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Paul Andersen: Crossing high passes with no trails

The deep hoof prints of elk fade where the ridge turns from soft tundra to fractured granite scree. Graeme and I crest the ridge with a collective utterance, WOW!

All around us are high, steep, ragged ridgelines. Beyond them are more ridges and towering mountain peaks jabbing into the gray, storm-laden sky. To the west, the dark edge of a black cloud trails the telltale drift of rain.

It is late summer. The unmistakable sense of seasonal change is carried in the cool breeze that has us donning jackets. Soon, a light pattering of rain arrives in advance of the glowering storm cloud that quickens our steps toward lower elevations.

We are planning to drop into the next valley, to the scattering of lakes far below, lakes that are a uniform gray, like pieces of slate that have been tossed helter-skelter into the emerald green tundra of a glacially carved gulch spotted with stands of stunted spruce and fir.

We don't have much time to assess the route because the first tremor of thunder ripples toward us across the basin. Without equivocating, Graeme ventures down a steep couloir, using embedded rocks as steps.

I take another look from this lofty vantage and feel an exhilaration that comes from a blend of awe and fear. Before committing to the couloir, I take a deep breath for calm and relaxation. I don't want to make a misstep on terrain where a slip and a fall could lead to a deadly tumble into the boulderfield below.

The rain patters against my hooded jacket as I maneuver down the first half dozen steps. The rain quickly makes the tundra grasses slippery. The soles of my hiking shoes squeak with the slick failing of traction, so I stick to the rocks, testing each one to make it is firmly embedded.

An occasional elk track provides a platform on which to plant my foot. I imagine these majestic ruminants working lungs, hearts and legs as they cross this pass. The next roll of thunder brings total focus to my foot placement, balance and breathing, but there's no rushing this descent. I adopt a calm, easy acceptance of the challenge while feeling inspiration from the alpine splendor around me.

There is no trail over this pass, nothing marked on the quad map we surveyed on the quiet, peaceful lake shore that morning after breakfast where we assessed contour lines as appropriate to a reasonable crossing of the ridge.

My fishing rod strapped to the side of my pack, we climbed to the ridgeline, not having seen anyone since we set off at a remote trailhead two days before. We find a contrarian satisfaction to laying claim to this lonely patch of wilderness.

This measure of exclusivity is a form of elitism that is part of our MO because wild places seem wilder when the masses of humanity are elsewhere, occupied by the mundane, the commonplace, the usual, the working life of 9-to-5.

The destinations we select are elite because they require hard physical effort and a sense of daring. In the midst of industrial life there are still places that are uncluttered and silent, that provide a lone spiritual quality and a palpable feeling of reverence. We are venturing into the place where man first came in. We, like the pioneers of old.

Graeme and I say nothing during our descent. Speaking would ruin the spell. We keep eyes on each other as we thread through narrow gullies and scramble over rocky escarpments. All the while we are very conscious of the storm cloud now sweeping over the ridge with tendrils of rain that beat down and make the granite glisten.

Passes with no trails — at least no trails marked on any maps — were scratched out by elk, sheep, goats and deer. Their paths are braided, faint, ephemeral markings etched as contours into the soft, forgiving earth where these animals have walked for millennia.

I have crossed many such passes and revisit them as metaphors for the watersheds of life, the great divides of the mind, the high points of spirit, the cherished passages of transcendence.

Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at andersen@rof.net.

A golden reunion: 1998 women’s Olympic hockey team reunites on the ice in Aspen

Reality hits hard sometimes, and AJ Mleczko could feel it all too well on Saturday when she joined a handful of former Olympic teammates in the 18th annual Stirling Cup all-star game at Lewis Ice Arena in Aspen.

"Any time I have a chance to get together with my teammates and relive some of the best times of my life, I'll take it," she said before the game. "I feel it hasn't been that long. It doesn't feel like it's been 20 years. I played in Salt Lake so it's been 16 years since I played in the Olympics, but physically it sure feels that long."

Mleczko was part of the 1998 U.S. women's hockey team that won gold. It was a milestone moment for women's hockey worldwide, as it was the first time it had been included in the Olympics. About half of that team took part in Saturday's game, which is a fundraiser for Aspen Junior Hockey.

