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Taking the Aspen/Pitkin County airport tour before it opens again Wednesday

Days before the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport was set to re-open, after the May 10-24 closure for now-annual airfield pavement maintenance, a small tour group was driven around the tarmac and surrounding airport area for an update on the current improvements, hopes, and needs for the future. 

The airport is perhaps antiquated in terms of the Roaring Fork Valley’s modernday desires and updated technology, at least according to some. The airport opened in 1946 with a gravel runway and a log cabin for a terminal. Since the beginning, the airport has catered to a jet-set clientele and, of course, numerous locals with their private planes. 

Today, 83% of the planes that land and take off at the airport are private, and 17% of the traffic is commercial service.

Private planes parked at Aspen’s airport.
Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

The FAA regulates the airport, including everything from the control tower to management of fire response. 

The tour included Pitkin Country and airport officials’ aspirations of what would make the airport better: a brand-new expanded terminal, more space for general aviation (i.e., private) jet craft, and additional hangers.

The need for a new taxi way is causing “cannibalism” among other operations of the airport explained Dan Bartholomew, the airport director. 

“Right now, it’s like a Tetris game trying to get private planes parked and in out and out of our big festivals like Food & Wine, Snowmass Aspen Jazz, the Fourth of July and more,” he said.

“We have wingtips overlaying one another,” he said, “and we have other people sign very expensive disclosures stating they will not move their private plane during extremely busy times because we park them a few rows deep, and it would be a huge effort on behalf of many people to move the planes around.”

In the aging control tower, the employees can’t even see the entire runway with a direct line of site. It’s still on a septic system, although there are plans to convert this to city sewage.

Aspen/Pitkin County Airport’s control tower built in the 1970s.
Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

There’s the overcrowded single hanger. Many general aviation planes will drop off their passengers and then, since in need of a hanger, might fly to Rifle, Eagle, or Centennial to park the planes. 

Charles Cunniffe, a long-time architect in Aspen and pilot himself, said, “Additional hangers might also mitigate airport noise.”

Expanded aircraft parking is needed for locals, officials said.  

Bartholomew said there are currently 60 spots, which have electricity to heat planes and help from fuel freezing, and the waitlist is that many, as well. 

Runway woes aren’t going away.

The tour showcased the repaved runway. It’s reaching its lifespan, and Bartholomew said, “At this point in time, we are going to have to close every year for two weeks to repair the asphalt.”

There is also the issue with Owl Creek, which runs through the airport property.

He said, “We are getting cracks in the pavement and don’t know why this is happening. The road base was laid over boulders, and we know boulders like to migrate to the surface.” 

And other problems — the need for more terminals, more concessions, more space for everything — needs to be negotiated between the FAA and the county, according to airport officials.  

Snow removal equipment at the Aspen airport.
Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

A local on the tour said she heard rumors that there were people who would just saunter over to the general aviation hangar in the late ’70s and hitchhike a flight. While everyone on the tour chuckled, Cunniffe mentioned he had done this himself.

Bartholomew said it wouldn’t be as easy to do nowadays with new security measures — but it’s not entirely out of the question, either.

The Hub of Aspen cycling shop is moving next to Clark’s Market as season arrives

The spokes are in motion. One of the longest-operating bicycle sales and repair shops in the city, The Hub of Aspen, will be moving locations this month.

Tim Emling purchased the business from Charlie Tarver in 2017 in hopes of keeping it a community-based business with services for tourists and the core resources needed for locals.

Throughout The Hub’s lifetime, the business has spun about town. But when Emling moved the operation from its other location above Eric’s Bar to 616 E Hyman Ave., he hadn’t projected another move.

But now it’s time for another spin through town. This time it’s in the same development as Clark’s Market, to the old Verizon space, an opportunity Emling said he couldn’t pass up.

“We are very disappointed that we are making this move during one of our busiest times of the year,” he said. 

Snowbirds are returning to the valley, and bicycles are being pulled out of storage throughout town. Furthermore, biking season is at full cycle in Moab, a popular destination for Aspen’s bike-loving adrenaline-junky aficionados, and those bicycles needing tuning. 

“It’s just frustrating that during a time when the community needs us most, we can’t provide the full-service operations that our customers are accustomed to. Right now, we are having to turn people away for service with the impending move,” Emling said.

