A blanket of powder, all lifts at Highlands, and three lifts at Buttermilk for opening day

Opening day for Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Ski Area is finally here, and to welcome the final two of the four mountains, Mother Nature is predicted to dump some snow.

Predictions for Friday snowfall hit up to 8 inches for Highlands and 7 inches at Buttermilk, with around 2 inches for each mountain on Saturday. The snow should stay soft and fluffy through Saturday with cooling temperatures. 

“This storm will tow in just enough moisture, energy, cold air, and a wind direction swirling to blow out of the northwest to provide us with a nice refresh through Friday night,” wrote Sam Collentine, a meteorologist with OpenSnow. “I’m going to hold steady with 4-8 inches from late Thursday night through Friday night. The wildcard will be if the light winds out of the northwest can crank up the orographic snow machine on Friday evening and into Friday night. That could lead to a couple extra inches of very fluffy snow by Saturday morning.”

That fluffy snow will blanket the ski areas, with Aspen Skiing Co. planning to have all of Highland’s five lifts, 600-plus acres of terrain, and the Highland Bowl open.

Katie Ertl, senior vice president of mountain operations with SkiCo, said they hope to open all terrain on the bowl, but the storm might delay opening. 

“We are planning to open the G Zones. So, yes, you will have to hike all the way up. But that’s going to be great skiing — it’s been boot packed,” she said. “But what happens with new snow is it can delay the opening. So the goal is to get it open; it just might not be first thing.”

Additionally, uphill access at Highlands is closed through the evening of Friday, Dec. 8.

Buttermilk will open Summit Express, Panda Peak, and West Buttermilk chairlifts with more than 300 acres of terrain. The Tiehack Uphill Route is closed through 6 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9.

SkiCo is saying the Tiehack lift at Buttermilk will be closed as of Saturday morning, but with good temperatures and a few inches, Ertl said they might be able to connect the upper and lower halves.

This year, with warmer temperatures and less snowfall, she said the snowmaking teams have faced more of a challenge than last year getting the hills ready.

“(The snowmaking crew) really capitalized on the windows of time that they’ve had. In the last few years, we’ve had some good cycles of 24-hour temperatures. This year, we’ll get two days (of cold), and then there’ll be a four or five day window of warm temps. So it’s been breaking up a little more this year than in years past,” she said. “Compared to last year, this has been less than banner year but really excited about how much train we’ve gotten open, all things considered.”

For the final word on what’s open and what’s closed, check the Aspen Snowmass app or ask a mountain employee on Saturday.

Ertl said mountain staffing levels are in a better place than past seasons, and SkiCo is feeling confident in its ability to deliver a smooth holiday season, so long as the staff stays injury-free. 

“We’re feeling really calm, comfortable, and confident that we’ll be able to give great guest service over the holiday season. It’s great,” she said. “Of course, everyone needs to stay healthy, right?” 

And Buttermilk will continue its tradition of Chocolate Day with chocolate treats available across the mountain. 

For available food at Highlands, Merry-Go-Round restaurant at mid-mountain will be open for grab-and-go items and lunch. Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro will also be open for lunch, reservations are required and can be made on Tock. Buttermilk Mountain Lodge will open for breakfast starting at 7:45 a.m., then lunch from 10:45 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. Outdoor après at the Backyard Bar and Cliffhouse will be open for grab-and-go items and lunch.

Ertl said to remember that even after a Friday storm, it’s early season. Keep an eye out for water bars and cat tracks. But ultimately, opening day is a celebration of the season to come.

“Get out there, and have a great time,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to seeing everyone on the hill. And if you can get to both mountains, it makes for a great day.”

‘The tide is shifting’: Breckenridge ski patrol union hopes its new contract inspires a shift in the industry in – and beyond – Colorado

Almost two years to the day since Breckenridge Ski Resort’s ski patrol union reached its first contract agreement in 2021 with its employer, Vail Resorts, the union has settled on a new contract in 2023.

