In the final episode of The Drop-In for the 2020-2021 winter season, we ski a quiet Aspen Mountain after a half of foot of snowfall. No lines, fresh tracks, and the softest snow– bring on closing day weekend!
The Drop-In: A Locals-Only Kind of Day on Ajax
High Country: All aboard the ‘Ganjala’
In the spring of 2015, while in Telluride for the annual Mountainfilm Festival, I discovered an edible that — six years and countless new companies later — still holds the title as my favorite cannabis confection ever.
My fellow producers and I were in town to present our legalization documentary, “Rolling Papers.” In addition to its screenings, Mountainfilm made history in hosting its first consumption-friendly event, dubbed “Cannabis & Conversation,” where the film’s main character and director were joined by Geneva Shaunette, general manager of the downtown Telluride dispensary Alpine Wellness at the time. Moderated by adventure journalist Rob Story, then-festival director David Holbrooke animatedly kicked things off with, “Alright, it’s time to light it up.”
Following the outdoor, rooftop event where joints were passed freely among the crowd (and on stage), Shaunette took our crew back to her store for a tour. Inside the glass cases, a rainbow of packets stamped with the word “Ganjala” atop an actual gondola and pot leaf illustration caught all of our attention. She explained that they were Alpine Wellness’ signature, house-made edible — a single-serve, cannabis-infused taffy. I was sold and stoked to learn they were also available on shelves across the rest of the state.
Back in Aspen, I kept buying Ganjalas until 2018, when suddenly they were nowhere to be found. This January, I read the headline “The Ganjala Rides Again” in the Telluride Daily Planet and immediately reached out to Shaunette to congratulate her and find out if and when Ganjalas would return to Roaring Fork Valley dispensaries.
The three employees from Alpine Wellness’ tight-knit staff — Shaunette, her wife Laura Shuanette, and Elena Levin — who were leading the Ganjalas growth charge, each amicably parted ways with the company that same year; Shaunette was elected to Telluride Town Council on the platform of affordable housing, while Levin took over ownership of the coffee shop and grocer Ghost Town.
“Shortly thereafter [Alpine Wellness] decided to shut down the kitchen part of the business, because they just really wanted to focus on their farm in Norwood and at the end of the day, they want to be growers,” Shaunette, whose four-year term is up in November, told me during a recent phone interview. “They didn’t want to be running a candy factory, which is basically what [we were doing]. So they called us and said, ‘Hey, do you guys want to buy our MIP (marijuana infused products) facility, run it and license Ganjalas from us?’”
The deal was signed in 2018, when the trio bought all of the equipment, took over the lease, assumed the intellectual property rights and planned the rebrand. Tapping their friend Stephen Rockwood, a former Telluride local who’s now an art director at Patagonia, they brought to life a new identity — this time with a more universal look sans ski-specific graphics for an eventual national expansion. The last step of the two-and-a-half-year, self-funded transition was partnering with the Bronner Corporation in Denver to contract Ganjalas production, packaging, sales and distribution.
Though Shaunette promises, “We will always be a born-in-Telluride brand.”
Ganjalas, which are now on shelves locally at The Green Joint (and more than 40 stores statewide), began with the Original (a plain caramel, which has since been discontinued), Black Cherry, Blue Raspberry, Green Apple, Orange, Strawberry Lemonade and Watermelon. The relaunch swapped Orange for Mango, keeping the rest of the fruit flavors in rotation. Each 10-milligram piece of “juicy and chewy” taffy is wrapped and safety-sealed individually, retailing for about $5. Plans are underway to introduce 10-piece party packs later this year as well as limited-edition, seasonal releases.
As for the name: Urban Dictionary defines “ganjala” as, “A hotboxed gondola on a ski mountain” where “skiers and snowboarders climb in and shut all doors and windows and smoke blunts and joints until the whole chamber is filled with smoke.”
As for nabbing such an iconic term in ski town slang (a Federal trademark is in progress) as a name — especially one that’s far more gondola-friendly than smokable products to consume?
“We are really proud of it. Cannabis has always been a part of ski culture — and now, even more connected to an active, adventure lifestyle,” added Shaunette, who humbly assured me that the idea was a team brainstorming effort in the beginning. “[‘Ganjala’] is this cool code word and lore that has been passed down forever. I grew up in Seattle and some of my first cannabis experiences were on the ski hill in high school with my friends. We didn’t have a gondola, but we still knew what a ‘Ganjala’ was. Whether you’re in B.C. or Tahoe or Vermont — everybody knows what [it means].”
