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Aspen Times Q&A with Railroad Earth’s John Skehan

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 anything.


Virtual Aspen Shortsfest awards announced

Aspen Film announced the award winners for the 2020 Aspen Shortsfest on Monday, tapping an international slate of films for Oscar-qualifying prizes and additional honors.

The festival, in its 29th year, ran March 31 through April 5 in a virtual version online. The in-person festival, held annually at the Wheeler Opera House, was canceled due to public health restrictions during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The private online festival, hosted on the Paris-based Festival Scope platform, preserved the festival’s Oscar-qualifying status in five award categories.

This year’s list of Award winners includes nine films from nine different countries. The Audience Award went to documentarian Alison Klayman’s “Flower Punk,” about Japanese artist Azuma Makoto. Other award highlights include “A Youth,” a Shortsfest world premiere garnering the Best Documentary award, and “Bag,” a film by Colorado-born and New York-based artist and animator Robin Frohardt which was honored with both The Ellen Award, and a Jury Award Special Mention for Animation.

For the third year, Aspen Film presented the Vimeo Staff Pick Award, a prestigious honor from the creator-first platform and a live iteration of Vimeo’s Staff Picks laurel. The Award was given to “Bye Bye, Body” by filmmaker Charlotte Benbeniste which is now available on Vimeo.


Audience Award: “Flower Punk” (Japan), directed by Alison Klayman

Best Comedy: “Postcards From The End Of The World” (Greece), directed by Konstantinos Antonopoulos

“Deadpan humor propels this acidly romantic and wholly original story about a crumbling marriage amidst the end of civilization. Beyond the impending cataclysm, the film’s portrayal of the personal tragedy of lost love and the possibility of rekindling it deftly shows us that once our mundane burdens lose meaning, we can focus on what really matters,” reads the statement from Shortsfest’s competition jury, consisting of critic and journalist Carlos Aguilar; Canal+ acquisitions executive Pascale Faure; and producer Marie Therese Guirgis.

Special Mention for Comedy: “Marcy Learns Something New” (USA), directed by Julia Kennelly

“The film offers us a very unexpected vision of a middle-aged woman who finds her way through the practice of SM,” reads the jury statement. “A skillful script and original characters make this fictional tale a story for consenting adults.”

Best Drama: “Bablinga” (France), directed by Fabien Dao (Not screened in the virtual festival)

Special Mention for Drama: “I’ll End Up In Jail” (Canada), directed by Alexandre Dostie

“It’s rare to discover a truly original filmmaking voice and even rarer to have no idea what’s going to happen from one moment to the next while watching a film,” reads the jury statement. “A delight.”

Best Animation: “And Then The Bear” (France), directed by Agnes Patron (Not screened in the virtual festival)

Special Mention for Animation: “Bag” (USA), directed by Robin Frohardt

“The originality of the technique joins the theme of the film, an animation made with recycled materials that tells us the tragedy of a plastic bag,” reads the jury statement. “The result is a cinematic symbol of a new ecological consciousness.”

Best Documentary: “A Youth” (UK, Italy, Greece), directed by Giorgio Bosisio

“There have been a number of recent documentaries depicting the lives of refugees in Greece and other European countries,” reads the jury statement. “But ‘A Youth’ never ‘others’ nor pities its subjects. We care about them because they are, essentially, so much like us. We respect them because they are braver than we are.”

Special Mention for Documentary: “The Starr Sisters” (USA), directed by Bridey Elliott, Beth Einhorn

“This film captures an unforgettable moment alongside these incredible sisters,” reads the jury statement. “They tell us their stories of life – even the most intimate ones — and give us an inspiring lesson of freedom!”

Best Short Short: “Something To Remember” (Sweden), directed by Niki Lindroth von Bahr

“As melancholic as it is bewildering, this exquisitely achieved stop-motion creation finds profound humanity in its animal protagonists through an eerily soothing song,” reads the jury statement. “It’s a bittersweet, bite-size confection that blew us away.”

Special Mention for Short Short: Asmahan The Diva (France), directed by Chloe Mazlo

“We would have happily watched another hour of this lovely, clever, fascinating, and moving film,” reads the jury statement.