On the other side of the ice was the University of Colorado women's hockey team, which included senior Renee Dreher, an Aspen native who grew up playing with AJH. The Stirling Cup all-star game is typically a matchup of National Hockey League alumni, so getting the chance to compete in the event herself was a bit of a dream come true for Dreher.

"It was definitely a bit overwhelming. We didn't really know what to expect coming out," Dreher said after the first period of Saturday's game. "It's been a long time since I've gotten to play on home ice and obviously the opportunity to play against these women is incredible. They obviously still have a lot of talent. It's a lot of fun."

In the end, the younger legs of the CU women prevailed, beating Team USA, 7-4. But for those Olympians, the score hardly mattered. For most of them, it was their first time being on the ice together since beating rival Canada in that gold medal game two decades ago.

"Just having half of us here is a special occasion for us," said Shelley Looney, who gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead in that game against Canada, which proved to be the game-winner. "We will always have something special with 20 years ago and what we did. Sometimes we don't talk very often, but when we see each other it's like it was yesterday."

That team is credited for the growth of girls hockey in the country after the 1998 Olympics. That theme was played out Saturday between periods when AJH recognized its own girls' 16U AA team that made the national tournament in April. It also recognized Aspen's longstanding Mother Puckers women's hockey team.

"We are all very, very proud of it," said Mleczko, who now works as part of the NBC broadcasting crew covering hockey. "I also think there is a lot of humility that goes along with knowing there were a lot of women who went before us. We maybe got the last couple of bricks in that paved road, but so many women went before us and played on the national team."

And it all came full circle last winter when the 2018 U.S. women's hockey team won Olympic gold, also beating Canada in the final. It was the first Olympic gold for women's hockey in the U.S. since that inaugural 1998 team.

"We were so blessed to see them do it," Looney said. "Every year we were hoping it would happen and it was well overdue. That group was special and they knew they could do it, just like we did 20 years ago."

The Stirling Cup weekend, which raises scholarship money for local youth hockey players, concludes Sunday with the annual golf tournament at Aspen Golf Club.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Carbondale’s DeMoor, Crested Butte’s Kremer win Golden Leaf Half Marathon

Carbondale's Joseph DeMoor didn't have the luxury of taking it easy over the final stretch of Saturday's annual Golden Leaf Half Marathon, a backcountry trail run from Snowmass to Aspen.

Not when he had two people within a minute of him.

Nonetheless, DeMoor held on to win the popular race with a time of 1 hour, 26 minutes, 2 seconds, only 22 seconds ahead of runner-up Galen Burrell of Louisville, Colorado. In third with a time of 1:26:51 was David Glennon of Boulder.

"I was definitely looking over my shoulder a little bit. He was right behind me the whole race, so it kept it competitive," DeMoor said of Burrell.

"He passed me at the last aid station. I think that was at mile 10 and a half. And I just kind of tried to get close to him again and ended up passing him with maybe a half mile to go and was able to hold on for the win."

DeMoor, who grew up in Buena Vista and ran cross country for the University of Colorado in Boulder, was competing in the Golden Leaf for the first time. He's lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for about three years.

Taking the women's half marathon on Saturday was Crested Butte's Stevie Kremer, long an icon in the sport. This was her record seventh win in the Golden Leaf, her last win coming in 2015. The 2016 race was canceled and Kremer did not compete in 2017.

Kremer finished in 1:39:39, well ahead of women's runner-up Kim Baugh of Colorado Springs, who had a time of 1:48:01. In third with a time of 1:48:47 was Lindsey Knast of Philadelphia.

Complete results can be found at http://www.sportstats.us.

For most, the Golden Leaf signifies an end to the local summer running season — the first official day of fall was Saturday — paving the way for colder weather.

"It was a fun race," said DeMoor, who works on Aspen Mountain and drives a snowcat during the winter. "This time of year, I'm just ready for the snow to start flying."

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Glenn K. Beaton: The 2020 Dem spectacle: Spartacus and the Native American

Democrats have demanded recounts, challenged the Electoral College, shot Republican congressmen playing softball, shot themselves in the foot, yelled obscenities at the president, claimed Russian collusion, assaulted conservative campus speakers and worn pink hats.

But Donald Trump is still president. So Dems are now down to their last resort: Defeating him in the next presidential election.

But with whom? Or as a Dem would say, with who? Joe Biden is too old, Barrack Obama is too 2008 and Hillary is, well, too Hillary.

