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Longtime ranch owners object to Basalt master plan’s view of their property

The Meyer family has owned and operated a 180-acre ranch on the edge of Basalt for 59 years. Ownership has passed from one generation to the next and it’s inching closer to another transition.

Through the six decades, the family has been patient about pursuing development, but the latest Basalt master planning process is trying that patience, said Trish Meyer, matriarch of the family.

“At the last open house, people were given poker chips to choose what to do with our land,” Meyer told Basalt Town Council on Tuesday evening. “This isn’t a game to us. This is our home and these are our lives and our future.”

The family was given the opportunity to express their concerns to council before the master plan — a blueprint for Basalt’s future growth — gets finalized this spring. Meyer said she wanted the board to know that the family has a different vision for their land and that they will likely submit a proposal soon.

Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer said the Meyer family’s situation is a spin on the usual scenario that plays out in land-use discussions. Usually neighbors of a development site contend they don’t have control over what happens in their backyard. In this case, it is the landowners who feel helpless as planners and citizens plot what to do with their land, she noted.

The late Guido Meyer Sr., an Aspen magistrate who was famous or infamous for detesting hippies who invaded the town in the 1960s, bought the Basalt ranch in 1961.

“He was offered the opportunity to put in a trailer park for the workers that were building Ruedi dam,” Trish Meyer told council. He declined in favor of keeping the property as a working ranch. The family runs cattle on the land and has a tree farm.

“We feel we’ve been good stewards of the land,” Meyer said

Trish and her husband, Guido Jr., who died in 2017 while working the ranch on his tractor, contributed to multiple community causes — providing land for a water tank, the Rio Grande Trail, realignment of Highway 82, Fishermen’s Park and Roaring Fork River access.

“Meanwhile we have been surrounded on two sides by Elk Run (subdivision) and the flagpole annexation of the Roaring Fork Club,” Meyer said.

Elk Run was developed along the ranch’s western border. The Roaring Fork golf and fishing club is to the east.

Trish said her husband tried to work with public officials for 30 years on various proposals that would keep the ranch economically sustainable. Prior to the creation of Basalt’s last master plan in 2007, the family proposed what she called an ecologically based, sustainable residential community centered on a working ranch. The family was told to wait for the master plan process to conclude before proposing a plan.

What happened, she said, was Basalt officials settled on an urban growth boundary that looks like a jigsaw puzzle. The urban growth boundary determines where the town will extend its services. The 2007 plan created an “arbitrary line” that excluded most of the Meyer’s property but allows development on a 17-acre triangle on the southwest corner, closest to Two Rivers Road. But an important part of the Meyers plan — providing home sites for Trish and Guido’s adult children — is on land currently outside of the growth boundary. Meyer said she doesn’t understand why that line has to be “set in stone.”

“This rollercoaster has gone on for more than a generation now,” Meyer told council. “Our family made a decision going into this process that we were willing to work with the town one more time to try to create a solution before pursuing other options. We need a financially sustainable plan to keep this land in agricultural use, which is also in line with the wishes of the community.”

The proposed master plan explains why the property is important: “Occupying high-value hillside land that offers views and open space, while being the last unincorporated gap along Highway 82 frontage creates opportunities to meet the public vision goals. These include promoting density instead of sprawl, conserving open space and potentially supplying a mix of housing types.”

Some aspects of the proposed master plan and the Meyer family’s plan are similar. The master plan presents two possible scenarios — one with development contained on the 17 areas in the southwest corner and a second with more units and uses extending to other parts of the property.

Members of the public who attended an open house earlier this winter got to use poker chips to show which plan they favored. The contained development concept was overwhelmingly favored. It would allow about 69 medium density residential units, 66 affordable housing units, open space, space for a “public facility” and a bicycle and walking trail that would connect Elk Run with federal public land near the popular Arbaney-Kittle Trail, alongside the cemetery and its approach road.

The concepts in the proposed master plan spurred the Meyer family to prepare its own, detailed conceptual plan. It has about the same number of units as the lower-density alternative in the master plan.

