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Aspen Times endorsement: Zimet, Weiss, Gieszl will best serve Aspen’s school board going forward

When these three seats on Aspen’s Board of Education were up for re-election in 2017, the Aspen School District was facing turmoil within the administration and struggles in the classrooms. Less than a year after that election, there was a no-confidence vote in the superintendent whose contract was not renewed in October 2018, a heavy undertone of faculty distrust in the administration, and concerns over reading scores at the elementary level.

Four years later, the district has refocused and has had a dramatic change in leadership, from the top with a new superintendent, as well as new principals at all three schools on the campus. The district has turned a corner, but it still has challenges ahead with climate and culture issues, discussions of equity, pandemic-related learning loss and mental health struggles among students, and the recruitment and retention issues plaguing school districts across the country.

To help the Aspen School District continue on its current path addressing and improving these areas, we endorse incumbent Susan Zimet along with Christa Gieszl and Stacey Weiss for the open seats on the Board of Education.

Zimet has four solid years on the board and knows that if teachers are not happy kids, won’t learn as well; Weiss brings classroom perspective but has said she won’t be a rubber stamp just for the teachers; and Gieszl acknowledges she is the “new kid on the block” but her work as a doctor on the board of health and getting testing to the district shows she’ll jump right in to an issue.

Aspen is fortunate to have a field of six candidates who all are vested in the district as parents of current or former students, and all have their strengths. During our one-on-one conversations with all of the candidates, as well as gauging how they performed at the Candidate Forum on Oct. 14, we feel the mix of retaining Zimet along with adding Gieszl and Weiss will help the district to keep moving forward in the next four years.

Zimet’s role the past four years has helped the district turn a corner. She comes to every meeting and conversation well prepared, has a great understanding of the policies of the district and has built a solid rapport with new Superintendent David Baugh.

She was the top vote-getter in the 2017 race when five candidates, including three incumbents, were on the ballot. She campaigned then saying the district was underperforming academically against the backdrop of high teacher turnover and low staff morale.

While Zimet did not get the endorsement of the Aspen Education Association that represents teachers this fall, she knows pay and affordable housing are big elements to teacher retention and she has continued to push on those fronts. The 2020 bond question, which earmarks millions of dollars for housing, was passed on her watch.

Adding that classroom perspective to the board is where voting for Weiss will be a good investment for the district. There’s no recollection of a former teacher serving on the board, and her insight after three decades of teaching and understanding our children would serve this board well as it navigates the work to improve teacher satisfaction.

Weiss brings incredible institutional knowledge, which will be good to not only look back on but to have content for making decisions going forward.

If your children attended the district even for one year before Weiss retired, you and your children likely had the opportunity to interact with her and know her passion for teaching music and fostering a “whole child” approach to education.

Considering candidates from a community perspective, the work Dr. Gieszl has given to the Pitkin County Board of Health and her work with local veterans shows she is committed to Aspen and the valley. While she and her family have lived here for less than five years after leaving Montrose, she has jumped right into the education system and immediately worked on the District Accountability Committee, and now serves as the DAC’s vice-chair.

Gieszl had a major role in getting COVID testing to the district in 2020 so students and teachers could get back into the classroom safely.

Aspen is extremely lucky to have a deep field of candidates in terms of backgrounds and qualities and strengths they all have. We have six candidates willing to put in the time and efforts without any financial backing. To learn more about each of the candidates, go to aspentimes.com/election.

The Aspen Times endorses Dr. Christa Gieszl, Stacey Weiss and Dr. Susan Zimet as the top candidates to join board members Katy Frisch and Jonathan Nickell (who are up for re-election in 2023) to continue Aspen School District’s push to get past the pandemic and develop a campus we’re all proud of.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.

Aspen Times endorsement: Yes vote on 2B for land exchange is no-brainer

Saying yes on ballot question 2B in this fall’s city of Aspen election is a no-brainer. Also known as the Pride of Aspen land exchanges, a yes vote on 2B is a vote for permanent conservation of a special piece of land.

We support the passage of 2B — giving 19.3 acres on Shadow Mountain to the public in a conservation easement at no cost to taxpayers in exchange for 4,000 square feet to a homeowner — for several reasons, namely that acquiring the property protects it from future development.

The city parks and open space department has been attempting for decades to secure the parcel but previous owners were resistant.

That is until now.

