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Writing Switch: For whom the bell tolls? It tolls for he

Weddings are usually pretty predictable. Guys rent suits for practically the price it would cost to purchase them (granted, most of the cost goes toward cleaning after various liquids, foods and bodily fluids stain the garments). Gals spend hundreds on dresses and complain about only wearing it once. Pictures you won't look at until your 20th anniversary take forever to shoot. Someone gets too drunk and starts throwing dinner rolls into the crowd. Millenials work themselves into a frenzy over perspiring nether regions during Lil Jon's "Get Low."

Toss tradition like that garter with semi-professional groomsman Ben Welch and gentleman-in-waiting Sean Beckwith, and let their Briding Switch wedding-planning venture strategize your nuptials ceremony.

Engagement Party

SB: This seems like overkill. There's a bridal shower (whatever that is), bachelor and bachelorette parties, rehearsals and a reception. Just get a little family together and order out at some place, maybe El Korita or Masala and Curry. There will be more than enough opportunities for awkward interactions at one of the many "get your best business small talk/somebody I know please rescue me" events to come.

Rehearsal Dinner

BW: Rehearsals should take five minutes, and in fact can be completed with a YouTube tutorial. Stand here. Walk when the people in front of you reach this point. Done. Now let's go drinking.

You have to include plenty of booze to aid the perennially dateless in soldiering through the event. Disapproving grandpa is giving the thousand-yard stare out the window. The couple to my left is gazing longingly into each other's eyes. The pair on my right is arguing over who said "I love you" first. I'm busy trying to identify the vintage of ranch dressing. Kent's, February 2018. Good month.

What's missing from traditional rehearsal dinners is the entertainment, and by that I don't mean Cousin Albert testing his stand-up routine on the women at the bridesmaids' table. Kick off the party by conjuring Merlin the Magic Man away from his post next to the Escobar patio or, if you're really looking to get twisted, Cory the balloonist will make silly hats for everyone!

Morning Of

SB: Is this a thing? I feel like this isn't a thing. I thought the bride and groom were just supposed to avoid seeing each other while getting dressed in fancy clothes. Perhaps a couple of bags of McMuffins and mimosas will suffice because brown liquor and biscuits and gravy is a little strong. It's your wedding day, have a little decorum.

Ceremony

BW: Utilize a dumpster as the altar and have a "Rite Up Your Alley" ceremony. I'll even officiate it for you — a celebrity cleric, how about that?

Need seating but don't know where to store all the chairs? Rent a theater at the Isis and watch "Odd Couple" reruns on mute while standing awkwardly in front of the screen.

Why wait to consummate your marriage? You and your guests can go all-nude and save everyone the expense of formal attire — or any attire for that matter — with a "Wedding-a-ling" theme.

Get trashy at the Pitkin County Landfill and tell your betrothed "I'll never dump you." Bonus: Your guests won't get lost once the new giant, neon sign is installed on Highway 82.

Reception

SB: This is where I thrive. Even though I've never been a groomsman, I have DJ'd a wedding before, so I know how important music is. A live band is an attractive option but the best way to get people dancing is to play songs everyone knows and wants to move to. (Not going to go on a tangent but "Thriller" should be played.) A DJ also is nice for first-dance traditions, special requests and whatnot.

Cocktail hour should feature enough time and food to get people acquainted and boozed up. Stuffy, sit-down dinners also are off the table. Any form of family style — whether it's a buffet or large share plates for the table — is better than being force-fed meat or fish. Also, appetizers appease more people than coursed-out meals (thus the heavy cocktail hour).

Essentially, let's get the formalities out of the way so we can open up the dance floor.

Afterparty

BW: Twelve hours of contemplating eternal love connections will leave even the most matrimoniously inclined guests feeling burdened by repeated "marriage is a lot of work" speeches by various relatives. By this point I always crave a cigarette, and I don't even smoke (those).

Is that supposed to be inspiring? "You're going to be nagged for the next 55 years about which way the toilet paper roll needs to be placed, but it's all worth it in the end because you can bang sometimes!" God invented Tinder and Craigslist to solve this very problem.

