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Pitkin County admin building in Aspen placed on lockdown after email threats

The Pitkin County Administration building on Aspen’s Main Street.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times file photo

The Pitkin County administration building in downtown Aspen was put on lockdown Tuesday afternoon after threats from a former inmate at the county jail, county officials said in a news release.

The building on Main Street was placed on lockdown at 1 p.m., and the Board of County Commissioners meeting was canceled.

Officials said they received threats “via several emails from a former inmate that had been incarcerated at the Pitkin County jail in January.” They did not say what those threats entailed.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said in the news release they know the person and are “taking the necessary steps to locate his whereabouts.”

Added county manager Jon Peacock: “Out of an abundance of caution, and until our Sheriff’s Office can validate the nature of the threat, the decision was made to cancel our BOCC meeting and secure the county building this afternoon in order to take the necessary precautions to keep our team safe.”

A news conference is scheduled for later Tuesday.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

Lack of interest puts early end to Pitkin County’s mass vaccination clinics

Public health officials will end Pitkin County’s mass vaccination clinics earlier than expected after numerous cancellations last week and dwindling local interest in getting vaccinated, a spokeswoman said Monday.

“The challenge in filling appointments last week was telling,” said Tracy Trulove, a Pitkin County spokeswoman.

Initially, the county’s public health department planned to move the mass vaccination clinics from the Benedict Music Tent parking lot to the Buttermilk Ski Area parking lot at the end of April and hold clinics there the first two weeks of May, with the last clinic scheduled for May 14.

But after many people canceled vaccination appointments Friday, and with others displaying a lack of interest in the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, officials decided to spare the expense of staging mass clinics in May, Trulove said.

Officials will administer 1,170 second doses of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday at the Benedict Music Tent parking lot, though the county received zero doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, she said. The final two mass vaccination clinics will be held at the Benedict site April 22 and 23, Trulove said.

After that, the clinical arm of the public health department — Community Health Services — will administer vaccines, as will local primary care physicians and pharmacies, she said. The county will stop ordering vaccines from the state after next week in favor of the smaller distribution systems.

Clark’s Pharmacy and City Market Pharmacy are offering vaccine appointments locally, Trulove said. Those who want to find a place to receive a vaccine can go to Pitkin County’s website at https://covid19.pitkincounty.com and look for the vaccine finder.

Public health officials also are reserving 150 Pfizer doses for local 16- and 17-year-olds, who were notified of the vaccine availability through the Aspen School District, Trulove said. As of Monday, 95 of those 150 appointments had been filled, she said.

Aspen City Council opts for more housing, less incentives for lodge developers

Aspen’s elected officials decided Monday to do away with a lodge incentive in the land-use code that allows developers to provide fewer affordable-housing units if their project utilizes land efficiently and provides rooms under 600 square feet.

The lodge unit density and size incentive currently allows required mitigation to be reduced from 65% to low as 10% in some circumstances.

It was added to the code in 2007 when Aspen City Council was attempting to address the loss of lodge rooms and encouraging more lodging development, since many of Aspen’s post-war era ski lodges had been redeveloped into more expensive accommodations, second homes, or affordable housing.

But an unintended consequence of the incentive was realized leading up to the controversial Lift One project that Aspen voters narrowly approved in 2019.

Developers of Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch Haus, both large lodging properties at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side, were able to take full advantage of the incentive that significantly reduced their employee housing mitigation.

For Lift One Lodge, a 107,000-square-foot hotel, timeshare lodge and private residences, the mitigation dropped from 65% to 30%, which included other incentives beyond the lodge size and density reduction.

The developers behind the Gorsuch Haus, an 81-room hotel, have to provide 26 units using the incentive instead of the required 55.

While both projects were fully code-compliant, some council members at the time they voted to send the land-use applications to voters said they didn’t like the incentive because the properties will generate more employees than they will house.

Current council members concur.

“I think we have, especially how this was employed over Lift One, are shorting the community on housing in a major way,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said Monday during a work session.

She added that the resort community and city officials did not expect such rapid growth in the short-term rental industry, and thus filling in the lodging deficit.

“It’s amazing sometimes how quickly things change around you and to see the short-term rental impact, I think it has more than made up our lodging base that we’ve lost,” Richards said.

City staff recommended eliminating the incentive because it has not translated into the lodge outcomes that were desired, according to Ben Anderson, principal long-range planner for the city.

