| AspenTimes.com

Airline Climbing Trail only steps away from fall completion at Sky Mountain Park

The Airline Climbing Trail project is edging toward completion this fall.

Two Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteer projects are scheduled Aug. 13 and Aug. 27 to assist with finish work, rock armoring and seeding of disturbed areas, according Ted O’Brien, manager of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Resource and Trails. The events will be led in collaboration with Open Space and Trails and the Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Association.

On Aug. 13, volunteers will be refining the trails cut by Open Space and Trails. That process involves removing large roots and punji sticks (hazardous sticks poking up near the trail resulting from the cutting process), finishing the back slope, raking the trail, cutting sight-lines and completing any other finishing touches on the trail, according to RFOV program director Melissa Daniels.

After the first RFOV trail workday, the bottom third of the climbing trail will likely be opened to the public, according to O’Brien. The upper two-thirds will remain closed and unusable until the fall opening date.

At the second trail workday, on Aug. 27, volunteers will be focusing more on rock work for the trail.

“We always have a good little group of volunteers that really enjoy rock work, so we’re saving a lot of that work to do with volunteers,” O’Brien said.

Following the conclusion of the second workday, RFOV and OST will evaluate the progress and consider adding another day of trail work if necessary, according to Daniels.

RFOV will partner with RFMBA and Sacred Cycle, which works to provide “affordable counseling for survivors of sexual trauma through mountain biking,” according to the organization’s website. Members of the partner organizations will join the 40 volunteers who signed up through RFOV, according to Daniels.

“The thing that I really love about working here is that we really value partnerships with other organizations and we believe that we don’t get anything done independently; everything is done in partnership with other people,” Daniels said. “We wanted to spread the word about what they do and engage with their communities.”

The climbing trail is built parallel to the existing Airline Trail, which will be restricted to downhill traffic once the new trail opens. The new climbing trail will be for uphill bicycle traffic and bidirectional foot traffic.

The plans for the climbing trail were drawn up last year in response to urging by RFMBA, one of the major shareholders for Sky Mountain Park, according to O’Brien.

“It was a concern that RFMBA really pushed over the years and we got to finally address that push during the update to the Sky Mountain Park management plan,” O’Brien said.

During the process for creating an updated master plan for Sky Mountain Park, which occurs every five years, RFMBA voiced their concerns during the public comment period.

“Everything we do is based on public comment and the public process,” O’Brien said.

In the past, the existing Airline Trail has been used for both uphill and downhill traffic. The Sky Mountain Park saw its greatest usage in 2020 with 79,000 visitors, according to the management plan. The most common usage of the park is for mountain biking.

“With the amount of use the park gets, having one bidirectional trail invited the opportunity for conflict or collision to occur on that trail,” O’Brien said.

Although no collisions were ever officially reported, O’Brien said OST heard “through the grapevine” about some minor collisions occurring on the trail.

The major challenge for the project, according to O’Brien, was clearing out the thick vegetation that grew where the trail will be. OST’s trails and maintenance crew began that process in mid-July, finishing it last week. On Aug. 2, the outside contractor for the project, Gumption Trail Works, began machine work on the trail.

“We’re moving along, progressing … ahead of schedule so we’re happy about that,” O’Brien said.

The Roaring Fork community has been very supportive of the project, according to Daniels.

“I’m really excited that there’s so much community enthusiasm for this trail,” Daniels said. “I know it’s been a long time coming and people have spent a lot of time working on getting this open and so we’re really excited to be working on it. We hope to get it open for people as soon as possible.”

Anna Meyer is an editorial intern at The Aspen Times for part of the summer. She will be a sophomore at Vassar College this fall.

Gaston outduels Hamilton to win annual Snowmass 50 mountain bike race

In a titanic battle of 35-year-old local superstars, Aspen’s John Gaston outdueled Basalt’s Simi Hamilton on Saturday to win the fourth iteration of the Snowmass 50 mountain bike race. Formerly called the Power of Four, the Aspen Skiing Co.-produced event is a 50-mile trek involving two 25-mile laps around Snowmass Ski Area, beginning and finishing on Fanny Hill.