Bob Anderson, a developer who owns a home at 501 W. Hopkins Ave. located next to the Midland Trail, originally proposed the land exchange, which gives him 4,000 square feet of public-right-of-way around his property.

In exchange, the city parks department and Pitkin County’s open space program receive the old mining claim in perpetuity.

Olson wants better access and more landscaping on his property to soften the interface of the heavily used Little Cloud and Midland trails, along with the opportunity for a nominal amount of expansion (360 to 780 square feet, depending on the proposal and land use code regulations) to his 3,450-square-foot house.

The deal also allows for the city and county parks and open space departments to improve and realign recreational trails like the Little Cloud Trail, and perhaps add new ones.

The easement, which has been described as a scarf draped over the flanks of Shadow Mountain, is equal to 14 full city blocks and more than 210 times that of the land Olson stands to acquire.

This is a rare opportunity to accept a landowner’s offer for the public good. Say yes to less development and more recreational trails. Vote yes on ballot question 2B.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.

Aspen Times endorsement: Voting for 2A will help arts community continue to flourish

For centuries, the visual, cultural and performing arts have offered a different window into the world and they serve as an important creative outlet that allows connection among us all regardless of our differences.

The arts in Aspen, or for that matter everywhere, could use some more love, particularly the many cultural, visual and performing arts organizations that have suffered as a result of the pandemic.

That is why we are asking voters to approve ballot measure 2A in November. With its passage, 2A would remove the $100,000 annual cap on grants the city provides cultural and arts nonprofits in Aspen through collections from the Wheeler Opera House real estate transfer tax.

The question comes to voters when the national headlines are all too common and the reasons too familiar — museums and arts institutions are losing resources to balance their budgets, governments are decreasing funding for arts education, and unemployment rates among artists have skyrocketed since the first quarter of 2021.

Aspen has not been immune to the trend. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dissolved in March, citing the pandemic’s shut down of performing arts for the past year and half as the culprit, along with pre-pandemic concerns about the nonprofit’s economic sustainability.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Folklórico program still offers children free, after-school instruction in Mexican folkloric dance, and the School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is operating in multiple locations across the valley.

Still, it is with great pride that we can say we have a summer classical music festival, an art museum, a film festival, a think tank that plays host to numerous cultural and arts events, and a wealth of other like-minded organizations.

And even as Aspen becomes more exclusive, locals can still enjoy access to offerings from Theatre Aspen, Aspen Music Festival & School, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, the Aspen Art Museum, Dance Aspen, and the Aspen Institute.

For sure, there is programming that is out of many working locals’ price range, but these organizations also have kept their doors open to Aspenites with complimentary and discounted offerings, and have allowed locals other ways to participate whether it is through volunteering or employment. They’ve also done outreach programs for our youth and schools, handed out local scholarships, and are vital community members.

Locals can enjoy world class music on the lawn at the Benedict Music Tent for free, as well as subsidized performances at the Wheeler, and entry to a world-class film festival for $25 or less. There are free live streaming of some of the world’s most impressive thought leaders, free exhibitions and events at Red Brick Center for the Arts, and a world-renowned contemporary art museum with no admission fee.

Many of Aspen’s arts organizations have big budgets but their profit margins are thin, or they have endowments that are not as well funded as they once were.

The leaders of these organizations have vowed to put extra funding from the passage of 2A into more community-based events and programs.

We’ve also been in the throes of a pandemic that has seen winners and losers. We can put Aspen home sales in the W category, evidenced by nearly $9.5 million in real estate transfer taxes the city collected for the Wheeler Opera House in 2020.

That 0.05% tax, which buyers of free-market properties within city limits pay at the close of sale, also has made the Wheeler a winner: Its RETT fund currently stands around $40 million, and will surely mushroom with the pace of property sales this year.

We understand why nonprofits are rallying to get 2A passed next month. Economic trends being cyclical, the real estate frenzy won’t last forever, which explains why they want to capture as many RETT dollars as they possibly can, as soon as they can. That’s not a money-grab; it’s planning ahead.

To pass, question 2A needs 60% of Aspen voters to say yes, based on ballot language from the original RETT citizens approved in 1979. That’s a tall order even for a town that historically passes tax questions supporting schools, the hospital and the environment. Not to mention the fact that they often are divided with many elections decided by just 1 or 2 percentage points.

