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Eagle River Watershed Council: We can all be river lovers

February is here. It’s snowy and cold, and ice blankets parts of frozen rivers and the surfaces of our alpine lakes. We may not be out paddling down a river right now, but lucky for us, love for our rivers exists year-round. We asked four river lovers from the Eagle River community about how their love of rivers came to be. Whether it is an old love or a new love, it is never too late to love our rivers.

Pete Wadden, Watershed Health Specialist, town of Vail

I grew up on the shores of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River in northern Ohio. Lake Erie was heavily impacted by the legacy of heavy industry in the Rust Belt when I was young, and the Cuyahoga was so polluted that it caught fire several times in the early and mid-20th century. Nevertheless, Lake Erie was my playground. It’s where I learned to swim, sail, fish and kayak, and where I developed a deep love for the water that has shaped my life and career ever since.

I relocated to the mountains of Colorado where the water is less plentiful, but typically cleaner. The fishing is much better here than it was on Lake Erie in the 1980s and 1990s. Like many people, I find water of all kinds to be beautiful and calming, and I prefer to be on the water or close to it whenever I can. I’ve seen how badly humans can mess up a body of fresh water and don’t want to see the communities here in the mountain west squander the healthy streams we still have.

Sue Nikolai, Land & Rivers Program Director, Land & Rivers Fund

Growing up in Wisconsin, the Manitowoc River ran through the middle of my small town. We swam and fished in it, jumped off the town bridge into it, took our canoe on it, and ice skated on it in the winter. When, as a teen, I was feeling down, I’d sit by the banks and contemplate life. 

When I moved to Colorado, I became a river guide on the Colorado and Poudre rivers. I loved the freedom of floating downstream, challenging myself in the rapids, enthralled by the birds and wildlife that made the river corridors their home. The river is my happy place. I need my multi-day river trips, camping in the canyons, to re-energize myself, get away from electronics, to reconnect with family and friends. Rivers are our valley’s lifeblood and the Earth’s lifeblood. We need rivers as much as the Earth itself needs rivers. And we need to do all we can to protect them. 

Renata Arujo, Coordinator, Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement

Having been born and raised in São José dos Campos, Brazil, I did not develop a relationship with rivers until I moved to Colorado in July 2020. In São José dos Campos, I lived in the Paraiba River Watershed, and I often visited my grandmother in São Paulo, at the Tiete River Watershed. Both rivers are canalized and polluted, and sometimes you cannot even see the movement of the water under the trash that lives on the surface of those rivers. I remember being a kid and visiting the headwaters of the Tiete River and feeling astonished about the cleanliness of the water. That experience made me wonder how that clear water would become dark, smell bad, and be covered in trash less than 100 miles from there.

When I moved to Colorado, I found mental and emotional support in the waters of Gore Creek. I have also been able to recreate on the Colorado River, by rafting part of it annually, which is part of my job. Even though there is still room for my relationship with rivers to grow, rivers are slowly becoming a place of mental refuge and recreation for me.

Wyatt Alt, pursuing Masters in Civil Engineering at Montana State University

The river has had a profound impact on my personal development. The river was my gateway to freedom and exploration as a child. I was free, free to wander the banks while poking around cobbled rocks looking for macro-invertebrates. Free to catch the fish that mysteriously darted in and out of patches of tranquil water. Free to float with these curious creatures in the cold yet soothing waters.

My discovery of whitewater, guided by my tool of choice, the kayak, created an endless appetite for adventure, which was only fueled by the exploration of more rivers. These experiences have brought a continuous flow of knowledge, friendship and entertainment into my life.

Knowledge from the river comes in both an academic and spiritual sense. When you are passionate about the river, it brings you to previously unfathomable reaches of the Earth. As the river is the heart of a valley, you are fully immersed in new flora, fauna and geologic formations. When you are in the river itself, you are constantly teetering on the edge of control. Spirituality arises due to the synergy of effort to stay on course while simultaneously accepting the absence of control. I love the river because I respect it and welcome the fact that it is indomitable yet ethereal.

Rivers can mean a lot to a person — from a reprieve from everyday life to the rush paddling through a rapid. However you enjoy our rivers, it is never too early or late in your life to foster a love for the streams and rivers in this watershed and beyond. Get out and enjoy them however makes sense for you — and more importantly, help us protect them! If you are looking for ideas, consider participating in our events and restoration projects to start your journey to loving our watershed at erwc.org/events.

Rose Sandell is the education & outreach coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit ERWC.org.

Vail Health facing mounting workforce, financial headwinds as it continues to grow services

Despite the challenges — and there have been challenges — of the past few years in health care, Vail Health is forging ahead.

“After three years of a pandemic, it’s time to emerge and try to get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Will Cook, Vail Health’s president and CEO, at the annual State of Vail Health on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

In recapping Vail Health’s fiscal 2022, Cook highlighted internal and external obstacles — predominantly regarding its workforce and financial situation — and celebrated some of its achievements as he looked ahead to the future.

“Despite all the external headwinds and despite all the internal challenges, for all intents and purposes, I think it’s been a better year for us,” Cook said.

