The members of Railroad Earth had only played a handful of
live shows around their native New Jersey and recorded five demo songs before
they improbably landed a gig at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2001.
That show introduced the band to Colorado, and soon to the
masses of passionate followers of string music and improvisation. Railroad
Earth’s rocking approach to bluegrass and their freewheeling concerts have made
them the kind of band that music lovers orient their lives around.
The band returns to Aspen for a two-night run at Belly Up on
Jan. 28 and 29. I spoke to Railroad Earth mandolin player John Skehan during
one of the band’s previous wintertime multi-night runs in Aspen:
ANDREW TRAVERS: You do a lot of these multi-night runs, and
some hardcore fans are sure to hit all the Colorado shows. How do you craft the
arc of performances over multiple days?
JOHN SKEHAN: You do end up in a mindset, where rather than a
first set and second set you’re looking at Friday, Saturday, Sunday and the
overall arc. We change things up night to night, as much to keep ourselves on
our toes as to keep the audience interested.
AT: The Railroad Earth connection with fans and audiences is
uniquely intimate and personal. Is that something you guys consciously wanted
to cultivate? Or did it just kind of happen on the road?
JS: It just kind of happens. We’re very blessed to have that
kind of audience that really wants to be with you and see where you’re going to
go. It keep us from doing the same thing night after night. They want to take
the ride with us. And this scene that we’re in, and that we share with so many
of our other brother bands out there, you’re blessed because you have a segment
of fans that make live music a big part of their lives. It’s not, “OK, I’m
going to go to the Enormodome to see Sting once a year.” They plan their
vacations, their lives, their weddings, around going to hear live music. They
make it a sacrament of their lives. We’re lucky to share that with them.
AT: Your song “Colorado,” from the first album, where did it
come from and what inspired it?
JS: Colorado has been an interesting recurring theme
throughout our existence. That came from a banjo riff that Andy [Goessling]
had, and it kind of began to come together as we were first trying to figure
this thing out. We recorded a short disc of demos that got passed around and we
got enough positive feedback on that that we were able to go out and buy a
crappy beat up old red van and tour, which led us to go, “Let’s take these five
or six songs and add five more so we have something to tour with.”
Part of that initial tour was this big and scary thing that
happened: we got a slot at Telluride. So of course one of the lyrics is, “Down
the rocks run the cool rushing waters,” thinking about being on that stage in
Telluride and looking out to the one end of town where the canyon ends and
there’s that beautiful stream running down it. So it was just, well, I guess
we’re bound for Colorado.
AT: That first show in Telluride gets talked about like it
was really the genesis of Railroad Earth as we know it. Coming out of that show
did the band find its identity?
JS: No. I don’t think we had any idea. We were just swept up
in something, saying, “What is this thing?” It’s one thing to go in a studio
and do some local shows to tune things up and experiment with songs. In that
first year and beyond we were just learning what this thing is.
AT: Your progressive bluegrass style fit in with the
tradition of Colorado bluegrass — New Grass Revival and Leftover Salmon and
company. Do you approach a Colorado show any differently than elsewhere?
JS: I think we’ve always just done what we do. Colorado is
receptive to it. Especially in the early days, we didn’t set out to be a
bluegrass band or a rock band with bluegrass instruments — we were just working
with this body of songs that Todd [Scheaffer] had come up with and that we had
contributed to. We were just lucky that Colorado is a place you can come out
with bluegrass instruments, put drums behind you, and do some more exploratory
improvisation in that context and nobody looks at it as completely bizarre or
“The Midland train due here at 9:45 yesterday morning, came rumbling into the Aspen depot 12 hours late almost to the minute,” noted the Aspen Daily Chronicle on February 25, 1891. “The delay was occasioned by a very heavy fall of snow on the main line of the road. Passengers who arrived on the train say they were detained at Leadville ten hours, and did not leave there until the belated train from Salt Lake had made its way through on its way East. The great rotary snow plow of the Midland road has been brought into requisition, and behind it three powerful locomotives are hitched together to push it through the massive snow drifts. Such tremendous power would appear to be sufficient to plow the way through towering mountains of snow. They ran ahead of the passenger trains, then followed another engine performing an independent mission of its own. That is to clear the rails of ice and make still better a passage way for the engine which pulls its precious load of human freight. The Midland train out did not depart from the Aspen depot until 6 o’clock last evening, and no difficulty in making good time east was anticipated. It is likely, however, that the snow plows will have a steady job for some little time yet, whether the storm abates or not.” This image shows the Colorado Midland’s rotary snowplow clearing the tracks on Hagerman Pass, circa 1900. (Photo Credit: History Colorado)
Chris Corning wins slopestyle at Rev Tour, eyes return to top competitions in Aspen
“This is definitely the most consistent snowboarding I’ve been doing in a long time when it comes to competing, so I’m pretty stoked on that,” Corning told the Aspen Times on Wednesday. “And coming off of X Games and coming off of this, I think I’ll be pretty ready for what the world champs and what the Grand Prix have to throw at me. As long as I put down what I know I can do, then I should do pretty well.”