However, he said he knows this next journey is going to be a winner and worth hassles he hadn’t predicted in his current location.

“A new spot opened in town giving us a better opportunity. We secured a 10-year lease at the former Verizon store,” said Emling.

The Hub of Aspen’s new headquarters offers more for Emling’s customers.

“Now, we have free parking which is always a premium in Aspen. And we are right off the Rio Grande Trail, such an ideal spot and next to a bicycle rental shop, Aspen Velo, of whom we have always enjoyed a great working relationship,” he said.

He said he also is excited about applying for a tavern license to host après bike events onsite.

Folsom skis will continue to operate from Emling’s new space, a long-running partnership that has benefited both businesses. 

“I’m enthusiastic about working with Tony Mazza of M & W properties. I just feel like he really wanted us there. He wanted to work with us to arrive at the best possible situation for our business. I am humbled by their welcoming of our venture. It’s a change, and a very good way to do operations,” said Emling. “We’re lucky things really fell into place in such a timely manner.”

Before The Hub of Aspen can relocate to new digs, there are a lot of moving parts, and bicycles. Emling will be posting to their Instragram account (@hubofaspen) within the next couple of weeks about a community-wide moving event in which loyal customers, friends and family can assist in the mass transition.

And there’s a sale involved. All in stock bicycles and accessories will be on sale from now until the move date at the current location.

“We must be out by May 31 and already have the keys to our new location. We are currently in the middle of a build-out to better accommodate the business,” said Emling.

He and his wife, Greta, are excited to contintue to serve the community as a family-run business, he said. He can be reached at tim@hubofaspen.com

Barely spring — but hurry, permits for fall peeping in wilderness available May 1

The snow isn’t even off the trees. There are no buds or even sign of bloom in the high country, but that doesn’t impact human computations and planning. 

Monday, May 1, offers a slight window for one of the most exclusive color-changing, leaf-peeping shows in America, and the urgency is to book now if you want to spend the nights under the simmering leaves and stars of the White River National Forest — some of the most sought after and majestic times in the nation for groves of aspen. 

Aspen trees are influenced by sunlight and moisture. This makes each year a fiesta of colors — red, orange, yellow, and even hues of purple. One year to the next can be indiscriminately different and with no exact replication ever.

The most-visited areas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness requires an overnight permit year-round, with an associated recreation permit fee required May 1 through Oct. 31. However, these permits are released in phases. And May 1 is the limited window for fall foliage fans in September and October.

Recreation in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness has exploded over the past decade, with a quadrupling of overnight use since 2006. This has led to significant management challenges with overcrowding, large amounts of trash and human waste, user conflicts, and large-scale environmental damage such as campsite soil and vegetation compaction, trail erosion, and loss of vegetation, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

This overnight permit and fee program is critical to providing the resources needed to effectively manage, restore, and protect cherished land, albeit a heavily used and impacted area, USFS officials said.

Who’s ready to jump into a colorful bunch of leaves?
Julie Bielenberg / Aspen Times

Only the most heavily-used areas will require the overnight permit and fee, including Conundrum Hot Springs, the Four Pass Loop (which includes Crater Lake and Snowmass Lake), Geneva Lake, and Capitol Lake. Together, these areas make up about 28% of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

A $10 per-night, per-person fee will be required for these areas from May 1 through Oct. 31. No fee will be required for children 16 and younger or for approved school groups. A $6 processing fee per permit will be charged by recreation.gov.

Revenues generated by the fee program will provide a sustainable source of revenue for restoring heavily damaged areas, increasing ranger presence, public education, and improving trails.

Aspen in mid-October 2022, as seen from Aspen Mountain, remains in peak fall form, an unusually late run for the fall leaves.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

USFS adjusted its original fee proposal following a public comment period in summer 2021, in which the agency heard widespread support for protecting this wilderness but mixed views about the fee itself. 

The permit and fee program are specifically for overnight camping in certain areas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and does not impact the Maroon Bells Scenic Area.

The 181,535-acre Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is an internationally-known destination for wilderness recreation. It’s jointly managed by the White River, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison national forests. There are 26 trailheads that access a trail network of 173 miles.