Best Student Short: “Heading South” (China, USA), directed by Yuan Yuan (Not screened in the virtual festival)

Special Mention: “No Crying At The Dinner Table” (Canada), directed by Carol Nguyen

“Formally intelligent and deeply emotionally affecting, this film gives viewers such a strong sense of each character in such a short time and we cared about all of them,” reads the jury statement.

The Ellen Award: “Bag” (USA), directed by Robin Frohardt

Youth Jury Award: “The Manchador” (Norway, Germany), directed by Kaveh Therani

 “The relevant themes of the male gaze and women’s autonomy pertain to not only our generation, but the whole world,” reads the citation from a jury consisting of local students Mac Lampe, Riley MacArthur, Haver Muss, Sebastian Pedinielli, Harper Rafelson, Richie Simeone and Tilly Swanson. “While the film focuses on Middle Eastern religious practices, we see the objectification of women in our society and generation today. We appreciate the implementation of comedy and satire around this serious topic. The role reversal, in limiting men’s freedom instead of women, opens the door to a conversation around this issue with a new and creative take. The director’s choices with movement among the actors, the emotional writing, and the powerful cinematography created a fully immersive and comprehensive experience.”

A total of $15,000 in cash prizes were awarded to the Shortsfest Competition and youth jury winners.

Eagle County issues updated public health order to slow spread of COVID-19

Eagle County Public Health and Environment has updated the county’s public health order to help meet several key goals in the local response to COVID-19. The goals are to slow the spread of the virus, ensure Eagle County can maintain the medical capacity and continuity to serve the medical needs of residents, to protect the most vulnerable residents who are at greater risk for severe symptoms, and to establish a plan that will help Eagle County recover, socially and economically.

The new order goes into effect immediately. All community members are strongly encouraged to read the entire order. Revisions in the Eagle County order include, but are not limited to:

Extends time frame until April 30

  • This will facilitate the continuation of social distancing efforts necessary to slow the spread of the virus.
  • This will also help prevent strain on the local health care system and ensure medical resources are available for those who need them most. 

Includes requirements for people who are sick

  • Individuals experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 must self-isolate for seven days from the start of symptoms and 72 hours until fever-free, whichever is longer, and as long as symptoms are significantly improving.
  • These apply to people who are confirmed to have COVID-19, and to those who have symptoms consistent with COVD-19 but have not been tested.

Includes requirements for people who have been exposed

  • Individuals who have been in close contact to someone with symptoms of COVID-19 must self-quarantine for 14 days. 
  • This applies to people in close contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19, and to people in close contact to someone who has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 but has not been tested.

Adopts state guidelines on critical businesses

  • This new order adopts the same list of critical businesses as defined on page 6 of the state public health order and clarifies social distancing requirements that must be implemented.
  • This requires all businesses allowed to operate under the order to create and visibly post a Social Distancing Protocol, located at the end of the order, explaining how the business is achieving all social distancing, sanitizing and cleaning, and other requirements.
  • All businesses are required to post their protocol by 5 p.m. on April 9.
  • The order recognizes that allowing essential businesses in compliance to operate will provide much needed economic support now, and will facilitate a faster recovery in the months ahead.

Clarifies restrictions on recreational activities

  • The order prohibits the use of recreational areas with high-touch equipment or that encourage gathering. Examples include, but are not limited to, playgrounds, ballfields, basketball courts, tennis courts, golf courses, disc golf courses, skateparks, dog parks, rock parks and climbing walls, pools and spas, and shooting and archery ranges.
  • Dogs are required to be leashed throughout the duration of the order. This will prevent pets from having to be separated by owners, reducing person to person contact and violation of social distancing requirements.
  • Individual outdoor recreation activity, such as hiking, biking or fishing, is still allowed as long as all social distancing requirements are followed.
  • Trails and public lands are open to Eagle County residents only.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Eagle County will use a consistent approach for enforcement of the public health order. This will primarily focus on education to bring about compliance, but can also include fines of up to $5,000 for repeat offenders. Violations of the order can be reported to the non-emergency dispatch number at 970-479-2201.

Public Health officials are reminding the community that Eagle County falls under both the local order and statewide orders. The order that is more restrictive in any category is the one that applies. 