Ah, but the Dems have nothing if not a deep and diverse bench. Take their junior senator from New Jersey, a fellow who declared in the senate's nationally televised Supreme Court nominee hearings, "I am Spartacus."

Well, I suppose "I am Spartacus" has a better ring to it than "I am Slick Willy."

This man's claim to be the leader of a Roman slave rebellion two millennia ago rests on, he grandstanded, his violation of senate rules. He bragged that he'd released confidential documents about the nominee to the press.

He evidently thinks that's something Spartacus would do. He dared the Republicans to discipline him for his rule-breaking the same way the Romans disciplined the other Spartacus for his rule-breaking. Well, maybe not exactly the same way.

It made great spectacle for a moment, at least in relation to the rest of the tiresome circus. What courage! What leadership! What resistance!

What bull.

It turned out that the so-called confidential documents had already been released from confidentiality the night before. Spartacus knew that, as did everyone else. This big resistance moment was staged for the television cameras.

Leave it to a Dem to abide by the rules the one time he wants to get caught breaking them.

At the time of that Supreme Court nomination, there was no evidence that Spartacus — formerly a guy from New Jersey named Cory Booker — had ever heard of the nominee. Nor had Spartacus read any of the nominee's 300-some judicial opinions and many other writings which earned him praise from scores of legal scholars and Supreme Court practitioners of all political stripes and every single one of his 33 liberal and conservative female law clerks over the course of a decade.

But when the cameras are rolling, who needs facts? Spartacus promptly proclaimed that this man who coaches his daughter's softball team and feeds the homeless at a soup kitchen is "evil."

That's how Booker became Spartacus. Or Batman. Or maybe Johnny Carson or anything else that might get people to tune in. Meanwhile, our valiant hero is already packing his rubber sword for the 2020 primaries in Iowa.

If only the first Spartacus had been as versatile as this Jersey one.

Then there's the blond and blue-eyed Dem senator from Massachusetts who boasted she is part Cherokee to maneuver her way up the ladder of quota-conscious academia.

Skeptics have suggested she take a DNA test to prove her bona fides. She apparently has taken that test privately and didn't like the results, because she refuses to take one publicly. Instead, she tells us to trust those high cheekbones of hers (which sounds vaguely racist to me).

Real native Americans remain unconvinced. And they're unhappy because her bogus claim stole a seat in the affirmative action derby. But native Americans don't matter to the Dems because there aren't many of them and they don't vote much.

Trump characteristically skewered her with a name as devastating as it is politically incorrect. I won't repeat it because mocking a person for falsely claiming to be native American to manipulate the quota system is racist if the person is a Dem.

So which will the Dems nominate for president in 2020? How can the Dems choose between such worthy cinema?

I have the solution. Spartacus for president and the other one for his VP. Oh, but that wouldn't be fair to the Dem identity group of women falsely claiming to be Native American.

How about the other one for president and Spartacus for her VP? Oh, but that wouldn't be fair to the Dem identity group of guys from Jersey who think they're Spartacus.

Maybe a fake co-presidency shared by the fake Spartacus and the fake Native American, where each gets a plastic trophy for participating.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will decide on a real president to lead the nation.

Correspond and subscribe at theaspenbeat@gmail.com.

Mike Littwin: The only sure thing in Ford v. Kavanaugh may be that one side is panicking

It's apparently never too early to argue the merits of Christine Blasey Ford's allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, although it might be better to wait until they actually testify at the Senate hearing. But even at this point, some aspects of the case of Ford v. Kavanaugh are beyond question.

For one, Republicans are panicked. To protect Kavanaugh, they won't let the FBI investigate Ford's allegations and they won't allow witnesses other than Ford and Kavanaugh to be called. They give Ford arbitrary deadlines, when to testify, when to agree to testify, when to agree to agree to testify.

The idea is to leave us with a he-said/she-said situation, hoping we'll end up hopelessly confused. Meanwhile, committee Republicans want female outside counsel to do the questioning of Ford because, in 2018, every single Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee is, well, male. (Four Democrats on the panel are women.)

For another, Donald Trump is still — and always will be — Donald Trump. But you knew that.

And for another still, in the run-up to the hearing, Kavanaugh's defenders are only making matters worse with a series of defenses that range from the sadly expected to the downright bizarre.

