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Former Aspen city councilor, Skico executive Derek Johnson pleads guilty to stealing, faces 4-12 years in prison

A former Aspen city councilman, mayoral candidate and Aspen Skiing Co. executive pleaded guilty Monday to systematically stealing from his bosses for years.

Derek Johnson, 52, faces between four and 12 years in prison after admitting in Pitkin County District Court felony theft of stealing between $100,000 and $1 million from Skico between June 2013 and January 2019. 

And while police and prosecutors previously have alleged that Johnson and his wife, Kerri, stole more than $2.4 million worth of Skico-owned skis, snowboards and other goods during his 17-year history with the company, Derek Johnson will only have to pay back $250,000, Pam Mackey, his Denver-based lawyer said in court Monday.

Before his plea to felony theft was official Monday, District Judge Chris Seldin asked Johnson what he did that made him guilty.

“I acquired some items without permission,” he said. “However, during sentencing, I’m looking forward to explaining some of the circumstances surrounding that.”

Asked if he knew what he did constituted the crime of theft, Johnson hedged a bit.

“Certainly not initially,” he said. “But I made some poor choices and that is the case.”

Johnson, who was fired by Skico in December, helped found D&E Snowboard Shop and sold it to Skico in 2001, when he became the company’s retail-rental division managing director. He served one term on the Aspen City Council from 2009 to 2013 and ran for mayor in 2013.

Besides the cap on restitution, the District Attorney’s Office did not make any other concessions on the sentencing parameters, Mackey said. Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 21.

In a statement released Monday morning, Skico officials said they “continue to be deeply saddened by this whole situation.”

“While Derek Johnson’s public admission of responsibility for these serious crimes is an important first step in finding closure for Aspen Skiing Company, that process will take significant time,” according to the statement. “These crimes impacted a number of people, caused them emotional trauma that continues to this day, damaged trust and had financial impacts on individuals and on the company.”

Kerri Johnson also appeared in court Monday, though her case was continued until Dec. 16. She currently faces a raft of felony charges including two counts of theft of $1 million or more, two other counts of theft and two counts of conspiracy to commit theft. 

Prosecutor Don Nottingham has offered Kerri Johnson a plea deal, and the two sides had a two-hour meeting about it last week, said Beth Krulewitch, her attorney. However, the two sides need more time to communicate, she said. 

“This is a huge decision for my client,” Krulewitch said, noting that the couple has three children.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

Gov. Jared Polis visits Nepal and a Vail Valley family’s company where hand-woven rugs are made

It’s a big deal when the governor pops in for a visit, especially if he traveled to the other side of the world to do it.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis recently visited Reliance Carpets, a rug-weaving factory in Nepal, whose global reach has roots in the Vail Valley.

Dolma Dhakhwa, sister of Blossom Rugs owners Dechen and Samten Aungae, a Vail Valley business that imports hand-woven rugs from Nepal, operates the factory.

“It is such a great honor to have Gov. Polis visit our factory,” Dhakhwa said in a phone call from Nepal.

A group of Nepalese business people asked around to learn who in Nepal has connections to Colorado, which led to Dhakhwa.

“They told her, ‘The governor has a half hour,’” Samten Aungae said.

Dhakhwa rolled out the red carpet, showing Polis the factory and some Nepalese culture.

“We are so happy to welcome Colorado’s governor to Nepal. We are thankful that Colorado has been so helpful and generous to us,” she said.

“It was exciting to visit a company that exports to Colorado,” Polis said in a phone interview Friday.

Reliance Carpet in Kathmandu employs several dozen craftsmen and craftswomen in Nepal, and also creates jobs in Colorado, Polis said.

Rug weavers work more than 30 looms, while other workers create organic dyes and separate the wool using traditional techniques. It can take months to make a single rug, but it’s worth the wait, Polis said.

Polis’ Kathmandu visit was part of his first Colorado trade mission as a governor, with stops in Kathmandu, Bangalore and Mumbai.

Colorado has one of the highest concentrations of Nepali people in the country, Polis said.