By the time the newlyweds make their departure and all the other happy couples have retreated to their hotel-room bloc, the rest of the singles are nervous about wasting their buzz and are ready to move onto the next venue. It's time for the country club (Garth Brooks-style, not Rory McIlroy).

Or maybe you're just standing there alone, eating some leftover bread you found on the ground. F— it, go to the club solo and make a game out of how many Roy Rogers wannabes in plaid shirts are tipping over during line dances at Silver City. You're wearing a tuxedo with a flower pinned to it, afterall — if posting up awkwardly in the corner doesn't work on this day, it never will.

What's the weirdest wedding you've ever been to? When does a group of people similarily dressed cease to be a bridal party and instead become a cult? sbeckwith@aspentimes.com, @seanbeckwith. bwelch@aspentimes.com, @bwelch1990

Wine Ink: The Twelve Days of Christmas at Meadowood

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

And for wine lovers there may be no better place to spend the holidays than the Napa Valley. More specifically, at Meadowood, the ultra-luxe, wine-centric destination resort that is perhaps the most authentic representation of all that Napa has on offer.

Year-round, a focal point of the Meadowood experience takes place in the three-Michelin-starred "The Restaurant at Meadowood," helmed by executive chef Christopher Kostow. But come each December, Chef Kostow pulls out all the stops to host the annual "The Twelve Days of Christmas" culinary event. Over 12 nights, a dozen renowned chefs from around the world come to The Restaurant's meticulously appointed kitchen to prepare foods reflecting both their diverse specialties and techniques, and the vast bounty of the Napa Valley.

Each evening, a different visiting chef creates not just a meal, but also a succession of standout epicurean journeys. For those who hold the culinary arts and the crafting and pairing of fine wines in high esteem, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is the pinnacle.

This is the 10th year that Chef Kostow has hosted the event and the lineup for the 2018 edition is as eclectic as it is far-flung. For example, opening night, Friday, Dec. 7, will see heralded Chef Jose Enrique bring his CIA (Culinary Institute of America) training and the chef's toque from his eponymous Jose Enrique restaurant in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Napa. Chef Enrique will warm up the kitchen for a plethora of international stars who will travel from places as distant as Paris, Poland and Slovenia. There is even an Aussie from Singapore.

Some will merge cuisines from different regions. The "Dane of the Andes," Nordic chef Kamilla Seidler, who found her way to La Paz, Bolivia, where she earned accolades as "Latin America's Best Female Chef," will share her interpretation of the bi-hemispheric influences that inform not just her cooking, but her views on the role of gastronomy, as well. Chef Byung-Jin Kim, who received a third Michelin star in 2017 for his Korean-inspired cuisine at Seoul's Gaon restaurant, will follow on Friday, Dec. 14. Kim will collaborate with the staff at The restaurant on what can best be described as a seven-star meal. Six for the honored chefs combined and one for the sustainable ingredients that Kim treasures.

Not every chef travels so far afield. From Carmel's beloved Aubergine comes Justin Cogley, who Aspenites may remember from his star turn when he was a 2013 Food & Wine Magazine "Best New Chef." Jessica Largey, who just opened her widely anticipated SIMONE in Los Angeles, will take a flight north the evening of the 11th. And on the 12th night, Dec. 22, Chef Kostow will take charge of his own kitchen for a final act before the holidays.

And, of course, there will be wines. The wine list at Meadowood showcases the finest vintages from Napa's most outstanding wineries, and wine director Micah Clark has been tasked with pairing local wines with the international cuisines. "Our wine team spends months researching our visiting chefs to learn about their wine programs, specifically looking at what they like to pair with their cuisine and menu in their own restaurants," he explained. "Then we look at the event through the lens of California; what wines could our team select that are closer to our home and still similar to our visiting chefs' own beverage program?"

Of course, an evening at the table does not come cheap. Prices for each dinner start at $350 per person, and let's face it; you are going to want to spend the night. But if an unforgettable food and wine experience is what you are looking for, and you have the means, this is an unparalleled opportunity.

As the home to the Napa Valley Auction, which raises millions each year for charitable causes, Meadowood is also an establishment with heart.

