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Persson, O’Sullivan lead AHS girls golf into thick of Day 1 championship hunt

By their standards, the first round of the Class 3A state championship on Tuesday didn’t go as well as it could have for the girls of the Aspen High School golf team.

Sure, Aspen Golf Club can be challenging, but the Skiers knew that coming in and maybe had higher expectations than most, considering they are hosting the tournament in their own backyard.

So, to be tied as a team for first place at the midway point of the 36-hole affair came as a surprise. Just maybe not too surprising.

“Not totally surprising but a little surprising,” Aspen girls golf coach Shannon Day said. “They were probably a little surprised because they didn’t feel as good as it looks, but I was so proud of them. There is nothing I have other than pride.”

This is a program that was happy just to be able to field a four-person team only a few years ago. Now, it’s knocking on the door of a first state championship, and it could come on Wednesday on its home course.

After 18 holes on Tuesday, Aspen finished with a three-player score of 263 (50-over par) and is tied with two-time defending state champion St. Mary’s Academy for the top spot.

“It is really exciting,” sophomore Lenna Persson said. “It’s still really exciting because there are not that many low scores out there today, because Aspen is a hard course. There are tough greens, lots of balls lipping out and just burning the edges. Honestly, I’m really happy with how everyone played today. We know we can do better, and that’s an exciting feeling.”

Persson, the team’s two-time regional champion and burgeoning star, led the Skiers by shooting an 8-over 79 and finds herself in solo third place entering the final round. Junior Maddy Bante, the defending individual state champ from St. Mary’s Academy, shot 74 and holds a four-stroke lead over Peak to Peak senior Noelle Thompson (78) and sits five shots ahead of Persson.

Aspen High School junior Brooke O’Sullivan putts on the back nine during the first round of the Class 3A girls golf state championship on Tuesday at Aspen Golf Club.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Like so many on Tuesday, Bante struggled early, shooting 39 on the front nine. But she finished on a heater, going bogey-free over the final eight holes to shoot 35 on the back nine.

Persson played alongside Bante on Tuesday — Rye’s Emma Garcia (94, T18) rounded out the lead threesome — and she’ll do the same on Wednesday, where Persson said she will need to find more consistency to make up the five-stroke deficit.

“It was kind of hard on the back nine, to be honest,” Persson said, noting the fast greens and gusty winds players had to battle through on Tuesday. “I’m happy with it. It was kind of inconsistent. I had some lucky breaks, but then I also had some good shots, and then I also had some unlucky things going on. So I’m happy with how it turned out.”

Not too far back of the front group is Aspen junior Brooke O’Sullivan, who shot 84 and sits in fifth place among the 84-player field. Salida’s Kyndra Johnson shot 80 and holds down fourth place.

Aspen High School sophomore Lenna Persson hits her tee shot on the par-3 17th during the first round of the Class 3A girls golf state championship on Tuesday at Aspen Golf Club.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Catching Bante may be too tall of a task for Persson, but she also plays far beyond her years, and according to Day, this will give her a chance come the final round.

“She’s always been really mature. … You saw the nerves, but not in the swing,” Day said. “Maybe some putts, but the whole field was nervous. In the first four or five holes, no one was doing much special. Then she got into her groove, and that is such a skill: to be able to get through the elements and push through.”

Critical to the Skiers being in the championship mix was getting a solid third score from either Audrey Woodrow or Madison Nelson, both sophomores. And both delivered, with Woodrow shooting an even 100 to end the round tied for 30th, and Nelson shot 110 to finish tied for 53rd place.

Woodrow, especially, probably left a few strokes out there, but it was more than enough for the Skiers to stay in contention.

“She is cool and collected and just keeps it together. It’s not her best, but she did her job,” Day said of Woodrow’s round. “We really had the home-field advantage. Golf is so weird. I know a lot of them didn’t feel good during the round, but that happens so often.”

Aspen High School junior Brooke O’Sullivan hits her approach shot on the 18th fairway during the first round of the Class 3A girls golf state championship on Tuesday at Aspen Golf Club.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

In third place as a team is Peak to Peak, four strokes back of leaders Aspen and St. Mary’s Academy. Prospect Ridge is in fourth place, 10 back of the co-leaders. The metrics — found via the CHSAA Golf app — had Peak to Peak as the top-ranked team in 3A entering the state tournament, followed by No. 2 Prospect Ridge, No. 3 Berthoud, and No. 4 Aspen. Berthoud was fifth after the first round, 11 back of the co-leaders.

For Persson, who after a calm practice round on Monday finally felt the nerves on the opening tee on Tuesday, says she needs to tighten up her short game, notably her chipping, to have a chance at making a run at Bante on Wednesday.

“It was really nerve-racking. There were so many people behind us. I was like, ‘OK, nice and easy right in the fairway.’ And I was happy. Starting on a par was a good way to start the day,” she said. “My chipping is usually a lot better than it was today. I had no up and downs, which I usually do, and chips I’m usually super confident on were either way too long or way too short. That wasn’t really like me.”

Cleaning up the small things will be key for all of Aspen’s players but so will handling the nerves. As the day wears on Wednesday, the intensity will likely ramp up, as well.

And for the Skiers, this is uncharted territory, although the boys golf team has made it commonplace in recent years, winning state titles in 2018 and 2021.

Now, the Aspen girls are 18 holes away from possibly adding to that legacy.

