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Miracle in Basalt: Overtime play sends Longhorns to quarterfinal upset of Rifle

They had tried the play earlier in the game, but to no avail. Without many options facing fourth-and-33 and with the season hanging in the balance, it seemed as good a spot as any to give it another go.

Basalt High School senior receiver Jackson Rapaport took the reverse from junior quarterback Matty Gillis before heaving it toward the end zone and into the arms of junior receiver Rulbe Alvarado in a play that was nothing short of a miracle for the Longhorns.

“To be honest with you, sometimes you get lucky and that was one of those plays,” Basalt football coach Carl Frerichs said. “Rulbe is a heck of a player. … He’s a special kid. Everyone wants to get him more involved because he’s so fast and so athletic. I’m so happy for him.”

Paired with his crucial kickoff return for a touchdown, Alvarado stole the show on Saturday when No. 9 seed Basalt pulled out a stunner over No. 1 Rifle, winning 21-14 in double overtime on the BHS field. The Class 2A state quarterfinal win sends the Longhorns (9-2) to the 2A semifinals for the first time in program history and ends Rifle’s season with a lone loss.

The Bears (10-1) had beaten Basalt as recently as Oct. 25, winning 21-9 that day on the BHS field after trailing early in the fourth quarter. Saturday’s playoff rematch had a lot of similarities with the regular-season matchup.

“I don’t know if I had any expectations, except I knew our kids would play with their heart and do anything we asked them to do and that’s exactly what they did,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “That’s one of the negative byproducts of making the playoffs, is you know for 15 out of the 16 teams it’s going to end in heartbreak. One thing we talked about is it certainly doesn’t feel any better the later you lose in the playoffs, but it sure is a tough one today.”

Rifle led Saturday’s game 14-6 early in the third quarter after standout running back Levi Warfel broke loose for a 62-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1. With momentum back in favor of the visiting team, Alvarado responded by taking the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown. He even caught the 2-point conversion that tied the game at 14-14 with more than nine minutes still to play in the third quarter.

“I’ve been wanting one all season. I just got to give credit to the blockers for helping me get it to the end zone,” Alvarado said of his kickoff return. “We just knew it was going to be a fight the whole way through. I felt like we were kind of losing hope, but I’m just glad we stuck with each other and went all the way.”

Rifle also led 7-0 after a 1-yard run by Warfel capped off the team’s first possession. A defensive stop on fourth-and-short to open the second quarter swung momentum in favor of Basalt, and it was a rare Rifle fumble that set up the Longhorns deep in enemy territory.

A few plays later, Gillis dropped a dime into Rapaport from 22 yards out for a touchdown. A botched extra-point try kept Rifle up 7-6 heading into the locker room, which was the exact same halftime score when the teams played Oct. 25 in Basalt.

“Rifle, they were saying, ‘Make them regret Round 2.’ And we weren’t going to let that happen. We weren’t going to let the rebuilding year chip keep getting bigger on our shoulder,” Gillis said. “After we played last week, all of us were all in every single day, every single play.”

The game went to overtime tied 14-14, Alvarado’s kickoff return for a touchdown early in the third quarter proving to be the final points of regulation. Rifle had the first possession in overtime, but the BHS defense made a stop on fourth down to give its offense a shot at the win. Needing only a field goal to end it, Gillis had a third-down pass intercepted by Rifle’s Carter Pressler in the end zone that forced a second overtime.

The end of that play resulted in a personal foul on Basalt for a late hit, meaning BHS had to start the second overtime period at the 25-yard-line instead of the 10. That’s when, on fourth down with a third of the football field in front of them, Rapaport launched his prayer to Alvarado that gave BHS the 21-14 lead.

The Bears still had a chance to tie, but they also had to start from the 25 after getting called for roughing the kicker on Basalt’s extra-point try, which was good. Facing fourth-and-25, Rifle’s prayer went unanswered, Rapaport jumping up to snag the pass near the goal line to end the game.

“Last time we thought we didn’t fulfill what we should have done. I’m glad we had another opportunity to show everyone we could do it,” Alvarado said of finally beating Rifle. “We knew that if Jackson got a good pass I just had to run and catch it. And we believed in each other and I think that helped us get the win.”

Unlike Rifle, which has won three state championships, including the 3A title back in 2004, Basalt has never been this far in the playoffs, at least in 2A. The Longhorns lost in the quarters each of the past two seasons, the only times they’ve ever been among the final eight teams before this fall.

“Honestly, I’m speechless,” Rapaport said. “After the game I was in tears. I wasn’t even sure if I have really accepted it’s happened. It’s unbelievable, really.”

