| AspenTimes.com

Planning OKs preliminary plan for new Snowmass Center

The Snowmass Planning Commission completed its preliminary review of the proposed Snowmass Center redevelopment and expansion project Sept. 11.

After 11 public hearings between March and September, Planning Commission members voted at their most recent meeting to accept the preliminary plan and rezoning for the redevelopment project, accompanied by 90 specified development conditions, moving it forward to Town Council.

The recent Planning Commission approval marks the next step forward in a yearslong process to expand, redevelop and modernize Snowmass Center, which town officials and planners envision as the future “Main Street” of the village.

“We want to make the development accommodating to tourists but more accommodating to the needs and desires of the local community,” said Brain McNellis, the town planner overseeing the Snowmass Center project.

The planned redevelopment for the Center includes a 4,436-square-foot expansion of “community serving” commercial and office space; the addition of an underground parking garage with more than 100 spaces; an atrium and increase in public meeting spaces; a new public transit facility; and renovations of the existing Center businesses, including the U.S. Post Office and Clark’s Market.

There also are 10 deed-restricted employee-housing units planned above the refurbished Clark’s Market, along with 68 free-market homes ranging from multi-family units to townhouses slated in and around the new Center.

According to town documents, the expansion of Snowmass Center means construction of new buildings, including most of the free market homes and two new mixed-use buildings south of the Center.

Each Snowmass Center building as planned will be required to match the “silver” Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED green building standard in an effort to make the redevelopment project sustainable.

The tallest building will be 51.5 feet tall, and a few others will exceed the 38-foot maximum building height and encroach on areas with a 30% grade slope, plan documents state.

Part of the new Center redevelopment also lies within the Brush Creek Impact Area, but does not affect the floodplain, wetlands or any known nesting or breeding areas, and the developers plan to create infrastructure that improves the quality of storm water flowing into Brush Creek.

According to McNellis, town staff and project planners attempted to create a new Snowmass Center that aligns with town goals established in the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, increases vitality in the area and better meets the needs of the local community.

But the proposed project exceeds the “future buildout” identified for the area in the town’s comprehensive plan, triggering the “community purpose,” or benefit requirement for the planned development.

McNellis said the applicant plans to fulfill that requirement by setting aside large amounts of open space, working to upgrade the U.S. Post Office and potentially putting $750,000 toward a pedestrian bridge that would extend from the Snowmass Center area to Base Village.

Because this is a large project, McNellis said he and planners attempted to break each portion of the Snowmass Center project into “bite-sized” pieces for the Planning Commission to evaluate and discuss at each public hearing over the past several months.

At the commission’s Sept. 11 meeting, many members expressed concerns about the types of businesses that would be allowed on the first floor of the Snowmass Center, namely stating there needs to be a balance between offices and retail stores.

To address these concerns, the Planning Commission decided to adopt language that “grandfathers” in the current first-floor Snowmass Center businesses into street-level spots in the redeveloped center, too, but required the rest of potential first-floor tenants to be approved by Town Council.

Members also were concerned with not having enough space for larger trucks to load and unload at the redeveloped Snowmass Center dock areas, ultimately leading commission member Jim Gustafson to vote against the project altogether. “I just think the service is inadequate and I’m not going to support the project until that issue is resolved,” Gustafson said at the Sept. 11 meeting.

But Gustafson was outnumbered 5-to-1, moving the Snowmass Center preliminary plan forward to Town Council, which will determine if the proposed project goes onto the final planning application process.

McNellis said he hopes the preliminary plan will make it on a Town Council meeting agenda in early November, and commended the Planning Commission for its work on vetting the project.

“The planning commission did a great job reviewing this plan and getting in the trenches to make sure it said exactly what (the commission) wanted it to say before going on to Town Council,” McNellis said.

mvincent@aspentimes.com

Letter to the Editor: Response to Skico Snowmass update

Base Village has the best access to skiing, hiking, biking, free village shuttles, free Aspen buses and down valley transit. We live there in summer and winter.