Over its last fiscal year, the hospital continued its expansion, particularly with a focus on new facilities and behavioral health.

Some of the cited accomplishments included the opening of two new facilities (one in Summit County and one in Roaring Fork Valley); receiving the entitlements and breaking ground on the Precourt Healing Center (its 28-bed inpatient facility, expected to open in 2025); putting the finishing touches on the Wiegers Mental Health Clinic (which will offer intensive outpatient behavioral health programming); and starting work on an employee-housing site in Edwards.

Chris Lindley, chief population health officer with Vail Health, speaks at the groundbreaking of the Precourt Healing Center in September 2022 in Edwards. The center will have 28 beds for inpatient treatment once open in 2025.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

In addition to expanding its behavioral health facilities, Vail Health’s wholly owned subsidiary, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, also became the state’s first new community health center in nearly three decades, a designation that opens up the organization to new funding opportunities.

Additionally, as Vail Health expands its services in neighboring Summit County, Chris Lindley, the executive director of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health and chief population officer for Vail Health, said it is working with the Summit County government to become its community mental health center.

“What that means is we’ll try to provide them with the same level of support, collaboration that we’re doing up here, but working with all of their nonprofits down there,” Lindley said. “It won’t take anything away from here, what we’re doing, but hopefully we can share the lessons we’ve learned here with that community as well.”

People and culture

Building and sustaining its workforce was a primary topic of Tuesday’s presentation, with the challenges being omnipresent and finding solutions being one of Vail Health’s top priorities. As Cook put it, Vail Health’s people and culture “will always be our North Star.”

This, he added, is even more critical given the current workforce environment, both locally and nationally.

“In an environment of great resignation, one in five leaving the health care industry and all the challenges associated with burnout, it really is now more than ever important to focus on your people and your culture,” Cook said, adding on several instances that the pending retirement of the baby boomer generation will also have widespread impacts on health care.

These external pressures manifested internally, creating the “perfect storm,” he added.

Specifically, Cook called out several losses of people in “key positions” from the hospital. This included a spine surgeon, two urologists, three primary care physicians, and an ear, nose and throat surgeon that took a sabbatical. For those that resigned, Cook said the reasons for leaving included daycare challenges, opportunities to sell their homes at a premium, and burnout.

In total, the hospital also had 40% vacancies in key clinical positions, which had an overall financial impact. Combatting workforce challenges, Cook said it had a 26% increase in labor expenses — both toward increased contract labor and benefits and compensation.

“Because we didn’t want to hurt service levels, we had to spend $13 million more in contract labor,” Cook said, adding that historically Vail Health spends around $2 million each year on this, meaning it spent $15 million in the last fiscal year.

Additionally, it spent around $8 million on increased compensation and benefits for its internal staff. And as Vail Health looks ahead, it’s planning to spend $194 million on compensation and benefits, which is a $7.8 million increase year over year.  

One of the outward impacts of this shortage can be doctor availability. And on Tuesday, an attendee asked if the hospital envisioned this improving.

“I don’t see it getting any better anytime soon,” Cook said, highlighting not only the industry-wide workforce challenges (including the looming baby boomer retirement wave) but also local ones.

Not only are there “challenges associated with trying to recruit people to the mountains,” but also the difficulty around recruiting specialized physicians when they can’t promise the breadth and depth of experiences in a rural community like this, Cook said.

“Unfortunately, we can’t provide every single service here. There’s oftentimes not enough volume to ensure quality or enough volume to ensure cost efficiency. And increasingly, because of the shortage of providers, and the one in five who’ve left, we’ve struggled to keep some of our doctors,” Cook said.

But for those employees it does have, Cook advocated for further patience and understanding from the community.

“They have been through the wringer in the last six to 12 months,” Cook said. “They’re working very hard, they’re doing their very best. We just literally have about 20% less of what we used to have. If it was 5% (less), then you wouldn’t feel much of it. But these are significant hits we’re feeling in terms of the lack of people to help us provide the kind of care and the service that we want to. We will get there, though, I assure you.”

While Cook didn’t see this problem disappearing soon, he did mention that Vail Health is working to create more pipelines to the health care industry. This includes an ongoing partnership with Colorado Mountain College as well as finding other ways to offer scholarship and internship opportunities to local high school students.

Aside from compensation and benefits, addressing top issues like housing and child care remain top of mind. 

“We’re talking to a variety of daycare operators to see how we can help them address some of their challenges. We’re working with the Vail Valley Foundation on their task force. We’re all leaning in, but I want to make sure you know we’re really investing in our people,” Cook said.

A conceptual rendering of the Fox Hollow development in Edwards. The project is a partnership between BGV Edwards Ventures LLC and Vail Health to bring 87 units of workforce housing to the organization.
Vail Health/Courtesy Photo

One of its largest housing projects is Fox Hollow in Edwards. Vail Health has put $20 million toward this to create both short- and long-term housing opportunities for its staff. The parcel — located at 18 and 22 Murray Road, between the EagleVet clinic and the Edwards Interfaith Chapel — is owned by Breckenridge Grand Vacations, but 100% of the 87 units (and 218 bedrooms) will be utilized for Vail Health staff. Currently, it is set to break ground on the property in March.