A circuitous route to Colorado

Like most paths through Nepal, the road to Colorado is a circuitous route, especially for Samten and Dechen Aungae. Their families fled Tibet when the Chinese invaded in 1959, seeking refuge in Nepal.

The Red Cross was one of the only agencies in the region in 1959 and convinced Tibetan Refugee families to weave some rugs to sell to Europeans and Americans.

So they did.

“They lived for six months on the money they made from one rug,” Dechen Aungae said.

They taught some others to weave. Those people taught some others and a business was born.

Samten and Dechen Aungae immigrated to the United States after spending their childhoods as Tibetan refugees. Dolma, Dechen’s sister, stayed in Nepal and looks after the family factory.

Samten and Dechen Aungae opened Blossom Rug Vail during the summer of 2009. They opened their Steamboat store before that.

Dolma and Dechen’s family in Nepal has run the rug manufacturing company for 50 years.

The family business is now an international industry, reaching from Nepal to Colorado and several other points around the globe. Many of the rugs go to Blossom Rugs.

“It’s a family business. We have been making rugs for a long time,” Dhakhwa said.

Send them artwork, photographs or just about anything and they can make a handwoven rug from it.

Before long a rug returns handwoven from silk, wool, cashmere … anything you want, even metal. Depending on the size, four or five people work on one rug, sometimes in two shifts.

Because people in Colorado and around the globe keep buying these rugs, around 250 people in Nepal have pretty good jobs. Other facilities around Nepal employ similar numbers.

Along with rugs, Blossom carries handmade jewelry, arts and crafts from Nepal, India, and Tibet.

Samten and Dechen Aungae work with scores of interior designers.

“That creates direct communication. No middleman. Because we are a direct source, that also keeps our pricing competitive,” Samten Aungae said.

Buy a rug, help a kid

They reinvest much of the money back into Nepal. Dechen Aungae was one of the first daycare teachers in her sister’s first childcare centers, teaching English.

Samten Aungae’s brother runs an orphanage, Phende Children’s Home in Nepal, home to more than 50 children. For $40 a month you can keep a kid safe, warm, fed and in school.

Buy a rug from them and help save some kids. Samten and Dechen Aungae are active supporters.

Efforts to relocate an ancient wetland could help determine the fate of a water project on Lower Homestake Creek

LAKE COUNTY — One morning last month, Brad Johnson arrived at a patch of rippling yellow grasses alongside U.S. 24, a few miles south of Leadville in the upper Arkansas River valley. Sandwiched among a cluster of abandoned ranch buildings, a string of power lines and a small pond, it is an unassuming place — except, of course, for its views of 14,000-foot peaks rising across the valley.

But appearances can be deceiving. The rather ordinary-looking property was a fen, which is a groundwater-fed wetland filled with organic “peat” soils that began forming during the last ice age and that give fens their springy feel.

“It’s like walking on a sponge,” Johnson said, marching across the marshy ground, stopping every now and then to point out a rare sedge or grass species.

Johnson was visiting the fen to record groundwater measurements before winter sets in. As the lead scientist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, Johnson is part of an effort spearheaded and paid for by Aurora Water and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo to study new ways to restore fens.

The research could help facilitate future water development in Colorado, such as the potential Whitney Reservoir project, part of a 20-year water-development plan from Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities for the upper Eagle River watershed. The utilities, working together as Homestake Partners, are looking at building the reservoir in the Homestake Creek valley, south of Minturn, in an area that probably contains fens, which could hinder the project.

Aurora and Colorado Springs are working together on the reservoir project, and Aurora and Pueblo are funding the fens research. Although the Whitney project is not directly tied to the fen project, if the research efforts are successful, they could help Aurora and Colorado Springs secure a permit approval for the reservoir — and maybe alter the fate of an ecosystem.

Irreplaceable resources

If you’ve walked through Colorado’s high country, chances are you’ve walked by a fen, which are among the state’s most biodiverse and fragile environments. To protect fens, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency drafted a “fen policy” in 1996. The policy, amended in 1999, determined that fens are irreplaceable resources because their soils take so long to regenerate.  “On-site or in-kind replacement of peatlands is not possible,” the policy reads.

