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Friends support local furloughed Forest Service worker whose son was born with cystic fibrosis

The stress for furloughed employees over not knowing when they will be back to work and collecting a paycheck is tough enough. Circumstances are even more daunting right now for U.S. Forest Service employee Bret Conant and his family.

Bret's wife, Esther, gave birth to their second child on Jan. 3. Lars was born at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and it was soon determined that he had an intestinal blockage that required surgery at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver.

"He had surgery, then was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis," Bret said via telephone Thursday from the hospital.

The Conants have stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Denver, just a few blocks from the hospital. "Those guys do an amazing job," Bret said.

Having that resource has been a huge relief for the couple. Nevertheless, they are racking up expenses being away from home. Conant said his health insurance through the Forest Service is still in effect, but his family will soon be billed for the deductible and charges that aren't covered. The recovery process is expected to keep Lars at the Denver hospital for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, like other furloughed federal workers, Conant isn't collecting a paycheck. The partial government hits day 28 on Friday. He is an engineering technician in the White River National Forest. His work takes him throughout the 2.3 million-acre forest, including the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.

Conant said his family's situation drives home the fact that federal workers need to be collecting their pay.

"People have lives — they need to get a paycheck to deal with every day life," he said. "I wouldn't be back working even if the government was open right now, but at least I'd be getting a check."

Friends and colleagues have stepped up to help the Conants, who reside in Silt. The wife of Bret's supervisor at the Forest Service set up a GoFundMe page (which can be found by searching the Conant's name on the website) to help the family handle expenses. "We're just really grateful for the support," he said, noting it will be a big help when the medical bills arrive.

Conant said he isn't taking sides in the fight between Democrats in Congress and President Donald Trump that led to the shutdown. He just finds the situation frustrating and he feels particularly bad for employees who are required to work but aren't getting paid.

"On behalf of all federal employees who are laid off right now, I feel violated," he said. "I work hard for the agency I work for. I try to do the best job I can as a public servant."

Conant said his family is optimistic for Lars's recovery from surgery. In addition, there have been advances in the treatment of cystic fibrosis that give the family hope for the future.


Report: Misjudgments led to avalanche that killed Longmont man in southwestern Colorado

An avalanche that swept six skiers participating in an advanced avalanche safety course downslope this month, killing a 40-year-old man who was part of the group, was triggered as the skiers failed to follow a basic procedure aimed at minimizing avalanche threats and risk, according to investigators.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center on Wednesday released a report on the Jan. 5 avalanche on Upper Senator Beck Basin, northwest of Red Mountain Pass.

"This accident is especially troublesome as it involved a group of well-trained and well-equipped people in an avalanche safety class," said the report published by Ethan Greene, Jeff Davis, Ann Mellick and Chris Bilbrey of the avalanche center.

Peter Marshall of Longmont was the first person killed by an avalanche this year in Colorado. The group on the mountain was with the Silverton Avalanche School.

Read the full story in The Denver Post.

Libations: Mellow Yellow

Born on the sunbaked shores of Italy's Amalfi Coast circa 1900, limoncello is known worldwide as liquid sunshine. Since Colorado boasts more than 300 bright-sky days per year, it's not such a stretch that Christopher Hall would launch Tall Fello Limoncello here in the Roaring Fork Valley. A veteran chef, Hall began crafting the fruit-forward liqueur in his kitchen in 2010. Now made in Glenwood Springs, Tall Fello Limoncello has become so popular that last year Hall created Grapefruitcello. Later this month he begins production of Mandarincello, using seasonal Florida Honeybell oranges that are in fact a grapefruit-tangerine hybrid.

While lemons are largely absent from local farm plots, Hall follows a painstaking artisanal process: peeling all citrus by hand.

"By using 190 proof alcohol—Colorado-grown corn vodka from Woody Creek Distillers—and hand peeling, I am able to extract every drop of oil from the peel," Hall explains. "Commercial peeling machines take a lot of the white pith underneath, which contributes to bitterness. After weeks of soaking in alcohol, the peels snap like dry twigs and are flavorless."

Proof is in the finished elixir (not to mention the blisters and callouses that decorate Hall's hands following a shucking session): smooth, vibrant and, indeed, the shade of Technicolor sunlight without any addition of sketchy Yellow 5, no sir!

