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Elizabeth Milias: “That’s not fair!”


Whether it be in Aspen or frankly anywhere else in our land of the free, elected officials and those in power find themselves on a fierce “fairness” rampage. By fairness, I mean equality of outcome; the adjustment of the footrace so that each competitor crosses the finish line together, at exactly the same time, with the same result.

This summer brings further regulation of “street activations” in an effort to be fair to all businesses. There will be tighter restrictions, with “pop-up” retail limited and food trucks forbidden; these have been deemed inappropriate because they’d compete with existing businesses. There were 48 parking spaces usurped by retail and restaurants last summer; less than 5% of our total, including the parking garage. This trial run amid the pandemic was a great success and exactly what the city should be doing to boost business. But while it makes sense to make adjustments to ensure the safety of patrons, dictating usage and prescribing vendors is beyond what’s appropriate for local government control.

What our esteemed elected officials, the fairness police, in their limited familiarity with how business actually works, fail to recognize, is that in a free-market economy such as Aspen’s, considerations such as size, location and relative proximity are each uniquely factored in to what a business pays in rent. Sometimes, this translates into foot traffic, views and, in this case, the space for extra seats for dining. And sometimes it doesn’t. At any given location, there’s no guarantee of success, but once granted a business license, every proprietor has the opportunity to make a go of it. Equal opportunity, not an ensured outcome.

Enter prescribed fairness. Is it fair that tiny Bosq, on the mall across from Wagner Park, can expand onto the mall in the summertime? Is it fair that the Hyman Avenue mall restaurants can double their capacities with tables on the median? Is it fair that both Pinons and the French Alpine Bistro were both allowed street activations on Mill Street? Is it fair that Mezzaluna could expand onto its adjacent patio? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Each restaurant applied for a permit and these were granted. Is it fair that other businesses were not able to do so due to their locations? Yes. It’s unfortunate for them, but it’s fair. No one signed their lease with a global pandemic in mind, but there are unintended consequences of choosing one location over another. It’s called competitive advantage, and competition is supposed to make us better.

So when Mayor Torre and the gang decide to curtail and micro-manage street and sidewalk activations, dictating usage and requiring open sides and roofs, it illustrates their belief that the government knows what’s best, and that its primary role is to ensure parity.

Then there’s the Pitkin County health board. This appointed body has similar goals of fairness; their draconian regulations in addressing the pandemic have always been a one-size-fits-all attempt to locally control the coronavirus. Had the shots? Got the antibodies? Not worried? No matter. Masks for you. And restricted dining. We still have cases, so Aspen and Pitkin County remains under Colorado’s harshest restrictions and will be for the foreseeable future. Never mind the county has fully vaccinated well over 4,000 residents to-date, the health board and their comrades on city council see it as their job to keep every last one of us safe from the coronavirus at any cost, so we are reduced to the lowest common denominator. In the name of fairness, they simply cannot and will not allow us to take personal responsibility for our health. The nanny state knows best, so even those who are highly unlikely to get the virus must be treated as though we are vulnerable and immune-compromised with multiple co-morbidities. In their eyes, to do anything different would simply not be fair. (But not fair to whom? The person who elects not to be vaccinated? Think about that logic.)

This obsession with ensuring outcomes sets a dangerous precedent. Competition and individual responsibility are the American way.

Please, people, let’s exercise a modicum of common sense and enable market forces over prescribed fairness. Just as tourists had to make a choice to turn right to Aspen or left to Vail upon landing at Sardy Field in January when our restaurants were shut down, people need to be able to decide for themselves how they are going to live in the post-COVID world. As the populace gets vaccinated and becomes more comfortable going out to eat, it is likely because their own risk profiles have changed, so allow them. Retailers and restaurants that have locations that present opportunities for outdoor summer activations should be encouraged to pursue these. And the city should do everything it can to accommodate. We are still in recovery mode, after all. Some will work out and others won’t. But what’s fair is to allow them to try.

The bureaucrats simply need to get out of the way.

Life isn’t fair. It just isn’t. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net

Tony Vagneur: A horse and a tractor keep me young at heart


It’s spring, so the saying goes, and the conflictions of stories past and future dreams collide on a warm, sunny day. At least for those thinking about it.

The calving is almost over — a few stalwart late-calvers always seem to be hanging back, but the sleepless nights, the stress, the worry over the health and survival of the newborns are nearing the end of their run. What joy it is to see them fuzzed up, practiced coordination propelling them through the greening grass, bucking and dodging, showing off the pure joy of being alive.

