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Christmas tree-cutting permits for White River forest land available now

Permits are available starting Nov. 15 for those who want to find and cut down their own Christmas tree from White River National Forest land.

Before heading out, people need to know the rules and regulations for Christmas tree harvesting, forest service officials said Wednesday. More information is available at office locations or the "How to Cut and Select a tree"  website. It is best to cut a tree from a stand and not single trees in a forest opening.

Permits are $10 and there is a maximum of five permits per person.

The annual permits are available at White River National Forest offices, including the one on Main Street in Carbondale and the office in Glenwood Springs on Grand Avenue.

In Aspen, permits are only available at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (590 N. Mill Street). Permits are available in Basalt at the Bristlecone Mountain Sports shop (781 E. Valley Road).

For more information, go to the White River website at fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.

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Aspen Mountain will open Saturday with 130 acres, top-to-bottom terrain

Aspen Mountain will open Saturday with top-to-bottom skiing on 130 acres of terrain, Aspen Skiing Co. announced Tuesday.

Skico previously said it would open five days before the scheduled opening, but details weren't available on what terrain would be open. The mountain will debut for the season with 3,200 vertical feet of skiing and riding served by the Silver Queen Gondola, Ajax Express, Little Nell and Bell Mountain chairlifts. Trails will include One & Two Leaf, Upper Copper, Deer Park, Silver Bell, Silver Dip and Dipsy along with Spar Gulch and Little Nell.

"Our teams have been working incredibly hard to provide as much terrain as possible for early opening," said Katie Ertl, senior vice president of mountain operations. "As we continue to work hard throughout the week leading up to opening, we will expect flash openings on more advanced terrain as we see fit and safe."

For opening weekend through Wednesday, Nov. 21, lift tickets are $99 per day for adults and $59 for children, teens and seniors. Half-day tickets for adults are $68 and $41 for children, teens and seniors. All pass products are good for the early opening.

At Aspen Mountain, the lifts will run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Sundeck restaurant and Ajax Tavern will be open for food and drink. The Ski and Snowboard School will be open, as well.

Skico also confirmed that Snowmass will open as scheduled on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22. Skico estimated Snowmass will open with 475 acres of terrain.

The Snowmass trails for the opening will include Big Burn, Max Park, Lunch Line, Upper Scooper and Lower Hals to the bottom of the Village Express chairlift. The Elk Camp chair will serve the trails of Bull Run, Grey Wolf, Bear Bottom, Gunner's View and the Elk Meadows beginners' area. The Breathtaker Alpine Coaster also will be open.

The Elk Camp Restaurant, Up 4 Pizza and Sam's Smokehouse will be open for food and drink.

Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Mountain will open Saturday, Dec. 8.

The ticket offices at the base of Aspen Mountain and at the Snowmass Base Village Gondola are open seven days a week.

Amanda Boxtel of Basalt in voting for CNN’s ‘Hero of Year’ campaign

Amanda Boxtel has been named one of CNN's Top 10 Heroes for 2018 and is in the online voting campaign for "Hero of the Year" and a $100,000 for her foundation, the network has announced.

Boxtel, founder and executive director of the Bridging Bionics Foundation, was honored earlier this year as a CNN Hero in April. A Basalt resident who became paralyzed in a ski accident at Snowmass 26 years ago, Boxtel has been part of a year-long initiative that honors "everyday people doing extraordinary things to change the world," according to CNN's website.

Each of the heroes received $10,000, and the Hero of the Year will receive an additional $100,000 for their cause. The winner will be picked through online voting at CNNHeroes.com.

In the case of Bridging Bionics, $100,000 would help fund 1,333 therapeutic mobility sessions for clients with neurological impairments, according to a statement. Boxtel started the Basalt-based nonprofit in October 2015 to help fund, educate and advance the research and development of exoskeletons and bionic technology.

Boxtel said she was honored to be recognized and appreciates the awareness it brings to the foundation.

"Our success so far has been in witnessing improvements with our clients who have various neurological impairments, and maintaining wellness through the gift of mobility," she said in a news release.

An awards show in New York on Dec. 9 will showcase the top 10 honorees and will be aired live on CNN.

Sheriff: Pitkin County Jail needs remodeling as part of proposed $10 million safety budget

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo wants to remodel the county jail to make it safer for inmates and head off any expensive lawsuits that might arise from current conditions, he said Thursday.