This project will not only almost double its employee housing — from 93 total units to 180 — but increase the diversity of its long-term rental opportunities for employees.

Financial headwinds

In addition to rising workforce issues, Tuesday’s presentation referred to 2022 as a “perilous year for hospital finances.”

Cook said all the mounting internal and external pressures “really resulted in nationwide and statewide financial difficulties for all the health systems that are out there.”

During the fiscal year, Cook reported that Vail Health saw a 49.3% decrease in its operating margin alongside a 21% increase in total expenses. The latter of which is predominantly related to rising labor costs as well as a 24.1% increase in supply chain expenses.

All in, Cook said Vail Health “broke even in FY 22 ish, just a little bit around there.”

“We had about a $60 million reduction to our reserves based on financial market performance, and we’ve continued to see unprecedented degradation to our own financial performance,” Cook said.

Looking ahead to the upcoming fiscal year, Cook said the hospital was committed to maintaining financial sustainability.

“We have to have the margins in order to carry out our mission, and we need to make sure we’re always on solid financial footing,” he said. “While we currently are in that place because of many years of disciplined work and strategic decisions, like many of you who run your own businesses or work on other boards, this will be a hyper-focus for now as we get through some of these unprecedented external headwinds.”

Prioritizing health, accessibility, affordability

A rendering of the Precourt Healing Center, a 50,000-square-foot inpatient behavioral health facility centrally located at the Edwards Community Health Campus. Continuing construction on this campus is one of Vail Health’s priorities in 2023 as it expands access to behavioral health in the community.
Vail Health/Courtesy Photo

Looking toward the year ahead, Cook listed a number of priorities for the hospital. Those include addressing the aforementioned “external headwinds,” but also a continuation of its growth. Additional priorities included focusing on affordability (with a focus on bringing down health insurance premiums), increasing accessibility of services, expanding orthopedic services and focusing on overall population health.

“We’re trying to get upstream at every turn,” Cook said.

“Your best shot at beating COVID, at beating whatever comes after COVID, at living your fullest life, at beating all the other diseases that ultimately we’re running from as we get older in life, is to really focus on your baseline health,” he added. “Pay attention to your diet, get some exercise, get out in that sunshine, enjoy these beautiful views, see your primary care physician on a regular basis, make sure you hit your screenings for whether or not it’s mammograms or colonoscopies, all the things.”

And as Vail Health looks ahead, it will continue to stay rooted in the community partnerships that have advanced it to where it is today. In its 2022 fiscal year, Vail Health gave around $25 million to local community initiatives and has committed $200 million to behavioral health in the community.

“What makes this valley great — besides the beautiful mountains and the outdoors and all the things that draw us here — it’s this common bond, constantly trying to do what’s right for the valley,” Cook said.

At the end of the day, as it prioritizes affordability, accessibility, population health and sustainability, Vail Health is just focusing on moving ahead.

“We really look forward to, from my perspective anyway, getting over these sort of current external headwinds and this perfect storm that’s brewing and trying to get back to a life that’s less stressful and a life where we’re not constantly navigating, pandemics and dealing with all the things,” Cook said.

Eagle County puts $615K into energy programs run by Walking Mountains Science Center

More Eagle County residents will have access to energy-saving programs, thanks to a county agreement with Walking Mountains Science Center.

The agreement takes $615,500 from the county’s general fund. That money will pay for several initiatives run by Walking Mountains.

By the numbers

$615,500: Eagle County’s 2023 spending on various energy efficiency programs through Walking Mountains Science Center.

$472,500: Portion of the funding dedicated to Energy Smart Colorado programs.

$50,000: Portion of that funding dedicated to sustainable business initiatives.

50%: Maximum rebate through the Energy Smart program for efficiency improvements of $5,000 or less.

Roughly one-third of the funds will go to the Energy Smart program’s home assessments, rebates and outreach.

Those energy efficiency improvements will be aimed at owners of deed-restricted homes, as well as first responders and those in multi-family neighborhoods. Families earning up to 150% of the area median income will also be eligible.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, Eagle County Environmental Manager John Gitchell said that Energy Smart rebates cover up to 50% of project costs up to $5,000. But, he added, those rebates can be combined with utility company rebates as well as state and federal tax credits.

Walking Mountains Energy Programs Director Nikki Maline said the income qualification point will be good for local families with children.

The efficiency projects focus on electrifying homes and transportation.

Commissioner Matt Scherr said officials with Holy Cross Energy, the county’s primary electricity provider, have told him the local electric grid can handle the increased demand. That demand will be met by a growing portfolio of renewable energy sources.

High-efficiency appliances can dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions. Gitchell said if a 2,000-square-foot home creates 20 metric tons of greenhouse gas emmissions per year, electrification can cut that number in half.

Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney asked if there’s enough trained workforce to do all the work that comes with rapid electrification. Gitchell noted the workforce is growing but remains a problem at the moment.

But, Scherr noted, even rapid electrification in the county won’t get the county to its 2030 goal of cutting greenhouse emissions by half from 2014 levels.    

At this point, there’s a long way to go to meet those goals. Gitchell noted that the county’s climate action goals appear to have stalled.

