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Behind-the-scenes volunteers Barbara and Peter Guy take center stage for Aspen Hall of Fame induction

If there were ever an example of a reciprocal relationship between a community and its residents, it would be Barbara and Peter Guy, whose contributions to Aspen have landed them in the Hall of Fame.

As longtime residents, volunteers and proprietors of the beloved Steak Pit restaurant, the Guys will be inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame on Saturday evening.

“It’s really an honor to be on the list,” Peter said this week from their home in New Castle. “We’re honored and humbled.”

The couple moved to lower altitude and warmer climes after they sold the Steak Pit in 2002.

But they still host annual gatherings for longtime friends in Aspen who make the pilgrimage. The most popular is the “Peach Day/Salad Day” when close to 50 people show up.

While they built a solid family of employees over the decades at the Steak Pit, it is the Guys’ contributions to the community that have led them to be recognized.

“They were behind-the-scene volunteers who were off the radar,” said Lorna Petersen, president of the Aspen Hall of Fame.

Since the time they arrived in Aspen from the East Coast in 1960, the Guys have immersed themselves in volunteer and service work.

Peter served multiple terms on the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission and was involved in drafting Pitkin County’s original master plan in 1966.

“When you get into something like that you’d like to think you are trying to help and make a difference,” Peter said. “I hope a lot of the master plan work stands out. … There is a lot of open space and viewplanes that were protected.”

He also was an Aspen School Board member for more than 20 years, and was involved in the beginning of the Aspen Chamber of Commerce visitors bureau and the Aspen Restaurant Association.

The parents of two children, Charlie and Cary, the couple became active volunteers with the Aspen Ski Club, especially on race days.

Peter did the racecourse timing and Barbara did fundraising.

“We had a lot of bake sales in the Buttermilk garage,” Barbara recalled.

She also served as the secretary at the Aspen Community Church and volunteered at the Thrift Shop.

Peter said when they arrived in town they thought it was Utopia.

“It was magic,” Peter said. “It was the people and the incredible beauty.”

It was a time in Aspen when everyone knew each other and it was a tight-knit community.

“Volunteering was just natural,” Peter said. “You gain one friend and then you’d have two more and everyone just helped each other.”

They created the first Project Graduation, which is an organized, adult-supervised and alcohol-free post-graduation party.

The Guys also joined other restaurateurs in feeding international ski racers when the World Cup arrived in Aspen in 1968.

They hosted those racers in their home and made sure they got to the hill on time.

Living in Massachusetts as a young couple with two children while Peter was getting his degree in geology at Williams College, they had never considered moving west.

But their friend Chuck Rolles called them one day and asked them to come help open a restaurant in Aspen.

“I call it serendipity,” Peter said. “Our timing was perfect. … We lucked out.”

It was the town, sense of community and the people who drove the Guys to want to participate in civic endeavors.

“I don’t know if we’d be doing the same thing in say Albany, New York, or Springfield, Massachusetts,” Peter said.

Peter, 83, and Barbara, 84, met in 1956 at Stowe, Vermont. Now they are celebrating 62 years of marriage.

And their volunteering hasn’t stopped just because they left Aspen.

Barbara volunteers for Lift Up and at health fairs. Peter serves on the board of Alpine Bank, youth hockey in Glenwood Springs and Hospice of the Valley.

They’ll attend Saturday evening’s banquet with family and a former international ski racer they hosted for years, along with a lot of friends and former Steak Pit employees who will be there to celebrate with them.

But don’t expect just because they made it into the Aspen Hall of Fame that Barbara will be sharing her coveted recipe for the famous homemade hot fudge she served up at the Steak Pit.

“That is something that will end up on the back of my memorial program,” she laughed.

Longtime ranch owners object to Basalt master plan’s view of their property

The Meyer family has owned and operated a 180-acre ranch on the edge of Basalt for 59 years. Ownership has passed from one generation to the next and it’s inching closer to another transition.

Through the six decades, the family has been patient about pursuing development, but the latest Basalt master planning process is trying that patience, said Trish Meyer, matriarch of the family.

“At the last open house, people were given poker chips to choose what to do with our land,” Meyer told Basalt Town Council on Tuesday evening. “This isn’t a game to us. This is our home and these are our lives and our future.”

The family was given the opportunity to express their concerns to council before the master plan — a blueprint for Basalt’s future growth — gets finalized this spring. Meyer said she wanted the board to know that the family has a different vision for their land and that they will likely submit a proposal soon.

Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer said the Meyer family’s situation is a spin on the usual scenario that plays out in land-use discussions. Usually neighbors of a development site contend they don’t have control over what happens in their backyard. In this case, it is the landowners who feel helpless as planners and citizens plot what to do with their land, she noted.

The late Guido Meyer Sr., an Aspen magistrate who was famous or infamous for detesting hippies who invaded the town in the 1960s, bought the Basalt ranch in 1961.

“He was offered the opportunity to put in a trailer park for the workers that were building Ruedi dam,” Trish Meyer told council. He declined in favor of keeping the property as a working ranch. The family runs cattle on the land and has a tree farm.

“We feel we’ve been good stewards of the land,” Meyer said

Trish and her husband, Guido Jr., who died in 2017 while working the ranch on his tractor, contributed to multiple community causes — providing land for a water tank, the Rio Grande Trail, realignment of Highway 82, Fishermen’s Park and Roaring Fork River access.

“Meanwhile we have been surrounded on two sides by Elk Run (subdivision) and the flagpole annexation of the Roaring Fork Club,” Meyer said.

Elk Run was developed along the ranch’s western border. The Roaring Fork golf and fishing club is to the east.

Trish said her husband tried to work with public officials for 30 years on various proposals that would keep the ranch economically sustainable. Prior to the creation of Basalt’s last master plan in 2007, the family proposed what she called an ecologically based, sustainable residential community centered on a working ranch. The family was told to wait for the master plan process to conclude before proposing a plan.

What happened, she said, was Basalt officials settled on an urban growth boundary that looks like a jigsaw puzzle. The urban growth boundary determines where the town will extend its services. The 2007 plan created an “arbitrary line” that excluded most of the Meyer’s property but allows development on a 17-acre triangle on the southwest corner, closest to Two Rivers Road. But an important part of the Meyers plan — providing home sites for Trish and Guido’s adult children — is on land currently outside of the growth boundary. Meyer said she doesn’t understand why that line has to be “set in stone.”

“This rollercoaster has gone on for more than a generation now,” Meyer told council. “Our family made a decision going into this process that we were willing to work with the town one more time to try to create a solution before pursuing other options. We need a financially sustainable plan to keep this land in agricultural use, which is also in line with the wishes of the community.”

The proposed master plan explains why the property is important: “Occupying high-value hillside land that offers views and open space, while being the last unincorporated gap along Highway 82 frontage creates opportunities to meet the public vision goals. These include promoting density instead of sprawl, conserving open space and potentially supplying a mix of housing types.”

Some aspects of the proposed master plan and the Meyer family’s plan are similar. The master plan presents two possible scenarios — one with development contained on the 17 areas in the southwest corner and a second with more units and uses extending to other parts of the property.

Members of the public who attended an open house earlier this winter got to use poker chips to show which plan they favored. The contained development concept was overwhelmingly favored. It would allow about 69 medium density residential units, 66 affordable housing units, open space, space for a “public facility” and a bicycle and walking trail that would connect Elk Run with federal public land near the popular Arbaney-Kittle Trail, alongside the cemetery and its approach road.

The concepts in the proposed master plan spurred the Meyer family to prepare its own, detailed conceptual plan. It has about the same number of units as the lower-density alternative in the master plan.

Multi-family units are proposed along Two Rivers Road, then it tapers off to townhouses and finally less-dense single-family homes closer to the pastures. Their plan includes space for a civic amenity, an active park and a buffer of spruce trees between their development and Elk Run.

A critical part of the family’s plan is placement of two-acre lots northwest of the cemetery. Three to five lots would be reserved for the family’s construction of homes.

“We feel there are many positive opportunities and infill rather than sprawl development such as this could create for the town,” said Tom Newland, a land-use planner working with the Meyer family. “For example, the Meyers are interested in the mixed income development concept highlighted during the master plan process, as it is similar to their vision of a development that promotes diversity and inclusion by providing housing for all income levels and age brackets.”

Tuesday’s council meeting was not intended to resolve the issue. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said the master plan would not be the definitive word on what the Meyers family can do. That will be settled in face-to-face negotiations, with equal representation for the town and family, she said.


Area law enforcement prepares for red flag gun law provisions take effect

Local agencies have some concerns about the controversial gun law that took effect at the start of the new year.

Extreme risk protection orders, part of the so-called red flag gun law passed in Colorado last year, can be used to take guns away from someone that a judge deems a risk to themselves or others.

Sheriff Lou Vallario is adamantly opposed to the law, but absent any repeal or legal challenge, he and other agencies may be tasked with enforcing an extreme risk protection order if someone invokes it in Garfield County.

