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WineInk: Virtual Wines, Facebook, Instagram and McElmo Canyon

Randy Ullom was supposed to be skiing Aspen Mountain this week.

The winemaster for all the Kendall-Jackson Family Wines around the globe had long planned a spring sojourn with his girlfriend that would have included “T2Bs” on Ajax, perhaps a hike up the Bowl and multiple laps on the Big Burn. Those sunny afternoons would have been followed by celebratory evenings in Aspen restaurants like Elina, where he would have toasted the season with a good bottle of wine and his equally good friend Jill Carnevale, Elina’s proprietor.

But these are different days and Randy, like many members of his Sonoma-based wine team, and the California wine industry in general, found himself inside his Healdsburg, California, home on this spring week instead of on the slopes.

So to help connect Randy with wine lovers in these challenging times, Jackson Family Wines has created a special series of videos that they are releasing on their Facebook and Instagram accounts each Sunday at 5 p.m. MT. There, Randy sits in his living room and conducts “Sunday Night Virtual Tastings with K-J Winemaster Randy Ullom!”

“Everything you smell, you can taste in the glass,” he declares in one as he takes a sip of the Vintners Reserve Chardonnay and talks about the origins of the grapes in the wine. In another, he opens three cabernet sauvignon-based K-J wines, including the Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mountain Cab from the Alexander Valley region that was the site of last October’s fires, explaining the virtues of mountain-grown fruit. The pieces are short (just 5 to 8 minutes), are delivered extemporaneously, and provide both an education into the wines and insight into their maker.

It is just one example of how vintners are using digital technology to try to keep wine drinkers engaged with their products during this time of lockdown. And most are making offers that include discounts for purchases and shipping. Kendall-Jackson encourages those who want the wines shown in the videos to order via kj.com, use a promo code (KJ20) to receive 20% off at checkout and get free shipping on orders of $75 or more.

The virtual tastings have become a growing part of the marketing efforts at wineries as they navigate the new world of how consumers are buying wine. Go to visitnapavalley.com and there you will find a list of over a dozen and a half wineries that have video tastings in various iterations. They range from an hourlong Zoom-based webinar with Frank Family Vineyards (frankfamilyvineyards.com) winemaker Todd Graff to daily 7 p.m. MT Facebook Live virtual happy hour broadcasts with the ever-charming Jean-Charles Boisset of the Boisset Collection (boissetcollection.com) who opens bottles and takes questions from online viewers.

In Santa Barbara the vintners association has created a page titled “Let Us Take Care of You,” which lists a number of wineries offering discounts and online virtual tours and tastings (sbcountywines.com/let-us-take-care-of-you). And online wine retailer Wineaccess.com launched a series of Facebook interviews this week with winemakers including Helen Keplinger of Carte Blanche and Shannon Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyard.

Is this the wave of the future?

While it is too early to tell whether tasting events are drivers or passengers of the exploding online wine sales train, anecdotal evidence suggests that direct sales to consumers from wineries have risen dramatically in the past month. The same is true for major retail wine websites and liquor stores that have been deemed “essential,” even in the hardest hit areas like New York City. Restaurant sales have cratered because of closures, but it seems wineries are still finding ways to get to consumers.

And then there are those who are getting their message out the old-fashioned way. This past week I received a batch email from John Sutcliffe at Sutcliffe Vineyards (sutcliffewines.com) in the McElmo Canyon of southwest Colorado, one of the most remote and unforgiving wine regions on Earth. The Brit with the stiff upper lip who has pioneered and produced some of Colorado’s best wines is known for his magnificently crafted emails that evoke the spirit of his surroundings.

“It seems at such odds with the current gloom that spring is busting into life. Calves and lambs gambling around the farm and the alfalfa and the orchard grass greening up the fields,” he wrote as he extolled the quality of current releases made by his longtime associate and winemaker, Jesus Castillo. “We appreciate and need the support of our already loyal following, now more than ever.”

Sutcliffe is offering 15% off on three or more bottles ordered.

Buy some wine online. It will make a difference for someone like John Sutcliffe.

Gear review: A Zoom-friendly smartphone cradle

It seemed frivolous, back in December, when I was shopping for a smartphone cradle for hands-free video chats.

But in our current stay-at-home reality — when most of our social, professional, spiritual and home exercise lives rely on Zoom and FaceTime and the like — it’s all but essential.

Back then, I was looking for a stand for my dad to use during our regular FaceTime hangouts (during which, generally, my wife and I chase our daughter around with our phone and dad watches the action from home back east).

After much research, I settled on the Nulaxy T Stand, which is affordable ($12 or so at most online retailers) and has all the features I wanted: it works for iPhone, Android and any smartphone between 4 and 8 inches, can work in portrait or landscape mode, it’s easily adjustable for height and angle, it has a projective silicone pad (so it won’t scratch up your device or table and won’t break anything if, say, your 2-year-old throws it across the room).

Nulaxy makes tons of variations of stands for home and car mounts, some with more bells and whistles like wireless chargers, made for laptops, tablets, smartphones and smart watches. My experience, with the two I’ve tried out, is that adjustable is better and the T model does everything we need it to and well worth the price.

Food Matters: Best food shows streaming right now

When food first comes to the main character in the austere, abstract film “The Platform” — No. 5 on the Netflix Top Ten as of this writing — his appetite is MIA. And that might be partly the point of this Spanish riddle in which prisoners wait, Godot-style, in a cold, vertical prison for a picked-over smorgasbord to arrive from the floors above.

“It’s a miracle no one touched the snails,” our protagonist wonders aloud to his cellmate later, hungry at last. Eerie violin music punctuated by harsh metallic sounds sets the score.