“We are collectively doing a great job here in Eagle County. The revisions to this order help clarify the intent for social distancing within essential services, businesses, and recreational activities,” said Heath Harmon, Eagle County director of Public Health and Environment. “We are all interested in when we can relax some of these restrictions. And although we have a number of weeks to go still, we must aim for newly reported deaths and infections to be close to zero, while ensuring mechanisms will rapidly identify and isolate newly infected people, as well as quarantining those with whom they have had close contact.”

In addition, revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now encourages people to wear a non-medical, cloth face covering when going out in public. Local officials are urging people not to buy surgical masks, which are needed by health care workers and first responders. Officials are also warning against having a false sense of security when wearing a mask. Maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from others is still required as outlined in this order and is the most effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19, regardless of a face covering.

Information and regular updates are being shared at http://www.ECEmergency.org. The county’s forum for COVID-19 discussions is at http://www.facebook.com/OneValleyVoice. Those with questions not answered through the two previous resources can email covidquestions@eaglecounty.us or call 970-328-9750.

At home in Aspen: Nerd out on local history in the Aspen Historical Society online archives

The Wheeler/Stallard Museum has been closed since mid-March due to public health concerns about spreading the novel coronavirus, and the Aspen Historical Society’s program of tours and living history presentations are off the books for the foreseeable future.

But during stay-home orders around here, the Historical Society’s vast online resources are an entertaining and enlightening virtual rabbit hole to go down.

The nonprofit’s online archive includes nearly 30,000 historic images of Aspen and complete scanned issues of local newspapers from the founding of The Aspen Times in 1881 until 1963.

There are also free audio files of oral histories by people present at the creation of modern Aspen, including Elizabeth Paepcke.

Below are some highlights of the free, easy-to-navigate virtual collection. (If the local quarantine extends much beyond April 30, we may even find ourselves digging into the trove of Aspen High School yearbooks that go back to 1909, cemetery records and phone books dating to 1885 HERE).


I wandered around the voluminous Mary Eshbaugh Hayes archive, which includes nearly 7,000 images of her time chronicling the town for the aspen times from the 1950s through the 2010s (she died at 86 in 2015) .Here you’ll find glamorous 1960s ski shots of Sepp Uhl and Stuart Mace to contemporary party photos of folks you may know, from the Food & Wine Classic to World Cup races and the 50th anniversary of The Sundeck in 1997.

The archive also includes currated collections of historic Aspen photos by Dick and Margaret Durrance and Robert M. Chamberlain, along with some 28,000 in the main Aspen Historical Society database.

Click HERE to browse.


Digitized and easily searchable, the local newspapers from the silver mining heyday to the dawn of the ski bum era are here. With simple keyword searches, you can go back and read about the Wild West days, early explanatory journalism on skiing in the 1930s, the postwar moment when Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke first arrived in town and started talking about “the Aspen Idea,” read contemporaneous reports on the exploits of 10th Mountain Division soldiers, you can read new about the 1918 flu pandemic during the town’s “Quiet Years” era, you can skim oddball advertisements for snake oil elixirs from the 19th century and diverting tales of yore, from Doc Holliday’s obituary to Aspen’s cocaine fiends of the Theodore Roosevelt era.

Click HERE to browse.


This trove of recordings from historic Aspen figures is an entertaining introduction to modern Aspen history, and a source of wonderful tidbits for local buffs. I listened to 10th Mountain Division soldier and Aspen architect Fritz Benedict tell the wild story of how he first came to Aspen for a ski race in the winter of 1941-42, riding trains and hitch-hiking (with his skis in tow) from architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter school in Arizona.

“I broke both skis in practice but this town was so great to me those three or four days,” he recalls. “I was an imposter really. So I’ve been trying to get even with the town ever since [by] doing civic things.”

Click HERE to browse.


Carbondale expands loan program, offers loans for coronavirus-affected businesses

As businesses across the nation struggle to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic crisis, Carbondale has repurposed an existing loan program to help out.

The initial idea of the Carbondale Revolving Loan Fund was to provide startup or expanding businesses with a low-interest loan of up to $25,000.

Kula Yoga, Aloha Mountain Cyclery, restaurant Silo and other Carbondale businesses have benefitted from the loan program.

“Given what’s happened, we thought it might be of use to some of these existing businesses who kind of need a bridge funding while they’re kind of closed down or severely restricted in what they could do,” said Colin Laird, loan program coordinator and director of the Third Street Center.

