Aspen year in review, part two

Aspen Times staff
Thomas Proesel

Honorable mention

Trump, Clinton stump in Aspen

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton went where the money was, making private fundraiser stops in Pitkin County in August.

Couples paid $25,000 to meet with Trump, while $10,000 would get them a photo with him and access to his reception, while $2,700 would gain an individual to the reception.

Clinton’s fundraiser was pricier, with donation levels of $10,000, $33,400 and $50,000.

Ressler returns as Aspen hospital CEO

David Ressler returned to Aspen Valley Hospital as its CEO after previously serving in the same position from 2004 to 2013.

Ressler was hired following a CEO search that was launched after Dan Bonk announced his resignation in January.

Ressler left Aspen Valley Hospital in 2013 to return to Tucson, where he had previously worked in the health care industry. He joined Community Care Alliance, which includes Aspen Valley Hospital among its members, in Grand Junction as CEO in 2015.

“To me, this is the best independent hospital in the country,” Ressler said of the Aspen hospital. “And to come back and work with the board and team of providers was something I couldn’t possibly turn down.”

Real estate down

A world of uncertainty in 2016 was what brokers attributed to the Pitkin County real estate market’s failure to match the $2 billion in total sales in 2015.

From the presidential race to the growing threat of terrorism, among other factors, homebuyers weren’t as bullish on the local market as they were the prior year.

Total sales had approached $1.2 billion through November, while the $55 million sale of Snowmass Base Village to Aspen Skiing Co. and other buyers help lift that number.

Editor’s note: This is the second and final part of The Aspen Times’ 2016 top stories.

Skier pushes snowboarder off Highlands lift

In January, the ski community in Aspen and worldwide was shocked to learn that a skier had thrown a snowboarder off a chairlift at Aspen Highlands, seemingly for no reason.

Aspen photographer and snowboarder Seth Beckton told The Aspen Times the Jan. 17 incident occurred on the Loge Peak chairlift after he was discussing how skiers have an easier time getting faceshots of powder than snowboarders.

“To get tits-deep pow shots you just need to be on your edges,” Beckton quoted himself in a Facebook post.

Just after that, 31-year-old Aspen resident Thomas Proesel asked Beckton if he was making fun of him. A confused Beckton said maybe he was, and the next thing he knew he was plunging to the ground 25 feet below, Beckton said.

Fortunately, Beckton landed in a pile of fresh powder — 5 or 6 inches of new snow was on the ground at the time — and was not injured.

And while it first appeared as if skier-snowboarder animosity might be to blame for the incident, it soon became clear that far more serious mental health issues were at the root of it. Proesel spent three weeks at a psychiatric hospital in Grand Junction after the incident before eventually being found not guilty by reason of insanity of felony attempted assault.

Meanwhile, the Beckton-spawned hashtag and catchphrase, “tits-deep pow,” remains firmly embedded in Aspen’s skiing-dominated popular lexicon.

Skico, partners buy Snowmass Base Village assets

Aspen Skiing Co.’s vision of developing Snowmass into a bigger powerhouse in the North American ski industry got back on track Dec. 22 when it teamed with two partners to buy the lucrative base-area property.

Skico, East West Partners of Avon and an affiliate of KSL Capital Partners LLC purchased the largely undeveloped real estate for $56.5 million. A property management company and operations at the Viceroy Hotel also were acquired but the sales price wasn’t included in the property sale.

East West Partners will head development at Snowmass Base Village. The team estimated the village will contain about 600 residences and hotel units with roughly 1,000 bedrooms when it is completely built out. Skico’s Limelight Hotel, which is approved for 102 rooms and 15 residences, is first in line for construction. Work will start in spring and it will open for the 2018-19 ski season.

Base Village’s “hot beds” — which will be rented as tourist accommodations — are the key to boosting Skico’s business at Snowmass. The ski area has been stuck at about 1.4 million skier visits per winter, with roughly half coming at Snowmass. The ski area is the largest among Skico’s four and has the greatest potential for growth.

Double murder suspect found not guilty by reason of insanity

The El Jebel man accused of fatally shooting his aunt and uncle and trying to kill their two boys was found not guilty by reason of insanity by a jury in October.