While “The Platform” isn’t exactly what I envisioned while researching “new food movies,” it certainly intrigues the eye and twists the mind with strange feast montages and a heavy social message. Since we’re all sheltering in place during the coronavirus crisis until at least mid-April, what better time to snack upon streaming food media both freakish and fanciful?

Here are a few more — and far more pleasant, and educational — picks:

“Ugly Delicious” + “Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner”

Both hosted by David Chang, who brought us Momofuku, Lucky Peach magazine (RIP), and the first season of “The Mind of a Chef” in 2012, these shows feature his signature snappy style. While “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” (2019) is a cool escape, in which our intrepid guide samples food around the globe with celeb friends in tow, “Ugly Delicious” (2018, 2020) delves into the slightly more serious sociocultural aspects of specific foods. Ever curious, Chang intersperses field trips and expert interviews with mealtime discussions over beloved foods like barbecue, pizza, curry, and tacos. The first series, at just four parts, is easily inhaled. For the latter, begin with Season One Episode 7, “Fried Rice,” a comprehensive yet concise history on Chinese food in America. Netflix.com

“Sam the Cooking Guy”

Super accessible for a dude who boasts 1.62 million YouTube subscribers, “Sam the Cooking Guy” is a one-stop shop for folks who might be a bit freaked out about the prospect of feeding oneself all day, everyday, at home. Find concise how-to videos, including plenty that recreate fast-food favorites, and Q&A sessions that solve universal home-cooking quandaries. His latest videos focus on comfort food, as evidenced by the five-part (and counting) “Quarantine (Lockdown) Munchies.” YouTube.com

“The Chef Show”

Lively banter. Chef-personality guest stars. Stop-motion animation sequences that literally deconstruct each dish prepared. That’s the delicious comibation in this two-season Netflix docuseries by actor-director Jon Favreau and chef buddy Roy Choi, founder of L.A.-based Kogi empire and a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Together the duo sets out to make connections, cook food, and have fun—a combo the pair commenced while working on “Chef,” the 2014 feature film in which Favreau starred and directed and Choi advised. Netflix.com

“Gourmet Makes”

Watch this video on The Scene.

Junk food fans who appreciate a DIY ethos will devour these bite-size videos filmed in the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen by food editor Claire Saffitz. Each childhood favorite is broken down step-by-step, and made with whole ingredients instead of unpronounceable fillers and preservatives. Pick your fix—Twix, Doritos, Twinkies, Gushers, Cheetos, Kit Kats, Skittles, Oreos, Twizzlers, Pringles, Cheez-Its, Girl Scout Cookies—and fall blissfully down a fudge-lined rabbit hole without the sugar crash. Bonappetit.com/video

“Explained: Why Diets Fail” (Season One) and “The Future of Meat” (Season Two)

This Netflix original series lives up to its name, showing viewers the whys and hows of topics most prevalent in modern society. While every 20-minute installment succeeds in debunking misconceptions and illustrating facts clearly, these two (of 30 total) are dedicated to eating. Bonus: “The Next Pandemic,” narrated by Bill Gates and released in November before coronavirus hit mainstream consciousness, is a must-watch PSA. Netflix.com

“Neat: The Story of Bourbon”

America’s only indigenous spirit enjoys a smooth-sipping documentary (2018) chronicling the history, people, and process of a wholly patriotic product. Undiluted, aged corn whiskey wasn’t always elegant, either. As the intro promises, “This is the story of grains, water, and wood. Of immigrants, farmers, businessmen, and criminals. Cold winters and hot summers. It’s the story of time.” Savor it. Hulu.com

“Restaurants on the Edge”

A fluffy combination of Kitchen Nightmares (sans brutal Gordon Ramsey badgering) and HGTV home makeover, this new Netflix reality transformation series visits the most frustrating of eateries: Those with a killer view paired with lackluster food and ambiance. En route to reviving these restaurants in peril and reigniting lost passion among owners, the chef-designer-restaurateur host trio unveil a universal recipe for success: authentic cultural tribute, comforting design, and local flavor, and offer nuts-and-bolts tips on how to, say, keep food costs down and drum up press. Admittedly, the genre can veer into cheeseball territory, but chapters here always wrap with a satisfying feel-good reveal. Netflix.com

“The Game Changers”

Fans of staying fit and athletes looking to gain a competitive edge will do well to watch this 2018 award-winning documentary produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, and James Cameron, showcasing a tidy history of how veganism has risen to the top of the sporting food chain. Narrated by a former professional mixed martial artist and champion fighter who shares his personal journey, the film presents a mountain of evidence in support of a plant-based lifestyle. Netflix.com

“Top Chef”

Bravo’s long-running reality cooking competition is an oldie but goodie, in case you still haven’t explored it. All sixteen seasons (2006-2019) of the James Beard Award-winning “Top Chef” franchise are available on Hulu (free, during a 30-day trial). If you already miss the canceled 2020 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, head straight to Season 15, Episode 13, “A Little Place Called Aspen,” filmed outdoors on a bluebird June afternoon at T-Lazy-7 Ranch during the 2018 Classic. I’m there in the background! Hulu.com

“The Food That Built America”

Those who enjoy educational origin stories via easily digestible visuals will dig The History Channel’s “The Food that Built America,” available soon on Hulu (free with trial) or for purchase on Amazon Prime Video. Similar to the fascinating 2014 miniseries “The Men Who Built America,” this three-episode follow-up focuses on the innovations of food industry magnates boasting recognizable last names including Heinz, Hershey, Post, Kellogg, McDonald — “those who used brains, muscle, blood, sweat and tears to get to America’s heart through its stomach.” Rivalries — and delicious drama — ensue. The History Channel, Hulu.com, Amazon Prime

Aspen area J-1 visa holders struggle to return to home countries amid coronavirus pandemic

After a few months living and working in Snowmass Village, Karla Perdomo, 22, and two of her friends were set to head back home to Peru.