The loan fund started in 2002 with a $50,000 grant from the Department of Agriculture and an equal amount from the town of Carbondale.

It was Carbondale Trustee Lani Kitching’s idea to ask the USDA for approval to offer the 3% interest loans interest free, and expand the program to those suffering from the measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19, I wondered if the Town’s revolving loan fund could be repurposed from being a start-up and expansion low-interest loan fund to a distressed business gap funding option,” Kitching said in a statement.

In the nearly 18 years since the program started, there have been no defaults and the fund has grown to about $130,000, Laird said.

The application turnaround can be shorter than some of the other business loans. Laird said that an approved business could see the loan return in four to six weeks.

Many Carbondale businesses have already inquired about the loan program.

“Hopefully it can be a useful tool in addition to the things that the state and the feds are doing,” Laird said.

Small businesses across the state are eligible for the Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

Applications for the new Payroll Protection Program opened Friday. The program provides potentially forgivable loans of amounts enough to cover 2-1/2 months of payroll or $10 million, whichever is less.

Congress allocated $349 billion to the program through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act.

The SBA accepted thousands of applications from around the country in the first day the program was available, according to tweets from the national administrator Jovita Carranza.

The payroll protection loans are currently available to small businesses and sole proprietorships. On April 10, the loan applications will open for independent contractors and self-employers.


CMC says no refunds for students as semester on track to conclude with online coursework

Continuation of the spring semester at Colorado Mountain College campuses via online courses will be treated the same as if classes had resumed in person, according to college officials.

That means, with just four weeks remaining in the semester, refunds will not be provided for credit classes at this point, CMC Chief Operating Officer Matt Gianneschi clarified in a recent online Q&A session that was posted to CMC’s Facebook page.

Special provisions are being made for any courses that had an experiential component to them, Gianneschi said.

“Those courses cannot be moved easily to an online format,” he said. “We are postponing those courses and will find a way to deliver the remaining instruction … or offering other alternatives.” 

Questions about refunds had come up after CMC decided to resume coursework online March 23 after in-person classes were canceled due to public health restrictions related to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our approach to refunds this spring is in alignment with virtually all of higher education,” CMC said in a followup statement. “We are continuing to offer classes in accordance with the social distancing and ‘stay-at-home’ requirements we are all having to follow.”

Faculty and campus staff have been working to stay connected with students remotely, so that they can finish the semester using online instruction methods.

“The faculty expenses necessary to complete the semester online are the same as they are for classes held face-to-face,” according to the statement.

Students may, however, still elect to switch to a pass/fail grading option. Or, they can withdraw by April 15 to avoid a final grade, but without a refund, or take an incomplete grade option, in which case they could complete the class next fall.

CMC did allow students who live in residence halls to remain on campus, and access is being maintained to on-campus computer labs for students who don’t have online access available to them elsewhere.

“Campuses are open to students and employees to enable learning and provide access to technology and connectivity,” CMC Spring Valley and Glenwood Springs Campus Dean Heather Exby explained in a note to campus employees. “We also are committed to supporting physical distancing in order to slow the community spread of the virus. That means balancing the need for access with the need for containment.”

CMC officials have also been busy trying to get Chromebooks and other loaner laptop computers in the hands of students who indicated they needed them. 

The CMC Foundation has pledged $42,000 for a rush order to purchase 60 new laptops for student use across the campuses, and is currently seeking donations to support that pledge (contribute at cmcfoundation.org/give, or contact the CMC Foundation at 970-947-8378).

Meanwhile, residential students who chose to vacate are being reimbursed for unused housing and dining fees — at a cost to the college of about $900,000, according to the statement.

Decisions will also need to be made soon with regards to summer courses and the fall semester, Gianneschi said.

Registration for both the summer and fall terms has been postponed until at least April 15 when CMC will have a better idea of what can be offered, and how.

Internally, the college will need to make a decision by April 8 whether to proceed with the summer term at all, he said. As for how to carry out the fall semester, that decision can wait until July 15, he said.

“If restrictions are still in place at that time, we may very well continue with online,” he said.

In addition to canceling in-person classes, CMC also previously decided to join other Colorado institutions and cancel spring commencement ceremonies.