Skico does a fabulous job on the mountain. But what they don’t talk about is the fact that Skico’s Base Village has six entities assessing Base Village residential owners with nine inadequately disclosed taxes and fees. Just two examples are:

1) Residential owners are paying $11.488 million of construction debt on the public parking and transit center while receiving none of the revenues. The developer-controlled tax district owns them.

2) Residential owners, assessed at four times the rate of commercial owners, pay 77% of the Base Village Master HOA budget for all snowmelt in Base Village for all plazas and walkways, public restrooms, the skating rink, fire pits etc.

In contrast, Skico’s Limelight hotel paid the 1% TOSV Real Estate Transfer Tax but not the 1% Real Estate Transfer Fee to the Base Village Master HOA, which equals about a half million dollars and has arranged to lower their annual assessment to the Master HOA by over $100,000 per year. The Limelight condo owners and other residential owners did not receive these benefits.

The Limelight Skico maneuvering is especially egregious because Skico, East West Partners and KSL got $20 to $40 million in additional value with the 20 condos that replaced the long-promised and never built 30,000 square foot Aqua Center as a result of the 2015 PUD amendment.

Residential owners are willing to pay a fair share, but we expect Skico and its partners to do the same.

A reluctant, but by necessity, Base Village Activist,

Pat Keefer

Snowmass and Texas

Artists bring interactive, experiential pieces to new S’mass community hub

On the evening of Sept. 13 in Base Village, over a dozen people were hard at work in The Collective building.

At the rink level, people drilled away in a stereotypical construction environment, surrounded by plastic tarps, unfinished wood and power tools.

On the floor just below them, people were equipped with spray paint, thick brushes and bright colors, working individually to collaboratively turn a once white-walled space into a diverse hodge-podge of interactive art pieces.

“Everything here is artistically affected,” said Chris Beatty, creative director of the soon-to-be game lounge and experiential art center in The Collective building. “I want it to feel comfortable and organic and I think that’s the secret.”

From a mural that plays music when your hand meets different painted shapes on the walls and inspiring word clouds, to giant, cool-hued spirals and time-warped images of Zeigler Reservoir, Beatty said all 12 artists will create at their own pace over the next several weeks to fill the bottom floor of The Collective with color, texture and design.

The experiential art and gaming center aims to be a fun gathering place for kids and adults full of “Instagram moments,” Beatty said, and will house an Xbox video game area, an eight-person fusbol table, a Ping Pong tube, a roughly 130,000-ball pool shaped like Zeigler Reservoir, neon-lit pinball, lounge space and more.

The space will be educational, too: about 10% of the balls in the Zeigler-inspired pool will be clear with artist interpretations of footprints that kids can match with the prehistoric mammal they belong to, creating a fun learning opportunity, Beatty said.

“I love giving people an experience because I think it’s more meaningful and it resonates,” Beatty said. “So for me, I want people to feel. … I want kids to come in here and start interpreting how they feel through color, shape, meeting new friends. Kids are just going to come down here and play with each other and I think that’s lovely.”

A graphic designer in Denver, Beatty said he hasn’t taken on an artistic endeavor quite like The Collective before. From 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. over the past week, he’s kept The Collective space open for artists to work on their pieces and has watched their work evolve from the original designs.

Most of the artists working on The Collective are from Colorado and most Beatty found through research, Instagram or his two “anchor artists”: Thomas “Detour” Evans, who is creating the interactive music mural, and Chad Bolsinger who is crafting the Zeigler Reservoir piece surrounding the ball pool.

East West Partners, the Snowmass Base Village developer, plan to pay for each artist to stay in the village while they work and hope to have a soft opening for the entire Collective building, which also will house a restaurant, bar and flex space at its rink level, on Dec. 7.

The company has promoted The Collective as the future “heartbeat” of Base Village, and will spend roughly $4 million to build out the inside of the new community space, bringing the finished building total to around $11 million.

“The Collective pays homage to the core aspects of Snowmass Village: It’s family friendly, fun and approachable,” said Charlie Singer with East West Partners. “It’s a unique project and we’re really excited about it.”

A grand opening for The Collective and part of One Snowmass will be held Dec. 14 as part of a Base Village opening celebration.