Gaston, one of the country’s premier ski mountaineering athletes who co-founded Strafe Outerwear alongside his brother, finished with a time of 4 hours, 36 minutes, 28 seconds. Hamilton, the Aspen-raised Olympic cross-country skier who retired after the 2020-21 World Cup season, finished second in 4:49:30.1.

Hamilton was hoping to defend his Snowmass 50 win from a year ago, when he finished in 4:17:19, with Gaston not competing.

This was hardly Gaston’s first local win. He also took home the Snowmass 50 crown the last time he competed, back in 2020, winning in 4:08:13. Denver’s Thomas Herman won in both 2018 and 2019.

Finishing third overall on Saturday was 20-year-old Aspen product George Beck, another rising star in both skimo and mountain biking, in 4:56:23. Denver’s Bucky Schafer, 40, finished just off the podium in 4:59:04.5.

In the women’s 50-mile race on Saturday, 41-year-old pro Crystal Anthony took the win in 5:45:36.1. Coming from Bentonville, Arkansas, Anthony has frequented local Aspen races in recent years, also winning the Snowmass 50 mountain bike race back in 2020.

Finishing second on Saturday was Snowmass local Caroline Tory, 32, in 5:49:05.5, while Utah’s Nicole Tittensor, 36, was third in 6:23:18.8. Tittensor won the women’s race last summer in 5:50:11. Just off the podium on Saturday was local rider Rachel Beck, mother of George Beck, in 6:43:08.9.

In the 25-mile race, where riders complete just a single lap, 14-year-old Quinn Carpenter of Carbondale won in 2:48:56.1. He held off Aspen’s Taylor Rutt, 31, who was second in 2:56:08.5, and third-place finisher Chris Lane, 55, of Basalt (2:56:42.7).

The women’s 25-mile race win went to Carbondale’s Laura Hutchinson, 25, in 3:36:29.6. Erin Glen was second in 3:52:20.2 and Aspen’s Dana Laughren was third in 4:08:36.3.

Winning the team race, where each rider completes one of the 25-mile loops, was the duo of Tristan Trantow and Will Karrow in 5:16:49.

Complete results can be found here.


No fish tale: The eye-opening story behind Tim Daniel’s record-breaking brook trout

Unlike many fish stories, full of heroism and bravado on the angler’s part, the one Granby local Tim Daniel tells about catching his record-breaking brook trout brims with feeling and lessons in resource protection.

The story started on May 23, nearly two and a half months ago. Daniel, who’s been fishing since he was 3 years old, cast his line into one of the spots in Monarch Lake he thought a healthy brook trout would like. Soon enough, he got a bite, and as he reeled the fish on his hook in, he says he knew it was a large one. It fought for 15 minutes.

The previous record was set in 1947 by George Knorr, who caught his 7.63-pound brook trout in Upper Cataract Lake in the Gore Range.

Daniel’s fish weighed 7.84 pounds, measured 23 and 1/4 inches long, and had a girth of 15 and 3/8 inches. That made it the biggest brook trout ever recorded in Colorado and a state record. But catching it and earning the right to claim that victory didn’t feel all that great to Daniel.

“When I got it, I was trying to revive it,” he says. “I didn’t want to kill him. That really broke my heart.”

What’s more, Daniel had caught six fish heavier than the brookie in another area outside of Grand County, “and with all of them, I didn’t want to draw attention to the place I was fishing, because I’d never seen another person there,” he says.

Keeping the lake he’d pulled his other trophy fish from a secret was important to Daniel, as was honoring his record-breaking trout. At first he didn’t want people to know about the fish, because of the increased pressure it might put on Monarch Lake.

“But everybody had been coming up to me, and I felt so bad about the fish,” he says. “He’s the champion, not me, because of how long he’s been able to elude people. That’s what made me finally decide to let the word out about him. I wanted the fish to get some kind of credit, and maybe use this as an opportunity to tell people that we need to protect our resource.”

