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Snowmass Last Shot: Fat Tuesday in the village

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Reward of up to $7,000 being offered for information on Snowmass theft

Snowmass Village authorities and Eagle County Crimestoppers are looking for help cracking the case of the theft of a safe-box from a Snowmass Village condominium.

The safe was taken from a Willows Condo on Campground Lane sometime during the week of Oct. 21 and 28, according to Snowmass Village police investigators. A hidden key was discovered outside and a person or persons gained access.

“Nothing in the condo was disturbed and just the safe-box was taken from a dresser drawer where it was being stored,” according to a statement from Crimestoppers. “Contents inside the safe-box included a large amount of cash, several titles to vehicles and a Social Security card.”

“The owner of the safe-box is offering a $2,000 cash reward for information to assist investigators with the recovery and up to an additional $5,000 cash reward if the safe-box and its contents are recovered,” the statement continued.

Tips can be made anonymously. Call the Eagle County Crimestoppers at 970-328-7007, 1-800-972-TIPS or the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office at 970-328-8500. Tips also can be submitted to the Snowmass Village Police at 970-923-5330. If your tip leads to the arrest and indictment of an involved suspect, you could earn as large as a $7,000 reward.

Snowmass couple gets $50K from Creekside HOA in emotional support dog dispute

The Creekside Condominium Homeowner’s Association was ordered this week to pay $50,000 to a Snowmass Village couple after the HOA failed to allow a woman to stay at the complex with her emotional support dog, a violation of the Fair Housing Act, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Thursday.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Domenico for the District of Colorado approved a consent order that resolved the years-long dispute between the Creekside HOA and both Jason Neilson, a longtime Creekside owner, and his domestic partner Kirsten Swick over whether Swick’s emotional support dog met the HOA’s criteria for reasonable accommodation to its “no dogs” policy.

On top of paying the $50,000 in compensation to Neilson and Swick, the three-year consent order requires the Creekside HOA board to undergo annual Fair Housing Act training and adopt a new reasonable accommodation policy and guidelines, along with an animal assistance policy.

“Housing providers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities,” U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn for the District of Colorado said in a news release sent Thursday. “We are pleased that this HOA is adopting policies and will conduct training that complies with the Fair Housing Act. These are important protections to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal housing opportunities.”

The Creekside HOA board had no comment Thursday as board protocol requires it meet as a whole before issuing any statement, according to a board member. Neilson and Swick could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The Fair Housing Act is a federal law adopted in 1968 to protect Americans from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, or engaging in other housing-related activities, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to court documents, the Creekside HOA board’s violation of the Fair Housing Act started in December 2016 when Neilson and Swick made a request for Swick to be granted reasonable accommodation after getting an emotional support dog. The couple submitted a letter to the HOA board from a licensed psychologist with the request that supported the need for Swick, who experiences depression and anxiety, to have an emotional support dog as part of her treatment.

Over one year prior, the Creekside HOA board adopted a resolution to its “no dogs” policy that allowed tenants who have a disability and may need a support animal to request reasonable accommodation. The resolution allowed the HOA board to require the tenant to provide “reliable documentation of a disability and their disability-related need for a service animal” in order to receive approval, court documents state.

In Neilson and Swick’s case, the Creekside HOA board rejected the initial letter submitted in December 2016, stating it did not “meet legitimate requirements,” court documents say. The HOA board requested verification of Swick’s disability and need for an emotional support animal.

From January 2017 to June 2017, Swick and Neilson continued to apply for reasonable accommodation with Creekside HOA and stayed at five different residences with friends and relatives and spent more than a week living out of their van so Swick could keep her emotional support dog and avoid being fined, the complaint says.

Swick and Neilson submitted additional documentation attributed to two separate medical providers over the five months. The documents described Swick’s depression and anxiety, treatment, and how an emotional support dog could benefit her.

The HOA board rejected the additional documents, stating they were too vague or insufficient, according to the federal district court complaint. They informed the couple they had to pay $3,650 in fines or else a lien would be placed on Neilson’s unit.

However, on June 14, 2017, the Creekside HOA board reversed course and granted Neilson and Swick’s request for accommodation after the couple’s attorney informed the HOA board they were preparing to sue in federal district court.

Regardless, Neilson and Swick filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division at the end of June 2017.

Two months later, the Creekside HOA board requested $500 from each condo owner “to cover legal costs and potential liability arising from the Board’s enforcement of the Association’s ‘No Dog’ rule,” court documents state.

The couple also filed a housing discrimination complaint in November 2017 with the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD officials conducted an investigation of the complaint and determined in September that “reasonable cause existed to believe that illegal discriminatory housing practices had occurred,” court documents say.

