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Rogers: The monster looming behind social media

Heeding the surgeon general’s advisory about the mental health perils of social media for children, the Aspen School District recently sent out an alert to parents:

“This week, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy issued an urgent advisory about the mental health effects of social media on young people. We believe this is an important issue and wanted to share the information.”

The warning ran through the highlights. Nearly every kid between 13 and 17 admits using social media. Around 40% of children between 8 and 12 do, too.

“The problem is social media has written these algorithms, these programs that are designed to addict kids, younger and younger and younger, and it’s working really well,” Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh told the Aspen Daily News. “It’s really negatively impacted schools. We’re spending lots on counselors, social workers.”

But Mom and Dad have been infected, too. This is like trying to talk about their child’s drug abuse to parents missing teeth and jittery from their own addiction. Signs of inflammation abound.

To save the children, Mom needs to unhook herself. Even the best-life posing is corrosive, never mind the groupthink, the electrified gossip, the bullying, the baiting, beatdowns, dolling up, erosion of critical thinking, well, thinking period.

This tide of flotsam and crap overwhelms the cute sharing of meals, trips, children, graduation and so on. As if anyone really cares other than to one up with their own postings. Good intent has been subsumed, invaded, taken over.

Dad needs to find a sport, build a birdhouse, take a walk. Keyboard warrioring is nothing of the sort. Clever trolling is an oxymoron. Look it up, though the attention span required to do that might be gone already.

Grandpa still thinks that Obama vid “admitting” he’s Muslim was real. “How can you fake that?” he demands.    

We’re in trouble. Just look who we elect to positions where social media has a foothold. The disease has spread well beyond the children. Everyone’s hooked.


It gets worse from here, sorry.

ChatGPT is only the Australopithecus of intelligent chat bots that soon will pass the Turing test, no sweat, and not just fool Grandpa. It’s only been out since November and by January had crested 100 million users — a lot faster than any other software release in history.

OpenAI got a little head start. So did MySpace ahead of Facebook, Blackberry ahead of Apple’s iPhone, AltaVista ahead of Google. Meta and Alphabet, and don’t forget Tik Tok will likely rocket past ChatGPT, and who knows, Amazon past all of them.

This frontier is truly wide open. Sneaky algorithms toying with dopamine and cortisol are cute by comparison, even if their use can threaten democracy as we’ve known it.

We have little clue about what’s coming next.


Social media is eroding our mental health and our collective ability to reason just as artificial intelligence has reached the cusp of liftoff.

At one level, this form of AI is a tool like other tools. Social media has this function, as well, an effective part of the marketing mix, for instance. My daughter uses ChatGPT to scale her use of social media business messaging. It’s great. Next level.

There’s even a sense of control. We humans are pushing the buttons. We are choosing what to open and consume. We can handle it, except we’re not, not really. Not the teenagers, certainly not the adults. This is well established now.

It’s axiomatic that ChatGPT or the next evolutionary step of conversant AI that writes more compelling stories than human authors, does the doctor and the lawyer’s jobs better, and outsmarts us generally is also going to breach the borders of everything toxic we associate with social media. Only it’s going to be orders of magnitude more effective at it.

And here we are today, sending urgent notes to parents who can’t handle social media any better than their children even as we all swarm to the next big wave.

The urgent warning has come too late, fallen on too many deaf ears, the barn already emptied. In effect, zombies are real. Welcome to World War Z.

Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@aspentimes.com

Lead with Love: Choosing to live ‘La Dolce Vita’

Each day, I have a choice what to focus on.

What I focus on is what grows. I know this. There is a part of our brain biologically wired to focus on what’s wrong or what might go wrong. This is part of our reptilian brain’s survival programming. It is hard-wired. By assessing and evaluating risk, it helps us to stay alive.

This negativity bias, as it’s called, is difficult to override. It takes intention, practice, and awareness to choose to see what is right versus what is wrong, all the while not ignoring the brilliance of a mind wired to survive.

I am currently in Italy, and I am loving the feeling of warmth, connection, and joy I feel from this culture. As we are planning a Lead with Love retreat here in September, I felt called to explore what the Italians call “La Dolce Vita,” or “The Sweet Life.”

What I see and sense in the people here is a slower pace of life. I see a focus on family and connections that span generations. I sense a warmth among people who start as strangers and quickly become friends. What I feel is a fullness in my heart, a sense of presence with the landscape and “place,” and a true feeling of contentment just being here.

It’s easy to over-romanticize the culture here versus in America and have the grass-is-greener syndrome. I love America and our democratic values that are being tested every day. I know there are big problems in Italy, too. The Italians just elected an openly fascist leader in the last election. That is a bummer. There are problems everywhere. There is beauty everywhere. It all depends where we choose to look. 