Turning in a big fish

Jon Ewert, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fisheries biologist for Grand County, said, “Tim had to do a lot of soul searching to let us publish his state record. But one of my points in talking about this with him was that Monarch Lake is actually a great place to hold the record because the lake is no secret. If you show up there after 8 a.m. on any summer day you’re going to be parking a half-mile from the trailhead. It’s more or less maxed out on use as it is, so new anglers might not find it that attractive when they see the traffic level that currently exists there.”

Ewert adds that Daniel’s fish grew to its size thanks to a combination of a high degree of biological productivity — “tons of bugs, lots of submerged, rooted vegetation” — and a fairly shallow depth profile in Monarch Lake. The lake also stays cold due to high-altitude streams flowing into it. Those conditions can produce some pretty large fish, plus the lake holds some relatively large brown trout, says Ewert.

“The brown trout provide predation on brook trout, thinning them out and enhancing the quality of the brook trout that remain,” he said.

Ewert didn’t age Daniel’s fish, so neither he nor Daniel will ever know how old it was. Ewert said, “It didn’t strike me as particularly old — more fast- growing. We do stock 10-inch rainbow trout in that lake, and the fish Tim caught is entirely capable of eating 10-inch rainbows and was probably making use of them as prey.”

Ewert adds it’s important people know Daniel’s fish wasn’t a “splake.”

Splake are a sterile hybrid of brook and lake trout parks and wildlife stocks in different places for management reasons, says Ewert. They look like a brook trout on steroids; the state-record splake weighed 18 pounds.

“So sometimes if a brook trout is designated as record-breaking, the first question is, ‘Is it a splake?’” says Ewert. “We’ve had anglers bring them in claiming they’re record brook trout, but we dissect them and say nope.”

Ewert says parks and wildlife hasn’t stocked splake in any waters connected to Monarch Lake, so there is no way one would show up there anyway.

Ewert believes Daniel’s fish was “generally in the age range of 6, 7 or 8 years old.” He says there’s no correlation in human years (like dogs), but that’s about as long as most trout live (although some can reach 11 or 12 years old). He had to dissect it to determine beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t a splake. But he waited until Daniel took it to a taxidermist and had the skin removed so he could have it mounted.

How a record fish lives on in form and memory

Daniel says he’s going to put his fish on a wall at home that holds some of his other trophies. There are those he won in ice fishing tournaments, elk he’s harvested and other trophy fish he’s had the pleasure to catch.

When I called him to ask if he’d tell me about his fish, he hesitated, saying, “I want to be humble.” But he decided to talk, even though I’d made a mistake in the original story we published on July 29. I wrote that Daniel had “snagged” his fish. “It nearly ruined my reputation,” he said. Unbeknownst to me, “snag” means catching a fish using a hook tethered to a fishing line and piercing its flesh rather than catching it in a sporting way (hook in mouth).

Ewert says Daniel by no means snagged his fish. He caught it fair and square. But Daniel isn’t going to tell you where in Monarch Lake he caught it. That, you’ll have to try and deduce through your own methods. Better yet, find a different lake to fish, and keep it a secret. And don’t expect to break Daniel’s record with a fish in Monarch Lake.

Ewert has been setting nets in there every few years for research.

He says he’s never netted a fish anywhere near the size of Daniel’s.

Three Rivers Little League’s late rally falls just short to Louisiana in regional play

VAIL — Playing in 100-degree heat, a four-run fifth-inning rally wasn’t enough for the Three Rivers Little League 12U baseball team in its second southwest regional tournament game on Friday afternoon in Waco, Texas. The Eagle County-heavy all-star team fell 8-4 to Louisiana’s Eastbank Little League to end the season.

“We knew eventually they’d start to bleed through,” Ben Dodds said of his team’s late-game hitting.

Dodds said Louisiana was a more “fundamentally sound” group than the team’s first opponent.