We can begin with Trump. For days now, we've been hearing about the remarkable Trumpian restraint in this matter. His advisers had warned that attacking Ford would not only alienate female voters in the November midterms, but also possibly the few Republican women in the Senate, those who could decide Kavanaugh's fate. And, remarkably, he seemed to have listened to the advice — for a while.

Those days of restraint came to a sudden halt in a Friday morning tweetstorm. And whether that is a sign of how much trouble Kavanaugh's nomination is in or simply the fact that the leader of the free world has the impulse control of a dog when confronted by a squirrel, we'll leave to the historians and to the mental health field.

What we know is that Trump has gone on the offensive with the oldest, least empathetic and predictably wrong-headed attack, one which should offend everyone, regardless of race, creed, gender or political preference.

Here are two of his tweets (warning: for the easily dumbfounded, you may want to skip this section):

"I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!"

"The radical left lawyers want the FBI to get involved NOW. Why didn't someone call the FBI 36 years ago?"

The FBI post is just funny, if, that is, sexual assault could ever be funny. Does the president of the United States not know the role of the FBI? Does he know what the "F" in FBI refers to? Does he think when sexual assault victims call 911, a friendly FBI agent answers?

But the first tweet is the far more serious one. Apparently having missed the entire #MeToo movement (I guess "Fox and Friends" didn't cover it), Trump wonders, even now, why sexual assault victims often don't report the attacks. Shouldn't Trump's own reaction to his own accusers — what is it now, 16? — clear that up?

If it doesn't, here are some handy statistics, courtesy of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: Of every 1,000 rapes, 310 are reported to police, 57 lead to an arrest, 11 cases are referred to prosecutors, seven lead to felony convictions, six to jail time. Is that a good enough answer?

Trump is just adding to the problem. A senator called her allegations a "hiccup." Mitch McConnell said they "plow right through" a hearing. Meanwhile, the various defenders seem to have settled on as many as three possibilities.

One, Ford is a liar, egged on by what Trump calls "radical left-wing lawyers" in order to stop the nomination. This defense is sadly predictable.

Two, also predictably, is that even if Ford is telling the truth, Kavanaugh was 17 years old, and geez, who among us has not at some point in our elite-prep-school lives drunkenly tried to pull off someone's clothes at a party while covering her mouth so her screams couldn't be heard? I mean, isn't that just roughhousing?

Three, she's "mixed up," as Orrin Hatch said. He said this apparently after talking to Kavanaugh. Hatch's credentials in these matters go back, as we know, to his offensive grilling of Anita Hill. The mixed-up defense — that she's got the wrong guy — allows us to "believe" Ford without, you know, believing her. After all, Kavanaugh has insisted he wasn't at the party, even though if he wasn't there, how would he know which party?

And then along comes Ed Whelan, a close friend of Kavanaugh's and a prominent force in the conservative legal world, promising new information that would be exculpatory, as lawyers like to say. Kavanaugh's defenders, in Congress and at the White House, waited breathlessly for the revelation, which came in a 24-tweet barrage — that has all now been deleted along with, just guessing here, whatever reputatation Whelan had.

He played sleuth, basing his attack on an Internet investigation, using Zillow, Google Maps images and old yearbook photos to conclude that another classmate — one Whelan actually named and whose photo he published — was the likely attacker. Because this classmate lived close to the country club named in a Washington Post story, and he had an upstairs bathroom (also described in the story) and, in their yearbook photos, he and Kavanaugh had very similar … haircuts.

Ford has since said she knew both boys and wouldn't confuse them, which seems like the way to bet. Whelan apologized for naming the guy, although not for his wacko sleuthing, and we'll now wait to see if Whelan is sued for libel. And the question that people now want answered — including, I'm guessing, every Democratic senator on the panel — is who knew about Whelan's conclusions before he published them.

In fact, I'm waiting to see who is the first to suggest that either the FBI or Google investigate the matter.

Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.

Aspen football wins big at Grand Valley; Basalt shuts down Paonia to reach 4-0

The Aspen High School football team overcame a slow offensive start to put together its best performance of the season on that side of the ball in a 54-16 rout of Grand Valley on Friday night in Parachute.

In what was homecoming for the Cardinals, Aspen clung to a 12-7 lead late into the second quarter before a wild final few minutes gave the Skiers a 30-7 lead at halftime and Grand Valley wasn't able to mount a comeback in the second half.