The three young women packed their things, said goodbye to their managers and coworkers and headed to Denver on March 15 for their flight. But just as they were arriving in Denver, Perdomo’s parents called and said the Peruvian borders had been closed in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“It was like what, we are about to take the plane and you say our frontiers are closed?” Perdomo recalled. “So we went to the airport and tried to change our flight but it wasn’t possible because all the flights were canceled. Can you imagine in that moment how we feel? We want to come back to our country, but what can we do?”

Luckily, Perdomo and her friends were able to return to Snowmass, pick up their seasonal jobs at Clark’s Market and move back into their housing until the Peruvian lockdown is lifted and they can catch a flight home.

But the three Peruvians’ story is not unique — many Aspen-Snowmass area J-1 visa holders are in the same situation, staying where they are if they can or going to major airport destinations to try and figure out how to get back home during a pandemic that has no clear end in sight.

“I’m so glad I’m here because I have housing, I have work and I’m really happy because of that,” Perdomo said.

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program allows roughly 300,000 foreign visitors from 200 countries and territories to experience U.S. culture and society each year, according to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) program website.

Through short-term summer vacation work and travel experiences, to long-term internships and training, international candidates from high school age to adults can apply for one of 15 different programs linked to the J-1 visa.

In Colorado, there are over 200 sponsor organizations that place more than 11,000 exchange participants across the state through each of the 15 J-1 programs, according to 2019 ECA data.

In Aspen, there are currently 322 exchange participants with an additional 229 participants total in Snowmass Village, Woody Creek, Basalt, Meredith, Crested Butte, Twin Lakes and Eagle.

On March 12, the ECA “temporarily paused” its programs in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and countries all around the world have closed their borders — most over the past month — to mitigate the virus spread, leaving many J-1 visa holders in a sort of limbo.

Aspen Skiing Co. is one of the largest local employers of J-1 visa holders, hiring 250 exchange participants for its 2019-20 winter season.

Since the company’s four valley ski areas were closed by state order March 15 to help slow the spread of coronavirus, 150 of Skico’s J-1 employees have made it back to their home countries, according to Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications.

Another 50 are stuck in the Aspen-Snowmass area and Skico officials were working to track down the whereabouts of the last 50 as of March 27.

“We’re just trying to stay in touch with everybody. Our senior management has been making phone calls several times a week to see if there is anyone in need,” Hanle said, noting that Skico is waiving April rent fees for the J-1 employees still in the company’s Aspen-Snowmass area housing.

“We’ll keep an eye out to see if anything else comes up and how else we can help.”


Although Skico is one of the largest J-1 exchange participant employers in the Aspen area, it isn’t the only company ensuring its international employees have a place to stay until they can return home.

On a recent afternoon at the Westin Snowmass Resort and Wildwood Lodge complex in Snowmass, most everything was shuttered and dark.

No one sat in the hotel lobbies. The outdoor pool covers were in place. The conference center and restaurants were empty.

However, 27 J-1 visa holders were still calling the complex home, staying in their hotel employee housing free of charge and eating two provided meals each day after being laid off due to COVID-19.

“I think the Westin management has been very helpful in keeping us calm, keeping us updated and checking in, wondering how we are,” said Nadiné Engelbrecht, a 20-year-old woman from South Africa.

“They’re very supportive and that’s the most important thing right now, especially for us who are so far away from home.”

Both Engelbrecht, who has worked at the Westin as a line cook since November, and Brenda Kambari, a 33-year-old woman from Zimbabwe who has worked as a front desk agent since December, were hired at the Westin/Wildwood complex on J-1 visas for a full year.

The women said they were drawn to the village resort location because of the mountains and the snow, which they’d never really experienced before.

“When I landed at Aspen airport I almost kissed the snow because it was the first time I saw the snow,” Kambari recalled, smiling. “I was so happy to see it and so happy to see all of the beautiful buildings and everything here.”

In early March when the numbers of COVID-19 cases began increasing in the U.S. and in Colorado, both Engelbrecht’s and Kambari’s initial inclinations were to get back to their home countries as soon as possible.

But after learning that their country’s borders were closed and thinking about how risky up to three full days of international travel would be to get there, Engelbrecht and Kambari decided to wait things out at the Westin/Wildwood complex, dipping into their savings a bit but staying positive about starting work again in May.

“When it got a bit worse, I then wanted to just book a ticket back home — you know you’d rather be with your family in this time,” Engelbrecht said.

“But I’ve read that young people can be carriers for COVID-19. I have a little sister, I have grandparents and I have parents that I live with. What’s not to say if I did go home I would have maybe infected them? I think this whole situation has helped me get a little more of that adult method of thinking.”

As some of the Westin/Wildwood J-1s wait for their home country’s borders to reopen so they can travel and others choose to stay at the complex until work resumes, general manager Jeffery Burrell said the resort is dedicated to supporting its international employees.

Through free accommodations, the free meals while food supplies last, and daily check-ins, Burrell said staff hope to support the J-1s in any way they can and help the ones who wish to return home when it is safe to do so.

Until the Westin and Wildwood resorts reopen, Engelbrecht will continue to help prepare daily meals for the complex’s J-1s, talk with her family at least three hours each day and color in an adult coloring book while Kambari said she will watch TV, gain support from her family and husband and meditate to keep calm and stay sane.