Katie Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro
Vaccines are unproven
The last I checked, we are still allowed to question in this country. A recent article about vaccine myths provides more questions than it provides facts (“Pitkin County health officials: Don’t believe vaccine myths,” April 11, The Aspen Times).
The article starts off with an absurd comparison between wearing a helmet and getting a shot. When you put a helmet on, you can take it off. When you get a vaccine, there is no taking it back. In addition, a helmet can be custom fitted whereas vaccines are one size fits all.
One twist in the propaganda is that the vaccines have been approved by the government. They have only been approved for emergency distribution. There have been zero safety studies approved for these vaccines.
The J&J vaccine has just been paused due to clotting issues.
According to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, there have been 56,869 adverse events, 2,342 death, and 7,971 serious injuries directly related to the vaccines as of April 1.
The vaccines do not prevent one from getting the virus nor do they prevent transmission of the virus.
Dr. Levin states that the current vaccines were developed using the same protocols as other vaccines. This is not true. There are no long-term safety studies and the animal safety testing has not been done.
She also states that the technology has been around for decades. This is true but the safety has never been proven. In the animal safety studies the results were disastrous. This is why these vaccines have not been used on the public.
These shots are technically not a vaccine. They are actually genetic modification therapies.
A concern of these vaccines is that it could trigger antibody-dependent enhancement. This is a condition that could cause people to develop a more severe reaction to the wild virus than if they were not vaccinated.
Housing workers is Aspen’s most pressing issue
As one of the three county commissioners who initiated tough growth controls and affordable housing in the ’70s, I support the proposal for affordable housing where Su Lum’s old cabin now stands.
The Historic Preservation Commission’s negative vote is understandable given their narrow range of responsibilities. In contrast, Aspen City Council has the much tougher job of weighing all factors.
One crucial factor must be included: There are reasons to exclude affordable housing from every prospective location in the valley. There are no noncontroversial sites.
As is often the case, we must rank competing goals. In this case, an already dense neighborhood within walking distance of jobs is an excellent location for the working people who keep our community viable.
And God bless soulful Su Lum. I miss her.
Respect for the men and women in blue
Advice to those who lament and riot over police shootings and brutality.
There are a few bad cops, and that is true of all of society. Report them — and they should be fired and prosecuted.
With regard to all the others, the responsible and caring servants of our society, a simple rule: Do what the officer tells you, and be polite.
End of an era: Alice McKennis Duran calls it a skiing career after two Winter Olympics
She knew it was time, even if parts of her refused to accept it. After all, a body can only handle so much, and Alice McKennis Duran had put hers through a lifetime’s worth of agony and recovery.
“This last injury, I think it was just one injury too much,” she told The Aspen Times on Wednesday. “It sort of pushed me over the edge a little bit with seeing the value and the risk and what it was all really worth to continue ski racing and to continue throwing my body down these icy slopes in nothing but a speed suit.”
A native of New Castle, McKennis Duran has been a longtime member of the U.S. ski team, going back to her World Cup debut on Dec. 5, 2008, in Lake Louise, finishing 51st in a race won by teammate Lindsey Vonn. Now 31 and with enough serious injuries over her career to impress even the iconic Vonn, McKennis Duran has decided to call it a career.
This past Saturday, she was a forerunner in the women’s downhill at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Aspen Highlands, her run serving as a victory lap for a career that included two Olympic appearances and a World Cup win. She was able to celebrate with many of her teammates, including fellow women’s speed team mainstay Laurenne Ross and tech specialist Resi Stiegler, who both plan to retire after this season, as well.
“It’s a little surreal that it’s over, but here we are,” McKennis Duran said. “I’m super thrilled with the celebration we had and it was wonderful to have everyone there and celebrate everyone that was part of it.”
McKennis Duran, who learned to ski at Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs and had a stint training with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club before joining the national team, entered this season with the hope of going for one final Olympic appearance at the 2022 Winter Games in China.
Her winter got off to a strong start by winning the delayed 2020 U.S. national championship in super-G back in November at Copper Mountain. But, about a month later in what would be her only World Cup event of the season, McKennis Duran crashed in the season-opening downhill in Val d’Isere, France, fracturing her fibula near her right ankle and doing some damage to her left knee that ended her season.
She’s still not fully healed from the crash, and had to get permission from her doctor to even slip the Highlands course on Saturday for her goodbye run. She doesn’t plan to be on skis again until next season, even if no speed suits are involved.
