| VailDaily.com

Summit County leaders, activists push for ski area fees be used for forest health, not just skiing

For years, Colorado ski areas have been heavily pushing the passage of the Ski Area Fee Retention Act in the U.S. Congress, a bill that would allow forest service districts in ski areas to retain 50% of permit and lease fees ski areas pay to use federal land in the forest districts they originate from, money which usually goes directly to the federal treasury.

But local conservation groups and government officials in Summit County have raised concerns about the bill, saying it is far too narrowly tailored to serve ski areas and their quest to rapidly improve their resorts, with no money going to preventing wildfire or protecting forest health in the communities the ski areas do business in.

Ski areas across Colorado pay about $25 million annually in permit and leasing fees to the federal government. The $25 million from Colorado ski areas represent the vast majority of the $37 million annually sent to Washington by ski areas nationwide. Currently, all of that money goes to the feds for forest service projects across the country, not just the forests the money comes from.

Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., introduced the bill in Congress in their respective chambers last year, and reintroduced the bill again this session.

“The Forest Service is a critical partner to Colorado communities and our outdoor recreation industry,” Bennet said in a press release when the bill was reintroduced last month. “By retaining some of the ski area fees for use in our local national forests, we can strengthen the Forest Service’s ability to serve our mountain towns and the businesses that drive our economy.”

“It’s important that our skiing communities don’t just send money to Washington and not fully benefit from fees they generate for the federal government,” Gardner said in the same release. “My bipartisan legislation with Senator Bennet will make it easier for our skiing communities to make the capital improvements they need by keeping the fees they generate.”

The ski resort industry was also effusive about the introduction of the bill, which they heavily lobbied for. In a Denver Post article, a ski industry lobbyist said the retained money would be used primarily for the benefit of ski areas and their guests.

“Ultimately resort guests benefit from ski fee retention,” said Geraldine Link, policy director at the National Ski Areas Association, the main federal lobbyists for ski areas in Washington. “It will help move the process along when a ski area wants to upgrade its lifts or add snowmaking or invest in a mountain bike park.”

Link referred to the fact that the bill — introduced this session as H.R. 2509 in the House and S. 1723 in the Senate — specifically allocates the retained fee money for ski area improvements and expedition of federal approval of capital improvements to ski areas.

The bill specifically prohibits funds from being used for “wildfire suppression” or “biological monitoring” of forest service land.

The specific exclusion of funding for forestry projects outside of ones that benefit ski areas is what drew consternation from Summit County’s Forest Health Task Force, a local forest conservation council.

The task force’s concern is drawn primarily from the massive slash to the budget of the White River National Forest, the most visited national forest in the nation, over the past decade. The funding for the district has been decimated from $270,000 in 2008 to $40,000 in 2018.

The organization sent a letter to both senators on July 5 asking language to be modified to allow using retained funds for wildfire suppression and forest health projects.

“My major issue with this well intended bill is that the the scope of the fund usage by land managers is very limited,” said Tom Koehler, a member of the Forest Health Task Force who contributed to the letter. “It would be great to have more funds to take care of the public land parcel, for wildfire suppression, and preserving the adjacent ecological system.”

The letter follows similar letters sent last year to the senators by regional government organizations, including the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

Those organizations include Summit County government and every town government in the county, where residents have paid millions of dollars over the years to do wildfire mitigation work on land owned by the Forest Service to do work they are unable to do because of budget cuts.

“The language in the ski area fee retention bill kind of flies in the face of the real needs and priorities here,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “We support the concept of having ski fee retained in our forest district, but we also want the priorities and needs for the money to be determined by forest supervisor or district ranger, not exclusively the ski areas.”

An argument may be made that ski areas are justified in retaining money for their own use, given that they are the ones giving the money to the feds in the first place. But that is not how local conservationists see it.