Corning, who currently lives in Avon, was in town Wednesday competing in the U.S. Revolution Tour stop at Buttermilk Ski Area. One of the more prominent names taking part in the competition this week, he won Wednesday’s men’s snowboard slopestyle contest, holding off runner-up Matthew Cox of Australia and North Carolina’s Finn Bullock-Womble, who was a distant third.
The Czech Republic’s Sarka Pancochova won the women’s snowboard slopestyle contest on Wednesday, holding off a pair of teenagers in New Zealand’s Cool Wakushima and Wisconsin’s Courtney Rummel. Pancochova, 30, was among the oldest of Rev Tour competitors — she even won X Games Aspen slopestyle silver back in 2013.
The Rev Tour win is hardly a notable accomplishment for the 21-year-old Corning, who has competed at X Games Aspen the past four years, rode in the 2018 Winter Olympics and has more than one World Cup crystal globe in the trophy case for winning season-long titles. But, the competition was a sanctioned FIS event and, frankly, he needed the points.
“Long story short is they froze points for COVID and I was hurt last year and they didn’t run any contests in the time I was healthy, so I lost half of my points,” said Corning, who went from being ranked in the top 10 in slopestyle to barely inside the top 100 in the world. “We came out there and did what we needed to do to get the most points possible.”
While the Rev Tour win won’t make his overall resume, it’s his biggest win in Aspen to date. He’s yet to win an X Games Aspen medal — he did win bronze at X Games Norway in 2018 — and only has a few USASA wins from when he was younger to show from his time here. That time includes having called Aspen home for about two years when he was part of the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club, training under his former coach Nichole Mason, who he followed to Aspen from Summit County.
Now, with Aspen hosting the rescheduled world championships and a Grand Prix next month, Corning will get an extended visit to his former stomping ground.
“It’s nice to be able to come back there and go back to all the restaurants and things I used to go to and see some people I don’t usually see too often, except for maybe once a year at X Games,” Corning said. “I am excited about it. I’m really excited just to be able to compete this year, because it was getting nerve-wracking that we weren’t going to compete really at all.”
Prior to X Games in late January, Corning’s only other contest this season had been at the Kreischberg, Austria, World Cup on Jan. 9, where he finished 16th in big air.
However, he did have a strong showing at X Games last month, where he finished fourth in big air after originally just being an alternate. With a bigger jump than in past contests, it turned out to be one of the best big air comps in X Games history. Norway’s Marcus Kleveland won, the first of five riders to finish with a combined score in the 90s.
“There was a lot of room for progression that night. Everybody was riding definitely some of the best I’ve ever seen them ride and it was pretty awesome to be a part of it,” Corning said. “I was super stoked that I kept my hands off the ground and did my two biggest tricks that I can do and happened to put them down in a contest at the same time.”
He’s followed that performance with a slopestyle win at Wednesday’s Rev Tour stop in Aspen. He doesn’t plan to compete in Friday’s big air contest, saying he doesn’t need the FIS points in that discipline, but has already turned his attention toward his Aspen return in two weeks for the world championships.
Corning is the reigning slopestye world champion, having won two years ago when Park City, Utah, hosted the event. He also competed at worlds in 2017, hosted by Sierra Nevada, Spain, taking silver in big air and bronze in slopestyle. There was no big air competition at worlds in 2019 after weather forced its cancellation.
Worlds was originally scheduled for China this season, but all FIS events were canceled in the country because of the coronavirus pandemic. Aspen stepped in as a last-second replacement after Calgary backed out. The world championships are scheduled for March 10-16 at Buttermilk, with the Grand Prix set for March 18-21. The Grand Prix will serve as the first 2022 Olympic qualifier for the American athletes.
Corning made the U.S. Olympic team in 2018, where he finished fourth in big air in South Korea. He did not make finals in slopestyle.
“My riding is in a better spot, and I’m not coming off of injuries that are nagging at me nearly as bad as they were in 2018,” Corning said. “So as long as I can stay healthy and stay in the gym over the summer, then I should be able to put together a really good run for 2022. But it will also just come down to being consistent and beating out all the other Americans in all the Grand Prix.”