Inside the Fish and Wildlife Service, however, a different interpretation emerged. “Irreplaceable” became “unmitigable,” making it difficult or impossible to secure approval for any project that would severely impact fens.

Although Johnson is in favor of fen conservation, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “unmitigable” interpretation bothered him. Not only was that status not supported by the fen policy itself, he believes saying “no” all the time is not in the best interest of fens.

Brad Johnson, the lead scientist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, at the project site in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Launched by two Front Range water utilities in 2003, the project is studying a new way to mitigate potential impacts to fens, an ecologically rich and fragile wetland found throughout Colorados’ high country.
Sarah Tory | Aspen Journalism

“My fear is that if we don’t have the means of mitigating our impacts, we’ll just impact them,” he said.

Eventually, Johnson believes, conservationists will have to make some concessions to development. But by researching better mitigation techniques, he hopes he can help preserve fens in the long run.

An organ transplant

For water utilities, fens have been particularly troublesome. Fens like to form in high-alpine valleys, the places best suited for dams and water reservoirs that take water from rivers mostly on the Western Slope and pump it over the mountains to supply the Front Range’s growing population.

But the fen policy has stymied many of the utilities’ plans to develop new water projects. Those defeats helped spur Front Range utilities to start researching new mitigation strategies that would help them comply with environmental regulations — and get around the fen policy.

“They wanted to figure out how to do this right so they could actually permit their projects,” Johnson said.

Through the fen-research project, Aurora and Pueblo saw an opportunity to address the fen policy’s requirement that a project offset unavoidable impacts to a fen by restoring an equivalent amount of fen elsewhere. 

Cutline: Brad Johnson, a wetland ecologist for the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, takes groundwater measurements at the research site near Leadville, while his dogs, Katie and Hayden watch. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range.
Sarah Tory | Aspen Journalism

Since the fen project began 16 years ago, Aurora and Pueblo have invested $300,000 and $64,000 in the research, respectively. More recently, other funders have joined the effort, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($100,000).

After a number of fits and starts, Johnson three years ago settled on a design for the research that would test whether it’s ecologically possible to transplant fen soils from one location to another. First, Johnson restored the original groundwater spring at the old Hayden Ranch property. Then, he and a team of helpers removed blocks of soil from another degraded fen site and reassembled them, like an organ transplant, at the “receiver” site, where the restored spring now flows through veinlike cobble bars and sandbars, feeding the transplanted fen.

Positive signs

It’s still too early to know whether the project could eventually serve as a fen-mitigation strategy for a new reservoir, but Johnson is optimistic about the results thus far. In 2017, after just one growing season, he was shocked to discover 67 different plant species growing at the transplanted fen site — compared with just 10 at the donor site. He was thrilled by the news. The data showed that the transplanted fen ecosystem is thriving.

That’s good news for utilities such as Aurora, too.

A week after Johnson visited the Rocky Mountain Fen Project site, Kathy Kitzmann gave a tour of the wetland-filled valley formed by Homestake Creek where Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to build Whitney Reservoir.

Kitzmann, a water resources principal for Aurora Water, drove down the bumpy, snow-covered road that winds along the valley bottom, pointing to the two creeks that would — along with Homestake Creek and the Eagle River, near Camp Hale — help fill the reservoir. A pump station would send the water upvalley to the existing Homestake Reservoir and then through another series of tunnels to the Front Range.

Fen soils are made of a rich, organic peat material that take thousands of years to form and require a constant groundwater source to survive. At the Rocky Mountain Fen Research Project, scientists transplanted fen soils from another site to the “receiver” site south of Leadville where they restored a groundwater spring to sustain the transplanted soils.
Sarah Tory | Aspen Journalism

In the lower part of the valley, Kitzmann stopped at the first of four potential reservoir sites — ranging in size from 6,000 acre-feet to 20,000 acre-feet — that the utilities have identified for the project and the wetlands it would inundate.