“They had arms, they had bats,” Dodds said. “The Louisiana team were men; mustaches at the age of 12. They were bigger than me.”

Logan Nelson hit a two-out triple in the top of the first inning to get things rolling for Louisiana. A walk and an error brought Nelson home for the game’s first points. The inning would end with Hayden Nunez stealing home while TRLL secured the final out by catching Drew Stromboe trying to steal second base.

All three TRLL batters grounded in the team’s at-bat. It was more three-up, three-down baseball for both teams in the second inning, as well.

Nelson led the charge in Louisiana’s five-run third inning with an RBI double and a steal of home. The 7-0 lead grew to 8-0 in the fifth inning when Nunez scored for the second time.

Carson Hooper from Three Rivers puts a ball in play at the LLWS regional play on Friday.
Sutton Dodds/Courtesy photo

In the bottom of the fifth, the TRLL bats finally found life. Ryder Strablizky and Kasen Aguirre advanced on walks before a Sanders Dodds single loaded the bases. Evan Neuman hit a bases-clearing triple to make it 8-3 before scoring on a passed ball pitch to make it 8-4.

“They were playing us very shallow, but we hadn’t proved anything yet,” Ben Dodds said. Neuman’s blast went 30-feet over the outfielder’s head. “That’s what got us started. Our energy and our spirits increased. It brought the joy back to what we experienced at districts and states.”

TRLL held Louisiana scoreless in the top of the sixth before attempting a valiant rally in the bottom of the final inning.

Tavin Shreeve hit a one-out single, followed by Strablizky advancing after being hit by a pitch. With two runners on base, Aguirre grounded out, advancing Shreeve and Strablizky to third and second, respectively. Hudson Rozga drew another walk, loading the bases as Dodds stepped to the plate.

Dodds patiently let the first three pitches go across the plate, but grounded a 1-2 pitch into a fielder’s choice to end the game. With the loss, TRLL also saw its season — which began in mid-March — come to a close, having claimed district and state titles.

“Phenomenal year,” Ben Dodds said. “This has been a very long run. It’s the longest run they’ve ever had.”

Looking back, the coach felt the team’s self-inflicted wounds were decisive in both games.

“What we’re learning is that errors kill you,” he said. “We know that about this game, but they really hurt us. We kind of beat ourselves a little bit.”

The coach also said part of it may have been TRLL being on the big stage for the first time.

“You’ve got cameras all over the field. I was mic’d up for both games — I was trying to have fun with Danny Graves and Keith Moreland,” Dodds said of the former MLB pros in the Longhorn Network’s booth.

On Aug. 3, there was a media day where coaches met with announcers. “It was a full production,” Dodds said.

“We told the guys after the game: there’s a lot of baseball left in your young life to be played,” he continued. “Be proud of how far you’ve gotten and now we just want to continue to get better and better.”

In the junior division southwest regional in Albuquerque, New Mexico, TRLL’s 14U team fell 16-3 to Texas East in its first game. TRLL plays at 11:00 a.m. Sunday in the double-elimination tournament.