“While they’re the biggest payers of these fees for using public land, they’re not the only ones,” Koehler said, pointing out that anybody who does business on federal land pays the same kind of fees. “It’s a reasonable mechanism to pay the public for use of public land, which they profit off.”

“Even though they pay the fees, those fees are supported by patrons, users and the community in various ways,” Forest Health Task Force president Howard Hallman said. “Without the community infrastructure and blessing, the ski areas wouldn’t be able to generate the income they generate in the first place.”

There is also concern that if 50% of the retained fees are specifically earmarked for the benefit of ski areas instead of general forest service use, as it works now, that money would be taken out of the pool for wildfire suppression and forest health projects nationwide, compounding the problem of dwindling forest service budgets.

“Were this legislation to go into effect, it would preclude using half the money for wildfire mitigation, and that can actually put us in a worse position when it comes to funds for wildfire suppression,” Stiegelmeier said. “That’s taking away potential funds that could be used for preventing wildfire and building healthier forests.”

Requests for comment from the senators about pushback to the bill were not available as of publication.

The early forecast as the Broncos report

On the previous episode of “John Elway Tries Build a Football Team,” No. 7 acquired Joe Flacco in his latest bid to find a quarterback while also having what we thought was a pretty good draft.

Yes, welcome to Englewood and Broncos preseason, where we spend the next six weeks hemming and hawing about the upcoming season and trying to divine meaning out of four utterly meaningless exhibition games.

Offense

We weren’t sold on Flacco, and we really still aren’t, but we do like what Elway seems to have done in the other skill positions.

At receiver, Emmanuel Sanders will take it slow coming back from injury, while Courtland Sutton is on the other side. Sanders gets the benefit of the doubt with his recovery plan and thus, the Broncos have two good wideouts.

The 2018 NFL Draft and ensuing free-agent period yielded Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay, which is a nice backfield. Elway went with Iowa tight end Noah Fant in this year’s draft, so that looks solid.

And then we’re back to the nuts and bolts of it — the offensive line. Garett Boles, sigh, is back at left tackle, and Ronald Leary joins him on this side. At center is Connor McGovern. Newbie Dalton Risner and Ja’Wuan James are on the right side.

There’ll obviously be a lot of shuffling through the next six weeks, but this is what we watch.

Must. Keep. Joe. Flacco. Upright.

First, this still looks a little weird. We’re being honest. But for Joe Flacco to be successful, the offensive line has to keep him upright. (David Zalubowski | Associated Press)
joe flacco, r m

Whatever’s left of Flacco’s skills won’t be visible if he’s running around for his life/getting pummeled.

Fant, in particular, should be interesting to watch. From his Baltimore days, Flacco likes his tight ends, so the rookie could be a good outlet. Blocking might be a work in progress (anything to help this offensive line).

Yes, the mere presence of a running game with Freeman and Lindsay will help slow opposing pass rushes, but Flacco has to have time. He wasn’t exactly mobile quarterback in his youth. He’s 34 and a statue.

And, now, about his heir apparent. Good to see Drew Lock sign on the bottom line and not miss any time in camp. Best case scenario, Flacco has a renaissance and Lock can hold a clipboard for two years.

More realistically, Lock shuffles in during some late-season games against Detroit at the Raiders at home, weeks 16 and 17. He needs the snaps in practice and the preseason games.

Defense

The tendency is to say everything is fine here. Of course, Von Miller is the source of all goodness, if you’re a Broncos fan or just a fan of good football. Bradley Chubb has proven to be a good complement.

The worry here is two things. First, the Broncos cannot leave these guys on the field for 40 minutes per game. A lot of that goes to what went above.

There’s also the fact that the “No Fly Zone” is dead. As high-maintenance as Aqib Talib was, the Broncos missed him last year. Chris Harris is back, but that’s about it from the original secondary.

Chris Harris is the only remaining member of the “No Fly Zone” secondary, which is a cause for concern in a pass-happy division. (David Zalubowski | Associated Press)
chris harris, r m

By yardage, the Broncos were 22nd in the league in defense last season and 20th against the pass. In Scooby-Doo parlance, ruh-roh.