"It is important for us as a fairly exclusive restaurant to have a positive impact and relationship with our immediate community," Chef Kostow said. "Since the inception of this annual event 10 years ago, we have tried to steer (donations) towards local charitable partners."

This year, $2,000 will be donated in the name of each visiting chef, along with 10 percent of proceeds, to the Saint Helena Preschool for All, Inc. The local nonprofit provides scholarships to children in the Napa Valley and is a favorite of Chef Kostow's. "The St. Helena Preschool for All, Inc. gives us the ability to see the benefit of our partnership with families in our community for whom these dollar amounts have real and immediate value," he said.

Happy holidays, and bon appetite.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com.

Through thick and thin, Aspen Mountain snowmaking crew plays key role getting ski area open

The past two ski seasons started as polar opposites in Aspen, but any way you slice it, the snowmaking crew play a key role in getting skiers and riders on their boards.

In 2017-18, the season started with one ribbon of man-made snow top-to-bottom on Aspen Mountain because of a drought.

This season, the snowmaking crew complemented Mother Nature to help get the ski area open five days early.

"Last year was the hardest year ever," said Devin Pool, an Aspen Mountain snowmaker for the past 10 years. "This year is the easiest year ever."

This season, cold temperatures allowed Aspen Skiing Co. to meet its perennial goal of firing up the snowmaking guns on Halloween night. Temperatures have stayed cold and mounds of snow were made for the snowcat groomers to spread out.

"Our target (at Aspen Mountain) is to use 58 million gallons of water," Pool said during a tour of Aspen Mountain as dawn broke Nov. 28. "Right now we're at 52 million. It's the end of November and we're a month ahead of where we were last year."

Last season was one most skiers, riders and Skico employees would just as soon forget. An unusually warm fall didn't allow snowmakers to even think of flipping the switches on their machines until two weeks later than desired.

Gordon Turner, a controller with the Aspen Mountain snowmaking crew, said they had to dream up tasks at the start of last season to keep workers busy. The floor at the snowmaking headquarters building on Aspen Mountain, for example, was the cleanest ever from multiple nights of mopping.

"It was frustrating," Turner said. "People would say, 'I didn't come here to mop.'"

They were finally able to start making snow Nov. 14, two weeks beyond the target date.

"There was no snow," Pool said. "We couldn't snowmobile anywhere. We couldn't run guns anywhere. We were moving the guns by hand to make a strip to ski down by Thanksgiving last year."

Katie Ertl, Skico's senior vice president of mountain operations, credited the Aspen Mountain snowmaking crew for being both experienced and willing to try new technologies. Their knowledge and ability to make snow efficiently during short windows allowed Aspen Mountain to open on time last season.

"When we only had 10 hours of cold temperatures, they were able to start up and shut down quickly, allowing for maximum snowmaking in short time frames," Ertl said.

"This year, colder temperatures in November allowed the team to work through 24-hour periods, and sometimes longer, to get the mountain ready."

Aspen Mountain has 22 snowmakers and a manager divided between the swing shift from noon to midnight and the grave shift from midnight to noon. Their goal is to make as much snow as quickly and efficiently as possible starting on Halloween.

They oversee an infrastructure of pumping stations, compressors, reservoirs, hydrants and snow guns spread out across the lower two thirds of the mountain. The water is purchased from the city of Aspen.

There are a "few hundred" hydrants alongside the slopes, Pool said. Roughly 50 guns can be utilized at any one time to use compressed air to blow water out into the atmosphere

"We have a list of priorities because we can only do so much at a time with our resources," Pool said. "We pump 2,000 gallons per minute, so we can only do so many guns at one time. We can't light up the whole mountain at one time."

There is a great deal of collaboration between the snowmaking crew and groomers. A gun will run until it creates enough snow so that the groomers can cover an area well enough. Once the drivers are satisfied, they will alert the snowmaking supervisors and the crew will move the guns to different hydrants.

Turner and other controllers play a key role orchestrating the crews' movements and overseeing the snowmaking infrastructure from a high-tech headquarters. Turner's office features a bank of computer screens that allow him to track activity, control the pumps and run the automated snow guns. Turner uses a radio to delegate tasks to the snowmakers in the field, who typically team up in pairs. The Aspen Mountain snowmaking crew had included women in the past but it's currently all men.