Over in the horse corral, the frustration of eating hay every day, all winter, is beginning to show on the herd, and heads are leaning over, through, and under fences, just for a nip of tempting green grass on the other side. The long hair of winter’s cold is now dead, and if not diligently combed off, falls off in irregular, ugly clumps. How good it makes one feel to shine those beasts up in the spring. They let you know it’s appreciated. And they look at you with that one eye cocked just a bit, as in “So you think you’re going to ride me, eh?”

One year school let out early in the spring, maybe the middle of May or so, just in time for me to help my dad plow up one of our fields. It’s one of those times I’d like to have over, just because I enjoyed it so much. Dad was putting the Little Hollow, as we called it, an area about 15 or 20 acres in size with steep walls on either side, into the crop rotation. At 12-years-old, yours truly was very eager to help.

Dad would plow several strips, then disk it, and finally it would be my turn to fire up the Farmall M tractor and harrow the newly disturbed ground. The roar of that big engine as it torqued up, the smell of the freshly upended earth was magical. The steep walls on the side of the hollow didn’t seem to bother me, and the work took us a couple of days, maybe more, but all I really remember is that we accomplished it too fast. Today when I cut the hay in that field with the swather, those same steep sides do bother me — a screw-up could cause an unfortunate accident.

That was the first spring my mother was in the hospital in Grand Junction, a stay of interminable weeks in those days, attended by an incompetent staff that only seemed to compound her troubles rather than help. Out of every year thereafter, it seemed, until she died, she’d spend a month or two in the hospital for the same continuing reason. My dad and I stayed on the ranch, “batching it” as the colloquial saying went, while my brother and sister stayed with relatives in town. My mother’s beautiful flower gardens, ringed by her sweet pea favorites, would have a very late start that year. During that time, my dad and I developed a closeness that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The plowing done, I was off to “drag” the fields, pulling a makeshift harrow behind the tractor, breaking up vole and field mice mounds, scattering animal manure, especially on the ground that was used for winter feeding. Imagine, a 12-year-old kid who loved driving and working, getting to do that all day, every day. Yeah, after a few hours, I’d be tired of it, but I was going to show the old man I wasn’t a quitter. Besides, I think I did some of my best thinking while riding a Farmall C around and around those hay fields.

And near the end, we’d interrupt it all with cattle work; gather them up out of the Woody Creek bottomland or off the Big Mesa, where we had substantial pasture and cut them out for various ranges on which we had grazing permits.

Nothing was as exciting as that, and we’d sometimes keep at it for days at a time; the insides of my thighs would be rubbed red from all the various gaits we’d go through umpteen times a day, “Cut that calf off,” or “Turn that cow back this way,” and on and on it’d go. I didn’t care, and didn’t complain about the saddle sores, ‘cause I knew they’d soon get worn in and I’d be ready for a summer of long days riding tractors and horses, both. It makes me smile as I remember it.

That’s spring around here, and just by good fortune, I was born into it. It captured me and I’ve never seemed to get very far away. Right now, I’m signing off to go brush my horses down and get the tractor going. I might never outgrow it.

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

Roger Marolt: Losing ground for affordable housing


We are on the verge of losing a sizable chunk of employee housing. Once it’s gone, it’s never coming back. It is made up of housing that was never owned or controlled by the government. These are houses and condos bought by Aspen workers back when free-market was far from free but definitely not impossibly expensive.

Not that long ago some Aspen homes were affordable, not for everyone, but within reach for those who showed up with a small nest egg from the real world to use as a down payment and secure a mortgage that could be paid off working for a local wage. Then, the trust-funders were replaced by the hedge fund managers and housing got tighter.

In the 1980s and early ’90s a million bucks in a trust account could be stretched further. It was a lot of money but not quite enough to make you appear to be more than an approximately average Aspenite. It wasn’t enough to brag about or get all glitzy over. The high cost of resort town living still forced these rich-anywhere-else people to work, but they could at least work locally and afford a local home.

They took jobs in Aspen shops, restaurants and hotels. Some became real estate brokers and ski instructors. There were doctors, lawyers and school teachers in this group. Those who wanted to work remotely ended up on Highlands ski patrol. It worked out well. Many stayed and are now locals. Yep, they’ve been here that long.

In fact, they’ve been living here so long they are on the verge of retiring or have retired already. Either way this will strain the local affordable housing situation further. If retired locals stay in their free-market units, obviously those homes will not be available to the younger workers who move in to take their jobs. But, this is totally beside the point because, even if this old guard moves on down the valley, as many will, few who will replace them in the workforce can afford to buy their homes.

While in the ’80s we may have lost families living in West End houses, we are now losing them from Aspen’s nooks and crannies. There are more older Aspen workers living in free-market housing than one might think. It’s kind of amazing to walk through Aspen’s neighborhoods specifically looking for cabins and cottages tucked behind the modern lifestyle estates. As humble as they look, they are no longer affordable. We are losing hidden ground in creating community through affordable housing, literally.