“This isn’t just something you can buy (your way out of), it’s a global thing. I think everyone has an idea of what’s going on because we’re all in this together,” Engelbrecht said. “I just think people need to take this more seriously and I know it’s a difficult situation, but don’t take your family time for granted. … Those who are quarantined with their families are very lucky.”

Natalka Melova, a 17-year-old Rotary Youth Exchange program student from Slovakia visiting Aspen on a J-1 visa expressed similar thoughts to Engelbrecht and Kambari.

Melova — who has been living and going to school in Aspen since August and is supposed to stay in town until June — said while she hasn’t felt too homesick or stressed over the coronavirus pandemic, she thinks it’s important for people to understand what it would feel like to be on their own, away from their families and in a different country during the global crisis.

“People have to understand how it is to be somewhere, 17 years old with all of this stuff going on,” Melova said.

“You sometimes feel very homesick but I don’t really because I have an amazing family and I set my mind to be happy, … but people should think about what it would be like to be in another country without the chance to go home right now.”

For Melova, the Aspen experience has been great so far. She’s lived with three different host families, rediscovered her love for skiing and met a lot of new and interesting people.

When the COVID-19 outbreak started to ramp up in the U.S. and Colorado, Melova said she didn’t think about leaving early at first. But now that the last leg of her U.S. trip (a whirlwind visit to 25 states in 28 days) has been canceled and her Rotary sponsors are encouraging her and the other exchange students still in Colorado to return home, Melova feels that is the best thing to do.

“I feel like I should go home for my health,” Melova said. “But I do think this whole thing makes me feel stronger and helps me to have more responsibility for my life. I had to decide if I want to stay here or not, I really had to think about it … so I’m glad that I’m growing (more mature) in this way.”


But while J-1 visa holders like Melova have decided it’s best to go home early, many don’t know how early that may be.

In Melova’s case, Slovakia’s borders are shut down and she must wait for an evacuation flight into the country before she can leave the U.S. She plans to be home this week.

In Claudio Mendieta Canessa’s case, he’s stuck in Miami with little to no idea of when he’ll be able to catch a flight back to Peru.

“There are no plans about flights to get us back, or at least that we’ve been informed of,” Mendieta Canessa said via email. “We are not getting any kind of information on how Peru is going to handle our situation, when we are going to be allowed to go back or how.”

Mendieta Canessa, a 24-year-old Peruvian who worked at Snowmass Sports this winter season, took a chance by flying to Miami with another J-1 visa holder on March 25, knowing there were no direct flights from Denver to Lima, Peru, and not knowing how the pandemic would continue to evolve.

When the men arrived in Miami, they stayed in the airport about nine hours waiting for a flight. Mendieta Canessa said none showed up and that he hasn’t been able to reach anyone from the Peruvian consulate’s office since.

He said while he understands the pandemic isn’t an easy situation for anyone to manage, Mendieta Canessa never thought Peruvian authorities would make it this hard for its citizens to return home.

“I feel confident that I’ll be able to manage whatever situation comes my way. That being said, I am fortunate and grateful there’s people watching over me, friends and family,” Mendieta Canessa said. He’s staying with a cousin in Miami until he can get a flight back home and said he’s thankful his manager from Snowmass Sports, Cameron Wenzel, continues to check in on him.

“But not everyone can say the same; a great amount of J-1s are stuck here or somewhere else by themselves without resources and/or help to stay indefinitely.”

This uncertainty and potential danger of being stranded on the route back home is exactly why Trevor Moodie, store director at Clark’s Market in Snowmass Village, is encouraging his J-1 employees to stay in town until they have a definite way back to their countries.

Moodie, who is from New Zealand originally, says he understands how it can be scary to be away from home without your family during a time like this, but that he feels the safety and security of his J-1 employees is what’s most important.

“The navigation part can be so difficult because there are limited options for them to get home,” Moodie said. “Here, they have a place to stay, a job, money coming in… it’s a safe place to ride out until there are more flights available.”

Of course, every J-1 visa holder in the Aspen-Snowmass area and across the U.S. has their own experiences, opinions on whether to stay or go home, and connections to help them navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.

But for people like Perdomo, having a place to call home for the time being and a support system of other J-1 visa holders makes the difficult situation that much easier to work through.

“There is a percentage of J-1s that have jobs like us because we work in a store, but I know the hotels and restaurants and ski areas are shut down. Some of us are not in good situations and some of us are, but we all just want to come back to our countries,” Perdomo said.

“But J-1s are together, we’re like a family, so that’s a good way to be here. You’re not alone… I just really hope that all of us come back to our countries in a good and safe way.”


Aspen Shortsfest 2020: Ed Asner and local filmmaker educate kids about the Holocaust

Aspen-based visual artist Marc Bennett’s debut film will screen at 2020 Aspen Shortsfest.

Bennett’s animated short adaptation of the children’s book “The Tattooed Torah” is in the family-friendly Program Nine of the Oscar-qualifying festival, which has gone virtual this year as the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered public spaces including the Wheeler Opera House, where Shortsfest had been scheduled to run March 31 to April 5.

The film is available for screening now through the Festival Focus streaming platform (see sidebar for details on tickets and access).

Bennett has been based in the Aspen area since 2007. His “History of the Star of David” collage for the Chabad Jewish Center on Main Street has become an international teaching tool for Jewish history and led him, unexpectedly, into filmmaking. He found himself directing “The Tattooed Torah” quite by accident as his educational mission has broadened in recent years.

Bennett was showing one of the many iterations of his Star of David work at a juried art show in Chicago, where he met Marvell Ginsburg, the author of the enduring 1983 children’s book “The Tattooted Torah,” which tells the story of restoring a Torah from Czechoslovakia and introduces the history of the Holocaust to a young audience.