Often, projects are designed within the code language to meet the letter of the regulation, but not necessarily the intent, he added.

“Even if the desired outcomes were fully realized, it seems that community and council desires for affordable housing is now of a higher priority than the type of lodge product that is being produced,” Anderson wrote in a memo to council.

Councilman Skippy Mesirow agreed the incentive did not yield the result others had in mind at the time, particularly small, affordable lodge rooms.

“Gorsuch Haus probably wasn’t the product that we were thinking when we thought affordable lodging,” he said.

Amending the land-use code is part of an overhaul on the affordable-housing section that council reviewed during a work session Monday.

The lodge incentive, along with other amendments to things like the amount developers have to pay in fee in lieu if they are not providing housing units, will be reviewed and voted on after four public meetings in the next month.

The Lift One project includes roughly 320,000 square feet of commercial development, including skier services, a ski museum, restaurants, lodges and a new telemix chairlift that extends 500 feet farther down the hill than the current Lift 1A.

The city allocated $4.36 million to help pay for public facing elements of the project, including a landscaped park area and improvements to Dean Street, where the loading terminal of the new lift will be located.

Gorsuch Haus in February submitted to the city the required final plats, development agreements, easement agreements, maintenance agreements and other details for the project.

Lift One Lodge has to submit the same documents by June 22, which is 180 days from when the developers entered into a five-year vesting period, meaning construction must begin before that time frame ends.

The plats and agreements are required to be recorded prior to submission of building permit applications.

Meanwhile, representatives of all the stakeholders involved in the project, which also includes the Aspen Skiing Co. and the Aspen Historical Society, continue to regularly meet to advance the project.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

 

State law would treat officeholders like judges when it comes to threats, intimidation

By virtue of their jobs and the decisions they make, the mayor of Aspen and the chair of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners have had brushes with constituents that they worried would escalate further.

“I’ve been in some uncomfortable situations,” Kelly McNicholas Kury said.

Last year, the commissioner, who was elected in 2018, was allegedly called a Nazi and other names by then-Aspen resident Lee Mulcahy, who also reportedly told her children — while they were playing in their front yard — that she was trying to kick him and his family out of his house.

Mayor Torre said on separate occasions during social settings, once as a councilman, the other in his current position, he’s “felt intimidated if not threatened. They didn’t go far, but I did notify the police department at one time, but there wasn’t a formal complaint.”

The incidents with McNicholas Kury and Torre did not rise to the levels of criminal charges or a prosecution, but maybe a sleepless night or two.

The same can be said for Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill, who as an elected official runs a department that handles elections, vehicle registrations, property records, marriages and other affairs.

“I will state that I’m always concerned with my staff and how they are treated by customers,” she said, noting that once she had to contact Aspen police.

Now there’s legislation aimed at addressing treatment of elected officials. Senate Bill 21-064, which passed April 5 and is in the state House where it has been assigned to the judiciary committee, would beef up penalties for those who threaten or harass elected officeholders or relatives.

“Under current law, there is a crime of retaliation against a judge if an individual makes a credible threat or commits an act of harassment or an act of harm or injury upon a person or property as retaliation or retribution against a judge,” the bill reads. “The crime is a class 4 felony. The bill adds selected officials and their families to the crime.”

The bill’s sponsors are Sens. John Cooke, R-Greeley, and Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Adams County.

Politics can be highly charged in Aspen, but rare are the times they lead to criminal behavior by residents and citizens.

“We have never prosecuted, but there have been some situations that have involved our elected folks who have been threatened by perhaps overzealous constituents,” Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said.

Whether through emails to officeholders or posts on social media, the tenor of the language used can “come off really strong,” Linn said. “But in all of the instances, nothing physical came of them. But if you’re sitting at home worrying about it, that’s a consequence, and I do know from talking to elected officials in the city and county that that is worrisome.“

Senate Bill 21-064, also known as Retaliation Against An Elected Official, has the support of the Colorado Municipal League, Denver Department of Public Safety, and Adams County commissioners, for example, while it has drawn opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, according to coloradocapitolwatch.com.

McNicholas Kury said the Pitkin BOCC is monitoring the bill but has not taken a position on it. McNicholas Kury does not support it.

“The Mulcahy situation is probably the best known incident where I’ve been the subject of personal attack,” she said, “and at the same time, I also think there are other laws in the books and other tools to use as well.”