“It’s maybe time to move onto the next thing and save my body for the next 50, 60 years that I hopefully get,” McKennis Duran recalled having told herself while rehabbing this winter. “The overwhelming part of me knew this was probably the end of my ski racing career and I should start thinking about the future. But there was also a part of me that wanted to hang on and still wants to continue. Even going through the rehab process, the first three-and-a-half months I went about it like I was coming back to ski race. It’s just part of my mentality to not give up.”
McKennis Duran has kept track of the injuries. By her count, she spent roughly a third of her professional skiing career injured. She’s had five significant injuries, by her definition, including a 2013 crash that resulted in her tibial plateau (lower leg, just below the knee) being shattered into 30 pieces. She’s also had many minor injuries, such as a broken hand, that hardly make the list.
Still, despite the setbacks, missed races and months, if not years, spent in rehab, McKennis Duran was able to make a solid career out of it. She was part of the U.S.’s historically elite women’s speed team earlier in her career, a lineup headlined by Vonn. McKennis Duran’s career highlights include her fifth-place finish in the 2018 Olympic downhill in South Korea — Vonn won bronze that day for her final Olympic medal — and two World Cup podiums.
McKennis Duran’s lone World Cup win came in a 2013 downhill in St. Anton, Austria, while she also recorded a third-place finish in a 2018 downhill in Are, Sweden, only a matter of weeks after the Olympics. The Are race happened to have been Vonn’s 82nd and final career World Cup victory, with the Vail legend finishing just four wins shy of Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time record of 86 wins.
“I didn’t fully recognize it until just recently, talking with Resi and Laurenne, but it’s like, wow, it’s kind of the end of an era, really. Especially looking back on the women’s speed team, Laurenne and I, we are sort of the last holdouts from the Lindsey Vonn era,” McKennis Duran said. “We were part of that team that was the best downhill team for several years and we are stepping away. There have been a lot of up-and-comers the last few years and we’ve seen great results from a lot of the team. There is tons of momentum behind the team, so it is exciting to see what they’ll all do.”
McKennis Duran maybe didn’t get the most ideal finish to her career, crashing into the A-net in Val D’Isere, but found some comfort in getting a final slide down the Highlands course on Saturday. After all, Aspen is a town near and dear to her heart, and a place that played a significant role in her early development as a ski racer.
Had U.S. nationals been hosted just about anywhere else, McKennis Duran admits she probably wouldn’t have come to take part in the end-of-season revelry. As it happened, Highlands did step in to host the 2021 event, which served as the most ideal place for the former AVSC athlete to bid adieu to her resilient career.
“Really grateful for this past weekend,” she said. “It’s not like I did this alone. It was a lot of people helping me. It was nice to celebrate them and myself and the whole deal. I know I’m going to be sad about the decision. Like I said, a big part of me wanted to continue. I recognize retiring is the best thing for me in the long term. So yes, I’m happy, but it’s bittersweet, for sure.”
So, now what? McKennis Duran is still figuring that part out. She currently lives in Minturn with her husband of nearly two years, Pat Duran, who is a coach for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. The couple also spends a lot of time in Moab, where they also have a place. McKennis Duran is only about five classes shy of finishing her business degree — a process that’s taken a good decade, which is nothing out of the norm for a professional ski racer — and has some business opportunities available to her through her sister, who raises cattle near Meeker.
Coaching could be in her future as well, but the big picture outlook remains full of unknown possibilities for the two-time Olympian.
“I’m not really sure what’s next for me. I’m definitely going to take a few weeks, a few months, to just sort of absorb a different type of lifestyle and take care of other family projects,” said McKennis Duran, who at least has a more immediate plan. “I’m going on a rafting trip next week. I’m really excited for that. Now that I’m retired and unemployed, I have a lot of time for extra stuff.”
Tahoe’s Lapanja wins giant slalom for her second national championship in two days
Two days, two wins for Lila Lapanja. The Lake Tahoe ski racer finished atop the women’s giant slalom podium on Thursday to win her second national title in as many days at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Aspen Highlands.
The 26-year-old, who is a former U.S. ski team athlete who now competes independently, also won the alpine combined title, which wrapped up Wednesday. And, for the second straight day, she had to hold off former University of Denver athlete Storm Klomhaus, who again finished second, 0.04 seconds back of Lapanja. New York’s Tricia Mangan was third, 0.20 back of first.
“Today was definitely a tactical day. It paid to just have good skiing … it was not easy,” said Lapanja, who finished the GS race with a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 44.22 seconds. “It was probably the longest course that I’ve ever raced, and I think the slip and race crew did a phenomenal job keeping the conditions really good. We had a really hard surface in the morning, and the salt took pretty well for the second run.”