Ruud wins another medal at Rev Tour
The skiing portion of the U.S. Revolution Tour stop at Buttermilk Ski Area wrapped up Wednesday with the big air contests.
On the men’s side, Norway’s Birk Ruud won for the second time this week, scoring a total of 184.75 in finals (best two of three runs) to beat Americans Kiernan Fagan (177.5) and Ryan Stevenson (174). Ruud, a four-time X Games medalist, also won Monday’s slopestyle contest over Fagan. Ruud was second to New Zealand’s Miguel Porteous in Tuesday’s halfpipe comp.
In the women’s big air contest Wednesday, Park City’s Rell Harwood (176.5) took top honors over fellow Americans Jenna Riccomini (162) and Marin Hamill (161). Harwood also won Monday’s slopestyle contest, in which Hamill was second and Riccomini third. Of the three, only Riccomini also competed in Tuesday’s halfpipe comp, where she finished third behind Kathryn Gray and Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber.
The Rev Tour continues Thursday with the snowboard halfpipe contests and concludes Friday with snowboard big air.
Report: Estimates of future Upper Colorado River Basin water use confound previous planning
Some water experts fear that a long-held aspiration to develop more water in the Upper Colorado River Basin is creating another chance to let politics and not science lead the way on river management.
“Alternative Management Paradigms for the Future of the Colorado and Green Rivers,” a white paper released this month by the Center for Colorado River Studies, says that in order to sustainably manage the river in the face of climate change, we need alternative management paradigms and a different way of thinking compared with the status quo.
Estimates about how much water the upper basin will use in the future are a problem that needs rethinking, according to the paper.
The paper says unrealistic future water-use projections for the upper basin — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — confound planning because they predict the region will use more water than it actually will. The Upper Colorado River Commission’s estimates for future growth are unlikely to be realized and are perhaps implausible, unreasonable and unjustified, the paper says.
“The projection of demand is always higher than what is actually used,” said Jack Schmidt, one of the paper’s authors and the Lawson Chair in Colorado River Studies at Utah State University. “We said you can’t plan the future of the river based on these aspirational use projections when there’s a clear demonstration that we never end up using as much as we aspire to use.”
The Center for Colorado River Studies is affiliated with Utah State but draws on expertise from throughout the basin. The paper is the sixth in a series of white papers that is part of The Future of the Colorado River Project. The project is being funded by multiple donors, including the Walton Family Foundation, the USGS Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, the Utah Water Research Laboratory and two private donors, as well as by grants from the Catena Foundation, which is a major donor to Aspen Journalism’s water desk.
According to the paper, between 1988 and 2018 consumptive water use in the upper basin has remained flat at an average of 4.4 million acre-feet a year. This figure is based on the Bureau of Reclamation’s Consumptive Uses and Losses reports. The UCRC’s most recent numbers from 2016 show future water use in the upper basin — known as a “depletion demand schedule” — at 5.27 million acre-feet by 2020 and 5.94 million acre-feet by 2060.
“In percentage terms, these UCRC projections for 2020 are already 23% higher than actual use and would be more than 40% higher than present use in 2060,” the paper reads.
And future water use is unlikely to increase because of three main reasons: thirsty coal-fired power plants are on their way to being decommissioned; land that was formerly used for irrigated agriculture is transitioning to residential developments, which use less water; and there are regulatory and political barriers to more large transmountain diversions from the headwaters of the river to the Front Range.
The white paper’s authors say these unrealistic future projections of water use make it harder to plan for a water-short future under climate change.
“Unreasonable and unjustified estimations create the impression that compact delivery violations, very low Lake Powell and Lake Mead storage content and greater Lower Basin shortages are inevitable,” the paper reads. “Such distortions mislead the public about the magnitude of the impending water supply crisis and make identifying solutions to an already difficult problem even harder.”
The issue is twofold: With climate change, there is not enough water for the upper basin to develop new projects without the risk of a compact call; and if the past three decades are any indication, the upper basin is not on track to use more water in the future anyway.
So why might the UCRC be overestimating future water use? To understand that, one must take a closer look at the Colorado River Compact.
The law of the river
In 1922, the framers of the Colorado River Compact divided the waters of the river, giving the upper basin and the lower basin — California, Nevada and Arizona — 7.5 million acre-feet each. This amount, known as an apportionment or “entitlement,” was thought to be fair at the time because it gave the slow-growing upper basin time to develop their share of the water without the faster-growing lower basin claiming it first.