“I’ve heard from colleagues (not in Pitkin County) who’ve had their offices broken into and had their houses shot at. But I also think that we sign up for a fair amount of criticism and verbal abuse on the job.“

Torre said he had not read the bill but supports a measure that “gives some level of safety and assurance for an elected official, and the reason I would say that is I would hate people to be dissuaded from running for public office because of threats or intimidation.”

The mayor said there’s a higher level of tension and anxiety these days, but “I wouldn’t connect it toward local government. I’ve kept an eye out for that to make sure it doesn’t come here, at least in the way you saw it play out at the Capitol.”

He added: “I know that locally I’ve felt an amazing amount of collaboration and respect and openness. I’ve gotten to appreciate that.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Maroon Bells reservations remain a coveted ticket

People walk by Maroon Lake in view of the Maroon Bells on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. This season, the U.S. Forest Service implemented a reservation system to limit the amount of people visiting the scenic area. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

People wanting to visit the Maroon Bells Scenic Area from the convenience of their own vehicles swamped the reservation system Monday on its first day of operation.

More than 2,600 reservations were made for parking by the afternoon. Many of those were in the category of extended daytime visits, which require people to arrive prior to 8 a.m. and depart by 4:30 p.m.

The demand surged in the morning.

“They were averaging a reservation every second,” Scott Fitzwilliams, White River National Forest supervisor, said Monday afternoon.

Most prime spots in the heart of summer and the September leaf-peeping season were snatched up soon after the system opened, although a quick check by The Aspen Times found some daytime slots available. In addition to the daytime parking popular with hikers, there are reservations for evenings and a limited number for overnight parking.

In addition to the parking, nearly 1,900 tickets were sold for the shuttle system as of about 4 p.m. Monday, according to Fitzwilliams. The vendor operating the reservation system also received more than 1,000 phone calls and 500 emails for requests for reservations, he said.

One frustrated Basalt resident said she went online at the reservation site at 10 a.m. when the system was supposed to be operating but it wasn’t in service yet. When she checked back about one hour later she found slim pickings for parking spots. She opined that hotels might be snatching up parking reservations for their guests. U.S. Forest Service officials checked to see if there were numerous reservations by a handful of parties but couldn’t find any evidence of it, Fitzwilliams said.

Reservations must be made at https://aspenchamber.org/.

About 53% of the parking reservations were made by Colorado residents, including 212 reservations by Roaring Fork Valley residents, he said.

The demand was higher for parking slots than for shuttle seats. Ample space on the shuttles was still available after the first day of reservations. RFTA has increased capacity from 15 last summer to 18 per shuttle. That could increase if capacity limits are eased this summer by public health agencies.

In addition, the shuttle season will be longer than last year. The shuttle service will start June 7 and continue to Oct. 17 or Oct. 24, depending on demand.

The price of a parking reservation is $10. The price of an adult, round-trip shuttle ticket is $16.

The Forest Service limited parking and implemented a reservation system last summer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reservation system was also started for a reduced number of shuttle tickets. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has been forced by state and local guidelines to reduce capacity on its buses as a coronavirus precaution.

Fitzwilliams said the demand for Maroon Bells parking and shuttle reservations mirrored demand for limited spaces to access Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon. Those reservations were opened April 1.

People flocked to the great outdoors last summer when COVID closed down so many activities. It looks like this summer will be just as busy.

“I think this is an indication of what we can expect for the summer,” Fitzwilliams said. “We think there will be at least as much or more visitation as last year.”

scondon@aspentimes.com

UPDATE: Wreckage cleared, I-70 eastbound reopens after serious-injury crash near Dotsero

UPDATE: The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office reported shortly after 10 p.m. Monday that the wreck on eastbound I-70 near Dotsero has been cleared. Traffic was moving at exit 116 in Glenwood Springs, and as of 10:35 p.m. eastbound I-70 had also reopened between Canyon Creek and Glenwood Springs.

––

Eastbound Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon was closed for about five hours Monday night due to a serious-injury wreck on the east side of the canyon near Dotsero.

According to a Garfield County Emergency Alert notification sent at 5:29 p.m., the eastbound closure point was at the main Glenwood Springs exit (116).

“There are serious injuries involved in this crash, and we anticipate the road to be closed for a while for investigation,” the Colorado State Patrol advised in a 7 p.m. tweet.

