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Q&A: Mental Health and Covid-19
This week’s live webinar features mental health professionals and advocates to talk about some of the issues surrounding mental health in the current conditions. Our panelists are: Dr. Matt Wong, a clinical psychologist in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.; Deanna Rhodes, executive director of CONNECT Summit County in Park City, Utah; and Phebe Bell, Director of Behavioral Health for the Nevada County Health Department in Grass Valley, Calif.
Q&A: COVID-19 and the Economy
This week’s live webinar focuses on common questions about COVID-19 and its impact on the economy. Our panelists are Martin Shields, professor and Director of the Regional Economics Institute at Colorado State University, and Kat Papenbrock, Rural Opportunity Representative for Western Colorado with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
Coronavirus Webinar, March 19, 2020
Swift Communications newspapers across the Mountain West partnered to host a webinar answering commonly asked questions about coronavirus on Thursday, March 19 at 2 p.m. Mountain Time/1 p.m. Pacific Time.
The webinar featured Glen Mays, chair and a professor in the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy in the Colorado School of Public Health at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
Longevity Project: Aspen panelists highlight what longevity means to them at soldout event
The noun “longevity” has two definitions: The first is “a long duration of individual life” or “length of life”; the second is “long continuance.”
But for five Aspen locals, the definition of longevity is more nuanced than what a dictionary implies.
Alex Ferreira, X Games and 2018 Winter Olympics freeskier and medalist, said longevity for him means being able to ski until he’s 100.
Christy Mahon, one of the most accomplished ski mountaineers in the state, said the word means taking care of herself and morphing her lifestyle to what gives back to her heart, soul and body. And orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tomas Pevny said it means knowing his limitations and embracing the wisdom that comes with living a long, prosperous life.
For the five panelists who talked about their life experiences in Aspen and beyond Tuesday night for The Aspen Times’ Longevity Project event, chasing longevity had its nuances for each and some universal ties.
“It’s so exciting to be in a town that’s constantly active,” Mahon said of how living in Aspen impacts her lifestyle. “We motivate each other and seeing what’s being done by others is just contagious.”
On the fifth floor of the Mountain Chalet, a sold-out crowd of roughly 125 people listened as moderator Penn Newhard, founder of the Carbondale-based Backbone Media company, asked the panelists about what motivates and challenges each of them in their everyday lives.
Most of the panelists expressed their love of the mountains and the Aspen area’s active, adventurous culture as empowering and difficult. All highlighted camaraderie and community as their keys to success.
“Connection is so vital to our longevity and when we don’t have it, we struggle,” panelist and mental health professional Christina King said. “There is a lot of individualism and competition in this valley. I think we get distracted by that sometimes and forget to wrap our arms around each other, too.”
Mountain Rescue Aspen member and avalanche educator Greg Shaffran expressed similar thoughts, noting that the backcountry rescue and mountain safety nonprofit couldn’t operate without its dedicated team.
“As individuals we’re OK,” Shaffran said, “but as a group we can combine and do some really amazing things.”
After roughly 45 minutes of discussion and an inspiring video featuring 99-year-old Klaus Obermeyer — the German native and longtime Aspen local known for his positive spirit and for helping revolutionize the ski industry — the panel concluded and National Geographic adventurer Mike Libecki took the stage. Overall, the speakers highlighted the importance of self-care and creating meaningful connections with others as key determinants of a long, prosperous life.
“We all want to be like Klaus. It’s a good way to live,” Shaffran said of chasing longevity. “I think finding diversity in your life sets you up for success down the road … but I also think longevity is about what you are able to leave and what kind of effect you can have on other people.”
Having your ‘Klaus Obermeyer moment’ is an experience of a lifetime (VIDEO)
When you live in Aspen, eventually you get to have your Klaus moment. Mine came two years, seven months and five days after moving to this gem of a place.
Putting together our monthlong series on life and living in the mountains — Longevity Project: Elevate Your Life — it is a no-brainer, I said, that we have to ask Klaus Obermeyer his take.
I was fortunate in my 30-year sports journalism career (before moving to the news side and an editor role) to interview a number of all-stars, hall of famers and Olympians. I covered all the major all-star games as well as Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cups and NCAA tournaments of every kind.