“You can’t change that,” Day said of the nerves. “That is not something you can control. The pressure is going to be there. But yeah, now I also think they and I have more confidence they can play under pressure. So, I don’t want to worry about it too much. We are there and we prepared, and it’s going to be fun.”

The Round 2 pairings, released late on Tuesday, have Nelson teeing off at 9:30 a.m. from the 10th hole. The other three Skiers will start from hole No. 1, beginning with Woodrow, also at 9:30. O’Sullivan will tee off at 11 a.m. in the second-to-last group to get on course, alongside Prospect Ridge’s Hope Torres and Salida’s Johnson.

The leaders will be the final to tee off from the first hole around 11:10 a.m., a threesome that includes Persson, Bante, and Thompson.


Community the focus for Basalt High School’s class of 2023 at graduation ceremony

The students who make up Basalt High School’s class of 2023 didn’t even make it through their freshman year before a pandemic sent them home.

They learned how to battle through adversity from the start, and they discovered that the key to making it to the other side is by leaning on the community around you.

Through this, the classmates forged a deep bond.

“We are a class defined by love, support, and unity. As a class, we were immediately faced with incomprehensible challenges, challenges that forced us to understand early on that we cannot go far without the love and support of one another,” said Salutatorian Ella Lahey in her speech during Saturday’s graduation ceremony on the school’s athletic field. “This is why our class is so deeply connected and why we have developed a bond that has propelled us forward, enabling us to overcome any and every obstacle along the way.”

Nearly 100 Longhorn seniors took to the stage on Saturday to receive their diploma. Despite some gusty winds, the weather held up for the outdoor ceremony. Last year, a winter storm the night before forced the class of 2022 to hold its ceremony inside the gymnasium.

Principal Peter Mueller gave the first remarks, his focus also on the strong sense of community this year’s class molded over four years.

“The 98 graduating seniors sitting before us have accomplished a great deal. State running titles, acceptances to many colleges and universities, scholarships earned, but above all, friendships forged. This class lived through a pandemic, navigated the loss of family members and friends, and continued to reach out to others for support,” he said. “I would say this class is exceptional. They not only responded to our teachers’ pleas to stay connected and to keep (up with) their school work, but they also found the value in friendship and community. This class is bright, hardworking, and above all, compassionate.”

Basalt High School graduates toss their caps to conclude the class of 2023 graduation ceremony on Saturday.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The commencement address was delivered by Chris Lane, CEO of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. His daughter, Ava Lane, was among the new graduates Saturday.

He brought in a good bit of humor to his class address, beginning with a list of what he had no intention of talking about.

“When I was asked to do a commencement address, I did just what all of you would do. I drank two Red Bulls, I stayed up all night, and I crammed to the last minute. But I did my homework,” he jested. “I’m not going to cover what most speeches cover. Things like, ‘Follow your dreams, your passion.’ You should. You have the power to change the world. You do. I’m not going to tell you life is about the journey, not the destination. But it is. I’m not going to tell you to be bold, even though the world can be a scary place. I’m not going to tell you to remember to fail because success requires it.”

He ultimately focused on four key points: having a good handshake (First impressions help land you jobs in the real world), always telling the truth, knowing your credit score — “this speech is about to get exciting,” he said, prior to the credit talk — and finally about the importance of being in the right relationships to navigate life.

Some of this is apparently rubbing off on daughter Ava, as Mueller brought her up during his introduction speech.

“The most impressive memory for me was listening to you speak on behalf of a much younger student who had been teased by another,” Mueller told Ava early in the ceremony. “You stood up to this other student, looked them in the eye, and said, ‘You cannot treat my friend this way.’ There was no bite in her voice. Just a heartfelt expectation to treat your friends with care.”

This year’s valedictorian was Connor Hoffman, who spoke largely about legacy. This was on his mind as he is a seventh generation resident of the Roaring Fork Valley, with his family roots going back nearly 150 years in the area.

“I received an email from my grandma this week, alerting me that I am graduating high school exactly 70 years to the day after my grandma and grandpa graduated together. My grandma has left a long-lasting impact on my life, one of love and compassion,” the future Stanford student said. “Our legacy is not something that comes about at the end of our lives. It is not something that we can easily change. We carry it with us wherever we go, impacting whoever we meet and changing as we gain new life experiences.”

According to numbers provided by the school, 86% of this year’s class will attend either a four-year, two-year, or trade school after graduation. Also, half of the seniors received local scholarships totaling just over $350,000.

Lahey and Ben Limongelli were each added to the school’s Wall of Fame, which is awarded to two students each year based largely on a combination of values, spirit and legacy.

“The class of 2023, you made us proud,” Mueller said. “You made us smile, and you showed us how important community is to all of you.”

Aspen High School’s class of 2023 graduation ceremony is this coming Saturday, June 3, inside the Benedict Music Tent.


AHS girls golf finishes second at home tourney with regionals, state coming up

This wasn’t for the state championship. That’ll come in a couple of weeks.

As Aspen High School girls golf coach Shannon Day put it, Tuesday’s tournament at Aspen Golf Club was about practice. After all, with the course only having opened a handful of days prior, the Skiers have about as much time playing it this spring as their opponents.

That’s not much in the way of a home-course advantage, but that’ll come, too.

“I’m happy with it,” Day said of her team’s performance on Tuesday. “There was no pressure for what to do today and their best score was 259 a few weeks ago at Bookcliff. This is the best score we’ve shot, and they left so much out there and I knew they would and they are going to learn. That’s what these tournaments are about.”