“You can sort of see why it wouldn’t be the best, just given the vastness of the wetlands,” Kitzmann said.

Farther along, the valley becomes more canyonlike, with higher rocky walls and fewer wetlands — probably offering a better reservoir site, said Kitzmann, although the permitting agencies won’t know for sure until they complete their initial feasibility studies.

In June, Aurora and Colorado Springs submitted a permit application to the U.S. Forest Service to perform exploratory drilling and other mapping and surveying work, but the agency has not yet approved the permit.

Potential fen impacts are just one of several environmental hurdles facing the project. One of the Whitney alternatives would encroach on the Holy Cross Wilderness. Aurora and Colorado Springs have proposed moving the wilderness boundary, if necessary, to accommodate the reservoir.

It’s also likely that the wetlands in the Homestake Valley contain fens, but until the utilities conduct wetland studies around the proposed reservoir sites next summer, the scope of the impacts remains uncertain.  

Environmental groups including Colorado Headwaters, a nonprofit, oppose the Whitney Reservoir project, arguing that it would destroy one of the state’s most valuable wetlands, as well as an important habitat for wildlife and rare native plants.

In the meantime, Aurora is hopeful that Johnson’s research might one day help solve some of the environmental problems around new water development. “We are excited about proving that you can restore and rehabilitate fens,” Kitzmann said.

Inevitable impacts

But is a transplanted fen as good as not touching one in the first place?

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson said fens are still designated a “Resource Category 1,” which means that the appropriate type of mitigation is avoidance, or “no loss.”

White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams echoed the spokesperson’s statement, noting that land managers place a high emphasis on protection for fens: “It’s really hard to replace a wetland in these high elevations.”

Johnson, asked whether he was worried that his research into fen mitigation might end up facilitating the kinds of projects that are most damaging to fens. He sighed. “I’m sensitive to that,” he said.

But like it or not, Johnson believes that more impacts to fens are inevitable. As Colorado’s population grows, water utilities will have to build new reservoirs, the state will need new roads and ski resorts will want to expand.

“I can’t argue with whether they should get built,” he said. “I’m just a wetlands guy.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

Two-vehicle crash in West Vail sends six to hospital, shuts down I-70 for over two hours

At 3:05 p.m. Saturday, the Vail Police Department responded to a vehicle crash in the area of westbound I-70 at mile marker 177 after receiving several 911 calls. Two vehicles traveling westbound collided causing both vehicles to leave the road.

One vehicle came to rest in the eastbound lanes of I-70 and the second vehicle came to rest on North Frontage Road. One occupant of each vehicle was ejected during the crash. 

The Vail Fire Department and Eagle County Paramedic Services rendered aid to several injured people and transported six patients to Vail Health.I-70 was closed for two-and-a-half hours and North Frontage Road was closed for about three hours while medical aid was provided and the crash was investigated. At this time, there is no update on the condition of the transported patients. 

I-70 was closed for two-and-a-half hours and North Frontage Road was closed for about three hours while medical aid was provided and the crash was investigated. At this time, there is no update on the condition of the transported patients. 

Vail’s dry November isn’t an indicator of the coming winter

EAGLE COUNTY — The arctic blast we saw at the end of October was just a tease. After a warmish, dry start to November, there isn’t much relief in sight.

The Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service is predicting a storm system for the middle of the coming week, starting Nov. 20 or so.

Meteorologists are hesitant to forecast more than a week or so in advance, but the prospects are uncertain at best for more moisture in the days just following that mid-week shot of snow.

A Nov. 15 weather summary from OpenSnow.com meteorologist Sam Collentine indicates that a storm pattern is likely to develop during Thanksgiving week over the western United States.

But when that system might hit, and where, is still mostly a matter of conjecture.

At the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, forecaster Chris Cuomo said the looming mid-week storm will mostly deliver snow at higher elevations.

After that, though, Cuomo said high pressure will re-establish over the northwestern U.S., and high pressure usually means dry conditions in the Colorado high country. Conversely, low atmospheric pressure is more likely to bring precipitation.