The CMC Board of Trustees has also scheduled a special electronic meeting for 2 p.m. Monday to discuss, among other things, summer 2020 discounts and benefits, and fall semester options.


Theatre Aspen delays start to summer season due to COVID-19 crisis

Theatre Aspen is delaying and modifying the start to its 2020 summer season due to the coronavirus pandemic, staff is set to announce Monday.

The company’s 37th summer season now will begin July 6 with the Tony-nominated musical “Rock of Ages” (runs through Aug. 1), will move the Tony and Drama Desk award-winning musical “Chicago” to August (runs Aug. 6 through Aug. 22), and postpone Neil Simon’s comedy “The Sunshine Boys” to 2021.

Other summer schedule changes include postponing Theatre Aspen Education’s outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to 2021, and moving the Season Sneak Peek to June 28 at the Hurst Theatre.

According to Jed Bernstein, producing director, Theatre Aspen started looking at how the company’s summer season would be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis in early March when related closures started happening across the country.

“We started looking at all different scenarios about if and when this lasted this long or that long, whatever it might be, as we knew this was not going to be a 10-day event,” Bernstein said Sunday.

After discussion with Theatre Aspen’s board and executive committee members over the past few weeks, Bernstein said the decision was made to delay the season’s start and implement schedule changes.

When asked how Theatre Aspen decided on postponing “The Sunshine Boys” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” specifically, Bernstein said it was a matter of logistics. Both “Rock of the Ages” and “Chicago” have more in common with each other than with “The Sunshine Boys” in regards to overlapping performers and similar sets, making it more efficient to keep the two musicals and postpone the play, Bernstein said. Casting will be announced soon.

As for “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Theatre Aspen Education’s first-ever student Shakespeare performance, it was going to be rehearsed earliest and there just wasn’t room to put it later in the season unless two student shows ran at the same time, which Bernstein said wasn’t feasible and unfair to students who may want to be in more than one performance.

Other minor schedule alterations to the summer season include running “Rock of Ages” and “Chicago” in sequential order versus rotating repertory style. The season will also feature a new Freedom Flex Pass, giving ticket buyers the greatest options and flexibility for dates and shows with no added fees for changes, along with an expanded Summer Cabaret Series with six evenings of dinners and performances, according to a news release.

While Bernstein said Theatre Aspen is closely monitoring the evolving COVID-19 crisis and will continue to follow the guidance of health and government officials, he feels it is important for Aspen arts organizations to be there for locals and visitors after the pandemic.

“In American history going back at least 150 years to the Civil War, the arts in general and theater in particular was a place people flocked to during crisis and after crisis,” Bernstein said. “We are social animals and we crave shared experience, and I think it will be no different this time,” Bernstein continued.

“With the cancellation of Food & Wine and the (Aspen) Ideas Festival, there’s not only going to be a big economic hit to Aspen but I think an emotional one because those are two such iconic events we all enjoy,” he said.

“That puts extra responsibility on ourselves and the music festival and JAS to try to be as vibrant as we can this summer and to do what we can for people’s psyches as well as for the local economy. … It’s going to be a tricky road, but I think it’s a road we all feel is important to travel down if this community is going to bounce back as quickly as we hope and know it will.”

‘Hands on’ is hands off for Pitkin County first-responders during coronavirus

The job of a police officer, firefighter or paramedic is, by definition, hands on.

But with “hands on” off limits as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold across the United States, Colorado and Pitkin County, those emergency first responders are having to tweak the traditional ways they go about doing their jobs in favor of an arm’s-length approach that feels foreign for local agencies more attuned to a touchier-feelier style of customer service.

“We pride ourselves on the fact that if you call us, we show up at your door,” Pitkin County Undersheriff Ron Ryan said. “That has changed.”

Pitkin County deputies and Aspen police officers — who both tend to view their roles as predominantly community helpers rather than law enforcers — essentially are following the same coronavirus playbook. As many calls for assistance as possible are handled by phone or email, said Ryan and Aspen Assistant Police Chief Linda Consuegra.

“We’re just trying to really minimize those contacts (with the public),” Consuegra said. “It’s been a big shift for our staff.”

Calls that require hands-on assistance, including those where public safety is at risk or an incident requires investigation, still are answered, though officers and deputies are being advised to limit contact as much as possible in those situations, they said.