Fall foliage revealed on Independence Pass.
Aspen Times File photo

Maroon Bells reservations are released on a rolling basis:

  • March 1: Reservations for May and June available at 10 a.m.
  • April 1: Reservations for July and August available at 10 a.m.
  • May 1: Reservations for September and October available at 10 a.m.

Here are the links to get reservations and for more information:

  • aspenchamber.org/plan-trip/trip-highlights/maroon-bells/reservations
  • fs.usda.gov/detail/whiteriver/home/?cid=fseprd1063930

Barbara Earl Thomas to give talk at Anderson Ranch

Anderson Ranch visiting artist Barbara Earl Thomas – a Seattle-based visual artist with numerous national exhibits to her credit and an active art-making career that spans more than 30 years – will give a free talk next week.

The presentation is Thursday, April 13, from 5:30-6:30 p.m., with buffet dinner ($25) to follow. Registration is required, and RSVPs must be made 72 hours in advance.

Thomas, who will be visiting be visiting Anderson Ranch April 9-22, is a painter who now builds tension-filled narratives through papercuts and prints, placing silhouetted figures in social and political landscapes, according to Anderson Ranch.

Also according to Anderson Ranch: She pulls from mythology and history to create a contemporary visual narrative that challenges the stories we tell as Americans about who we are. She is also known for her large-scale installations that use light as the animating force and invites her viewers to step inside her world of illuminated scenography.

Thomas’ works are included in the collections of the Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland Art Museums, Chrysler Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Microsoft, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Washington State and Seattle City public collections. She recently completed commissioned work at Yale University’s Hopper College as well as two major exhibitions, “Geography of Innocence,” Seattle Art Museum (November 2020-November 2021), and “Packaged Black,” a collaboration with New York-based artist Derrick Adams at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington (October 2021-May 2022).

Recent solo exhibits include “Claire Oliver Gallery” (November 2022) and Chrysler Museum of Art (February 2023).

In 2022, Thomas was appointed as an associate fellow at Yale University. In 2016, she received the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award, the Washington State Governor’s Arts award, the Artist Trust Irving and Yvonne Twining Humber Award, and the Seattle Stranger Genius Award for excellence in the arts.

She was also nationally-noted for her exhibition “Heaven On Fire,” a major career survey with The Bainbridge Island Art Museum. Her work has been widely featured nationally with the John Braseth Gallery at the Seattle Art Fair (2016), and at EXPO Chicago (2017, 2018,) and Pulse Contemporary Art Fair (2018-21) with Claire Oliver Gallery (New York).

Thomas is a graduate of the School of Art, University of Washington, where she received her Master of Arts in 1977. She said she counts herself most fortunate to have had mentorships with Michael Spafford and Jacob Lawrence, who both influenced her work. These two men were not only supportive, but also crucial friends in her life, she said.

Snapshot of vendors at Spring into Wellness event Friday in Carbondale

Here is a tiny sampling of three of the 45 vendors that will be at the Spring into Wellness event on Friday evening in downtown Carbondale.

Consciously Transforming Space

Candice Hart, the co-owner of Consciously Transforming Space, has always had healthy vibes at the forefront of her interior design business. Calm and cohesiveness are what he strives for and aims to helps clients achieve through design. 

“I’m an interior architect, and we evaluate, space plan, and create a new functional design to help clients live more happily in their homes,” she said.

She re-opened her company with a partner in 2016 after a four-year hiatus. Today, the duo work on projects throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, the Western Slope, and the Front Range. 

Candice Hart.
David Marlow/Courtesy photo

She is bringing her newest venture into sustainable and healthy lifestyles to the event.

“We have a new service that we are offering at our office in Carbondale. It’s an AMD ionic cleanse foot bath, which helps remove toxins from your body,” said Hart.

According to her: The process ionizes the water as H20 is split into OH- and H+ ions. These ions attract and neutralize oppositely-charged toxins. After a session, the user feels calm, relaxed, and focused. Typical session times vary from 10 to 30 minutes, primarily based upon age.

“While we do functional design and healthy living in homes, we wanted to expand our services to support healthier lifestyles,” she said. “We will offer a website to have community collaboration to support our Roaring Fork Valley bioregion in regenerating the Earth.”