Aspen shot a team score of 258 on Tuesday — a season best, per Day — to finish second in its home tournament to Steamboat Springs (256). Vail Mountain was third with 286. Glenwood Springs finished toward the bottom of the pack with 319.

Individually, Steamboat’s Kaitlyn Grommeck won behind her 79, while Aspen’s Brooke O’Sullivan and Lenna Persson each shot 80 to finish second and third, respectively. AHS sophomore Audrey Woodrow was just a few spots outside the top 10 after shooting 98.

“Now we can dial in and really practice what we need to do out here,” Day said of the coming week or so. “Our course is tough with our greens. We have really good and fast greens and it’s early season. They just get better and better, and faster and faster, because our maintenance team does such a good job. We’ve got to putt on these greens better and we can have the advantage by practicing that before states.”

Aspen High School junior Brooke O’Sullivan makes a putt on the 18th green during the Skiers’ home tournament on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at Aspen Golf Club.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
The Aspen High School girls golf team poses for a photo after finishing second in its home tournament on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at Aspen Golf Club.
John Castrese/Aspen High School

Tuesday’s tournament wrapped up Aspen’s regular season. Next week, the Skiers will travel to Craig for the regional tournament, where they’ll hope to qualify for the Class 3A state championship, which Aspen Golf Club is hosting on May 30 and 31. It’ll be a big two days for the town and for the AHS golf program when it hosts the rest of the state for the finale.

“We have a young team. An experienced and a talented team, but they are still young,” said Day — formerly Worth — who is in her third season as the team’s head coach after previously serving as an assistant. “They have high expectations for themselves, which I love. And all of this is practice and all of it is going to help them.”

Eyes will be on the Skiers’ dynamic duo of O’Sullivan, a junior, and Persson, a sophomore. This is the first season AHS has both healthy and playing together after O’Sullivan hurt her knee playing basketball a year ago and sat out the 2022 spring golf season.

As the team’s lone senior, Aspen High School’s Jade Hanson, right, is gifted flowers before receiving a hug from AHS girls golf coach Shannon Day after the team’s tournament on Tuesday at Aspen Golf Club.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

As a freshman last spring, Persson won the regional tournament to qualify for state alongside Woodrow, with Persson finishing 12th and Woodrow 54th at The Broadlands.

O’Sullivan was 10th at state two years ago at Elmwood Golf Course after having finished fourth at regionals that year.

“Can we compete? Yes,” Day said of her team’s chances at state this spring. “That’s what you need is that pressure situation in the past to be able to compete here. Is one year enough to be 100% ready? I hope so. It’s so mental, this game.”

Before the Skiers get the chance to compete in the state tournament on their home course, however, they’ll first need to qualify via Monday’s regional tournament at Yampa Valley Golf Course.


Spring means migratory birds return to the Roaring Fork Valley

Birding is big business — from hobbies and passions to retail and education — and the Roaring Fork Valley is nested with niche aviary activity.

So spring here is not only about blooms and blossoms, but also bugs and … birds. Dozens of species of birds returning from winter grounds around now.

Which brings us to ACES, or more properly, the Aspen Center For Environmental Studies, and Hallam Lake, the organization’s HQ and original 25-acre site a couple of blocks off Main Street founded in 1968 by Elizabeth Paepcke.

“Hallam Lake is a biodiversity hot spot, and this includes birds,” said Adam McCurdy, the center’s forest and climate director, noting species that haven’t been seen in decades are looking to roost at the lake near the post office.

Hallam Lake near downtown Aspen is a biodiversity and bird hot spot.
Dale Filhaber/Special to The Aspen Times

“The incredible diversity of habitat types and year-round open water make it an excellent home for resident and migratory birds,” he said. “We’ve documented 117 different species of birds at Hallam Lake.”

In a recent blog post, ACES reported: “On Tuesday, 4/25, after yet another storm dropped a few inches of snow on the preserve, we were delighted to see 29 skittery willets (Tringa semipalmata inormata) on the shore of Hallam Lake. The willet is a large shorebird, aka, a big, chunky sandpiper. What makes this rare sighting extremely fulfilling here at ACES is that the birds congregated in a focus area of the Hallam Lake restoration project which was completed in 2022.”

“It has been fascinating,” said Phebe Meyers, ACES community programs senior manager, “to see species like the willets (which haven’t been seen at Hallam Lake in over a decade), spotted sandpiper, and Wilson’s snipe be so responsive to the improved emergent wetland habitat.”

A blue heron glides over Lake Christine outside of Basalt.
Paul Hilts

Great blue herons that began nesting on the property during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 have already returned this spring.

“This year, we now have at least six active nests, four new active nests from last year. Hallam Lake is their new heronry,” Myers said.

Ospreys, a type of hawk, can log more than 160,000 migration miles during its 15- to 20-year lifetime. 

“It has been so fun to watch our local Roaring Fork Valley breeding population of osprey grow over the years,” she said. “These long-distance migrants winter up and down the coasts of Mexico and Central America and as far south as northern Argentina and make the flight back to the Roaring Fork Valley each year.”

She added: “The songs of arriving migratory species that echo across our preserve is such a wonderful familiar spring chorus we look forward to each year. A few recent arrivals have been the osprey, yellow warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, violet-green swallow, fox sparrow, ruby-crowned kinglet, and broad-tailed hummingbird.”

Brenda Sanderson snapped this photo of a hummingbird feeding in the garden near Snowmass.
Brenda Sanderson/Courtesy photo |


The first males arrived in early May and various varieties of hummingbirds are returning to their summer grounds. 