Law agencies, including municipal police departments and the sheriff’s office, will meet with 9th Judicial District staff in February to iron out how the process will work.

“We’re going to have some kind of discussion with the judges and the courts about what this is going to look like, but essentially the process is outlined in the statute,” Vallario said.

The judicial district is ready to process any petition now, but there are still a lot of processes that are uncertain, court executive Lynn Reed said.

The meeting “is really just making sure the communication is as consistent as it can be,” she said.

Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein hopes the meeting will clear up some questions he has about the process.

“There are a lot of unknowns. It’s brand new, and just like any system there will be kinks,” Klein said.

A petition can come from a family member, or someone in the household of a person who is suspected to be dangerous, according to the statute.

But it’s not clear how the law enforcement agency would be notified of a pending protection order proceeding, Klein said.

“It’s really a matter of procedure, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle,” Klein said.

It’s also unclear what law enforcement agency will be responsible for enforcing the order. Sheriff’s offices typically handle serving other kinds of protection orders, but the statute doesn’t specifically designate the extreme risk protection orders to the sheriff.

After filing a petition, there is a 14-day period before the hearing with a judge. At that hearing, the petitioner is supposed to submit evidence that the person with the gun poses a risk. The court will provide a lawyer for the subject of the petition.

If the judge agrees that the person “poses a significant risk of causing personal injury to self or others in the near future” by having or purchasing a firearm, the judge will grant the order, restricting the person from possessing or purchasing guns for 364 days.

That’s the part of the process that Klein and Vallario are worried about.

“If somebody doesn’t want to voluntarily hand (their guns) over, I think that heightens the level of danger for law enforcement, because they know we’re coming,” Vallario said.

That puts officers in a potentially high-risk situation.

“Being a police officer is inherently dangerous, but this type of order can put them potentially into a very dangerous position,” Klein said.

Law enforcement also can file petitions for extreme risk protection orders.

In fact, the first use of the law Jan. 2 came from Denver Police, and was filed against a man law enforcement considered as a suicide risk several days before.

Vallario said he doesn’t see it as the best tool for someone contemplating suicide, since the gun is only one way to self-harm.

“The issue there is really the mental health issue, about helping him with crisis intervention with suicidal thoughts, not taking things away from him that he might use to commit suicide,” Vallario said.

In the kind of situation where a person is threatening suicide, law enforcement can use what’s known as an M1 hold, where a person is detained for up to 72 hours for mental health screening.

The red flag law has not yet been invoked in Garfield County, and Klein believes it will rarely come up.

The incoming Glenwood Springs Police chief, Joseph Deras, has some experience with a similar red flag law in California.

Deras told the Post Independent that as captain of the Gilory Police Department, some of his officers had to secure firearms from people with sustained mental incapacitation.

“This has not occurred with much frequency. Oftentimes, we have been able to resolve this issue with the patient and/or suspect voluntarily surrendering their weapons,” Deras said.

Moderate to heavy snow forecast Friday for Aspen area, clearing for holiday weekend

A winter storm to start the holiday weekend is forecast to drop between 4 to 8 inches of snow Friday in the northern and central Colorado mountains, including the Aspen and Snowmass areas.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for the mountains, and it is in effect until 5 p.m. Friday. The weather service says the “quick moving disturbance” will cause moderate to heavy snowfall through the day. As well, wind gusts are expected to top 50 mph throughout the day.

“Travel will be very difficult. Blowing snow will significantly reduce visibility, especially on ridge tops and over mountain passes,” the NWS said Friday morning.

“The heaviest snow is expected this morning and into the early afternoon before showers taper off from west to east as dry air moves into the region this evening.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend is expected to be dry and the next round of winter storms is expected to come in Tuesday and stay through the end of next week.

The high temperatures in Aspen are expected in the mid-30s on Friday and Saturday and at or above 40 degrees on Sunday and Monday. Overnight lows will be in the teens.

The big event for Aspen’s Gay Ski Week on Friday afternoon will be cold and windy. The annual downhill costume competition and party is scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. at gondola plaza at the base of Aspen Mountain.

Keep up with the conditions:

• Forecast and recent weather stories: aspentimes.com/news/weather.

• Local storm warnings and advisories: noaa.gov

• Aspen Snowmass ski area forecasts: aspensnowmass.com

• Road conditions, closures and traffic cameras: cotrip.org.

• Travel information by phone: 511 (in Colorado) or 303-639-1111.

• Avalanche danger and conditions: avalanche.state.co.us.