The mission of the UCRC is to protect the upper basin’s ability to use its share of the river. And this entitlement is symbolic of the upper basin’s dreams and aspirations: growing cities and towns and thriving agricultural communities.
The problem is that the century-old agreement didn’t account for dwindling flows caused by climate change. Studies have found — under what Brad Udall, one of the paper’s authors and a climate and water researcher at Colorado State University, calls “the new abnormal” — that runoff decreases as temperatures rise.
Compounding the issue is that under the compact, the upper basin is still required to deliver the same amount of water to the lower basin regardless of declining flows.
“The reason we entered into a compact was because we knew we couldn’t develop as quickly as the lower basin, so the whole idea is that we could develop later,” said Jennifer Gimbel, former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and interim director at the CSU Water Center. “But as we know, streamflow is not as strong and climate change is cutting into it even more and more, and that puts you into a conundrum.”
The result is that there are 15 million acre-feet of entitlements on paper, not including Mexico’s share, but just 12 million to 13 million acre-feet of water. And that number is likely to decline even further as temperatures rise. Soon, there may not be enough water for the upper basin to meet its compact obligations to the lower basin and to develop new water projects.
“You cannot have a situation where climate change is reducing the yield of the basin and everyone is sticking to what they think their entitlements are under the compact,” said Eric Kuhn, one of the study’s authors. “Something has to give.”
In other words, if the water physically is not there anymore, it doesn’t really matter what the compact says the upper basin is entitled to.
Kuhn is the former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District and also co-author of the 2019 book “Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River.” One of the book’s main points is that past Colorado River decision-makers let politics and competition for a limited supply of water — not science — be the main drivers of river management. Because of that, the river was over-allocated from the beginning. Kuhn worries that this trend may be continuing.
“The fear is that this is another opportunity to ignore the science,” he said. “Forget about these projections that show how much water we might have been able to develop 40 years ago and focus on the river that nature has given us with climate change and not the one we wish we had from decades ago.”
Interstate poker game
The upper basin, including Colorado, is currently exploring the concept of a demand-management program, which could reduce water use by paying irrigators to not irrigate. The goal of the program, which would be temporary and voluntary for participants, would be to send as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water to Lake Powell to prop up levels and avoid a compact call.
A compact call could occur if the upper-basin states can’t deliver the 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower-basin states as required by the compact. This could trigger an interstate legal quagmire, a scenario that water managers desperately want to avoid.
If it appears contradictory that the upper basin is looking at how to reduce water use while at the same time clinging to a plan for more future water use, that’s because it is.
Water attorney Peter Fleming said some are asking why the upper basin is planning to reduce existing depletions while also planning an additional million acre-feet of depletions. Fleming is general counsel for the River District. He also is on the legal committee for the UCRC, but is not speaking on behalf of that organization here. “It seems the upper basin as a whole needs to reconcile that seeming contradiction,” he said.
Some water experts compared the UCRC’s depletion schedule to an interstate chess or poker game, complete with bluffing. The upper basin must insist it will one day put to beneficial use all of its unused share — or else the lower basin, which already uses all of its own share, could somehow claim the unused portion.
“There’s still this fear that if we don’t use our water, the lower basin will establish an economic use and economic reliance on that water, and it will be very difficult to get it back in the future, even though we are entitled to it,” Kuhn said. “The downside to that right now is the water is just not there.”
Best estimates, not predictions
UCRC Director Amy Haas said in an email that although the paper is thought-provoking, the authors base their analysis on an obsolete projection of future Upper Basin water use demands from 2007 instead of relying on the current 2016 projections, which show a decrease in future demand as well as a slower rate of projected future demand. She said the authors did not consult the commission on the paper before its release.
Study authors have said that current data from the Bureau of Reclamation wasn’t released in time for the 2016 numbers to be used in the paper, and that they used the most up-to-date information available to them. They also say the differences between the two sets of numbers are minor and don’t change their findings.
Haas pointed to the resolution in which the UCRC adopted the 2016 demand schedule, which says demand projections are “best estimates of potential water use based on positive economic conditions and favorable hydrology and climate. As such, they are not predictions of what future water use will necessarily be, but projections for planning purposes to be used for modeling only.”
Colorado’s representative to the UCRC and director of the CWCB Rebecca Mitchell also provided a statement. Colorado is arguably the most important of the upper-basin states when considering these issues because its apportionment of upper basin water is 51.75% and it contributes 70% of the water at Lee Ferry, Arizona, which under the compact is the dividing line between the upper and lower basins.