“Hearing the first male, broad-tailed hummingbird’s wing trill announcing his arrival as he flies quickly around the preserve is one of my favorite spring moments, which typically happens in early May,” said Meyers.

Spring Valley resident and unofficial birder Jim Austin was excited to see the hummingbirds returning.

“I’ve got three feeders up right now, and I’ll have up to six of them as the season progresses,” he said. “I love the hummers. I love when they arrive and really love when they leave. They are a lot of work, those guys.”

Just like everything natural in the valley, hummingbird numbers fluctuate. 

“It really depends in the valley and where you’re looking. A couple years ago, there were very few in Spring Valley until late season, but I asked a lady in Aspen, and she had her normal number of hummers early on,” Austin said. “I can’t say there’s been either a surge or a lack over the total course of my Spring Valley history.” 

Downvalley birding

He’s lived in Spring Valley for over four decades. Through the years, he has become a casual bird fancier, not a real “birder,” as he would put it.

He’s also casual (but diligent) about keeping weather and other records.

“That’s just something that’s proven fun to do,” said Austin. “Like, who wouldn’t be interested in knowing that turkey vultures almost always show up in the Roaring Fork Valley on April 1? Or that hummers and doves are predictably here end of April year after year?”

He has become known in his neighborhood and golf community for building and maintaining dozens of birdhouses.

A tree swallow pokes its head from a birdhouse.
Mark Fuller/courtesy photo

“I’ve got both wren houses and bluebird houses mounted around the area, although mostly bluebird houses. The bluebird houses have an entry hole large enough to attract other birds, like tree swallows or nuthatches. There are a lot of tree swallows around but fewer nuthatches. And I don’t closely monitor the houses so there may be other species I’m hosting,” said Austin.

Over the years, he has built and maintained a couple of hundred birdhouses. Currently, there are 20 around Spring Valley, another 20 around his partner’s property, and 18 at Ironbridge Golf Course. 

“I’ve got all bluebird boxes there, and the occupants are pretty well split between bluebirds and tree swallows who love the golf-course ponds. We’ve had the occasional English Sparrow, but I try to dissuade those non-indigenous guys. The neat thing about Ironbridge is they have both mountain and western bluebirds there,” he said.

“I love the mourning doves and turkey vultures of course. It’s great to see migrating warblers and fun to see bluebirds occasionally in mid-winter. Towhees, white crowned sparrows, siskins, grosbeaks, orioles, tanagers, the sandhill cranes that nest down below us in the valley, and many more I see but can’t identify, or have already forgotten, are all fascinating.”

The weather enthusiast noted that birds really to like the wet weather, so chances of spectacular spottings this spring should be good. Austin’s seen a condor down the road, and his neighbor had a bald eagle in their yard last week; so hopefully, 2023 World Migratory Bird Day delivers flocks of feathers. 

Upcoming ACES birding events

  • Tuesday, May 16, 7 a.m., “May Birding” at Rock Bottom Ranch
  • Wednesday, May 17, 6:30 a.m., “Birding by Habitat,” Airport Radar Road
  • Friday, May 19, 7 a.m., “North Star Birding: Songs of Breeding Birds”
  • Monday, May 22, 7 a.m., “Birding by Habitat: Spring Birding on Sopris Creek”
  • Wednesday, June 14, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., “Painting & Birding,” in partnership with Art Base, ACES Rock Bottom Ranch

Local birding authors

Authors Rebecca Weiss and Mark Fuller are on their second release of “Birds of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley: A Guide to Birds and Their Habitats from Independence Pass to Glenwood Springs, Including the Crystal and Fryingpan Valleys.”

Oh, by the way, Saturday just happens to be World Migratory Bird Day.

Aspen girls soccer advances to second round with overtime win over STRIVE Prep

There wasn’t anything surprising about Aspen High School senior Samantha Edelman having a wide-open shot at the end, at least to coach Chris Ellis. The opposing goalie had been good, but had also let a lot of balls bounce freely after that first deflection during Thursday’s playoff game on the AHS turf.

This meant there was an opportunity for the Skiers.

“The ball comes down from the left side. Maddie Hicks does a low, hard cross into the box, which is always a threat,” Ellis said of that final play. “It’s hard for a defense to deal with that, to defend that, and we did notice that the goalkeeper was a good shot-stopper, but many of the shots would bounce free. So, we told them there were going to be opportunities if we followed up those shots. And that’s exactly what happened.”

As predicted, the deflection came to Edelman, who was left with a simple tap-in early in the second 15-minute overtime period, and Aspen was able to hang on for a 2-1 win over STRIVE Prep — SMART on Thursday in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament.

This came after the Skiers had allowed a goal with barely six minutes to play in regulation that tied it at 1-1. Aspen had dominated possession — and shots — most of the second half, but could never get any distance on the scoreboard.

“They didn’t play as I know they can play in the first half. They got it together much better in the second half, I thought. They got more shots on goal, more penetration, and we were much more of a threat in the second half,” Ellis said. “Both teams are going to have their moments, they are going to have their opportunities, but I felt fairly confident we would have a moment that would be decisive and win the game and it came out like that.”

STRIVE Prep, seeded No. 21, ends the season 11-5 overall.

As the No. 12 seed, AHS (8-5-1 overall) next will play Saturday in the second round against either No. 28 Woodland Park or No. 5 Colorado Academy. Those two teams play Friday at 6 p.m. in their first-round game.