Snowmass History: Paving a trail in 1934

“Work on the program of the local CCC camp is progressing at a rapid rate,” the Aspen Daily Times reported in 1934. CCC stands for Civilian Conservation Corps, which was a voluntary public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men.

“Already, members of the ‘fly-camp’ sent to Snowmass Creek have completed a picnic ground at the foot of Snowmass hill, just over the Brush Creek divide, having fenced the area completely, built tables, fireplaces, etc. this picnic spot is now ready for public use. Next week, the crew will start building the trail to Snowmass Lake. Assistant Forest Supervisor Snow of Glenwood Springs and Ranger Shoemaker of this city this week surveyed the trail, preparatory to the start of building.”

Roger Marolt: So, now we are just big enough?

Can we please not call Snowmass Village “just big enough”? It sounds like some people want to adopt the phrase as our town’s slogan, like Reno calling itself “The biggest little city in the world” or La Grange boasting that it had, “The best little whorehouse in Texas.”

My humble opinion is that “just big enough” tries just a little too hard to put a positive spin on a new reality many of us feel we simply have to get used to. Remember when Aspen Skiing Co. came up with “uncrowded by design”?

That one came on the heels of a pretty severe national economic recession in the early ’90s that neatly coincided with statistics indicating that the U.S. ski industry hadn’t grown in almost two decades. The slopes around here were empty for a couple of winters. That slogan tried to imply that the desolation was planned. It was supposed to entice new visitors to come on out and enjoy the serenity we had engineered for them.

The unintended irony was that it made no sense to bring lots of visitors into a place that you had purposefully designed to be uncrowded. The slogan has been a enduring inside joke ever since.

“Just big enough” implies that, before Base Village, our town was too small. I have always assumed those were the good ‘ol days, but I’m sure somebody has sales tax statistics or the results of some visitors’ exit poll to prove they weren’t.

There is a name for people like me. I believe it is “yokel.” And, we have a name for Base Village and it is “a cluster,” a slogan that makes it sound like the three dry-docked cruise ships that now obscure our views of the mountains as we drive into town, such as it is, was all part of our perfect plan for this place and the culmination of our collective vision makes me feel like I am getting a tad car sick each time I go through the roundabout.

More wishfully, the slogan implies that we won’t get any bigger now that we have just added a million square feet of new development to our once “too small to thrive” community. It provides false hope that somehow we have now managed to knock the development genie on the head, shove him back in the bottle, and stuff the cork back in it to seal it up forever.

Let me put it this way, if we start telling everyone we are “just big enough” now, what are we going to tell them when the fourth and fifth beached cruise ships of Base Village arrive or when The Center redevelopment pops up like a pimple on our cheek? I think we are setting ourselves up for embarrassment.

There is no realistic way we can live up to such a static statement about our existence. The village is not going to stay this same “perfect size forever.” The most popular scenario, of course, is that it will continue to grow. We may even get a Base Village East at Two Creeks someday soon, sorry to suggest it.

But, there also is a chance that we shrink. I mean, if you really consider it all and that global warming is real, Snowmass Village will shrink, if not in our lifetimes, then certainly during our proverbial great-grandchildren’s lives. Think how hard they will be laughing at us about this “just big enough” thing when this place is a ghost town in the middle of a high desert.

All said, I think “just big enough” sets us up for huge failure. It is wishful thinking, rationalization and an afterthought all shoved into a shoebox and wrapped with a paper grocery sack in the car on the way to a birthday party you had forgotten about until your neighbor called and asked if you wanted to carpool to it. When the recipient opens this gift in front of everyone, there is bound to be a wilted piece of lettuce or the stem of an apple that falls into their lap giving away the haste in which the offering was put together. Sure, we’ll all give it a nervous laugh, but still it’s embarrassing.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t have a slogan. I’m only pointing out that slogans are a dime a dozen and that you usually “get what you pay for.” I recommend we go with one that is less contrived and more from the heart. The one that will stick is the one we already clench silently in our cerebral fists. For me it that would be, “Enough already!”

Roger Marolt would rather not look at Base Village through rose-colored glasses. He can only start to make sense of it when it looks all blurry. Email him at roger@maroltllp.com.