“She was looking to make the book into an animated movie,” Bennett recalled. “I looked at it and right away I said, ‘I’ll do it!’ I was blown away by the message and the importance of it.”

Bennett’s Star of David collages, which trace the symbol’s nearly 2,000 years of history, have given him an unexpected platform as an educator, partnering with institutions like Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation and the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

So using animated film seemed a natural next step, he said.

Bennett went to work on finding animators to bring Martin Lemelman’s original illustrations to life and actors to voice it.

Ed Asner — the Hollywood legend and “Mary Tyler Moore Show” star, now age 90 — came on board to narrate.

“He is very philanthropic and was excited about helping to reach a broader audience of children with the film,” Bennett said.

“This is how we never forget what happened,” Asner says in the film, “how we lost everything, but endured and overcame and never gave up hope. This little Torah is the history of our people, tattoos and all.”

Along with Bennett directing, the Aspen-based creative team includes executive producers Melinda Goldrich and supporters Brad and Kimberly Schlosser and Judi and Alan Altman. Part-time Aspenite and Mexican telenovela star Fernando Allende has voiced the Asner character for a Spanish language version.

Though the COVID-19 disruptions have delayed the international rollout of “The Tattooed Torah,” it is still expected to make a run at film festivals this year and to go into schools around the world with an educational curriculum on Holocaust history. Bennett was also hopeful it would find a home on broadcast television. It had its premiere in early March at the Chicago Jewish Film Festival.

The animated project led Bennett to another filmmaking undertaking — a documentary inspired by an annual community bike ride from the Auschwitz concentration camp to Krakow, which retraces the steps of survivor Marcel Zielinks.

The film is one of seven animated shorts in the family- and kid-friendly Program Nine (recommended for age 6 and up). While “The Tattooed Torah” is an educationally minded film, the lineup includes sillier fare about kid superheroes and cute animals, as well.


5 Inspiring Adventure Films to Watch Now

From desert survival to superhuman climbing, these true-life adventure films and docs will inspire you to persevere, stay positive, and never give up. Grab the popcorn and get ready for an action-packed, inspiration-filled movie night. They are available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services.

‘180 South‘

Inspired by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s 1968 trip to South America, a young adventurer goes on a quest to follow the route. Signing on with a small boat headed to Chile, he experiences delays, setbacks and the adventure of a lifetime.


Follow along as 14-year-old Laura Dekker sets out to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Following a yearlong fight with Dutch authorities, she takes to the sea in search of adventure and the opportunity to make history.

‘127 Hours‘

This movie tells the incredible true story of Aspen outdoorsman Aron Ralston (played by James Franco). Trapped alone in a desolate slot canyon, Ralston goes to extreme measures to escape alive.

‘Free Solo‘

There’s good reason this documentary won an Oscar. Not only is the cinematography stunning, but the story is downright gripping. Follow along as renowned climber Alex Honnold defies gravity and makes history with a free-solo climb of Yosemite’s famous El Capitan.

‘Touching the Void‘

This 2003 drama will have you on edge of your seat. It follows two men on what turns out to be a disastrous climb in Peru. Between a broken leg and a raging storm, survival seems impossible. But with no way out but down, they continue on in a harrowing tale of perseverance and human potential.

Read the full list of 10 inspiring adventure films at gearjunkie.com

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

Libations: An in-home cocktail crawl

I’m not exactly known for my skills on the opposite end of a bar. I can whip out an opener from my back pocket like John Wayne on the quickdraw and crack a beer, but other than a whiskey coke, my cocktail-mixing prowess is disspectacular.

If you’re like me and panic-bought enough plastic handles of vodka to fill a bathtub, fear not: Your quarantine has been saved from cheap, depressing soda concoctions.

By the power of the amendments or something, alcoholic beverage delivery is now legal and being offered by an assortment of valley F&B establishments.

In memoriam of Aspen’s staple summer festival, the Food & Wine Classic, I’m going through a four-course liquid diet of the premade cocktail offerings Marble Distilling Co. will bring to your door in these might-as-well-drink-all-day times.


Consistency is key for a top-shelf BM, as in you don’t want to feel like you’re sucking tomato soup from a straw. In addition to being drinkable even sans beer floater, this bloody packs plenty of flavor without being offensively spicy. Don’t forget to eat the veggies after finishing your drink. Remember, you want to start off the day with some nutrition and not Jimmy Dean biscuit sandwiches all the time. Pairs well: Frozen waffle, hashbrowns, egg over medium, tobasco.


The trick to maintaining a manageable BAC throughout the day is by not getting Dia de Los Muertos wasted at noon. Instead of a blender full of tequila, consider a more crisp party drink to be consumed either solo or dolo that utilizes Marble Distilling Co.’s unique Gingercello. Yes, we’ve been robbed of a springtime and — just guessing — probably summer. But we can still witness the warm seasons evolve through our windows while sipping a marg that tastes like optimism.

Pairs with: Microwave burritos. But to make it fancy, stick ’em in the oven 😉


Smooth whiskey with a citrusy finish, complete with orange twist and luxardo cherries. Is there a prefix in the English language fancier than “lux”? Pro tip: If your old fashioned singes while heading down the esophagus and you start hacking up a lung, you’re using the wrong ingredients. Or you have the coronas — but circumstantial evidence suggests the former.

This is not that. Pairs well: Boxed mac ‘n’ cheese with tuna.


Who doesn’t look like Jeff “The Big” Lebowski right now? Belly protruding, hair growing, robe wearing, pouring a creamy drink that sticks to 13 days of isolation mustache growth — anyone else? Hello?

Marble Distilling rolls a strike with the Moonlight Expresso version of a white Russian, perfect for a night on the couch after disinfecting your rug.