My teachers Drs. Ron and Mary like to say, “The issue isn’t the issue, it’s how you relate to yourself as you’re going through the issue that is the issue.”

Think about that. The issue isn’t the issue. No matter what happens, good or bad, you have a choice. How will you respond? How will you treat yourself and others? Will you be angry and bitter and judge and blame and hold resentments? Will you own what’s yours, move on, and choose love and forgive yourself and others over and over again? 

My intention and the focus of my life is to create La Dolce Vita no matter where I am. For me, it is a focus on these life principles that speak to what’s truly important to me and how I want to live. The more I focus on these, the more they will grow. 

The seven pillars of La Dolce Vita for me: Connection and Belonging, Optimal Well-being in Mind, Body and Spirit, Authenticity and Vulnerability, Empowerment and Ownership, Joyfulness and Lightheartedness, Love and Generosity, and Forgiveness and Letting Go. 

What are your pillars of the sweet life? The human brain has a natural tendency to give weight to, and remember, negative experiences or interactions more than positive ones. A big part of the sweet life is claiming it, becoming more aware of what you want, and choosing to live it each day no matter where in the world you are.

Gina Murdock is the founder of Lead with Love, an Aspen-based, non-profit organization dedicated to shifting culture from fear to love. Lead with Love hosts trainings, workshops and retreats around the world. To learn more about The Dolce Vita Retreat in Italy Sept 23-30, visit ileadwithlove.org .

Milias: Seeds of dissent at the Community Garden

For over 40 years, across the Marolt Pedestrian Bridge lies the Aspen Community Garden. In 1978, Larry Dunn, aided by Ed Compton, “the official dean of Aspen gardeners” who lived nearby in senior housing, created a place for local residents of all ages to get close to nature with a dedicated area within the Marolt Open Space.

The victory gardens of World War II became the community gardens of the late 20th century. The idea was to start with a small plot, learn to garden, and graduate to a larger plot with success, as determined by Compton and his “garden leadership” team. Prospective gardeners originally stood on their plots to claim them, and the garden flourished, yielding a cornucopia ranging from snow peas to garlic to sunflowers to rhubarb and more. The Aspen Times’ archives report few instances of poaching.

Due to popular demand, the garden was expanded in 1980, and it continued to thrive with a focus on self-sufficiency and education on organic food growth. In 1985, a benefit concert at the Wheeler raised money for the project, which by then had become a cornerstone of the community.

Goals of the garden were explicit: to ease financial pressures on seniors and other local employees by enabling them to grow their own produce. Participants were aided by 10 kids a day whose working parents “volunteered” them. In short, the community garden gave a sense of purpose to local seniors and provided free day care for several parents!

Like most everything else in Aspen, those idyllic days are long gone. Today, the community garden still thrives but has become yet another bureaucracy within the city of Aspen. A low priority, buried in the Parks and Recreation department, overseen by a secretive “garden leadership” group and managed by a local volunteer, the organization and most notably its elusive waitlist are shrouded in mystery. There is no public roster of who has plots, nor will the city allow the waitlist to be posted with anything more than initials.

Comprised of 57 large plots (roughly 10 x 40 feet) and 26 smaller ones at the west end, the community garden has space for 83 gardeners, and at press time, 105 wait to be assigned a plot of their own. Inquiries about the garden over the past year have been met with obfuscation, dismissal, and suspicion, which only piques my interest. I was given a numbered and lettered plot map, but nothing further due to “city rules.”

Reports of friends gifting plots to friends, individuals combining multiple plots, and plots assigned yet neglected proliferate. Such a public amenity with a robust waiting list has no grounds for operating like a private club, with special rules for special people and zero transparency. Yet it does.

Notably, in the past year, the official regulations have been updated to include a residency requirement: You must be a resident of the Roaring Fork Valley for at least nine months of the year to qualify for a plot. So apparently, anyone in the region can have a plot in our community garden, ahead of city residents who pay taxes for this open space and despite the explicit request not to drive cars to the garden.

Whether that overly lenient rule is even enforced is unknown. Other listed rules prohibit structures or internal fences, yet the garden, especially at this time of year before it’s filled in with plantings, looks like Sanford and Son’s junkyard. Plastic garden chairs and other bric-a brac indicate that many plots are utilized as remote backyards and not necessarily gardens, if the one with the kids sandbox and toys is any indicator. Meanwhile, higgledy-piggledy fences delineate various plots. It’s a mess.

If you’re thinking that the community garden sounds a lot like APCHA, another government program that started with the best intentions yet came off the rails over time because no one was paying attention, you wouldn’t be wrong. The community garden has sadly become one more entitlement to be taken advantage of and junked up instead of respected as a privilege. That’s probably also why one rule expressly prohibits camping in one’s garden.

It is worth pointing out that there are indeed many legitimate gardens out there. Several local chefs enhance their menus with farm to table offerings. And numerous serious gardeners have beautiful and bountiful plots, reflecting not just their green thumbs, but also their pride and community spirit.