For more information: cts-colorado.com/

Colorado Community Acupuncture

Annie Van Druten moved to Carbondale nine years ago and started her business, Colorado Community Acupuncture, in October 2014. After a childhood in Ohio and undergraduate school, she moved to New York City and received her Master’s of Acupuncture at the Swedish Institute. 

Her office, in Carbondale, has been busier, especially post-COVID. Her services have expanded, too. Now, in addition to traditional acupuncture, she offers cosmetic micro-needling, weight-loss treatments, fertility treatments, light therapy, gua sha (popular for the face, a scraping technique, usually done with a jade or rose quartz stone, and cupping). 

“The most popular treatment I offer is still acupuncture. Clients come in for their aches and pains, immune support, sleep wellness, generalized well-being and emotional health,” she said. 

Van Druten will have a booth at the Spring into Wellness event showcasing her repertoire. 

She also offers community acupuncture, where people can pay on a sliding scale, as she can treat multiple people at the same time. Her next upcoming sessions are April 19 and May 17.

On busy weeks, she will see up to 50 patients in a week.

“I see all ages, children through grandparents. Right now, with the onset of allergies, acupuncture is a trending natural remedy for children, and it can help with sleep as well,” she said. 

“I just love serving my community and working with people one on one. I love helping people. I see acupuncture as a tool to help people; it’s very fulfilling work for me,” she said.

For more information: cocommunityacupuncture.com

Mindful Life Program

The Mindful Life Program was co-founded by John Bruna, Mark Molony, and Laura Bartels. The programs integrates the four key areas of mindfulness — attention, wisdom, values, and an open heart — that help lead you to a personal transformation, they said.

The business has been in operation since 2014 at the 3rd Street Center. 

“We believe everyone deserves to live a meaningful life,” said Laura Bartels. “We have courses, online communities, and weekly sessions. We are connecting communities across the world with a warm experience.”

Laura Bartels.
Dave Taylor/Courtesy photo

After a hiatus from the pandemic, the organization is rebuilding itself.

“We host weekly meetings for groups. We do professional trainings and sessions. We also work with local companies, non- and for-profit groups and even government organizations. We do lots of trainings,” said Bartels. 

The Mindful Life Program also helps people and the community who are recovering from an addiction of any kind, she said.  

At Spring into Wellness, there will be a booth and opportunity to sign up for community groups. 

“We had lots of things go online and are excited to be building our physical presence again in the community. On Tuesday nights, we have a 6:30 p.m. in-person mindfulness and recovery session,” she said.  

For more information: mindfullifeprogram.org

Spring into Wellness event in Carbondale celebrates the healing arts with nearly 50 vendors

Returning after a four-year hiatus is Spring into Wellness, a gathering of Roaring Fork Valley mental- and physical-health practitioners who participate in alternative healing arts.

This Friday, from 5-8 p.m. at the Carbondale Recreation Center, the free event will showcase a plethora of vendors including acupuncture, nutrition, reflexology, personal coaching, and sound and light therapy.

Sound healing will be among the healing arts showcased Friday at Spring into Wellness.
The Center for Human Flourishing/Courtesy photo

The event will be hosted in conjunction with Carbondale’s monthly First Friday celebration. 

This is the fifth, in-person year of the event. Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, First Friday Committee, Carbondale Parks and Recreation Department, and The Center for Human Flourishing put together the event.

“This is a wonderful collaboration of over 45 vendors from Aspen to Glenwood and as far as Grand Junction,” said Rita E. Marsh, co-founder of the Center for Human Flourishing. “We have all sorts of the healing arts — everything from acupuncture, massage, nutrition — and we even invited some farmers, growers and CSAs.

“We just really wanted let people know, many healing arts are here and available in the valley. We haven’t gone anywhere,” she said. “All ages, all demographics, everyone is welcome, and we want to create a warm and comfortable environment.” 

There will be demonstrations, wellness explorations, and a bonus for participants who visit all the vendors with prizes from local businesses. 

For more information and a list of vendors, visit thecenterforhumanflourishing.org/event/spring-into-wellness-first-friday-april-7th/.

Kim Ferber affirmed as new Aspen police chief

Late Tuesday afternoon, the three members of the Aspen City Council who were present approved the appointment of Kimberly Ferber as the new Aspen police chief.