We are headed toward a day of reckoning. There are going to be hard decisions. The most obvious is regarding open space. What is more important to our community: beautiful landscapes and protected views along our transportation corridor or taking workers off that corridor so they can live, work and send their kids to school in this community? We need to start seeing it as trading one type of beauty for another. We have spent money, time and energy preserving scenery, but what good is that if nobody who made the plan and did the work to preserve it is around to enjoy it?

Another hard choice may involve expanding the highway to accommodate more workers. As many people who don’t commute will tell you, a 30-mile drive to work is common in the cities. And, they are right. But, cities also have three-, four- and five-lane highways to accommodate commuters on these relatively “easy” daily drives.

We also can pin hope on technology. Driverless cars will be a game-changer. Longer commutes will be a snap if you can read a book or snooze while you’re making them. But, they will also make this place super popular with Ikon pass-holders and skiers staying in Grand Junction hotels, too. We’ll require an even larger workforce.

Critics of building more affordable housing in Aspen are fond of getting government out of the way and letting the invisible hand of market economics solve the problem. There is little doubt in my mind that this approach could result in more affordable housing. The problem is that we have crafted something beautiful here that is propped up by lots of regulation and control. If we take away the “artificial” support that resulted in this, we may end with a not-so-nice place to live anymore. Our government needs to put on the bigger gloves and get to work.

Roger Marolt wonders what the housing situation would be if we built 10 employee housing units in half the places we allowed 15,000-square-foot vacation homes. Email at roger@maroltllp.com.

Sean Beckwith: A permanent fact of life in Aspen

Affordable housing stories are to The Aspen Times what LeBron James content is to ESPN. If we were a 24/7 take outlet that incessantly searched for clicks, the affordable housing crisis would lead “First Take” every day that Lauren Boebert doesn’t.

I don’t watch those shows so my satyr with this isn’t what it should be, but I imagine Steven A. Smith and whoever is playing the Skip Bayless troll part would take opposite positions on density of projects, placement, Lee Mulcahy and the very idea of subsidies.

The cable news analogy/version of this column definitely has a fake Tucker Carlson “I’m not saying people who occupy affordable housing are dirty, burnt out, drug addicts, but let’s explore that notion further …” storyline that probably ends with me getting fired for fake Tucker saying something too racist.

However, that characterization of people who occupy affordable housing as somehow uncouth is a thing that has happened, is currently happening and will likely be used as reasoning to deny housing proposals in the future.

The current one is the 1020 E. Cooper Ave. project that was denied by Aspen’s Historical Preservation Commission, which said the proposal was too dense. The developer appealed the ruling, which will be reviewed Tuesday.

Here’s developer Jim DeFrancia on the HPC’s decision from Carolyn Sackariason’s story on March 1:

“‘I was shocked,” DeFrancia said of HPC’s vote. “When you file an application that is fully compliant, it meets the code, it follows the Aspen Area Community Plan and fits in with public policy, what’s not to like?’

Nearby residents of the property said in their public comments they were concerned the residents of the units, local qualified workers, would disrupt the neighborhood with noise, trash and pot smoking, to name a few objections.

They asked for a smaller project with fewer people.

‘The public comments were preposterous,’ DeFrancia said. ‘There were ridiculous judgments about the character of the people living there.’”

Appalling broad generalizations aside, let’s look at density. It’s not so much that the project would sleep 13, it’s that it would house 13. These vacation homes can and sometimes do comfortably sleep 13.

While I’m sure there are plenty of houses in Aspen that are appropriately sized for the lot they’re on, there are a number of properties with houses so massive that there’s no yard to speak of on the lot.

This idea that a proposal is somehow not in line with Aspen’s character because it’s maximizing the space provided is the antithesis of what a lot of private homeowners have done. I understand there’s difference between a resident and a guest, but your behemoth isn’t less offensive because 11 of those 13 beds aren’t occupied year-round.

Now, a quick check on how more cars would affect the city’s parking problem. After further review, yup, still a shit show. Parking issues will never be fixed in Aspen. How long has parking been an issue in New York? If there was some magic trick to create more parking spaces, cities that have had a dearth of parking for decades would’ve figured it out by now. There’s a Nobel Peace Prize in the pot of gold at the end of the fairy tale rainbow for whomever fixes not just Aspen’s parking shortage but any parking shortage.

And finally, regarding the broad generalization about occupants of affordable housing, I’d invite you over to see that I don’t live in squalor, but I don’t think we’d get along so rain check. I’d like to meet the people who decorate their homes with garbage. Honestly, the would-be neighbors should be happy their next-door neighbors have experience keeping trash locked up and away from the prying paws of black bears.