Cuomo said there’s a persistent low-pressure area off Baja, California. That low pressure and the high pressure farther north is bogging down systems coming in from the Pacific Ocean.

That’s what has produced the dry early November.

It’s still early

At the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins, State Climatologist Russ Schumacher said a dry November isn’t necessarily an indicator of the winter to come.

“Any couple of weeks in the fall or winter aren’t going to tell us a lot,” Schumacher said.

“We’ve still got a long way to go — it’s still only November,” he added. But, he added, there aren’t many signals indicating an above-average snow year is on the way.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center outlook for the three-month period beginning Nov. 1 shows a chance of above-average temperatures and a lower chance of above-average precipitation for the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

On the other hand, predicting trends for the coming months has been made more difficult because of current conditions in the Pacific about 1,000 miles west of Ecuador.

That area is responsible for generating either “El Nino” — warmer than average — or “La Nina” — cooler than average — water temperatures. That phenomenon, called the “El Nino Southern Oscillation,” or ENSO, can help predict where storm systems tend to track. In El Nino years, storms that hit Colorado tend to track toward the south. In La Nina years, systems will often come into Colorado from the northwest.

Nothing to bet on

This season, neither phenomenon is in place, something called an ENSO neutral condition. That’s actually the condition for most years.

Those conditions “don’t give us anything to place a bet on,” Cuomo said. “There’s no way to shade the forecast.”

In those years, forecasting boils down to what’s observed in the climate and the law of averages, Cuomo said.

In an email, Collentine said El Nino patterns aren’t particularly helpful unless they’re strong ones.

“Even though strong ENSO conditions can tilt the odds in favor of a certain storm track, we know that skiing quality improves and degrades with storm cycles that last a few days to a week,” Collentine wrote.

With all that in mind, it’s likely that local resorts will still look to the skies — and expanded snowmaking — to determine conditions and available terrain.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

Vail Opening Day 2019: New experience, nice snow surface, uncrowded runs, longish lines

VAIL — A new early-season experience awaited guests Friday for Vail Mountain’s Opening Day, and the snow surface received rave reviews.

Skiers and snowboarders got their first look at Vail’s new snowmaking system; immediately noticeable were the 80 or so fixed location cannons lining the sides of the runs like trees.

Vail native Cesar Hermosillo, who boarded the first gondola up the mountain on Friday, said it felt like a whole new ski resort at both Vail and Keystone this season.

“Amazing what they got done over the summer,” he said.

Hermosillo was joined by Jennifer Natbony, Tyler Moore, Liz Westbrook, Thomas “Trailer Tom” Miller, Jeff Bosboom, Dr. Kelly White, Jason Waldman and Tuck Stafford.

While it was Hermosillo’s ninth “first chair” experience, and there have been too many to count for Trailer Tom, Stafford enjoyed his first in 2019.

Atop the Gondola, they were greeted by several open runs, both groomed and ungroomed. The terrain was serviced by Chair 4, and while lines backed up during the day, the runs themselves remained uncrowded as there were several to choose from.

Longtime local Steven Teaver, a beverage director at the Four Seasons, returned to snowboarding Friday after a long hiatus due to a broken elbow.

“Felt good to get back on the board,” he said.

Visiting from Texas, Eric Beauchemin said his group of six friends picked Vail to ski because it was open and located in a convenient location between their other two destinations of Aspen and Estes Park. He said they also found lodging to be more affordable than expected as the resort transitions out of offseason early this year. Beauchemin’s group toured the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness on Thursday, skied Vail on Friday and plan to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday.

“This time of year is nice because you can ski and still do the parks,” he said.

Other skiers and snowboarders on Vail Mountain were awaiting more events throughout the weekend.

Visiting from Summit County, Zach Griffin said he was pleasantly surprised in the snow surface at Vail as it skied better throughout the day. After a long day of riding Vail, Griffin said he planned on participating in the Groove Silverthorne Rail Jam on Friday night in Summit County.