But I have to admit the days before when I was working on my list of Klaus questions, I was a little anxious.
Wanting to be respectful of his time, and knowing he’s done just short of a gazillion interviews about “how do you stay so young,” I was really trying to keep my questions concise, on point and as fresh as possible.
As soon as we set up in his office and got the camera and questions rolling, Klaus answered each query with his trademark gusto and energy. His thoughtful responses on a range of topics kept us going for nearly an hour.
We wrapped up with Klaus showing me the focus needed in aikido, a Japanese martial arts he practices every day. Never would I have thought when I walked into his office that before I left the 99-year-old Klaus would be trying to pull down on my arm while I was putting my energy and focus into keeping it taunt.
Part of my interview with Klaus will be shown at Tuesday night’s Longevity Project event at the Mountain Chalet. After that, we’ll post the video online.
The rest of the interview, which includes Klaus’ life growing up in southern Germany near Austria before moving to the U.S. in the late 1940s and how he started Obermeyer with $10,000 he borrowed from a Basalt potato farmer, we’ll use for stories as Klaus celebrates his 100th birthday in December.
Now that we’ve meet in his office, I can only hope that we meet up on the mountain and I get to follow him down the hill. I know there’s no way I’ll be able to keep up with him, but it will be a privilege to try.
WineInk: Charles Bieler’s Rosé Road Trip
Wine entrepreneur Charles Bieler planned on making a final left turn in his pink 1966 Cadillac de Ville onto Aspen’s Main Street on the eve of the Food & Wine Classic. The turn would complete his grueling 60-day, 3,000-plus mile “Rosé Road Trip” across America and coincide with the Classic’s opening.
Alas, while Charles will still make that turn, it took a sad early-June twist in Detroit when the beloved drop-top Caddy went up in flames in the town of its birth over a half-century ago. A faulty fuel filter totaled the car.
Despite the carnage, Bieler will still be celebrating the culmination of his trip as well as the first two decades of a career as one of America’s most innovative wine producers and marketers. He will simply make the turn into Aspen in a Winnebago rather than the pink Cadillac.
The 43-year-old Bieler has masterfully ridden a 21st-century wave that has been marked by enormous changes in the way consumers — especially younger consumers — think about and purchase wines. As a “value warrior” he has put fine wines in jugs, pioneered the use of “to-go” box wines with his Bandit brand and showcased the beauty of Washington wines with winemaker Charles Smith and their Charles & Charles label. He has also created a mezcal brand, Sombra, with former Aspen Master Sommelier Richard Betts, and been a force in the “Wine on Tap” movement as a co-founder of the Gotham Project.
A pretty full glass indeed.
But his greatest contribution to wine in America undoubtedly has come as a passionate pioneer of the rosé movement. Long before the now-ubiquitous pink wines came into fashion, Bieler was on the road selling — from the back of a pink Cadillac — rosé to an industry and a public that was simply not buying the notion that pink was cool. Or delicious for that matter. An argument can be made that Bieler, and the rosé wines that he has spawned, have been the catalyst for what has become the fastest growing category of wine sales among American consumers.
“In 1998 I was a Nordic skier at CU, trying to make a decision whether to stay on that path,” Bieler said in a phone interview as he cruised down a highway somewhere between Schenectady and Rochester, New York. “I had some injuries and was not sure it was possible. I was a senior and I got a call from my father, Philippe, asking for some help. He had purchased a winery in Provence, France (Chateau Routas), that made this exceptional dry rosé but no one was buying the wine.”
At the time, the only experience most American wine drinkers had with frowned-upon pink wines was the insipid pink zinfandel that was sold in bulk.
“So I thought about it a bit, put on my P.T. Barnum hat, went on eBay and found a ’65 de Ville. I bought three vintage pink suits, put some Routas in the car and hit the road. I had no idea about the wine business and had no idea how hard it would be to sell these wines,” he recalled with a laugh. With no distributor or wholesaler, most of Bieler’s calls were cold. “I would sell a case and it was a huge deal, but I would tell the buyer, ‘If it doesn’t sell I’ll buy it back.’ And we did have to buy some cases back.”