And in the hurry to get 2A to voters with Aspen City Council approving an ordinance that put it on the ballot by a 3-2 margin the question came out lacking key details.

The question not only asks to remove the $100,000 cap, it also seeks the “capital and operational support of the Red Brick Center for the Arts.”

Yet, nowhere does the question say how much money would go to the city-owned Red Brick, which houses local nonprofits such as GrassRoots TV and Aspen Public Radio, as well as artists’ studios and other cultural nonprofit organizations.

And nowhere does it say how much or what percentage of the RETT would go to the Wheeler.

The Red Brick currently receives financial support from the city’s general fund. By eliminating that revenue source for the Red Brick, the city has said it would use the money to pay the remaining $2.1 million in outstanding certificates of participation for the Isis Theater. The financially challenged Aspen Film would still be on the hook for paying back its debt to the municipal government but just not as quickly as it’s scheduled under a deal brokered between the entities in 2007.

All of that said, question 2A relies on the faith of Aspen voters in their current and future Aspen City Council members, who are the final arbiters of where Wheeler RETT money goes to nonprofits.

The Wheeler’s advisory board will weigh in as well and the council should listen to those who understand the arts to help fund the arts.

It’s a big ask of the electorate, but we support 2A because the pros outweigh cons. The Wheeler fund is flush, so let’s share the wealth.

How about Aspen arts organizations reap some of the success of local real estate sales? The community has certainly reaped the benefits of having these organizations in town.

Just look at the findings from the Arts & Culture Economic Impact Study, which was recently conducted by RRC Associates and the University of Colorado Boulder Leeds School of Business in collaboration with Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

The study was based on 2019 — pre-pandemic, but telling nonetheless — and showed that arts and culture made up 12.4% of all of Pitkin County’s economy that year. The study also estimated that arts and culture directly or indirectly supported 2,831 jobs — for $167 million in labor income — in Pitkin County and generated approximately $451 million in economic output.

This all goes to show that from whatever personal or collective gratification we might experience from the arts, it’s also a serious business in Aspen.

We’re asking voters to seize the chance to give the business side of Aspen’s arts scene a lift. Aspen is beyond fortunate to have these organizations — big and small. Let’s not take the arts for granted; let’s give bigger grants to the arts. You can do that by voting yes on 2A.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.

Roses & Thorns: Cheers to Skico crews spinning summer lifts, jeers to letting politics get in way of testing

Roses to the Aspen Skiing Co. workers who kept the gondolas spinning and the on-mountain restaurants operating this summer. From the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain to the Elk Camp area at Snowmass, the summer operations seemed to run smooth and their attitudes were upbeat. Both gondolas are open on the weekends through September, so cheers to a couple more rides up before we get to slide down this winter.

Thorns to Aspen Laboratories for refusing to give a COVID-19 test to Candace Owens, a conservative media personality who has blasted pandemic health orders and is an outspoken critique of vaccinations and mask-wearing. Aspen Laboratories, which runs Aspen COVID Testing, is a private business and can do what it pleases, but it also works in the arena of public health — unlike the wedding-cake maker and other specious examples used to support the company’s decision. If we’re really sincere about protecting our community’s public health, it should not matter who is seeking a COVID-19 test. Instead, Aspen Labs’ decision to deny Owens a test feeds into the rhetoric that has divided America and puts a black eye on Aspen. The far left is tickled with Aspen Labs’ decision to stick it — or rather, not stick — because of her views on the coronavirus. As for the far right, and even center right and center left, Aspen Labs’ denial only fuels the fire that the left preaches tolerance but doesn’t practice it. We should all try do better instead of shaming people who don’t walk in lockstep with our views, especially when it is to the detriment of public health during a worldwide pandemic.

Roses to Sheryl Crow, not only for putting on a good performance in Snowmass Village on Saturday evening but also for some comic relief. When she played one of her first hits, she said the song was probably older than a lot of people in the audience. Uh, Sheryl, I think you should have taken a good look around first. An audience member who is 50 was bringing down the average age.

Thorns to Lee Mulcahy who showed up to give public comment at Wednesday’s Pitkin County commissioners meeting and refused to keep his mask up while addressing the board because he said he was vaccinated. Those kind of stunts of defiance do nothing but hurt the community. If you don’t like it and feel like you have something to say, then do it virtually. But then again, craving attention is his M.O.