Lapanja wasn’t even in the top 10 after the first run, but was the fastest in the second run and was able to make the leap to the top of the podium.
Held roughly three weeks later than normal, the spring weather continued to make racing difficult at U.S. nationals. Only 28 athletes finished both GS runs on Thursday, with 14 recording DNFs.
“When I was inspecting the second run, I just thought, ‘OK, just ski smart, focus on some really simple technical things, and don’t panic … don’t try to fight the length of the course, don’t try to fight the conditions, because it’s going to win today if you do,” Lapanja said. “It was just that long and that tough of a course.”
Only one race remains in the two-week long national championship event, that being Friday’s women’s slalom.
The race will also be a celebration for Jackson, Wyoming, native Resi Stiegler, as the 35-year-old World Cup veteran plans to officially retire after this season. She joins Oregon’s Laurenne Ross and New Castle’s Alice McKennis Duran in using this week’s nationals at Highlands as their retirement send off.
Preps: Aspen football readies for Basalt, BHS volleyball beats Coal Ridge in five
After back-to-back wins, the Aspen High School football team finds itself right in the mix to claim one of only eight playoff spots in the Class 3A spring season. Winning a third straight will come as a significant challenge, however, as the Skiers are set to host rival Basalt on Friday night.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. on the AHS turf. The limited tickets that had been available, mostly by being on a players’ invite list, are accounted for and the general public will not be allowed into the game due to COVID-19 safety precautions.
Aspen (2-2) started the season with back-to-back losses to Glenwood Springs and Rifle, but bounced back with a 40-28 win over Montezuma-Cortez two weeks ago, and last week’s 22-7 win over Steamboat Springs. The Skiers are ranked No. 7 this week in both the CHSAANow.com poll voted on by the media, and the ever-important RPI.
Basalt (3-1) will look to rebound after losing to Glenwood Springs last week, 21-14, a defeat that cost them their No. 1 ranking. The Longhorns dropped to No. 3 this week in the media poll, behind No. 1 The Classical Academy and No. 2 Glenwood. Rifle is No. 4.
BHS is No. 5 in RPI, a list headlined by Glenwood. The Demons play Rifle on Friday night with a win effectively clinching them the Class 3A West League with only one game to play in the regular season after this weekend.
The Longhorns have dominated the Aspen-Basalt football rivalry in recent years, with the Skiers’ last win over their downvalley rivals coming 21-10 in the regular-season finale in 2013. Basalt has won six straight in the series since.
Basalt volleyball beats Coal Ridge in thriller, stays perfect in WSL
The Basalt High School volleyball team won one of the biggest matches in recent program history on Thursday night, topping powerhouse Coal Ridge 3-2 inside the BHS gymnasium.
The teams were playing for the Class 3A Western Slope League lead. The Titans opened with a 25-17 set win, only to have the Longhorns answer in kind with the same score. Coal Ridge then dominated the third set, 25-11, but Basalt rallied from there with a 25-23 nail-biter in the fourth set.
The fifth and final set went past the finish line, with BHS pulling out a 21-19 victory. It is the seventh straight match win for the Longhorns, now 7-3 overall, who remain unbeaten in WSL play. Coal Ridge dropped to 7-4 overall and now has two league losses.
The spring volleyball season is slated to wrap up next weekend. BHS has four games remaining, next up being a Friday home match against Cedaredge. The Longhorns will come to Aspen on Tuesday for a non-league contest.
The Skiers are 3-7 overall following a 3-0 sweep of Roaring Fork on Tuesday. AHS has won back-to-back games now, pairing with a 3-1 win over Rifle last weekend. Aspen hosts Gunnison on Saturday.
Basalt boys soccer beats Aspen to split season series
The Aspen High School boys soccer team hosted Basalt on Thursday, losing 4-2 on the snowy AHS turf. The Longhorns had a strong offensive first half to lead 3-1 at the break and held on from there.
It was only the second win of the season for Basalt, which is now 2-6-1 overall with only a home non-league game against Roaring Fork on Saturday remaining on its spring schedule.
Aspen fell to 2-6 overall in the loss. One of the Skiers’ two wins this season came March 23 over Basalt, a 4-3 non-league victory. AHS will close out its regular season on Saturday at home against Vail Mountain.
Clubhouse Chronicles: Thank you, AVSC coaches, for guiding our way this winter
At the end of each season, there is a long list of people to thank — it truly takes a valley to make Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club run. We are fortunate to have a passionate community that makes it all happen between our staff, our donors and sponsors, and of course, our athletes and their families.
As this season wraps up, I’d like to extend an enormous thank you to our coaches.
Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club’s 2,300 athletes benefit from the time and attention of 134 AVSC coaches and 250 Aspen Skiing Co. pros. The Skico pros work with our Aspen Supports Kids program to help athletes grow from never-evers to adventurous skiers and snowboarders who explore all types of terrain and trails on our four mountains.
Some of our coaches log off from their full-time jobs on weekday afternoons to head out onto the trails in Aspen or at Spring Gulch to pass on their love of skiing. Others patiently build confidence in young athletes as they work on their air awareness and jumps on the trampolines, airbags, and eventually in the terrain park. Others load the lifts in the wee hours of the morning, ensuring the best quality of training they can possibly provide as their athletes fly through gates.
Many of our coaches are career coaches. This is who they are and what they do, and they have an incredible amount of experience, certifications and podium results to show for it. At every level, our coaches are dedicated, hard-working, passionate individuals who, for either the winter season or all year long, dedicate their time and talent to helping young athletes become the best version of themselves.
I won’t belabor the point about why this year was different or challenging, but I will say I am grateful for our positive, resilient, creative group of coaches (and program directors who lead them).
All of our programs ran at full-steam this year. This required creative planning (and changes of plan), a great deal of communication and thoughtful execution. Many of our programs operate year-round, which means that for over a year, coaches have been providing the very best programming for the current week without knowing exactly what the next week will bring.
They have learned new online platforms, finding ways to keep kids moving even when apart. They have altered their programs to maximize opportunity while minimizing risk. They have helped host events that brought the highest level of competition to our valley in a year that we thought we might not be able to test ourselves in competition. They’ve learned, enforced and taught new (and ever-changing) protocols in order to keep their groups safe.
Most importantly, perhaps, was not what they learned to do differently, but rather continuing to do what they’ve always done best: to focus on the development of our athletes, not only as athletes, but as people. In a year with immense shakeups in routines, personal interactions, school, extracurricular activities, families and more, our coaches provided a safe and steady outlet for our athletes to continue to grow and develop, to safely socialize, to succeed and fail, and to spend time outdoors doing what they love.
We feel incredibly lucky to have been able to accomplish what we did this year with all groups — from wobbly first turns to world championship runs — and are grateful to all who supported us along the way. We are excited to bring back team van rides, hugs and shared meals in the near future.
Whether you know an AVSC coach, or a coach serving kids in a different youth sports organization, I hope you will take a moment to thank them for all they’ve done this past year! During a universally challenging time, they worked hard to be a consistent source of positivity, fun and growth.
Clubhouse Chronicles is a behind-the-scenes column written by the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club that runs periodically in the Outdoors and Sports sections.
Aspen Times Editorial: Skico put together a solid season despite the challenges
When judged by the usual metrics, the COVID-plagued 2020-21 ski season will go into the books as a horrible one for Aspen and Snowmass.
Skier visits tanked. Restaurants struggled to keep afloat while wrestling with capacity limits. Lodge and hotel occupancy started slowly before warming up in March.
But in an odd winter such as this one, the usual statistics should be tossed out and the bottom line viewed differently.
Skiing injected sanity into a season when the world seemed headed to hell in a handbasket. There was pandemic anxiety, political strife and economic uncertainty.
Aspen Skiing Co. officials deserve credit for making the best of bad circumstances. For the most part, they did a good job of establishing procedures that kept people socially distanced and safe, yet enabled them to have fun. Most lift mazes were set up so people in different parties could stay separated. The exceptions, at times, were the mazes at the Village Express six-pack chairlift and Elk Camp Gondola, both at the Snowmass base. Some skiers and snowboarders said they were uncomfortable being in the crowded jumble at the bottom of those lifts.
Skico also successfully undertook firm but professional enforcement of mask requirements. Skico employees could be seen on multiple occasions politely and professionally reminding customers to put up their masks.
Skico expanded its ski pass offerings this year in an effort to spread people out. The company was able to avoid a reservation system — something nobody wanted.
Ski instructors said they stayed busy, once snow conditions improved after January. And some also helped remind folks in the lines to keep up their masks.
As usual, Skico’s mountain operations departments — from snowmaking to groomers to ski patrol — did a top-notch job throughout the winter.
Extending the season at Snowmass for a week put a cherry on top. Snowmass was scheduled to close Sunday, along with Aspen Mountain. Instead, Snowmass will remain open through April 25.
It was a difficult year — one that will be best remembered as being endured rather than thoroughly enjoyed. But, hey, it would have been worse without the slopes being open.
The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor/columnist Sean Beckwith.