It only takes one bad apple, and at our community garden, it’s the city of Aspen’s administrative state that has destroyed the original intent. The lack of transparency and oversight as well as the concentration of power among a mysterious group has turned a unique community resource into an exclusive and lawless benefit for a select few.

A simple, straightforward, and equitable fix would be to restructure the garden by dividing the existing larger plots in half, creating 10 x 20 foot gardens for an additional 57 Aspen gardeners, thereby clearing over half the waitlist. And establishing an independent and dedicated, citizen leadership committee like they had in the good old days.

When it comes to the Aspen city government, you reap what you sow. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net.

Mountain Mayhem: Tennis anyone?

Birthday girl Jodi Jacobsen hit the Smuggler Racquet Club tennis courts to ring in the start to her next decade with a party for friends and family on Sunday, May 21. Her mom, Ruth Jacobson, and sister, Jamie Cygeilman, came to town to help her celebrate and honor her dad, who slipped away 30 years prior and would have loved the tradition. “He always made special occasions extra special for our family,” said Jodi. Her birthday fête was a fun-filled day with food and drink, tennis and pickle ball, music, and quality time with loved ones. “Thanks to Atlas Pizza on-the-road for the savory bites, Matsuhisa for the delicious sushi-to-go, Mendy for the green juice for gardener cocktails, Chris Kelly for working way too hard before, during and after, and everyone for coming.”

Jodi Jacobson’s mom Ruth Jacobson, the birthday girl, and her sister Jamie Cygielman, posing beside Klaus Obermeyer’s court at Smuggler Racquet Club.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
Chad Clark, Marshman, and Mark Terkun sporting their tennis best.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
Ben Brennan, Jungle Mike, and Mitch Haas.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
Lisa Turchiarelli and her son, Tanner Barbin.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
Jackie Kaplan on candles.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
Chris Kelly and Summer Pennetta.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
Delicious dishes from Tracey and Michael Mishel with their Atlas Pizza on The Road.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
Jason Melnick, Susan Muenchen, and Marty Smith.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
Gwen Cohen, Samantha Ferrara, Jennifer Voorhees, and Hilary McKie.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
Ben Genshaft, Jeremy Barbin, and Alyssa Genshaft.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
Nicole and Lex Tarumianz.
May Selby/Courtesy photo
A casual pickle ball pickup game at Smuggler Racquet Club.
May Selby/Courtesy photo

WineInk: The Little Nell pours it on this summer

It’s summer, and the culinary and wine teams at Aspen’s Little Nell hotel are gearing up for some serious events.

It all begins with the Aspen Food & Wine Classic when they pair the wines of France’s  Krug Champagne house with the cuisine of guest chef Nathan Rich of Vermont’s standout Relais & Château property, Twin Farms. The special dinner will take place on Friday night, June 16, and is sure to be a highlight of the 40th anniversary edition of the Classic.

Then, in July, the five-diamond, five-star property will present the third annual Little Nell Culinary Fest featuring eight chefs from esteemed Relais & Châteaux properties throughout North America. Launched as a passion project in 2021 by the Nell’s culinary director, Matt Zubrod, as a fill in for the then postponed Food & Wine Classic, the four-day event has found footing as a celebration of the best of the Relais & Châteaux culinary teams and a singularly sensational event.


The beautiful and delicious work of the culinary team at The Little Nell.
The Little Nell/Courtesy photo

When they give you lemons, you make, well, the freshest and zestiest foods for the summer season. Such is the case with the five-course meal that Chef Rich will prepare to augment the finest wines from one of the most renowned purveyors of bubbles in all of Champagne.   

Founded in Reims, France, in 1843 by the German-born Joseph Krug, the House of Krug has become a beacon for Champagne connoisseurs who seek out the annual releases of the Krug Grande Cuvée, which is blended from 120 individually made lots of wines from a decade of vintages. This non-vintage gem, in their distinctive, narrow-necked bottles, is a Champagne designed to create a style of its very own and has been released every year since the inception of Krug. The unique wines sit in bottle for at least six years and are the product of decades of winemaking. They are, in fact, a work of art.

Little Nell Wine Director Chris Dunaway is looking forward to pouring the Krug wines: “We’re incredibly excited to be able to partner with our friends at Krug and Twin Farms for this phenomenal occasion during Food & Wine. Krug, to me, is a benchmark of luxury. Each selection represents the perfect combination of intensity, elegance, refinement, and extraordinary complexity. To many in the industry, the Grande Cuvée is considered one of the greatest if not the greatest multi-vintage blend on the planet.”