Gitchell noted that the county’s emissions are “about even” with 2014, “but we need big initiatives” to meet the 2030 goals.

Ground transportation remains the county’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Those emissions have grown by roughly 200,000 tons per year since 2014, to just less than 600,000 tons in 2021. After a sharp drop in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation emissions rebounded quickly the following year.

Natural gas emissions grew somewhat before 2020, but 2021 emissions were only slightly above the 2014 emissions of just less than 300,000 tons. That slight growth was also seen in emissions from aviation and the county landfill.

The big decline came in electricity. As Holy Cross continues to add more renewable energy to its portfolio, its emissions have dropped from about 550,000 tons in 2014 to just about 300,000 tons in 2021.

Van Beek: Anatomy of an arrest — detention

Unless they work in law enforcement, have been a victim, or have an arrest record, most people are unfamiliar with what happens from arrest to courtroom. This is the second of a three-part series. Part I was an overview of the amazing work done by the victim services unit. This part is on the innovative programs we have established within our detention center. Our final section will be on the brave work of our patrol division. 

The Sheriff’s Office, police departments and law enforcement agencies within Eagle County all work on creating highly efficient, innovative, yet compassionate programs between arrest and verdict. We realize that while certain legal procedures must be followed, we also recognize that we are handling sensitive and generally uncommon situations for the people involved. 

Once in custody, we balance the necessities of legal requirements with the addition of compassionate programs to support the person they want to be. We help them navigate the complexities of their current actions to also reduce the possibility of recidivism, and perhaps introduce them to new skills and opportunities that will guide them toward the successful life they envision. 

Detention center

Just as in patrol, there are procedures and there is implementation. Procedures are strict because we are dealing with someone’s freedom, and it must be adhered to with very strict guidelines to assure the accused’s rights. Implementation in Eagle County is not only compassionate but proactive in providing contacts and opportunities to counter recidivism. 

In procedures, there is a formal intake process. Intake includes details from the arresting deputy/officer on the charges and/or warrant. A formal search is done to assure everyone’s safety. Then there is a detailed questionnaire, which includes a medical history, emergency contacts, employment, where they live, any aliases, and any additional information that is pertinent. 

We take a mugshot and fingerprints. We make note of any unique identifying markings like tattoos, birthmarks or scars. We take photos and upload them into the system. An inventory of personal property is made, and money is securely deposited. The system provides outstanding warrants elsewhere, prison records, felony convictions, history of violence, and other recorded information. 

At that point, and within 12 hours, a comprehensive medical assessment is made by the medical department. Health issues like diabetes, prescription drugs, or mental health concerns are addressed, in addition to a list of substances or amount of alcohol that they may have recently consumed in case there are potential overdose or withdrawal issues. 

Our contracted medical provider provides daily medical care. Anyone staying longer than 14 days gets a complete medical physical assessment by the physician assistant. If at any time the medical condition of an inmate requires a more comprehensive evaluation or treatment, we will transport them to the hospital. We take their care seriously. If the person is being detained for domestic violence, we place a block on the victim’s number from all jail phones, to avoid harassment. Since controlled substances are prohibited in the detention center, we work with doctors to provide alternatives.

We then prepare them for their first court appearance and then follow the judge’s orders as to further detention or release. Additional court appearances can run 15-30 days out. If there are issues (health, security, etc.) preventing the safe transport of an inmate to the courtroom, hearings can be handled via video. 

On the implementation end of detention, we offer unique opportunities. As long as they are here, we can utilize that time constructively. We continually look for ways to counter recidivism by identifying situations that may trigger criminal behavior. Some of the projects we’ve implemented include:

  • Creating partnerships that help to distinguish mental health issues from criminal behavior so that proper professional assistance can be provided
  • Addressing issues of homelessness
  • Helping to alleviate financial stress by connecting detainees with county and private resources
  • Arranging an academic partnership with Colorado Mountain College in the areas of GED prep, financial literacy, and trade certifications 

We are even working on improving lifestyle and fitness instruction for those recovering from addiction.  We also offer jail worker programs that help to reduce sentences and, in some cases, allow inmates an opportunity to keep their jobs.  We have discovered that weaknesses in these various areas will cause some to feel that they have no option other than crime. We believe that everyone deserves a chance at a better life. 

The professionals at the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, local police departments, and affiliated agencies, are here to protect and serve, and that includes everyone. Our job is to ensure a safe community, and the dedication of our staff goes above and beyond that which is necessary, to that which is compassionate, innovative, and effective. We aim to set the pace for others to follow. 

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.

Voces Unidas de las Montañas: Give local governments the tools they need to provide housing security

I grew up in a trailer park, like many working families in Eagle County. The preferred term is mobile home park, although neither of those names is a very accurate description of the neighborhood our family lived in. Our home was hardly mobile, and the idea of hooking it up to a trailer hitch and driving to another location was out of the question. This was our house, our neighborhood, our home.