Multi-family units are proposed along Two Rivers Road, then it tapers off to townhouses and finally less-dense single-family homes closer to the pastures. Their plan includes space for a civic amenity, an active park and a buffer of spruce trees between their development and Elk Run.

A critical part of the family’s plan is placement of two-acre lots northwest of the cemetery. Three to five lots would be reserved for the family’s construction of homes.

“We feel there are many positive opportunities and infill rather than sprawl development such as this could create for the town,” said Tom Newland, a land-use planner working with the Meyer family. “For example, the Meyers are interested in the mixed income development concept highlighted during the master plan process, as it is similar to their vision of a development that promotes diversity and inclusion by providing housing for all income levels and age brackets.”

Tuesday’s council meeting was not intended to resolve the issue. Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said the master plan would not be the definitive word on what the Meyers family can do. That will be settled in face-to-face negotiations, with equal representation for the town and family, she said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

More than a party: Aspen Gay Ski Week helps raise funds, awareness for LGBTQ+ community

For the past 43 years, Aspen-Snowmass has hosted the oldest gay ski week celebration and fundraiser in the nation.

As hundreds take part in the renowned list of festivities this week, most locals and visitors will talk of and remember the daily group skiing and snowboarding sessions, late-night apres ski parties, downhill costume contest and flamingo pool party.

But for many longtime Aspen Gay Ski Week attendees like Reed Strathdee-Lewis, owner of the Daly Bottle Shop in Snowmass Village, the week is more than just a celebration. It’s a way to raise money and support for the LGBTQ+ community.

“You can’t not hear about Aspen Gay Ski Week. It’s one of the biggest winter events,” Lewis said. “Yes, it’s a party, but it’s a party that raises money for a lot of good causes. That’s why I’ve stuck with it.”

Lewis, who’s lived in Snowmass for nearly 25 years, has been on the board of directors for AspenOUT, the LGBTQ+ advocacy nonprofit behind Aspen Gay Ski Week, for more than a decade.

Through the annual Gay Ski Week celebration, Lewis said AspenOUT is able to raise funds that both support national LGBTQ+ initiatives and local efforts to engage, educate and empower LGBTQ+ youth and their families up and down the valley.

“The fundraising indirectly saves lives,” Lewis said. “There’s still discrimination and there’s still work to be done to ensure equal and fair treatment for everyone.”

Although AspenOUT has existed for roughly two decades, it has ramped up its efforts to support local LGBTQ+ youth and allies over the past five years through its high school senior scholarship program; free mental health and counseling; Gender and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) support in high schools and middle schools; LGBTQ+ affirming film series; and WORD, an alternative prom for students uncomfortable with their school’s conventional prom held each spring.

On the first morning of Aspen Gay Ski Week, Kevin McManamon, executive director of AspenOUT, and Janet Gordon, a licensed professional counselor trained to support LGBTQ+ youth and who works with AspenOUT, talked about the impact of these year-round support programs on students from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.

In 2019 alone, the nonprofit awarded over $18,000 to LGBTQ+ seniors and their allies, and offered over 40 hours of free individual and family counseling.

“It’s easy; we do this so kids don’t kill themselves,” McManamon said. “If we don’t do this, kids may not feel supported in being who they are.”

“We often believe we are more accepting than we are,” Gordon added. “There’s a big difference between saying you are accepting and actually showing it.”

According to the most recent Regional Health Study conducted across Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, more LGBTQ+ and Hispanic kids reported experiencing bullying and attempting suicide than their straight and white peers.

Over 63% of kids who reported experiencing depression and 33.8% of kids who said they planned a suicide identified as LGBTQ+, according to the study data.

For Gordon, AspenOUT has been huge in helping facilitate more safe spaces and events for LGBTQ+ youth in the valley through its financial and board member support.

The nonprofit helped her attend the Gender Odyssey conference in San Diego and gain training on LGBTQ+ specific counseling, which she feels has made her a better ally and resource for students and their families.