This has got to get better, especially when you consider that the Broncos are in the same division with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers.

And this brings us to our stirring conclusion. Even if a lot of things go right — Flacco rejuvenates the offense, Bolles goes the entire season without a holding penalty (ha-ha) and the defense stiffens against the pass — the Broncos still have Kansas City and the San Diego … umm … L.A. Chargers in their own division.

It’s an improbable path from 6-10 to a return to the postseason.

Peterson: Tuesday night fever

The thought of getting up and dancing in front of 700 people in the middle of an airplane hangar would make most people want to run in the opposite direction. 

But Patrick Scanlan isn’t most people. P-Dawg, as he was known during his days booting field goals for the Battle Mountain Huskies, was born to boogie. 

Maybe you wouldn’t know it to look at him, but Scanlan says he’s always been a natural performer at heart. Which is why, when he was approached by reps from the Vail Valley Foundation’s YouthPower365 to be a participant in Tuesday night’s Star Dancing Gala at the Eagle Valley Jet Center, Scanlan couldn’t have said yes quicker. 

“It’s a great organization that I believe a lot in, especially growing up in this valley,” said Scanlan, who did Teach for America after college and now mentors local youth at Berry Creek Middle School through YouthPower365. “Financially, no buildings are getting named after me, but giving time and some sweat, that’s the best way to give back.”

And, man, was Scanlan willing to give some sweat. He admits to maybe sending the most enthusiastic email in the history of the gala to Colin Meiring of the Vail Valley Dance Academy, who has coordinated the performances for the fundraiser since its inception. 

“I went over to my neighbor’s house, Michael Holton, and told him I was doing it,” Scanlan said. “And we were just talking in the yard and he’s like, you know what, just looking at you, you’re not an amazing Flamenco dancer. You don’t know East Coast swing or anything like that. So you’ve really gotta do something fun … like fall off the stage into a table or do like a tribute to ‘Top Gun.’ I was like, OK. It kind of evolved from that.”

Meiring’s response to the “20,000-word email” that Scanlan said he sent? Dude, you only have three minutes. 

“I was imagining an hour-and-a-half show with me up there with a 15-minute intermission. But that wasn’t the case.”

Patrick Scanlan does an interpretive dance of the movie “Top Gun” with professional dancer Danielle Barry at the YouthPower365 Star Dancing Gala, raising funds for education.
Rex Keep | Courtesy Vail Valley Foundation

What gala attendees did see was a 3-minute dancing homage to “Top Gun” that would have made Iceman want to be Scanlan’s wingman.

Not that Scanlan was the only star Tuesday night. Hardly. 

This Star Dancing Gala, now in its 11th year, more than lives up to its name. It has become the Vail Valley’s biggest party of the summer and raises planeloads of donations to power extended learning opportunities throughout Eagle County for kids of all ages and their families.

It’s one of those things that makes you realize just how special this place is, and how many talented, dedicated people call this valley home. 

The stars of this dance party? An interior designer, a veterinarian, a dermatologist, a yoga instructor, a CEO of a lifestyle brand, a professional hockey player — and, well, Chris Lindley, who has enough degrees and jobs for maybe three people.

Lindley, the executive director of the newly-formed nonprofit, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, just left his job as director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment. He’s also the founder of two successful fitness companies with 10 different locations, including Endorphin in Eagle Ranch; a former professional firefighter; and the former prevention services director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Oh, yeah, he’s also a former unit commander for the US Army Medical Reserves who has received a presidential commendation and the Bronze Star Medal for saving multiple lives during a suicide bomber attack in Iraq. 

And he’s got three — yes, three — masters degrees. When this guy sleeps, nobody knows.

But of all the things Lindley has done in his life, nothing compared to getting up on that stage.