Snowmass Town Briefs: New website for Parks, Recreation and Trails

Snowmass Parks, Recreation and Trails revamps online presence

The town of Snowmass Village Parks, Recreation and Trails department launched a new website, snowmassrecreation.com, and new online management software Sept. 16.

In addition to providing a fresh look, the new online features give citizens access to current and upcoming recreation activities, classes, sports, leagues and facilities. It also boasts convenient registration and payment.

Parks, Recreation and Trails Assistant Director Sarah McMahon headed the project and said she is extremely excited for the online enhancements.

“The new website is much more intuitive, and users will have the ability to view facility and park schedules,” McMahon said in a statement. “This will make participating in all of the recreation opportunities we have to offer much easier.”

McMahon explained that the town’s goal of the online enhancements was to make their services more accessible, intuitive and easy to navigate. Everything also is mobile-friendly, so citizens can register for events from a smartphone or tablet.

More information about the new website, online management software and how to use it, visit snowmassrecreation.com.

Council site visit to proposed Village Mall Transit Center on Oct. 7

At the regular meeting Sept. 3, Town Council members decided to schedule a site visit to the transit center proposed adjacent to Carriage Way and the Village Mall.

The current design plan for the center includes a single bus platform at the mall level with four Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus bays, and six local shuttle bus bays, along with a roughly 60-space parking area below the bus platform that will replace the existing “Lot 6.”

On Aug. 19, Town Council gave mall transit center planners the go ahead to continue their design work. But on Sept. 3, Councilman Bob Sirkus said he felt council should revisit the proposed plan.

“I’m concerned about the size of the deck, the actual physical size, and having cars driving through the parking lot going from lower to upper Carriage Way,” Sirkus said.

Because council felt the site visit to the Coffey Place affordable housing development area was successful, members decided to visit the proposed transit center area, too. The visit will be a “walk around,” meaning no story poles or development markings, and will start at 3 p.m. on Oct. 7.

The site visit is open to the public.

Aspen-Snowmass students to lead climate strike, encourage local environmental action

For over a dozen Aspen-Snowmass area students, skipping school Friday isn’t a choice.

It’s not an angsty teenager thing, it’s not to score a three-day weekend. It’s to take part in the youth-led, global climate strike and to incite action by those who have the power to determine what the students’ futures hold.

“I feel that fighting for the Earth is more important than being in school because why be educated in your future if you don’t have a future?” said Eske Roennau, a freshman at Aspen High School. “From now on we can’t choose whether or not to act on climate change, we just have to.”

Spearheaded by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, thousands of students across the U.S. and around the world will skip school and demonstrate outside of their local government buildings Friday to bring climate change and its impacts to the forefront of adults’ attentions.

Roennau and about a dozen other local students from the Aspen Junior Environmentalists group will lead a local branch of this larger movement, marching from Aspen High School with signs to City Hall, where they will meet with Mayor Torre and host a discussion related to greener, more sustainable living.

“A lot of people don’t see environmental sustainability as something that directly affects them, so they focus on other things,” said Willow Poschman, 14. “The environment isn’t this other thing that needs protecting, we are a part of it as biological beings. So it’s kind of saving ourselves. Our future depends on how we act.”

On a recent day after school, Poschman, her twin sister, Isabella, and their friend Lilly Justice talked about what led them to start the Aspen Junior Environmentalists.

“We just had to,” said Isabella Poschman. “It’s the only way at this age we can make change because we’re not old enough to vote.”

The three freshmen said they and a few of their peers started taking action as a group in eighth grade when they started trying to encourage students to properly compost their waste and helped paint a mural at the middle school to raise awareness about gray wolves.

As they did more school-related environmental projects, they met more students who were interested in sustainability and reducing their carbon footprints, which ultimately led the teens to create a more formal group.

When the young environmentalists heard about the global climate strike, they felt they had to take part and saw it as a way to engage their peers and adults in environmental conversation.

On Sept. 11, the teens went to the Board of Pitkin County Commissioners (the Poschmans’ father, Greg, is one of them) and asked the board to declare a climate emergency, which they feel will spark awareness about climate change. Four other governments in Colorado have made similar declarations, including Basalt, Boulder, Boulder County and Fort Collins.