• Aspen airport flight information: aspenairport.com

Humble Mountain Rescue leaders headed to Aspen Hall of Fame

Over the past four decades, David Swersky and Rick Deane have, on countless occasions, abruptly dashed from their families’ dinner tables, gotten up in the middle of the night or taken off time from their day jobs to help people in need.

They weren’t looking for recognition as volunteers with Mountain Rescue Aspen but they will get their due Saturday. They will be inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame along with Peter and Barbara Guy and Sue Smedstad in the Class of 2020.

To say Deane and Swersky, both 75, are humble would be an understatement.

“It caught me very much by surprise,” Swersky said this week of his nomination to the hall. “I’ve always thought I had been under the radar.”

He said he isn’t being falsely modest when saying the induction is a great and unexpected honor.

Deane is regarded as the “quiet cowboy” even among the people he is most comfortable with, so getting inducted at a ceremony that will be attended by hundreds of people has left him “terrified,” he acknowledged.

“It’s a huge, huge honor,” he said.

Deane has volunteered with Mountain Rescue Aspen formally since 1978, but his family served as the de facto first line of help for decades before that because of the location of their T-Lazy-7 Ranch. His parents bought the property 5 miles up Maroon Creek Road in 1938 and soon started operating a guest ranch. Prior to cellphones and sophisticated methods of communication, whenever someone got in trouble climbing the Maroon Bells or hiking the backcountry, reporting parties would stop at the ranch to seek help. The Deanes would crank up the phone tree, calling folks such as Fred Braun, Jack de Pagter and Ralph Melville, who would launch rescue or body retrieval operations.

Rick’s father, Had Deane, often would provide horses and pack animals to haul in the supplies and equipment the rescue parties required. Rescues in those days, prior to helicopter use, were often two- or three-day ordeals. Rick recalled helping with preparations when he was just a kid.

In a video recorded for the induction, he said logistics turned into his forte.

“Mainly my expertise was transportation,” Deane said. “Between snowmobiles, motorcycles, horses, the fixed-wing airplane, whatever it took to get the team there transportation-wise, get their gear there, find somebody, get there quick and then help get people out.”

Deane’s familiarity with the valleys, woods, nooks and crannies of what is now the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness also provided an invaluable service for Mountain Rescue. He has roamed the backcountry for 65 years.

Deane told The Aspen Times in an interview Thursday he would lead horses hauling ranch guests and pack trains with supplies to permanent camps in places such as Snowmass, Willow and Copper Lakes when he was as young as 10. His job was to get people situated for weekslong stays and he would resupply them.

Since he had so much time in the saddle and on foot in the backcountry, Deane had the ability as a member of MRA to take limited information about locations and make educated guesses about where people ran into trouble. But his colleagues on Mountain Rescue and members of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office have credited Deane with a sixth sense that goes beyond familiarity of terrain. They have said over the years that he often intuitively knows how to proceed with an operation even when a rescue occurs in terrain he isn’t familiar with.

Deane said he hasn’t discussed it much, but he learned a lot from participating in a workshop at Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School. Brown is a renowned tracker of people and animals as well as a wilderness survival expert. Deane said Brown’s workshop teaches, among other things, how to survive in any type of wilderness when getting dropped off without even a shirt on your back. Brown also teaches expanding and interpreting a person’s vision.

Deane believes Brown’s instruction enhanced the skills he has used at MRA and in his business. He has reached national recognition for his efforts with MRA. In 1990, he was given the Valor Award by the National Association for Search and Rescue.

Swersky’s path to MRA was significantly different from Deane’s backcountry upbringing. After getting his degree in biology from Lehigh University and a degree in dental medicine from the University of Pennsylvania, Swersky served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Enterprise. His duties required training in mass casualty care and triage.

Swersky was released from service earlier than he anticipated and decided to visit a friend in Aspen for one winter of skiing in 1970. It was the old familiar story, he said. He was hooked on Aspen’s small-town charm that first winter. He became a volunteer science teacher at the Aspen Community School and got involved in numerous volunteer efforts. He served on a transportation committee that helped create what is now the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and taught a class as a silversmith at Colorado Mountain College. Instructors didn’t get paid at that time but they were able to enroll in other CMC courses. He took a winter mountaineering class led by Richard Arnold, a key figure in MRA at the time, and was encouraged by Arnold to join Mountain Rescue in 1980.

“What inspired me to (volunteer in various organizations)? I wish I had a good answer to that. It was just something that I wanted to do,” Swersky said. “For me, volunteering for anything, I feel like I got more than I gave.”

After volunteering and ski bumming for three years, he opened his dental practice in Aspen in 1973.

“I used to say I retired first and worked later,” he quipped.