Turner can monitor the location of snowmakers via GPS units on their snowmobiles — a change the company made after a snowmaker suffered an injury on his sled and died at Snowmass in 2008.

While snowmakers are scheduled four shifts of 12 hours per week, many crewmembers work extra days. As a member of the grave shift, Pool said he finds it easier to work extra days and stay on a regular schedule.

"I just finished working 25 nights in a row, 84 hours a week," he said Saturday.

The snowmaking priority is different on seasons that don't start with World Cup ski racing. In those seasons, the first priority is the racecourses. Without racing, the priority is to establish top-to-bottom coverage as soon as possible. Little Nell gets covered at the base and then crews work uphill.

"Guns will work their way to Copper. Once we're done with Copper we'll go to Ruthie's, and once we're done with Ruthie's they'll go to 1A," Pool said. "We'll move in a certain order. We need top-to-bottom skiing first. After that, we'll go wherever needed."

The Aspen Mountain crew came within a whisker of finishing in November, which would have been a first in the modern snowmaking era. The last three nights of November were too warm for snowmaking so the work is stretching into December.

Currently, the snowmaking system extends up to Deer Park, about two-thirds up the mountain. The U.S. Forest Service approved Skico's application Nov. 28 to expand the snowmaking to an additional 53 acres at the mountaintop. Skico's goal is to add coverage on the One and Two Leaf and Silver Bell trails for next season to ensure coverage to the top. Additional terrain will be added the following season.

The system gets more efficient every year. While Skico buys many of the snowmaking guns it also leases them from manufacturers so it can keep pace with innovations. Automated infrastructure and guns were placed along Little Nell two summers ago and eight more were added farther up the mountain in Spar Gulch and Deer Park this summer.

Sensors in the guns detect the temperature and automatically turn on the water when conditions are right. They adjust water levels as the temperature changes, something the snowmaking crew must do by hand with other guns.

"Back when I started it was all manual, high-intensity labor," said Jay Clapper, an Aspen native who has worked with the Aspen Mountain snowmaking crew for 30 years. "Efficiency is so much better now than it was back in '89."

Skico runs a fleet of fan, stick and sled guns. The fan guns are true to their name. They look like a large fan but in this case they are capable of blowing out snow to great distances at 65 mph, according to Clapper. The stick or tower guns look like a water pipe with a nozzle at the end protruding 15 feet into the air. They place snow more precisely.

Pump houses are strategically placed around the mountain to move water uphill to the hydrants and boost the flow rate to the high level necessary for snowmaking.

Automation changes what snowmakers do, but it hasn't reduced the need for workers. The automated parts of the system require a sophisticated electronics network that gets affected by loose or broken wiring. Snowmakers spend a lot of time troubleshooting.

There is still manual equipment in Copper, all of Ruthie's and all the Lift 1A side. Crewmembers regularly need to adjust water levels by hand as temperatures change.

Snowmakers use a "wet bulb" reading that factors in air temperature and humidity to determine when to make snow.

"Twenty-six degrees wet bulb is what we normally consider fire-up temperature, 24 if we're trying to be conservative on how wet the snow may be," Pool said. "We don't want to make ice, so 24 is the safer cutoff."

Colder temperatures are ideal because a higher amount of gallons of water per hour can be used.

"We can get the water out of the hill in less amount of time and using less energy," Pool said. "The faster we get it done, the less energy we use, the less money we spend, the less carbon impact we have as a company because this is the No. 1 energy user in the ski operations."

Like with the high-tech equipment, a lot of time is required for troubleshooting with the manual equipment.

"We're looking for problems," Pool said. "It's a lot of detective work. If there are clogged nozzles in a gun it can make an icy spot. We're looking to make quality product at every single location."

The job seems to get into the blood of many of the crew. The Aspen Mountain snowmaking crew has several veterans of between 10 and 20 years, along with Clapper at 30 years.

"The turnover isn't a whole lot," Clapper said. "Once they decided to do it, they stay."