“I’d like to consider myself somewhat athletic, but, man, dancing is a whole different skill set,” Lindley said.

Often, in the months leading up to the event, Lindley was certain that he was going to be “just awful.”

“Like, I would forget something, I would drop her, and I would be the ass of the entire show,” he said. “I couldn’t remember the steps, I couldn’t move my hips.”

Victoria Jones, the interior designer, said she had similar thoughts — and she trained as a dancer growing up and placed the winning bid at last year’s gala to secure a spot on stage this year. 

“I was like, I can do that,” said Jones, who in her younger dancing days once performed a routine on stage at Red Rocks. “But when you’re practicing, you don’t know what everyone else is doing. I thought it would be like riding a bike, but after 10 years, it didn’t come back as quickly.”

Jean Urquhart, the dermatologist, said she lost two toenails during the more than 20 hours of rehearsing she did with her partner in the months leading up to the event. 

Liz Logan Sterett, the CEO of her own lifestyle brand, BeSOUL, said her initial reaction when asked if she’d perform was: “Are you crazy?  The only time I dance is with tequila and girlfriends.”

But it’s the kids, and the cause, that won out — and helped make all the grueling hours of practice worth it. 

“Every year I tell myself I’m going to do one thing that pushes my limits, tests my strength and I can honestly say this was humbling,” Logan Sterett said. “But when I think about the impact my dancing shoes made, along with all my fellow dancers, I realize we are all here to do our part in making our community thrive.”

“I was reminded how fun it is to get out of my comfort zone,” said Rachel Nelson, the yoga instructor. 

“Walking out in front of 700 leaders and influencers in this community and kind of just showing them who you are and being completely vulnerable, I think, is a good thing for all of us,” Lindley said. “That ties into our behavioral health efforts. We’re all human, and we may not be as thin as we want to be, or as athletic as we want to be, or as funny, or whatever, but just being out, and having fun, and being human — the more we can all be out doing that as a community, it’s just going to help us along that path better.”

Couldn’t agree more. 

As for Scanlan, if you’re still interested in seeing his full hour-plus routine, just give him a call. He’s available to do weddings, birthdays and any other event this summer.

Email Vail Daily Editor Nate Peterson at npeterson@vaildaily.com

El Chapo arrives at Supermax in Florence, Colorado Friday morning

NEW YORK (AP) — Only hours after receiving a life sentence, convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was forced to make a sudden departure to the highest-security prison in the U.S. to serve the term, his lawyer said Thursday.

A government helicopter whisked the narco, notorious for his daring jailbreaks, out of New York City on Wednesday after the sentencing in federal court in Brooklyn, said defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman. The lawyer said he was informed that his client was en route to the supermax facility in Florence, Colorado.

For most defendants, there’s a lag between sentencing and a decision by the Bureau of Prisons on where to house them. In Guzman’s case, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan agreed at the close of his sentencing to recommend to the bureau that it let Guzman stay at a federal jail in Manhattan for two more months to help his lawyers mount an appeal.

It’s now clear that behind the scenes, there already was a plan in place “to get him out of the city as soon as possible,” Lichtman said.

Prison officials and prosecutors wouldn’t talk about Guzman’s whereabouts on Thursday.

The 62-year-old Guzman had been the subject of extreme security measures carrying an untold cost ever since his extradition to the U.S. in 2017 to face drug-trafficking charges. Authorities were determined to prevent any repeat of Guzman’s legendary jailbreaks in Mexico, including the one in 2015 involving a mile-long (1.6 kilometer-long) tunnel dug to the shower in his cell.

Guzman was put in solitary confinement in a high-security wing of the Manhattan jail that has housed terrorists and mobsters.

“I drink unsanitary water, no air or sunlight, and the air pumped in makes my ears and throat hurt,” he said at sentencing. “This has been psychological, emotional and mental torture 24 hours a day.”