CSP spokesman Josh Lewis said the call came in at 5:11 p.m. of a multiple vehicle crash between mile markers 130 and 131.

One person was transported to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs with “serious, if not life-threatening” injuries, he said. Lewis said it appeared that at least five vehicles were involved in the wreck.

In addition, westbound traffic through Glenwood Canyon was down to one lane near mile marker 131, where the crash occurred.

Eastbound through traffic also was reportedly being held at the Canyon Creek exit west of Glenwood Springs, and motorists traveling from points west were advised to wait, the State Patrol said.

CSP further advised that Cottonwood Pass and Independence Pass both remain closed for the season and are not alternative routes.

Road closure updates can be found at cotrip.org.

State of Colorado media topic of new documentary and panel discussion

The Aspen Times will carry a live panel discussion and preview of the new documentary “News Matters” at 7 p.m. Tuesday on aspentimes.com. The panel will include a number of Colorado journalists who have been working on the project.

“News Matters“ is a new film that follows the desperate attempts by Colorado journalists and citizens to fight off hedge funds and disinformation to save journalism. It will premiere later this month on Rocky Mountain PBS.

Tuesday’s panel is scheduled to include Greg Moore, former editor of The Denver Post who left rather than continue to cut the newsroom staff; Chuck Plunkett, former editorial page editor of The Post who led an internal revolt; Larry Ryckman and Dana Coffield, editors and co-owners of The Colorado Sun, which they founded after leaving The Post; Paul Cheung, Director of Journalism + Technology Innovation at Knight Foundation; Ken Doctor, CEO of Lookout Local and publisher of Newsonomics; and Brian Malone, filmmaker of “News Matters.”

The event will be moderated by Laura Frank, who is the executive director of the Colorado News Collaborative, which works with more than 100 news organizations and their communities toward better news. The Aspen Times is a member of the News Collaborative.

“News Matters” will have its broadcast premier on Rocky Mountain PBS at 10 p.m. April 27 and 7 p.m. April 29 and then be offered to PBS stations nationally later this spring.

To send a question or comment for the panel ahead of the event, register at https://www.tfaforms.com/4896618. The panel will be posted on www.aspentimes.com home page at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Pandemic exposes valley’s digital divide

A Broadband Internet transmitter on the roof of Basalt Elementary School is seen pointing toward a neighborhood Friday afternoon.
Daniel Bayer / Aspen Journalism.

Before the pandemic hit, Ana Posada, 60, decided to take English lessons in preparation for interviews to obtain her U.S. citizenship. She started classes with English in Action, a local nonprofit in the Roaring Fork Valley — but last year, COVID-19 put an end to her in-person classes and tutoring sessions.

A tutor asked if Posada would be interested in learning via Zoom. Posada agreed to use the online platform, but she was hesitant.

“I’d never used Zoom, and honestly, I wasn’t completely sure what it was,” she said in an interview in Spanish.

Posada’s tutor met her at the English in Action office and showed her how to use Zoom. When Posada had difficulty with the audio settings, her tutor arranged for them to see each other on video while talking on their phones.

“I’m so grateful for her and the patience she’s had with me,” Posada said. “There are lots of people who just give up when they can’t do this.”

When the pandemic hit, life pretty much moved online. But many people in the Roaring Fork Valley were cut off from certain services or activities because they lacked access to the internet and/or the technical know-how needed to use it. While Posada was able to persevere, many valley residents were never able to jump on a Zoom meeting. As a result, English in Action lost about a third of its participants during the pandemic.

Technological inequities have long been present in rural places such as the Roaring Fork Valley, but the sudden shutdowns illuminated just how deeply entrenched the problem was.

“Digital literacy has always been an obstacle, but pre-COVID, we had other areas that came more to the forefront,” said Lara Beaulieu, executive director of English in Action. “Now we know that even with loosening restrictions around COVID, digital literacy is still going to be essential for our participants.”

Nongovernmental organizations, school districts and government agencies in rural mountain towns acted quickly to bridge the digital divide. Many of the resulting initiatives will continue to help some people connect long after the pandemic is over, but major gaps still remain.

“The valley rallied super hard (during the pandemic), and we still let people fall through the cracks,” said Sydney Schalit, executive director of Manaus, a social-justice nonprofit based in Carbondale. “We can hustle and get it done, but the systems have to change.”