Once snowmaking wraps up sometime in December, many workers transfer to different roles within Skico. Clapper teaches skiing at Snowmass. Pool is a lift supervisor at Aspen Highlands. Turner remains with the snowmaking department year round. After the bulk of the winter work is completed, he will operate a few guns that keep snow on Little Nell and prevent it from becoming a sheet of ice. During the summer, he said, "I start fixing everything that's broken."

For Clapper, the job has retained its appeal for so long because of "the fun, the exercise, just to be outside. It's something different every day."

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The snowmakers have dazzling view of the nightlights of Aspen while they whiz around the mountain on snowmobiles. They often see fox, bear, deer and other wildlife roaming the slopes.

For Pool, the biggest appeal of the job is achieving the goal of providing enough coverage for skiing.

"If we accomplish it, the whole town is stoked," he said. "If we open a week early, everyone knows you did your job. It's not like a job where there's no appreciation. The whole town knows whenever we do our job well."

scondon@aspentimes.com

Book Review: ‘Hazards of Time Travel’

In Joyce Carol Oates' future America, history and free thought are off-limits. Thus, high school senior Adriane Strohl is arrested for treasonous speech when it's revealed that her valedictory address is comprised of questions that her classmates haven't the nerve to ask. While the curious student isn't "deleted," as some have been, she's sent into exile 80 years into the past to the idyllic town of Wainscotia, Wisconsin. Here, Adriane will face the "Hazards of Time Travel."

Armed with firm rules (no questions, no intimate relationships, no provision of future knowledge, among others), a fake birth certificate, a vague backstory and one box of secondhand clothing, Adriane enters her freshman year at Wainscotia State University. Oates doesn't squander much print on obvious wonderments in this setting. Save for puzzlement over a typewriter and the oddity of witnessing her housemates smoke cigarettes free from worry, Adriane's biggest surprises comes in the classroom. Here, while struggling to intellectually find her place, she falls in love with a fellow exile, complicating her existence in myriad ways.

Desperate for intimacy, yet unable to attain it without fear of execution, loneliness suffocates this protagonist. All the while, her classes, art and limited relationships stimulate her thinking in ways she's never before experienced, creating a love story wrapped in psychological turmoil.

Imagery takes a back seat to intellectual discourse. While readers receive a clear picture of the university campus where Adriane, now dubbed "Mary Ellen," resides, showy descriptions are limited. In their place are professors' lectures along with Adriane's bewilderment and ever-growing skepticism over her new home.

What starts as a familiar dystopian story line morphs into a tale so perplexing one shouldn't read this book alone. Cerebral book clubs, clear your calendars.

Mountain Mayhem: Flamingo Gala for AEF

Last Friday, Nov. 30, Aspen Education Foundation (AEF) presented its wildly successful fundraiser, Flamingo, at The St. Regis Aspen, welcoming board members, parents, staff and members of the community for a gala event. The sold-out evening, themed as a Western chic affair, started with a cocktail reception in the tented courtyard followed by dinner, a live auction and dancing in the ballroom. Numbers are being tallied and the silent auction is currently running online, though it's safe to say it was the most beneficial Flamingo to date thanks to the incredible support through ticket, table and auction sales, a paddle raise, corporate pledges and much more.

As AEF's primary source of revenue for the year, the Flamingo directly funds teacher and staff salaries, as well as a wide range of academic and extracurricular programs from K-12, which includes college counseling, aeronautics, outdoor education, robotics, IB program, theatre and music and more.

There are too many names to note who made all the difference this year, though several that do need mention include AEF Chairman of the Board Raifie Bass; Executive Director Cynthia Chase; Assistant Executive Director Michelle Sherlock; Amanda and Justin Leonard, Flamingo co-chairs; Michelle and Ken Stiller, Flamingo co-chairs; Jennifer and Mark Styslinger, Flamingo honorees; Daylene and Gary Lichtenwalter, Flamingo honorees; Elizabeth Slossberg with EKS Events, AEF board member and Flamingo event consultant. An event committee of a dozen or so volunteers truly helped raise the bar.

The silent auction opened online at midnight as the party ended, featuring an array of items, experiences and perfect holiday gifts. Shop soon, as it closes on Dec. 15: http://www.aspenaef.org/flamingo-2018.