Should it come down to it, Aspen and Colorado Academy do have recent history. Their last game was in the second round of the 2021 season — the first with Ellis as coach, after the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic — with Colorado Academy winning, 5-0.

“They are a good group of girls. They have worked hard this season and they have been very attentive with all the things we are trying to coach them,” Ellis said of his team. “When it gets to this point in the season, it’s time to execute. They just got to go out there and actually do it.”

Down the road on Thursday, No. 19 Basalt had its season end with a 3-0 loss at No. 14 Salida. The Longhorns finish 7-7-2 overall in their second year under coach Molly DeMarr.

Even farther afield, the No. 17 seed Roaring Fork girls won at No. 16 St. Mary’s Academy on Thursday, 5-0. The Rams will likely face No. 1 Jefferson Academy in the second round on Saturday, should the Jaguars get past No. 32 Regis Groff in their first-round game on Friday night.


Aspen Misc. for May 12: Liebchen the adventure cat, locals abroad

Want to see your picture in Aspen Misc. or on our Instagram, @aspentimes?

Send your photos to mail@aspentimes.com with the subject line “photo submission” for a chance to be featured! We want to see it all: friends in town, locals abroad, your family, your beloved pets, a favorite run, trail, event, friends at work. Maybe your garden, an achievement, an anniversary, an engagement, an evening out — anything fun. Or a remembrance of someone special. Share with the community! Be sure to include photo credits and a caption.

Before sending in your photos, please read our photo sharing policy.

Local adventure cat Liebchen loves to ski, bike, hike, camp, and more. He was adopted from the Rifle Animal Shelter three years ago.
Erin Geldermans/Courtesy photo
Aspen local Jeffrey Shoaf reading the Aspen Times in Tajikistan while enjoying the wildlife.
Jeffrey Shoaf/Courtesy photo
LIFT-UP, the leading non-profit organization providing equitable food security for individuals and families throughout Parachute to Aspen, has announced the relocation of its Aspen Food Pantry to the Pitkin County Human Services Building Complex.
LIFT-UP/Courtesy photo
Cash the mini-doodle loves spending time outside at his favorite summer patio at Red Mountain Grill and town park, Tot Lot.
Cassie Harrelson/Courtesy photo

Aspen boys lacrosse finds offense after halftime to cruise in first-round win

Once the floodgates were open, the goals came in a hurry for the Aspen High School boys lacrosse team in a 12-2 rout of visiting Littleton on Tuesday to begin the Class 4A state tournament.

“We did not put it to them in the beginning,” AHS coach Tommy Cox said. “Their goalie, I have to give him credit, that is one of the best high school games I’ve ever seen a goalie play in my life. But we were able to find some tendencies, pulled the play wide, used our athleticism and ultimately finish the ball.”

The Skiers only led 2-0 at halftime — thanks mostly to the play of Littleton’s goalie, Carter Wasson — but scored five more times in the third quarter to break it open.

“Just really understanding how to get the goalie moving,” Cox said about finally opening up the offense. “When you shoot from 15 yards, it’s a pretty easy save, but we were able to adjust our play. The boys responded well.”

The lead reached 11-0 well into the fourth quarter before the Lions finally scored. AHS sophomore Treven Ward held his own in net for the Skiers, with the backups finishing out the final few minutes for Aspen.

“Our defense has been our rock all year long,” Cox said. “When we struggled to score goals, when we struggled to get the ball rolling, that defense holds tight every time. Treven Ward played awesome, per usual. Our defense was structurally sound and rotated well and slid well.”

Littleton, the No. 19 seed, ends its season at 8-8 overall. The Lions lost six straight to close out the spring.

Aspen, the No. 14 seed, improved to 10-5 overall. Next up, the Skiers will play at No. 3 seed Dakota Ridge (13-2), a game tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at Jefferson County’s Trailblazer Stadium.

Gavin Terry, left, carries the ball for the Aspen High School boys lacrosse team as it hosts Littleton in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament on Tuesday.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Ryan Rigney, right, raises his arms in celebration after the Aspen High School boys lacrosse team scored a goal while hosting Littleton in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament on Tuesday.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
The Aspen High School boys lacrosse team hosts Littleton in the first round of the state tournament.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The Eagles, who had a first-round bye, will enter the game riding a 12-game win streak. Dakota Ridge’s only losses came early in the season against Erie, the No. 2 seed in 4A, and Chatfield, the No. 19 seed in 5A.

“Our biggest opponent this year has been Aspen and when we are able to overcome our challenges that we set forth for ourselves, we are a successful team,” Cox said. “We are not afraid of anybody and there is really no team in this state that is unbeatable. I think with the correct game plan, a high IQ, we will absolutely make it a game.”


The Aspen High School girls lacrosse team will open its postseason on Thursday against rival Roaring Fork. Game time is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. on the AHS turf, following the girls soccer game at 5 p.m.

The Rams (11-5 overall) are seeded No. 10 in the Class 4A bracket and beat No. 23 seed Grand Junction in the first round on Tuesday, 16-7.

Aspen (10-5) is the No. 7 seed and had a first-round bye.

The Aspen and Roaring Fork girls lacrosse teams played twice in the regular season, AHS losing 10-9 on April 10 before winning 11-9 on May 6, the last time the Skiers played a game.

Roaring Fork and Aspen tied for second in league play behind Battle Mountain this spring. The Huskies are the tournament’s No. 9 seed and face No. 8 Thompson Valley in the second round.