Roses to the Basalt Town Council members for willingness to swallow a little pride and reserve course on an important community issue. The council majority had voted in a straw poll early in August to pursue funding for a new town hall along with affordable housing projects and “green initiatives.” But after getting feedback from concerned citizens and talking through their own reservations, council members reversed course and decided recently to replace town hall with improvements to the Midland Avenue streetscape. Midland Avenue is the town’s main street and is overdue for sprucing up. A double batch of roses for councilwoman Elyse Hottel, who consistently said the council should follow the direction of the public. Basalt residents indicated earlier this month at an open house they preferred Midland improvements over town hall.

A thorn goes to the Aspen Ambulance paramedics who took almost nine minutes to get to a call of a man in a seizure outside of the lower library entrance on Mill Street. The man had fallen down, had blood coming out of his mouth and was convulsing. The ambulance sat at the Main and Mill streets stoplight, and then its slower-than-molasses paramedics parked at the top of the library and strolled casually down the sidewalk with one guy having his hands in his pockets. This is not how we should be responding to emergencies and people in distress here. It might not have been a big call for them, but it was for the bystanders who had to sit there and watch this poor man suffer, not to mention the victim himself foaming at the mouth and lying on the ground. Can you at least act like you care, Aspen paramedics?

Roses to Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefers for the show they put on Sunday at Jazz Aspen Snowmass. That was one folks around here will remember for a long while.

Aspen Times editorial: This is not the time to let down our COVID guard

Most of us in Aspen, either as residents or visitors, are here to escape the realities and stresses of the real world. But when we are living in a pandemic, it’s impossible to escape it.

Aspen is not Shangri-La in the era of COVID-19, and especially not now with the surge of the delta variant and an increase in cases of the virus locally and across the country.

As the rest of the world comes here to visit this month for myriad events like the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience concerts or the Food & Wine Classic or Aspen Ruggerfest, they carry the risk of bringing COVID-19 with them, particularly the unvaccinated.

For the past year and a half, this community has worked extremely hard at containment with mask mandates and business closures and all of the not-so-fun stuff to keep residents and visitors healthy.

Sixty-four percent of Pitkin County residents are fully vaccinated and more vaccination clinics are being planned in coming weeks.

Yet the county is at a high level of community transmission, and local cases are continuing to rise.

As of Thursday, Pitkin County had 58 new cases of COVID-19 in the past seven days, including 47 county residents and 11 from outside the county, according to the county’s online case and testing data dashboard.

Of those, at least 27 were breakthrough cases of people who are vaccinated but got infected anyway.

That equated to a seven-day incidence rate of 265 per 100,000 residents.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that any community with an incidence rate of more than 100 per 100,000 residents means a high rate of COVID-19 transmission.

The local board of health voted last month to follow the CDC’s guidelines regarding mask wearing. On July 27, the CDC issued interim guidance that all individuals, fully vaccinated or unvaccinated, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high risk transmission rates.

While that is only a recommendation, the county took it a step further last week and is now requiring face masks to be worn in all Pitkin County facilities regardless of vaccination status.

The goal of this requirement is to bring transmission levels down and ensure our hospital capacity is not maxed as we enter the 2021-22 school year and winter tourism season.

The city of Aspen has not implemented such a policy in any of its facilities, leaving it up to individuals to choose whether to wear a mask.

We would hate to have to report next month after everyone has left the party that COVID-19 cases among residents are still on the rise, not just from a health standpoint but also from an economic one.

If we remain at a high level of transmission, it complicates how businesses will plan to be open in the winter months. Let’s not be the reason businesses are forced to implement expensive and inconvenient solutions to problems that we have some control over.

We have to get the surge under control now so it doesn’t affect another ski season, because nobody likes the prospects of making reservations to go skiing or snowboarding and not being able to go out to dinner.

Last fall, during the offseason months, our COVID case counts got higher because the community got too relaxed.

We recognize that was before vaccinations were available, so while we are more fortified now, we aren’t out of the woods given the breakthrough cases we’re seeing among even vaccinated people.

Festivals, concert tours and events are being canceled throughout the U.S., but that’s not the case in Aspen, and that is due in large part to community vigilance at keeping the virus at bay and having restrictive environments.