Another way to support AEF is by shopping at new luxe boutique Olivela on the Hyman Avenue Mall, which has partnered with AEF. Visit http://www.olivela.com/AEF and 20 percent of all proceeds — forever — will benefit the program. During the month of December, all in-store purchases will go to AEF.

TRY IT: Garmin Handheld GPS Update

Garmin has long led in the handheld GPS category. This month, the brand announced two new units with improved imagery and connectivity in the wilds.

They start at $400 and include a standard feature set with altimeter, barometer and compass plus upgrades for 2018.

Called the GPSMAP 66s and GPSMAP 66st, the units have color displays that are readable in direct sunlight. Preloaded topographic maps are standard on the 66st model, letting you hit trails or mountain terrain out of the box.

An interesting feature is the weather forecasting tool. Users pair a phone with the device to get up-to-date forecasts that provide maps to reveal temperature, wind speed, and a live weather radar.

Both devices work on AA batteries, so it's easy to bring spares. The brand claims 16 hours of battery life in the most-detailed GPS mode.

But for longer trips, they can track a user's position in less detail for up to one week on a single set of batteries.

Garmin built the devices to adhere to military standards for thermal, shock and water performance. For professionals and serious GPS enthusiasts, the units include RINEX data logging for sub-meter accuracy of GPS position.

Take a look at the new Garmin units this fall if you're hoping to up your GPS game.

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at http://www.gearjunkie.com.

From horses to hemp: ‘America’s Most Trusted Horseman’ John Lyons eyes his second calling

After a long and successful career on the saddle training horses and their owners across the country, John Lyons wanted nothing more than to retire, ride off into the sunset and sell his 70-acre Parachute ranch for the next generation to take the reins.

Known far and wide as "America's Most Trusted Horseman," last year Lyons moved forward with his plans to sell, even meeting with a potential buyer who felt the ranch could be a great location for a hemp and cannabidiol oil facility. But when Lyons began reflecting on his life and retirement, he knew he wasn't ready to walk away from his home for the past 40-plus years.

Those potential buyers invited Lyons to join them at an expo on the CBD oil and hemp industry in August to learn more about the business they hoped to start. That's when, instead of retiring, John and his wife, Jody, an emergency room nurse, found their next calling.

Lyons' mindset soon changed from eager seller to investor.

During his career, he helped over 1 million horse owners, wrote more than 20 books and developed his own horse trainer certification program. But, as he explained, this new business venture gave him and his wife the chance to help people again, an opportunity they could not pass up.

Since the expo last summer, the for-sale sign at the ranch has been taken down as Lyons and his wife have become the face of The Colorado Hemp Institute, hoping to turn their 70-acre ranch into a multi-faceted medical and treatment facility with CBD-infused products.

CBD is a cannabis compound that has significant medical benefits, but is non-psychoactive or less psychoactive than THC strains of marijuana. The hemp plant fibers have a variety of other industrial uses, including fabric for clothing and even food products.

When Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012, the new law also opened the door for hemp farming.

"We are trying to do everything we can to come out of the gates strong," Lyons said of the business.

Jody Lyons hopes The Colorado Hemp Institute's CBD-related therapeutic products will help build the company's brand.

Aside from the CBD products, Lyons intends to build as many as eight related businesses at the ranch, with plans for testing and research facilities, a medical office staffed with doctors, a medical research facility, a day spa, an organic food grow that will provide organic foods to a restaurant on-site, a hemp specialty retail store, an assisted-living facility, an end-of-life center and more.

With 70 acres of land to work with, Lyons counted as many as 12 buildings that will need to be built before The Colorado Hemp Institute will become fully operational.

Lyons admitted the project is a unique concept and didn't think there were any other medical hemp research and treatment facilities being proposed, or like it, in the United States.

He said he's received inquiries from Maine to Florida about the company, and it continues to receive a lot of interest from people who support the CBD industry.

"Like most in my generation I grew up believing that everything marijuana is bad," he said. "The only reason people don't use CBD oil for health and illness is because they don't understand it or have no knowledge of it."

Lyons also hopes to provide educational opportunities to the public on the many medicinal benefits that hemp can provide at the ranch.

"What a great opportunity to be able to help children and people of all ages through this amazing facility," investor and business partner Ben Hegwer said.