Tall Fello's sheer volume of citrus required— 6,580 lemons or 65 cases of grapefruit per 2,500-bottle batch—is impressive for another reason, Hall says: "I create a lot more oil from the peels that floats to the surface. This oil is very sweet, so I use much less sugar."

The result: lighter, less syrupy, 56-proof liqueurs as refreshing as brilliant bluebird days.

Where to buy Tall Fello in Aspen

Aspen Wine & Spirits


Cache Cache

Caribou Club

Of Grape & Grain

Grog Shop

Hickory House



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

Legends & Legacies: 1947 Aspen grand opening

"Aspen Grand Opening," declared The Aspen Times on Jan. 9, 1947. "Business and political leaders and winter sports enthusiasts from all corners of the country will converge here next weekend for the celebration which will launch the one-time fabulous silver camp as a major year-round recreational, residential and business development. Reservations at the restored Hotel Jerome and cottages and skiers' dormitories, for the three-day program which will include the formal opening of 'the longest ski tow in the world,' have been received from New York, Washington D.C., Connecticut, Chicago, Omaha, Montana, and California, Manager Charles Bishop of the Jerome reported today. The ski lift and other winter sports facilities will be opened formally Saturday morning. Ski jumping and slalom contests, in which such famous skiers as Friedl Pfeifer and Dick Durrance will take part, are scheduled for Saturday afternoon. There will be an exhibition of night skiing later, and a ball at the Hotel Jerome."

The image at right shows the crowd gathered for the grand opening ceremonies at Lift One, Jan. 11, 1947.

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

Writing Switch: Decoding downhill dialogue

Knowing proper vernacular on the mountain can be useful — like skier's right versus looker's left — but most of the time it's a lot of jargon created to make tourists feel left out amid gondola conversations and sound dumb when they try to use it.

From off-piste to on-mountain, here we try our luck translating each other's slang-infused sentences/situations; some terms well-known and others we invented to sneak into the lexicon. Like Ben snowboarding the Wall in Snowmass, some things got lost in transition.

BW: "I'm really looking forward to a major dump tomorrow — let's see if the dumps are open. We should be getting face shots of gnar all day on the T2Bs."

SB: I'm really looking forward to a lot of snow tomorrow — let's see if Cone Dump 1 and 2 or Zaugg trails are open. We should be getting waves of snow in our face all day while repeatedly snowboarding the mountain from top to bottom.

SB: "The last der day when we were mobbing down that Bumpy McSteez field, I got a little too sendly and ended up turtled out with a wet diaper."

BW: Ahh, another example of Sean unable to keep his balance after a few inches of freshies. You say I'm slow but I purposefully stay back a safe distance so when you inevitably biff it on a tree run, I don't dog pile on top of you.

Amped up over the new powder fallen overnight, you got too excited while traversing with your friends in a mogul patch, and losing control, fell on your back and slid down thusly, accumulating snow on the inside of your pants and, presumably, whitey-tighties.

BW: "After a couple Buckhorn beers or helmet-hiders, be careful on the noon groom and avoid getting overly cocktail confident cruising the corduroy."

SB: Following a couple of beverages at Buckhorn, be careful on the run Skico grooms at 12 p.m. and try to avoid alcohol-impaired confidence while skiing newly groomed snow.

BW: "I was straightlining past a 'slow' sign on the way to a safety meeting but had to snowplow when a bro-brah didn't notice the dust on crust and ragdolled down an adjacent double-black onto the catwalk."

SB: I was going really fast without turning past a "slow skiing" sign on the way to go smoke marijuana with some friends but had to sharply brake because a young skier didn't a recognize a light layer of snow on a patch of ice and violently tumbled down the adjacent expert run onto the flat runout.

SB: "I was chatting with a snow bunny the other day and she started talking about the Alpenglow, which I had to Google because it sounded like a cleaning product. I'd follow her through an asteroid field of death cookies on a pair of snowler blades if it meant a trip up the foggy gondola."

BW: You met an attractive woman who mentioned that one John Denver song, but you had to look it up because you couldn't remember all the lyrics anymore. You would chase her down terrain way out of your skill level on children's toys if that meant defrosting in the Silver Queen together.

BW: "A jerry who thought he was a park rat bailed off a kicker and scorpioned onto a groomer. He wasn't wearing a brain bucket and really took a dinger."