Schalit launched an internet-equity roundtable early during the pandemic to bring together different groups throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and identify technological issues. From the discussions, a wide range of problems emerged: families couldn’t access online forms for pandemic assistance, kids couldn’t attend school online, older adults couldn’t manage food deliveries and people couldn’t receive telehealth services.

According to Schalit, many suffering the most were part of immigrant communities or did not speak English as their first language.

“I think about all the quick little keypad strokes that I know that for my 70-year-old parents, it … blows their minds,” she said. “And then just imagine if all of that’s also in a language that you’re not used to.”

Hard data on technology access is limited in Colorado. The state estimates that 87% of rural households have sufficient broadband access, but those estimates are based on self-reported data from internet providers. In the Roaring Fork Valley, data is even more limited, but several groups that conducted technology surveys in their communities found significant gaps in digital equity.

Of its 226 students, English in Action found that only 43% had access to a computer — and some of those students did not know how to use it. Last April, a Roaring Fork Schools survey found that 340 students — about 6% of the district’s student population — did not have access to the internet for remote learning. Additional families had low-quality internet access that was either too slow or did not work well with multiple people using it simultaneously.

Jeff Gatlin, Chief Operating Officer of Roaring Fork Schools, holds up a broadband high speed internet receiver while standing next to a transmitter array on top of the roof of Basalt Elementary Friday afternoon.
Daniel Bayer / Aspen Journalism.

According to Jeff Gatlin, chief operating officer for Roaring Fork Schools, some families could not get immediate internet access when schools first went online. Some were able to sign up for temporary promotions through internet companies that offered inexpensive internet for several months. For students who couldn’t get temporary service, the district opened some schools so they could use computers. Still, not every student was able to get online. The district saw enrollment drop more than 6% between 2019 and 2021; the decline was probably partly caused by the pandemic and technological issues.

“The crux of the issue,” Gatlin said, “is how do we ensure that students that don’t have internet access can still engage and still access educational opportunities?”

The school district, which sought a permanent solution, took advantage of new technology released early in 2020. Using antennas, the district created its own LTE network, which is what cellphone providers use to enable internet access on smartphones.

The school district received a total of $400,000 from two rounds of the Connecting Colorado Students Grant Fund to mount the equipment on six school buildings. Partners and private building owners near high-density communities that lacked internet also agreed to have equipment placed there. These locations include a fire station, a water-treatment facility and even a silo in El Jebel.

The Roaring Fork Schools’ network, which came online in November, has the reach to cover about 90% of the families with students on the free or reduced-lunch program. So far, about 30 families have gotten hotspot devices that enable them to use the network, but the district is working to expand access to the 2,265 students — about 40% of the district’s student body — who could potentially benefit from it. Nonprofits and foundations chipped in the additional money to buy hot spots for families’ homes.

“We’re also looking at this as a broader benefit for families that struggle financially,” Gatlin said. “What’s driving this is the benefit for our students to continue learning, but it goes above and beyond that.”

According to Gatlin, Roaring Fork Schools was the state’s only district to build its own network during the pandemic. Other districts in the valley say they were able to cover most of their students with free devices and mobile hot spots for existing cell networks, but some students were still left out.

“The only real challenge we experienced was the technical limitations of a hotspot,” said Taylor Lower, communications manager for Eagle County Schools. “Hotspots require a cellular signal, and in our mountainous community, there are a few places where the cellular service is weak or nonexistent, but these situations were very few.”

Some rural areas without cell service also lack the physical infrastructure needed for broadband access. In these places, obtaining internet service is either very expensive or nearly impossible.

For those working on digital access in the Roaring Fork Valley, infrastructure gaps — a lack of cell towers and cables — are the most challenging obstacles. While Schalit plans to continue the roundtable to explore ways to expand access, she hopes it could lead to something bigger, such as money from the state’s broadband-development program or from the federal infrastructure bill currently being debated.

“There’s got to be a solution,” Schalit said. “I feel like we’re all still kind of plugging holes, but eventually we’ve got to just remake the whole barrel.”

Aspen Journalism is covering social justice in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to www.aspenjournalism.org.

Pitkin County health officials: Don’t believe vaccine myths

Sally Maxwell, left, takes photos as her husband, Zach Maxwell, is given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Aspen Valley Hospital registered nurse Lauren Angelo at the vaccine tent in Aspen on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Myths and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines are rampant and Pitkin County public health officials are trying to get out the truth in an effort to convince more people to be vaccinated and better protect the community.