"That was a good one. The boys played well," AHS coach Travis Benson said. "The guys impressed me with their effort and their resiliency and it was nice to see the offense clicking and a lot of people getting touches and making things happen."

After a couple of empty possessions, Aspen got on the board with a 42-yard Trey Fabrocini touchdown run. The teams traded a couple of quick scores after that before AHS slammed on the pedal.

After taking an 18-7 lead, Aspen’s Noah Hollander got an interception and one play later quarterback Tyler Ward connected with Max Ufkes on a 69-yard score to suddenly make it 24-7. Ward again found Ufkes not long after another interception, this time by Noah Akin, for the commanding halftime lead.

"A lot of credit goes to Bayfield. They were an incredible defense. But we've made our adjustments and got things rolling again," Benson said, referring to the team's lone loss of the season at the then No. 1-ranked Wolverines. "A big part of it is the O-line and our running backs establishing the run and getting the run game going. That builds the rest of the offense."

Aspen continued to pile it on in the second half. The Skiers' first score in the third quarter came when the defense recovered a bad snap in the end zone, and before the quarter ended it was a 30-yard run by Jonathan Woodrow that made it 42-13.

About the only negative for the AHS offense came on the 2-point conversions, where it finished 0 for 9.

With the loss, Class 1A Grand Valley fell to 1-3 on the season.

Aspen, now 3-1 overall, next heads into 2A Western Slope League play with a trip to Delta (3-1) on Friday.

"We are excited to head into league play," Benson said. "It's definitely going to be a situation where we have to get better each week, but we look forward to the challenge."

Basalt gets third shutout in win at Paonia

It was a defensive grind, but the No. 5-ranked Basalt High School football team won 16-0 Friday at Paonia in what was homecoming for the Eagles. BHS led 6-0 before a crucial field goal by Chace Maytham late in the second quarter gave the Longhorns a 9-0 halftime edge.

"Really, hats off to Paonia," Basalt coach Carl Frerichs said. "They are a physical, strong team. Their linebackers and D-line are just real physical. They brought it to us tonight."

Basalt senior Jake Reardon still managed to rush for more than 100 yards and the BHS defense recorded its third shutout in four games. Only Battle Mountain has scored on Basalt this season, a 47-6 loss for the Huskies in Edwards.

"The first series they had the ball we were on our heels a little bit, but the rest of the night I really think we played well defensively," Frerichs said.

Basalt, 4-0, will open 2A WSL play at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29, at Moffat County.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Tony Vagneur: Whether grazing or mining, the West was worn down by expansion

Like all things disastrous, it started slowly before building to a great crescendo that no one had any control over. Cattle were king of the West in those days, 1870 to 1885. Money flowed in from Europe and eastern investors sent fistfuls of green to the cattle barons of the day. Herd sizes increased exponentially and the U.S. had some of the largest cattle herds seen anywhere in the world.

There were no fences, at least not to define property boundaries, and anyone with enough wherewithal to put together a herd had vast expanses on which it could graze. Big operations, the ones attracting big investors, kept rounding up and buying more cattle and were never sure exactly how many quadruped bovines they actually had.

They just kept turning them out into those wide-open spaces, rounding them up only when needed for branding or market. The result, naturally, was that in many cases they overloaded the available pasturage, making overgrazing a serious but mostly unrecognized problem.

To be fair, very few at the time had enough sophistication or knowledge to fully understand the issue so, in general, there wasn't any alarm to be raised about overgrazing. It was a fatal partnership between greed and ignorance that led to destructive land practices.

Cool summers and mild winters had made cattle ranching fairly easy, and there always seemed to be plenty of winter forage to keep fat cattle alive through the winter, but all of that changed from 1886 to 1887.

The spring of 1886 was very dry, with very little rain, retarding the growth of grass, and a scorching hot summer burned up what little fodder there was. By November, it started snowing almost every day, covering up whatever feed was left.

Cattle already were starving and dying when Jan. 9, 1887, rolled around, bringing with it a blizzard of immense proportions. It snowed an inch an hour, propelled forward by high-powered winds on top of the already deep snow, and the temperature plummeted to 35 below and then 50 and then, in some areas, to 65 degrees below zero.