I’m just glad that when they name a drink after me, the “Caucasian” is already taken. Pairs well: A bowl of ice cream and a bowl of Trop Cookies.

But wait, there’s more! You also receive a free bottle of homebrew-made hand sanitizer with every order of two or more. Considering the prices Purell is going for online, you could even think of it as buying a bottle of sanitizer and getting a bunch of booze as a bonus.

“If we work together as a community, I truly believe we’re going to get through all of this,” head distiller Connie Baker said in an interview with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. “It’s not going to be easy, but we can help each other out in any way we can.”

Some people need help keeping their hands clean; others need help keeping a drink on the table. Marble Distilling is taking care of both necessities.


Asher on Aspen: Dolce Far Niente

When I was 20, I studied abroad in northern England. I moved there without knowing a soul. I was completely out of my comfort zone and it took some time for me to adjust and make friends. Eventually, I befriended a sweet Italian woman who was a classmate of mine. She was extremely intelligent and wildly creative.

Whenever I asked her what she was doing, she would often respond with the beautiful Italian phrase “dolce far niente” (“the sweet art of doing nothing”).

It is the act of enjoying pleasant idleness without a care in the world. The phrase didn’t resonate with me at the time and I never understood how there was an art to doing nothing. I wanted to be productive and get things done. The phrase was completely foreign to my thinking and ways of life. It never quite made sense to me — until now.

As an extreme extrovert, I have been struggling with this concept of social distancing. I thrive off of social interactions and the company of my friends here in town. With the coronavirus being out of my control, I decided to focus on what I could control. It was day three or four of the quarantine when I finally came around to the notion that there could be positive outcomes from this bizarre time.

I poured myself a strong cup of coffee and sat down at my kitchen table to make a list — when in doubt, I always make lists. I wrote down all the chores and things that I wanted to get done around the house. Then, I made a separate list of all the leisurely things I wanted to experience during this time of isolation. The second list included books to read, movies to watch, albums and podcasts to listen to, and new skills that I wanted to work on.

Or, I should say, the one skill I’ve wanted to focus on for a long time: guitar. Ever since I was a kid, I have been intrigued with the guitar. My mother had one from college that she kept in its case under her bed. When I was in sixth grade, I finally asked her to teach me how to play. She didn’t play it much, but she knew the basics of how to get me started. After learning a couple chords, she pulled out sheet music for a classic Elvis song and challenged me to attempt it. This kept me busy for a couple hours and I played and played until my fingers felt callused and numb. The next day I reasoned that, since my fingers were sore, I shouldn’t play anymore. I didn’t pick up another guitar again until college.

Life got away from me and I didn’t stick with it. I always made the excuse that I needed to do something more important. Something that would mean something — that would get me somewhere in life. All this time later, I’m still just as infatuated with learning how to play the guitar.

So, here I am today with all this time on my hands being stuck inside where I can finally devote the time to learning how to play properly — and all I can think about is my sweet Italian friend who I know would be cheering me on right now. I am forcing myself to sit down and practice for 30 minutes each day.

For the first time in my life, I am focusing my energy on dolce far niente.

Maybe it’s not guitar for you. Maybe you have always wanted to learn a new language or become known for your cooking skills. Maybe you just really want to clean out the hall closet — something you’ve been meaning to do for years. Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of writing a novel, starting your own business or going back to school. Or, maybe it’s as simple as calling a friend who you haven’t spoken with in years. No more excuses. Now is our time.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in life that we forget that we don’t always have to be busy; we don’t always need to be checking our email or rushing to the next activity or meeting. It’s important to remind ourselves that it’s absolutely necessary to slow it all down every so often. To while away the hours by simply lying on the couch and listening to an album from start to finish. To watch the sunset. To enjoy the smell of a burning candle. We need this time and space to feel inspired and allow for a reset in our lives.

I can’t help but wonder if this is the universe’s way of trying to get us to slow down. To stop the glorification of being busy. To stop producing things and let the Earth breathe a little without all the extra pollution we create on a daily. What if this is all part of the grand scheme of things and although it may feel restricting and lonely at times — maybe this is what everyone needs to recharge their batteries and reset their outlook on life.

When we come out from the other side of this thing, I hope we all feel rejuvenated and enriched. I hope we notice the little things a bit more because they are never as little as we think. I hope we spend more time reveling in the sweet art of doing nothing. Dolce far niente!

Skiing in the time of coronavirus

On the final day the ski mountains across Colorado were open before being shut down by order of the governor due to the COVID-19 pandemic, truly one of the final days that life seemed to be normal, I received my 100-day pin on Aspen Mountain.

To be clear, this isn’t a story about the dedication it takes to get to Day 100 on the mountain nor is it a story to fish for compliments. Instead, this is a story about the week leading up to my 100th day and what has happened since.

The quest for 100 days and subsequently the coveted pin that goes with that achievement is something that many avid skiers and snowboarders in the Roaring Fork Valley prioritize in their winter season goals.

In The Aspen Times office there were four or five of us gunning to hit the 100-day mark (if not more than, by the time the season was suppposed to end). Some days we held each other accountable, encouraging a work break to get on the mountain, while other days we took solo excursions to get out of the office and onto the lifts, enjoying solo shred sessions and the mental break that skiing and snowboarding brings.

March in the mountains started off relatively normal as stories of coronavirus in America and Colorado didn’t begin dominating local news networks until March 5 or so.

On March 1, Aspen Times Editor David Krause and I met up at the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain to document locals getting their 100-day pins on the 100th day of the Aspen-Snowmass season. While neither of us were a part of that elite group, we did discover that it was his 67th day on the mountain and my 88th day, the year that each of us, respectively, were born. We celebrated this fun coincidence in numbers with pancakes and hot wine at Bonnie’s.