“There’s no difference between getting vaccinated and wearing a helmet (while skiing or biking),” said Gabe Muething, one of the coordinators of the county’s mass vaccine clinics and the director of the Aspen Ambulance District. “I have not been able to find a downside to getting a vaccine.”

Muething said he and others who supervise newly vaccinated people at the clinics, now being held at the Benedict Music Tent parking lot but soon to move to the Buttermilk Ski Area parking lot, spend a lot of time shooting down rumors and myths about the vaccines.

With three COVID-19 vaccines now approved by the federal government, one of the most common questions is which one is better, he said.

“The answer, hands down, is each one is great,” Muething said. “There is not one that is better than the other. Get the one you can get.”

Carly Senst, Pitkin County’s vaccine coordinator, agreed.

“The best vaccine you can possibly get is the one you can get the soonest,” she said.

Another common question is about side effects, Muething said. People say they hear that one vaccine causes stronger side effects than the other, though he’s seen no evidence that the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines provoke universal responses.

“It seems to be very person-dependent,” he said. “Some people have side effects with one and others don’t. Because it seems so random, it’s hard to say.”

Many people who have already had COVID-19 think they don’t need the vaccine, Muething and Senst said. However, having the virus only provides antibodies for a limited amount of time, Senst said.

“The vaccines are designed for longevity,” she said. “A vaccine provides better protection than (the body’s) immune response to having the virus.”

Muething said not getting the vaccine is a risk, especially with the prevalence of variants on the rise.

“You’re gambling if you don’t get a vaccine,” he said, “although a lot of people are looking at it as an acceptable gamble.”

Dr. Kim Levin, Pitkin County’s medical officer and an emergency physician at Aspen Valley Hospital, said Thursday during a meeting of the Pitkin County Board of Health that younger people who have not been eligible for the vaccines until recently constitute a significant number of new cases. In fact, of the two people hospitalized with COVID-like symptoms at AVH as of Thursday, one was a 19-year-old, she said.

She and Josh Vance, the county’s epidemiologist, also pointed out that in a study of Roaring Fork Valley residents who have had the virus, 57% reported having at least one lingering symptom months later. In addition, a recent U.K. study found that 33% of more than 236,000 people who’d had the virus reported a lingering neurological or psychiatric disorder, with about 13% of those never having been diagnosed with such a disorder before, Vance said.

During Thursday’s meeting, Levin addressed several common myths about the vaccines, she said. They include:

• The vaccines are not safe because they were developed so rapidly. Answer: The vaccines were developed using the same protocols used to develop other vaccines, she said.

• The mRNA technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is too new and not safe. Answer: The technology has been around at least two decades, has been used to treat SARS and cancer and is safe, Levin said.

• The vaccines will make you test positive for COVID-19 or make you sick with the virus. Answer: The vaccines do not have COVID-19 in them but, instead, are designed to provoke an immune response to protect against it. People can test positive after receiving the vaccine, but the vaccine is not the cause of the infection, she said.

• Vaccines will change a person’s DNA and have long-term effects on the body. Answer: Again, this is not true as the vaccines don’t interact with DNA, Levin said.

• Vaccines contain preservatives, egg products, animal products, microchips, fetal cells and are linked to 5G networks. Answer: This is all false, she said.

• I’m young and not at risk from COVID-19, so I don’t need the vaccine. Answer: The virus affects each person’s body differently and anyone can have long-term effects, she said. Also, the severity of the illness is not an indicator of whether a person will have long-term effects, she said.

• I have allergies so I shouldn’t get the vaccine. Answer: The vaccines have been seen to show a very low rate of allergic reactions, Levin said. Muething said Friday that no one has been taken to the hospital because of an allergic reactions since the mass clinics began in Aspen.

• The vaccines are not safe for pregnant women or can cause infertility or miscarriages. Answer: There’s no indication this is true, and half of pregnant women in the Roaring Fork Valley have been vaccinated, Levin said. Vaccines also are safe for women who are breastfeeding, while antibodies have been shown to be able to be passed on to newborns, she said.

Pitkin County’s mass vaccine clinics will run through May 14. Clinics will be held at the Benedict Music Tent parking lot through April, after which they will move to the Buttermilk Ski Area parking lot.

Those interested in receiving the vaccine can sign up on the county’s COVID-19 webpage at https://covid19.pitkincounty.com.