For three years, and with many breakdowns, Bieler plied the roadways of America selling rosé. But he was also learning about the business and discovered that he could have a go at the wine world. Perhaps because his inexperience offered him a blank slate, he began to formulate ideas that were outside the norm for what had previously been a pretty staid industry.
The Bielers sold Chateau Routas in 2005, but launched a new Provence rosé that year under the Bieler Pere et Fils (father and son) moniker that has been a sensational success. Beiler also makes rosé in America under the Charles & Charles and Bieler Family wines labels.
This year on April 15, Beiler filled up a new-to-him pink Cadillac de Ville in Seattle and hit the road for a 20th anniversary tour to pour wines for a country that has now embraced his pink vision. This odyssey has been quite different than the one he undertook two decades ago.
“This time we are booked everywhere we stopped,” he said. “We average five appointments per day and get started at 7:30 and don’t end up until after 8 or so each night. I haven’t spent more than five hours a night sleeping this whole trip.” And at each stop he finds those who have been converted to the Church of Rosé.
The trip began with a cruise down the West Coast, took a left turn across the southland through Texas and Louisiana and eventually Florida, before heading up the eastern seaboard. Highlights include a number of Stanley Cup playoff tilts (he’s a huge hockey fan) and a 7:30 a.m. gathering in the heat of the morning at Sam’s Po’ Boys in Metairie, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans.
“We met three big restaurant owners for breakfast and ended up breaking out the Sombra,” he recalled with a laugh.
The final leg in the de Ville, before the calamitous fire, was scheduled to run west across America to Aspen, a place where the New York City resident once lived and now spends a month or more each year. “I went to the CRMS as a senior in high school and Aspen is still my favorite place. I have rented a house here and will be in Aspen for most of the summer.”
Bieler’s sojourn left him with strong impressions of the land he traversed, largely top-down. “You know there is so much negative press out there but I feel great about America. I felt this car (the Caddy) just made people so happy everywhere we went. And when people are happy they let their guard down and just open up.”
RIP, pink Cadillac.
A month after closing day, party returns to Aspen Mountain for weekend
Despite June standing on the doorstep, it remains very much winter at the top of Aspen Mountain. Between hidden powder stashes and the raging Sundeck party that was Saturday, it’s like closing day never ended even if it took place more than a month ago.
“There were a lot of people up there,” Aspen’s Jack Belcaster said. “The upper mountain is still very nice. Bit of a line, but you get through it pretty quickly and everybody seems to be enjoying themselves. Can’t go better for Memorial Day.”
With conditions still so prime — the reported 66-inch base is actually larger than the 60-inch base that existed on the April 21 closing day — Aspen Skiing Co. opened the upper portion of Ajax for skiing and riding for three days this weekend, beginning Saturday and going through Memorial Day on Monday.
The last time Aspen Mountain was open for Memorial Day weekend was 2017 — with around 130 acres available — that being the sixth time since 2008 it was possible. Lack of snow and warm spring weather made that impossible in 2018.
The mountain received 16 inches of new snow over roughly this past week, with a few more snowflakes still possible, leading to more winter-like skiing conditions than the spring slush usually found this time of year.
“We had snow, what, two days ago? And you can feel that,” Aspen’s Alex Swecker said. “It gets a little sticky, but it’s great. It was a beautiful day.”
According to www.onthesnow.com, Aspen Mountain is one of four ski areas open this weekend in Colorado, the others being Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge and Purgatory. Breckenridge recently announced it had extended its season to weekends through June 9, while A-Basin will remain open until at least the weekend of June 14-16.
There are 130 acres available for play this weekend in Aspen, centered on the Ajax Express chairlift. Officially speaking, there is no top-to-bottom skiing and everyone is asked to download on the Silver Queen Gondola.
However, ski town culture wasn’t necessarily created by people following the rules. Swecker was among more than a handful of diehards who opted to take the hard way down, which included a bit of hiking and rock hopping as they took Aspen Mountain’s full 3,200-foot, top-to-bottom route to the base.