“We were fortunate to have a strong pool of candidates. Kim rose to the top. We are happy to welcome her,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein.

Councilman John Doyle said, “We are pleased to welcome you to the city of Aspen.”

Mayor Torre said, “This appointment is making our team and our team members stronger with the addition of Kim Ferber. I want to welcome you.”

Outgoing council members Skippy Mesirow and Rachael Richards were absent, but the City Chambers were reasonably full of Aspen police members and supporters from Ferber’s previous tenure in Sterling. 

“Wow, I’m really humbled. Thank you all for coming today. With me is my partner, and then my current boss. Thank you for coming and supporting me. I’m just getting really overwhelmed right now and I feel honored to be your next chief of police. Thank you all for coming and showing your support,” said Ferber. 

As Aspen’s new police chief, Ferber will be responsible for the overall management of the department in all areas of law enforcement and public safety, including a focus on helping people in crisis and the well-being of staff.

Kim Ferber chats with attendees during a special Aspen City Council meeting to approve her appointment as the new Aspen police chief on Tuesday inside Aspen City Hall.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Pitkin County Sheriff Michael Buglione, left, talks with Sterling Police Chief Tyson R. Kerr prior to a special Aspen City Council meeting to appoint one of Kerr’s employees, Kim Ferber, as the new Aspen police chief on Tuesday at Aspen City Hall.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Her official start date is yet to be determined. Her annual salary will be $178,880. Her conditional offer for employment also includes a city housing unit and a $3,000 relocation bonus. 

The city’s former police chief, Richard Pryor, retired in December 2022 after 29 years with the department, the final 13 years as the chief.  The city, with the assistance of a professional recruiter, conducted a nationwide search for the vacancy. 

“We knew that this transition was coming. Thank you, council, for your support of the process and for your involvement in many steps of the process with really important community input along the way,” said City Manager Sara Ott.

Forty-four individuals applied for the position and participated in multiple interview steps. Five individuals were invited to participate in the on-site interview process. 

Ferber was selected based upon her experience, qualifications, leadership, knowledge of community policing, and feedback from participants in the interview process, particularly departmental staff and community panel feedback, city officials said. 

“As the new police chief, I look forward to working collaboratively with our officers, team members and community members to ensure the safety and security of everyone in Aspen. I’m excited to learn from staff and the community about your experiences and perspectives, and to work with all on a collective vision,” Ferber said earlier. “We’re still working through the logistics, but I’m excited to start as soon as I can and am hoping to move to Aspen in mid-late April.”

She added: “I’m looking forward to listening and learning first. I really want to get to know each of my new team members, as individuals and about how they serve the community in their roles. Additionally, I’m excited to get to Aspen, to being a resident and learning about the community from the local perspective.”

Kim Ferber, middle, chats with Councilman Ward Hauenstein, right, after a special Aspen City Council meeting to approve Ferber’s appointment as the new Aspen police chief on Tuesday inside Aspen City Hall.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Councilman Ward Hauenstein cheers the appointment of Kim Ferber as the new Aspen police chief during a special meeting on Tuesday at Aspen City Hall.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times
Kim Ferber laughs with attendees ahead of a special Aspen City Council meeting to approve her appointment as the new Aspen police chief on Tuesday inside Aspen City Hall.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

This Basalt resident made it her job to empower women over age 50

You don’t have to look very far back through history to see legislation that overtly infringed upon women’s rights in The United States. Some might say you only have to look back as far as this summer, when Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Roughly 50 years ago, women in the United States were prohibited from getting a credit card in their name, serving on a jury, attending most Ivy League schools, or joining military academies. Women could be legally fired from their workplace if they became pregnant up until 1978, yet they couldn’t legally refuse having sex with their husbands until 1993.

As of 2022, women made up more than half of the college-educated workforce, according to a study from the Pew Research Center. Single woman now own and occupy more homes than single men. However, equality of the sexes is still arguably a far reach away.

Despite the inequality, which historically and today presents even larger obstacles for women of color and trans women, Basalt-resident Sylvia Theisen will tell you that women are the powerhouses of the planet.

She’s a Basalt-based life and business coach who specializes in helping women over 50 years old meet their personal and professional goals.