As the son of Mexican immigrants, my story is pretty typical of many Latinos and Latinas in the central-mountain region. My father came to the resort towns of Colorado to work as a  restaurant worker, my mother working in hotels or cleaning private homes. As the resorts grew and the cost of housing increased, we were forced to move often, chasing affordability up and down these valleys until we settled in a mobile home park. It was a good place to grow up, and where we found a sense of community and security.

Even now, mobile home parks serve as the last bastion of unsubsidized affordable housing in Colorado, and a critical piece of the workforce housing puzzle in our mountain resort communities. But for those who depend upon these places as workforce housing or starter homes, the affordability is as fleeting as the dwindling sense of community and security we once knew.

Affordable housing has long been atop the list of concerns among working families of Colorado’s High Country, with the broader issue of housing security joining it shortly after the start of the pandemic. About a third of Coloradans live in housing they don’t own, and the economic fragility of low-income renters has become even more evident now that pandemic-era rental assistance has run out and evictions escalate. Among mobile home park residents, the scenario is even direr.

Look no farther than the nearby Dotsero Mobile Home Park that was recently purchased by the Three Pillars Communities corporation out of California as an example. Since being outbid on their attempt last June to buy the property themselves, residents have seen their rents increase nearly 40% per month, with the potential to go even higher. By next winter, those residents can be legally evicted at the new owner’s discretion.

This is a critical issue for Vail and other resort communities because mobile home park residents are the workers who keep the resorts running. They are being priced out, and that means moving and finding work in less-expensive communities.

Colorado’s state legislature has worked to address this situation over the past few years, beginning with the 2019 Mobile Home Park Act that has been expanded through 2022’s Protections for Mobile Home Park Residents Act. Yet the law continues to fall short when it comes to concerns like unreasonable rent increases or unjust evictions. A handful of bills introduced in the current legislative session aim to address those shortcomings.

Among them, the recently introduced HB-1115 (Local Control of Rents) would remove the current state law prohibiting local officials from instituting any rent control or stabilization policies of their own. While the bill does not call for rent control, it does provide local governments with an additional tool that, when combined with other strategic policies, can better address the escalating costs of living in their communities in order to preserve things like workforce housing.

Additionally, HB-1171 (Just Cause Requirement for Eviction of Residential Tenant) strengthens renters’ rights by limiting evictions to justifiable reasons like failure to pay rent and allowing tenants the right of first refusal when their lease expires, among other things. Neither bill is limited to mobile home park residents, although both would apply to situations like the one in Dotsero.

By now, however, it should be obvious to all that the lack of housing security poses a crisis for every renter in Colorado and local elected officials need every available tool to address it. Housing stability is the foundation for healthy and thriving communities, yet the increasing cost of rents has far outpaced wages, creating a nearly insurmountable gap in affordability for renters across Colorado — particularly in the High Country. The increased financial pressure has led to a 266% increase in chronic homelessness over the past 15 years in Colorado, giving us the dubious distinction of the largest increase of any state in the nation.

Colorado has long been a pioneer in the tradition of local control, recognizing that local elected officials are most closely connected to the needs of the community and are uniquely positioned to set policy benefiting that community. It’s time we apply that same pioneering spirit to housing security by passing bills like HB-1115 that give our local officials the tools they need to make Colorado a better state for all who live here. Together, we can put these tools to use to address the affordable housing crisis facing Colorado and ensure that everyone, regardless of zip code or race, has a safe, dignified and stable home they can afford.

Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, nonprofit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. His column appears monthly.

Move over, Ravinos: Scores of ski clubs in Vail for National Brotherhood of Skiers’ 50th anniversary summit

The high-flying Ravinos aren’t the only ski club in Vail this week. Look around the slopes and you’re likely to see dozens of different insignias embroidered on the backs of jackets, bearing the names of ski clubs from across the country.

It’s all part of the National Brotherhood of Skiers’ 50th-anniversary summit, which is in Vail to celebrate half a century of solidarity on the slopes. While the brotherhood itself is a large group of thousands of Black skiers and snowboarders, it is comprised of more than 50 smaller clubs from around the country, each with its own unique story.

Some of those clubs, like the Jim Dandy Ski Club of Detroit Michigan, pre-date the National Brotherhood of Skiers itself. The Jim Dandy Ski Club started in 1958, using the 1956 LaVern Baker song to create a memorable moniker. Later, the Jim Dandy Ski Club would become one of the brotherhood’s 13 founding clubs, and a Jim Dandy club member, in 1974, had the idea to title the brotherhood’s annual gathering the “Black Summit.”

Today the Jim Dandy Ski Club has been recognized as the oldest Black ski club in the nation, but contains white members, as well, as part of the club’s goal to be inclusive. In Vail for the Black Summit, Jim Dandy Ski Club member Charles Bantom said the group is having a great time in Vail, where club members are finding better snow conditions than they have this season back in Michigan.

“We do head up to Upper Michigan for some good snow, but it’s nothing like this,” he said.

Anthony Sullivan of the Sunshine Slopers found sunshine on the slopes of Vail Mountain on Tuesday.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Many of the other ski clubs in Vail this week, however, do not have the luxury of snow where they’re from. Anthony Sullivan of the Sunshine Slopers Ski Club said his group is visiting from Miami.