For pretrial hearings in Brooklyn, authorities transporting Guzman to and from jail shut down the Brooklyn Bridge to make way for a police motorcade that includes a SWAT team and an ambulance, all tracked by helicopters. Once the trial started, they secretly kept him locked up in the bowels of the courthouse during the week to make the logistics less arduous.

The apparent next — and last — stop for Guzman: a prison sometimes called the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols are among those who call it home.

Wissot: No rocking chair for these old folks

I ran the Vail HillClimb over the July 4 weekend. It’s not the first time I’ve run it. Counting the number of race T-shirts in my closet, it looks like I have 13 times. That means I missed 30 other times, because the race celebrated its 43rd running this year.

The race begins by the Covered Bridge in Vail Village and takes the runners up mostly Forest Service roads for 7.7 miles to just below the gondola in Mid-Vail. The altitude gain is a little over 2,000 feet. I said mostly Forest Service roads for a reason. This year, because of the road construction taking place between Eagles Nest and Mid-Vail, the last half mile or so took place on singletrack.

I’m not much of a runner to begin with, and the singletrack is to me as Kryptonite was to Superman: my worst nemesis. I just need to look at a tree root and I’m guaranteed to trip over it.

But I digress. This column isn’t about me. It’s about the 14 other men and women in my age group (70 to Death) who joined me on the climb that day. These 12 septuagenarians and two octogenarians were there to prove that the young at heart don’t need to be confined to a comfy chair reading a nice book. Doing something physically hard is not only for the young of body.

Having said that, please let me make it clear that there is no beneficial health reason for a person over 70 to be running up a hill at altitude. Running does not increase your life expectancy. Some of the greatest marathoners in history did not make it out of their 60s and 70s. A brisk walk in a park or swimming laps in a pool done on a regular basis offers older people many of the cardio benefits needed to remain healthy.

I should note that not all 15 of us were running up the hill. Some of us definitely were and I’ll get to them in a bit. But the majority of us, including yours truly, chose other means of locomotion. Many ran the flatter portions of the course, of which there were precious few, and walked or hiked the hills. Others felt they had a better chance of getting to the top by dispensing with running altogether, and simply walked the entire distance.

Me? I opted for fast walking, though in my case using the word “fast” is debatable, and then when the climbs got steeper and steeper, switched to lumbering my way up. I was fortunate to be feeling good because when I’m not, lumbering can quickly turn into stumbling, or worse, bumbling aimlessly around like a man lost in the desert searching for a water hole. A very disturbing sight indeed.

I am happy to report that all fifteen of us made it to the finish line. Some much faster than others. A big shoutout, therefore, to Richard Katz and Frank Kunkel. Richard finished in a scintillating time of 1 hour, 19 minutes, 4 seconds, and Frank followed behind in 1:35:46. I’d rather not report how far behind them I was. Let’s just say that Richard and Frank had time for a quick shower and a light lunch before returning to watch me finish.

I don’t know either of these gentlemen. But I sure do admire their running talent and training ethic.

On the distaff side (I’m hoping that word has something to do with women because I sure liked using it), kudos to Peggy Nicholls and Gail Scoby, who finished first and second, as well as to the three other women in their age division who also made it to the top.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention three outstanding age-70-plus male runners — Tom Edwards of Gypsum, Jim Mykleby from Leadville and Marlin Smickley who lives in Edwards.

Tom and Jim are stalwart competitors, have run the course many more times than I have, and are usually standing at the finish line ready to greet me each year.

Marlin is no stranger to readers of this paper. He was written up a year ago at this time in the Vail Daily because he celebrated his 80th birthday on the day of last year’s race. He was back at it this year and for local runners is seen as an inspirational treasure.

In fact, I’d like to close this column by telling you that when people ask me if I’m going to run next year’s hill climb, I will answer in the affirmative. The way I see it is if Marlin can do it at 82, I sure as heck can muster the motivation to do it at 75.

It’s how us runners think.

Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at jayhwissot@mac.com.

Local Dreamer to cycle through Vail Valley to raise DACA awareness

Javier Pineda knows how resort towns work — the long hours, demanding labor and intense pressure during peak seasons. He grew up in Patzcuaro, Mexico, another tourist area and home to the Dia de los Muertos celebration made famous in the United States by the Disney Pixar movie “Coco.”

But ever since he was 12, the 25-year-old Pineda has called Summit County, Colorado, home — learning to snowboard first with SOS Outreach and now in the backcountry. And this weekend he’ll ride his bike from Copper Mountain to Aspen to highlight U.S. House passage of the American Dream and Promise Act — sending a message, he hopes, to the Senate to follow suit.

The bill would protect more than 2.5 million Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders from deportation and provide a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients like Pineda who were brought to the United States by their parents without documents at a young age. The Trump administration is trying to end DACA.

Seeking a permanent solution

“It’s not really a political campaign,” Pineda said of his 120-mile ride on bike paths and frontage roads. “It’s more that not many people know about the Dream and Promise Act. It’s more like, ‘Hey, there’s still something happening,’ especially now that DACA is going to be heard in the Supreme Court in November. It just adds more pressure so they can find a permanent solution.”

A Summit County High School graduate and former student body president, Pineda will stop Saturday at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards, where MIRA is partnering with the Mobile Mexican Consulate to help people from Mexico renew and process legal documents. The service will be offered from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, July 20-21, at BMHS.

Then he says he’ll continue on toward Aspen — a final destination inspired by the 2011 book “The Slums of Aspen” about environmental pressure on trailer parks inhabited mostly by Latino workers. Pineda also expressed sympathy for the plight of residents of the Eagle River Village mobile home park in Edwards, where the Vail Daily has exposed substandard drinking water.

‘It’s not really a political campaign,’ Pineda said of his 120-mile ride on bike paths and frontage roads.
David O. Williams | Special to the Daily

“Something that inspired me to choose this route was to touch all of the ski communities as much as possible and just communities that benefit from tourism, because I definitely believe that immigrants, in general, are just underrated,” Pineda said “They’re literally the unsung heroes who move the economy in these communities.”

Pineda says he wants to raise the limited awareness, even in his own community, about what the Dream Act means for Coloradans and Latinos around the nation — especially during Latino Conservation Week, which runs July 17-23.

An Eagle Scout, Mountain Dreamers board member and Summit Foundation Youth of the Year Philanthropy Award-winner, Pineda is pursuing a degree in Sustainability Studies at Colorado Mountain College while working as a paralegal for the Summit County immigration law office of Eric Fisher and also part-time at the criminal and family law firm of Carlson Edwards O’Connor.

DACA, which was put in place by the Obama administration and has the support of a majority of Americans, allowed Dreamers like Pineda to come out of the shadows, study and work legally in the only country many of them have ever known. There are 17,000 Dreamers in Colorado and nearly 800,000 nationwide.

Rockfall work near Vail to continue next week

EAGLE COUNTY — The Colorado Department of Transportation will stop traffic intermittently on eastbound and westbound Interstate 70 through Dowd Canyon (mile 171 – 173) on Monday, July 22, for rock scaling operations.  Dowd Canyon is between the west end of Vail and the junction of U.S. Highways 6 & 24 (Dowd Junction).  

Traffic will be stopped once or twice an hour for approximately 30 minutes between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. Cyclists and pedestrians also will not be permitted to travel on the bike path through Dowd Canyon while I-70 is closed to traffic.  

Rock scaling work above highways must close roadways to maintain safety for the traveling public. And, due to safety and visibility requirements, rock work must be performed during daylight hours

Rock scaling is expected to be completed Monday.  However, if geotechnical experts determine another day of rock work is required, traffic will be stopped again on Tuesday, July 23, again from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Following scaling operations, the right lane of westbound I-70 will be closed from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to clean the ditch along the right shoulder to restore its effectiveness as a rockfall catch area.  Delays should be anticipated throughout the day.  An updated work schedule will be distributed July 22.   