What is a life coach?

The International Coaching Federation defines life coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

According to CNBC, the life-coaching industry is worth an estimated $2.85 billion worldwide. While it is a multi-billion dollar industry, it is completely unregulated and requires no formal education, training, or licensing, which is one of the biggest criticisms of the industry.

However, Theisen holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver. She said she spent the first stretch of her career as a self-employed psychotherapist at a time when Fortune 500 companies would hire therapists to see their employees.

“I learned a ton about what the stressors are for people and how to help them with those,” she said.

Later, she got into public speaking and wrote the book “Break the Rules: An Uncommon Guide to Creating the Life You Crave,” which was published in 2017.

She defines life coaching as “a process of self discovery” whereby a professional helps their clients uncover who they are at their core, which in turn, assists them in discovering what their goals are. After this step, life coaches can begin to assist people with turning their goals into a reality.

Rewriting chapters for Gen X and Boomers

Theisen has reinvented herself many times throughout her life, catalyzing her passion for coaching.

By the time she was in her 40s, she became a widow, a single mother, and a solo-entrepreneur. When she moved to the Roaring Fork Valley five years ago, she reinvented herself again and realized she and other women her age were more than willing to have “new beginnings.”

“I’ve reinvented myself a few times in life, so I’ve kind of broke the rules on not having a traditional trajectory,” she said.

Theisen, who is now in her 50s, has carved out a niche in the life and business coaching industry by focusing primarily on women 50 years or older. Although we are socialized to believe women are “less valuable” as they grow older, she believes women of this age demographic are in the prime times of their lives.

“When you look at statistically, women over 50 are controlling the vast majority of spending and households,” she said. “We are the healthiest, the wealthiest, and the most active generation of women ever.”

Women over 50 years old are starting businesses at an unprecedented rate, she said.

A study from 2019 found that women-owned businesses make up 43% of business in the United States, a 21% increase over a five year time period.

“I think in the past, women were encouraged to get their value from what they were doing for other people — how they were giving, what they were doing for others — and that really kind of stunted women’s ability to think about themselves in later chapters in life,” said Theisen.

While there have been enormous strides in equity of the sexes, in a way this generation of women is rewriting the rules of society. After all, they were born into a world where many laws we now deem as common sense were not codified.

For Theisen, she thinks of life like a “super highway,” with the things we are “supposed” to be doing relatively laid out for many of us.

“When you get somewhere in your late 50s or 60s, it’s like you’re on that highway, and there’s no more markers of what you’re supposed to be doing,” said Theisen. “All of a sudden, it’s like the road ahead of us starts looking more like a not-very-trodden grass path, and women are like ‘I don’t really see what I’m supposed to be doing.”‘

The median age of her clients is 61. She said the biggest obstacles for her clients include feelings of depression and flatlining.

“They’re giving a ton of energy to other people and things and habits that are no longer fueling them,” she said. “So a lot of high-achieving women think that coming to coaching means they’re going to have to add more to their to do list, but the opposite is true.”

Theisen’s most popular program is a six-month intensive one-on-one life coaching process.

“I sometimes joke and say, ‘I help women to get better at disappointing people, so they don’t disappoint themselves,”‘ she said. “Because if you never disappoint anyone, you’re probably disappointing yourself on something.”

In addition, she helps many female clients over the age of 50 who are launching new businesses, assisting them with their vision.

While her client base is national and she works mainly remote, she has hosted workshops for women in the Roaring Fork Valley in the past. While she doesn’t have any workshops coming up, she is open to accepting clients who would want to host a group session for women.

Lithuania closes Aspen’s only consulate after a decade of service

After exactly one decade of service, Honorary Consul Dr. John Vytautas Prunskis of Lithuania will be leaving his position in Aspen. 

The Baltic nation consulate will remove its flag Saturday, on a very significant date for Lithuania. 

“On March 11, 1990, The Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania was our re-independence. It’s like our Fourth of July,” he explained. “The Soviet Union had occupied the country, and we were the first of 15 Soviet republics to declare independence over a 21-month period. This became known as the ‘parade of sovereignties’ that turned into the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It’s a momentous day for Lithuanians.”