Aspen Cycling Club results: Sky Mountain Park (Cozyline-Deadline) from Aug. 3

From Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022

Men’s A Long Course — Wave 1
1—0:54:03—SHANKS, Cooper—Basalt Bike & Ski
2—0:55:13—BECK, George—Strafe/STRAFE x MountainFLOW Eco-Wax
3—0:55:52—STROKES, Gregory—Resqwater
4—0:56:37—KOSTER, Ryan—Culver’s Glenwood Springs
5—1:00:15—TRANTOW, Tristan—RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team
6—1:02:50—KAROW, Will—RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team
7—1:05:30—SHAFER, Brendan
Women’s A Long Course — Wave 2
1—1:10:37—BERINO, Jenya
Men’s B Long Course — Wave 2
1—0:58:28—HEATH, Liam—RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team
2—0:59:37—KLUG, Chris
3—1:00:00—METCALF, Ian
4—1:00:13—SANTINI, Peter—Limelight Hotels
5—1:01:26—SMITH, Larry—Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork
6—1:01:40—VOORHEES, Peter
7—1:01:59—RISPOLI, Maxwell—The Meatballs
8—1:02:52—ELLIOT, Simon—Basalt Bike & Ski
9—1:04:30—WILLIAMS, Brian
10—1:04:31—ADAMS, Casey—Basalt Bike & Ski
11—1:05:19—FUNK, Adam—The Meatballs
12—1:06:38—MAPLE, Michael—Hub of Aspen
13—1:07:08—CIBULSKY, John
14—1:09:46—CHERNOSKY, David—Groove Subaru
15—1:14:10—BURKLEY, Rich—Limelight Hotels
Men’s C Short Course — Wave 3
1—0:43:46—BEERS, Seth
Men 50+ Short Course — Wave 3
1—0:49:30—TRANTOW, George—Valley Ortho
2—0:52:01—COOK, Miles
Men 60+ Short Course — Wave 3
1—0:45:27—GIBANS, Jon—Basalt Bike & Ski
2—0:47:26—ARMSTRONG, Mike—Basalt Bike & Ski
3—0:50:40—SLIVA, Glenn—Basalt Bike & Ski
Men 70+ Short Course — Wave 3
1—1:00:32—JONES, Larry
2—1:01:52—ADAMSON, John—Twisted Spokes Racing
High School Girls Short Course — Wave 3
1—0:44:25—HEATH, Megan—RFC Pinnacle Junior MTB Team
2—1:03:27—RICH, Marley

Race Marshals: Quinn Carpenter, Mark Murphy, Casper Shanks, Butch Peterson, Steve Denny, Corbin Carpenter

Results may also be viewed at www.aspencyclingclub.org. Questions about results should be directed to results@aspencyclingclub.org.

CMC Spring Valley to host 2022 high school mountain bike championships

The new mountain biking trails at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus outside Glenwood Springs are officially slated to host the Colorado high school mountain bike championships in October.

The multi-day event inviting the top prep mountain bikers from across the state is set for Oct. 20-23, bringing more than 800 racers, plus coaches, families and spectators.

The total number of visitors to the Glenwood Springs area throughout the race weekend could reach 2,000, organizers said in a news release.

The release cites a 2021 Colorado High School Cycling League Economic Impact Study, which determined that each dollar spent to produce a race generates a $120 return to the community in the form of lodging, restaurant and shopping revenue.

The championships are produced by the Colorado High School Cycling League, as mountain biking is not an official Colorado High School Activities Association sport.

Since 2015, CMC has sponsored an interscholastic league, hosting races at the college’s Leadville campus.

“Mountain bike racing became an Olympic sport in 1996, and high school mountain bike racing has kept pace, with increasing numbers of high school racers participating in the years since,” the release states.

Spring Valley recently completed work on more than 3 miles of new trails that connect to an existing trail network that was hand built over several years by students and community members.

The new trail construction was funded in part by a grant from the Catena Foundation, which supports opportunities for youth to engage and recreate in the natural environment, the release states.

CMC staff has worked with the Colorado High School Cycling League to create a 5 ½-mile course that’s designed for high school-age athletes.

The Roaring Fork Valley is home to four prep mountain biking teams from Glenwood Springs and Roaring Fork high schools, Colorado Rocky Mountain School and a combined Aspen/Basalt high school team.

“I think it will be a big advantage to be able to sleep in my own bed the night before our biggest competition,” Glenwood Springs junior team member Chloe Lutgring said in the release.

The league is also planning two regular-season races at CMC’s Leadville campus.

Results: Clare Gallagher, women shine in Aspen Backcountry Marathon trail race

Noted ultrarunner Clare Gallagher stole the show Saturday in the return of the Aspen Backcountry Marathon, winning the race that takes athletes over much of Smuggler and Red Mountain with a start and finish at Rio Grande Park.