DiSalvo explained his concerns to Pitkin County commissioners during their annual discussion about the more than $10 million public safety budget, which includes the Sheriff's Office, the emergency dispatch center and the jail.

"The jail is a big topic of discussion today," DiSalvo said.

One of the main reasons to remodel the facility is the need to segregate male and female inmates, he said.

In the past, when inmate populations averaged in the single digits, it wasn't a big deal for men and women to mingle in the jail's common area. Now, with averages hovering around 18 to 19 inmates and an April 2017 incident where a man and a woman had sex in the jail for hours, that isn't possible anymore, DiSalvo said.

Currently, jail deputies allow male and female inmates to alternate their use of the common area hourly, he said.

"That's really not an effective way to manage the population," DiSalvo said.

The best way to solve the problem is to establish separate wings for men and women, he said.

DiSalvo also said he wants to use the old dispatch center — located on the south side of the jail building — as a wing for inmates with mental-health issues. The center was used as a construction management office during construction of the county's new building on Main Street, but has been empty since, he said.

Finally, the sheriff said he'd like to have an area for people arrested for DUI to be held and not mix them with the general population.

"Other jurisdictions have had major lawsuits over what we're talking about," he said.

All of those things can be done without increasing the facility's footprint, he said.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said the county already has budgeted $175,000 to hire an architect to come up with solutions. The problem will come in trying to implement those solutions, which has not been budgeted into the county's five-year facilities plan, Peacock said.

Other jail needs include a full-time nurse to monitor inmates' health and medication issues, which is expected to cost an extra $104,000 a year, according to the 2019 jail budget. Also, the Sheriff's Office wants to hire another jail deputy in 2019. The jail's total budget is expected to be $2.5 million. The total public safety budget of $10 million includes a combined 22 percent increase for the three departments.

The Sheriff's Office increases include $29,500 for uniforms, personal protection equipment and new hire costs and $16,000 in new software to track evidence. The office also needs $71,000 to replace body armor and $41,000 for rifles and the firearms program. The sheriff's budget is expected to be $4.51 million.

With a budget of $2.12 million, the dispatch center at the North Forty mainly needs a boost in its overtime fund, DiSalvo said. The center has a chronic shortage of employees, and DiSalvo encouraged people looking for a job to apply.

Commissioners were generally receptive to the funding increases.

The Pitkin County Coroner's Office and the 9th Judicial District Attorney's Office also claim portions of the public safety budget. District Attorney Jeff Cheney is scheduled to talk to commissioners about his budget next week.


Aspen Mountain will open for season five days early on Nov. 17

Aspen Mountain will open for the season on Saturday, Nov. 17, five days before the scheduled opening — though what exactly will open is yet to be determined, Aspen Skiing Co. announced Thursday.

"We're opening. We're happy to be opening. We just don't know what we're opening yet," said Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

The amount of terrain that opens will depend on how much snow falls between now and then.

"At a minimum, we'll do Nell and Bell," Hanle said, referring to the Little Nell chairlift at the base and the old standby Bell Mountain chairlift. If that's all that opens on Nov. 17, Aspen Mountain will still offer more vertical feet of skiing than many of the resorts now open in Colorado, according to Hanle. The top of the Bell Mountain chair is at an elevation of about 10,500 feet. The base is at about 7,945 feet.

Hanle said the ticket price can't be set because it's uncertain how much terrain will open. Ski passes will be able to be used.

Snowmass will not open early but is making preparations to open for the traditional Thanksgiving Day opening.

Snow is in the forecast for the Aspen area on Sunday. If enough snow falls to cover the mountaintop with a sufficient base, the Ajax Express and Silver Queen Gondola could also open. Further details will be released as they are determined.

Cold temperatures over the past nine days have allowed Skico to fire up the snowmaking system to cover the lower two-thirds of the slopes. That is vital for the early opening.

Hanle said Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan announced the early opening at a meeting Thursday afternoon at a meeting at the Wheeler for 150-plus Skico managers. People were excited about getting boards out for the season, he said.

"It's exciting to get open," Hanle said.


Update: Independence Pass closure will be ‘reassessed’ Monday

The first closure of the season for Independence Pass will last through the weekend and conditions will be updated Monday, local officials said Saturday morning.