The first contract was officially ratified on Dec. 14, 2021, and for the most part was a smooth process between the union and Vail Resorts representatives. 

“COVID took a lot of stress fractures in all industries — but definitely in the snowsports industry and the ski and vacation industry,” Breckenridge Ski Patrol Union President Ryan Dineen said. “Like everybody, we were incredibly understaffed. Working under the complications of COVID was tough. It kind of highlighted a lot of the disparities that we were dealing with of being the ground floor laborers that are generating the wealth that is being extracted from our communities.” 

The first contract focused primarily on wage increases, employee housing, parking for patrollers closer to work, and education and training requirements. The contract also ensured that ski patrollers are no longer at-will employees, meaning that ski patrollers cannot be fired without due process.  

“We were looking to push pretty hard to make fair gains,” he said. “Considering the positive financial position that Vail Resorts is in, we felt that as the workers that generate this wealth we were deserving of more of it. Through that contract process, we have managed to make reasonable gains for the vast majority of our patrollers.”

Sarah McLear/Breckenridge Ski Resort
Breckenridge ski patroller Eddie Nadolny skis Imperial Bowl at Breckenridge Ski Resort.

Although Breckenridge Ski Resort’s patrollers union was pleased and grateful for its initial contract with Vail Resorts, Dineen and the rest of the union felt they needed to negotiate a new contract agreement by the end of this year.

The second time around, the patrol union focused primarily on the compression that took place in employee wages when Breckenridge Ski Resort raised base wages to $20 an hour for new frontline workers and $21 an hour for ski patrollers or lift mechanics.

“What they did when they did that is compress,” he said. “They didn’t then take that same gains of the entry-level patroller … and also make sure somebody who had been here for 10 years or 25 years also saw some type of gain out of that wage gain. Most people were compressed heavily to the point where they saw maybe a 6% increase if they were already over that base wage increase.”

With a goal to address the compression, the union hoped wage increases would help retain quality patrollers who have put a decade or more of their lives into the profession and into the public-facing product of the resort through a new contract.

After going through a couple bargaining agreements, the union worked with Vail Resorts and settled on a tentative contract, which was then opened up for voting among ownership on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 28.

Through a four-day electronic vote, the new contract was successfully ratified with an overwhelming amount of support. Approximately 97% of voters voted in favor of ratification. 

“We are pleased to have come to an agreement with the Breckenridge Ski Patrol union,” Breckenridge Ski Resort Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jon Copeland said in a statement. “We all look forward to focusing on executing an incredible season and providing a great experience for our guests and employees. Everyone worked through the process collaboratively, with respect and positive intent.”

The statement said the new agreement is consistent with Vail Resorts’ compensation approach for patrol across all of its resorts.

Dineen was pleased to see the support from Vail Resorts and hopes that the successful contract agreement leads to more ski patrol teams advocating for themselves via unions. He said the efforts of the Breckenridge ski patrol union would not be possible without the work of previously established unions like those at Crested Butte, Big Sky and Telluride.

“We owe a lot to them for blazing the trail,” he said. “We are also trying to increase our visibility. Our mission as unionists is clear. Our mission is to unionize the whole industry because that is the only way we are going to make true, career-level changes. We are dedicated to that.”

According to him, the union was told during negotiations that if it benefited too much from the contract that the agreement would mobilize other departments and ski resorts to unionize. The union viewed the comment as a “leverage piece” and proceeded to pursue a successful contract agreement that will invigorate other ski resorts to do the same. 

“As we get to 2024, the tide is shifting, and we want to be part of that shift,” he said.

Clubhouse Chronicles: Check out the AVSC venue

Before Aspen Highlands’ opening day on Dec. 9, Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club (AVSC) offers our athletes the opportunity to train early-season, directly in their backyard, and weeks before the lifts start turning for the public.