“If someone needs any help and it’s a life safety issue, we’re going,” Aspen Police Officer Ryan Turner said. “If we get sneezed on, … it’s a risk we’re willing to take.”

Fortunately, Aspen and Pitkin County law enforcement agencies have seen a significant reduction in calls for service since public health orders closed ski mountains, bars and restaurants and most businesses, beginning in mid-March, and confining most residents to their homes. For example, Aspen police received 1,131 total calls for service in the last two weeks of March 2019 versus just 494 calls in the last two weeks of last month, according to APD statistics.

“We’ve had a quite a bit of a reduction in calls for service,” Consuegra said. “That has helped. People are staying home.”

PHOTOS: Check out our feature photos of the area’s essential workers

Turner, who was on duty one evening last week, confirmed that Aspen is indeed quiet. Officers would normally be responding to a steady stream of late-season issues involving ski thefts, DUI stops or policing the bar scene, but Wednesday was calmer than even most offseasons.

“It’s dead,” Turner said. “I did an entire patrol in the West End and I didn’t see one other citizen.”

The calls the department has received have tended to fall into the welfare-check category, Consuegra said, and officers have not seen an uptick in domestic violence incidents that forced close-quarter situations might provoke.

The main issue, Turner said, is one with which many residents can likely relate: isolation.

“I’m sitting in a remote area of the police department,” he said, noting that police administrators have spread officers throughout the building and encouraged others who live in Aspen to respond from home. “I like to call it my bat cave.”

He said he’d taken one complaint about a possible fraud in the previous hour.

Police officers in Snowmass Village have split into teams of two, who regularly check in with each other but otherwise have no personal contact, even during a shift while working together, Chief Brian Olson said.

“We monitor each other’s well-being on our days off,” he said. “We are responsible for each other.”

Area firefighters also are taking precautions, including locking down fire stations to all but the most essential personnel, closely monitoring firefighters’ health and establishing stringent guidelines for paramedics, fire and ambulance officials said.

“My main job is to keep this disease out of our fire stations at all costs,” Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine said.

Paramedics likely have the toughest time remaining hands-off, said Aspen Ambulance Director Gabe Muething.

“No way can we perform our functions by ourselves,” Muething said.

Paramedics observe social distancing as much as possible when in the ambulance building, which is restricted to employees only. They also are checked at the door for COVID-19 symptoms and turned around immediately if any are detected, Muething said.

Procedures have changed out in the field as well, he said.

First, paramedics are not nearly as quick to jump in with a physical diagnosis of a patient as they were a couple months ago. They will first conduct a verbal assessment at a safe distance before doing anything, Muething said.

Any interaction with a patient will require gloves and a surgical mask at minimum. If paramedics believe an infectious disease might be present, they will wear gloves plus eye protection, a N95 mask and a gown over their clothes, Muething said.

Another significant difference is the number of people involved in ambulance-related scenes, which in the past might have included two paramedics, a police officer or sheriff’s deputy or two and maybe a firefighter, he said.

“Now we evaluate what is the minimum number we need to accomplish the task,” Muething said.

Sheriff’s deputies still accompany ambulance calls, though they stage themselves down the road and will respond if needed, Undersheriff Ryan said.

The main idea, emergency response officials agree, is to keep their employees as healthy as possible for as long as possible because they are not easily replaced in a county with less than 18,000 residents. That said, area public safety officials said while their staffs have weathered a few employees being out with virus symptoms over the past few weeks, none reported being hard-hit yet.

That situation more or less mirrors the general situation in Pitkin County, where two deaths have occurred so far, and one person was reported to be hospitalized at AVH with COVID-19 as of Saturday.

“We haven’t seen the surge,” said Scott Thompson, chief of the Snowmass Village and Basalt-based Roaring Fork Fire and Rescue. “But we’re certainly expecting to see a surge. That’s why we’re trying to keep people out of the hospital.”

The state as a whole, meanwhile, reported more than 4,900 COVID-19 cases through Saturday, with 924 hospitalized and 140 deaths. State data show Pitkin County with 38 reported cases since the onset with two deaths, according to Sunday’s update.