Swersky and Deane identified the late Greg Mace as an influential figure in their work with MRA. Mace, director and president of MRA, organized many of the rescue operations before his death in a climbing accident in 1986. Before he died, Mace started training other leaders, such as Deane and Swersky. Sharing leadership skills benefited the organization after Mace’s untimely death.

“Pretty much I learned all my mountaineering skills from being on Mountain Rescue,” Swersky said. His accomplishments include helping found and instructing at MRA’s annual Avalanche Workshop, entering its 35th year.

Deane and Swersky continue to volunteer at MRA, though they have reduced their time in the field. They were essential figures who bridged the generations between early rescue leaders and the current generation. The younger volunteers have phenomenal skills, dedication and determination, Swersky said.

It is a safe bet that’s what old-timers in Mountain Rescue said about Deane and Swersky when they joined the organization 40-plus years ago.


Officials want input on Aspen’s affordable housing rules

Officials in charge of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority are gearing up to make significant changes to the rules of the program, potentially affecting the lives of thousands of residents.

To make sure people understand what is changing, a public outreach subcommittee has been formed consisting of three APCHA board members.

They are searching for a facilitator to lead a public outreach process that will include hosting a series of meetings around issues in the housing program that are being addressed.

“The discussions we are having have to be about the guideline changes,” APCHA board member and Aspen City Councilwoman Rachel Richards said during a meeting Wednesday. “This not philosophical. … We need real-life examples and how it’s applied in the past and in the future.

“They need to know the nitty to the gritty.”

One area in which board members want to make changes include eligibility requirements to live in deed-restricted units — as it relates to where people work and generate income; how hours of work are counted; and if volunteer, nonprofit and community service count.

Current rules state that people who live in deed-restricted housing must work 1,500 hours a year in Pitkin County and reside in the unit nine months a year.

The board also is considering minimum income requirements for ownership and “equity for the most vulnerable.”

Another area of concern for the APCHA board is dealing with a significant population that will retire in the current inventory and how to “right size” people in units.

HOA responsibilities, capital reserves, and fees and fines for those who break the rules also are up for discussion.

As subcommittee members David Laughren, Kelly McNicholas Kury and Skippy Mesirow propose it, there would be a public meeting for each topic, of which there are eight.

Richards said that is too much to ask of residents who may care about all of the topics but can’t make it to eight input sessions.

Board members said they’d wait to hear ideas from potential facilitators on how to conduct the public outreach.

Richards asked if APCHA could rely on the city’s communications department for some of the outreach, but Mesirow said they are too busy with other projects.

Both Richards and APCHA board member and Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman acknowledged the amount of staff time this effort will take and budgetary concerns.

Richards also said she’s concerned that people will experience “feedback fatigue” as APCHA’s communications consultant will roll out a public outreach campaign around its switchover from paper to an automated system.

The subcommittee proposes that the outreach process for the guideline changes to take about two months.

The subcommittee has identified 20 organizations throughout the valley that APCHA members will invite to the input sessions to further spread the word.

McNicholas Kury, in her memo to the APCHA board, acknowledged that changing the guidelines has an effect on people’s homes, lives and basic security, so it has an “emotional quotient, particularly when it has to do with compliance and enforcement issues. The board has recently identified trust within the community as one of its values.”

She also noted that some members of the public prefer to retain their anonymity when interacting with APCHA “due to fears that they will be subject to heightened attention regarding compliance.”

The subcommittee will send a letter to prospective facilitators asking for proposals and fees. Those will get culled down to three options for the board to consider at a future meeting.


Basalt whitewater park pricetag in the millions

The price tag so far for the whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt is nearly $3.5 million, according to numbers released Thursday by Pitkin County.

That amount includes $1.4 million that has been budgeted for the project in 2020 but has not yet been spent, as well as a $350,000 state grant for streamside amenities and about $180,000 from the town of Basalt, according to Lisa MacDonald of the Healthy Rivers and Streams Board and budgetary information supplied by Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock.

The money spent for the project already and budgeted for this year includes both streamside improvements and in-river construction of two wave features, which will undergo engineering adjustments next week for the second time since they were built in 2016-2017.

Whitewater parks tend to need tweaking after they’re built to make wave features navigable, especially in high-water conditions, said MacDonald, noting that Durango’s park has undergone nine alterations.

“It’s a work in progress,” she said Thursday. “(Making adjustments to the waves) is the nature of the project.”

The park — located about a quarter mile upstream of the Roaring Fork’s confluence with the Fryingpan River — was initially budgeted at $770,000 by the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board after it was approved in 2015. According to the budget numbers released Thursday, the county spent about $780,000 on the project in 2015 and 2016.