Founded in 2014, the Stapleton Training Center is conveniently located behind the AVSC Clubhouse on Thunderbowl at Aspen Highlands. Our groomed-to-perfection facility provides opportunities for our Alpine, Freestyle, and Snowboard athletes to access a world-class training center and racing facility with Alpine training lanes, a mogul course, rails, and airbags. Early-season snowmaking helps our athletes train locally, mitigating the need for early-season travel across Colorado to access suitable conditions. This allows local kids to sleep in their own beds, eliminates expenses associated with travel, and takes out the potential hazards of winter transportation.

AVSC is committed to providing our athletes with convenience by creating an environment where they can balance their academic and athletic pursuits seamlessly. Athletes access the Five Trees lift, a short walk from the Aspen public schools. Kids can go from class to the lift in under ten minutes, giving them more valuable time on snow at the end of the day. In a world where races are won or lost by a hundredth of a second, maximizing snow time can make all the difference in the world.

The Stapleton Training Center has evolved into more than just a local hub for AVSC kids, attracting national and international athletes as well as providing youth the chance to train alongside and observe the world’s best, including members of the US Ski Team.
AVSC/Courtesy Photo

The Stapleton Training Center has evolved into more than just a local hub for AVSC kids, attracting national and international athletes as well as providing youth the chance to train alongside and observe the world’s best, including members of the US Ski Team.

Gill Hearn, AVSC’s Alpine youth coordinator, explains: “We are fortunate to keep kids at home and around the best skiers in the world. During the World Cup, kids love watching their heroes ski the same slopes they train on daily. The kids really get an idea of what high-end racing looks like. We see inspired skiing as a result.”

The training center not only caters to training, but also serves as a competition venue that hosts international teams, collegiate teams, and neighboring clubs. The continued hard work of Aspen Skiing Company’s snowmaking crew, AVSC’s operations team, and the community has elevated the center to one of the best venues in the country. While parts of the venue are closed during training, there is still public access to Thunderbowl where you can ski down and watch athletes – young and old, Olympians and aspiring Olympians – hone their skills. Don’t be shy, and say hi to a couple of kids, or better yet, grab the chair with a few, and you will learn why Aspen is still the ultimate ski town.

The Stapleton Training Center not only caters to training but serves as a competition venue that hosts international teams, collegiate teams, and neighboring clubs.
AVSC/Courtesy Photo

Clubhouse Chronicles is a behind-the-scenes column written by the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club that runs periodically in The Aspen Times sports section.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published with the incorrect opening date for Aspen Highlands. It has been updated to correct that date.

Posada on public land: Outdoor tree-cutting event offers ‘great experience’ for Roaring Fork Latino community

A partnership between an advocacy group and a government agency aims to increase Latino visitorship to public lands, and — anecdotally, at least — it’s working.

Defiende Nuestra Tierra, the Latinx outreach arm of conservation advocacy group Wilderness Workshop, and the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District of the White River National Forest partnered for their fourth annual Christmas tree-cutting Posada event on Saturday.

Families and community members from the Roaring Fork Valley — and beyond — came to the Babbish Gulch Trailhead to pick out and cut down their Christmas trees in the forest, but they stayed for tamales, champurrado, and music. Adults and children lapped a small hill on their sleds, and kids sat enraptured listening to a storybook reading of Smokey the Bear in Spanish.

Posadas are a Latin American Christmas tradition in celebration of the Christmas season. Practices vary regionally, but the primary focus is gathering as a community. At Mexico’s posadas, tamales and champurrado, a spiced take on hot chocolate, are staples. 

And in its fourth year, the event is firmly planted as a beloved tradition. The 150 pre-registration slots for free tree-cutting permits filled quickly, but the Aspen-Sopris District representatives still sold the $10 permit to anyone else interested.

“I think once we mentioned that this is a family event, an event for making memories, that (resonated),” Defiende Director Omar Sarabia said. “That’s super important to the Latino community.”

Sarabia said that he hopes to expand the event in the future, offering even more free permits and potentially expanding beyond the Babbish Gulch Trailhead — one attendee drove from Edwards for the Posada.

Families with multiple generations attended, letting their kids pick out a tree and lugging it back to the car before gathering around the small fire pit for warm refreshments. 