We need to remain diligent in protecting ourselves, our neighbors and our guests by following CDC guidance in wearing masks indoors and at large public gatherings, staying at home if feeling ill and getting tested. Even more importantly, go get vaccinated if you aren’t because otherwise this pandemic will linger and more people will get sick, or worse, die, and life will not return to normal anytime soon.

Thankfully, event organizers for JAS Aspen and Food & Wine are requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter their venues.

We wish there was more public messaging for what our expectations are of residents and visitors when it comes to all things COVID: when and where to wear a mask, where to get tested and vaccinated and other pertinent information.

It does all live on the county’s website, but even some Aspen elected officials didn’t even know that when they expressed frustration last month during a public meeting that they were uninformed.

Can we really expect a guest to know to go to covid19.pitkincounty.com to find out where to get tested or vaccinated? Do concierges and property management companies know to tell their guests that the county’s website is the center of the COVID universe here?

We urge officials in the county, the city of Aspen and the town of Snowmass Village, along with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association to reignite their public information campaigns.

The county took a step in the right direction Thursday when it announced that its new weekly newsletter will include a summary of the seven-day COVID-19 data trends.

As long as our transmission rate is high, or even substantial, which is the next level down, our community leaders should not be lackadaisical about this.

We are of the position that you can never have too much information when it comes to life safety. Knowledge is power.

We are nearly 550 days into this pandemic, and we will keep banging the COVID safety protocol drum, or in some cases, hitting people over the head, until the madness stops.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.

Roses & Thorns (Aug. 27, 2021)

— Thorns to Aspen Skiing Co. President Mike Kaplan for uncharacteristically bringing strong-arm tactics into the Pandora’s discussion and roses to Pitkin County Commissioner Francie Jacober for calling him on it.

When the Pitkin County commissioners started their review of Skico’s Pandora’s proposal Wednesday, Kaplan pointedly declared that if the commissioners followed the recommendation of their planning staff and denied a rezoning application that would allow expansion of Aspen Mountain ski area, Skico would have to consider building as many as seven homes and cabins on its property on upper Ajax. The declaration immediately put a different spin on the meeting and ratcheted up the tension. Kaplan could have made the point without making it sound like a threat. Jacober made it clear that she, for one, wouldn’t be bullied. Pandora’s must live or die on merits, not on threats.

— A rose to Snowmass Tourism and the town’s event staff for bringing two and a half months of weekly live music to Fanny Hill for the Thursday night summer concert series. Organizers could have called it off in favor of smaller-stage pass-by performances (and in fact, they almost did back in February when pandemic restrictions were so tight and unpredictable), but instead they managed to pull off the community event of the summer with record-breaking attendance and plenty of good dancing in good company.

— Roses to all the restaurants that have chosen to not rip off their customers with higher prices and using COVID-19 as an excuse.There are still true local restaurateurs and business owners who understand that the cost of living here is getting more difficult and are responding in a humanistic way. Thank you to those who have chosen to keep their bar menus, happy hours and prices at modest levels.

— Roses to those who are continue to secure their trash and lock their doors to keep the black bears at bay. Thorns to those who don’t. The hungry bears are coming for your food — those who don’t secure your homes and trash — so don’t act surprised if you return home to an overturned dinner table and a refrigerator that’s been ravaged. And for good measure, a pile of bear poo in the living room, which smells nothing like roses, mind you.

— Thorns to those e-bikers who hold their heads up high as they pass other cyclists on uphills and act like they’re some superhero from Planet Armstrong. E-bikes are fine, but have a little humility with your pedal-powered bravado.

— Roses to all of our readers and supporters of local journalism for coming out Thursday night to celebrate another year of The Aspen Times at our 140th birthday party. Thanks to our friends at the Aspen Historical Society for the space and our continued partnership to record the pulse of Aspen. We take great pride in serving our community and helping keep them informed. Cheers to another 140 years.

Aspen Times editorial: Pitkin County should approve Pandora’s rezoning, with one caveat

A wildflower-covered steep grade looks out over Highway 82 and would be a part of the Pandora expansion on Aspen Mountain on Thursday, August 12, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Pitkin County commissioners will start their review Wednesday of Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposal for a rezoning necessary for the addition of the Pandora’s terrain on Aspen Mountain.

The issues haven’t changed substantially from when the commissioners were deadlocked 2-2 on the rezoning in August 2019.

Skico officials asked for a tabling of the issue rather than a formal vote. Skico is back at the table now.