HUD’s “Charge of Discrimination,” resulted in a civil action complaint filed in U.S. District Court and the consent order between the court and Creekside HOA was approved Tuesday.

The Creekside HOA has 10 days from the approval date to pay $50,000 in compensation to Nielson and Swick; 15 days to distribute its new reasonable accommodation and assistance animal policies to Creekside tenants; and 30 days to notify all homeowners of the lawsuit and to issue an apology to Neilson and Swick via email.

Betsy Crum, director of the housing department in Snowmass, said Thursday she was unaware of the issue at Creekside Condominiums and said the Creekside HOA was in charge of rules and regulations for the complex’s deed-restricted owners.

Crum did say the town housing department is committed to following fair housing laws and federal regulations, and that reasonable accommodations have been made for people with support animals who rent and own town housing in Snowmass. She also said any HOA in Snowmass with questions regarding the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance should reach out to the Snowmass Housing Department.


Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect the fact that Swick’s dog is an emotional support or assistance animal, not a service dog.

Passapalooza a success during snowy weekend

It was a great weekend for Aspen-Snowmass on a multitude of levels, according to Aspen Skiing Co. officials.

With as much as 2 feet of snow over the past three days at the four ski areas and a diverse offering of on-mountain and apres activities for the company’s Passapalooza event, Skico’s preliminary local, passholder and visitor numbers showed strong Friday through Sunday.

“It was a solid weekend, for sure. I definitely think our numbers exceeded last year at this time,” said Jeff Hanle, Skico’s vice president of communications on Sunday. “It was a successful way to energize the slower season before the holidays.”

According to Hanle, this was the first year Skico decided to host a discounted ticket weekend with other deals and apres activities to draw visitors to Aspen-Snowmass before peak season.

Through the Passapalooza event — which ran in conjunction with the Snowmassive Celebration in Snowmass Village — art, culture and sports offerings were blended together, including $59 lift tickets per day for anyone with a valid 2019-20 pass from any ski resort in the world; discounted clinics, along with ski and board demo deals; a lights festival in Snowmass and an ’80s-themed apres-ski party in Aspen; and a Snow BikeCross qualifier for X Games in Snowmass.

“We have a rich and very cultural valley, and when we try to bring people here we want to give them the full experience,” Hanle said of hosting a blended on-mountain and apres event. “I think that’s what sets us a part from other resort communities.”

Through partnerships with entities like Snowmass Tourism, Hanle said Skico was able to give Passapalooza visitors and locals that all-encompassing experience in Snowmass Village especially, which preliminary Skico data show had the highest on-mountain numbers over the weekend out of all four Aspen-Snowmass resorts.

The Skico event ran alongside the town’s Snowmassive Celebration, which aimed to recognize the opening of Eye Pieces, Straight Line Studios and The Collective in Base Village.

All three of the new businesses and buildings held grand-opening parties, and locals and visitors were invited to experience over a dozen light and interactive art installations throughout the village; ski and snowboard demo deals on Fanny Hill; Snow BikeCross on Assay Hill; and an ice skating show featuring Aspen-Snowmass and professional skaters on The Rink in Base Village on Saturday evening.

“We were so happy with the weekend,” said Dawn Blasberg, plaza and events manager for Base Village and The Collective.

With help from the town of Snowmass Village, Blasberg said she and her team hope to make the Snowmassive Celebration an annual, early-December event for the entire community, including locals and visitors, and that she’s already working to brainstorm new activities and offerings for next year’s “Snowmassive” event.

“We are open to trying anything and everything. We want to be unique,” Blasberg said.

As for Skico, Hanle said the company would further analyze the on-mountain numbers from over the weekend and discuss the potential for Passapalooza to be an annual pre-holiday weekend experience moving forward.


Limelight Hotel in Snowmass to host village’s first part-time job fair

Over 15 employers will be hiring on the spot for part-time, seasonal, peak-season only and on-call positions on Tuesday in Snowmass.

From 3 to 7 p.m., businesses including the Timberline Condominiums, New Belgium Ranger Station, High Q marijuana dispensary and more will be at the Limelight Hotel Snowmass looking to bring on new employees during the first-ever part-time job fair.

The fair is ideal for people looking to supplement their full-time job with a part-time position, on-call or substitute work, and also is a good fit for people looking to come back to the workforce from retirement or to earn money while home during school break, according to a Snowmass Tourism news release.

The release also states employers will be looking for candidates with talent, flexibility and a desire to both make some extra income and be a part of the Snowmass Village winter experience.

For more information, visit www.gosnowmass.com/jobfair.

Update: Gas leak clamped, people cleared to return to Base Village area

People evacuated from Base Village due to a natural gas leak Tuesday morning were given the all clear to return to the area just before 1 p.m.