Life on the mountain seemed to go on as normal for the first few days of March; there were parties at Buckhorn Cabin to attend, light crowds in the morning that swelled to larger crowds as visitors woke up and stumbled to the lifts and après scenes at which to be seen.

Then, after the first case of coronavirus with ties to Aspen — an Australian who was vacationing in Aspen had returned home and tested positive for coronavirus — was reported March 8 on aspentimes.com, some things started to change.

Monday, March 9, was noticeably quieter than other early mornings despite the fresh 2 or 3 inches of snow. I chalked up the low skier attendance to spring conditions that made the snow early in the day hard and crunchy, and assumed people were waiting until the snow softened to come out. I even noted this in “The Drop-In” I filmed that morning (I’m also one of the hosts of The Aspen Times’ on-mountain video series, “The Drop-In”).

One quick note of my ski routine: Since The Aspen Times is located in downtown Aspen, I typically ski Aspen Mountain on the weekdays because it’s the most convenient for office ski breaks. On a normal day I get to the gondola around 8:45 or 9 a.m. to make some early tracks before things get too crowded.

The next day, after news broke that some of the Australian woman’s travel companions were in self-quarantine in Aspen and were being tested for COVID-19, mountain attendance seemed even more sparse in the morning, but spirits were still high. The mountain felt similar to how it does prior to the holidays: where just locals are out but there is underlying anticipation that everything is about to get hectic.

On Wednesday, March 11, I was at Snowmass helping film a “Drop-In.” Crowds seemed to be normal for a mid-week ski day as evidenced by the fact the Village Express line was steady and my coworkers and I were loaded onto the six-pack lift with three strangers.

I was pulled from filming duty midway through our video shoot with the Aspen Divas synchro skiing team to help deal with breaking news about positive test results of COVID-19 in Aspen.

One of the ski instructors working with the group asked about the results and expressed concern about having to cancel the synchro skiing competition on Aspen Mountain in April if things continued to get worse, but otherwise, it was just another day on the mountain.

By Thursday, March 12, Aspen Skiing Co. had dug out the Little Nell ski lift at the base of Aspen Mountain to give skiers and snowboarders the option to avoid the gondolas, although not many people were taking them up on this offer.

When I noticed Little Nell running, I asked one of my co-workers heading to the mountain for the afternoon to inquire why they were running it, since at the time Skico had not made an official statement.

The lifties response was that it was a nice day out so they were running the lift, no mention of coronavirus.

Other noticeable changes were lifties had stopped taking people’s skis or offering assistance loading and unloading from the gondola, or if they were helping, they were wearing latex gloves for protection. Riders were giving more space in line and not as quick to jump into gondolas with people they didn’t know.

The conversations at the base of the mountain had shifted, as well. More talks about the virus, speculation about what would happen, and less light-hearted talk about the weather and snow conditions.

It was around this point I wondered if shutting down the mountain was a distinct possibility. We joked in the office about how it would be funny if the mountains shuttered after my 99th day, leaving me one shy, while somewhere in the back of my mind I was convinced this would happen.

Once Friday morning rolled around, Day 99 for me, full protocols were in place on the mountains.

The gondolas were being deep cleaned every night, a practice that had begun earlier in the week.

A sign at the Silver Queen Gondola load station (a sign of the times, if you will) read “Cabin Preference? Let the lift operator know.” This gave riders the opportunity to request a private cabin, something I know many Aspenites have wanted to be able to officially do for years.

A women near me in line told her husband that she wanted to wait for an empty gondola, even if it meant a longer wait, because of the virus.

The same was true for the chairlifts. For the most part, no unaffiliated parties were riding together and many chairs were loaded with just one rider.

Hindsight is 20/20, but there was an uneasy feeling in the air, that while we were all going through the motions and acting like things were normal, everything was about to come to a head.

To address the virus in the room, in Friday’s “Drop-In” video, my co-host Kelsey and I discussed social distancing and the precautions that Skico was taking in light of the coronavirus, and I think we honestly thought that the new rules were good enough to keep us skiing until the end of the season.

Day 100 came and went in a blur. I enjoyed a ride up the gondola with two friends and coworkers, grabbed breakfast at Bonnie’s and skied some surprisingly awesome snow.

Everybody seemed cautiously optimistic, stoked on good snow conditions and the start of the weekend but all around conversations inevitably turned to the coronavirus topic.

People in line at the Ajax Express chairlift noted how the lines were made up of more than 50 people, in defiance of new social distancing rules. Someone even jokingly yelled out, “Someone call (Colorado Gov. Jared) Polis, there are more than 50 people in this line,” to which one of his friends replied, “Good luck trying to shut us down, Polis.”

The mountain was crowded, it was almost like we all knew this was the end. Or perhaps in a time when things were out of our control, everybody flocked to the mountains, the one thing that seemed stable.

That evening, when the lifts stopped, Skico announced mountain operations were suspended due to an order from Polis.

On Friday, March 20, one day after Polis extended the ski mountain closures until April 6, Skico officially called it and announced the season was over at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass.

“With the extension of statewide closures, we are officially calling it a season at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass,” said Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

While Hanle said there is a chance Aspen Highlands could reopen, “if we are given advice that we can reopen sometime late in April by state and local health agencies, we would evaluate conditions for a limited opening,” it’s hard to put much stock into that happening.

So assuming the official ski season is over, 142 people earned their 100-day pin this year, according to Skico. Nineteen of those people, myself being one of them, ended with exactly 100 days.