The pass, which peaks out at 12,095 feet, closed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday officials sent out an update that the closure would be “reassessed Monday morning,” according to an alert from Pitkin County.

Highway 82 is closed at the winter gate, which is 5 miles east of Aspen. Forecasts call for snow on and off through the weekend.

The pass traditionally closes for the winter season in early to mid-November.

For updated road closure information, visit cotrip.org or call 511 from anywhere in the state.

Pitkin County budgets $4M for 2019 capital projects

Pitkin County plans to spend about $4 million next year renovating two buildings and purchasing another, officials said Tuesday.

At the top of the list is remodeling the historic Pitkin County Courthouse, which is now estimated to cost $2.7 million, said Jodi Smith, the county's facilities manager. The last estimate for the extensive renovations was about $1.9 million, though the cost increased after the contractor on the project recently submitted a new estimate, she said.

Not included in that estimate is another $1 million to replace all the windows in the building — originally built in 1890 ­— to make it more energy-efficient, as well as another $250,000 for a new roof, Smith said. The windows might be able to be partially paid for with grant money, while the roof could last another year or two, she said.

The courthouse, which until recently housed many county offices, the Sheriff's Office and the Aspen Police Department, will undergo numerous changes. Those offices moved to the new Pitkin County Building next door and the Aspen Police Department next door to that.

Changes to the courthouse will include building a third courtroom in the basement, adding an exterior stairway from the top floor for emergency exits and making the front door on Main Street the only public entrance, which will include a security station. In addition, the Court Clerk's Office will move from the third floor to the second floor, the District Attorney's Office will move from the basement to the first floor and the probation department will receive significantly larger quarters on the first floor.

County officials plan to submit an application for the courthouse to the city in early November to begin the public process, Smith said. The application will be submitted under a state law governing development of public buildings, she said, meaning changes suggested by the city are not binding to the county and can be overruled by a four-fifths majority vote by Pitkin County commissioners.

Next on the list is $250,000 to renovate the basement of the Pitkin County Jail into an area that can be used to search vehicles seized by police and sheriff's deputies, Smith said.

The county also will spend about $140,000 to renovate a portion of the Health and Human Services Building near Aspen Valley Hospital to accommodate employees of the newly created Public Health Department, she said.

Finally, the county plans to buy a building in Basalt for $799,000 to house the county's telecommunications staff, said Phyllis Mattice, assistant county manager.

The approximately 3,000-square-foot building at 351 Southside Drive includes a garage, which is essential for those employees, and will allow them a more centralized location to do their work, she said.

That staff services all of the county's TV, broadband, FM radio and public safety radio infrastructure — which often is located atop mountains — and runs from Aspen to Glenwood Springs and from Redstone to Thomasville, Mattice said.

"So the location in the midvalley is much more efficient for them," she said.

The building also includes a two-bedroom apartment, which will be available for rent for a Pitkin County employee, Mattice said.

Commissioners approved the purchase Oct. 24, and the transaction is set to close Jan. 7, she said.

Pitkin County commissioners were briefed on all the expected expenditures last week as part of their budget process.


In aftermath of Pittsburgh, Aspen police, religious leaders focus on safety

An interfaith memorial gathering and Shabbat service Friday will have a guest typically not seen at Aspen religious events — an on-duty security guard.

"We will continue to do the same for a number of weeks as we continue to review our security protocols," Rabbi Emily Segal said Tuesday, referring to the Aspen Jewish Congregation's response to the anti-Semitic attack Saturday at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 people dead.

The AJC sent an email to its members Tuesday alerting them to a memorial gathering and Shabbat service that will take place at 6 and 6:30 p.m. Friday, respectively, at the Aspen Chapel located at 77 Meadowood Drive.

The interfaith event is open "to the entire (Roaring Fork Valley) community to join us as we stand with Pittsburgh in the wake of this horrific tragedy," reads an invitation using the "#ShowUpFor​Shabbat" hashtag.

Clergies throughout the valley have reached out to local rabbis in the wake of the shooting carried out by a lone man who was arrested and taken into custody.

"Many leaders from the non-Jewish community have reached out with their support, which is very touching not just for me but many others," said Rabbi Mendel Mintz of the Chabad Jewish Community Center on Main Street. "There was so much warmth and love and kindness. I kind of felt like it unified the community."