Longtime Vail snowboarder Bob Aubrey took time between runs at Vail to promote his new short film, “Trees,” which was set to debut at the Altitude Bar and Grill on Friday. The short film was shot in the Vail area and features log sliding legend Shaun Cypher.

Vail Opening Day 2019 provides blueprint for Vail Resorts’ sustainability efforts

VAIL – These days, on Vail Mountain, all decisions are made with environmental impact in mind.

Those are the words of COO Beth Howard, who is overseeing Opening Day 2019, a new-and-improved Opening Day the likes of which Vail has never seen.

The improvement hinges around a decision to move the Opening Day base area from Lionshead to Mid-Vail, and while it appears to be an obvious choice, it also reflects the latest thinking in the company’s mountain management strategy: Climate change is real, and ski resorts will need to adjust to it.

As a result, the new snowmaking system that allowed for a shift to higher-elevation terrain in the early season is nothing if it isn’t employing top-of-the-line efficiencies.

At Mid-Vail, a new pipe underground connects directly to approximately 80 new guns along the Swingsville and Ramshorn runs. The pipe is 20 inches in diameter, wide enough to allow all 80 guns to operate at full capacity during those crucial moments when conditions are ideal for most efficient snowmaking. Using onboard weather stations, the new snowmaking guns automatically pump more water through the gun as temperatures go down and less water as temperatures go up.

Mountain officials said the water cycle of all the new snow was contemplated carefully, and there are environmental benefits associated with the water storage aspect of snowmaking. With channeling on the mountain allowing for 75 percent of the water use to be non-consumptive at Vail, snowpack on the runs will translate into a source of water storage which will make an important contribution to the spring runoff cycle later on in the year. 

“That’s one of the best aspects of snowmaking … we’re putting it on the hill and storing it,” Howard said. “You have a little bit of evaporation, you have some going back into the soils, and you have the majority of it going back into the watershed.”

Commitment to Zero

Howard said that and every other aspect of Vail management is now focused on attaining the company’s goal of achieving a zero net operating footprint by 2030. Vail Resorts calls the plan their “Commitment to Zero,” and defines it a zero net carbon emissions by 2030, zero waste to landfills and zero operating impact on forests and natural habitat.

“Our Commitment to Zero, we went out with that two years ago, and have really, really focused on that every day, in everything we do with capital investment, operating, how we operate the mountain, recycling, everything,” Howard said.

In addition to the remote sensing and snowmelt control upgrades on the mountain, Vail and Beaver Creek both executed $800,000 worth of energy-efficiency improvements in 2019 following a professional energy audit, according to the company’s second annual EpicPromise progress report, released in October.

In 2019 Vail and Beaver Creek mountains converted lighting to LED, replaced inefficient boilers, updated older and inefficient refrigeration equipment and installed controls on water pumping equipment.

“We’re committed to it and we understand the importance of it,” Howard said. “The natural environment is our product, and we take that seriously.”

Within the statement is an acknowledgement of the fact that Vail Resorts’ profits as a publicly traded company rely upon the natural environment and the public land on which the resort operates, and in saying it, Howard echoes a statement from CEO Rob Katz in undertaking the Commitment to Zero in 2017.

“The environment is our business,” Katz said, in a statement posted on the Commitment to Zero web page. “And we have a special obligation to protect it. As a growing global company so deeply connected to the outdoors, we are making a commitment to address our most pressing global environmental challenge and protect our local communities and natural resources.”

In the EpicPromise progress report, Katz said that by setting bold goals, Vail Resorts has been “driven to think bigger and work more collaboratively with our employees and communities to find creative solutions that will allow us to have a measurable impact on climate change.”

But it won’t be an easy task, Katz said.

In the company’s Commitment to Zero video, Katz ends the piece with a truth the company has long known about such an ambitious goal.

“It’s going to require the innovation, passion and dedication of all of us to get to zero,” Katz says, before leaving us with a familiar brand slogan: “This is what epic looks like.”

Safer, as well

And if environmental sustainability is Vail’s No. 1 concern, it takes the top position in a tie with on-mountain safety.