And, believe it or not, despite being only the No. 9 seed in the 16-team playoff bracket, the Longhorns will host their 2A semifinal game against No. 4 seed Delta, yet another Western Slope League foe. The Panthers beat No. 5 Faith Christian on Saturday, winning 37-35, to advance. With Basalt and Delta both having been the home team in the quarterfinals, the semifinal host was decided by a simple coin flip won by the Longhorns.

That semifinal game is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday in Basalt. The Longhorns’ only other defeat this season came Oct. 18 at Delta, a 35-6 loss. Delta’s only loss this season came Oct. 11 at Rifle, 47-29.

“That was probably the one game all season where I just wasn’t pleased with the way we coached or played, so I think we can regroup and do some things better,” Frerichs said of the first game with Delta. “But they are a heck of a team. There is a reason why they are in the semifinals. We’re going to have to get to the drawing board and make sure we are ready to go on Saturday.”

The other semifinal game will be between No. 2 Sterling and No. 3 Resurrection Christian. The 2A state championship game is scheduled for Nov. 30 in Pueblo.


Finding Center: Snowmass veteran reflects on life during and after service

Editor’s Note: This story was written in honor of Veterans Day and to recognize all of the men and women who served our country in the military.

When Snowmass Village resident Don Stuber moved to the Roaring Fork Valley over 40 years ago, he was in search of something specific.

“I was trying to find calm in my life. … I was unable to relax, was anxious and ended up here to try to fix that,” Stuber said. “In some ways, it was like starting over.”

Stuber, wearing a camouflage scarf and U.S. Marines Corps jacket, fidgeted with a wide-brimmed hat as he spoke. The Vietnam veteran said it was his nearly two years of experience in the war that caused much of his anxiety and desire to live on the edge — and why it’s taken him much of the rest of his life since to find peace.

“I’m pretty lucky I was able to stumble and fumble my way to reconciliation and being a civilian again without causing serious damage or despair to others,” Stuber said. “But I don’t think I’ll ever be completely healed. It’s an ongoing process and I can keep getting better but I’ll never be perfect.”

In an Aspen coffee shop just before the area’s Veterans Day ceremony at the memorial adjacent to the Pitkin County Administration Building, Stuber talked about the years he served in Vietnam as a Marine.

The Minnesota-native said his dad and his uncles had all served in the military, which is one reason why he decided to enlist in 1967.

The other reason was because he wanted to learn more about the war and why the U.S. was fighting it for himself.

“There was so much controversy around the war I wasn’t sure who to believe and figured one way to find out was to volunteer to go over myself and make my own decisions,” Stuber said.

Stuber, who grew up in aviation, thought he would be recruited to use his air skills to serve. Instead, he was a part of the Marine infantry that fought in the Battle of Hue, one of the war’s longest and bloodiest, and later was responsible for transferring high security, confidential documents and information between military and government officials.

“I was really lucky to be provided the opportunity to find out what was going on myself, which is what I had intended to do,” Stuber said. “I realized the war was not right, but that didn’t disturb or minimize my loyalty to the Marines even though I lost faith in parts of the country and its leaders.”

For Stuber, life in Vietnam depended on his fellow Marines, which he described as a community where things like loyalty and trust were unspoken truths. As a messenger of sorts, he also spent a lot of time alongside print and photojournalists, who he said he developed a lot of respect and admiration for.

After he was discharged in 1969, Stuber attended the University of Minnesota and became involved in the peace movement, attending protests and rallies and pursuing photojournalism, art, and martial arts.

He said he studied yoga and meditation to try and help center himself after returning from Vietnam, but that he struggled to adjust to a normal life.

“I kept looking for the same excitement and adrenaline I found in the war, as bad as that sounds,” Stuber said. “(The military was) really good at training and preparing us to kill but did very little to un-train us. We were dehumanized in a sense.”

Stuber said he began to find calm and center after he moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1976 and started his family. But it wasn’t until the late ’80s when he met Dick Merritt, a longtime Aspen local and Marine veteran, and other local retired military officers that he started to identify himself as a veteran.

“That was the beginning of reconnecting with veterans,” Stuber said.

Since then, Stuber has been active with the area Marine veterans and services aimed at helping retired military adjust back to civilian life.

He’s a board member for Huts for Vets, a local wilderness therapy program free for veterans; has volunteered during the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic for the past 16 years and is working on a multimedia project that addresses the different ways people remember wars and how those memories can change.

“Things opened up to me and I realized I had something to offer and share,” Stuber said of identifying as a veteran and working to give back. “I recognize some of the same tendencies in other veterans that I had and I want to be there for them.”