As part of its Whole System – Whole Safety campaign, the Colorado Department of Transportation prioritizes the removal or securing of potential identified hazards such as loose rocks and boulders.  This operation will provide I-70 drivers with a safety enhancement through an area that is prone to rockfall. 

Vail Daily unveils Newsroom Jams

A project months in the making, Newsroom Jams is now live on VailDaily.com.

Our valley is full of talented musicians. Newsroom Jams offers an opportunity for locals artists to play their original songs in our newsroom, during business hours, for our online audience to enjoy. Likewise, it also gives listeners the opportunity to hear what’s jamming across the valley.

Imagine sipping your morning java paired with the tunes of artists who play across Vail and greater Eagle County; that’s where we’re going with this. The idea is to create a go-to source for music that is created and played right here in our valley; to give listeners an experience that no other playlist offers: a true showcase of the Vail Valley’s talent pool.

Where will this project go? We will start by posting videos on our website and using them to promote local shows, but the sky’s the limit. Playlists on streaming services, placements on social media and more are all on the table, and we are excited to take this project as far as we can.

To launch Newsroom Jams, it takes a valley. The project would not exist without submissions from local artists. From solo acts to bands to orchestras; if you have originals, we want you to come jam in our newsroom.

If you’d like to be featured on Newsroom Jams, please contact Executive Producer Ross Leonhart at rleonhart@vaildaily.com or Producer Sean Naylor at snaylor@vaildaily.com.

Lindsey Vonn’s physical therapist files federal antitrust lawsuit against Vail Health

EAGLE — Lindsay Winninger, the former head physical therapist for the U.S. Ski Team on the women’s World Cup circuit and Lindsey Vonn’s private physical therapist, has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit claiming Vail Health holds a monopoly in the regional physical therapy industry.

In her federal lawsuit, Winninger alleges that Vail Health’s officers and board president defamed and disparaged her, and deceived others about her, which drove her firm out of business.

Vail Health’s ‘supra-competitive profits’

Winninger’s federal lawsuit alleges that Vail Health controls 70% of the Vail Valley’s physical therapy market. That gives the hospital the “monopoly power to raise prices and exclude competition.”

Winninger alleges that Vail Health collects “supra-competitive profits,” from its physical therapy business, 20% to 40% above competitive market prices. That’s approximately $140 per session for self-pay and more than $300 per session under an insurance contract, as opposed to the more normal rate of $65 to $120 per session, the lawsuit alleges.

“According to the sworn testimony of Howard Head Executive Vice President Nicholas Brown, Vail Health captured, on a gross margin basis, $22.5 million in 2017 alone,” the lawsuit states.

That kind of money should have attracted competition but has not because of “Vail Health’s exclusionary conduct,” the lawsuit states.

Over the past two years, three physical therapy providers — including Winninger’s Sports Rehab Consulting — have closed their Vail offices because of “anticompetitive market conditions created by Vail Health’s exercise of its monopoly power,” the lawsuit alleges.

Local lawsuits too

While the federal antitrust case was filed this week, an Eagle County case has been slogging its way through local courts for more than three years.

In an emailed statement, Vail Health said Winninger’s federal antitrust lawsuit is more of the same.

“The complaint filed against Vail Health by Lindsay Winninger and Sports Rehab Consulting appears to largely restate many of the same baseless allegations these parties previously made in the lawsuit pending in Eagle County,” Vail Health’s statement said.

Vail Health has accused Winninger and David Cimino of taking more than 3,000 Vail Health patient files when Cimino left Vail Health to join Winninger’s firm, and that Winninger and Cimino solicited those patients.

That’s not true, Winninger says. She sued Vail Health and now-former CEO Doris Kirchner in Eagle County District Court for what Winninger says are “false” and “defamatory” claims.