Gallagher, the 30-year-old from Boulder, finished in 4 hours, 7 minutes, 43.7 seconds. Not only did her time best all of the other female competitors, but it easily beat the entire men’s field, as well. Gallagher is an accomplished athlete, her 2016 win in the Leadville 100 arguably at the top of the list.

The top male finisher was Alex Gordon, a 23-year-old from Maryland, who finished second overall in 4:16:16.1. Aspen’s Julia Rowland, 41, finished third overall in 4:23:33.8. Boulder’s Caroline Veltri Baker, 32, was fourth overall in 4:23:59.1, and Carbondale’s Zoe Rom, 28, was sixth overall in 4:44:38.6, giving the women four runners in the top six.

Basalt’s John Hughes, 47, was second among men, taking fifth overall in 4:24:19.6. Kansan Cade Evans, 20, rounded out the men’s marathon podium, finishing seventh overall in 4:52:52.1.

Among those who did not finish the race was Aspen’s Kristin Layne, who won the women’s race last year. Boulder’s David Roche, the overall marathon champion from a year ago, did not compete this summer.

In the half marathon on Saturday, Boulder’s Brett Wachtendorf, 29, took top honors in 2:10:30.4. In second was California’s Peter Davis, 25, in 2:12:35.6, and in third was Carbondale’s Tristan Purdy, 25, in 2:17:37.9.

The top female finisher in the half marathon was Lacey Bourgois, 35 of Colorado Springs, who finished fifth overall in 2:32:56.4. Genevieve Lillis, 31 of Snowmass, was second (seventh overall) in 2:37:12.5, and Wheat Ridge’s Erica Cohen, 40, was third (eighth overall) in 2:37:45.1.

The Aspen Backcountry Marathon is produced by the special events department of the city of Aspen.

This coming Saturday, Aug. 6, will mark the return of Aspen Skiing Co.’s Snowmass 50 mountain bike race, which was previously known as the Power of Four.


Utah Olympic Park expansion to help train future athletes, should open this winter

PARK CITY, Utah — The second phase of a project designed to improve the training of the next generation of winter sports athletes is underway, and those involved expect facilities to open this winter.

Construction crews are expanding the West Peak at Utah Olympic Park as part of the ongoing mission to invest in skiing and snowboarding. The project will create new terrain for an alpine and freestyle training area on the mountain and provide winter athletes with a facility they can use at night.

“This is an evolution of what we’ve done,” said Jamie Kimball, the general manager of UOP. “If you look at the broad spectrum of training environments that we have … we have a spot for everyone and this was kind of just the natural evolution of that.”

The organization has been working toward the project since at least 2010, but he said the idea of adding an alpine training component to the park came later. After realizing the need in the community, UOP began developing ideas to provide something different. 

Local sports clubs and other community partners helped raise funds for the first phase of the project, which included adding a chairlift and a longer ski run for intermediate users. It opened in late 2019.

Kimball said the project was a huge success and questions about phase two started almost immediately. Despite slowed down momentum in early 2020 from the coronavirus pandemic, work to develop the designs and raise funds continued. The project was approved in late 2020, but UOP officials decided to hold off on construction.

Work began this summer when the rest of the funds were raised. The second phase will develop 25 acres of ski terrain that consists of two main trails as well as a new chairlift on the property’s west side. The training area will also have lights to allow athletes to train at night. It’s expected to open in December.

Kimball said the development of the West Peak has been envisioned since the park was originally designed in the years before the 2002 Winter Olympics. This project is intended to create a “home base” for training along the Wasatch Back.

It will also help alleviate the pressure on ski resorts by providing another place for youth to train. More than 1,000 members of the Park City Ski & Snowboard Club, as well as several hundred more from other programs, are expected to utilize the facility, according to Kimball. It also has the potential to bring in regional visitors.

“Terrain really closes the training loop, it creates a full circle for all levels of ability, from learning to ski race or ski freestyle all the way up to the elite-level athletes, and so there’s no longer any gap in their training — period,” he said. “They can do everything here in their whole career at any time, which is really amazing and it supports what the current clubs are doing in the local community.”