If it’s like an HOA thing where you don’t like your neighbors leaving their toys out, that’s unreasonable. The only thing more rare than affordable housing in Aspen is affordable housing in Aspen with enough storage. Yeah, some skis and a kayak might be on a deck, so what?

As far as my favorite, favorite, favorite, favorite times infinite complaint about the hard-partying, loud, pot-smoking people of our fair affordable housing goes, can we not? Who does more partying: People on vacation or people working 40 hours a week?

Even the most cocaine-enhanced local will be absent for part of your life five days a week. Take a look around at the people we so willingly welcome: Front Range bro brahs bump EDM at all hours; that sweet Southern family puts back more bourbon in a week than I do in a season, and I like bourbon; ask a budtender how many locals they’ve seen go on a Toy-R-Us-type shopping spree; and small children tend to scream very loud when they’re having fun (but also in general). (I can’t defend some of these ultra-seasonal housing complexes — Club Commons, Burlingame, etc. — because when you foster a dorm-like atmosphere, you’re going to get dorm-like residents.)

The very first piece I wrote for The Aspen Times five or six years ago was a guest column about the eternal search for affordable housing in Aspen, and in the years since, not much has changed. I hate repeating topics to the point that I’ve written some objectively terrible columns solely to avoid ranting about the same five subjects.

The reason affordable housing is so paramount is because people are what gives a place its character. What makes an Aspenite is an outsized dedication to the mountains and the lifestyle they provide, a little weirdness and a willingness to deal with the tradeoffs that come with high cost of living. That last one wasn’t always such a burdensome requisite, but now, it’s as unavoidable as LeBron on ESPN.

Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at sbeckwith@aspentimes.com.

Aspen Times editorial: Aspen Times joins ’right to be forgotten’ movement when it comes to crime reporting, old and new

Aspen is a town where people can let their hair down when they come for vacation and locals can get a little too rowdy. Those times occasionally can lead to bad decisions, unintended consequences and perhaps a run-in with our local law enforcement.

And the internet never forgets. That maxim is too often reinforced in our newsroom each time someone emails or calls with an appeal to have a name removed or a mugshot pulled from an old story that continues to follow them around as they try to move on with their lives.

For the past few months, editors and others with Swift Communications, which owns The Aspen Times and Colorado Mountain News Media, have been having high-level discussions as a media group about the “right to be forgotten” — a movement that started in Europe and has begun to gain traction in newsrooms across the United States.

The focus of our discussions has centered on this question: How long should you be penalized for minor crimes you committed years ago?

Basically, should you have the right to be forgotten by Google when those old stories are blocking you from landing jobs? How long should you have to pay for an old mistake?

For editors who take very seriously the role of leading the papers of record in each market, it goes against instinct to go back and rewrite that record. We’re in the business of getting it right and standing by the reporting we do. Reporting on crime, especially violent crimes and sexual assaults and rapes, is also one of the core tenets of community journalism.

That said, we can’t ignore this truth: While we live in the day-to-day world of reporting on our communities, one story deemed worthy for that day’s paper lives on in perpetuity for the charged and/or convicted long after that person has paid their debt to society.

So, we have launched a process across Colorado Mountain News Media’s chain of papers in which people can request to have their names removed from old stories. And we’re leaning on a model that has been established at other news organizations for making those decisions.

That process starts with the admission that, as journalists, we’re not in the position to judge who gets clemency and who doesn’t. That’s why we will rely on the courts and the legal process that people use to clear their records: expungement.

People who have committed nonviolent crimes and successfully petition the courts to permanently delete records of their criminal cases will be able to send us an online request. After filling out a form we’ve created, along with proof of the expungement, we will, in many cases, remove names and photos from stories on our websites.

Who doesn’t get clemency? For starters, elected officials and other notable community leaders or public figures.

The emphasis with this policy is on victimless crimes. We won’t be removing names from stories about violent crimes or sex crimes or major felony cases that drew considerable community interest. It’s also not a black-or-white policy, and there may be other reasons that the editor in a specific market decides to preserve a story, despite an appeal from someone who’s had their record expunged. We still reserve the right to publish or not publish.

Only in rare situations will we remove a story; our goal is to amend the story and remove names or identifying information when appropriate. We will recast the story and include an “editor’s note” that the story was amended and why.

To go along with this new initiative, we’re also having a company-wide conversation about best practices for crime reporting going forward, which includes limiting use of mug shots to high-profile cases and eliminating the arbitrary nature of just scouring the courts and arrest logs for something that can fill a news hole.

We have been using that principle the past few months at The Aspen Times as we re-examine our role, and we will continue to focus our crime reporting on arrests in serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, drug distribution, armed robbery, rape, kidnapping or crimes involving a high-profile person.