New Aspen School District superintendent undeterred by COVID-19 challenges

At a time of layoffs, job losses, self-isolation and uncertainty, there lives a man in Pennsylvania who plans to move to Aspen this summer for one of the upper Roaring Fork Valley’s highest profile — and often scrutinized — positions.

David Baugh in March accepted the job as the superintendent of the Aspen School District after a nationwide search the district and an outside firm started in December. Still superintendent of Centennial School District in the greater Philadelphia area, Baugh spent part of Friday handing out food to students on the district’s free and reduced plan for meals.

“We just finished three site feedings,” Baugh said via telephone.

Baugh, 58, will remain at the helm of the 5,900-student district until the end of June; he is scheduled to begin work as ASD superintendent July 1, the same day Aspen High School Principal Tharyn Mulberry is set to transfer into his new role as assistant superintendent.

Tom Heald has been interim superintendent for the 2019-20 school year.

Baugh and Mulberry will take their respective positions at a time when educators are taking on creative measures and initiatives through remote learning due to school closures across the country because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Aspen School District began distance learning on Wednesday, following more than two weeks of class closure due to both COVID-19 and spring break. The district — which includes Aspen Community School in Woody Creek, as well as an on-campus preschool, elementary, middle, high school off Maroon Creek Road — has not been open since March 13.

“I think distance learning will become an integrated parcel” of education in the future, Baugh said. “That’s sort of the new frontier in public education, and it might be an opportunity to move out of 180 days a year and seven hours a day within the classroom walls.”

Gov. Jared Polis has ordered mandatory closure of all schools until at least April 30.

Continuing to educate and feed the students in the Centennial district have been Baugh’s most pressing concerns during the closure, he said, including possibly moving the late spring senior prom and commencement exercises to the summer.

Soon, however, Baugh’s priorities will shift to getting to Aspen in July. What the world looks like then is another question, but Baugh said his aim is to relocate here by then. If not, he said he will work remotely as the ASD superintendent until conditions become permissible for him to head West.

“I think there are worse places to ride out a global pandemic than Aspen,” Baugh said. “But I also figure the challenges here (in Pennsylvania) are not dissimilar to Aspen, Colorado.”

Baugh’s three-year rolling contract with ASD also has a clause that says he can work remotely as superintendent if conditions aren’t safe to relocate this summer.

“Ninety-five percent of the superintendent’s job can be done remotely,” he said.

Baugh, named by his peers as Pennsylvania’ superintendent of the year for 2020, went through a ringer of interviews with the Aspen School district earlier this year.

That included answering a three-part essay question, doing in-person and remote interviews, and in the first week of March holding a meet-and-greet with ASD stakeholders one night, and offering his world view of education to a public audience the next morning.

“The interview process was well underway when America started being affected by this,” he said of COVID-19. “Most of us were watching China with cause for concern, so it wasn’t really a problem until after that last interview (in early March).”

By the time America began to feel the impact, Baugh and the Board of Education were in serious job talks, he said.

“The die had largely been cast and I’d already made a commitment to going to Aspen if the position was offered,” he said, noting that “as we’re negotiating, this thing keep going from bad to worse and we don’t know what we’re dealing with.”

Baugh, however, said he is fine with uprooting his life during a pandemic. The single father has one daughter, 24, who works for Vail Resorts, so he has close company.

Baugh’s teaching experience spans from the elementary to collegiate level. He received a doctorate in educational leadership from Seton Hall, a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s of humanities from Aberdeen University in Scotland.

He has been superintendent of the Centennial district since September 2015.


Business Monday: Pitkin County sues Juul over marketing to youth

Claiming that Pitkin County “has been hit hard by the youth vaping epidemic,” a federal lawsuit filed Thursday alleges Juul Labs and other makers of electronic cigarettes and tobacco vaporizers have deliberately marketed their products to minors in the same manner Big Tobacco once did.

The Pitkin County government is using the same law firm — Phoenix-based Keller Rohrback LLP — that is suing Juul on behalf of other Colorado local governments including the city of Denver and Boulder County.

The lawsuits come as Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is investigating the company for targeting youth through marketing and advertising. And last week, a group of 39 state attorneys general announced they were investigating Juul Labs for its marketing practices; Colorado has not joined that effort as of yet.