SB: An obvious beginner thought he could navigate the terrain park but backed out after going off a jump and fell in a way that made his legs bend to look like a scorpion's tail while sliding face-first on groomed snow. He wasn't wearing a helmet and took a substantial fall.

SB: "I was getting off the quad the other day and one gaper shot hard skiers' left across the offramp and took out his buddy and another guy but luckily I was able to one-foot it around them. I was strapped in and riding before the lifties and trial bobbies even had the lift spinning."

BW: You were downloading on the Exhibition chairlift when a never-ever crashed into the lift line forming to your left. She knocked over two children but you were able to hop around them unscathed with a single leg strapped into your binding. You decided to do some Panda Peak laps while lift operators and ski patrol sorted out the carnage.

BW: "I went to get a tune after taking a core shot on my directional and a Trustafarian at the board shop told me about needing MRA after ducking a rope."

SB: Since apparently we're not actually translating slang and just rewording each other's segments to demean the other, here we go:

After Ben hit a rock doing a falling leaf down Fanny Hill on his quarter-life crisis snowboard, he went to the ski shop to talk to a white guy with dreadlocks whom he admires greatly. There, Ben relayed a story about the time he forced Mountain Rescue Aspen to come save him after he fell asleep on the Skittles gondola because he's homeless.

SB: "We kept trying to do party laps at Bromass but Ben decided to bring out his disco sticks despite the hero snow. Waiting wasn't so bad, especially when he yard-saled for our enjoyment after jerry chattering down most of the run."

BW: The insuBOARDinates are kicking off apres early at Gwyn's, watch out! They might even try to poach a hot tub later. But because I'm a ripper I like to challenge myself with learning new talents; it's not like I have difficulty keeping up with you tomahawking beneath Lift 3 in mashed potatoes after a Sundeck party anyway. As for "yard-saling," the only time I lose my equipment is when I forget skiers have poles and leave them on the bus back into town.

What are your favorite ski-related slang terms? Does "dope" mean A) Sick B) Weed or C) Heroin? sbeckwith@aspentimes.com bwelch@aspentimes.com

Mountain Mayhem: Annual Ajax Cup in images

When Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) introduced the Ajax Cup nine years ago to benefit the beloved organization, little did they know they would cement their place on the holiday calendar. Ever since then, Dec. 30 has become a community tradition with the dual giant slalom race during the day on Little Nell ski run and après party to follow with drinks, bites, auctions and dancing, which took place at Shlomo's.

Over the past 80-plus years, AVSC has grown from "a small group with a big vision" into a club that provides access to winter sports to 2,300 local youth each season. The Ajax Cup has also grown into an event that brings youth, AVSC alumni, U.S. Ski Team racers and sponsors together for friendly competition.

The day began with 16 teams going head to head and concluded with two gunning for the win, but in the end, it was defending Team Super G! that eclipsed the West End Hillbillies as champs. Though everyone wins when it's for the kids.


To reach May with invites and insights, email allthewaymaymay.com

Wine Ink: The case for abstention — Save this link!

If you, like me, are the kind of person who believes the ability to change water into wine would be the superpower you would choose, then this column may not be for you. And for those who have just arrived in Aspen for Gay Ski Week festivities, ready to party, this will not be the best timing for you, either.

But hear me out. Every once in a while, in a world where there is a time to reap and a time to sow, there are advantages to taking a break from the consumption of brewed beers, distilled spirits and, yes, fermented fruits. There has been a growing national trend of late for people to take full calendar months and make a commitment to not drinking. Sober Octobers and Novembers, the months before the holiday season, have been popular, but for many the beginning of the new calendar year seems to be the most appropriate time for taking a break.

"A time out." That's what my wife calls her intentional hiatus and, though the month is not over yet, she already has seen benefits from her decision to set the glass down for the first month of 2019. "The first few days were challenging," she explained, "but once I broke the pattern of opening a bottle of wine with dinner, for instance, and found a decent substitute, it got a little easier to take a break." Over dinner with a friend who had also taken a break from booze in the fall, the two rattled off a number of reasons why they felt the act was a positive step.

For starters, they both noted that they had been sleeping better during their abstention than they had when drinking. No waking in the middle of the night.

"And in the morning it's just easier to get up," our friend said. "I don't feel so foggy." The result is that she finds it easier to get to a planned morning exercise routine, as well. It feels like less of a burden than an activity she now looks forward to.