Death's door had already opened for thousands of cattle by the time the blizzard hit, and it didn't take long for weakened animals to die from exposure, starvation, or to simply freeze to death on the spot. Cattle looking for relief traveled with the raging winds, at least those who had the energy, and eventually found themselves trapped in drift-filled ravines, shallow rivers or trapped tight against drift fences, staggered haphazardly across parts of the Great Plains.

To add insult to injury, a warm chinook wind briefly blew through and, immediately after, temperatures plunged once again to the depths on the mercury scale. Now, surviving cattle and horses alike were forced to walk through deep snow with a frozen layer on top, which soon tore through skin and hide on the animal's legs, leaving them in tragic, bone-exposed condition.

There wasn't much to do but wait it out and hope your entire herd didn't succumb to the disastrous winter. When the spring warm-up came, the catastrophe was mind-wrenching. Between Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas millions of carcasses littered the land. It is estimated that as high as 90 percent of the then-existing cattle herds were wiped out by the blizzard.

It was the end of an era. Foreign and eastern investors were scared away and it became clear to the serious ranchers remaining that they needed to run smaller herds, needed to raise hay and grain for their cattle, and needed to set up legitimate ranch territories with a headquarters and fenced boundaries. The days of "before the wire" were over, the great trail drives extinguished. Except for some areas in California and northern New Mexico, overgrazing was fairly well put behind the cattle industry, although to this day some of the damage can still be seen.

Where once there were hundreds of thousands of cattle roaming the various territories without any obvious hold on the land, there were now hundreds of thousands of sheep continually grazing through the countrysides, particularly in Nevada, Idaho and New Mexico. Since they were always on the move in trans-human fashion, the cattle ranchers tolerated them reasonably well, although in the end, ranchers increasingly became reluctant to share their grass with the sheep men moving through the country.

This eventually led to the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, whose main tenant stipulated that to gain grazing rights on public land, the livestock owner must own private property at the base of the permitted area. This was an end to an interesting era in the sheep ranching business.

Rather than suffer lasting damage from sheep or cattle ranching, Pitkin County suffered at the hands of mining interests who ravaged her forests and mountainsides, and the professional hunters who extirpated the elk and deer populations in this area. No one in the West seems to walk away unscathed.

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

AVSC brings back XC youth rec program named after Olympic skier Bill Koch

Before Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall reset the bar last winter on what American cross-country skiers were capable of, it was Vermont's Bill Koch who blazed the trail for the sport in the United States.

Koch, who won Olympic silver in 1976 to become the first American to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing, is the name behind the Bill Koch Youth Ski League, a nation-wide recreational program for children.

It was a program Aspen native August Teague grew up with.

"We had this phenomenal American who was shaking up the European ranks and in an attempt to ride out some of that enthusiasm, the U.S. Ski Team rolled out the Bill Koch Youth Ski League," Teague said of the program's start. "It was a recreational, learn to ski, fun program that really tried to capitalize on Bill's spirit."

The program disappeared over the past decade-plus in the Roaring Fork Valley as the AVSC's recreational programs were all rolled into the Base Camp program. But, with the alpine Base Camp program going back to its old name — Aspen Supports Kids — in honor of the late Bob Beattie, it seemed like a good time to bring back the Bill Koch Youth Ski League, as well, replacing the Nordic Base Camp program.

"The theme this year at AVSC seems to be going back to our roots a little bit," said Teague, the club's Nordic program director. "Our return to the Bill Koch Ski League is embracing going back to our roots. It's bringing back some of that fun, free spirit aspect of the program."

Meant for children ages 5 to 11, the program strives to provide a fun avenue to get youth interested in cross-country skiing. The non-competitive league is still big in the Northeast, Koch's native home, but has lost ground in the Rockies. Aspen will be only the third area club to currently provide the league to children, joining the clubs in Leadville and Summit County.

"The hope is we can grow it and actually create a festival in the spring that celebrates 'Kochie' and celebrates the fun-loving enthusiasm," Teague said. "It's to have fun outside on snow. It's a lot of games. It's a lot of play on snow."

There are one- and two-day options for the Bill Koch League in the valley. In Aspen, sessions are held either Monday or Wednesday, taking advantage of the district's early release. The two-day option, which is typically for the older kids, will be Mondays and Thursdays.