Town Council begins review of Snowmass Center redevelopment

Town Council started its quasi-judicial review of the proposed Snowmass Center redevelopment and expansion project Nov. 4.

Approved by the Planning Commission with dozens of specified development conditions in early September, the planned redevelopment for the center includes an additional 16,646 square-feet of “community serving” commercial and 78 multi-family residential units (68 free market, 10 deed-restricted); the addition of 138 underground parking spaces, bringing the total above and below surface spots to 324; an atrium and increase in public meeting spaces; a new public transit facility; and significant renovations of the existing center businesses, including the U.S. Post Office and Clark’s Market.

But although the project review and public hearing lasted roughly an hour and a half, Town Council held little discussion.

Instead, members spent most of the hearing listening to presentations from town staff, members from Aspen’s Design Workshop, who represented the center developers, and a few members of the public.

“Today our hope and our desire and our intent is to give Town Council an overview,” said Brian McNellis, town senior planner overseeing the center project. “I think we’ve ended up in a much better place than the sketch plan. This is a much more solid site plan.”

To start off, McNellis went over the recent timeline since Town Council approved the center sketch plan in April 2018 and gave council a staff-recommended list of key areas of the proposed project to review, based on the 11 Planning Commission review discussions held between March and September.

The list included reviewing the applicant’s requested height, parking and residential unit variances from town policy; the applicant’s suggested community purpose plans in response to exceeding the town’s “future buildout” potential identified for the area, which includes a $750,000 monetary contribution for a proposed pedestrian bridge that could extend from the Snowmass Center area to Base Village; what connectivity between the center and Base Village should look like; and what street level services and retail should consist of, along with any other topics of review that arise.

Council determined it would make a site visit to the center on Dec. 2, then spend a portion of the majority of its regular meetings through the New Year at least reviewing the 11-building center redevelopment and expansion project.

On a recent afternoon a few days before the Nov. 4 council meeting, Richard Shaw and Jessica Garrow with Aspen’s Design Workshop went over the preliminary design plan proposed for the Snowmass Center.

By working closely with Eastwood Snowmass Investors, the owners and developers of the Center, town Planning Commission members and town officials, Shaw and Garrow said their design team has worked to make the Snowmass Center redevelopment a custom, sure-fit for the town.

That means focusing on the goals identified by Town Council through the 2018 comprehensive plan, including creating various public meeting spaces and pedestrian friendly hangouts, like the centrally located, weather protected atrium; increasing connectivity to and from the center; and developing a “main street” atmosphere, or vibrant town center, for locals and visitors.

“There’s always been a feeling that the center can offer more services and be a place with more of an identity,” Shaw, principal for the Design Workshop, said.

“We’re not trying to replicate Aspen, this is 100% Snowmass and focuses on what the community needs,” Garrow added.

Both Shaw and Garrow emphasized these community-minded and collaborative sentiments, anchoring on the “100% Snowmass” motive during the most recent council meeting and going over each element of the proposed plan in detail with the help of a mini Snowmass Center model.

“We wanted to incorporate greater degrees of color and some of the animation and excitement a retail center can bring, but also reflect the history and heritage of Snowmass design,” Shaw said of the center project at the Nov. 4 meeting.

But after the presentation, Town Council didn’t just commend the applicant on the improvements to the redevelopment project it has made since the sketch plan stage.

Councilman Bob Sirkus called out Shaw’s alleged failure to provide specifics to the Planning Commission when requested during its months-long review of the proposed redevelopment project, instead deferring some commissioner questions to Town Council.

“I find that inappropriate. I think it was demeaning to the Planning Commission and frankly in a sense it sabotages the process,” Sirkus said. “I feel that I needed to tell you that.”

Tom Fridsteain, a longtime architect and member of the Planning Commission who recused himself from the center review early on, also spoke out after the applicant presentation and brought forth a number of areas he feels Town Council needs to evaluate carefully during its review.

Fridstein commended the applicant for its work on the center project, but felt it was important for Town Council and center tenants to know where they will be relocated, for the applicant to include specifics on the design of the proposed atrium area and for councilmembers to really look at the roadway in and out of the center commercial area to ensure delivery service trucks can navigate with enough space and without disrupting pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

“The successful development of the commercial area of the Snowmass Center is critical to the success of our community,” Fridstein said. “This is a very important element in defining the character and functionality of Snowmass for decades. It must be the best it can be.”

On Nov. 5, Garrow said Fridstein raised a lot of important issues and concerns she and the Design Workshop team took a hard look at with the Planning Commission and will continue to discuss with Town Council.