Each year, the House of Krug selects a humble single ingredient to honor and invites renowned Krug Ambassade chefs to create food pairings to accompany the latest editions of Krug Grande Cuvée and Krug Rosé. In 2023, chefs have been asked to celebrate what Krug has selected as its “beacon of generosity and vitality and the first fruit to be elected Single Ingredient: the vibrant citrus called lemon.”

The Little Nell culinary team hard at work.
The Little Nell/Courtesy photo

So it is that Chef Rich will travel from his home in Barnard, Vermont, and celebrate lemons. As a chef who delights in the preparation of light, local, fresh, and clean cuisine, the opportunity to pair lemon-influenced dishes with the wines of the House of Krug will be a delight. On the planned menu will be a Lemon Olive Oil Poached Sturgeon, Vichyssoise, Trout Roe dish and a Summer Berry Pavlova, Yuzu, Lemon Ash dessert — all served with different releases of the Krug Grande Cuvée and the Krug Rosé, poured from magnums and jeroboam bottlings. An elegant and tasty, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If you are so inclined, the Nell is the site of two more special wine-centric dinners during the Food & Wine Classic week. On the Wednesday before the Classic, California winemaker Chris Carpenter will be pouring the wines of the Jackson Family Wines Spire Collection, including wines he has overseen like La Jota, Lakoya, and Cardinale. Then on Saturday, there will be a Library Dinner with Gaia Gaja, as she brings her family’s esteemed Barbaresco, Barolo, Brunello, and “Super-Tuscan” wines to the Nell from Piedmonte for a special evening.

Seats can be purchased at  bit.ly/Nell-Events-June2023.


The Little Nell Culinary Fest will return for its third year this summer.
The Little Nell/Courtesy photo

The second week of July will see the third iteration of what is fast becoming a summer tradition in Aspen, as the Nell hosts its eponymous food and wine event. The fest will feature a series of food and wine focused breakfasts, lunches, and dinners over four days at the Nell — all paired with the appropriate wines, of course.

This year’s edition will see Matt Zubrod, the founder of the fest, and Oscar Carrasco, executive chef at The Little Nell, open their prestigious kitchens to host Relais & Châteaux chefs, including: Julian Eckhardt, culinary director at the revered Inn at Little Washington in Virginia; Jack Mahoney, executive chef at Magee Homestead in Wyoming; and the aforementioned Chef Nathan Rich, a mountain biker who can’t seem to get enough of Aspen.

“Since 2015, when I joined The Little Nell and the Relais & Chateaux chef community, I immediately discovered a shared commitment to quality, a passion and commitment to hospitality, and for the most part with little to no ego,” Zubrod said about the chefs who join him in Aspen for the fest.

The wine team at The Little Nell will be pouring a curated list of wines for the third Little Nell Culinary Fest.
The Little Nell/Courtesy photo

For its part, the Nell’s wine team — including sommeliers Rachael Liggett-Draper, Jesse Libby, Jon Koch, and wine director Dunaway — will be joined by former Nell-ian Carlton McCoy, who is now a managing partner at Lawrence Wine Estates. McCoy will be presenting a Napa Valley Wine Class and Lunch at the ASPENX Mountain Club on Wednesday, July 12. He will also lead a special tasting in the Nell’s wine cellar, where he will pour wines from the Lawrence Wine Estate portfolio, including Heitz Cellar, Stony Hill, Burgess, Ink Grade, Haynes Estate, and Châteaux Lascombes.

“It’s always special when you’re able to bring home legends like Carlton,” Dunaway said about having his friend and colleague come to the fest. “His impact on our wine program’s legacy has been seismic. Just to be able to sling some bottles like old times and catch up will be a pleasure.”

In addition to a wide variety of activities, including a bike around of Aspen, mushroom foraging in the local mountains, and a delightful tour of the Nell’s amazing gardens hosted by Arabella Beavers-Kaplansky, who is the keeper of the green kingdom, there are three meals each day at the Nell for attendees who purchase the full Culinary Fest passes. There are also special dining events, including a street festival on the patio of Ajax Tavern and a gala dinner in Element 47 that will feature cuisine prepared by the chefs from the Relais & Châteaux properties.

Long before the trend of what are now called boutique hotels, the restaurants and hotels that were members of Relais & Châteaux were renowned for their high standards and individuality.

In 1954, Marcel and Nelly Tilloy, who owned a hotel and restaurant on the Right Bank of the Rhône called La Cardinale, came up with the idea of branding related properties under the slogan “La Route du Bonheur,” or the “Road of Happiness.” The different houses, or hotels, each with their own distinct character, lined the road from Paris to Nice, united by shared values of the finest of amenities, outstanding fine dining and wine service, and individual interpretations of the art of living.

Today, the Relais & Châteaux is a confederation of 580 uniquely authentic hotel and restaurant properties, including The Little Nell, that remain committed to providing guests the finest in wine, gastronomy, and a taste of the local culture.