Soira Seja brought her mother and son to the Posada so her son, Benjamin, could pick out their Christmas tree.
Josie Taris/The Aspen Times

Soira Seja came from New Castle with her mom and 5-year-old son, Benjamin, to pick out a tree and visit with friends and neighbors. It was their posada tree-cutting event, but Seja said it would become a tradition for her family.

Seja is an avid hiker and backpacker but acknowledged that public land use in the Latino community is “definitely” lacking. But seeing so many people at the posada, picking up maps and seeing their kids hear the story of Smokey the Bear in Spanish, gave her hope.

“I think this event is a great experience,” she said. “I see a lot of Latino families here (at the posada).”

It was the first Posada for Iris Salamanca, the new DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) Information Assistant for the White River National Forest. She also is a native Spanish speaker. At the posada, she walked attendees through the tree-cutting and tagging process in both English and Spanish. And she was the one to read the story of Smokey the Bear in Spanish.

Iris Salamanca, the new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Accessibility Information Assistant for the White River National Forest, chatted with Posada/tree-cutting event attendees in both Spanish and English.
Josie Taris/The Aspen Times

Sarabia has always attended the posadas to meet Spanish speakers and inform them of the process, but this is the first year that a uniformed Forest Service worker could greet attendees and explain the tree-cutting process in Spanish.

The posada was a fun, engaging event that fits into her role’s larger goal of increasing minority, particularly Latino, visitorship to the Forest.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people about why they enjoy the event and keep returning. And it’s good to know word is spreading about this event,” she said. “Being able to speak to people in Spanish (visibly) changes their comfort level.”

Growing up in a Latino household and community in Grand Junction, Salamanca said she witnessed firsthand the hesitancy to attend events or use public lands if her family anticipated a language barrier.

Hispanic-identifying people accounted for just 3.9% of visitors to White River National Forest in 2017, according to the most recent USDA Forest Service National Visitor Use Monitoring survey.

Without more recent data, it’s hard to know if that number has changed in the past six years. However, U.S. Census data estimates the Hispanic population in Garfield and Eagle counties is approximately 30% and 11% in Pitkin County. In the Roaring Fork School District, Hispanic students comprise more than half of the student body.

To work toward increased Latino visitorship, Defiende has partnered with the Forest to widely implement Spanish-language messaging. From trailhead signs to press releases, more and more content from the Forest is offered immediately in both English and Spanish. They also partner with the Forest for Latino Conservation Week.

Defiende unveiled their Camino Latino map, a bilingual map of public lands across the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys, this summer.

For the Forest’s part, getting families and community members out to the posada introduces first-time visitors to the concept that public lands are there for them.

“Even though it’s their backyard, sometimes it’s their first time up here,” said Aspen-Sopris Acting District Ranger Jennifer Schuller. “It’s the first step to future opportunities to use the forest.”
The Forest’s tree-cutting program runs through Dec. 31. Learn more about the program, purchase a permit, and find maps for tree-cutting locations at recreation.gov

Posada attendees, including Soira Seja (upper right) lugged their chosen trees down the sledding hill.
Josie Taris/The Aspen Times

Vail Resorts to acquire another Swiss ski resort

Vail Resorts has entered into an agreement to acquire its 42nd ski area, Crans-Montana Mountain Resort in Switzerland, the company announced Thursday.

In a deal that has been in the works for several months, the corporation will purchase an 84% ownership stake in Remontées Mécaniques Crans Montana Aminona SA, the company that controls and operates the lifts and supporting mountain operations at Crans-Montana.

The purchase is part of an ongoing growth strategy that is simultaneously focused on both European acquisitions and a reduction of the company’s net-operating footprint, Vail Resorts CEO Kirsten Lynch said in a statement issued on Thursday.

“Our acquisition of the resort aligns to our growth strategy of expanding our resort network in Europe, creating even more value for our pass holders and guests around the world,” she said in the statement. “We share many values with the Crans-Montana community, including a commitment to environmental responsibility and reducing our net-operating footprint.”