The junior environmentalists hope the county will follow suit and make an emergency declaration, along with the city of Aspen, as a result of the climate strike Friday. They also hope more than just students join them either during the march, at City Hall, or both.

“Our goal is to address problems in our community related to climate change and other environmental issues and to just get our voices heard,” Willow Poschman said.

“We want to motivate students to be engaged but also to make change in our entire community,” Justice added.

After Friday’s strike, Justice, the Poschman sisters and the other group members will return to the Aspen public schools campus to take part in another effort aimed at engaging the larger community in the climate change conversation: A “We Care About the Climate Crisis” gathering on lower Moore Field where students and locals are encouraged to wear white shirts and create a giant human snowflake that will be captured with a drone camera.

There are other events around the valley planned for Friday, including a noon event in Carbondale. Aspen Skiing Co. is giving its employees a pass Friday and urging them to participate in the Global Climate Strike.

Skico has a tradition of giving a summer “Hall Pass Day.” This year it is making it a little different, President and CEO Mike Kaplan said in a letter to employees.

“We are asking you to use your role as a citizen to push on the climate problem,” Kaplan wrote.

Moving forward, the Aspen Junior Environmentalists plan to keep this bigger climate picture at the forefront of people’s minds by starting a composting project for the entire high school, along with similar projects for local businesses in the Aspen-Snowmass area.

While they recognize it won’t be easy getting everyone on board with committing to greener lifestyles, the teens said they feel if they continue to live greener themselves and work to educate those around them, they can make a difference.

“Once there’s a sense of unity, it will be easier to jump on the bandwagon,” Isabella Poschman said. “We need as many people to care (about climate change) as possible so they feel they are a part of it and the solution, too.”

New Town Park designs shown to Snowmass Town Council

Snowmass Parks, Recreation and Trails officials presented a handful of conceptual drafts of the Town Park Master Plan renovations to Town Council on Sept. 16.

The presentation aimed to spark council conversation and to help parks and recreation officials get an idea of which conceptual design they should pursue moving forward.

“These are conceptual designs, ideas that are drafts that can be tweaked as we go along,” said Andy Worline, director of Parks, Recreation and Trails.

As explained by Worline Sept. 16, these conceptual drafts were of the third and final phase of Town Park renovations, which started in the early 2000s with the construction of the current recreation center, pool, landscaping, Town Park Station and other park amenities.

The 2008 recession put the third phase of the plan, which Worline referred to as the “town park completion,” on hold. Now 11 years later, Parks, Recreation and Trails officials are working with Connect One Design to “complete” Town Park by more efficiently using the space and “creating a beautiful, engaging destination for locals of all ages,” according to planning documents.

“In this decades-long master planning process, we want this to be the finale and this to be the final master plan that needs to be done for the true completion of the park,” said Sara Tie with Connect One Design at the Sept. 16 council meeting.

Tie, Worline and Sarah McMahon, assistant Parks, Recreation and Trails director, helped explain each renovation plan to council Sept. 16. The plans were centered on three main goals: to reorient and refurbish the Snowmass Rodeo arena, create more sufficient parking and create more flat, multi-use recreational and event space.

Each of the five conceptual designs focused on different placements of Town Park components, like the Snowmass Rodeo lot and sports fields.

The fifth design, which has received the most support from Town Park stakeholders so far, was dubbed a “Frankenstein” option, as it combined some of the best aspects from the other plans into one.

This hybrid option would include a large area of continuous turf and about 80,000 more square feet of field space total; two entrances and exits to the Town Park area with about 520 total parking spaces; improved entrance aesthetic; and moving the Snowmass Rodeo farther toward the village where the softball field is now.

After each option was presented, Town Council expressed a few concerns about the large amount of paved parking along the village entryway, which Mayor Markey Butler referred to as “paving paradise,” and suggested looking into the feasibility of subsurface parking below the recreation field spaces.

Council members also encouraged planners to further look at how to make the Snowmass Rodeo area more multi-use, but expressed agreement with the general concept of the fifth design.