“Saw a bunch of other people doing it from the gondola on my way up and I just don’t like taking the gondola down,” Swecker said. “It’s a little muddy. I tried to ride through the grass with my board, but that didn’t work out as well as I hoped.”
Saturday was a warm, sunny bluebird day on the mountain, and Sunday is expected to be the same. However, rain and snow could return to the area on Monday.
“You can definitely tell it’s getting a little patchy in places, but for the most part it’s still really good skiing this late in the season,” Belcaster said.
Ajax Express will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday and Monday. The gondola will operate until 4 p.m. for downloading and non-skiers. The Sundeck Restaurant will be open for food and beverages from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Summer operations also are underway on Aspen Mountain so sightseeing tickets will be available for $27 per day or $32 for the entire weekend.
For skiing and riding, anyone who had a premier pass last season can ski free. Any child 3 and younger gets a free ticket. Children 6 and younger who were passholders last season also ski free.
Other passholders from the 2018-19 season will pay $27 for a lift ticket for skiing.
The ticket price is $54 for people who weren’t passholders last season.
Anyone wanting to attend the celebration of life memorial Monday for Aspen’s Sam Coffey can ride the gondola for free. Coffey, a well-known local skier, died last week while vacationing in Mexico. The event is expected to start at 11 a.m. Monday on Richmond Ridge, just up from the gondola building.
Blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer tackles Aspen’s Highland Bowl
A visiting skier from Golden hoofed it up Highland Bowl in about 40 minutes on a partly cloudy April afternoon, took a breather at the 12,393-foot summit, clicked into his skis and then carefully picked his way down the steep slope.
Nothing about the hike or descent was remarkable — until you factor in that the skier is blind.
Erik Weihenmayer is world-renowned for his adventures. Tackling the Bowl is far from his most audacious feat. He captured international attention in May 2001 when he became the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He has an impressive climbing resume including the Seven Summits. He has solo kayaked the Grand Canyon, an accomplishment depicted in the documentary “The Weight of Water,” screening at 5Point Adventure Film Festival in Carbondale on April 28.
“People think that because I do things and I’m blind, I’m a daredevil and I’m really not,” Weihenmayer said. “I’m not a daredevil at all.”
For many people he is an inspiration, whether they have sight or not. There weren’t a lot of people hiking the Bowl when Weihenmayer tackled it April 9. But when they realized they were passing a blind dude, nearly all of them spoke words of encouragement or praise, took a photo with their smartphones or both.
Weihenmayer, who lost his vision to retinoschisis as a teenager, is an avid skier at Colorado resorts. He first hiked and skied the Bowl about five years ago at the suggestion — insistence really — of his friend and guide Rob Leavitt of Basalt. Leavitt has been an instructor for Aspen Skiing Co. for 30 years and guides regularly for Challenge Aspen, which works to get handicapped people on the slopes and into the outdoors. The two men were paired 20-some years ago at Snowmass through a Challenge Aspen program and have skied together ever since.
Leavitt said he used to be wiped out by their skiing sessions because guiding a blind person can be extremely stressful.
“But now we work fairly well together so it’s really more of a normal ski day for me rather than a grueling work day with the blind guy,” Leavitt said. “We’ve gotten into a really nice rhythm.”
As Weihenmayer tells it, Leavitt suddenly and surprisingly decided five seasons ago it was time they tackled the Bowl. “He said, ‘I think you’re ready.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready, let’s talk about this more.’ And (Rob) was like, ‘No, you’re ready.’”
The hike features a 782-foot vertical rise with nearly constant exposure on steep ski slopes to the hiker’s left and a couple of sheer drop-offs to out-of-bounds terrain to the right. Skiers and snowboarders take off their boards, attach them to packs or slings and trudge their way up the slope. Footholds are typically kicked into the ridge’s snow for all but the trailblazers to utilize.
Imagine finding those footholds and not straying off course with your eyes closed. It’s a frightening prospect. Then consider reaching the summit in a very respectable 40 minutes while doing so.
“I was cautious because it’s so narrow there,” Weihenmayer said, referring to nearly all of the ascent terrain. “It’s good to know the consequences. On the left, I kept tapping my pole to know where the edge is.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous but a fall would be a bad consequence there, I keep hearing.”