Many cite the benefits of weight loss and renewed energy as the biggest benefit of a month without alcohol. Simple caloric math can help explain it. There are, give or take depending upon the wine, around 130 calories in a 5-ounce glass of red wine. If you regularly drink and average a couple glasses a day, by taking off for a month you eliminate over 7,500 calories right there. That's the equivalent of the calories you'd burn running, say, 70 10-minute miles depending on how much you weigh. Pretty impressive. And if you are drinking beer or mixed cocktails, your caloric consumption will be even be higher than it will be with wine.

But beyond just the calories cut, both agreed that they also eat better when they went dry for a month.

"I feel like I thin out," said my wife. "And that inspires me to keep it up and eat a little lighter, too."

Her friend concurred, "I just make better food choices when I haven't already had a couple of drinks. When I'm drinking it is just way too easy to order a bunch more food that I don't really need."

A side effect is the financial benefits of not drinking. "I spend way less money," said our friend, now starting to get into the discussion with a near evangelical fervor. "When I get a check without the cost of drinks or wine it is much more reasonable." She loves to have fun with friends and drink, but taking a month off makes it clear just what the cost of consumption can be in dollar terms.

And they agreed that they are also more productive.

"I just have more focus," my wife said. "And I have more time to get things done. When I have a glass of wine at the end of the day that pretty much is the end of my day. But if I don't have that glass at say, 7 o'clock, I might still work on stuff until later in the evening."

I know, it all sounds pretty reasonable. And they also emphasized that this was just a temporary thing, that both looked forward to continuing to enjoy wine and cocktails socially at the end of their sober time. But listening to them and the positivity that was expressed made me want to consider that option of taking some time off from drinking myself.

Maybe a Sober February. It is, after all the shortest month.

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

Food Matters: SO Café at the Aspen Art Museum

Before there was art at the Aspen Art Museum on Hyman Avenue, SO Café was onsite.

"We were contracted to be partners of the museum when this was still a dirt lot," explains Allen Domingos, sitting at a table in the airy dining space on the museum's third floor. "Remember the stainless-steel ping-pong table installation down there? We've been here since then—even did a reception for donors on top of the scaffolding once (that was) up. We brought shrimp cocktail up the ladders!"

Yet even now, five years this August since renowned architect Shigeru Ban's notoriously controversial basketweave building was built, SO Café seems to fly under the radar within the lunchtime landscape. Perhaps because it's located on the museum's roof deck, a lung-pumping hike up 57 concrete steps to panoramic views of Aspen Mountain, yet hidden from street level. Allen's wife and business partner, Julia Domingos, suspects that the museum may be situated just one block too far in any certain direction for some folks who work in the downtown core and have limited minutes for a midday break.

Regular visitors—myself included, since SO Café has become a breezy spot for weekday meetings—surely don't mind that the place is still somewhat of a gem hiding in plain sight. What's more, "The venue inspires artful presentation," quips Lea Tucker, local PR maven and café devotee. Since AAM lacks a permanent collection in favor of rotating exhibitions, it follows that the SO Café menu of just four to six items changes weekly. This serves a multifaceted purpose: keep diners returning frequently and stoke the chefs' creative whims.

"Typically we write the menu based on about five factors: food trends, time of year, weather for the next week, what is harvested now, what's going on in town," Allen shares. "We're not trying to be on the cutting edge; we're trying to make food that makes people happy. A play on comfort food."

The Domingoses have studied their loyal audience over the years, too.

"I knew that the first week of January people wanted (lighter fare)," says Julia, who concocted a vegan carrot soup for cleansers. "We contemplate that we cover all the bases each week. Except for the gooey, like an oversized burger."

The Domingoses, who founded Epicure Catering in 2001 and run the operation concurrently, can't cook burgers or fries, anyway. The café's modest kitchen lacks a vent hood. Thus there's no grill nor deep-fryer, either; the museum didn't want stinky food odors permeating the sterile galleries anyway.

Because of these limitations, dishes balance hot and cold: Kandinsky-colorful salads, pressed panini sandwiches, wraps, soups and stews, Indian curries, dips and crudités, burrata with crackers, quesadillas and the occasional charcuterie platter with a fat slab of luscious triple-cream cheese and smattering of dried fruit and nuts. The menu is posted every Tuesday (AAM is closed Monday).