“I hadn’t seen snow all year until I got here,” he said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by members of the Ski Jammers of Houston, Texas. Ski Jammer Bruce Stewart said he has been attending the Black Summit for years, with the memorabilia to prove it. Stewart’s Ski Jammer jacket bears a patch from the 35th-annual event, which took place in Breckenridge.

Gary Garrett, president of the All Seasons Ski Club in the Oakland-San Fransisco area, with his SnowShark “Spyder” monoski.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Gary Garrett, president of the All Seasons Ski Club in the Oakland-San Fransisco area, was riding a SnowShark “Spyder” monoski on Tuesday, a commemorative edition monoski made in honor of All Seasons member Thomas “Spyder” Johnson, who died in a ski accident in 2009.

But it’s not just men in the brotherhood — many of the clubs have strong female representation, as well. Show-Me Skiers president Deanna Carroll said she is excited to be in Vail skiing with her friend Jan Walker, also a member of the Show-Me Skiers. Walker said they felt lucky to have caught a sunny day on the slopes on Tuesday.

Show-Me Skiers president Deanna Carroll, left, with club member Jan Walker of St. Louis, Missouri.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

“We’re having a fabulous day here in Vail,” Walker said on Tuesday.

The Show-Me Skiers are like most clubs in their regional draw, using the state of Missouri’s “Show-Me” slogan in creating the name for their St. Louis-based club. But in some of the newer clubs, it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. The Sugar & Spice Snow and Social Club is an all-female club that doesn’t claim a specific area of origin.

“We’re virtual,” said Melanie Washington of Sugar & Spice. “We started about 10 years ago.”

Melanie Washington, left, and Erin Jackson of the all-female Sugar & Spice Snow and Social Club, a virtual club which doesn’t use a regional hook to attract members.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Washington, who was visiting from Chantilly, Virginia, said she was honored to have one of the club’s top shredders, Erin Jackson, in Vail this week. Jackson said she loves getting together with all their club members at the National Brotherhood of Skiers summit each year.

“We even have members from the U.K. that are here with us this week,” she said.

The National Brotherhood of Skiers’ 50th-anniversary summit continues through Saturday.

Shiffrin gets super-G silver, ties record for most Alpine world championship medals

Stakes and storylines are built into any starting gate Mikaela Shiffrin gets behind. So are records.

In Wednesday’s super-G, the narrative revolved around seeking redemption for straddling the third-to-last gate just meters from combined gold in this week’s first World Alpine Ski Championships event. It was also about confirming to herself she isn’t under any global championship curse.

“The last two or four weeks — well really the last year — but especially in the last few weeks — I must have answered a hundred questions about these world championships and basically if I’m worried if it’s going to be the same as the Olympics. If I’m worried about the disappointment —  if I’m afraid of it,” Shiffrin said in a post-race press conference.

“You get asked the same thing again and again and it’s so hard to keep the balance in your mind to answer this question and still be positive and still think, ‘I can do this. I can ski my best, I can make it to the finish.’”

“And then after the combined I was like, ‘you have got to be kidding me,’” she continued, chuckling. 

“My DNF rate right now in my entire career, over 50% is at the Olympics or world championships… It’s almost funny, and it’s only funny because I was able to win a medal today.”

That medal: super-G silver.

Shiffrin ended up 0.11 seconds behind Italian gold medalist Marta Bassino and 0.22 clear of Cornelia Huetter and Kajsa Vikhoff Lie, who tied for third.

The hardware, however, failed to capture the deeper significance of Shiffrin’s rebound performance.

“I mean it’s important just alone. Then, of course, it’s very special after the combined day, but they’re totally different days. I’m even more proud of today now because in the combined, if I finished, and if I got a medal there, it was because of my slalom,” said the Edwards skier, who knew her super-G from Monday was “not good enough to be on the top step or get a medal for this race.” 

“So the last 48 hours I had to completely change my mentality, look at this hill in a different way — the visualization, the analyzing video, everything — to try to bring it back in the right level, the right skiing for this race.”

Mikaela Shiffrin competes in the super-G at the women’s World Championships in Meribel, France on Wednesday.
Gabriele Facciotti/AP photo

Bassino, who wore bib No. 8 and went right before Shiffrin, was unable to leverage the flatter upper course to her advantage but took more risks in the technically demanding middle section of the Roc de Fer course — which was roughly 15-seconds longer than the setup for the super-G portion of Monday’s combined. Her finishing time of 1 minute, 28.06 seconds was good enough to put her in the leader’s chair, but the 26-year-old two-time Olympian wasn’t particularly comfortable watching her generation’s most dominant skier take to the slope moments later.

Marta Bassino follows the race from the finish area. Bassino would win gold in the super-G, her second after winning the parallel event at her home worlds two years ago. She also became the second Italian skier to win the women’s super-G world title.
Jean-Christophe Bott/AP photo

“Today I just did a great last part because I lost a lot of time in the first part,” Bassino was quoted in SkiRacing.com. “I was really suffering watching all the other girls coming down. I’m really happy and confident in myself, it’s really a great result for me.”