Going forward, we will also only commit reporting resources to following a case through to its disposition if the accused’s name is published.

As we launch this initiative, we know we will run into questions that we don’t have answers to right away. There will be cases that will certainly test the spirit of this new policy and will spark conversations in our newsroom. We don’t know exactly what to expect.

But we are committed to changing the status quo and taking a more humane, logical approach to how we cover crime and how we assess requests to rewrite the record.

To submit a request to have your name and/or photo removed from a story, please go to https://www.aspentimes.com/submit-a-request-to-update-a-crime-story. It also can be found at the bottom of our home page aspentimes.com under the Reader Tools sections. You can begin the process of expungement by finding information and the necessary forms at: https://www.courts.state.co.us.

Scott Bayens: Digging deep in the world of dirt

Scott Bayens

Has anybody tried to buy a camper or RV lately? How about a car at the local dealership? Score reservations for a camp site? Shop for a new bike? Outdoor equipment? A hot tub? How ‘bout a plumber, an electrician, a good architect and builder? The list goes on and on and on. And before last week, signing up for the vaccine was like shopping Ticketmaster for concert tickets.

Just like those empty shelves and lack of toilet paper at the grocery store this time last year, if you don’t plan ahead or act quickly, you’re going on the wait list and not just for a few weeks but usually for months. Add to that, no haggle, no set delivery date and get ready to cut a non-refundable check for the privilege. These of course are nothing more than first-world problems. The real and disruptive impacts of COVID remain and are much more significant, substantial and important, so I beg your indulgence to make my point as it relates to real estate.

The lack of a good wipe and empty aisles are the best metaphors I can find to describe the current state of affairs now. Given the current dearth of inventory here and around the country, one might actually need a car or a camper and a campsite to live in this summer, as options for homes, condos, even raw land are at a fraction of what they were a few short years ago. And if you think last summer was busy, just wait as the freshly vaccinated, cooped up masses arrive and start fighting over what’s left.

And according to a recent statistics, this is now a national trend. There were half as many homes for sale at the end of February than this time last year, according to realtor.com. That equates to 200,000 less options for house hunters this spring. Add to that numbers from CoreLogic that shows in January prices were up 10% year over year. And asking prices for new listings in February just hit an all-time high, making it even tougher for first-time homebuyers.

But here comes the crazy part. So far sellers aren’t out of line in terms of their pricing and have plenty of reasons to be confident. In February, 55% of newly listed homes went under contract in the first two weeks. That number was 44% a year ago. And despite some expert’s claims the housing market is overvalued, nationwide, more than half of all offers saw bidding wars for the ninth straight month.

We’re seeing exactly the same thing here in our valley. From Glenwood Springs to Aspen, new listings — even those with prices that make experienced local experts gasp — go under contract in just a couple days. I have at least three clients asking for two-bed, two-bath condos in Aspen under $2 million. There are 12 total. Of the dozen, 10 of those are pending and the other two are dark, subterranean basements. And as I write, there are 13 single-family homes in Basalt and Willits. Three are under contract and three have yet to be built.

That’s right, homes on lots yet to break dirt are on market and selling at today’s prices! In fact, there are over a dozen homes in Carbondale and Basalt being offered in this pre-construction, “get ‘em while their hot” fashion. Shockingly, about a third of those have gone under contract using nothing more than renderings, floorplans and the promise of what’s to come. That’s remarkable considering most buyers want to see, feel, smell and stand in what for most, will become their most valuable and treasured asset. It’s a true risk/reward proposition.

Now that the latest relief bill has passed, more than 100 million Americans got shots in the arm in just the past few weeks, and warmer weather on the way, this summer’s sure to be an absolute goat rodeo. I expect the market to be highly competitive, favorable to cash buyers and quick closings. The name of the game for agents right now is new listings; picking up the phone or knocking on doors to find those willing to move even if they don’t have a place to go.

For those reasons I am advising my clients to shop and offer now if they can as it’s sure to get tougher on buyers as more folks arrive and start sniffing around again. Those needing to secure a loan should be locked and loaded with their down payment, bank approval and ready to come in close to or at asking price. Interest rates are ticking up but remain at historical lows.

Yes, homes are selling fast, but something new comes up every day. Don’t be intimidated. Make sure you’ve got a seasoned pro in your corner and choose a firm with a strong record of success. Now is not the time to hire a rookie. It’s as important as ever to find an experienced and resourceful broker with boots on the ground and a Rolodex of contacts to dig deep in the dirt to find what no one else might know is for sale.

Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a Realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Learn more about him at www.aspendreamhome.com.