The institute currently offers appointments with its in-house cannabinoid therapy specialist, sells and markets its own clones and seeds, and offers CBD-infused products.

With several investors in Utah, as well as his 70-acre property and personal wealth from the horse-training business, Lyons estimated that funding for the Colorado Hemp Institute could reach $25 million. He hopes to be fully operational within the next five years.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared earlier this year in Rocky Mountain Marijuana magazine, a sister publication of The Aspen Times. Katie Shapiro is off this week to attend the 2nd annual Aspen High Summit, where she is gaining invaluable industry insight for future High Country columns. She can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com or followed on Twitter @kshapiromedia.

Gunner’s Libations: Old school, new twist

Have you ever wondered why an Old Fashion is called, well, an Old Fashion? The story is quite simple: Way back when bartenders began mixing up new cocktails with signature twists, purists would demand a drink the "old-fashion way."

Fair enough. But for The Little Nell's head mixologist Jacob Johnson, there's something to be said for blending the old with the new. Take the Chai Old Fashion, likely to be a staple on the apres-ski menu at the popular Chair 9. In this take on the standard Old Fashion, chai-infused bourbon, Demera syrup and Armarini cherries serve to soften the tastes.

"It's taking a classic and giving it a modern twist," says Johnson, giving laser-focus attention to creating the perfect orange peel topper for his hand-crafted libation. "And here at Chair 9, where the usual is your basic vodka-soda drink or maybe a glass of bubbles, this is something special…something a little out of the ordinary." All we can we say is that nothing is ever ordinary about a good cocktail in a happening apres-ski bar after a killer day on Ajax. Agree?

Libations was created by beloved Aspen Times publisher Gunilla Asher, who died June 2, 2014, after a brave battle with cancer. Cheers — to Gunner!

Food Matters: A mocktail pairing dinner serves a sober message

Pizza and beer. Sushi and sake. Steak and cabernet. Caviar and Champagne. Ribs and whiskey. Oysters and martinis. Chocolate cake and Irish coffee. Chef Chris Randall will pass on all of these classic pairings—he got sober in 2009, two years before moving to the Roaring Fork Valley by way of Louisiana. Now when out to dinner or socializing with friends at a bar, he finds enticing booze-free beverage options lacking: soda, tea, juice, water. Maybe nonalcoholic beer or a Moscow mule, hold the vodka.

"Every restaurant has a version of a mule: ginger beer, rosemary syrup, and lemon juice," he says. "While tasty, it doesn't pair with everything. It got me thinking that it would be fun to do a dinner that was wildly creative on the food and wildly creative on paired beverages…to provide some options and awareness to the things that us food-service people face on a day-to-day basis: addiction, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, all things that make it hard to live."

It's no secret that chefs, cooks, bartenders, dishwashers, servers and others in the grueling hospitality industry are most afflicted with these issues. Statistics peg food-service and accommodations workers—who represent the largest sector nationwide—as having the highest rates of alcohol and substance abuse. Here in Aspen, the high cost of living combined with wages that don't quite match an economic need creates a real struggle.

"The financial burden is stressful," Randall notes. "We're pushing ourselves for perfection and hopefully settling on excellence. That comes at a price: stress, anxiety. It's how you handle the stress: at the end of the night, people get their shift drink then run to the bar. They blow off steam, and that includes tons of alcohol and recreational substances. It's a mean cycle, and it's in every restaurant culture, whether a 3 Michelin in France or the pizza pub on the corner."

Shane Murray, a cook at White House Pizza in Carbondale, who is also in recovery, shared Randall's frustration about finding drinks for non-drinkers. So together they brainstormed the concept behind "Proofless," a seven-course dinner at the Cooking School of Aspen on Dec. 15. Each dish will be served with a nonalcoholic beverage showcasing unique ingredients. Hooch bartender Pat Flanigan, for one, will craft mocktails incorporating Elevated Elixirs (Colorado-made kombucha, yerba mate, and sparkling potions) and Seedlip, "the world's first nonalcoholic distilled spirit."