At the fourth interval, Shiffrin was 0.15 seconds ahead of Bassino’s 1:10.76 time. The Italian’s aggressive skiing on the bottom of the course proved decisive; her final sector was the fastest on the day. Still, a tearful Shiffrin was pleased at the finish line. 

“I’m emotional because I don’t really feel like I should be winning a medal in super-G right now,” she said. Her World Cup resume — a win and a seventh — justify the surprise.

“There are so many women who are strong and fast.”

In the press conference that followed, Shiffrin elaborated on her 12th worlds medal, tying her with Kjetil Andre Aamodt for the most individual event medals in the modern era. Her remarks were less centered on any record, though, and more about stepping back onto a global championship podium.

“The pressure’s not off — but there’s for sure a little bit of relief, but it’s also so exciting. I didn’t really believe I could ski this track the way that I did ski it,” she said.

“So that’s a struggle for an athlete. The struggle between what you want to do and your own doubts that you have the ability to do it. And in the start gate, I was fighting this in my own mind, like, ‘can I do it? I don’t know? Probably not…hopefully…we’ll see.’”

Shiffrin required just 15 starts to match Aamodt, 12 less than the Norwegian. The overall record of 13 medals is held by Anja Parson, who won two in team events. Another record to track (because there aren’t enough) as Shiffrin competes in the giant slalom and slalom on Feb. 16 and 17, respectively, is the all-time world championships gold medal count (7), which she is one away from tying. 

Speaking of records, Shiffrin, who has spent most of the season chasing the Lindsey Vonn and now Ingemar Stenmark all-time World Cup wins carrots, woke up to a news alert this morning notifying her of Lebron James passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time NBA points list. A reporter asked Shiffrin if she could draw any comparisons between James’ chase and her own pursuits. 

“It’s another example of incredible accomplishments happening in sport that will continue to drive future generations to try to reset the boundaries, reset the records and keep pushing the level of sports, whether it’s skiing or basketball,” she said. “For me, it symbolizes this concept that we keep working harder and trying to do better.”

In super-G, Shiffrin has a medal of every color and is one of two skiers (Hermann Maier being the other) to make the super-G podium at three consecutive world championships. Though she will not compete in Saturday’s downhill, Bassino’s teammate Sofia Goggia, the Olympic downhill champion, is a favorite to make it three golds from three races for the Italian women’s team.

“Great, now the pressure is on me,” Goggia was quoted saying in SkiRacing.com. “First Fede (Federica Brignone), then Marta and let’s see.”

Italy’s Marta Bassino, winner of an alpine ski, women’s World Championships super G, celebrates on the podium with second-placed United States’ Mikaela Shiffrin, left, and joint third-placed Austria’s Cornelia Huetter, second from right, and Norway’s Kajsa Vickhoff Lie, right, in Meribel, France on Wednesday.
Alessandro Trovati/AP photo

Civil trial involving Gypsum contractor over disagreements in Leadville development gets underway

On Monday, what is expected to be a weeklong jury trial got underway at the Eagle County Justice Center in Judge Paul Dunkleman’s district courtroom. A six-person jury will hear the case in a civil disagreement between the prior partners of Affordable Mountain Homes LLC, the developer of the new Leadville affordable housing neighborhood called Railyard. 

Landowner and developer John Lichtenegger is represented by Bloch and Chapleau Associate Attorney Matthew Dolan in his lawsuit against Steven Sandoval, a local contractor based in Gypsum and the president of BW-ANE Inc. Sandoval is being represented by attorney Charles Miller of Miller & Urtz LLC. 

The case being presented before the jury concerns a joint venture and partnership between Lichtenegger and Sandoval to build 10 single-family homes at the Railyard location in Leadville. 

“Each party has claimed that the other has breached the contract between the parties and each party has brought other related claims against the other party,” Dunkleman said.

Dolan said that Lichtenegger was motivated to help alleviate housing pressures for hardworking community members and began looking for land to develop an affordable housing project, leading him to the Railyard in Leadville. 

“Prior to Mr. Lichtenegger’s involvement, the Railyard was, for lack of a better phrase, a waste of space,” Dolan said. “It had been polluted from years of industrial use and few thought he’d be able to rehabilitate the land up to EPA standards to allow for the building of residential homes, but he made it happen.”

After years of work on the land, Dolan said Lichtenegger and his team were ready to commence building efforts come 2020. On July 2 that year, Lichtenegger and Sandoval, with his company BW-ANE Inc., established a partnership called Affordable Mountain Homes LLC. 

On July 17, 2020, the parties entered an offer grading agreement in which Lichtenegger provided land and capital to build the first 10 homes of the Railyard community. At the same time, BW-ANE Inc. and Sandoval would work as a general contractor to build the homes. 

Within the agreement, Sandoval and BW-ANE Inc. were set to receive a 10% contractor fee for materials and labor. Additionally, the agreement also outlined that BW-ANE Inc. and Sandoval were entitled to a third of the profits when the homes sold. Respectively, Lichtenegger would receive two-thirds of the proceeds. 

“Unfortunately, it soon became clear that Mr. Lichtenegger had put his faith in the wrong person,” Dolan said. 