“Whether we are looking into the concept of demand management or another potential tool for the Colorado River basin states, I remain committed to protecting Colorado’s legally protected entitlements on the Colorado River and our state’s water users,” Mitchell said in an email. “I continue to value input and ideas from a broad range of stakeholders as I work with the other basin states to find lasting solutions to the challenges facing the Colorado River basin.”
An important conclusion of the paper is that water managers will need innovative thinking that challenges the status quo in order to tackle the problems posed by climate change. And there are still many unknowns. For example, could rising temperatures increase water requirements for thirsty crops enough to cancel out water saved from decommissioning power plants? The paper’s authors say that’s an area that needs further study.
But if the upper basin can let go of its plans for more water development, the risks and impacts of future droughts and climate change would be substantially ameliorated, the paper says. In fact, the paper found that even the water use between the years 2000 and 2018, an ongoing period that has been termed the Millenium Drought, would be sustainable and would allow the upper basin to meet its compact obligations to the lower basin — as long as future growth is limited.
In the coming years, water managers will have to grapple with how to allocate slices of an ever-shrinking pizza and science may take a back seat once again.
“People are going to have these really controversial debates about how big a slice you’re going to get when the pie is smaller,” Schmidt said. “All we’re trying to do is inspire those hard-nosed conversations. But at the end of the day, the conversation about how big the slices are is a political negotiation and an economic negotiation; it’s not a science negotiation.”
Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Its water desk is supported by a grant from the Catena Foundation, which also helped partially fund the white paper described in this article. For more information, go to aspenjournalism.org.
Aspen City Council candidates offer business perspectives for resort community
Five of the eight candidates running for Aspen City Council in next week’s election gave their perspectives on business issues Wednesday in a virtual forum hosted by the chamber of commerce.
All but one candidate, ski instructor Jimbo Stockton, said they would do away with Pitkin County’s traveler affidavit program, which the Aspen Chamber Resort Association is asking to be suspended arguing that it is deterring guests from coming here.
The county and its board of public health are considering changes to the program, which requires guests to submit an online affidavit acknowledging they haven’t had symptoms for 10 days and have either been fully vaccinated or have received a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arriving here. The program also requires visitors to quarantine for 10 days if they are not tested before arrival.
Candidate John Doyle said he has had friends not visit this winter because of the affidavit program, while Stockton said some of his clients said it has made them feel safer.
Candidate Kimbo Brown-Schirato said it’s more detrimental than effective since it’s a voluntary, honor-system program.
“The bottom line is we as a community are not willing to enforce any of the rules that we set forth and ‘let’s trust people to do the right thing’ might be naive,” she said.
Candidate Sam Rose, who is the lead contact tracer for Pitkin County, agreed.
“We live in a capitalistic society and viable businesses are not supposed to be failing and things like the travel affidavit just put like a crutch in our businesses and hotels and our whole economic ecosystem,” he said. “It was an idealistic approach that proved not be effective.”
Incumbent Ward Hauenstein also said because the program is not enforced it should be revoked.
Candidates Erin Smiddy, Casey Endsley and Mark Reece did not participate in the forum because they had other obligations.
Of the five who did participate, there was a significant portion of time dedicated to questions surrounding the management of short-term rentals.
Doyle said addressing these rental properties is a big part of his campaign platform because they present an unfair advantage over small lodges.
“They don’t have to pay as much taxes, they provide no parking, they provide no housing for their workers to clean their rooms,” he said.
Others agreed that they need to be tracked and regulated, and that the city is making strides to do that.
Brown-Schirato, whose campaign platform focuses on providing more workforce housing, had a new idea related to the issue.
“Instead of taxing and sort of sticking it to people, let’s incentivize our free-market homeowners and rental units so it’s for the highest and best use and have employees in there,” she said, referring to similar programs in other Colorado mountain towns. “They are incentivizing by actually buying deed restrictions.”
ACRA President and CEO Debbie Braun, who moderated the forum, asked the candidates who they would most align with.
Stockton picked Aspen Mayor Torre for his authentic concern for the community and its guests.
Doyle said most of the existing council members, but said even though he just got to know him, he would most closely align with Hauenstein.
Brown-Schirato said the most important aspect is that there is a majority on council to move policy forward. She noted Torre, council member Skippy Mesirow and candidate Reece are people she would consider in alignment with.
Rose said he would most align with Brown-Schirato, Mesirow and council member Ann Mullins, who is leaving office after two, four-year terms and is term limited.
Hauenstein wasn’t asked that question but answered how he resolves conflict.
“Patient, listening, perhaps empathy,” he said. “The realization that the other point of view has validity and acknowledging that sometimes conflict cannot be resolved, but if it exists it can at least be done while all people can be friends to each other, with each other.”