According to Parks, Recreation and Trails officials, they have held presentations similar to the one given to Town Council on Sept. 16 with other Town Park stakeholders, including the Parks, Open Space, Trails and Recreation Board and Snowmass Rodeo. On Sept. 17, officials met with Jazz Aspen Snowmass, and hope to meet with the Snowmass Club in the near future as well.

Tie said Connect One designers and Parks, Recreation and Trails officials hope to have draft plan and a final plan before council prior to or by November.

All five of the Town Park conceptual desgins can be found at tosv.com.

mvincent@aspentimes.com

Skico and town officials talk growth, development in Snowmass

Aspen Skiing Co. and Snowmass Village officials had a lot of growth and change to talk about with locals at the annual Upload for the Download event Friday.

For over an hour, Skico and town representatives talked about the successes of last winter and this summer at Snowmass Ski Area, along with what both locals and visitors have to look forward to in the village and on the mountain as early as Thanksgiving.

“Really we’re here to celebrate — celebrate an amazing summer and an incredible winter,” said Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan. “And then of course, we’re here to look ahead.”

Similar to the Afternoon Blend gathering in the Sundeck Restaurant on Aspen Mountain last week, Kaplan laid out stats from last winter and defended the Ikon Pass as a key driver of attracting the next generation of skiers and snowboarders to the Aspen-Snowmass area.

Kaplan said that at Snowmass Ski Area last winter there were eight days where over 9,500 skiers and snowboarders were on the mountain. He noted that those were big days, but still divided out to under three people per skiable acre of Snowmass terrain. When taking Ikon Pass skiers and snowboarders out of those big ski day stats, Kaplan said five days would have been over 9,500.

“We’ve always been about sharing … sharing this place with one another, with family, with visitors from Brazil, Argentina, Russia or Denver,” Kaplan said. “I’d ask you to give that some thought and hopefully join all of us in welcoming all of our friends when they come here.”

But unlike the Aspen gathering last week, winter on the mountain was not the key topic of conversation at Elk Camp on Friday.

Instead, the discussion largely focused on the development the town and ski area has experienced over the past year, namely in Base Village, and the continued growth expected moving forward.

This winter season, three buildings are set to open in Base Village: The Collective and the two One Snowmass buildings, otherwise known as buildings 6 through 8.

Andy Gunion, managing partner for East West Partners in Snowmass, ran through these new Base Village additions for the local crowd Friday.

Gunion said The Collective, which aims to be the “heartbeat” of Base Village, is set to open in early December. The new building will house a bar and restaurant run by Martin Oswald, the longtime local chef who heads the Pyramid Bistro in Aspen. There also will be a “flex space” for people to gather and an interactive, experiential art center and game lounge, Gunion said.

In the One Snowmass buildings, Gunion talked about the opening of a new arrival center adjacent to the current Base Village transit center, an eyewear store, and a dynamic art gallery run by local artist Kelly Peters in the West building; and an Aspen JUS location, a yoga studio run by local yogi Aaron King and the new 6,000-square-foot medical clinic in the East building.

Both One Snowmass buildings should open this winter, with the West building set to open in December and the East building to open in January, Gunion said.

But although there is a lot of development going on in Base Village, there is a lot on the mountain, too, as laid out by Snowmass’ mountain manager Susan Cross.

Here are some of the major projects to be completed by the winter season Cross disclosed at the Friday event:

The remodel and rebranding of the Sam’s Smokehouse restaurant on top of Sam’s Knob. The eatery will feature “Mediterranean and Italian cuisine with mountain soul,” along with a slipper room and live-action kitchen.

New and improved snowmaking capacity

Roughly 27 to 29 new chairs added to the High Alpine lift

More parking spots in Base Village and near the Snowmass Rodeo lot, including a new Skico app feature that shows real-time parking availability

Along with Cross and Gunion, Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler also talked about town development and growth Friday, naming proposed projects like the Village Mall transit center, the Snowmass Center and Town Park renovations, and the recently approved Coffey Place affordable housing units.