Construction on Utah Olympic Park’s West Peak began this summer. The second phase will develop 25 acres of ski terrain that consists of two main trails as well as a new chairlift on the property’s west side. The training area will also have lights to allow athletes to train at night.
David Jackson/Park Record

The training area will not be open to the public, but Kimball said the entire community will benefit. The facility is expected to help alleviate travel costs, expand training options and provide an after-school option for students. There are ongoing discussions about creating a pass that may allow the public to access some of the ski runs.

It’s also possible the area may be used during a future Winter Olympics.

“As we started to design this and look at that terrain, we realized how well that terrain melded itself to multiple different disciplines, so we started to look at it through the Olympic lens as well. Long term, there is definitely the potential to host multiple Olympic disciplines on that space based on how things all work out with the other resorts here — we’ve got some potentials, for sure,” Kimball said. 

He said he’s heard positive feedback from those involved in the project, who say it’s critical to the success of winter-sports programming. UOP officials are also committed to ensuring the facilities are designed well due to their visibility from Kimball Junction. There is a full revegetation plan to restore the hillside and blend the work into the surrounding landscape.


Three Rivers Little League 14U baseball team is getting ready for regional play

In capturing the aura around the Three Rivers Little League (TRLL) 14U team’s trailblazing playoff run, innocence is bliss.

With a Tanner Roberts-led run to the regionals four years ago standing as the TRLL boards’ only memory of a baseball team making it out of the district and state rounds, it’s fair to label TRLL’s three squads (12U, 14U and softball juniors) headed to their respective regions as greenhorns, at least in one sense.

Underdogs? Too far.

“I think they’re feeling pretty good about their chances of winning,” 14U coach August Wittenberg said about his 13 athletes, nine of whom hail from Eagle County (the other four are Roaring Fork Valley products). 

Wittenberg and his club recently dug up a Facebook live video of the 2019 regional tournament. The vibe during the scouting report lacked one important feeling: intimidation.

“They looked good, but it looked like we could compete,” he said. “Watching it, (the team) was feeling like, ‘Yeah, they’re going to be better than state, but not so much better that we can’t be the team that wins and goes to the World Series.’”  

At Monday’s practice, the boys were getting antsy.

“They don’t want to wait until next week,” Wittenberg said.

On Aug. 5, the TRLL 14U all-stars will face Texas East in the first round of the Junior League Baseball Southwest regional tournament in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Winners of the six-team, double-elimination bracket earn the right to contest the World Series in Taylor, Michigan, from Aug. 14-21.

For casual sporting fans, Little League likely drums up images of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, stadiums with lawn chair-lounging parents making ESPN debuts in the outfield ‘bleachers.’ That would be the 12U division — TRLL has a team in that regional in Waco, Texas, too — but in 14U, the field is metaphorically (and literally) different.

“We’re excited to go to Albuquerque, but we don’t know what we’re going to get,” Wittenberg explained of his opponents. “We don’t know if they’ve had the same depletion from travel ball or what the competition is going to be like.”

While 12U players, lured to the lights of Williamsport, aren’t tempted by traveling teams or locked into high school summer league commitments, the 14U landscape is a little more of a mystery. TRLL took a collaborative approach this year, coming alongside players and clubs so they didn’t have to choose one over the other.

“We’ve been working the last couple years with the local travel teams to try to make it so that the kids can do both,” Wittenberg explained.

The result was that his all-star team — the collection of TRLL’s best players from its Eagle County and Roaring Fork-based regular-season teams — didn’t congregate for a full-team practice once before the district tournament in early July.

The Three Rivers Little League 14U all-stars kick off the regional tournament in Albuquerque on Aug. 5 against Texas East.
Emily Bonfoey/Courtesy photo

“They were all playing and getting practice and live-game action, so we weren’t worried about it,” he said of athletes’ participation with Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain High School programs, and/or the Glenwood Goats or Aspen Colts traveling squads.

“Because we did this, we really had the best kids from Vail to Aspen.” 