The Aspen High School girls soccer team (7-5-1 overall) is the No. 12 seed in the 3A state tournament and is scheduled to host No. 21 STRIVE Prep — SMART (11-4) at 5 p.m. Thursday on the AHS turf. The winner advances to play either No. 5 Colorado Academy or No. 28 Woodland Park in the second round.

Basalt girls soccer made the tournament as the No. 19 seed and plays at No. 14 Salida in the first round. That game is tentatively set for 6 p.m. Thursday in Salida. The winner gets either No. 3 Manitou Springs or No. 30 Elizabeth in the next round.

The Roaring Fork girls are the No. 17 seed and will play Thursday at No. 16 St. Mary’s Academy in the first round. Game time is tentatively set for 3 p.m.


The Class 3A state tournament draws were announced for girls tennis ahead of the opening rounds on Thursday in Colorado Springs. The lone qualifier for Aspen was senior Hannah Zack at No. 3 singles. She will face D’Evelyn senior Maisy Schoeman in the opener.

Basalt did not have any players qualify for state.


Setting the forest on fire on purpose

The day started at 10 a.m. around a truck bed fully stocked with boxes of discount croissants, a bag of clementines, and a stack of Incident Action Plan packets. 

On Sunday morning, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Aspen Fire teams gathered at the Woody Creek Aspen Fire Protection District station for a briefing before the Collins Creek Prescribed Fire, the valley — and the White River National Forest’s — first this year. On Monday, the team will head to Avalanche Creek near Carbondale for another burn. 

The crews got an overview on burn scope and safety from the Burn Boss trainee before being sent out to their various stations to set part of the Collins Creek area on fire.

Prescribed burns are meticulously planned and intentionally lit fires. They benefit wildlife by stimulating new vegetation growth and serve as a mitigation tactic against extreme wildfires by burning fuels in the burn area. With innumerable life cycles as practice, the ecosystem is adapted to fire. 

“We’re trying to get back to a place that’s more fire-adapted and resilient to the effects of fire,” said Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner. 

The prescribed burn came with a $12,000 grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to specifically target the oak brush and low shrubs. The fire burns the surface foliage, but the roots survive, sparking new growth on the land. That new growth is the meal of choice for local fauna such as elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. 

But no matter the specific target for a burn, the same benefits are met with each operation. 

Warner said those benefits were obvious in the catastrophic Lake Christine Fire of 2018, which burned nearly 13,000 acres in the midvalley.

“The Lake Christine Fire pushed into treatment areas and dropped down to a level that we could get firefighting personnel in there,” said Warner. In untreated areas, Warner said, the fire roared out of the control of fire teams. 

Fire has changed a lot in the past few decades from the cultural perception to its behavior. In his more than 25 years of experience, Fire Management Officer Jim Genung said, the change is significant.

“Fires aren’t behaving like they used to,” Genung said. “They’re more extreme in movement.”

Climate change has influenced the intensity of burns and caused crews to face higher risk in the field, he said. And what used to be called a fire season is now a fire year. The work is never done.

As population density increases in rural, fire-prone areas, people are at fault for more and more wildfires, he said.

Around 75% of ignition is naturally-caused, but Genung said that number is going down as density rises and human-caused ignition ticks up. Something as innocent as sparks from a dragging chain or a bottle rocket can cause a fire, as can something more sinister and intentional. 

The Grizzly Creek and Lake Christine fires were both human-caused. 

After the morning briefing, the Rifle and Eagle Forest Service Engines, two Rifle BLM engines, the Rifle BLM helitack crew, the Rifle White River fire module, the Grand Junction BLM Unaweep fire module, Pike-San Isabel National Forest helicopter and helitack crew, a Twin Falls BLM engine and an Aspen Fire engine dispersed to set up at their various stations for the fire.

The helicopter went out for a recon run, then went out for a test fire to see how the flames and smoke behaved. By 1 p.m. smoke was visible from Highway 82.

Smoke behavior is just as crucial to the operation as whether or not the terrain is catching fire. The crews monitor atmospheric pressure, winds and more to ensure the smoke is carried away from populous areas or somewhere like the airport, where the smoke would impede operations. 

Collins Creek is just north of Woody Creek and is challenging to access. That and the wide scope of the burn prompted the Upper Colorado River Interagency to aerially ignite the fire.

The Premo MK III system, with Plastic Sphere Dispensers inside, ignites the forest below.
U.S. Forest Service/Courtesy photo

A helicopter and Monument Helitack Crew from the Pike-San Isabel National Forest dropped plastic balls, called Plastic Sphere Dispensers, filled with potassium permanganate and injected with glycol from the helicopter down onto the burn area. The chemical reaction catches the plastic on fire, which then spreads to the forest, allowing the crew to ignite from the air along precise boundaries. 

For Sunday’s burn, the crew shot for a 50%-70% mortality rate. By keeping some of the foliage in the target area alive, the area maintains a diversity of age in the flora. This “mosaic” approach is better for the long-term health of the forest. 

Around 2 p.m., the crew finished the first pass and white smoke plumed up into the sky and blew away from the Roaring Fork Valley. The helicopter came back to refuel and restock on PSDs before heading out for another pass.

UCR crews will monitor smoldering in the burn area up to a few weeks after the fire. But due to the high snowpack and moist spring the area’s seen this season, drawn-out smoldering is not expected.