When asked whether candidates would go outside of their platform to represent all constituents, or stick with their campaign promises, Brown-Schirato said everyone runs on housing but nothing gets done, so she is committed to bringing solutions that don’t include building.
She also will move affordable child care forward and re-engage with the Aspen Area Community Plan, the resort community’s guiding document.
“Every single decision up to this point is wrought with infighting and people and development versus not,” she said. “We don’t know as a community where we want to go in the next five, 10, 25 years. … I’ll listen to everyone but we need to figure out where we are going.”
Doyle countered that the community plan maps out where Aspen is headed and is updated every 10 years, with 2022 being the next year that it is scheduled for an update.
“It’s a very important document that spells out very clearly what we should be doing as a community and what our goals are as a community,” he said. “We really do need to follow the Aspen Area Community Plan closer than we have been.”
Rose said he will fight for the issues he has focused his platform on, which is affordable housing and child care.
“I’m a type of person that sets tangible goals, but I won’t put up with stagnation,” he said. “If we said we’re all going to agree on something, we will find something to get it done but definitely not in an obtrusive way.”
Candidates also were asked several other questions, from whether public parks should be closed for special events to the importance of arts and culture to the resort community, as well as other business and COVID-19 related questions.
The election is March 2. Voters are being asked to bring their ballot to the ballot box on Galena Street in front of City Hall, since there is not enough time to mail them and have them receive it in time. In-person voting is currently available at Aspen City Hall.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the clerk’s office had received roughly 900 ballots. There are about 6,000 registered voters in the city of Aspen.
Links to candidate forums, interviews
To view the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s City Council candidate forum, log onto:
The street artist known as Alex Monopoly visited Aspen’s Eden Gallery over the weekend, seeing for the first time in-person the new gallery that has made Monopoly’s wealth-centered artwork a centerpiece of its two-story showroom and more than 7,000 square feet of exhibition space.
“I’m blown away,” he said Friday at Eden, sporting sneakers tagged with his name and dollar signs and wearing a black face mask (as a street artist, he was well-prepared for face covering mandates amid the novel coronavirus pandemic: Until recently, he wore a mask at all times in public to hide his identity from authorities who might arrest him for vandalism).
A New York native, Monopoly began as a street artist creating tags and broke through during the Great Recession, around 2008 and 2009 when he began spray-painting the face of investment scammer Bernie Madoff on the body of the Monopoly Man from the classic board game.
It fit with the iconography of the Occupy Wall Street movement of the moment and was embraced by those in the camp of the 99%.
“It was a negative connotation back then, and I ran with that,” Monopoly said.
The distinct Monopoly Man tag got attention in New York and served as a launching pad to a studio art practice, international fame and some art world infamy as he found success without the usual trajectory of a contemporary artist. These days he is represented by Eden Gallery – which also has locations in New York, London, Miami and the Greek Isles – and has more than 1.2 million Instagram followers keeping tabs on his art and his jet-setting lifestyle.
As his practice has expanded, the artist has continued to use the Monopoly Man and other familiar illustrated characters – Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck, Jessica Rabbit – to depict cartoonish conspicuous consumption.
Whether he is seeking to condemn or celebrate this frivolous wealth culture is in the eye of the beholder.
“For a lot of these works, it’s kind of like a celebration of life and wealth and success,” he said. “It’s a token of good luck. I have a lot of Wall Street guys who keep my art in their offices like a good luck charm.”
Recently he has made a series of Aspen-centric pieces for the local gallery that play up the extreme wealth here: Scrooge McDuck, Richie Rich and the Monopoly Man throwing cash out of the Silver Queen Gondola, for instance, or skiing down Aspen Mountain.
“When I do gallery shows in specific places, it’s nice to make a piece that relates to what’s going on here,” he said. “And it’s kind of like a souvenir from when you’re here with your family and you’re having great memories of your vacation.”
His evolution as a studio artist continues, years after his move from the street into the gallery. At first, Monopoly recalled, he made simple canvases with the Monopoly Man on them, and gradually they grew more ornate with detail and setting-specific detail.
Among the newer pieces on display at Eden is a multi-layered mixed media piece depicting Richie Rich and the Monopoly Man heli-skiing – it’s made from the pages of vintage “Richie Rich” comic books, spray paint and acrylic paint.
“I’ve gotten so much better as an artist throughout, because I’ve spent so much time in the studio rethinking ideas, learning different techniques,” he said.