After leading throughout the district championship, the team survived a late comeback from Colorado River Valley. Trailing 10-9 in the top of the seventh inning, William Townsend singled on a 1-1 count, driving in two runs to propel TRLL to a comeback 11-10 win.

The team rolled through states with a couple of mercy-rule-induced wins, defeating Academy 16-0 in the title match.

“It was pretty equal of everyone helping out,” Wittenberg said. “We don’t have, ‘Oh, we’re not going to be able to go without this guy.’ What I was really proud of was that our boys on defense didn’t make any mistakes and the pitching was flawless. It was really cool to see.” 

If the team is to continue on its postseason run, pitching will be key. Little League position rules and pitch-count regulations mean navigating a four (if they win each game) and potentially six-game (a scenario instigated if they lose their second game but proceed to win out) tournament requires a deep bullpen. Wittenberg believes his crew, though not particularly tested in the local rounds, is well-suited for the challenge.

“If you want to go to the World Series, with pitch counts, to be able to have 7-8 strong pitchers is really going to be able to help us,” he said. “Choosing who is going to start that first game is a tough choice because they’re all so good. I think that is going to be a real advantage for us down there.” 

Townsend’s dad, Jeff, a former University of Kentucky pitcher with 95-mph heat, is a nice asset on the coaching staff.

“He can throw like 500 pitches a day and never get tired. It’s unbelievable,” Wittenberg laughed of his human batting practice machine.

Even with the ‘late’ start of full-team practices, the team’s chemistry is on point.

“We’ve really kind of found the positions certain people play and I think they’re getting used to each other and being able to focus on their position,” said Wittenberg. “These kids have been getting to know each other — they’re all super happy and excited.”


Golf Classic returns to Snowmass Club, aims to drive funds to Challenge Aspen

Challenge Aspen will host its annual Golf Classic fundraiser at the Snowmass Club on Monday.

The fundraiser will support the nonprofit organization’s scholarship fund and will include a variety of food and beverage pairings, according to Challenge Aspen’s website. Organizers expect 100 participants in the Golf Classic.

The event will begin with breakfast and registration at 7:45 a.m., followed by a shotgun start at 9 a.m. and concluding with a 19th hole reception at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $250 for individuals or $1,000 for a group of four.

The winners of the “closest to the pin” and “long drive” competitions get a trip to Pebble Beach in California.

Challenge Aspen works to provide disabled individuals in the Roaring Fork Valley with access to adventures, arts and cultural experiences, according to Challenge Aspen CEO Lindsay Cagley. The nonprofit is most well known for giving adaptive ski and snowboard lessons during the winter; however, it operates year-round.

“Our activities are designed to boost confidence and self-esteem while broadening horizons for all ages,” Cagley said in an email.

The scholarship fund allows Challenge Aspen to avoid turning participants away due to financial reasons, according to Cagley. The organization provides nearly $300,000 in annual scholarships for people with disabilities to “participate in adventures that empower the discovery of new abilities.”

Part of the funding goes toward Challenge Aspen’s group program for veterans and active military personnel with service-related disabilities. The funding enables the organization’s healing retreats to be made accessible to everyone who wishes to attend by covering travel expenses and meals, according to Cagley.

This year, Challenge Aspen has invited a group of veterans with service-related disabilities participating in a Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities (CAMO) healing retreat to play in the tournament.

“We are thrilled to host these brave men and women, offering adaptive golf and participation opportunities alongside our community of donors and disability advocates,” Cagley said.

Challenge Aspen upcoming plans include partnering with local businesses and municipalities and Aspen Institute’s Project Play to “address accessibility and disability awareness in the Roaring Fork Valley,” according to Cagley. It will also host a new vertical challenge in the winter, taking place in Snowmass. 

In addition, staff members and volunteers have been getting training in adaptive archery in order to expand access to the sport in the near future.

Anna Meyer is an editorial intern at The Aspen Times this summer. She will be a sophomore at Vassar College in the fall.