The project cost $796,500 in 2017, $331,000 in 2018 and about $164,000 last year, according to those numbers, for a total of just over $2 million.

Most of that money came from the Healthy Rivers and Streams fund, which is supported by a sales tax, Peacock said.

The whitewater park opened in 2017, but was beset with complaints from boaters about the dangerous conditions created by the two wave structures, which are spawned by pre-cast concrete forms embedded in the river bottom, during high-water conditions. The wave structures were re-engineered in the winter of 2018, but low water conditions from a below-average snow year that spring didn’t adequately test the tweaked structures.

Last year’s big snow year, however, put the wave structures to the test, though for many, they failed again with large holes that flipped boats, sometimes holding them in the hole, and sent boaters for long, cold swims. The area was previously a mellow section of river.

After another round of public comment this fall, River Restoration of Carbondale engineered more tweaks that will begin being made next week.

Crews will try to adjust the structures so the holes they create are not as large and will better flush water through the two structures and create wave trains, said Quinn Donnelly, a River Restoration engineer.

The original contract with River Restoration called for the firm to adjust the two wave features as needed, said John Ely, Pitkin County attorney. Before going back to the company for a third go-round on the project, Pitkin County sought a second opinion on the structures from another engineer, who said River Restoration’s “approach was fine and appropriate and consistent with what he would do in the same situation,” Ely said.

“(The adjustments are) not inconsistent with building these things,” he said. “It takes a few years to tweak them and get them into position.”

The whitewater park as an amenity was not as important to Pitkin County as the water rights it received for creating it, Ely said. The idea was to keep more water in that section of river to protect habitat.

“There has to be use of the waves to call water to the river,” Ely said. “That’s why it’s so important.”

Construction on the latest tweaks in the riverbed is scheduled to begin next week and run possibly through March 15. The area will be closed to the public during construction. Ancillary construction activities may take place in the area until April 30, according to Healthy Rivers email.


Mountain-lion hunting expands near Aspen; hope is to lessen conflicts with humans

When a mountain lion has been treed by hunting dogs, the animal looks distinctly catlike: powerful, annoyed and, yes, bored.

Whit Whitaker and other winter sportsmen have hunted mountain lions in the Roaring Fork River valley for decades, but until this week, a small triangle of land above Aspen has been off limits.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission voted Wednesday to open the tract of land — officially called Game Management Unit 471 — for lion hunting. The change gives hunters more flexibility and range, and is designed to push the big cats away from town and reduce encounters with humans.

Whitaker gets up at 4:30 a.m. on snowy mornings to look for mountain lions in fresh powder. Last Saturday, a friend and fellow hunter, Ron Christian, called Whitaker after he spotted promising tracks near Woody Creek.

“I’m saying this is a 120-pound female,” Whitaker said, laying three fingers inside pawprints found along the side of the road.

This cold, gray morning is perfect for the hunting of mountain lions. Whitaker, Christian and another friend, Jay Sills, let their five hounds smell the prints and then set them loose to follow scent through the snow and scrub oak up a rocky drainage.

The hunters followed, using GPS trackers on the dogs’ collars. About 540 yards from the road, the movement stopped. The hounds forced a mountain lion to perch about 30 feet up a skinny aspen tree.

“It’s not going to like that tree,” Whitaker said.

Quota system dictates hunting

The dogs barked furiously around the base of the aspen, and Whitaker scooted under the branches for a closer look under the mountain lion’s tail. Sure enough, it was a female, about 120 pounds. She was stretched across several branches, glaring down toward the dogs and humans.

Once Whitaker confirmed the lion was a female, the hunters didn’t even discuss the next step; it was understood they wouldn’t be pulling out their guns.

Females maintain the population and care for the young. They’re smaller, and most hunters want the biggest male they can find. Also, mountain-lion hunting is based on a quota system. This game unit, 47, has a one-lion quota, so when someone kills a lion in here, the season is over.

“I like chasing them, I like seeing them. I typically don’t fill my tag,” Whitaker said. “That’s another reason why I don’t like to shoot them — because I don’t want to stop hunting. Even if you don’t intend on harvesting them, you can’t pursue lions in that unit once the quota is filled.”

Jay Sills, left, and Whit Whitaker, right, are local hunters who use dogs to pursue mountain lions. They determined that this lion was a female and did not kill her.
Elizabeth Stewart-Severy, Aspen Journalism

Commission aims to reduce conflicts

There are four hunting units (43, 47, 471 and 444) in the valley, but only three (43, 47 and 444) had allowed mountain-lion hunting. The season runs from mid-November to the end of March.