“There’s nothing as important to us as safety,” Howard said. “That’s one of our core values as a company.”

In moving Opening Day to Mid-Vail, where more runs await first-day skiers, Howard says the resort will provide a safer experience, as well. 

“Instead of having every skill level on Born Free top to bottom, we now have beginner and intermediate,” Howard said, in reference to the Swingsville and Ramshorn runs, which are set to open on Opening Day every season moving forward.

Also, Howard added, “We’re going to activate Golden Peak Day One for our never-evers, so they are not interfacing with more advanced skiers, they can come down the 12-to-One Connector and ski Swingsville, so there’s a progression for early season for all skill levels.”

“Any time you can spread guests out and not interface a beginner with an advanced skier on one or two runs, that’s a real win,” Howard added.

Vail Valley chain check is another sign of winter

VAIL — Tire chains are your friend, especially if Interstate 70 is snowy and slick and you’re a trucker trying to make a deadline.

The Vail Police Department and Colorado State Patrol are also your friends. They spent several hours Wednesday making sure commercial vehicles rolling through town were carrying tire chains, which Colorado law requires. Between October and May, all commercial vehicles must carry tire chains between Dotsero and Morrison.

“If there is a chain law in effect, someone is checking,” Vail police officer Nick Deering said.

Mass vs. velocity

Vail police cars and Colorado State Patrol cruisers were lined up at 250-yard intervals in the chain-up area near the East Vail exit — 250 yards because an 80,000-pound vehicle needs room to stop. As they pull off the highway you get a sense of how big a big rig really is. Get in the way and you’ll get a physics lesson in mass vs. velocity.

“Mass always wins,” Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jake Best said.

The trucks were stopped for less than one minute, including the time it took to exchange pleasantries and check to make sure the drivers are carrying chains and the foul weather gear they’re supposed to.

Colorado State Trooper Jacob Best checks commercial vehicles for chains on a chain check Wednesday in Vail. The state patrol and Vail Police Department conducted the checks.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

“Obviously they have a job to do and deadlines to meet. We don’t want to hold them up too long,” Deering said.

There was this one guy, though. He was sitting in the tractor part of a tractor-trailer rig that he had just bought in California and was driving it to points east. He wasn’t carrying chains. He sat in the cab of his bright yellow rig for a couple of hours, looking like a ray of morning sunshine, but not feeling like one. He declined to comment.

A couple of other drivers were not carrying chains. They received enlightenment from the Vail police and the Colorado State Patrol, who extracted promises for better behavior in the future.

Chain-free is not free

Chain-free behavior is becoming progressively more expensive.

The first fine for not carrying chains is $50 and a $17 surcharge.

Not having chains when the chain laws are in effect will cost you $500 and a $79 surcharge.

Colorado State Patrol checks commercial vehicles for chains Tuesday in Vail. If they had chains they were able to go, and if not were issued a ticket for not carrying chains.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Not having chains when you’re supposed to and blocking the highway will cost you $1,000 and a $200 surcharge.

On the other hand, tire chains for your tractor-trailer can cost a few hundred bucks for a high-quality set.

If you’re mechanically impaired, you can hire a service that will sell you tire chains, and even put them on your truck. That’ll cost you up to $500, Best said.

Enterprising capitalists can occasionally be found in chain-up areas selling tire chains to truckers. Their price is whatever the market will bear.

Some truckers claim ignorance, even though they’ve driven past dozens of those large, rectangular information signs along I-70 beginning at the Utah and Kansas state lines, reminding truckers that chains are mandatory, not optional. OK, say it’s dark outside and the reflective information signs escape your attention. Colorado has those huge illuminated signs over the highway repeatedly pointing out that drivers are required to carry tire chains. Some still feign ignorance.

“They say they don’t know?!?” Yes they do,” Best said. “We really prefer not to write those tickets.”

Those on four wheels are not exempt either. Get caught with bald or bald-ish tires and you can be fined $100 with a $33 surcharge. Block the highway because of your bald tires and your fine skyrockets to $500 with a $57 surcharge — about what it costs for a set of really good new tires.