Monopoly had visited Aspen for fun and for snowboarding a few times before, he said, but last weekend’s visit was his first time seeing Eden’s space. His sales at Eden have been strong, he said, although owner Cathia Klimovsky opened the gallery — in the remodeled building previously home to Boogie’s Diner — in October amid the pandemic and economic crisis.
“We’re very fortunate that the gallery has been doing amazing,” he said. “I feel like a lot of people were at home looking at their empty walls or redesigning their houses. So we were selling great during all of this.”
Before his weekend visit to Aspen, which included a small private reception in the gallery, the artist designed a series of ice sculptures for display on the sidewalk outside of Eden which include his tag, Richie Rich and the Monopoly Man. During his visit, Monopoly said, he checked out other galleries and took note of some of the commercial core’s street art, including Shepard Fairey’s mural off Hunter Street just half-a-block from Eden.
“We’ve got to find a wall for me to do one,” he said, later adding: “I want to spend more time here. It’s such an amazing place and such a good art town.”
Maintenance will delay summer gondola operations at Aspen
Postseason maintenance on the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain will push the gondola’s summer opening date to early July, according to Katie Ertl, Aspen Skiing Co. Senior Vice President of Mountain Operations.
Skico is replacing the haul rope (the cable that carries gondola cabs to the top of the mountain), Ertl announced at a Snowmass “Tourism Talks” webinar Wednesday morning; the Aspen Mountain Club will also close for the duration of the summer season for renovations, Ertl said.
The gondola project will likely begin with a few days of teardown shortly after Aspen Mountain’s April 18 closing date, Ertl said in a phone call Wednesday afternoon. (Skico has not yet decided when or whether it will offer an end-of-season employee ski day after the lifts close to the public, according to Ertl.)
“Machine maintenance” on the towers and shift trains that keep the cable on track could begin April 20 or 21; the gondola will go back online May 29 only for a private wedding at the Sundeck, Ertl said. Normally, the gondola opens for the summer on Memorial Day weekend and continues weekend operations throughout the month of June.
The haul rope replacement will begin around June 6 or 7 when the new haul rope arrives in two parts. The project will take roughly 3 to 4 weeks to complete as workers remove cabs from the old cable and reattach them to the new cable, which will be spliced together according to Ertl.
“Hopefully everything goes really well and we are back up July 2,” Ertl said.
Hikers can expect more traffic on the mountain and no access to top-of-mountain facilities at the Sundeck during the closure, Ertl said; there will be no public uploading or downloading on the gondola until July.
Guests should not take movement on the gondola as a sign that it is open to the public during the summer project period, Ertl cautioned.
“You may see it running and that’s for the purpose of maintenance,” she said.
No Fanny Hill concerts at Snowmass this summer, officials confirm
A longstanding Snowmass Village tradition of free summer concerts on Fanny Hill has been canceled for the second year in a row due to COVID-19 concerns, town officials confirmed Wednesday.
The “Thursday Free Concerts” series typically draws large crowds to Fanny Hill for the weekly series.
Given the high cost of the stage setup and still much uncertainty about how COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and event capacities will impact summer happenings, the town decided to take a much mellower approach to live music this summer, according to Snowmass Tourism Public Relations Manager Sara Stookey Sanchez.
“We are going to still continue the tradition of doing music on Thursdays” through smaller-scale performances, Stookey Sanchez said. “What that will look like is still a little bit TBD.”
The town is considering offering summer live music on both the Snowmass Mall and in Base Village, Stookey Sanchez said.
Those performances would have a similar “vibe” to the current “Music on the Mall” series that stations musicians on the Tower Stage at the Snowmass Mall, she said; that series currently offers Thursday afternoon tunes for passerby to enjoy but does not create a space for listeners to settle in and gather for the duration of the show.
Eagle County’s effort to provide COVID-19 vaccinations in the Roaring Fork Valley is getting high marks from people who successfully navigated the system — but the process hasn’t worked well for all.
The county has established a vaccination clinic at the Eagle County office building adjacent to Crown Mountain Park to serve its constituents in El Jebel, Basalt and surrounding areas. Vaccines are offered every other Thursday.
“It went great. They were very well organized,” said Charles Spickert, a Basalt-area resident who received his first vaccine last week.
Eagle County has administered close to 14,000 vaccines, according to the Colorado’s vaccine data dashboard. That includes vaccines delivered to Eagle County Public Health and Vail Health.
“Eagle County Public Health and Environment clinics in El Jebel have provided approximately 1,100 total doses — 620 first doses and 457 second doses,” Kris Widlak, Eagle County’s director of communications, wrote in an email. “The Thursday clinics have been a bit slower than the ones on the Eagle Valley side, so we definitely want to encourage anyone eligible to sign up to request an appointment at www.eaglecountycovid.org.”