Even more significant for Aspen, there will no longer be a consul from any country in town.

“I once had another diplomat joke to me: No country in the world could afford a residence in Aspen,” said Prunskis.

Why did Aspen even have a Lithuanian consulate? He estimated fewer than a dozen Lithuanians live in Aspen. Hillary Clinton asked the same question. 

“Whenever a diplomatic mission is asked to be open in a city that has never had one before, the United States secretary of state, who at that time was Hillary Clinton, had to sign off on the Consulate and Aspen,” said Prunskis.

In 2013, then-Lithuanian Ambassador to the USA Žygimantas Pavilonis asked him to become the consul here because of the reputation of Aspen as where leaders in business, government, the arts, and the outdoors come together.

“I was told initially she was surprised and asked questions about me and why Aspen. Although I did not know Secretary Clinton, there are people who knew both her and me, and they wrote letters of recommendation and vouched that a Lithuanian Consulate would be a good idea for Aspen, and I would be the right person for the position.”

Clinton concluded that it would be favorable for both the United States and Lithuania to open the Consulate in Aspen with Prunskis, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later renewed his credentials supported the continuation of the consulate.

“Lithuanians have played an active role in the history of Aspen, including the Markalunas family and the Crown family, who have some Lithuanian heritage,” Prunskis said.

Why a consulate?

A consulate is different from an embassy in that there is only one embassy for a country, and that is located in Washington, D.C. There is also only one ambassador for every country, as well.

However, there may be dozens of consulate offices for a country across the United States, giving more access for that country’s citizens to meet with local representatives. For example, Mexico has 50 consulates in America, and Lithuania will now have 17. 

A consulate office is a resource for its country’s citizens.

“Mostly, I handled general questions about Lithuania, how to invest in Lithuania, people whose ancestors were from Lithuania who were interested in seeking dual citizenship, interpretation of Russia’s actions not only since their invasion of Ukraine but over the last 10 years as well,” Prunskis said.

However, he had power to do much more. 

“Although no one made the request, someone could’ve asked for asylum within the consulate. Also, as the highest-ranking European Union diplomat on Colorado’s Western Slope, visitors from the European Union who had lost their passports or perhaps were arrested could have sought my services to offer them assistance,” he said. “I’m happy to report that that never occurred.”

Why the closure?

“Lithuania’s ambassador to The USA, her Excellency Audra Plepyte, at my request, is moving my diplomatic mission to South Florida,” he said.

There are more Lithuanians there, for one, but this also will give the consul greater access to the international stage.

“My principal residence will be in Fort Lauderdale, along with my consulate.” he siad. “You may be surprised to know that the South Florida diplomatic corps is third in size behind Washington, D.C., and New York.”

Prunskis was also elected for his third term as a representative of Lithuanians living in the United States to the Lithuanian Parliament/World Lithuanian Community Commission.

Not entirely goodbye

“I still intend to come to Aspen for spring skiing and a lot of time in the summer and fall,” he said. “I will still maintain my home here in Aspen. I will still be coming to Aspen quite frequently, so I’ll still be available to answer questions, give interviews and presentations regarding Lithuania or eastern Europe. However, it will not be an official diplomatic mission.”

He said he will miss parts of his role here. But not when he was pulled over a few years ago by an Aspen police officer and asked if his diplomatic license plates were rental car plates.

Rather, he will miss the help he could offer to Lithuanian citizens and others.

Consulates by international law are the official territory of the representative country. Therefore, if someone needed to seek asylum or protection, then they could come temporarily reside in the consulate.

“Until the time I became friends with Bill Browder — best-selling author, part-time Aspen resident, and foe of Putin — the offer of diplomatic protection was more lighthearted and theoretical,” Prunskis said. “Knowing Bill’s situation with the current Russian government, I offered him unlimited access to the Lithuanian Consulate if he felt it was ever needed. Those who are familiar with his books know that he did have an unfortunate experience in Aspen.”

Browder, the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, has written two books on Russian corruption under Vladimir Putin and had a frightening incident several years at his second home in Aspen, which he thought at first might be an assassination attempt.

Moving forward

Roughly every three years, the Lithuanian American Hall of Fame has an induction ceremony, and this year on May 20, Prunskis will join the Lithuanian American Hall of Fame.