Now, the Parks and Wildlife commission has voted to open the fourth unit (471) and allow more flexibility in the quota system.

Next season, instead of each unit having an individual limit, three units — 43, 47 and the newly opened 471 — will have a combined quota of up to seven lions.

Officials say this could spread out hunting over more of the mountain lions’ range and increase the harvest in areas where conflicts between humans and the predators are on the rise.

Matt Yamashita, the area wildlife manager with Parks and Wildlife, said he’s getting more calls about human encounters with lions close to town and homes.

“A lot of these ones are being reported as not afraid or less afraid of humans, more tolerant of people — and that’s a red flag for us as well as managers,” Yamashita said.

Mountain lions have a large range and follow their prey species — elk and deer — throughout the year. The newly opened unit, 471, is bounded by Castle Creek Road, Highway 82, and the Continental Divide — think Richmond Ridge toward the pass. Mountain lions there probably move in and out of adjacent hunting units — sometimes that just means crossing a road — as they track their prey.

Yamashita said he’s not expecting to see many mountain lions killed in unit 471 because of the high elevation, deep snow and limited access, especially in the winter, the season for lion hunting. Still, local hunter Christian said it’s worth checking out.

“There’s a lot of mountain lions on 471, but I don’t know if they stay there in the winter,” Christian said.

No one really knows that. Hunters haven’t been allowed in there to scope it out, and it’s difficult for biologists to get a handle on population estimates of stealthy, wide-ranging predators such as mountain lions.

The most recent management plan for mountain lions in this area was completed in 2004. It estimated a total of about 300 lions in the Roaring Fork and Eagle river valleys. But hunters such as Whitaker, who has been hunting in the area for 20 years, say it’s clear that the lion population is growing.

“I’ve seen more females and females with kittens or multiple kittens, which tells me it’s a healthier population,” Whitaker said. “We’re finding lion tracks in areas where, in 20 years, I haven’t seen lion tracks.”

CPW officials say it’s an agency priority to draft a new plan in 2020 that reflects the realities of mountain lion biology.

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and Aspen Public Radio on coverage of biodiversity and the environment. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

More than a party: Aspen’s Gay Ski Week raises thousands of dollars for scholarships, support

For the past 43 years, Aspen-Snowmass has hosted the oldest gay ski week celebration and fundraiser in the nation.

As hundreds take part in the renowned list of festivities this week, most locals and visitors will talk of and remember the daily group skiing and snowboarding sessions, late-night apres ski parties, downhill costume contest and flamingo pool party.

But for many longtime Aspen Gay Ski Week attendees like Reed Strathdee-Lewis, owner of the Daly Bottle Shop in Snowmass Village, the week is more than just a celebration. It’s a way to raise money and support for the LGBTQ+ community.

“You can’t not hear about Aspen Gay Ski Week. It’s one of the biggest winter events,” Lewis said. “Yes, it’s a party, but it’s a party that raises money for a lot of good causes. That’s why I’ve stuck with it.”

Lewis, who’s lived in Snowmass for nearly 25 years, has been on the board of directors for AspenOUT, the LGBTQ+ advocacy nonprofit behind Aspen Gay Ski Week, for more than a decade.

Through the annual Gay Ski Week celebration, Lewis said AspenOUT is able to raise funds that both support national LGBTQ+ initiatives and local efforts to engage, educate and empower LGBTQ+ youth and their families up and down the valley.

“The fundraising indirectly saves lives,” Lewis said. “There’s still discrimination and there’s still work to be done to ensure equal and fair treatment for everyone.”

Although AspenOUT has existed for roughly two decades, it has ramped up its efforts to support local LGBTQ+ youth and allies over the past five years through its high school senior scholarship program; free mental health and counseling; Gender and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) support in high schools and middle schools; LGBTQ+ affirming film series; and WORD, an alternative prom for students uncomfortable with their school’s conventional prom held each spring.

On the first morning of Aspen Gay Ski Week, Kevin McManamon, executive director of AspenOUT, and Janet Gordon, a licensed professional counselor trained to support LGBTQ+ youth and who works with AspenOUT, talked about the impact of these year-round support programs on students from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.

In 2019 alone, the nonprofit awarded over $18,000 to LGBTQ+ seniors and their allies, and offered more than 40 hours of free individual and family counseling.

“It’s easy; we do this so kids don’t kill themselves,” McManamon said. “If we don’t do this, kids may not feel supported in being who they are.”