Three years into the Little Nell’s Culinary Festival history, Zubrod is pleased with the progress he has seen: “The Little Nell Culinary Fest has exceeded my expectations. It’s like inviting your childhood heroes to your house to cook dinner with you. Entering our third year, it’s getting harder as so many chefs want to come to Aspen, so the first five that reply to me in time get the nod!”

A la carte tickets are available to the public for the individual events ranging from $100 to $250 per seat. There is also a Culinary Fest package with bundled pricing starting at $1,500 per person. Guests who purchase the full Culinary Fest package will receive 40% off accommodations at The Little Nell. Registration is now open, and seats at the table are going fast. To register, go to bit.ly/Nell-Events-June2023.

Summer is here, and the living is easy.

Vagneur: We talkin’ entirely about horses here?

It’s a curious thing, catching a horse, or trying to at the very least. Especially out of a large pasture or area. Some can be counted on to sniff out the oat bucket or something in your hand, another might zig or zag and take off, either a cautious few feet or into the distance, leaving a flying trail of grass and dirt, tail and head up in the air as if to say, “Gotcha sucker.” Some of ’em love doing that!

Unless you’re Marty Robbins — headed to El Paso and running from the law in the dark of night on your horse, lung shot and desperately trying to get to the back door of Rosa’s Cantina before you die to see wicked Feleena, the girl you love, one last time — you’re likely riding your horses in the daylight, although there’s no guarantee you’ll get your work done before dark.

“From out of nowhere, Feleena has found me

Kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side

Cradled by two loving arms that I’ll die for

One little kiss, and Feleena, goodbye.”

We could take a deep dive here, as my mind wishes, and talk a bit more about the Mexican ladies who either watched their cowboy paramours die or were the center of a cowhand’s fantasies somewhere up near timberline, as was reminisced by Ian Tyson in “Fifty Years Ago,” How as a young man he held onto Juanita in the shadows behind Mona’s, stealing the love that was his heart’s desire.  

“And the sighing of the pines

Up here near the timberline

Makes me wish I’d done things different

Oh, but wishing don’t make it so

Oh the time has passed so quick

The years all run together now

Did I hold Juanita yesterday

Or was it fifty years ago?”

There’s good piano taking that song out and to be honest, this ol’ cowboy many times has been riding the high country pondering things that were and might have been different if only I’d have …. Oh, hell, you know the story. I always keep my horses tied up when daydreaming things like that. Don’t want to have to run and catch them, my back against a tried-and-true, sighing pine.

My grandfather first taught me about catching horses when I was very young. We’d head up the mountain behind our place on horseback, and ride up and up, the sight of our horses finally catching the attention of the wild horses that lived up there. They’d come to investigate, and we’d run them down the mountainside, over the sagebrush flat past Grandpa’s homestead cabin, down across the county road, and right into the waiting corral.

Their consternation at realizing they were caught caused some general excitement in the herd, along with some unhappiness, which they displayed. Gramps ran some into the barn, walked in behind them and closed the barn door, telling me to keep them from breaking out. “OK, Gramps, I’ll do that.”

The next thing I knew, one was trying to climb out one of the barn windows after having knocked the wooden shutters open with his front feet. Scared the hell out of me at 9 or 10, and all I could think to do was stand in front of the window, waving my arms and hollering at the horse like it was a cow or something.

In spite of my vociferous pronouncements, it’s reasonable to assume the horse realized the futility of trying to get himself entirely through the window and backed off. Whew. The one great fear I had in life at that age was letting Gramps down.  

In that melee of stomping, snorting, and kicking, Gramps managed to lasso a couple of young horses, tying them up to stall stanchions, and we ran the rest back up the mountain, leaving them there until we decided it would be a good idea to round them up again, maybe not until the next year.

That winter, the young horses Gramps had caught could be seen coupled with seasoned steeds pulling Gramps and his bobsleigh up and down the Woody Creek Road and around our ranch, where we’d been feeding the cattle.

Unlike rounding up wild horses, catching saddle horses in a large corral or pasture, it’s the cat-and-mouse between person and horse that makes the day interesting and seriously tests the skill and patience of the human.

And let’s not forget the attraction a lively woman has for a cowpoke, easily distracted from the world of horses and cattle by the sway of her hips or the energy in her eyes. It’s unforgettable.   

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.

Asher on Aspen: All in a New York minute

Stepping out into the smoggy late-night streets while hailing down a cab from LaGuardia Airport, I knew I was a long way from home. The bright lights and bustling city noise kept me alert after a long day of travel. It was almost as if I had been shaken awake from the snow-globe dream I was living in after what felt like a never-ending winter in Aspen. We pulled up to my sister’s apartment in Astoria, and I was immediately welcomed by a familiar face.