Although the lifts may be shut down, many in town, myself included, can still be found trudging up the mountain on an uphill setup or splitboard, taking advantage of the snow that remains. Some are still gunning to 100 days and counting their uphill sessions.

We won’t get pins highlighting our accolades for all the extra days we earned our turns, but we will get a feeling of personal accomplishment, a moment of mental clarity and a reprieve from the uncertain state of things we now find ourselves living in and the crazy town below the mountains that we’ve all chosen to ride it out in. •

The joy of cooking: How to embrace quarantine and focus on a basic life skill

Last week was the weirdest ever for chef Troy Selby, who founded 520 Grill on Cooper Avenue 10 years ago this May. On Tuesday, Selby ceased takeout operations from the restaurant, despite a provision allowing food to-go under the Colorado governor’s 30-day coronavirus ban on dine-in restaurants beginning Monday. Normally 520 Grill is one of few affordable Aspen eateries to run through offseason, but the easygoing small-business owner felt uneasy about staying open now.

“I have a great staff of hardworking Latinos who are near and dear to me,” explains Selby, who faced dozens of customers daily at 520’s counter along with four full-time employees. “We’re family. I feel responsible for their lives, too.”

A silver lining to shutting down shop? “I am cooking at home again because I’m not at the restaurant all the time, coming and going, coming and going,” Selby says. “It’s a great time to cook for fun, out of my routine, and that inspires me. We’ve been enjoying family time, eating breakfast and dinner together.”

Aspenites on lockdown may or may not share Selby’s enthusiasm for home cooking, but it’s what we must do. While supporting local restaurants that offer takeout and delivery is important, it’s financially unsustainable for the average citizen long-term. Now is time to sharpen knives and fire up the stove. Cooking is a basic survival skill, and embracing the task will make quarantine most tolerable.

“Best place to start is with food that you like to eat—whether Mexican or breakfast food, things your mom made for you or your grandmother made with you,” Selby notes. “Soup’s good because it gets you chopping ingredients and cooking.”

In fact, when we talk, Selby is about to make soup for Sunday dinner, having received a pile of random ingredients (wild mushrooms, pâté, hearty vegetables) from The Little Nell. The goods were doled out to friends and employees in an effort to salvage perishables from Ajax Tavern, element 47, and various Aspen-Snowmass on-mountain restaurants. (May Selby, Troy’s wife and ATW “Mountain Mayhem” columnist, manages the Nell’s public relations.)

“I’ll make a nice potato-leek-fennel soup out of that,” the chef muses. “One of my greatest talents is making something from nothing, from the mystery box. ”

Take that cue, dear readers! Confidence is key to kitchen success. While you might not possess the ingrained expertise of a professional chef, following a few simple tips can help soften the stress of feeding yourself day in and day out during trying times.


“There are things you do know how to make, even though you think you don’t know how to cook,” quips Aspen-based nutritionist and holistic health practitioner Sheridan Semple. “It doesn’t need to be fancy. Charlie Tarver made a comment, like, Everybody can make a sandwich. You could live through this whole time just making sandwiches! You’d probably get bored, but you’re gonna be able to feed yourself no matter what.”

Consider your cravings, and decide to make foods you enjoy eating. Then, go for it.


“Try to make it fun,” says Selby, whose six-and-a-half-year-old son, Remy, helps shred lettuce with a plastic kids’ knife. That might include making French toast or pancakes for dinner, or starting a kitchen dance party with music cranked loud. “It’s hard with children,” he adds, “some are interested in food and some are not.”

Meanwhile, Semple suggests the copycat method. Lately, she shares, “My stepson’s mom is having fun replicating the things she’d normally go out to eat, and figuring out how to make them at home.”


“Nowadays there are so many premade items available at the store to get you started: salad in a bag, rice pilaf,” Semple says. “Start (there), then add in a fresh ingredient. You don’t have to be Julia Child to get yourself through this time.”

While Google is a click away, consider acquiring a book that contains a breadth of information in one package. (Semple recommends “The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom,” which includes a comprehensive guide to preparing all sorts of omnivore foods in various styles, including eggs, produce, lean meats, and fish).

Depending on your budget, experiment with a subscription meal-delivery service such as Blue Apron or Green Chef, which sends pre-portioned ingredients and step-by-step instructions to your doorstep.


“As long as you’re not baking or creating a soufflé that requires exact measurements, you don’t have to follow a recipe to a T,” Selby notes. Taste your work often, and season with salt accordingly. Sometimes all that’s needed is a splash of acid (vinegar, lemon juice) or a sprinkle of heat to enhance flavor. Trust your tastebuds.


While chefs and restaurateurs have access to a wide array of ingredients on hand at all times, Selby proposes that home cooks practice efficiency by batch-cooking foods in advance. He cites 520 Grill’s go-to “taco fiesta bar” catering spreads, a hit with the police department, fire station and other local organizations that require a mass of food at a reasonable price. Begin by buying ingredients in multiples (but no hoarding!)

“If you’re cooking steak on the barbecue, cook a little extra steak, chop it up, and make tacos the next night. Instead of cooking one whole chicken, cook three chickens: one for dinner, one for chicken soup, one for chicken enchiladas, that kind of thing.”


When considering what to cook, go green. Your body will thank you. “Even if you’re eating junk food and it’s so hard to stop, just start adding vegetables,” Semple says. “That’s going to alkalize your body and give you nutrients. You might be surprised: after you do that, you might not want as much pizza or chips. When your cells’ needs are met, you have fewer cravings.”


Give yourself a break if you mess up. “Everybody is stressed out right now. The more you can love yourself where you’re at, the better your immune system will be,” Semple concludes. “Start adding vegetables, pat yourself on the back, and call it good!”