Sunday’s Collins Creek Prescribed Burn obtained a 1,500-acre smoke permit from the state, which tracks for air quality purposes, and about 723 acres burned. 

It is typical to get less than the permitted burn acreage, according to Forest Service Public Information Officer David Boyd. Sometimes not all of a unit, or planned burn area, is available or the crew might not get to part of the area. Or just might not burn as completely as hoped.

To manage the perimeter of a burn, Warner said topography is their best ally. They burn from the top down, burning into a burn. Snowpack acts as a natural border for the fire, keeping it mostly out of the trees, which is why March to May is generally the time of year for prescribed burns. 

But, Warner said, the UCR and partners may soon need to consider planning for more prescribed burns within and outside of the March-May window. 

Genung agreed. He said that he hopes to see the White River Forest Service double its prescribed burn acreage, from about 6,000 to 12,000, in the next five to 10 years. 

The White River National Forest covers 2.3 million acres from Rifle to Summit County and Independence Pass to the Flat Tops north of Glenwood Springs. The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District covers more than 700,000 acres.

Aside from Monday’s burn at Avalanche Creek, only one other burn is on the calendar for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. If weather permits, Warner said the Forest Service is planning a fire near Braderich Creek. 

“We’re trying our best to burn the right amount of fire in the right places,” Warner said.

Photos: Aspen Mountain closing day brings end to 2022-23 ski season

The ski and snowboard season officially ended on Sunday with closing day on Aspen Mountain.

The last of the four Aspen Snowmass mountains to close, Ajax already had its season extended by a week and had some of the best closing day snow conditions in recent memory. As is tradition, partygoers took to the Sundeck for the winter’s final sendoff.

Welcome to the offseason, Aspen.

Photos by Austin Colbert for The Aspen Times.

Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
DJ Naka G, front, and DJ Trizz lead the closing day festivities on Sunday on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers — and Baby Yoda — enjoy the closing day festivities on Sunday.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Sunday on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Sunday on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
The sign reads “The End” as people get off the gondola for the closing day festivities on Sunday on Aspen Mountain. Ajax’s closing officially brings an end to Aspen’s 2022-23 ski season.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Sunday on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
A partygoer enjoys the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Partygoers enjoy the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
A partygoer enjoys the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Smoke — and fire — add to the scene during the closing day festivities on Sunday.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Snowboarders head down after the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Skiers and snowboarders head down after the closing day festivities on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
People take the Silver Queen Gondola to the top for the closing day festivities on Sunday on Aspen Mountain. Ajax’s closing officially brings an end to Aspen’s 2022-23 ski season.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Zaugg, one of the patrol dogs, has fun rolling around in the snow following the closing day festivities on Sunday on Aspen Mountain. Ajax’s closing officially brings an end to Aspen’s 2022-23 ski season.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times


Bleiler: Life in ‘the middle zone’ and opening up about athletes’ mental health 

Gretchen Bleiler, Olympian and Aspen snowboard superstar, was dominating her sport, winning pop culture and icon awards, and racking up thousands of miles crisscrossing the globe.

She also was racking up concussions, at first few and far between, but then four back to back in 2012 that began to change everything. She retired in 2014, still struggling to recover from a training accident in 2012 in Park City that shattered an eye socket, broke her nose and, yep, in which she suffered a serious concussion.

“It’s been a tough time since I retired,” she said. “The bigger picture was everything that was my life — career, community, marriage, health — all went away all at once.”

The pillars holding her up in life were crumbling around Bleiler. She was now in what she calls “the middle zone.”

“Everyone told me it would be hard transition. I didn’t realize it. I was on that train,” she said. “My whole life had been snowboarding, my whole community. I didn’t realize how much I was ‘on’ for 15-plus years. I was just on all the time, whether it was competing, working with sponsors, hosting, photo shoots. It didn’t quit, nor did I.”

She added, “It took me a long time to slow down. I didn’t know how to live. I was used to hotel rooms and constant travel and schedules. It was a relearning process. How do I live in one place?  I didn’t know how to do that.”

People had forewarned her, sure, but she still wasn’t prepared for what would follow her high octane, globe-trotting snowboard career. That, along with new mental health struggles from the back-to-back concussions.

“Post-concussions, I worked with lots of doctors, and I haven’t gotten too far,” she said. “I think we are still in the dark ages when it comes to the brain and concussions.”

The go go years

Bleiler began snowboarding at 11, and the young star’s trajectory took her around the globe and to worldwide fame. 

The Ohio native and her family relocated 1991 to Aspen, where she attended middle and high school.

“I joined AVSC when I was 15 years old in 1996,” she said. “It was the first time I had people to push me and give me technique and teach me how to compete.”

She was a pro by 2000. In 2003, she had eight straight wins: the World Superpipe Championships, X Games Halfpipe gold medalist, U.S. Open champion and the Overall Grand Prix title.

By 2006, she was Olympian, a silver medalist in the half pipe, overall Grand Prix Champion and an FIS World Cup first place.

Gretchen Bleiler began snowboarding at 11, and the young star’s trajectory took her around the globe and to worldwide fame over her career. 
Aspen Skiing Co./Courtesy photo

The medals, and hits, kept stacking up. In 2008 Bleiler was the X Games Halfpipe gold medalist and Winter Dew Tour Superpipe champion. 

She qualified for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and took 11th place. She won the X Games Superpipe gold that year.

In 2014, she announced her retirement after struggling to recover from the 2012 training accident, which had thwarted her from making the 2014 U.S. Winter Olympics team. 