My sister gave me a tour of her apartment with her impressive rooftop views, and instantly, I could feel the energy of the city. After just a few hours out and about in Queens, I was exhausted in the best way. I fell asleep to the subtle sirens and honking in the distance and fantasized about what our next day would look like.

It’s true what they say: Everything is faster in New York City — the nightlife, the people, the conversations, the walking. Quite literally, New York is the city that never sleeps. The subway runs 24 hours a day, bars are open until 4 a.m., and the lights are always on in Times Square.

As soon as we stepped off the subway at the Fifth Avenue–59th Street station, I was wide-eyed and over-stimulated as I scanned my surroundings. I could almost feel different parts of my personality emerging that I hadn’t tapped for years. Walking out into a sea of skyscrapers, buzzing crowds, and traffic commotion — it felt like I had just slammed a few shots of tequila without having drank anything at all. I was drunk on the energy of it all, and I loved it.

The Plaza Hotel, New York, New York.
The Plaza Hotel/Courtesy photo

The first experience was afternoon tea at The Plaza Hotel. The fancy teapots, decadent tiers of petite pastries and finger sandwiches, and the excuse to get a little dressed up for the occasion? Yes, please! The posh interior of the restaurant featured high ceilings, Roman statues, and lush greenery. The Plaza has so beautifully perfected this time-honored tradition of afternoon tea, and it was the ideal outing to set the vibe for the weekend.

From the finest of restaurants to the most luxurious of shops, NYC is known for its extravagance and sophistication. Seeing as how my sister and I were already dressed to the nines in cocktail dresses and high heels from our tea date at The Plaza, we decided it would be fun to mosey into Tiffany’s (the flagship store on 5th Avenue). With scenes from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” running through my mind, I was excited to see the building remodel and dive into the full Audrey Hepburn experience.

Tea at The Plaza is a quintessential New York experience.
Joe Thomas/Courtesy photo

Eventually, we found ourselves at Da Marino, an authentic Italian restaurant in the heart of the theater district. It was a delightful little place that served up traditional Italian fare and live music. Looming in the corner sat a mysterious piano man who kept the guests entertained throughout their dining experience. He belted out lyrics to “Light My Fire,” by The Doors, while we sipped cabernet and devoured our delicious pasta dishes.

Conveniently located, Da Marino was just a block away from the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Here, we had tickets to see “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” As a big fan of Baz Luhrmann’s revolutionary film, my sister and I were impressed with how they brought the film to life onstage. The three-hour performance led us into a world of splendor and romance, eye-popping excess, and luxurious enchantment.

The Dutch is located on the corner of Prince and Sullivan in SoHo.
The Dutch/Courtesy photo

Saturday evening, we stumbled upon a trendy SoHo restaurant on the corner of Prince and Sullivan Streets called The Dutch. Known for its well-stocked oyster bar, The Dutch served up Southern comfort food like hot fried chicken with honey butter biscuits and slaw. This was the ideal spot to have a nice meal and catch up with my sister.

After dinner, we walked a couple blocks to explore the famous Washington Square Park. All I could think about was that scene from “When Harry Met Sally.” For those who know the film, it’s when Harry and Sally first arrive in New York after their road trip together from Chicago. She looks at him and says, “Well, have a nice life.”

The Dutch in New York serves oysters and elevated Southern food.
The Dutch/Courtesy photo

Even though Times Square was filled with an overflow of tourists and street performers, I was still impressed by the magnitude and liveliness of it all. As Alicia Keys would say, “These streets will make you feel brand-new. Big lights will inspire you.” Our trip wrapped up on Sunday with a leisurely brunch, followed by some bar hopping around Bayside with my sister’s closest friends.

Throughout the trip, my sister and I realized that we both lead drastically different lives. To put things into perspective, I carry bear spray, while my sister carries pepper spray. I ride around town on my Vespa, while my sister travels around by means of the subway. I am on the lookout for mountain lions and bears, while my sister keeps an eye out for dangerous criminals.

As I write this piece, listening to the river run outside my bedroom window, I’m happy for my travels, but I’m also happy to be home.

Merritt: Pros and cons missing in Aspen’s airport meetings

Since I served on the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport Vision Committee a few years ago, I have continued to do my own independent research as a self-appointed investigator and now have a broad and troubling perspective on the process itself from the beginning.

I am a 35-year Aspen resident and an aspiring elder, age 84, and have zero vested interest or hidden agenda in any airport outcome.

I offered the Vision Committee my years in business (with an MBA) and in Roaring Fork Valley non-profit, volunteer work under my belt and am now disturbed and filled with moral insult.

My first suggestion as a Vision Committee member was that we all share for the record any potential conflicts of interest. That never happened. The glaring absence of a balanced flow of information during both the Vision Committee discussions and the Airport Advisory Board meetings is an insult to our collective intelligence.