Williams Anderson Amaya, 35, wasn’t a free man after the decision, which took the jury 12 hours to decide. He will be held by the Colorado Department of Human Services “until such time as he is deemed eligible for release,” said Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkelman. The judge ordered Amaya transported to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, where officials will determine where he will be treated.

Amaya acknowledged that he killed Eliseo and Mayra Lopez in their Sopris Village home in July 2014. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of first-degree murder

He also faced two counts of attempted murder for shooting at the beds of the Lopez’s boys. They escaped physical injury and are living with relatives in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Notorious con man found living in shack on Aspen Mountain

Back in the winter of 2015-16, employees of the Aspen Skiing Co. had noticed a man living in a makeshift shack on Shadow Mountain, but somehow word of it never reached city police.

When Aspen police finally heard of it in September, an officer climbed up to the well-hidden, well-appointed shack, located above the Shadow Mountain Condominiums at the top of Aspen Street, and knocked on the front door. A man’s voice from inside said, “I’ll be there in just a minute,” before he escaped out a window and disappeared into the woods.

Approximately five weeks later, Skico employees saw him in the area again, apparently attempting to construct another dwelling. The employees told him he had to leave, then called police when they noticed a ski patrol parking pass hanging from the rearview mirror of an SUV the man was loading duffel bags into.

The man fled again when police arrived, but his license plate led to a name that made an already interesting story fascinating.

The SUV was registered to James Hogue, 57, whose previous antics led Time magazine to label him one of the country’s “Top 10 Imposters.” Hogue posed as a Palo Alto high school student when he was 26, then after being unmasked, moved across the country and fraudulently accepted a running scholarship at Princeton in the late 1980s.

Hogue also allegedly stole $50,000 worth of jewels from a Harvard University museum in the early 1990s and served time in prison in Colorado for allegedly stealing $100,000 worth of goods from homes in the Telluride area.

Aspen police found thousands of dollars in cash in his SUV, as well as numerous items allegedly stolen from Aspen stores. Hogue has been charged with felony theft and other charges, and remains incarcerated at the Pitkin County Jail.

Basalt political drama

Basalt’s political battles spilled out of Town Hall and into the courts over the last half of 2016.

Voters in the November election rejected a Town Council proposal to buy 2.3 acres of the former Pan and Fork site by a vote of 900 in support and 977 against after a contentious campaign. The use of the property near downtown is yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, a battle is brewing between the town government and former manager Mike Scanlon, who terminated his contract and quit in August. Scanlon has notified the town he intends to file a lawsuit seeking at least $500,000 in a severance package. He contends some council members violated his employment contract by reviewing his performance in public.

A different legal battle is already in a judge’s hands. Basalt resident Ted Guy filed a lawsuit against Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and the Town Council contending they violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law and Colorado Open Records Act via communications among one another outside the public realm. A judge held a show cause hearing in early December and is considering proposed orders.

The fight might not end with the judge’s decision. Some Basalt residents have claimed they will seek recall of some of the council members.

Affordable restaurants a dying breed

Main Street Bakery. Little Annie’s. McDonald’s.

All were casualties in 2016, joining Aspen’s graveyard of affordable-dining establishments that already included Johnny McGuire’s Deli and Boogie’s Diner from 2015.

“I am sad. Our mom-and-pops are vanishing,” said Terry Butler, owner of The Residence Hotel. “I just don’t want our downtown core to lose the heart and soul of our mountain town.”

The trend was not lost on the city government, which was entertaining ways to change the land-use code to preserve locally serving businesses.

Meanwhile, a grassroots effort to regulate chains started to gain traction in November, but critics claimed it would create an unhealthy disruption of the free market.

Two high-end restaurants also struggled mightily in 2016 — Nello Alpine Aspen and Aspen Kitchen, which opened in December 2015. Nello, located at the base of Aspen Mountain, closed for good in June. Aspen Kitchen declared bankruptcy in March and remained open until September when a bankruptcy trustee shut it down. It reopened in December.

A considerably sized group of small contractors said they were stiffed by the two restaurants for their work, prompting Aspen activist Ward Hauenstein to recently push for an ordinance that holds deadbeat businesses accountable for their bills.