As personally as the attack was taken by the Jewish community, it also has prompted Aspen leaders to look at the security measures in place at all religious venues in town.

"As we've done in the past with local businesses that attract high-profile guests, we're kind of extending that to all of the houses of worship in Aspen," Mayor Steve Skadron said.

The Aspen Police Department has assigned a sergeant to visit churches and venues of any faith to "gauge their level of preparedness and also to inquire how the Aspen police can best support them," the mayor said.

"It's more or less for us to check in and see how they're doing," said Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn.

Mintz met with Aspen police Monday before the Chabad Jewish Community Center held a prayer vigil service for the Pittsburgh victims later in the evening.

"We've reviewed our security and while there's nothing that can be perfect, you do everything you can do to enhance things," he said.

Segal and Mintz said resilience and faith give their congregations strength.

"My message is, when there are moments of great darkness, you add light," Mintz said.

Segal called for an "act of positive Jewish resistance" by "taking even more pride in being Jewish in the face of people being killed simply because they were Jewish."

Still, the national backdrop of violence and hate crimes has undoubtedly impacted congregation members.

"There have been so many members who have been in touch with me by email and phone and in person to express their dismay at what has happened," Segal said. "For many of them, they have never felt the kind of anxiety or fears that they're feeling now about what could be next to come to the Jewish community in the United States, that their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents came to the United States specifically because it wasn't going to happen here.

"And while they know it won't necessarily happen here, this is the most directly that they have felt that fear before."

The Police Department has worked with Aspen schools, day-care facilities, businesses and government regarding security measures. In the wake of the Pittsburgh massacre, now the APD is looking at religious venues.

"It's been on our radar for several years, providing safety planing and giving people what-if scenarios," Linn said. "And it's a whole different world when you have to do it for places of refuge. You would think places of refuge and worship would be safe, but it's not that kind of world anymore."


Aspen air traffic controllers honored for performance during Lake Christine Fire

Air traffic controllers at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport received special recognition earlier this month for finding creative ways to get aircraft safely in and out during the Lake Christine Fire this summer.

The controllers received a team excellence award from the Federal Aviation Administration in mid-October during presentation of the 2018 Regional Administrator Awards in Washington state.

"I'm super proud of them for their flexibility, creativity and tenacity" during the fire, Wayne Hall, air traffic manager at Aspen, said Monday.

The Lake Christine Fire broke out on the evening of July 3 and forced the FAA to issue temporary flight restrictions that affected the procedures for most approaches and all departures from the airport. There were numerous fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters used in the firefighting effort for the first couple of weeks after it broke out. Air traffic at the airport couldn't use the standard routes in and out.

"It was a really big deal," Hall said. "The fires were huge and they had a big impact on the airport because of the temporary flight restrictions. Early on, everything was a problem."

Aspen is unique among airports because the surrounding terrain requires takeoffs and landings to occur in opposite directions.

"The air traffic controllers at the Aspen tower were faced with a unique challenge during this event: how to safely guide aircraft around the (temporary flight restrictions), through mountainous terrain and allow the aircraft time to complete stabilized approaches," the nomination form for the team said.

"The temporary flight restrictions complicated the operation exponentially," the nomination continued. "Controllers were unable to issue aircraft the most commonly used approaches into the airport. Each day brought different conditions and a new 'best' way to work the traffic flow into the airport."

Hall said communication between air traffic controllers and the fire incident command teams was critical because it led to some creative ways to get flights in and out. For example, while the restrictions were in place, the firefighting team would inform the tower when there were "hot" and "cold" times for fixed-wing operations, Hall said. During cold periods of inactivity, controllers could implement more standard procedures for aircraft arriving and departing from the airport.

Commercial flights were affected to a greater degree by the restrictions because they have specific procedures that must be followed. During the initial phases of the fire, standard instrumental departures were unusable because of the flight restrictions. Controllers offered a seldom-used departure but it had to be closely watched because of conflict with the only arrival path into the airport.

"Controllers adapted and began running bursts of arrivals followed by bursts of departures in order to avoid those conflicts," the nomination form said. There were flights affected, Hall said, but it could have been significantly worse.

Between July 3 and July 22, there were 698 scheduled flights at the airport, according to data released at the time by the airport manager's office. An estimated 34 percent were impacted; most canceled and some diverted.

Commercial flights were operating close to full capacity by the last week of July.