My thoughts for next steps follow after these specifics that explain my apprehension:

Our very structured meetings of the Vision Committee did not allow for debate on the pros and cons of ADG III full compliance, FAA funding and historical negotiations with them, local control of the FBO, or airside expansion.

Jackson Hole airport bought out its FBO and is operating it with its own staff starting this May. Are there others? As of four years ago, a National Academies report cited 1,562 publicly-owned airports being run by private contractors — three quarters of those were owned by county or municipal governments.

We deserve reports of what has worked and not worked with local FBO control at equivalent airports. We also deserve to know the history of the period when Aspen’s FBO was managed locally. We need to see independently-prepared, financial pro formas comparing different FBO ownership and business models.

I presume the Pitkin County commissioners and staff staff have a list of all airports with commercial service and where private aircraft comprise more than 50% of ops, in which case that list should be published.

Absent hearing both/all sides of that narrative, I cannot meet the responsibilities of an informed citizen. I certainly cannot trust, without proper civil discourse, the claims of some who favor expansion. I was stunned that some advisory board members heard for the first time on May 18, from Wayne Ethridge, of our successful past negotiations with the FAA! We deserve that story and perhaps other stories from other airports on their interactions with the agency.

The push to expand the airport originated with large, private business jet owners. All efforts to document this evidence, which exists, have been thwarted and blocked. As responsible citizens we should have been privy to the motivations for this push so as to put a possible airside expansion into context.

Most important, our valley seems totally united on one point: major improvements immediately to the terminal for both employees’ and passengers’ sakes. With the FAA insisting that airside changes, taking many years, happen before or concurrently with the terminal, why would we comply with their dictates that ignore our priorities?

How about postponing a decision with Atlantic if further investigation offers the practical possibility of local FBO management and local income streams? If safety is our priority, don’t we want a locally-managed FBO better able to influence and incentivize the additional certification of private pilots landing here? These are not rhetorical questions and merit complete answers from unbiased sources.

The major airline executives, if asked, would no doubt confirm that Aspen’s lucrative market is impossible for them to avoid or abandon. They will find a way to operate here no matter what the circumstances. The past failed histories of smaller commercial airlines here are irrelevant to the big operators.

As several have said, there is “no chance in hell” that we will become a private-only airport. I know of no one who is proposing that red herring.

What to do? First, mark your calendars for a June 28 public hearing with the Board of County Commissioners, virtually or in person.

Then write to county commissioners and to Airport Advisory Board members and demand a pause in all airport decisions to allow answers and more balanced information, both about retaining public control and income from the FBO as well as about the airport forecast and fleet mix, which received a devastating independent critique, sent to but not mentioned in advisory board meetings.

Without a unified push to pause what seem to be slanted discussions with foregone conclusions in place, without a demand for answers to apparently unwelcome questions, we risk unintended consequences and regretting decisions made without the full scoop.

To those who roll their eyes and mutter, “Enough already, we have been at this too long,” I say we have been at this for too long without all the relevant balanced information we deserve.

Jackie Merrill, of Aspen, is a past member of the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport Vision Committee.

McDonald: A dangerous airport, especially for jets

The proposed FAA conforming remodel of Aspen/Pitkin County Airport’s runway, taxiway, and aircraft parking to accommodate longer wing and heavier (50 ton+) aircraft presents some safety concerns unique to Aspen.

Density altitude is a big deal for any pilot flying into Aspen. Thinner air means less engine power available for take-off/climb and significantly higher ground speeds/air speeds are required to give you the same indicated airspeed value and lift at sea level. The density altitude of Aspen on a 90°F summer day is near 12,000 feet. This qualifies the Aspen airport a classification of a “high and hot,” statistically accident-prone airport.

What makes “high and hot” airports particularly treacherous for jet aircraft are their already skill-demanding fast-maneuvering ground speeds at sea level are even made faster at high density altitudes, and this is not reflected by their indicated airspeed. Pilots use indicated airspeed as their primary flight instrument to regulate all modes of flight. 

Adding fast-gusting tailwinds to already high-density altitude ground speeds increases greatly the chance of misinterpreting distance when avoiding mountainous terrain. This misperception of closing speed can result in a reflex turn which over banks the wing beyond what is specified by the indicated airspeed, resulting in an accelerated stall. Unless you are over 4,000 feet above ground to level your wings and pull out, you’re dead.

This happened in 1991 when a Learjet crashed by an accelerated stall initiated from over-banking beyond the indicated airspeed specified bank limits to make the runway. Note: Visual perception of high ground speed is only viscerally acknowledged for eye-hand coordinated response until you are close to the ground. Until then it’s only a number. 

Observed: Typically when a jet aircraft executes a go-around from a landing approach, they put the pedal to the metal while making an accelerating left hand climbing turn between Shadow Mountain and Red Butte, completing a 180° turn before hitting Red Mountain.