According to Snowmass Village Police Chief Brian Olson, the gas leak coming from a meter near the Treehouse Kids Adventure Center parking lot was clamped around 12:45 p.m.

After checking the safety of the clamp and gas levels in the Base Village area, evacuated residents, guests and employees were given the OK to return, Olson said.

About 175 people were evacuated from the Base Village area Tuesday morning after the gas meter broke near the Treehouse center.

According to alerts from Pitkin County, residents and businesses in the area were asked to leave buildings and people were not allowed to “access or start a car in the parking garage.”

Roaring Fork Fire Rescue responded to the leak, along with technicians from Black Hills Energy and officials from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department, Snowmass Village and Basalt police departments, Olson said.

Public safety officials first received a call at 7:30 a.m. about the audible gas leak, and people were evacuated from all Base Village properties, including the Limelight hotel, Capitol Peak, Hayden Lodge, Lichenhearth, and Tamarack properties.

Carriage Way was closed from Wood Road up to Daly Lane at the Snowmass Mall, and a check in area for evacuees was set up outside of the Base Village parking garage entrance.

Carly West, Black Hills Energy community affairs manager, said company’s team will continue to investigate the cause of the gas leak, but can assure customers that the area has been made safe.

Aspen Skiing Co. applies to replace Big Burn chairlift at Snowmass

Aspen Skiing Co. wants to replace one of its workhorse chairlifts at Snowmass Ski Area and has asked the U.S. Forest Service for permission to do so.

Skico is looking to swap out the aging Big Burn detachable quad chairlift with an updated lift of the same type.

The application was submitted Aug. 13, and White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams signed an acceptance letter Thursday, triggering the agency’s review. The critical criteria for review are “purpose and need” for the new lift.

“The Purpose of the Big Burn Lift replacement is to replace the aging, existing high-speed detachable-grip quad chairlift — that has served Aspen Skiing Co./White River National Forest guests well for the past 33 years — with a new high-speed detachable-grip quad chairlift that incorporates the most current state-of-the-art components and technology,” the application by Skico Director of Mountain Planning Victor Gerdin said.

“There is a need for this proposed action because it has been determined the existing lift can no longer provide, due to its age, reliable and consistent access to some of Snowmass Mountain’s most popular intermediate terrain,” the application continued.

The Big Burn Chairlift was among the first generation of high-speed quads that Skico installed at its ski areas. It replaced a slow, fixed-grip double chair that had lines of legendary length. The high-speed lift debuted for the 1986-87 season and was an immediate hit.

It was relieved of some pressure when Skico replaced the slow, old Sheer Bliss chairlift with a high-speed quad, providing alternative access to Big Burn terrain.

The aging Big Burn lift’s “haul-rope” failed a recent inspection and requires replacement prior to the 2019-20 season, Gerdin wrote. That emphasizes the need to get it replaced, he said.

The replacement lift is proposed in the same alignment as the existing lift.

“The lift’s bottom terminal will move approximately 250 feet up the line to improve circulation and lift loading behind the bottom terminal,” Skico’s application said. “The top terminal will move slightly uphill or downhill to improve circulation in the unloading area.”

Skico is considering chairs with retractable “bubble” covers to provide additional passenger comfort on the lift, Gerdin wrote. The lift is somewhat exposed, particularly on stretches without trees. The capacity will remain at 2,200 passengers per hour.

The lift replacement was among the projects outlined in the 2013 Snowmass Mountain Master Development Plan, which was approved by the Forest Service. That will streamline review of the specific proposal.

Skico’s application didn’t identify when the lift would be replaced, if approved. Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan said earlier this week it was too soon to tell if both the Big Burn lift replacement at Snowmass and the Pandora’s terrain expansion at Aspen Mountain would be pursued at the same time next summer. Skico is seeking approval from Pitkin County for Pandora’s and other projects on Aspen Mountain.


Colorado Springs man dies after competing in Spartan Snowmass

A 50-year-old Colorado Springs man died Saturday of suspected cardiac complications while competing in the Spartan Snowmass races.

Kenneth Crochet allegedly “went down” due to the suspected cardiac issue around 1 p.m. at the obstacle course racing event in Snowmass, Pitkin County Deputy Coroner Michael Buglione said Thursday.

Spartan Race spokesperson Jonathan Fine said the Snowmass event’s licensed medical team responded to the incident according to protocol. He could not provide any additional details of what happened to protect the privacy of Crochet and his family.

Buglione said Spartan Race medical staff brought Crochet from the race course to an ambulance, which transported him to Aspen Valley Hospital. Crochet was pronounced dead at 1:56 p.m. Saturday, Buglione said.

“This is the first fatality associated with (Pitkin County) summertime competitions I’ve handled,” Buglione said.