A reporter along for the trip was recruited into service as “Tinkerbell” — strapping a bear bell around a hand and constantly shaking it so Weihenmayer knew which direction he was headed. Weihenmayer was second in line. Leavitt was behind, providing guidance such as, “You really want to avoid the left side right now.”
Skyler Williams, the business manager for Touch the Top, Weihenmayer’s business venture, shot video of the journey along with Aspen Times photographer Anna Stonehouse.
Weihenmayer shaved about 5 minutes off his Bowl hike time compared with the previous day.
“Yesterday I was huffing a little bit — a lot, actually,” he said. Acclimating for a day and night worked wonders.
Once at the summit, Weihenmayer soaked in the experience almost like a sighted person — feeling the wind in his hair, feeling the sunlight hit his face, shooting the breeze with others at the summit. After a quick breather, it was time to ski down.
“He’s climbed Everest so I knew hiking up wasn’t going to be a problem, so my job is to get him down,” Leavitt said.
They have skied enough together that Leavitt doesn’t have to worry so much about Erik spilling and sliding down the wickedly steep slope. They can focus on making his style look “pretty and efficient,” Leavitt said.
They have developed a unique system. Most visually impaired skiers are guided from behind. That way, the guide can keep an eye on the student and the terrain ahead. Leavitt, however, stays ahead of Weihenmayer.
“By guiding from the front, the skier is skiing toward the voice,” Leavitt explained. “It just puts them in a more forward, athletic position better for skiing.”
It’s also more challenging for the guide because they must swivel their head, constantly looking at the terrain in front, the skier behind and approaching skiers. The nice thing about the Bowl, Leavitt said, is there are no trees and relatively few other skiers.
Leavitt has a microphone with a speaker in a pack around his waist. He constantly provides commands so Weihenmayer knows where he is and knows what to do. Erik links several turns at a time until they take a breather.
Weihenmayer said he listens to the sound Leavitt’s skis make to get a feel for the terrain.
“I can hear him kind of drop off into space and go, oh, he’s in a steep spot,” Weihenmayer said.
Speaking of space, skiing the steep slopes of the Bowl gives Weihenmayer a celestial sensation.
“On groomers, you don’t get that feeling of dropping into space on every turn,” he said. “So for me, I’d say it’s a pretty unique experience. That’s kind of a hard thing as a blind guy, that when you let go into space, you’re going to come around, ya know?”
Weihenmayer tackled the steep part of the Bowl like the true athlete he is. Leavitt guided him down the ridge to the North Woods then curled into the terrain at the G4 and G5 paths in Highland Bowl. The steepest pitch in that terrain is 40 degrees. The average pitches are 36 to 37 degrees. The snow texture was delightfully chalky on the steep slopes, more slushy down below.
The mogul fields on the run-out to the Deep Temerity chairlift provided more of a challenge because of their unpredictable peaks and troughs. Weihenmayer had a couple of minor spills. The only time he had any physical contact with a guide on the hike or descent was when he was locating his skis at the summit.
It was an awe-inspiring accomplishment to witness.
Weihenmayer has an interesting perspective on his quests for adventure.
“Look, life’s about what you choose to pursue,” he said. “This is what I choose to pursue. I have friends that are blind and they’re head of procurement for Sam’s Club. I look at that and say, ‘How in the world do you do that? How do you look at a spreadsheet when you’re blind?’
“It’s just sort of what you commit to and what you spend a lot of your time pursuing.”
Weihenmayer isn’t solely an adrenaline junkie. He is an author, co-producer of films, and a highly sought motivational speaker. He also is a husband and a father to two children. His income from his speaking engagements and other business ventures goes to No Barriers, a nonprofit he co-founded in 2005. No Barriers works with people with physical and emotional challenges — everyone from U.S. military veterans to kids in the foster care system.
“Sometimes traumatic things can either put a crust around you or kind of remove you in a way from life where you’re looking at your life through a window; you’re experiencing it and it’s once removed,” Weihenmayer said. “Fear kind of holds you back, too — kind of gets you in that window where you’re looking at your life and say, ‘How do I break through all the stuff and sort of make an attempt to live in some way?’”