A handful of Aspen chefs of varying constitutions are joining Randall and Murray in the cause: Chefs Matt Zubrod and Lucas Rocca from element 47 at The Little Nell are donating Emma Farms wagyu beef. Braden Gastineau, formerly of Clark's Market, will serve brown-butter sunchoke soup with pancetta. Randall, executive chef of Rustique Bistro, is preparing porchetta using rare Mangalista pork to pair with a mango-habanero kombucha concoction, as well as seared scallops with bottarga alongside spirulina yerba mate. Neil Stiles will sous-vide apple for a fruity dish with gorgonzola to enjoy with fizzy beet-rosehip soda. Murray will make milk-braised rabbit tacos to accompany a coconut probiotic aperitif infused with cilantro and lime. Draper Horton, a Rustique cook, is constructing millefeuille tiramisu.

Tickets are $125 (a portion of which is tax-deductible) to benefit Aspen Strong, Lift-Up food pantry, and the Aspen Homeless Shelter—all organizations that provide valuable resources for folks in need.

"Lift-Up helps everybody with food pantry issues—the economically disparaged prep cooks and dishwashers who can't afford to feed their families, to get groceries to supplement what they're (earning)," Randall explains. "MindSpring—very active in the mental-health community in the valley—is also giving us support, just to be part of it."

Aspen Strong founder Christina King calls "Proofless" an important call to action. "In a larger mental-health evaluation for our whole valley—supported by public health departments—there (is) a desire to have more 'dry' events," she says.

Randall is careful to add that it's not about preaching a sober lifestyle but fostering wellness within the community.

"Sometimes it's a good choice to not have that fourth glass of wine at the end of the night," he says. "(Mocktails provide) an option so you're not drinking a Diet Coke at the bar. Maybe you're mixing a nonalcoholic beverage in between your beers so you're able to drive home or wake up early to take care of your kids."

Randall even contacted Nashville celebrity chef-restaurateur Sean Brock, sober two years, asking for advice, since Brock led a "Zero Proof" dinner in Portland in September with teetotaler Andrew Zimmern from "Bizarre Foods" and Michael Solmonov, a multi-James Beard Award-winning chef.

"He's on board with what we're doing," Randall confirms. "Other notable restaurants—Eleven Madison Park in New York City, Noma in Copenhagen—now have nonalcoholic pairings on the menu. It's becoming a movement that's gaining popularity."

Hooch Aspen has a mocktail menu already, and nonalcoholic quaffs are created with panache at other watering holes in town, such as J-Bar at the Hotel Jerome. The new EMP Winter House seasonal popup at Chefs Club Aspen will launch next weekend with a mocktail menu that includes "Paradise City" (grapefruit, passion fruit, vanilla, cream) and "Peter Piper" (pineapple, black pepper, lime, white balsamic).

"Everyone should have the opportunity to drink thoughtfully and creatively conceived drinks," says EMP co-owner Will Guidara. "Cocktails, wine, beer, coffee, tea, mocktails—they all deserve the same amount of focus. I think that's important to be a great restaurant for this generation."

For his part, Randall hopes to create a more healthful environment among his "pirate family of cooks" and the community beyond. Just as when he moved here, "Aspen is all about people trying to make better choices in their lives."

amandaraewashere@gmail.com

Legends & Legacies: Beer Bust

"Saloon keeper Bowman who runs a place on Hunter Street back of the Bank Exchange was arrested yesterday for selling beer to a little girl," reported the Aspen Daily Chronicle on Dec. 11, 1890. "He pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $5 and costs, and those familiar with the circumstances consider his punishment very light. The little girl lives with her parents on East Durant Avenue. Some of the employees of the railroad had seen the child go into Bowman's place after beer. The matter was reported to the police. Yesterday one of the officers watched and saw the girl coming out of the saloon with a pitcher of beer. He followed her to her home and found out what she had. A warrant was then sworn out for Bowman and he was taken to jail. He put up the money for his fine and costs and was released. Had the man been present in court his fine would probably have been much heavier. The girl is only about 12 years old. It is likely that her parents after this will go after their own beer." The image below shows an advertisement for Bowman's Musee and Saloon, circa 1900.

This photo and more can be found in the Aspen Historical Society archives at aspenhistory.org.