“Vail Health has been vigorously defending that case. Vail Health has not been served yet with this (federal antitrust) complaint and is not therefore in a position to comment further on the latest filing by plaintiffs,” Vail Health’s statement said.

Maintaining a monopoly?

Winninger’s lawsuit claims that Vail Health’s competitive barriers include:

  • Physical therapists who leave Vail Health to work somewhere else are banned for a year from treating any of the patients they treated at the hospital, under the terms of an “unreasonable, illegal and anticompetitive employment agreement” physical therapists must sign when they work for the hospital.
  • In Winninger’s case, Vail Health “also engaged in anticompetitive acts and conduct by defaming … Winninger and disparaging Sports Rehab’s business reputation in the Vail Valley medical community, and by … interfering with Winninger’s consulting contracts, all in an attempt to maintain Vail Health’s monopoly over physical therapy services in the Vail Valley geographic market.”
  • Vail Health’s 10-year lease with the Steadman clinic, signed June 1, 2017, precluded the Steadman clinic from launching its own physical therapy business. Steadman’s referrals account for 65%-70% of Vail Health’s physical therapy referrals, the lawsuit alleges.
  • Vail Health tried to create a physical therapy joint venture with Vail Summit Orthopedics, “expanding or at least maintaining its monopoly power,” the lawsuit alleges.

Former U.S. Ski Team, Olympic therapist

Winninger is the former head physical therapist for the U.S. Ski Team on the women’s World Cup circuit and now Lindsey Vonn’s private physical therapist. She is being represented by Alan Kildow, Vonn’s father, who has specialized in complex commercial litigation during his legal career.

“This case is not just about a physical therapist – the underlying facts are about control of physical therapy in the Vail Valley. This case far outstrips a simple defamation case,” Kildow said during a hearing earlier this year.

Kildow argued that a forensic audit of Winninger’s computer found that Winninger does not have Vail Health’s patient files, never did, and did not solicit any Vail Health patients. Kildow said that in the three and a half years the case has been slogging through local courts, Vail Health has not come up with the name of one patient whom Winninger solicited.

Janet Savage, Vail Health’s attorney, insisted in a hearing Thursday afternoon that they have not been given access to all those files.

Kildow countered that what “Savage says is untrue.”

“She (Winninger) has been accused of stealing patients that were never stolen,” Kildow said. “It is a very simple issue. Did these parties take copies (of the patient files)? There is no question that no one took copies.”

District Court Judge Russell Granger inherited the case when former Judge Fred Gannett retired. So far, Granger has ruled on 114 motions.

To help speed the case along, Granger appointed retired Chief District Court Judge Terry Ruckriegle to sift through the mountains of paperwork.

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Rare burn morel mushrooms popping up in Colorado

From the pine cones, leaves, weeds, sprouts, twigs, brush, pine, dirt and ash — 50 shades of brown, really — burst morel mushrooms. Specifically, burn morels (or fire morels), which flourish the year after large wildfires.

The spongy, hollow, honeycombed little weirdos are the Cadillacs (or the Teslas, depending on your generation) of mushrooms. They’re coveted for their meaty, umami-rific taste, and they’re hard to find. Unless it’s the year following a forest fire, in which case it can be a burn morel bonanza.

Last summer, the Spring Creek Fire burned 108,045 acres in southern Colorado, making it the third-largest wildfire in state history. It crept very close to little La Veta, population 779, but spared the town. What I was scouring the earth for up at Old La Veta Pass are the silver lining of that devastation.

“I’d always heard of fire morels but never had the opportunity to find them,” said Bob Kennemer, professional naturalist and director of La Veta’s Francisco Fort Museum and my guide for the foraging. “The year after the fire, they’re the most prolific, and then they fade out the years after that. We’ve got a lot this year.”

No one really knows why fire triggers the mushrooming of the mushrooms.

Read more via The Denver Post.