Some enduring staples: warm, flaky croissants; a granola-yogurt bowl; a decadent, ganache-frosted espresso-walnut brownie; Rock Canyon Coffee; Dragonfly Jun (similar to kombucha but brewed with green tea instead of black) and a restrained menu of Colorado craft beer and wine by the glass. (Après-ski specials from 3 to 4 p.m. daily slash all beverage prices in half—one of the better deals in Fat City, no doubt.) And there's always a kid's plate, which includes a cult-classic s'mores bar.

SO Café sources primarily from Farm Runners, the Hotchkiss-based produce and artisanal product delivery service. "This time of year it can be sparse, but we can at least base one or two dishes around what's harvested locally," Allen says. Currently that means cool-weather produce—orchard apples, rutabagas, carrots, cabbage, radish, beets—and greenhouse-grown basil, all of which lend themselves to eye-catching arrangement.

"It's an intrinsic thing to me," says Julia, a Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park-trained chef with an art and dance background clearly reflected in her composed plates. (Julia is from Columbus, Ohio; Allen from New Orleans, hence the occasional Cajun-influenced dish.) "It's feminine food. And I've always done that, not too heavy, and colorful and bright."

Lisa DeLosso, AAM chief development officer, picks the shrimp curry as her favorite, with special mention to the roast beef and blue cheese or beef and pimento cheese panini. Café manager Mary Daly, the smiling face of SO Café on most days, concurs about the shrimp curry, and gives kudos to the Reuben sandwich, Waldorf salad and that rich, caffeinated brownie. Julia typically craves udon noodle soup with Asian vegetables. "That would be my last meal!" she exclaims.

Allen's choice: the everything-spiced salmon salad, ever more popular in recent years. Essentially it's a deconstructed lox bagel with cucumbers, tomatoes, pickled onion, capers, and signature seedy spice blend encrusting the fish. Last week Julia served a hearty veggie-legume chili with delicata squash and avocado, which got an umami upgrade from dried, ground shiitakes and a body boost from bulgur wheat.

Turkey-pesto panini on chewy ciabatta is layered with winter-greens pesto, fresh mozzarella and roasted artichoke relish—a bite-size hit at the latest public exhibition opening, which SO Café always prepares in anticipation of as many as 400 guests. Oil-cured tuna fattoush salad with garbanzo beans and dried olives contained surprise chunks of sumac-grilled pita, plus pomegranate seeds and lemon-dill vinaigrette. Last summer, Julia sent a nod to monks visiting AAM via Tibetian-inspired curry (perhaps unsurprisingly, they ordered sandwiches).

Fittingly, the Domingoses aim to elevate interest in palate-pleasing food that is at once familiar yet intriguing.

"It's fun to try to make it educational," Allen says, referencing ingredients such as Middle Eastern za'atar spice and the fattoush salad as expanding horizons subtly. "It is 75 percent local people who come in all the time, and we want to keep it interesting for them. The menus are driven by our love for food."

Get a taste of what he means by perusing the artsy, overhead food photography from SO Café on Epicure Catering's Instagram page: @aspenepicure.


Skier rescued from Aspen Mountain sidecountry

A skier with a broken leg was rescued Wednesday afternoon from the Aspen Mountain sidecountry, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office.

The 40-year-old man was skiing with two others in the Difficult area on the east side of Richmond Ridge off the top of Aspen Mountain, officials said in a news release Thursday morning. The group was on a sidecountry route that drops down the valley to McFarland Lane, which is 2.5 miles east of Aspen heading up Independence Pass.

According to the Sheriff's Office, the group tried to move the man after his injury and got to about 9,300 feet before stopping because of the skier's pain. They contacted authorities just before 5 p.m. and made a fire.

The group stopped about 1,300 feet above the valley and a Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteer team reached them at 7:32 p.m., according to the release.

A second team was sent to help get the skier down to the road. The skier, whose hometown was not available, was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital.

In the news release, the Sheriff's Office sent a reminder to be prepared and equipped for "the hazards that exist in the backcountry and (to) be aware of the start time of your journey."

‘Little Women’ opens today at Aspen High School for 3-day run

The Aspen High School production of "Little Women" will open on Thursday at the Black Box Theatre. It will run at 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. The play, based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, was written by Marisha Chamberlain.

The school has two casts totaling 16 student actors, each doing two of the performances with different actors playing Jo, Beth, Amy, Hannah and Aunt March. Tickets are $10, available at aspenk12.net.