“We often believe we are more accepting than we are,” Gordon added. “There’s a big difference between saying you are accepting and actually showing it.”

According to the most recent Regional Health Study conducted across Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, more LGBTQ+ and Hispanic kids reported experiencing bullying and attempting suicide than their straight and white peers.

Over 63% of children who reported experiencing depression and 33.8% of kids who said they planned a suicide identified as LGBTQ+, according to the study data.

For Gordon, AspenOUT has been huge in helping facilitate more safe spaces and events for LGBTQ+ youth in the valley through its financial and board member support.

The nonprofit helped her attend the Gender Odyssey conference in San Diego and gain training on LGBTQ+ specific counseling, which she feels has made her a better ally and resource for students and their families.

“All any of us want is recognition,” Gordon said. “If you’re LGBTQ+ and you live in an environment that doesn’t accept or recognize you, that’s tough. Here, the fact that we are able to show kids they are a valued part of the community and that someone does see them. That’s big.”

Chamberlain Peacock and Aiden Krause, both seniors at Aspen High School and co-presidents of its GSA, or LGBTQ+ Club, said they recognize Gordon and AspenOUT as rare and important resources for the valley.

Through their club, which meets weekly during the lunch hour, the two seniors have tried to help empower their LGBTQ+ peers, educate students and teachers on how to respond to slurs and discrimination, and ensure the high school is a safe space for everyone.

“Even though gay marriage was accepted back in 2015, there’s still a lot of misinformation, there’s some harassment and miscommunication,” Peacock said. “That can be really hard when you’re trying to figure this out yourself and you’re stigmatized as the gay kid. Having an area where you don’t have to worry about all of that is nice.”

“It’s nice knowing that you’re not the only one, as well,” Krause added. “We strive to educate people about what it means to be LGBT and how to be a decent ally so by the time they go into the real world and you’re out of that bubble that everyone calls Aspen, you aren’t close-minded and don’t live a life of toxicity.”

After they graduate, Peacock and Krause hope to see the high school’s club continue to advocate for LGBTQ+ students and branch out into the middle school to help create a more accepting environment.

They also said even though they don’t get to take part in much of Aspen Gay Ski Week, there will be a youth event at the CP Burger ice rink on Saturday in Aspen and that the public support for LGBTQ+ over the week is reassuring.

“People don’t understand the power of just hanging a pride flag and the comfort that comes from that,” Krause said.

“One day we hope we won’t even need a club; we hope that all people will just know how to act and everyone will feel accepted,” Peacock added. In Snowmass, town tourism staff is working to ensure the LGBTQ+ community feels welcomed and accepted over Aspen Gay Ski Week and beyond with the addition of pride stickers in merchant windows and flags hung up around the village.

Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, said the village has been working to partner more with Aspen Gay Ski Week, evident with this year’s inaugural LGBTQ+ family weekend in Snowmass.

“We’re really excited about the family weekend and our whole team is behind Gay Ski Week,” Abello said, noting that Snowmass Tourism is the defending downhill costume contest champion.

“All of the things that make the village wonderful for a traditional family make us wonderful for LGBTQ+ families, too, and we want every family to feel welcome here.”

Lewis said he congratulates Snowmass on recognizing the value of partnering with the LGBTQ+ community, and for showing its support of both Aspen Gay Ski Week and AspenOUT, which he hopes continues to grow for years to come.

“I think weeks like this are important because they give people in the community the chance to feel like themselves with no judgment. You can be unapologetically you,” Lewis said.

“I think it’s pretty awesome for the younger community to see this, to see there’s nothing wrong with being (LGBTQ+). It’s OK to be you.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com This story was originally published in the Jan. 15 edition of the Snowmass Sun. The weekly newspaper hits newsstands every Wednesday and can be found online at SnowmassSun.com.

Free digital marketing seminars open to Aspen area businesses

The Aspen Times is hosting two educational digital seminars next week for businesses interested in learning more about marketing ideas and approaches.

The events, which are free, are Tuesday at the Aspen Square Hotel in Aspen and Wednesday at the Element Hotel in Willits. Both seminars will run from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

The seminar will cover a variety of marketing-related topics such as:

Newest trends and products that can help your business and listings get ahead in the digital game; how to position yourself to a tourist or second-home owner before they’re in the market; how to position yourself to a tourist or second-home owner while they’re here; how to position yourself to all locals; and strategies to execute now to get your business in front of potential buyers.

Snacks and refreshments will be provided and there will be giveaways including free advertising packages.

Seating is limited. To register or for questions, email marketing@aspentimes.com.