This marked the end of her snowboarding career and a monumental shift in everything Bleiler had known or ever done before. 

A darker reality

She was already on the athlete speaking circuit, where she had honed her story about challenge and success in the sport. However, she recognized the entire story wasn’t being told. 

“It’s about the middle range and those struggling with mental health,” she said. “We need to be talking about it and not feeling so alone in the experience. We must bring people out of the shadows. There is a link between mental health, cumulative concussions and what we are learning about CTE.”

Athletes like herself who had dedicated their bodies to a sport only to be physically and mentally crippled at such a rapid pace, post career, are slowly starting to open up to the public.

“It’s such a sad end-of-life story. These athletes who we were all so inspired by, who made the impossible possible, their mental and physical health can be so deteriorated and debilitating. Their life can become tragic. It should never be like this,” said Bleiler. 

“No one knows how to treat CTE. So many people are not talking about what they are going through. It’s shameful and isolating by yourself. And there’s delayed changes, many times years later. It’s confusing, what is happening to my personality, why is this happening, am I going crazy?”

To rebuild the pillars in her life, Bleiler began that deeper journey she had ultimately been craving. She had already received her mediation certification in 2014 through the Chopra Center. She was ready for more.

The shadow side of glory

Bleiler has suffered mental ailments from her choice of profession. At first, it was typical athletic nerves before competitions. 

“I learned at a very early age that I wasn’t safe feeling as deeply as I felt. I learned how to be an emotional avoidant,” she said.

More than a couple of times, she vomited in a garbage bag while waiting for her turn to hurl herself down an ice sheet, at times reaching heights of over 30 feet above the ground, upside down.

Bleiler would somehow pull herself to the start gate, breathe in the energy, and make her many, many practice runs come to fruition in front of thousands of people, hundreds of times.

“Trying to qualify for the Olympic team for the first time was a pivotal experience for me,” she said. “I wanted to go to the Olympics so badly. It was a childhood dream since I was 7. I so tightly clenched onto this goal.”

Bleiler and her best friend ended up in a record-breaking triple-way tie for the Olympic spot, and she didn’t make the team.

“I brought back the joy into what I was doing. That became my blueprint for success,” Gretchen Bleiler says.
Aspen Skiing Co./Courtesy photo

“I was relieved it was over,” she said. “That experience to me was disturbing. I made this choice then to try and find joy out of the process. I am going to enjoy this thing I love, whether I make it to the Olympics or not.”

A lesson learned

The future Olympian learned how to take a step back and take the fear out of the moment and instead breathe in gratitude and enjoy a larger purpose, she said. 

“I brought back the joy into what I was doing. That became my blueprint for success. This is what was responsible for getting me to the Olympics and winning medals. A huge part in how we do anything is equally important to the goals that we have,” said Bleiler.

She changed her intention the following season. She was now 100 percent connected to what she was doing. Her mental game was on track. She was enjoying the sport. She had shifted her state of consciousness. 

Gretchen Bleiler’s been living in the valley full time for the past seven years. “I’ve created community again,” she says.
Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

Finding community

Bleiler’s been living in the valley full time for the past seven years.

“I’ve created community again,” she said. “I grew up in Aspen, I went to Aspen High School, and it’s surprising how many people from high school are living back in the area. My closest friends are now parents and running in different circles, but we are just as close as before. I’ve got my new community mixed in with old childhood friends. It’s great.”

Now focused on bringing to light the impacts of concussions, she’s telling a new story for the first time. She’s finally getting comfortable and making a contribution to dealing with scary topics such as CTE and mental health.  

She is still active in transformation coaching and teaching meditation in Aspen. 

Bleiler also has some larger-scale projects around mental health, concussions, CTE, and that middle zone between professional athletics and creating a new rest of life. 

Gretchen Bleiler remembers, “It took me a long time to slow down. I didn’t know how to live. I was used to hotel rooms and constant travel and schedules. It was a relearning process. How do I live in one place?  I didn’t know how to do that.”
/ Julie Bielenberg/ The Aspen Times

Zen den

The only remnants visible of the former Olympian’s halfpipe life are a snowboard and boots outside her front door. And a set of skis.

“I skied for the first time yesterday,” said Bleiler. “I mean I’ve skied before, when I was younger in fifth and sixth grade. Look, here’s me going down the mountain,” she said as she showed off her first ski endeavor in three decades on her phone. 

It was apt on her 42nd birthday last Monday that she was open to old challenges with a new mindset.

She’s still riding, though not nearly as much as she used to.

“I go out when I feel like it, definitely on powder days,” she said. “There’s nothing like the Highland Bowl with fresh powder. Skinning up Tiehack is good exercise and a meditative experience in of itself. I’m into split boarding in the backcountry, when conditions are safe.”

Bleiler’s home is the exact opposite of the loud and vibrant personality she brought to the halfpipe all those years.

Gretchen Bleiler at home.
/ Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

Sure, it’s white like snow, but the soft music, bubbling water feature, stacked self-help and healing books at the center of the living room, and sophisticated, sleek white furniture and storage throughout her space create a Zen den. 

Looking beyond the bouquet of spring flowers, her window seat overlooking trees with ever-changing views of the outdoors, is her happy spot. 

She’s had her Aspen condo since 2003. Over the 20 years, Bleiler has made the space more airy and bright with vaulted ceilings and new lights, but the charm of the home keeps her content. 

“It’s still great, the perfect little place,” she said. “I have neighbors who have been here just as long.”