She described Crans-Montana as an iconic ski destination in the heart of the Swiss Alps, with a unique heritage, incredible terrain, passionate team, and a community dedicated to the region’s success.

“We look forward to investing to support the growth, sustainability, and vitality of the resort and region,” she said. “We care deeply about the guest experience and are committed to working with the community, listening and learning from local partners and the resort’s dedicated teams.”

Second Swiss acquisition in two years

The Crans-Montana deal marks Vail Resorts’ second Swiss ski area acquisition in as many years, with the company also acquiring Andermatt-Sedrun in 2022.

A snowcat at work in preparation for a women’s Alpine skiing World Cup downhill race in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, on Feb. 28, 2014.
Marco Trovati/AP

While Crans-Montana will not be included on Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass for the 2023-24 season, officials announced on Thursday that it will be included for 2024-25. The Epic Pass also includes five days at Verbier4Vallées in Switzerland and seven days at Les 3 Vallées in France.

Another World Cup/World Championships venue

Italy’s Sofia Goggia speeds down the course during a women’s World Cup downhill in Crans Montana, Switzerland, on Jan. 22, 2021.
Marco Tacca/AP

The news comes as Vail Resorts’ Beaver Creek property hosts its annual Alpine World Cup event, which was — before the Crans-Montana acquisition — the only Alpine World Cup venue in Vail Resorts’ portfolio.

While the Beaver Creek Birds of Prey event is a men’s World Cup competition, this year’s Crans-Montana races are women’s events, consisting of super-G and downhill competitions.

The women’s Alpine World Cup circuit is currently in Canada before heading to Europe next week. The women will race in Switzerland, France, Austria, Slovakia, Italy, Germany, and Andorra before heading to Crans-Montana, Feb. 14-18.

Crans-Montana will also host the Alpine World Ski Championships in 2027, an ever-other-year event that Vail Resorts last hosted in 2015 at Beaver Creek. Crans-Montana officials, in a statement issued on Thursday, expressed confidence in Vail Resorts’ ability to pull off a good event in 2027.

“Vail Resorts as new owner of the ski area will also have a positive impact on the organization of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in 2027 at Crans-Montana,” the Association of the Municipality of Crans-Montana Board of Directors said Thursday.

Crans-Montana will also host a mountain biking World Cup in 2024, the Union Cycliste Internationale Mountain Bike World Series, slated for June 20-23.

On the Fly: Use the winter downtime to get organized

I ran into a customer at the grocery store yesterday who told me once it gets this cold, he’s just not interested in fishing.  I know how he feels and tend to agree with him (somewhat), but there are things we can all do to fuel our fishing addictions when frigid temperatures arrive.

The first thing that comes to mind is organization and preparation. Even the most fastidious fisher could organize their flies, for example. If you have the space, laying all of your boxes out and putting things back in order can be quite a task, and there’s no better time than now. 

Some people organize their flies by river, others by “family.” For those who like to organize by family, think about boxes dedicated to midges, streamers, green drakes, pale morning duns, blue winged olives, caddis, stoneflies, craneflies, sallies, terrestrials, and lake flies. For those who like to organize by river, your Fryingpan box should consist of your mysis patterns, slim and beadless nymphs, plus midges and BWOs. Your Roaring Fork and Colorado boxes should house your beaded nymphs, stoneflies, and yellow sallies. Lake boxes should hold your damselflies, ants, leeches, and small streamers. 

Personally, I like to house my bugs that hatch on all rivers in boxes dedicated solely to PMDs, drakes and, caddis by themselves. You can go further down the rabbit hole and house your larger, hi-vis patterns in one box and your smaller and subtler match-the-hatch patterns in others. Everyone needs a “meat locker,” loaded with all colors and sizes of streamers. What I personally employ is one big box that I borrow from, a few at a time, into a smaller fly box.