The company didn’t change the proposal but has tried to harness a lot more public support for this round.

There are good arguments, pro and con, regarding adding Pandora’s on the upper east side of Aspen Mountain. There is no doubt it would add fabulous terrain to Aspen Mountain among the 15 new, “traditional” trails on 82 acres and another 71 acres of tree skiing in the glades to the south.

The upper trails would be similar to the existing Walsh’s run while the lower trails would be more accommodating for intermediate skiers.

The glades provide a variety of terrain — short, steep shots that flow onto benches and more gentle pitches. It would be fun skiing because of constantly changing terrain characteristics.

Skico officials say cleaning out dead conifer trees that make portions of the forest floor impenetrable and cutting down standing dead trees would account for the vast majority of tree removal in the 71 acres of glades.

Members of our staff walked that terrain and confirmed there is plenty of deadfall to remove to benefit skiing and a healthy forest.

The terrain would take pressure off other sections of the mountain and ease the need to do top-to-bottom skiing on Ajax if one wants to check out that side of the ski area.

The new Pandora’s lift would start at about 10,000 feet in elevation so skiers and snowboarders could do laps from mid-mountain up without heading to the bottom to avoid the slow ride on the Couch chairlift.

While we acknowledge it would be great terrain within Skico’s operational boundary — complete with a quad chairlift providing a 5-minute ride as well as avalanche patrol — we understand why a sizable contingent of Aspen skiers and riders is bummed and opposed.

The best skiers have been hiking into this terrain for decades and paying their dues with a long trudge out via Lud’s Lane to get to the Couch.

Skico estimates about 100 skiers and riders already head into that terrain on powder days. Dakine and Power Line are two of the most accessible lines in the current hike-to terrain.

Myriad other lines through the trees see considerable use as well. It’s a special experience for people already skiing the “sidecountry.”

We understand why they would like to see it spared from the increased use generated by a chairlift, grooming and ink on a trail map.

The U.S. Forest Service estimates the “comfortable carrying capacity” of the proposed lift-served terrain at Pandora’s at 620 people per day, which is a significant increase.

However, the Forest Service approved the Pandora’s expansion because of the benefits it will provide to ski area customers.

The Pandora’s terrain has been within Skico’s Aspen Mountain special use permit for decades, although it hasn’t been within the operational boundary.

Part of the reason the terrain is so good is that it is high-elevation and north-northeast facing. It holds snow really well — a quality that Skico covets in a warming world with shorter winters in the Rocky Mountains.

While skiing is the fun part of the debate, zoning will be the focus of the county commissioners. To make the expansion work, Skico needs the county to rezone 132 acres from the current Rural and Remote designation to Recreation Ski.

Rural and Remote Zoning was a masterful maneuver the county started in 1994 to prevent private land on the backside of Aspen Mountain from getting overrun with a Red Mountain-type housing development.

The zoning limits development to modest-sized cabins rather than mansions. It worked so well that it was expanded to areas such as Hunter Creek Valley, Lenado and the Fryingpan Valley.

For many people, the zoning is sacrosanct because it differentiates Pitkin County from other mountain resort areas throughout the West.

Skico officials note that Rural and Remote Zoning was never intended to prevent developed skiing. The land that includes Pandora’s should have never been included in the Rural and Remote Zone, they argue.

Critics contend that approving the rezoning creates a precedent that could trigger additional applications. It also could spur applications for Rural and Remote compliant cabins in the terrain closest to Pandora’s.

To try to calm nerves, Skico has pledged it won’t ask to build anything on the rezoned property except the lower lift terminal, the lift, a bathroom and a patrol hut with associated utilities.

Amenities such as a restaurant or guest cabins are not being sought.

When weighing all factors, we favor the rezoning, with one important caveat: We want to see Skico’s pledge of no amenities strengthened.

Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan, despite his youthfulness, won’t be around forever. And while ownership is stable with the Crown family, Skico could someday end up in the hands of a wealthy oilman or a filmmaking company. (It’s happened before.)

Therefore, rezoning the Pandora’s land from Rural and Remote to Recreation Ski should come with Skico’s promise that no additional amenities will be built in perpetuity.

We recognize that is a hard ask of a business, but this is an exceptional circumstance that requires exceptional expectations.