Pitkin County raised the purchase price for tobacco from 18 to 21 in January, though it was largely symbolic after the nationwide minimum age of 21 took hold Dec. 20, after President Donald Trump signed a $1.4 trillion budget bill that amended the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Vaping rates in Colorado’s resort region that also includes Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin and Summit counties “continue to climb,” the suit said, evidenced by a surge among high school students from 20% in 2013 to 54% in 2017. As well, Colorado has the highest rate of youth vaping in the nation, the suit said.

Pitkin County’s lawsuit says Juul Labs is partly responsible for what it calls a high level of vaping among Pitkin County’s youth.

“These numbers are self-reported, and many public health officials think they likely underestimate the actual prevalence of youth vaping,” the suit said, noting that the “number of students vaping in plaintiff’s community is even higher. In plaintiff’s Aspen School District, almost 60% of high school students have tried vaping nicotine and 45% of these students used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days.”

Kids have become hooked on the product and are remorseful for starting, the suit said, noting that students as young as fifth-graders in Pitkin County reported having tried vaping.

“Pitkin County youth have also self-reported to school officials that they quickly became addicted after first trying vaping and wished they had never tried it,” the suit said.

Youth have been allured to the products through Juul’s marketing efforts on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network websites, as well as others, the suit contended.

“Middle and high schools throughout (Pitkin County’s) region report struggling to control and respond to the number of youth vaping,” the suit said. “Defendants’ products are discrete and easy to conceal, allowing students to vape in the bathroom stalls at school or even in the classroom. Plaintiff was told that some students do not feel comfortable going to the bathroom at school because there are so many students ‘juuling’ and vaping inside.”

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Denver. Other defendants include Richmond, Virginia-based Altria Group, the owner of Marlboro and a multi-billion-dollar investor in Juul Labs; New Jersey e-cigarette maker Eonsmoke; and another Altria concern, NuMark, which has suspended production of vaporizers.

Juul, based in San Francisco, could not be reached for comment, but told the website coloradopolitics.com, which first reported Pitkin County’s litigation, “We will continue to reset the vapor category in the U.S. and seek to earn the trust of society by working co-operatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.”


We’re Open: Aspen CrossFit

Business name: Aspen CrossFit

Address: 210 AABC, Suite N, Aspen

Phone: 970-948-4605

Email: info@aspencrossfit.com

Website: www.aspencrossfit.com

Instagram: @aspencrossfit

Aspen Times: How have you gotten creative during this time? What have you done to keep your customers engaged?

Aspen CrossFit: We have gotten creative in a couple of ways. We are going live every evening (except Saturday) with a live class on Instagram at 5:30 p.m. We lead the members and anyone in the community for that matter through a warmup and workout that anyone can do from their homes. Most of them don’t require any equipment. We have also loaned equipment out to our members. We are also providing workouts for people to do outdoors that follow the strict social distancing standards in place.

AT: What’s the most important thing the community can do to support you?

AC: The most important thing the community can do to support us is to tune in and keep moving! It’s really easy to become complacent and just sit around, and we want to give the community the opportunity to move for an hour and get the endorphins flowing. We thought about offering our classes on Zoom where people would need a code to tune in and we wanted it to be available to anyone in the Roaring Fork Valley who has access to Instagram. When the dust settles and we get back to a sense of normalcy, we would love to have people come join our membership at the gym. We are counting on our community to continue to support us as best as they can. Donations are gladly accepted to help us get through this unknown period of time.

AT: Where can we find your most current offerings and updates?

AC: Our home workouts come out at 7 p.m. each evening for the following day on our website www.aspencrossfit.com. The workouts are under the tab “Blog/WOD.” We also go live on Instagram at 5:30 p.m. leading the community through the same workout and it stays on our Instagram story for 24 hours until we go live with the next workout.

AT: What has been the best customer experience or comment you’ve had since the crisis started?

AC: The best comments we have had from many members is that Aspen CrossFit is a real community going above and beyond to serve our members and that everyone really misses being in the gym.

AT: Is there anything else you’d like to add regarding your business during the pandemic?

AC: We were mandated by Gov. Jared Polis to close on March 16 and we took the initiative to do so on our own the day before. It has been hard being closed and not seeing our members on a daily basis. Despite the circumstances, we are choosing to continue to pay our coaches through this crisis. We have a can-do attitude and are determined to get through this and come out stronger on the other end.