Tony Vagneur: Timely reflections about a dear friend


In the dreamy half-light between here and there comes a knocking at the door — a face so familiar from days long ago, aged a bit, but clearly recognizable. There’s a moment of hesitation as you look at each other, the beginnings of a smile at the corners; she’s not sure she should have knocked; you’re not sure what to say, maybe there are no words. “Come in, come in,” as the grins surface.

It doesn’t work that way, not with death. Once they go, they’re gone. People can go to a memorial service, visit about the deceased and the state of the world, and not one of them will really believe that they or another in their crowd will someday be the guest of honor at a similar ceremony. That’s how it works. We’re tenacious, but in the end, life is tenuous.

Twenty-seven years have passed since the last time I saw her. Hard Rock Café, Aspen, Colorado. We shared grave stories, brothers who had killed themselves. Hers was a fresh wound then, mine much older, and at her suggestion we met for lunch, for commiseration, or for what? There’s so little, really, to help assuage the hurt, other than to let the other person know that yes, you share the experience. It’s that personal. We parted on the street; there was a hug, no “Let’s keep in touch,” or some such thing, just a simple goodbye. That itself was a tragedy we didn’t recognize at the time.

Traveling back from a high school track meet in Glenwood one spring day, about 1960, was the first time she really came into my consciousness. We spotted a small group of familiar-looking junior high bicyclists stopped alongside the road and pulled the bus over to see what was up. That was in the day when 82 was a two-lane killer, no bike paths, and well before cycling became a thing.

They were just outside of Glenwood, heading up valley, and we asked if they wanted a ride home. “Oh no,” she said, obviously the spokesperson for the group, “it’s been a great ride and we’ll be fine.” Two years age difference is a lot in those adolescent years, but I fell in love with her that day. Her spirit of adventure and self-reliance was unquestionable, not to mention a natural beauty. In the fickleness of youth, it was short-lived, but I’ll never forget that day.

Years later, we used to sit on a long bench under the back veranda, shaded from the late-afternoon sun, with our partners of the day, two couples laughing, talking and sipping the powerful and soulful green Chartreuse liqueur. Were we crazy? Maybe. The horses in the corral wondered about us; the philosophical offerings were sometimes profound, other times more likely just comedic “what ifs.”

Occasionally we’d head for town to finish what we’d started. One time, we packed up the bottle of green, along with other necessities, and headed up Maroon Creek for an overnight horseback excursion. We likely didn’t appreciate it at the time, but we were inside the bubble of the ever-memorable ’70s. Life seemed almost perfect, and for the time, it was.

The last photo I have of her is from 10 years ago, recently found online, swimming in the ice-cold waters of California’s Lower Deadfall Lake while on a hike. That spirit of adventure, zest for living, along with her beautiful visage, was still strong, as evidenced by the picture.

Is there a connection with the spiritual world? Only the spirits could know for certain, but the second week of March, I found myself thinking about her, curious as to how her life had been, wondering what had transpired in those 27 years since we’d last visited. While still conjecturing, our good friend Dana Knight sent me a text saying Christi had died.

Christiane Simone Albouy (November 8, 1948 — March 8, 2021). As one of our Aspen friends said of Christi, “She always seemed so naturally and effortlessly glamorous.” May she forever rest in peace.

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

Roger Marolt: Normally, we proceed from here


My wife asked the question shortly after our first child was born almost 27 years ago, “When do our lives get back to normal?”

Not out of the font of wisdom did it pour, but rather it leaked between my own exhausted lips: “This is normal.” And so it was. We relaxed. The baby relaxed. We had two more. They grew up. We did our careers. We almost have the mortgage paid off. I estimate around 9.2% of what we thought would happen actually did. If that’s not the definition of “normal,” I don’t know what is. And here we are, expecting nothing and everything at once in this dust devil of business as usual.

Many wonder when will we return to normal after The pandemic? Look around. This is it. I’m not saying it will always be like it is today. But, it is exactly the way life and this world works. Change is the constant in this simple story problem. Life tomorrow will be different from today, if for no other reason than the sun will rise a few degrees higher northward. So, you think this virus will end up being the most dramatic life-altering thing you will ever experience? Wait until you die, then you’ll see the folly in that notion.

There have been other huge events in my lifetime: 9/11 and the Great Recession come immediately to mind. Yet, there are even bigger ones that history will assuredly reveal as being more impactful and longer lasting than COVID-19. For better and for worse, you need look no further than at the smart phone in your pocket, the PC sitting on your desk and the internet both are fed from. When do you predict life will return to “normal” after the effects of these things?

Aspen has seen plenty of change in the past year. For the most part we boomed while much of the rest of the world busted. Some local businesses are suffering, but even they will begin reaping the rewards of change soon. It seems like everyone with a spare $10 or $20 million figured out at once that an isolated mountain resort with all the spiffy built-ins installed is not only an adequate place to hunker down and survive a deadly virus spread, but a place to thrive during it. People who move here, almost by definition, are not afraid to make changes. They’re looking for change. They can afford change. Change has momentum in Aspen.

