for economic recovery.

The pandemic has continued to strain Colorado’s economy, impacting businesses of all sizes and altering the fabric of our local communities. For nearly two years, our state’s job creators have endured extreme financial uncertainty, an ongoing worker shortage, supply chain issues, inflation, new government regulations and public health shutdowns.

In this session, the state Legislature can provide real relief to businesses and their employees across Colorado, setting us on the course for recovery for years to come. One of the single most effective actions that can be taken to accomplish this goal is replenishing the fund, which is funded solely on the backs of employers to compensate workers for unemployment claims.

That’s why we’re asking you to pass Gov. Polis’ budget proposal to provide at least $600 million in relief to the UITF or any similar funding effort using federal or general fund dollars. Doing so not only supports our local businesses impacted by the pandemic but also supports employees, their families and our communities.

Unless legislators act now, every business in Colorado will face significant premium increases in the coming years — especially those that had to lay off workers through no fault of their own. It would be unconscionable to put this burden on the backs of businesses in these already difficult economic times.

These premium increases will directly impede our recovery and will be felt across the board by Colorado’s workforce, small businesses and consumers. Nearly 30 other states have already taken similar action to help businesses with these premium increases, and it’s critical that Colorado plays a leading role in our national recovery by addressing this issue.

On behalf of employers across Colorado, we thank you for your attention to this critical issue and ask you to support unemployment insurance relief to help employers hire more workers, pay strong wages and prevent cost increases for customers.

We’ll continue to advocate for the replenishment of the unemployment insurance trust fund and other issues in Denver that impact our business community.

Newmann: The play callers

Getting a respite from all the weird stuff currently going on both domestically and abroad is always a welcome relief. And, if you’re a football fan, last Sunday probably provided a chance to drift into NFL reverie (especially if your team won).

This Sunday is the penultimate weekend of the playoffs and features two of the league’s oldest franchises, the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers, in the NFC title game.

The Rams are led by Matthew Stafford, an outstanding quarterback who toiled in relative obscurity for 12 years with the Detroit Lions before being traded to the Rams prior to this season.

The 49ers’ QB, Jimmy Garoppolo, was a backup to Tom Brady on the New England Patriots for several years. Traded to the 49ers near the end of 2017, he’s been a mainstay for the team — when he’s not been plagued by injuries.

The AFC matchup has the Cincinnati Bengals and outstanding second-year quarterback Joe Burrow going against the esteemed Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Of the four signal callers left in the playoffs, Mahomes is undoubtedly the most recognized by fans (and even nonfans). Outside of his fame on the field, he’s also a regular on State Farm Insurance commercials and, with his rumored penchant for putting ketchup on a variety of foods, also has television endorsements for Hunts. But Mahomes is hardly alone when it comes to quarterback endorsements.

Aaron Rodgers, he of the Green Bay Packers and “Jeopardy” fame, is also a major player in State Farm commercials. Unfortunately, “The Rodgers Rate” did not have enough clout to keep him from getting knocked out of the playoffs last week by Garoppolo (who doesn’t seem to have any major commercials … yet).

The aforementioned Tom Brady, the all-world 44-year-old quarterback of Patriots fame who, for the last two seasons has played in Tampa, has attached himself to Subway ads. His appearances in the commercials are brief (and ironic), perhaps due to the fact that the health-conscious Brady does not eat bread. But maybe Stafford, whose Rams knocked the Brady Bunch out of the playoffs, could take over the Subway mantle — especially if he’s a bread eater.

The quarterback endorsement parade does not end with current players. Some notable former players are paying a portion of their retirement bills shilling for various companies.

Peyton Manning, the personable former star QB with Indianapolis and Denver, joins Rodgers and Mahomes on the insurance front with commercials for Nationwide (which, like a good neighbor, is “on your side”). Seems like multimillionaire quarterbacks have good advice on insurance matters.

When it comes to gambling ads, several well-known names are proffering advice on which site to choose. Manning, together with his brother Eli (formerly the signal caller for the New York Giants) and their father Archie (an incredibly talented quarterback with the woeful New Orleans Saints of the ‘70s), show up very enthusiastically in commercials for Caesars’ online sportsbook. Another former Saints QB, the recently-retired Drew Brees, points out the virtues of yet another sportsbook, PointsBet. The irony is … if any of these former players so much as uttered a word about betting on games during their careers, their playing days would have immediately been cut short.

A final word on the ad front comes from the renowned tight end Rob Gronkowski, who also happens to be the favorite target of Brady. Gronk, who has never served in the military, is continually trying to get insurance through USAA, which is only available to “veterans and their families.” When told that military qualifications make USAA “special,” Gronk retorts, “But I’m special.”

Could well be that “special” applies to all the NFL pitchmen who sell just about everything but their own specialty: football.