If your flies are already organized, perhaps it’s time to fix your leaky waders, add new studs to your wading boots, send your broken rods in for repair, or make a list of flies you need to tie. Happy (almost) winter to all, and keep an eye out for those warm days we get once in a while. Fish have to eat every day!

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or TaylorCreek.com.

4 skiers caught in avalanche near Marble Peak avoid serious injuries

Four skiers caught in an avalanche near Marble Peak on Saturday escaped without any serious injuries.

A group of nine backcountry skiers and snowboarders intended to ski north-facing slopes on Raspberry Ridge near Marble when one of the skiers triggered an avalanche while descending the slope, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). Three skiers had successfully descended the slope and waited at the bottom when a fourth skier triggered the avalanche and was carried and partially buried in the snow.

“They moved into a piece of terrain that faces north, which is one of our more problematic aspects because it harbors very weak, early-season snow near the ground,” said Brian Lazar, the deputy director of CAIC, in a phone call with The Aspen Times. “Those northerly aspects have been particularly worrisome for us since essentially the late October snowfall.”

The skier that triggered the avalanche went further right than the first three skiers, which “propagated across the whole terrain feature and resulted in a fairly sizable avalanche,” he said. They were able to get themselves out of the snow after being partially buried.

One of the three skiers waiting at the bottom of the slope was hit by the avalanche from behind and traveled about 100 feet down the slope before getting out of the snow. The other two were partially buried, but their airways were not restricted, he said.

Some of the skiers lost skis and poles during the avalanche, but none were seriously injured.

Lazar commended the skiers for sharing their stories with CAIC because it helps the center and other backcountry skiers and snowboarders understand the current avalanche conditions in the area. People can check CAIC’s app or website for up-to-date avalanche conditions when they plan to ski or snowboard in the backcountry, he said.

“It’s really easy for people to not talk about these things and try to bury them,” he said. “You open yourself up to all kinds of criticism and really nasty comments, so I want to applaud these folks for being willing to share their stories, so that other people can learn from them.”

On the Fly: Giving thanks to the Roaring Fork Valley

For myself, Thanksgiving is omnipresent here in the Roaring Fork Valley. I’m not talking turkey and cranberry sauce here, I’m speaking to the gifts we receive every day. I give thanks every day I hit the water, whether it be floating the Colorado or Roaring Fork, fishing an epic dry fly hatch on the Fryingpan, or teasing up tiny brook trout on a remote mountain lake or stream. It’s easy to be thankful here, we have it all.

I am thankful to know so many talented fishing guides. Fishing guides are on the front lines of conservation every day, and I learn something from each of them every time we fish. I am thankful for the clients that come here to fish with us. Over the last 47 years we have had the pleasure of fishing with so many wonderful people, now we are on the river with their children and grandchildren. When fly fishing is shared down through the generations, it pulls those families closer together.

I am thankful to live in a country where fishing is a right, not a privilege. My parents put a rod in my hand at a very early age, and for this I am very thankful. A boy on a dock with a can of worms and a close faced reel is Americana as it gets. Fishing creates lasting memories, there are fish I still remember today that I caught as a boy!

It may sound silly, but I am most thankful for water. As far as we know, it is required for life to flourish, and flourish it does here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Skiers, paddlers, hospitality workers, farmers, fish and fishermen alike absolutely rely on it. Water is the lifeblood of this Valley, and we all owe thanks for it. When you go around the table this year sharing what you are most thankful for, I hope the people, water and amazing landscape we call home are at the top of your list!

On the Fly: It’s time to scratch your itch to travel

Fall conditions have been ideal lately, but Old Man Winter will be here soon.

For many local anglers this fall weather is what they’ve been waiting for — the river and fish all to themselves. For others, this is the time to hit the vise, spinning up all the heavy hitters for the summer season. For myself, the winter is not only for skiing, tying flies, and chasing trout, but also a time to plan and execute a trip to an exotic location with fly rod in hand. Most lean towards warmer locations, typically a place where we can feel the sand between our toes. Anyone who has been lucky enough to experience what saltwater fly fishing has to offer knows that scrimping and saving all year for a few days standing on skiff or in a sandy flat makes it all worth it.