The enduring characteristic of Aspen is change. It began with the discovery of silver in the late 1800s. Did it change even more after the 1954 FIS World Championships were staged here? We were a farming and ranching community in between. That’s a lot of reinventing ourselves in a relatively short time. How could we possibly stop now? We resist, discuss, digest and then hit fast forward. Change is what keeps a town like ours relevant. And, we shouldn’t kid ourselves: if Aspen was irrelevant, few of us would be here.

Does knowing that change is the mercurial ground in which we transplant our roots make it easier to accept? Nope. While we lament, town morphs. The planet we live on does as well. We, ourselves, perhaps evolve more dramatically each year than either of these. And, our instinct is to fight, because we know we cannot flee it. It’s equal parts denial, fear and self-preservation. About the only exception to this is when we have a vested interest in a proposed change. Then we are all in. If not, we live disgruntled, so create your own vested interest, whatever that may look like.

We spend a lot of time in Aspen working out plans to control change. Botox is only the beginning. This only distracts us. It’s a little like putting blinders on a horse so that it looks straight ahead and doesn’t get spooked by things happening immediately to its right or left. The local pandemic real estate boom has revealed that what happens in the rest of the world has far more impact on us than what we believe we can control with homegrown rules and regulations. What happens to Aspen next is hugely dependent on what happens in New York City, San Francisco and beyond. We will find out if people have flocked here because Aspen is better or because other places were temporarily worse.

Meet the new normal. It’s the same as the old normal.

Roger Marolt is grateful today his life has never returned to normal and will not tomorrow. Emial at roger@maroltllp.com.

Giving Thought: Preventing child abuse through collaboration and education


Parenting is hard. The persistent, compounding stressors of child care, schoolwork, bills and employment affect all families regardless of income or immigration status. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these stressors have reached an unsettling height for many in the greater Roaring Fork Valley.

When families experience consistent, severe levels of anxiety, instances of child abuse and neglect become much more common. Thankfully, organizations like Family Visitor Programs (FVP) are here to help.

This April, we want to shine a light on the work FVP is doing in our community to prevent child abuse and neglect in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Since 1983, FVP has been committed to child abuse prevention in the Aspen to Parachute region. FVP works closely with expecting parents and families to provide access to resources, family support and an educational focus on child health and development.

“Research has found that many children were being abused because of a lack of parental knowledge about normal child development,” said FVPs Executive Director Sandy Swanson. “Parents who have inaccurate expectations of their child’s development may respond angrily to their child’s inability to do something, such as potty train, when their baby is not developmentally ready. This lack of understanding can oftentimes lead parents to punish their child for something that they are not ready to do.”

In FVP’s early days, the concept of education as prevention was new to industry professionals. As FVP’s reputation grew, it formed connections with organizations like The Kempe Center and with professionals who were doing similar work throughout the state. These partnerships helped expand FVP’s services to include a variety of inclusive, evidence-based programs.

Today, FVP’s four core programs are research-driven, client-centered, needs-based and available to anyone in the greater Roaring Fork Valley at no cost. The programs — Bright by Three, Partners for a Healthy Baby, Nurse Family Partnership and Healthy Families Aspen to Parachute — offer at-home visits (with frequency based on need) where families and visitors collaborate to determine what the family needs for their child to succeed. Visiting professionals provide support, educational resources and other necessary supplies like wipes and diapers.

“By meeting families wherever they are — at home, in their office, or elsewhere — and providing them with whatever they need, our team helps alleviate the stress of childbirth and raising a baby in a meaningful way,” Swanson said.

When the pandemic hit Colorado, demand for direct support services like those provided by FVP increased. Factors like job loss and illness brought intense, unexpected hardship to the families in our community, and parents needed support. In addition to health and development support, FVP’s clients expressed a need for assistance with finding food, rental assistance and legal services. The agency shifted its approach to meet the immediate needs of families facing the crisis.

“We’re a client-centered organization so when our clients expressed different needs, we adapted,” Swanson said.

As an organization committed to child abuse prevention, FVP provides parents whatever assistance necessary so they can, in turn, provide for their families. Though this support looked different, FVP was still fulfilling its mission to prevent child abuse by providing connection to essential community services to alleviate stress for new families.

As FVP staff has adjusted to this new normal, Swanson noticed something hopeful.

“Our staff and families are facing tremendous levels of stress, but there is also an incredible amount of resilience,” she said. “Many of our families have pretty monumental health and home bills piling up, but they remain calm and optimistic.”