The first expansion to Aspen Mountain in 36 years will be a welcome addition that will be enjoyed for decades, but let’s make sure we have a solid guarantee it will remain a low-key experience for the next generations.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.

Roses and Thorns (Friday, Aug. 13)

Thorns to midvalley real estate promoters — developers, real estate agents and marketing folks — who continue to say “only 20 minutes to Aspen.” Let’s be honest and add fine print that clarifies the 20-minute trip to Aspen from Basalt is at midnight, on a weeknight, in May, when the deer and elk aren’t on the move.

Roses to The Arts Campus at Willits for successfully getting The Contemporary performing arts center opened. That’s a big addition to the midvalley. And while we are at it, roses to The Art Base for making a successful transition to its new digs on Midland Avenue in Basalt. Arts and culture are alive and well in the midvalley.

More roses to Jazz Aspen Snowmass for not only landing Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band to close out the Labor Day festival Sept. 5, but also for its corresponding announcement that it will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry to Snowmass Town Park. Some venues and artists have been clashing over concert health protocols of late, yet JAS also used the same policy for its indoor June Experience and JAS Café series this summer. A photo ID will be required along with the vaccination proof or negative test result from within 72 hours. Children 12 and younger also will be required to provide a negative test result.

Roses and thorns to the builders of new affordable housing around town. The new complexes at the s curves, near Smuggler Park and next to the hospital were needed badly and filled quickly by locals beyond exhausted from searching for places to live. Sincerely, thank you for contributing.

That said, cutting corners on construction, not accounting for enough parking, trying to retroactively change the lease because you forgot to charge for trash service, among other everyday issues that wouldn’t be tolerated at any other housing complex, are stultifying. Just because they can’t afford open market housing doesn’t make them afterthoughts.

Roses & Thorns: Not cool, cyclists, not cool; but that Yeti on Shadow Mountain is cool (Aug. 6, 2022)

Thorns go the roughly 100 cyclists who failed to yield to a sheriff’s patrol vehicle that was en route to the scene of a bicycle crash on Maroon Creek Road last month.

According to the account of the responding deputy, one cyclist lambasted him on the grounds that she believed she had the right of way. Other riders were oblivious to the vehicle’s urgency and didn’t flinch. The vehicle’s siren wasn’t blaring — the deputy didn’t want to alarm the cyclists — but it’s emergency lights were activated. If cyclists weren’t aware of the emergency patrol vehicle, that’s a problem because they weren’t paying attention and shouldn’t be on the road. If they just didn’t care, that’s an even bigger problem for their pastor, therapist or spiritual counselor to address. Or maybe it was both. Regardless, thorns all around for such cavalier behavior in regards to public safety.


Thorns to each and every restaurant and bar that has added automatic gratuity to their bills. Hotel Jerome’s F&B operations, namely the J Bar, is the latest one to add an automatic 22% tip onto the ticket. They say it’s due to the economic fallout of COVID-19 that restaurants and their workers have suffered from.

Many of us locals have suffered from the pandemic too (real estate agents and luxury retailers excluded), and now with higher menu prices most average Aspenites can’t even go out for lunch or dinner. So to add more insult to injury, you are making us pay more in tips for what has become crappier service.

“To insure proper service“ is what a TIP stands for. Now there is no incentive at all to give stellar service because waitresses and waiters are guaranteed an above average tip.

It’s a gross representation of entitlement. How about these restaurants, which from our vantage point have been rocking it for over year, pay their employees more to shore up the difference instead passing their costs onto the customers?

Be sure to check with your server before you decide to tip, because often they aren’t even disclosing the policy change and as a result they are getting doubled tipped.

Pretty soon the peasants are going to revolt if local restaurants keep it up.


A combination of roses and thorns for residents of Missouri Heights who opposed the Ascendigo Autism Services complex proposal.

The roses are for people who got involved and spoke up during the Garfield County commissioners’ review process. Anytime anybody opposes something, they get accused of being NIMBY’s. Well, who isn’t concerned about what gets built in their backyard? We don’t see that as a valid criticism.

However, we’re also giving out thorns for the ironic use of the rally cry “Keep Missouri Heights Rural.” Seriously? What about all those McMansions getting built by people who cannot or will not build in Aspen? If we really want to Keep Missouri Heights Rural, we should scrape any house built after, say, 1999 and stop the real estate development frenzy occurring up there.