Dolan said the partnership between Lichtenegger and Sandoval terminated on Jan. 1, 2021, due to dissatisfaction with the construction work as well as a lack of communication about making payments to subcontractors and materials suppliers. 

The homes, which were partially completed by Sandoval and BW-ANE Inc. had alleged construction complications. Dolan said that most notably, the foundations of several units were improperly set, causing more complications in finishing the construction of the homes after Sandoval and BW-ANE Inc’s termination. 

“Needless to say, these issues needed to be remedied so that the homes were structurally sound and complied with the architectural plans approved by the county,” Dolan said. 

Dolan said it is critical to the case that Lichtenegger terminated Sandoval and BW-ANE Inc. prior to any of the homes receiving a certificate of occupancy or being sold. 

After his early-year termination, Dolan said Sandoval sent Lichtenegger a letter in July of 2021 showing he withdrew $299,970 of anticipatory profits. 

“Mr. Sandoval claims to (the jury) that he is still entitled to an additional $54,799.97 in compensation,” Dolan said. “To be clear, no party was ever authorized to withdraw anticipatory funds prior to the homes actually being sold.”

The claims brought against Sandoval are for breach of contract, breach of building contractors, breach of implied warranty, unjust enrichment, deceit-based fraud, negligent misrepresentation causing financial loss in a business transaction, civil theft and a breach of fiduciary duty. 

Additionallly, Dolan said the allegations against Lichtenegger were only brought about in response to Lichtenegger’s lawsuit against Sandoval. 

Miller said that the agreement Sandoval was entering with Lichtenegger was unusual, as his typical contractor fee is around 18 to 22%. This fee covers overhead and expenses of a normally operating construction company: from gas to tools, lodging to machinery. However, the promise of a third of sale proceeds influenced Sandoval’s decision to enter the Affordable Mountain Homes LLC partnership under its different-than-usual circumstances.

“This case is about someone trying to back out of a promise,” Miller said.

Lichtenegger contributed $20,000 and Sandoval contributed $10,000 to Affordable Mountain Homes LLC’s creation and Miller said Sandoval and his team began working on the Railyard project almost immediately. 

Miller said that Sandoval and his crew worked at a “furious pace” to obtain building permits and ensure the homes had foundations built before winter freezes came. 

To pay subcontractors, Sandoval used prior experience to estimate costs and complete construction draws “to make sure that he had enough money to keep the project moving at the pace it was moving,” Miller said.

Miller said the evidence of the case will show that Sandoval and his subcontractors did nearly $1.5 million of work between August 2020 and January 2021. All 10 homes were in various stages of construction, he said, with two almost complete. 

“Steve Sandoval has lived for this project over that time,” Miller said. “Although his home is in Gypsum, he rented a house in Leadville and was on site nearly every single day, taking only an occasional Sunday off to spend time with his kids.”

From Sandoval’s point of view, everything was going as planned, Miller said. Then, Sandoval was “blindsided” by Lichtenegger with notice of his and BW-ANE Inc’s termination.

“The evidence will show that they had not had prior meetings discussing complaints that Mr. Lichtenegger might have had over Steve Sandoval’s work or anything else,” Miller said. “Mr. Sandoval was not prepared. Mr. Lichtenegger, a trained attorney in Missouri had written up some documents and brought them with him in his car. He set those documents down on Mr. Sandoval’s lap and he demanded that Mr. Sandoval signed those documents.”

By signing the papers, Miller said Sandoval gave Lichtenegger back Sandoval’s third of Affordable mountain homes. In doing so, Miller said the documents also required Lichtenegger to reimburse Sandoval the $10,000 he originally contributed to the company. 

Miller said Lichtenegger hadn’t ever paid Sandoval the $10,000 back. Sandoval claims he is owed the $10,000 as well as the one-third share of the profits for the sale of the homes. 

“Lichtenegger saw the potential profit and tried to back out of the deal,” Miller said. “The evidence will show BW-ANE Inc. was wrongfully terminated from the project and is entitled to its one-third share of the profits.”

Various witnesses are testifying in the trial, including subcontractors, materials suppliers, bank managers and others close to the Railyard project. 

After being presented the evidence, Dunkleman will instruct the jury on the applicable law. The jury alone will be responsible for determining the facts of the case. 

Mountain Recreation opens outdoor ice rink in Edwards

For the third consecutive year, the outdoor ice rink is back at Mountain Recreation’s Edwards’ Field House. The community will have free daily access for public skating and hockey until lights out at 9 p.m.

The rink has been moved to the baseball fields just east of the field house in Edwards. This year the rink has been built with an EZ-Ice kit with boards, nets above the backboards and hockey nets. There will be some skates and hockey gear available — free of charge.

At the ribbon cutting on Tuesday, Feb. 2, Mountain Recreation Executive Director Janet Bartnik said, “We are pleased to partner with several organizations to bring this community amenity to fruition.”

Bartnik thanked partners from the Edwards Metro District, Vail Mountaineer Hockey Club, Singletree, Vail Honeywagon, the Mountain Rec staff in Edwards, especially Tom Padilla and lead volunteer Tom Boyd. Volunteers for ice maintenance are still welcome. Contact Tom Boyd at tom@tirboyd.com.