She said the town sales tax revenue has increased 17% over the past year, along with town occupancy rates, which Butler feels shows how more people are wanting to spend time in Snowmass.

But Butler also stressed Town Council’s mission to ensure current and future development in Snowmass is “just big enough.”

“As I hear these projects — boom, boom, boom — I know people have to come into Town Council to get approvals,” Butler said. “The overarching theme for Snowmass and our community is just big enough. We don’t want to be Aspen, we don’t want to be Vail, we want to be ‘Just big enough.’”

Butler encouraged locals to stay engaged and to voice their opinions about town development, noting Town Council takes community input seriously and recognizes its importance in all of the village’s successes.

“It takes a community working in partnership with Skico and with East West to make this village happen,” Butler said. “So to all of you who live here, who play here, who help all of our guests, thank you.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

Locals remember 9/11, honor first responders at events in Aspen, Snowmass

At 6:46 a.m., seven Roaring Fork Fire Rescue responders sat down at a long table on the first floor of Station 45 in Snowmass, sipped coffee and watched a series of images scroll across a TV screen.

The images showed responders helping people covered in dusty debris and blood. People running away. Responders running in to put out the flames engulfing the two World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, 1,956 miles away and 18 years later, these seven local first responders were listening to the recorded Manhattan radio traffic from the 9/11 attacks in New York City and getting glimpses of what responders saw that morning.

“It honors the firefighters and everyone who participated in trying to save people,” said firefighter and paramedic Christine Benton of listening to the 9/11 dispatch. “It honors them when we remember them.”

And on Wednesday, first responders in Aspen and Snowmass honored and remembered those rescuers who gave their lives during and as a result of the 9/11 terrorism attacks in more ways than one.

Just before noon in front of the Aspen Fire Department on East Hyman Avenue, several pairs of rubber firefighter boots were lined up and filled with 343 red roses as part of the local fire district’s 18th Annual Day of Remembrance ceremony.

Each rose was tagged with a photo and name of one of the 343 firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

“They say we die twice, once when the breath leaves our body and once when the last person we know says our name,” said Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine at the remembrance ceremony, reciting a renowned quote.

“I invite everyone, please, take one or more of these roses, take a look at the photo and read the name out loud every chance you get so these firefighters and first responders that died will never die again.”

During Balentine’s speech, he aimed to urge those present to remember the men and women who died at Ground Zero in 2001, but also the hundreds of people who have died of 9/11-caused illnesses in the 18 years since.

Balentine also took the opportunity at the podium to talk about mental health for first responders, noting that they are 10% more likely to die by suicide than the general population.

But overall, Balentine said he feels outside of never forgetting what happened on 9/11, the best tribute people alive today can pay to those who died is to show kindness.

“My wish would be that people give back some of the feelings and the emotions that happened after 9/11 in a good way,” Balentine said. “There’s something called post-traumatic stress but there’s also something called post-traumatic growth. We can learn how to take those bad feelings and turn them into good feelings. … I think that would be an honor to the people who died in 9/11.”

Several hours after the Aspen ceremony and as the sun started to set in Snowmass, local area first responders gathered in the parking lot adjacent to the Snowmass Rodeo lot for a final tribute: the annual Axes and Arms 9/11 Climb.

The group of roughly 50 firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement and families met Wednesday evening to walk over 3 miles from the Town Park bus stop up to the Top of the Village.

First responders wore their uniforms and bunker gear and many locals brought their dogs and children as U.S. Marine veteran Christopher Caldwell led the charge behind a Roaring Fork Fire Rescue engine with an American flag gripped tightly in his hands.

“I’d be here walking even if no one else was,” Caldwell said. “We can never forget.”

Like Caldwell, local first responders also feel 9/11 can never be forgotten, which is why they organize events like the annual Aspen ceremony and Snowmass climb to ensure it never will be.

“This morning at each Roaring Fork fire station, the crews listened to the radio traffic from FDNY as they entered the World Trade Center never to come out again,” said Jake Andersen, battalion chief for Roaring Fork Fire Rescue. “We’ve committed to remember that the voices may be gone forever but the deeds of these brave men and women will live forever. That’s why we’re here.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com