Culinary Compassion: Philanthropy through Food
THEY ARE BARTENDERS, doctors, dentists, contractors, landscapers, property managers, real-estate agents, city workers, pharmacists, photographers, pilots, personal trainers, software designers, ski patrollers, musicians, mountain guides, outfitters, and, yes, emergency dispatchers, former military personnel, and paramedics: 50 volunteer members of Mountain Rescue Aspen. They are people you pass on the street and folks with whom you do business, friendly acquaintances and strangers alike. Passionate about the outdoors, strong-willed, and skilled, these humanitarian men and women together dedicate thousands of hours of their free time to searching for — and saving — hikers, climbers, skiers, hunters, and others who’ve stumbled upon trouble in the wilderness. And this year they’ve had one hell of a summer.
Seven deaths on peaks in Pitkin County, plus a plethora of successful yet still physically and emotionally grueling missions, as well as ongoing safety and education training, have kept the Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA) team exceptionally busy this year. (In contrast to five fatalities on Capitol Peak in 2017, only four people died on the mountain between 2000 and 2016, according to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.) No doubt about it: Aspen’s backcountry is tempting yet treacherous, and the independent, nonprofit MRA handles the most horrifying tasks imaginable in this high-stakes environment.
So, as a much-deserved thank you to MRA, Aspen-native chef C. Barclay Dodge is hosting a benefit barbecue at Bosq on Sunday, Oct. 1, from 6 to 9 p.m. The event is what one might call a bold move on Bosq’s part: 100 percent of proceeds will aid MRA.
“Mountain Rescue has had a rough summer,” Dodge says. “It’s so local to us — practically all of us are in the mountains playing. These guys are unsung heroes, as cliché as that sounds. They don’t get recognition and they don’t get much financial support. This is a volunteer-help organization, pulling people out of the woods. We all love the woods, so we’re gonna give back to them.”
Dodge is planning a Mexican pig roast for up to 80 people — including house-made tortillas, sides, salads, and salsas, natch — held on Bosq’s outdoor patio on Mill Street, weather permitting. The $40 all-you-can-eat ticket includes cocktails by co-sponsors Suerte Tequila and cold brews from Steamworks Brewing Company. Farm Runners is donating many ingredients from regional purveyors; Dodge is contributing staff time, labor, and the venue as a near-end-of-season party (the restaurant reduces autumn hours before closing for offseason on Oct. 28 to Dec. 7).
Former Bosq bartender Matt Lanning, now the Suerte Tequila Colorado mountain ambassador and a third-year MRA volunteer member, helped to plan the event.
“Barclay and (sous chef) Rachel (Koppelman) reached out to me — they haven’t done a fundraiser this summer; Mountain Rescue hasn’t had an event in the past few months,” he explains. “Especially because of how hard a summer we’ve had….”
Lanning is quick to add that Kenichi Aspen is notably generous toward the organization, too, holding multiple MRA fundraising specials per year. (Kenichi will hold a fundraiser for another nonprofit this week; see sidebar, below right.) However, near-constant activity requiring MRA responders, he says, takes its toll on the organization’s resources (as well as morale and mental wellbeing).
“The Pitkin County Sheriff pays fees directly related to each mission, but not for any of our equipment—everything from patient packaging and litters (lightweight, collapsible stretchers) to oxygen tanks, airbag packs for the avalanche team, extra helmets to bring into the field. We’re dragging all this gear out into the backcountry…that gets wear and tear. A fundraiser allows us to keep our equipment levels adequate.”
Mountain Rescue Aspen president Jeff Edelson concurs. “Our team is solely funded through philanthropy, grants and donations,” he explains. “We have no tax base, although we apply for grants through the City of Aspen and Pitkin County, and they will assist us with taking care of vehicles, things like that. All of the money that our team receives goes to our bottom line of providing education and going out and rescuing folks. We don’t have any paid personnel. We rely on fundraisers.”
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo has called MRA “one of the hardest working and most used” of any mountain rescue crew in the state of Colorado. Even the smooth rescue of a hiker who calls 911 in distress, as happened recently — simply finding the victim in the forest and bringing him back to Aspen safely — incurs costs.
“Buying sandwiches for the team, gas to get there — it might be $500,” Lanning says. “The cost of any mission is going to be borne by the Sheriff’s office, i.e. the taxpayer, whether we get reimbursed (by state agencies) or not. Getting people out of backcountry is not a cost to them unless they need medical care. So, if you’re in a legitimate situation, make the call. Don’t try to tough guy it out.”
Lanning calls the Oct. 1 event at Bosq an opportunity for community bonding over gourmet food. “This is a chance to meet some members of the Mountain Rescue team, ask questions, and understand why we do what we do,” Lanning says, adding that he believes at least 15 members have been involved with MRA 25 years or longer. “These are the people out doing rescues and late-night searches and saving lives. I’m excited to celebrate what we’ve done.”
Formerly a member of rescue teams serving the Silverthorne and Breckenridge regions where he’s lived previously, Aspen-born, Telluride-bred Lanning describes MRA as a life-enriching program.
“We have a camaraderie,” he says of the tightly knit group. “We put ourselves into some pretty precarious situations. It’s hard to connect in the community of mountain towns for a lot of people; I would not have access to this caliber of outdoorsperson if I were just a laymen looking to meet people out on the mountain or in the backcountry—that’s what drew me to the team in San Juan County in the beginning. We train each other; you can’t get the skill set anywhere else. It’s really cool to be a part of a group that has 54-plus operational members willing to drop anything, any chance they get, to run around in the woods.”
Bosq is a fitting spot for this well-earned Mountain Rescue Aspen fundraiser: The restaurant’s name is an abbreviation of “woods” in Spanish.