This could be an intimidating, white-knuckle experience for the uninitiated, sea-level pilot. When the density altitude is kissing 12,000 feet, the indicated airspeed is reading 180 knots, but the ground speed is 217 knots (or 4.2 mile/minute) with winds aloft gusting at 25 knots. Maneuvering in tight airspace with fast ground speeds requires confidence, a calibrated eye and no misperception or hesitancy.

The current chance of landing long and fast on the runway in summer is statistically greater than in winter. This is in part because climate change has increased the frequency of high temperature, high density altitude days, where ground speed is significantly faster than indicated airspeed.

Under these conditions, landing at Aspen comes at you much faster. You’ll be passing Shale Bluffs with no time to think, and in the blink of an eye, you’ll be over the threshold flaring for touchdown. If the closing speed to runway is misjudged, which is statistically more likely for anyone who has been landing at sea level their whole professional career, the touchdown point can move far enough down the runway to require panic braking to stop. Such braking can blow out tires and or cause a runway excursion, closing the airport.

This seems to be a fairly common occurrence at Aspen’s airport of late. Just how long would it realistically take to move a 100,000 pound, crunched jet off the field?

Unfortunately, if this runway expansion is completed, not every 50+ ton aircraft that the FAA will allow to fly into Aspen will be the high-performing short-field, incredibly powerful Airbus A220-100.

It’s not the scheduled carrier you worry about, with their tried-and-true, by-the-numbers procedures tailored to Aspen. It’s the occasional sea-level flatlander charter pilot who is inexperienced with “high and hot” airports and mountain flying.

This proposed airport expansion most definitely increases the statistical chance that a 50+ ton passenger jet will land too long and fast, parking itself at Buttermilk or fly into a mountain. Is it worth the statistical risk?

Scott McDonald is an Aspen resident.

High Points: Summer hoops

It has never happened before.

For the first time in 47 years, our home-state NBA team has games to play in the month of June.

The Denver Nuggets have gone where they never have been before: to the Finals of the National Basketball Association to compete for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, which is awarded to the league champion. It has been a long time coming, but go Nuggets!

As of this writing, I don’t know whether the Nuggets or their opponents, the Miami Heat, won last night’s opening game played at Ball Arena in Denver (Though, I planned to watch it at the J-bar), but I do know that, at the very least, we will have games to watch this Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday — in the event of a sweep by either team — and as late as June 18 if the series were to go seven games. I would bet on the latter.

This has always been a Broncos’ town, with the Avalanche stirring passions when they have made runs in the NHL. But now, with their recent success — especially their sweep in four games of the Los Angeles Lakers and superstar LeBron James to move to the Finals — local folks are starting to take a little pride in a Nuggets’ squad favored to win the championship.

It should be noted that the team is owned by Stan Kroenke, who in addition to owning the Los Angeles Rams (who won the Lombardi Trophy in 2022) and the Colorado Avalanche (who won the Stanley Cup  in 2022), also has some significant real estate here in the Roaring Fork Valley, including a home on Red Mountain and the Willits home of Whole Foods. He seems to know what he is doing.

The Nuggets are a fun team to root for and have, under Head Coach Michael Malone, followed a proven path to make the Finals. They have been in first place in the Western Division since December and have a 12-3 record in the playoffs, coming to the Finals having won a series versus the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-1) and the Phoenix Suns (4-2) before vanquishing the Lakers.

Unlike many teams in the NBA, there is little drama as the culture of the team is based on teamwork, comraderie, and unselfish play. They have a pair of superstars in two-time league Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokić (He should have won a third this year) and shooting sensation Jamal Murray. Interestingly, Jokić is Serbian, and Murray was raised just outside Toronto, Canada. They also rely on contributions from a number of others, including Michael Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (aka KCP), and Eric Gordon, who all have made big plays this playoff season.

The opposition has had a Cinderella-like run, having begun the playoffs as the eighth seed in the East. They beat Boston in a Game Seven on Monday night to make it to the Finals. Led by Jimmy Butler, they are also expecting the return of Tyler Herro, one of their best players who has missed the last 16 games after breaking his right hand in the first game of the playoffs. He averaged 20 points a game this season and should be a big addition to a formidable foe for the Nuggets. As Tina once sang, “We don’t need another hero.”

So, who is going to win? The stat I’m looking at is 5,280 to 3. Those numbers are the respective elevations of the arenas that will host the Finals. It says right on the floor in Ball Arena, the Nuggets’ home, that the court sits at 5,280 feet. And while the elevation of the Heat’s home, Kaseya Center, is not embossed on the floor, it is listed as 3 feet above sea level.

I think the Nuggets, who own the home-court advantage, will win the series in seven games playing at a mile high. And Stan Kroenke will add an O’Brien to his ever-growing and impressive collection of trophies.

It has never happened before.