Garrow said overall, the team feels good about the forward momentum of Center plan discussions with council, and aims to be as responsive to questions and concerns throughout the review process as possible.

Town Council will continue its Snowmass Center discussions after the Dec. 2 site visit scheduled for 3 p.m.


A Change of Hands: Longtime Owl Creek Ranch manager hands reins to son

Over the past 30 years, not much has changed on Owl Creek Ranch.

Property owners have come and gone and more modern homes have been built, but the ranching lifestyle on the hundreds of acres between Snowmass and Aspen for Jim Snyder, Owl Creek Ranch manager, has remained relatively the same.

“It’s pretty much the same place I walked onto over 30 years ago,” Snyder said.

But now, after decades of looking after horses, hay fields and working with the ranch’s many and multiple owners, Snyder is experiencing a big change. The longtime Snowmass local is transitioning out of his ranch management role and moving out of Owl Creek as his youngest son, Josh, moves in to take the reins.

“When Josh and I talked about it, he said he’d like to move into my position,” Jim said. “It’s just harder and harder for me to do things like pick up 80-pound bales of hay all winter and it’s time to pass it on to somebody with a stronger back. … I’m just glad Josh is the one that’s going to be here.”

On a recent afternoon in the ranch common area where a cluster of beige buildings with hay, horse stables, a workshop and the Snyder’s home sits, Jim and Josh talked about life on Owl Creek Ranch.

It started when Jim, a Pennsylvania-native accustomed to ranch life, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1977 in search of better skiing and rodeo opportunities.

After running a large cattle ranch in Rifle for five years, the ranch owner decided to give his operation up, leaving Jim, whose oldest son was just a baby, jobless.

The Rifle ranch owner promised to help Jim find another position, and a few phone calls later landed him the gig as manager of Owl Creek Ranch.

From taking his sons out on the tractor to harrow the fields when they were young kids, to feeding horses, irrigating the pastures and hand mending fence with Josh as an adult, Jim made Owl Creek Ranch his family’s home from the start.

He said he’s done his best over the years to keep the ranch in good shape, do what he can to make the 10 current owners happy, address the constant fencing and water issues and work well with horse boarders.

Jim also said, despite only having a few conflicts with owners over his 30 years running the ranch, he felt this year was the year to start transitioning out of his management position.

“It’s a hard thing to walk away from. … I would be really disappointed if I was leaving here to never come back,” Jim said. “Knowing Josh is going to be here makes it a lot better.”

According to Josh, who was born in Glenwood Springs but has spent the majority of his life on Owl Creek Ranch, transitioning into his dad’s role has been his goal for a long time.

“I’ve been working on and off here my whole life really,” Josh said. “It’s so nice to be able to work outside every day, spend my time on four wheelers, moving water, messing around with horses. I like animals a lot and just the whole lifestyle of living on the ranch.”

Josh said he plans to run the ranch in a similar fashion as his dad since it’s worked well for so long, focusing on keeping up with projects like fence mending.

“You’ve got to put in a lot of man hours and sweat into making the place look nice and it’s always been my goal to make it look as nice as it can be,” Jim said.

Over the next three years, Josh and Jim will continue to work together on the ranch but with reversed roles. Josh will oversee the bulk of the day-to-day management and billing, and he and his girlfriend are in the process of moving their horses, chickens, ducks and goats from Silt to Owl Creek.

“He’s gotta know the game, the politics of it,” Jim said of the management transition. “You have to always be one step ahead of the people you work for or you have issues. That’s something I try to always do, to get something done before it’s ever mentioned to me.”

Jim will assist Josh as needed four to five days a week, commuting from his new home in New Castle. He is in the process of moving out of Owl Creek, where he’s added to collections of everything from horses, saddles and wagons, to arrowheads, clocks and toy sewing machines over the years with the help of area locals.

Both Snyders also plan to continue tying ropes for local area kids every year for the Aspen Historical Society in Ashcroft together, and volunteering for the Snowmass Rodeo every Wednesday evening over the summer.

“Josh and I have always worked together and we work together really well,” Jim said. “I think we’ll just keep knocking out the same projects that need to be knocked out every year.”

For both men, Owl Creek Ranch is the source of a lot of stories, and has served not only as a place to work and live but a place to grow as people.

Josh said he feels growing up on the ranch has given him the skills, work ethic and respect needed to succeed as an adult, and Jim feels that while raising a family on the ranch wasn’t always easy, it taught him a lot and introduced him to many of his closest friends.

“There are so many stories and so many neat people who have lived here. Some I’d call my very close friends and would do anything I could for them,” Jim said. “I’ve been very, very fortunate to have spent 30 years here. It’s been a dream job.”