And, the Balzekas Lithuanian museum in Chicago is naming him Person of the Year in October.

He was born in Chicago after his parents left Lithuania during World War II as the Communists were occupying the country. His cousins and their children still live there. 

He excelled in school and business. He received the Knight of the Order of Merit from the President of Lithuania for his professional and philanthropic contributions. He is also the co-founder of Illinois Pain Institute and The Regenerative Stem Cell Institute, is a clinical professor at Chicago Medical School, and the chief medical officer of DxTx Pain and Spine. He co-authored Health and Human Services Best Practices Final Report and is a 15-time winner as a Top Pain Doc, as voted by peers.

Allied with Ukraine

The last year of the Prunskis tenure in Aspen was fraught with concern and horror over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Lithuania and Ukraine are extremely friendly,” he said. “We (Lithuania) are members of NATO,” while Ukraine is not. “We would be their spokesperson. Lithuania was a safe place because of NATO.” 

He is on the board of Blue Yellow USA, a non-profit organization raising resources for non-lethal aid in Ukraine. 

Pop-ups and holiday events in Aspen, Snowmass

Wheeler Opera House and Aspen Film co-present a free screening of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Sunday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m.

Admission to the film is free. However, advanced tickets are required; patrons can also enjoy complimentary cookies and hot cocoa donated by Paradise Bakery. Bring a non-perishable item to donate to the food drive. Tickets can be reserved at the Wheeler Opera House Box Office (970.920.5770/ aspenshowtix.com).

Happy (Hot Cocoa) Hour at The Little Nell 

A new ritual at The Little Nell this year takes place every Friday from 2-2:30 p.m. Guests in the Living Room will be presented with complimentary samples of the hotel’s hot chocolate, topped with a homemade marshmallow. 

Music on the Mall — Snowmass Village

Every Friday, now through April 14, 2023, Music on Mall returns to Snowmass, featuring live music on the Tower Stage during après. Music on the Mall runs from 2:30-4:30 p.m. through February and moves to 3-5 p.m. in March and April. Performances feature local Roaring Fork Valley musicians.

HerStory x O2 pop-up Dec. 16-18, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

This shopping event will benefit Akola Academy and Paper for Water, along with featuring global women-led brands, including: Corazon Playero, LAUDE the Label, Mignonne Gavigan, Gresham Jewelry. Shoppers can sip Onda tequila seltzers, Paradise Bakery sweets, and personalize holiday purchases at the full customization bar.

New York City Bar Ponyboy Teams Up with W Aspen for Winter Residency 

Ponyboy, a Brooklyn nightlife destination, is joining forces with W Aspen this winter for a five-month residency. Every night of the week, from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m., guests of the hotel and visitors can sip on signature cocktails and enjoy a rotating roster of DJ’s. Opening weekend, Dec. 14-17, Anna Collecta and Deo Jorge (Brazil) will be spinning signature sounds all weekend. The scene and vibes will be rounded out with signature Ponyboy décor, including a disco ball, neon signs, and artwork by Gazoo To The Moon. The custom back bar buildout is courtesy of Kim Mupangilaï. 

W Aspen Grotto Bar.

Canada Goose x Reformation pop-up at St Regis through Jan. 5
Luxury-lifestyle brand Canada Goose launches its first-ever collaboration with sustainable fashion
brand Reformation. With whimsical prints and bold colors, the collection unites Canada Goose’s warmth and protection with Reformation’s vintage-inspired style. The pop-up is located in an igloo by the pool at the St. Regis.

Canada Goose x Reformation pop-up, St Regis, Aspen.

Max Mara winter pop-up through Dec. 23 at The Aspen Times Printing House at Hotel Jerome

The pop-up will feature the brand’s full assortment of seasonal outerwear, as well as a curated selection of ready-to-wear and winter accessories. Personal styling appointments will be available daily with Max Mara client advisers from the brand’s flagship locations.

Outside the shop in the courtyard, Max Mara installed a life-sized ice sculpture of Max the Teddy, the brand’s unofficial mascot, and a custom-branded vintage Piaggio Ape cart serving complimentary hot chocolate and warm roasted chestnuts. 

Max Mara Teddy Holidays at Hotel Jerome.