 

On the last day of NASTAR national championships, it was a family affair

The National Standard Racing (NASTAR) national championships Platinum division finals were a family affair at Snowmass Ski Area on Saturday.

Siblings appeared on the start lists for the head-to-head, bracketed finals. Families linked up to form intergenerational cheer squads. And NASTAR director Bill Madsen’s mother, Martha, won Pauline’s Cup, an award to the fastest senior female racer of the year in memory of Pauline Arias.

But it’s not just blood relatives who contribute to the familial feeling. For some NASTAR competitors, the grassroots race organization forms bonds of its own.

“That’s what it’s all about — it’s like a big family,” said Kevin Blagys, a 46-year-old snowboarder from Bridgeport, Connecticut, who made it to the second round of finals.

Blagys was among the top contenders in some World Cup races back in the early 2000s with an eye on the 2002 Olympics but soon after fell away from the sport. This is his third year racing with NASTAR and his first national championships with the grassroots public alpine racing organization.

“NASTAR brought me back on the hill,” Blagys said. Competing in NASTAR races has also helped him reconnect with old friends from his earlier racing days, he said.

Madsen calls it “NASTAR nation,” a community of mostly amateur alpine racers joined together by a love of the sport.

“They look out for each other, they help each other out, they’re competitive,” Madsen said.

He’s right, if the finish line vibe on a sunny Saturday morning was any indication. There were plenty of high-fives and pole-taps to go around as duo after duo tucked across twin finish lines in tight race after tight race.

That camaraderie applied across age groups and disciplines: skiers dueled snowbikers and snowboarders. Many finished in their head-to-head races within just hundredths of a second of one another, despite handicapped head starts that gave some racers several seconds of lead time on the course.

Racers who qualified for the finals were as young as 6 and as old as 70; participants were regularly bested by competitors half their height and vice versa as juniors toed the line with masters. On the men’s side, overall winner Chris Berns — a 61-year-old adaptive skier from Litiz, Pennsylvania — narrowly won the final race against 10-year-old skier Alexander Campian, of St. Louis. Aspenite Patrick Hurley, an 8-year-old skier, was third.

Platinum division overall winners on the men’s and women’s sides both received a $750 cash prize with their medals, second place scored $500 and third took home $250.

Sure, there were some tears and disappointment too — one young racer just wanted to keep racing after a rough run in an early round of finals. But it didn’t take long for those bumped out of the bracket to rally around their friends and competitors, posting up near the finish corral to make some noise and root for the racers.

Sophia Carlson was one of those eager to join in on the support-squad fun. The 8-year-old Aspen skier got bumped up to the Platinum division and successfully qualified for the finals after a speedy day in the Gold division races; she lost in the first round of Platinum finals to Elise Carson, a 12-year-old from North Carolina who ultimately won the overall title.

But Carlson was plenty excited just to see some of her friends at the top of the ranks, like 10-year-old Snowmass skier Sienna Fuller, who scored the silver medal — especially in a field that included many older and more experienced racers.

All three female medalists were junior racers; 12-year-old Carson and 10-year-old Fuller were joined by bronze medalist Isabelle Taylor, a 7-year-old from Big Sky, Montana.

“It feels crazy, and it feels like they worked really hard for it,” Carlson said.

Fuller, for her part, didn’t even think she would make it as far as she did in the finals races.

“It feels really cool and awesome,” Fuller said. “It’s heart-racing.”

As for the $500 cash prize she took home with her medal, some of it might be split with friends, she said. She and a gaggle of young racers who joined her in celebration were already eyeing the Fuxi Racing tent in the finish area hawking race suits and other alpine goodies.

Community kudos to Bill Madsen

There was no shortage of gratitude for Madsen’s efforts to produce a national event in a pandemic year, many NASTAR community members said in interviews.

“Bill Madsen — he’s a stud,” said Platinum-division Aspen skier Brad Hahn, 51, after the slalom warm-up race on Monday. Snowbiker Mike Sparkman said Madsen was “the greatest;” Sparkman appreciated the chance to bring his unique sport to the national state. Challenge Aspen’s Deb Sullivan said she wanted to thank Madsen for his flexibility in meeting the needs of adaptive racers on the course.

Masden’s mother, Martha, had high praise for her son too.

“It’s amazing that you’ve pulled it off so well,” she told him near the finish line Saturday afternoon.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com