The Spring Gulch (Carbondale) programming will be Tuesdays and Thursdays. The AVSC is putting more emphasis on transportation and scholarships for downvalley kids to get them involved in the program this winter.

The days won't conflict with the Aspen Supports Kids alpine programs, meaning children can enjoy both gravity-fed sports as well as cross-country ski, if they so choose.

Registration is open, with the scholarship deadline and early-pricing deadline set for Nov. 2. Programming begins in late November.

Much like with Koch in the late 1970s and early '80s, Teague is seeing in increased interest in cross-country skiing after Diggins and Randall won Olympic gold in February during the Pyeongchang Games. Their medal was the first for the U.S. in the sport since Koch's silver.

"Absolutely unbelievable to see what they did," Teague said. "We are seeing the excitement in the athletes we have. We are seeing excitement in new athletes and new participants."

For more on the program, visit http://www.teamavsc.org. Registration is currently open.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Marolt: The brilliant Mr. Hunt

Mark Hunt is the most brilliant person in Aspen. So long, Albert. Cast Mr. Hunt's bust and prop it up in Paepcke Park. I'm not kidding. The evidence is becoming inarguable.

His ascendency began modestly enough. Mr. Hunt bought, among a quiver of other properties downtown, the incredibly lousy, old, awkwardly angled, concrete building with a weird garden level that nobody wanted at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. for $10 million in 2014, according to assessor records. The experts said he got taken to the cleaners.

Four years later, he negotiated a contract to sell just the top floor and basement of a reimagination of that building for a whopping $23 million. I think you will have to admit that Mr. Hunt is at least smarter than the potential buyers who signed that contract, right? Well, that would be us, you and me, the Taxpaying Citizens of Aspen! Mr. Hunt is clearly ranked first in our class.

Sure, he will have to spend nearly $8 million to rebuild halfway decent offices for the city there, but that still leaves him with enough profit to about double his money. Plus, by agreement, he gets to keep the street-level retail part of the building, worth another not-so-small fortune. How can anyone argue that isn't brilliant?

You are certainly not going to discredit him by asking an appraiser. Randy Gold is one of the best and most respected in this town. He told the city that the building was worth somewhere in the range of $18 million to $20 million. In other words, Mr. Hunt got the city to sign a contract to buy the top floor and basement of a downtown Aspen building for $3 million to $5 million more than it is worth. That's almost magically brilliant!

Of course, there was the moment when this contract was on the verge of expiring where Mr. Hunt risked looking like the fool himself for even presenting such a preposterous idea. But, Mr. Hunt somehow convinced the city to ask him to extend the contract to which request he happily obliged and now looks more brilliant then ever! I am telling you, the dude is amazing!

But, that's not all. Mr. Hunt also talked us into buying 5,500 square feet of gorgeous rooftop space next door, above Lululemon for around $9.5 million. That's about $1,725 per square foot. To put that into layman's terms, that is what some penthouses have sold for.

Of course, we have no use for a penthouse in our government operations, so how did Mr. Hunt convince us? He told us it would be perfect for government offices! And, we fell for it. … Again. It is brilliant! Brilliant! Berrrriiiliantisimoso!!!, for the gibberish-speaking among us.

The backdrop to all of this is that we could build about 13,000 more square feet of city offices, to our exact specifications, on our own property for about $6 million less. The person who can convince us that this is a bad idea is far more brilliant than we.

There's more. A few years ago, you might recall, Mr. Hunt fell victim to a citizen's initiative that took the approval process out of City Hall and placed it in the voting booths. It resulted in the electoral defeat of Mr. Hunt's plan to build an affordable hotel with no parking. A victory for Aspen? Perhaps, but Pyrrhic most likely.

Brilliant people know to make windmills rather than shelters in a windstorm. Mr. Hunt is capitalizing on the voters' initiative getting these current, one-sided contracts out of City Hall's hands where in-house attorneys, planners and appraisers might eventually set things straight. Now, with the issue jammed into the ballot box, the city no longer has the wherewithal to back out of the very contracts they signed and extended. Brilliant!

Many voters see Mr. Hunt's plan as a means to limit construction downtown. They reason that, if we put city offices in buildings that Mr. Hunt is going to rebuild anyway, there will be no need to build on the city's Rio Grande land and, therefore, nobody will. I don't know where they got this idea, but whoever planted the seed was brilliant.