A thorn to the state agency lying to us about our roads. While as locals we are excited to have less Glenwood Canyon detour traffic in town and on Independence Pass, we’re dismayed that the Colorado Department of Transportation is lying to the public about the true status of Highway 82.

The agency stated Wednesday that Highway 82 over the pass was closed. It wasn’t.

That caused more confusion, as exampled by the incorrect messaging sent about the pass Wednesday. Perhaps they should adjust their labeling on their cotrip.org site and add a “warning” or “not advised” category, but the sleight of hand trick is not how we want our government to be treating us.


Roses to the organizers of the Heritage Fire event last weekend in Snowmass Village. The rain Saturday afternoon could not douse the energy and spirit that the chefs brought cooking over an open fire. And there was plenty of good times and good spirit among the nearly 800 people who made their way to the lawn next to the Village Express.


Roses to the Aspen post office for not accepting credit cards. We’d give them thorns, but we imagine their own unchecked mailbox is overflowing with them.


Roses to whomever installed the “Yeti” on Shadow Mountain. It gives people something to talk about other than the smoke, mudslides, the delta variant, closed roads, and downtown streets jammed with motorists and pedestrians. How about some more Yeti appearances elsewhere? We’ll happily supply corsages for the guests of honor.

Aspen Times editorial: E-bike users and renters need to step up their game

Anyone spending time outdoors in and around Aspen the past two summers knows there has been a surge in electric bike use.

To some people, e-bikers are a scourge who makes popular roads and trails a hazard and even sidewalks occasionally perilous. To others, they are a perfect way to see Aspen’s stunning outdoor scenery while getting some exercise.

One thing is clear — e-bikes are here to stay and, in fact, likely will get more popular. So, Aspen’s debate needs to focus on how to make the situation safer.

Staffers from The Aspen Times rented e-bikes from two prominent shops last week and received testimonials about another rental business. Renters told us that Silver City Cycles did a stellar job of not only going over how e-bikes operate but also explaining rules of the road. A reporter and photographer rented e-bikes from Four Mountain Sports at Highlands Village. The staff was nice and professional but could have done a slightly better job of explaining the rules of the road.

Another staffer rented from Aspen Velo and found that completing everything but picking up the actual bike was a cinch online. Upon arrival, a very friendly staffer provided a 60-second tutorial on the operation of the bike, asked whether our staffer wanted a helmet and sent her on her way with nary a word about etiquette, safety, or the dos and don’ts of where to ride.

Safety begins with the bike shop employees and other bike renters. It is incumbent on them to drive home basic tips — stay to the right, never cross into the oncoming lane or stop in the middle of any lane, ride single file when vehicles approach from behind, announce your presence when passing another cyclist, wear a helmet and don’t wear ear buds.

Nowhere is safety at risk more than on Maroon Creek Road, where buses, a handful of private vehicles, U.S. Forest Service workers, traditional cyclists and e-bikers are all jockeying for space. As one bus driver told us, “Eventually, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

There is a group composed of the Forest Service, Pitkin County, city of Aspen, Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Aspen Skiing Co. and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority examining all issues unfolding on Maroon Creek Road. The surge in e-bike use has been a hot topic for the past year.

We don’t want to see the group wait until the problem gets so bad that it devises a reservation system for cyclists. Recreationalists already need reservations for many campsites, for shuttle trips to the Maroon Bells, for parking at the Bells, for overnight stays at the Conundrum Hot Springs and, probably starting next year, for overnight backpacking on the Four Pass Loop. We don’t need reservations to ride Maroon Creek Road.

Instead, we suggest the group study the implementation of a small fee. Yes, we know a fee will be about as welcome as rain on a winter ski day, but it could be a perfect solution. Certainly a fee for bikes is nothing new at special places, such as some national parks and monuments.

We would like to see a $5 fee charged for daily round-trips or a $20 fee for the season. The revenue would be restricted for use by the Forest Service and Pitkin County to fund bike rangers to patrol Maroon Creek Road, Friday through Sunday and holidays. The rangers would be on the lookout for riders of traditional and e-bikes undertaking unsafe practices between the Forest Service welcome station and the Maroon Lake parking lot. Education would be the goal. Enforcement through tickets would be a last resort.

And to avoid the point of last-ditch mandates, we challenge local bike shops to proactively develop better, more educational check-in protocols for all e-bike renters.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.