“All any of us want is recognition,” Gordon said. “If you’re LGBTQ+ and you live in an environment that doesn’t accept or recognize you, that’s tough. Here, the fact that we are able to show kids they are a valued part of the community and that someone does see them. That’s big.”

Chamberlain Peacock and Aiden Krause, both seniors at Aspen High School and co-presidents of its GSA, or LGBTQ+ Club, said they recognize Gordon and AspenOUT as rare and important resources for the valley.

Through their club, which meets weekly during the lunch hour, the two seniors have tried to help empower their LGBTQ+ peers, educate students and teachers on how to respond to slurs and discrimination, and ensure the high school is a safe space for everyone.

“Even though gay marriage was accepted back in 2015, there’s still a lot of misinformation, there’s some harassment and miscommunication,” Peacock said. “That can be really hard when you’re trying to figure this out yourself and you’re stigmatized as the gay kid. Having an area where you don’t have to worry about all of that is nice.”

“It’s nice knowing that you’re not the only one as well,” Krause added. “We strive to educate people about what it means to be LGBT and how to be a decent ally so by the time they go into the real world and you’re out of that bubble that everyone calls Aspen, you aren’t close-minded and don’t live a life of toxicity.”

After they graduate, Peacock and Krause hope to see the high school’s club continue to advocate for LGBTQ+ students and branch out into the middle school to help create a more accepting environment.

They also said even though they don’t get to take part in much of Aspen Gay Ski Week, there will be a youth event at the CP Burger ice rink on Saturday in Aspen and that the public support for LGBTQ+ over the week is reassuring.

“People don’t understand the power of just hanging a pride flag and the comfort that comes from that,” Krause said.

“One day we hope we won’t even need a club; we hope that all people will just know how to act and everyone will feel accepted,” Peacock added. In Snowmass, town tourism staff is working to ensure the LGBTQ+ community feels welcomed and accepted over Aspen Gay Ski Week and beyond with the addition of pride stickers in merchant windows and flags hung up around the village.

Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, said the village has been working to partner more with Aspen Gay Ski Week, evident with this year’s inaugral LGBTQ+ family weekend in Snowmass.

“We’re really excited about the family weekend and our whole team is behind Gay Ski Week,” Abello said, noting that Snowmass Tourism is the defending downhill costume contest champion.

“All of the things that make the village wonderful for a traditional family make us wonderful for LGBTQ+ families, too, and we want every family to feel welcome here.”

Lewis said he congratulates Snowmass on recognizing the value of parentering with the LGBTQ+ community, and for showing its support of both Aspen Gay Ski Week and AspenOUT, which he hopes continues to grow for years to come.

“I think weeks like this are important because they give people in the community the chance to feel like themselves with no judgment. You can be unapologetically you,” Lewis said.

“I think it’s pretty awesome for the younger community to see this, to see there’s nothing wrong with being (LGBTQ+). It’s OK to be you.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

The fifth mountain: Nordic skiing met with passion, compassion in Snowmass

Crunch-swoosh, crunch-swoosh, crunch-swoosh, crunch-swoosh.

That was the sound most audible with each left and right stride of the Nordic skis across the Snowmass Cross Country Center’s Trail 64 on a recent morning.

The sound of the nearby traffic and aquatic wildlife seemed to blend in as the handful of cross-country skiers shuffled and skated along the track. But right up there with the crunch-and-glide was the voice of instructor Patty Lecht, loud with encouragement of each movement and the feeling that came with them.

“Can you feel the snow under your feet and how your skis are moving across it?” Lecht asked as she made her way along Trail 64. “Now stop and close your eyes for a moment so you can really feel everything.”

To say Lecht is passionate about Nordic skiing is an understatement. As she shuffled along the Snowmass loop Jan. 3, Lecht worked to connect the cross-country ski movements to the natural rhythms of the body and surrounding ecosystem — and to focus on creating a playful environment.

“One of the philosophies I like to carry while we’re teaching people to ski is it’s all about fun and play,” Lecht said. “To give joy, environment, kindness and understanding is right action. … This whole operation is so steeped in people of real compassion. Everyone here is deeply, deeply passionate and compassionate.”