No sooner had that idea been cinched then Mr. Hunt began to somewhat quietly circulate the prospect of a new convention center being built on the Rio Grande site. It would host concerts, exhibitions, shows, outdoor markets and even skiing for the kiddies on a regraded slope from the top of the parking garage into Rio Grande Park. It would be fantastic for the town, he says. What he doesn't have to say is that it would be even better for the proud new owners of the commercial properties down there on North Mill Street.

Like I said, brilliant.

Roger Marolt thinks Mark Hunt is the smartest developer to hit our streets since J.B. Wheeler. Email at roger@maroltllp.com.

Popularity of climbing indoors is on rise; might be time to get back in the harness

Since its start in the mid-1980s, indoor rock climbing was seen as a slightly risky and extremely difficult niche sport. It was considered by a good chunk of the country to be off the beaten path, meant for those who were either adrenaline junkies or professional climbers (or both).

However, in recent years, the sport has slowly entered into the mainstream. From 2015 to 2016, the number of commercial climbing gyms in the U.S. increased from 388 to 414. In 2017, 43 more gyms were added throughout the country, according to Climbing Business Journal, an independent news outlet that covers the indoor climbing industry. These numbers don't include the hundreds (possibly thousands) of climbing walls featured in larger facilities throughout the country, such as the ones in many Dick's Sporting Goods stores or in local recreation centers.

Indoor rock climbing is seeing growth in popularity largely because of the news, which came in August 2016, that the sport would be a part of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The competition will include 40 climbers (an equal number of men and women) competing over three rock climbing categories: sport, bouldering and speed.

The news about the Olympics is not the only reason indoor rock climbing has increased in popularity over the past several years, though. There's been a lot of money put into large indoor climbing spaces across the country. They're popping up everywhere, from large cities to small towns, thanks to passionate climbers and savvy entrepreneurs.

Christina Frain, the director of sales and marketing for Eldorado Climbing Walls, a company based in Boulder that designs and builds rock climbing walls across the U.S. and in Canada, was interviewed for an article in the Snowmass Sun last week. Frain said there's been a huge desire to put climbing walls at ski resorts for an extra summer activity. She credits the surge in popularity to the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act passed in 2011, which allowed for more outdoor activities on Forest Service land.

Another reason for the popularity may be that millennials are getting involved in the sport. I can't find any exact studies that show participation numbers, however, the Outdoor Industry Association has come out with some numbers showing that young people in urban areas like to buy climbing-related gear. Many articles also allude to my generation participating in the sport. I've seen several of my friends take interest in rock climbing, as well. Many have opted for a monthly membership at a rock climbing facility instead of the traditional gym filled with treadmills, ellipticals and a weight room.

The Climbing Business Journal also has a lot of hope when it comes to Generation Z (also known as centennials). The publication said it expects them to be huge participators in the sport (and many already are) because climbing gyms have been around since they were born and they are "comfortable there."

The promising growth of rock climbing can be seen very well on a local level. In the valley, new rock climbing walls and gyms are popping up. A new bouldering gym called Monkey House opened in Carbondale in July. In Snowmass, there's a climbing wall at Aspen Skiing Co.'s new Lost Forest. One is also being built in Base Village as a part of the Limelight Hotel. And that's not even mentioning the several walls in the valley that are features of recreations centers from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. For those who are interested in diving into rock climbing without actual rocks, the valley is an ideal place to try it.

As for me, I used to be obsessed with this indoor sport when I was growing up in Boulder. I always went to a place called The Spot. The gym opened in 2002 as the first-ever dedicated indoor bouldering facility in the country. I tried to keep up with my brother, cousins and stepdad, who were all much better than me at climbing. I also seized on the opportunity to hang out with boys in my high school class who were into the sport. Over time, I was actually able to keep up (kinda, sorta), and I grew to really love it. However, when I went to college in Boston, it was incredibly difficult to find rock climbing gyms close enough to climb in regularly (however, I've heard that's changed in recent years). With my busy college schedule and a lack of gyms to visit, my climbing hobby mostly fizzled out. But with all of this new hype around the sport, I'm thinking it may be time to squeeze back into my rock climbing shoes and put my finger and arm muscles to the test.

We will see how it goes!

Barbara Platts thinks it may be time to jump on the indoor rock climbing bandwagon. Reach her at bplatts.000@gmail.com or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.