"I believe they performed admirably," Hall said of the air traffic team. "They adapted all the time to this."

Credit also is due to the incident command teams because they realized how vital the airport was to Aspen's economy and adjusted the flight restrictions when it was practical, he said.

Hall said the controllers also worked extended hours at the tower during the initial phase of the fire to provide personal observations on weather conditions in case the power went out and automated weather observations weren't available. First responders issued a warning July 4 that the upper Roaring Fork Valley could lose power for as many as three days because of damage to transmission lines. The outage never materialized. Back-up generators were in place at the airport.

In the nomination form, Hall wrote it was a privilege working with the controllers and supervisors during the demanding weeks of the fire. Some of them were directly affected by the blaze — at least one lived in an area that was evacuated and others voluntary evacuated.

"They performed superbly when it counted the most," Hall wrote.

The team members are Brandon Leavitt and Kyle Gelroth, tower supervisors, and controllers Victor Alday, Luong An, Trevor Benthusen, Blair Cantrell, Matthew Croke, John Derrigan, Jennifer Finch, Jacob Greenwade, Nathaniel Osenga, Matthew Schlottman, Logan Schneider, Paden Sperling and Evan Vigil.


Clerk: Pitkin County’s ballot processing secure, state system a model for nation

Numerous safeguards are in place to protect against fraud during the election and ensure that each Pitkin County ballot — whether mailed in, filled out early in person or completed on Election Day — is counted accurately, the county's clerk said.

In fact, Colorado's election reporting and security system is considered a national model for election security, Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill said during a recent tour of her office's new space.

"Colorado is the state to watch for how elections should be conducted," Vos Caudill said, citing media reports by the Washington Post, Fox News and comments by Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen. "Other states watch to see what we're doing.

"We're forward-thinking."

The security processes are particularly prevalent when it comes to mail-in ballots, she said.

First, the ballot processing area inside Pitkin County's new building features 24/7 security cameras that begin monitoring 30 days before an election until 60 days after. Entering the room requires a code to access the door, and each entrance generates a tracking record, Vos Caudill said.

In addition, a Democrat judge and a Republican judge process each ballot.

Before ballots are opened, they are scanned into the system and another record is generated, she said. After that, judges verify voter signatures with signatures on record.

Then comes the opening and counting processes, where every step is recorded and chain of custody is scrupulously maintained, Vos Caudill said. Ballots are placed in secrecy sleeves to assure anonymity, and any ballot that cannot be read is put into an adjudication process for review, she said.

Once counted, the ballots are sealed.

The ballot programming and counting system is a standalone and not connected to any computer networks, Vos Caudill said.

"In 2016, Russians tried to hack the state system and they didn't reach it," she said. "There's no way they could touch an election county system. They would have to be here and understand our system."

But even then, human judges would likely thwart any attempt at fraud, Vos Caudill said.

"The integrity of our system is our judges — our community members," she said. "We should be very proud of what they do."

Pitkin County has a new elections manager this year because the previous manager, Kelly McNicholas Kury, is set to take over the District 2 seat on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners. Kury had no competition for the seat, though she will not be involved in the counting process this year to ensure total transparency and will allow Elizabeth Grando, the new elections manager, to do the heavy lifting, Vos Caudill said.

Vos Caudill also is running for another term as clerk, though she too has no challenger.

As of Monday afternoon, 2,301 mail-in ballots had been received out of a total of 12,691 active, registered voters in Pitkin County, she said. Seventy-eight people had early-voted by the same time, she said.

Those numbers were about the same as this time in 2014 — the last midterm elections — when about 7,500 county voters cast ballots, Vos Caudill said.

About 3,100 county voters are considered "inactive," she said, because they have been mailed a ballot in previous elections and it's been returned. Those who want to update their registration can do so online or in person at the Clerk's Office inside the Pitkin County Building on Main Street, she said. Monday was the last day to put a ballot in the mail and ensure it was received by the cutoff. After Wednesday, voters are encouraged to drop off their ballots instead of mailing them.

For the Nov. 6 election, the county building will serve as the polling place, replacing the Jewish Community Center on Main Street, which served as a polling place during construction of the new county building. On Election Day, there also will be walk-in voting and dropoff ballot boxes at the Snowmass Village Town Hall and Grace Church in Emma and a dropoff box at the Redstone Church.