Best: In Colorado, end almost in sight for natural gas bridge

Natural gas a decade ago was being called the bridge fuel. Burning it produces half the emissions of coal, yet it can be tapped to ensure reliable delivery of electricity. It was the bridge to a low-emissions future.

Today, natural gas is where coal was 10 or 15 years ago. We still need it for electrical generation, but the bridge no longer seems endless. But will new natural gas plants end up being like many coal plants, assets stranded long before the debt is paid?

The role of natural gas in Colorado’s energy future is being sorted out in proposals submitted to state regulators by Colorado’s two largest electrical utilities: Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Together, they deliver 71% of electricity.

These utilities expect to achieve 80% and even higher reductions in emissions associated with electrical generation by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. Both the technology and economics of renewables and now storage align with these goals.

The preferred plan by Tri-State, the wholesaler for 18 of Colorado’s 22 electrical cooperatives, takes a wait-and-see position about new natural gas-fired generation during the next few years.

In a September filing, Lisa Tiffin, the senior manager for analytics and forecasting, explained that this will “allow emerging technologies to become more competitive in the interim and potentially displace the need” for new natural gas generation.

Most people, when buying a house, take on a 30-year mortgage. An agreement filed with state regulators last week by Tri-State, along with environmental groups, state agencies and others, calls for a shorter depreciation of just 20 years when evaluating the cost of any potential new natural gas plant.

This makes new natural gas much more difficult to justify. This shorter timeline also accords with Colorado’s statutory timeline for achieving a 100% near carbon-free electrical generation by 2050.

But what will be needed to meet demand if, for example, Colorado has a heat dome type of event in 2030 similar to that which baked people to death in Portland last June? Air conditioners would be blasting — and the wind turbines may be motionless.

That’s a central question in the plans for Xcel Energy. In addition to its own customers, the utility delivers wholesale power to utilities that serve Aspen, Vail, plus Steamboat Springs and Craig.

Xcel wants to install natural gas generation at an existing coal plant in Pawnee, which is in northeastern Colorado, beginning Jan. 1, 2026. Environmental groups are on board with this, although some want an even earlier switch.

Western Resource Advocates and other environmental groups, however, are not on board with Xcel building other new gas plants. Xcel estimates it will invest $1 billion in natural gas capacity. Those gas plants, it says, will be used rarely but necessarily to ensure reliability.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association supports Xcel’s plans and wants to see no time wasted. Natural gas, it said in a filing last week, will “play this critical reliability and resilience role that makes renewable energy possible.”

The industry group also supports Xcel’s argument that the natural gas infrastructure can later be adapted to use green hydrogen, if and when that technology becomes affordable. Renewable energy and water are used to create green hydrogen, which can be stored. COGA and Xcel say another potential path is to use natural gas plants retrofitted with carbon capture and storage technology. That technology also cannot yet compete in cost or scale.

Environmental groups argue instead for battery storage, already part of Xcel’s plans, playing an even larger role. Interwest Energy Alliance, representing primarily wind developers, accused Xcel last week of old-school thinking: “The technological changes that are coming to the entire utility industry are unfathomable to those stuck in the central station combustion thought paradigm.” Batteries, though, remain an imperfect solution.

The Colorado Energy Office wants Xcel to be required to invest in demand-response programs, shifting demand and suppressing it through energy efficiency. This, it points out, will be less expensive than Xcel investing in up to 300 megawatts of additional gas generation.

What all agree upon is that Xcel’s filing constitutes a landmark. Perhaps never before has the state’s Public Utilities Commission seen a proposal for so much rapid change. One example: the social cost of carbon is being used for the first time to evaluate proposals. Xcel, in a related proposal, wants to spend $2 billion alone on new transmission. The energy landscape has changed — and likely will change just as dramatically in the next decade.

The state’s three PUC commissioners are expected to issue a decision sometime in March about both the Tri-State and Xcel pivots. Part of those big decisions will be about the role of natural gas.

Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, a reader-sponsored journal devoted to Colorado’s energy and water transitions. See more at BigPivots.com.

Nominations open for Vail Valley Partnership’s 2022 Success Awards

Nominations are now open for the 19th Annual Success Awards.

The awards will recognize businesses and individuals who have excelled over the past year and acknowledges their hard work and dedication as the best in the Vail Valley. These businesses and individuals play significant roles driving the Vail Valley’s business community and economic growth.

Nominations are now open in 10 categories including: Business or Organization of the Year; Emerging Business of the Year; Small Business of the Year; Small Nonprofit of the Year; Best Place to Work, Community Impact Award — Individual, Community Impact Award; Organization; Young Professional of the Year; Actively Green Business of the Year; and, new this year, Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

  • Nominations are for accomplishments in the 2021 calendar year, not intended as lifetime achievements.
  • Any business can be nominated, however, only those with an active Vail Valley Partnership membership are eligible to win the awards.
  • Nominations will be accepted until 5 p.m Feb. 4.

Winners will be announced during the Annual Success Awards celebration in May.