FVP also has seen an increase in the number of families reaching out to FVP for support services. Families who were hesitant enroll in a program before the pandemic are calling the agency for help as the pandemic lingers and stress continues to mount.

“The entire community is going to continue to need help until recovery happens. It will take meaningful collaboration from organizations to solve the problems that our families face, but I’m optimistic. If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s how much we need each other,” Swanson said.

Her words feel particularly poignant as we look to the future. Though there may be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the hardship that families in the greater Roaring Fork Valley face will remain long after vaccines are distributed. FVP will continue to respond to this need by providing resources, education and immediate assistance.

During Child Abuse Prevention Month, we want to remind you how important it is to support the work of organizations like FVP. Every day, Swanson and her staff work with compassion and diligence to improve the lives of children and families in our community. Their work contributes to making the greater Roaring Fork Valley a place where every family can thrive.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.

Meredith C. Carroll: Aspen’s un-livability factor creeps higher


An Aspen property listed for just under $8 million recently caught my eye.

“I can see why it’s so inexpensive,” I said to my husband while studying an exterior photo of the house. “It’s an aging half-duplex outside the roundabout.”

One of my favorite pandemic pastimes has been guessing the prices of Aspen and Snowmass homes for sale, and then, if I forgot what year it is, discovering that I actually lowballed the number by several million dollars. Sometimes for added entertainment, I take the same property and estimate what it would cost if it were located literally anywhere else (spoiler alert: it’s always a lot less). Aspen officially entered Scrooge McDuck wealth territory in 2020 when urban gazillionaires fled to Pitkin County and drove up the average single family home price to $11 million, with total real estate sales in the $3 billion range, a 63 percent increase from 2019.

At the same time that more people are living in Aspen, though, in some ways Aspen feels more unlivable. The downside of remote mountain-town life has always been clearly illustrated right on the brochure: What makes it scenic also makes it difficult to access. If and when you manage to get here, traditional conveniences and resources are usually sparse and exponentially more expensive than the same exact ones found in locales with uglier views. It is what it is.

Fortunately alongside the longstanding tradition of Aspen homes being bought and sold with Monopoly money has been a decades-long community commitment to require a certain amount of affordable housing for the people who help make Aspen tick. Except just being lucky enough to live here for a price tag with fewer than seven or eight zeros doesn’t mean you can also afford to eat here. At least not anymore.

Five years ago Little Annie’s restaurant on Hyman Avenue in downtown Aspen served a $5.95 cup of chili. Clark’s Oyster Bar has since taken over the space and still features Little Annie’s Chili on the menu, albeit at a 169% price increase. The only lunch option less expensive on the menu is a $15 tuna salad sandwich, which would take a minimum wage employee in Pitkin County one-and-a-half hours to pay for (assuming a 20 percent tip). (It’s worth noting here that Clark’s Oyster Bar is one of two Aspen establishments required by deed restriction or lease to operate in perpetuity as a “low-priced restaurant.”)

Like many industries, restaurants have suffered terribly amid COVID-19 outbreaks and restrictions, forcing some to close forever while others have pivoted to business models that are better at helping keep the lights on despite fewer tables available to diners. In Aspen, that has meant limiting options and upping creativity, and in lots of cases, the prices — all of which has meant even slimmer pickings for Aspenites who can’t bear one more slice of pizza.

In a blow to what could have been, Aspen City Council voted last week against allowing food trucks in town this summer, citing a lack of interest from existing restaurants in setting them up. According to The Aspen Times, it was only current restaurant operators within Aspen who were considered for food trucks “so as to not create competition in an already difficult business climate during COVID-19.” Skippy Mesirow was in the minority at the Aspen City Council table in speaking on behalf of the diners not factored into the competition conversation because they can’t afford the price of admission.

“If (food trucks are) intended as a benefit to the entire community that lives here, all 8,000 of us and the many hundreds of thousands that visit, I think we got to take a wider scope and if we’ve got some that are interested, starting from somewhere is better than starting from nowhere,” he said.

Dining out isn’t a basic human right, and certainly Aspenites are accustomed to, and sometimes may even relish a little inconvenience. Adding a food truck village or pod (check out Portland, Oregon, for divine inspiration on how tiny kitchens sprinkled throughout a city can be positively transformative across the spectrum) wouldn’t take away from brick-and-mortar restaurants as much as it would add to the lives of the people not frequenting restaurants in the first place.

When Aspen and Snowmass are or become home, you get used to the quirks, inconveniences and high prices (and the quirky people who go to inconvenient lengths to pay high prices). But at a time when the world has become arguably less accessible, so, too, has Aspen for many of the people already here. When you feel as if you’re making a reckless financial decision on behalf of your family simply by eating a basic meal in a restaurant in your own hometown, it starts feeling a little less like home.

More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.