According to Crochet’s Facebook page, he had competed in a number of Spartan races around the country the past two years. He also posted after competing in the 2018 Tough Mudder race in Snowmass.

A definitive cause and manner of Crochet’s death is still pending, as Buglione said he is waiting to receive a toxicology report from the Jefferson County Regional Crime Laboratory in Golden.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

Aspen wilderness rangers report ‘a lot of snow’ on trails above 11,000 feet

Hikers in the high country around Snowmass and Aspen should still expect to encounter “a lot of snow” above 11,000 feet, according to forest rangers.

Wilderness Ranger Jerome Olp of the Aspen-Sopris District was the first employee of the Forest Service and one of the first few people to hike the popular Four Pass Loop this season. He made the journey July 12 to 15.

“Expect wet feet the entire loop,” Olp wrote on the Four Pass Loop Facebook page. “Trails are muddy and often have running water on them.”

Hikers who venture on muddy trails, on the Four Pass Loop and elsewhere, have the responsibility to stay on the trail and not create new routes.

Olp advised hikers to count on the loop taking more time than usual due to travel on sun-cupped, soft snow for a good share of the trip. It’s also easy to get off course.

“Route finding is necessary as 60% of the loop is under snow and avalanches,” Olp wrote.

His picture of the West Maroon Pass area resembled winter more than summer. Olp said he anticipates there will be significant snow on the Four Pass Loop and other high-elevation trails well into August. However, there are a lot of opportunities to explore on lower-elevation trails. Anyone who has ventured out can attest the wildflowers are magnificent.

Shelly Grail, recreation manager in the Aspen-Sopris District, said there are a variety of challenges on trails throughout the district.

“West Maroon Pass is challenging to navigate because of snow. Yule is challenging because of avalanche debris,” she said. A bridge washed out July 2 across Hell Roaring Creek on the Avalanche Creek hike.

Grail advised hikers and backpackers to check the White River National Forest’s trail and road conditions report before venturing out. The report is divided into districts of the forest. Wilderness rangers update observations each Tuesday. The report is found at www.fs.usda.gov.

The latest report advises people that “backpacking over the passes will not be accessible until late July to early August.” Hikers should expect snow, downed trees, mud and high, cold, swift river crossings.


In Vail, U.S. secretary of the interior talks to western governors about cooperation

VAIL — While protesters nearby — but out of sight — voiced their displeasure, United States Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and a dozen western governors talked about how to cooperate.

Bernhardt was the first main speaker at this week’s meeting of the Western Governors Association, being held this year at Vail’s Hotel Talisa.

Bernhardt was slated to give a keynote address to the group — a full ballroom of sponsors, staff, security and media — but chose instead to hold a question and answer session with the governors.

Addressing deferred maintenance

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis led the questions, first with compliments on the feds’ involvement in the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

Polis also asked about how the feds and states can work together to address a massive backlog in deferred maintenance at the nation’s national parks, most of which are in the West.

That backlog is “unsustainable,” Bernhardt said, adding that his department has proposed using revenue generated on public lands to fund $12.6 billion in deferred maintenance at the nation’s parks.

“We need to actually do it,” Bernhardt said. “We need the support of the American people.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert asked about the prospect of moving some Department of the Interior functions — particularly the Bureau of Land Management — out West.

Moving west?

Bernhardt said the department is examining the possibility of moving some staff from Washington, D.C., to a spot closer to where most of the nation’s federal lands are located.

Bernhardt said that could create “greater accountability” between the agency and its constituents.

After that evaluation, Bernhardt said Congress will be informed. Legislators would have to approve and fund any potential move.

While most of the session was a relatively pleasant back-and-forth, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked about the status of protecting the Bureau of Land Management property in that state that has been classified as having “wilderness characteristics.”

Bernhardt said he isn’t familiar with the case and promised to get back to Brown with an update.

The U.S. Territory of Guam is federally administered by the Department of the Interior. Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero asked Bernhardt about restoring federal funding to the territory’s Medicaid program. Bernhardt promised to update that governor, as well.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem told the audience that Bernhardt has been responsive in his short time in office, noting that he has given governors his personal cell phone number.

She also asked Bernhardt what the governors — most of whom have been recently elected — should know about dealing with the federal government.

Bernhardt said there’s a lot of opportunity to collaborate with states, and that the federal agency has some flexibility in rules and regulations, if states want it.

“We’re open to doing things differently,” Bernhardt said. “If you have an idea, we’re open (to hearing it).”

On the other hand, Bernhardt said just about any federal action is open to litigation, so agencies have to explain in detail why they acted as they did.

While there are limitations, “there are a lot of things we can accomplish,” Bernhardt said.

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