Saltwater destination trips are not only for the rich and famous. Granted, you can make a trip as expensive or cheap as you want, but if well-researched and planned accordingly, you will not have to spend your life savings. Deciding where to go is the first part of enjoying this experience. Mexico, Belize, Florida Keys, Louisiana marsh, and the Bahamas are great options for your first saltwater adventure. Not all of these places require staying at a lodge; with resources such as Airbnb and VRBO, you can find extremely inexpensive places to stay.

The preparation piece of the puzzle for me is nearly half the fun; nothing is sweeter than the feeling of anticipation before a trip. Getting geared up for a fishing adventure has most of us feeling like its Christmas morning. If you know your way around a vise, tying up baitfish, crabs, and shrimp for your salty adventure feels like it brings the whole experience together. Next — cast, cast, and cast some more. It is not worth traveling thousands of miles to blow a shot at the opportunities the ocean throws at you.

Traveling in general (not only for fly fishing) is such a healthy experience. It is truly eye-opening, but getting out of our comfort zone and rising to challenges makes us well-rounded. Do some research, take that fly rod, and go!

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or TaylorCreek.com.

Vail Resorts workers suing for unpaid wages ask for rehearing after US court says it won’t intervene in similar state court case

The plaintiffs in a Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit against Vail Resorts are asking the U.S. District Court in Colorado for a rehearing on a recent decision preventing them from intervening in a different Vail Resorts labor lawsuit currently nearing a settlement in state court in California.

The plaintiffs in the state court class action lawsuit against Vail Resorts made much of the same complaints as those in the federal court case — saying Vail Resorts routinely found ways around compensating work, which should have been considered on the clock, along with overtime, donning and doffing time, and equipment reimbursements — but the state court case has already finalized a settlement.

The plaintiffs in the federal court case say that state court settlement is “pennies on the dollar,” and the attorneys who negotiated the class-action settlement will enjoy big paydays while the class itself will be left without meaningful compensation.

In an effort to avoid that outcome, the plaintiffs in the federal case have appealed the state court settlement in California and also asked the U.S. District Court in Colorado to intervene and put a stop to the settlement, saying it did not receive a proper review from the court.

The federal court, in October, said that while it agreed that a proper review — examining the case from the beginning — was not performed, the court would not remand the case because the error was harmless.

In calling for a rehearing on the matter, the plaintiffs argue that the error was not harmless, and a proper examination of the case from the beginning would have revealed that the federal court does have a right to intervene in the state court settlement.

“This proceeding involves questions of exceptional importance concerning the abuse of collective and class actions,” the plaintiffs argue in the Oct. 31 petition for rehearing. “To curb ‘forum shopping,’ nationwide class/collective actions must be filed and litigated where the defendant is subject to general jurisdiction — i.e., where the company is headquartered or incorporated.”

Vail Resorts attorneys, in a status conference with Judge N. Reid Neureiter in April, said they decided to pursue a state court settlement over federal court because the federal court was too backed up at the time.

“The level of backlog in that docket would have made it far less efficient to proceed with that path,” said attorney Michael Bell, representing Vail Resorts.

The plaintiffs say the California state court case was moved to state court in an act of forum shopping – or looking for a court venue that’s more sympathetic to one’s point of view in the case – or too busy to take on the nuances of a prolonged action. The plaintiffs argue that the danger of forum shopping is that it allows lawyers to leverage sweetheart deals with plaintiffs who are vulnerable to such defenses.

“This very danger materialized here when Vail side-stepped the first-filed action and attempted to settle Appellants’ claims ‘on the cheap’ with compliant plaintiffs’ counsel in later-filed duplicative state court actions,” the plaintiffs argue in the Oct. 31 petition for rehearing. “The District Court and the Panel ignored Appellants’ argument that the litigation belongs in the District of Colorado where Vail is headquartered and is subject to general jurisdiction, and where the challenged policies were formulated.”