She stressed that walk-up vaccines are not offered. Appointments are required.
Spickert said he registered via computer in late January or early February, whenever it was opened to the 65 to 69 years of age category. He said he understood it was a lottery process and he would likely have to wait to be selected.
He was notified by email when his opportunity came up. He registered for an appointment in El Jebel for the Feb. 18 clinic. Spickert said there were options for locations and which type of vaccine.
In addition to the clinic in El Jebel, Eagle County also is offering vaccines at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards and the fairgrounds in Eagle.
Spickert said he didn’t have a problem setting an appointment in El Jebel, which was his preferred choice.
Basalt resident Jacque Whitsitt also said she was notified a few weeks after registering that she was eligible to make an appointment. She selected El Jebel last week.
“It was very, very organized,” she said. “There was no wait to speak of at all.”
The shots are administered inside the county building, with social distancing established and face coverings required. Once people received the vaccine, they are given a sheet of paper that told them what time they can depart. They have to stick around for about 15 minutes to see if they had an adverse reaction. They are auto-registered for a follow-up appointment at the same time in El Jebel four weeks later.
Whitsitt’s advice was to register as soon as your age group or category is eligible.
Missouri Heights resident Michael McVoy registered early in the process, when it was open to those 70 and older. When he was notified of availability, it was for an opening in Vail, he said. He wasn’t willing to devote the two hours of driving each way for the vaccine.
McVoy said he re-registered on the Eagle County website because he wasn’t sure if he was knocked out when he was selected for a shot in Vail. He still hasn’t been selected, even though the process opened up for people younger than him. He ultimately received his first vaccination through Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.
McVoy said Eagle County ought to make more vaccines available for residents of the western part of the county in Basalt and El Jebel.
Another Basalt resident, Tim Whitsitt, drove to the Eagle Valley early in the vaccination process to take advantage of an opportunity there. He said he called to make an appointment when Eagle County first made vaccinations available in El Jebel in January.
“Everything filled up within a couple of minutes, the site crashed and you couldn’t get anything done,” Whitsitt said.
He was uncertain of his registration status because of the computer crash, so he called the county public health department the next day. They confirmed he wasn’t selected but called back three or four days later and offered an opening at Battle Mountain. Whitsitt jumped at the opportunity despite the 80-minute, one-way drive. It was worth it at that time, he said, because of the uncertainty of vaccinations overall and in El Jebel.
Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll said there was a “pretty rough” couple of weeks when the vaccination procedures were rolled out, but they have tried to work out the bugs. A person who registers from the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county is offered the opportunity to get vaccinated at Battle Mountain High School, the fair grounds or El Jebel. However, Eagle Valley residents don’t have the option of getting a vaccine in El Jebel, he said.
The clinics are held weekly in the Eagle Valley and every other week at El Jebel, depending on the availability of the vaccine, Shroll noted. Patience will still be required for the foreseeable future.
“We don’t have enough vaccines to go around,” he said.
McVoy’s experience was a head scratcher for Shroll. He said Eagle County has nothing to do with the appointments for vaccines at Vail Health. He said many people are understandably registering at multiple vaccine sites, so he speculated that might have been the case.
Shroll said every effort would be made to offer an equitable number of vaccines throughout the process in El Jebel.
The Drop-In: Winter Fly Fishing with Aspen Outfitting Company
Aspen Outfitting Company took us out to Woody Creek for some winter fly fishing on the Roaring Fork River. If you need a break from skiing, this is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in our little slice of paradise.
American Airlines flight to Aspen declares emergency on approach, lands safely
An American Airlines flight from Chicago to Aspen declared an emergency Wednesday morning just before landing because of electrical fumes in the cabin, according to airport officials.
The Aspen tower declared the emergency at 11:13 a.m. while the CRJ-700 aircraft operated by SkyWest was about 17 miles from Aspen. The flight, with 53 passengers and crew, landed safety at 11:24 a.m. and was met by personnel from the Airport Operations, fire and mutual aid, a news release stated.
“Airport Fire investigated the incident and released the aircraft back to the (airline),” according to the release.
Fire investigators found no evidence of a fire, said Rich Englehart, the airport’s interim director.
Carolyn Bonynge, director of operations, safety and the airport’s fire department, said her crew did not smell fumes when they boarded the aircraft.
The flight was a regularly scheduled arrival from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Aspen, Englehart said. No injuries were reported.