For over seven years, Lecht has taught visitors and locals how to Nordic ski at the Snowmass Cross Country Center, which is run by Ute Mountaineer and headquartered at the Snowmass Club golf course.

The center has been offering Nordic ski lessons and rentals for decades and is surrounded by more than 6 miles of trail in the golf course area, along with trails that lead from the center to Snowmass Mountain and Aspen, according to its website.

“For me and a lot of us, we just love Nordic skiing and being able to get out on the free trail system,” said Scott Nelson, manager of the Snowmass Cross Country Center. “That’s just the main thing, we love doing it and helping people get into the sport because it’s a great sport to get into.”

A longtime local, Nelson said he got into Nordic skiing through his wife and was drawn to the sport for its aerobic and fitness benefits.

After working at the Aspen Cross Country Center for roughly eight seasons and taking a short hiatus, he decided to move back into the local Nordic skiing center sphere this season as the manager in Snowmass, taking over for Mark Kincheloe.

Kincheloe, who worked at the Snowmass center for over 10 years, is the manager at the Aspen Cross Country Center, which he said is much busier but doesn’t have the same, diverse terrain the Snowmass area has to offer.

He said he began Nordic skiing in the early ’80s, and that over the years he’s been racing and teaching the sport, he’s continued to learn and watch it grow as a part of the Snowmass community.

“It’s really hard to put your finger on how many people use the system, but just going out and seeing the same faces year after year shows that the sport is a real integral part of the community in Snowmass,” Kincheloe said.

From the Owl Creek trail connector between Snowmass and Aspen, to the Rio Grande Trail that runs from Aspen to Basalt, there are 90 kilometers (over 60 miles) of groomed multi-use and Nordic skiing-only trails in the upper valley free to locals and visitors.

According to John Wilkinson, president of the Aspen/Snowmass Nordic Council, the current free trail system is the product of over 20 years of collaboration between Aspen, Snowmass and Pitkin County to continually improve the Nordic skiing experience in the valley.

Money to maintain the local trails comes from the Pitkin County Open Space tax, Wilkinson explained, and the trails are groomed almost daily. He said the local Nordic council’s role is to continue to advocate for cross-country skiing access in the valley.

Moving forward, Wilkinson said the Nordic council is working to better educate locals and tourists in Snowmass especially about which trails are multi-use and which are Nordic-skiing only, and are looking ahead to ensure the local cross-country trail system rises above the negative impacts of climate change.

Wilkinson said the council is already testing out snowmaking at Aspen High School, with a one-kilometer loop for the high school Nordic athletes to use from as early as November to as late as April, and said there has even been talk of creating a Nordic trail system on Aspen Mountain if temperatures in the valley grow too warm to maintain the current tracks.

“We like to think of it as the fifth mountain,” Wilkinson said of the Aspen Snowmass Nordic trail system. “It gives people the opportunity to do something other than alpine skiing but still stay on skis.”

For Paul Perley, general manager of Ute Mountaineer in Aspen, the main focuses ahead to ensuring the local Nordic trail system thrives into the future include maintaining positive relationships with the local governments and golf courses who make the Aspen and Snowmass cross-country centers possible, and working to attract and maintain good, passionate employees.

“This year it’s been very difficult to get good, qualified employees,” Perley said, noting that the Snowmass Cross Country Center has had to bump down to operating six days a week. “Like with anything, it’s hard to find people who can find housing and afford to live here, … but we’re lucky to have a lot of people who have been at the Aspen and Snowmass centers for years and years.”

The longstanding tradition of Nordic skiing in the Aspen-Snowmass area and the locals who continue to be a passionate part of it are what Perley and Nelson believe will help the sport continue as a relatively low cost, winter recreation alternative into the future.

Although the centers themselves mostly deal with visitors, Nelson said his mission is to ensure everyone he and his staff interact with at the Snowmass Cross Country Center goes away with a positive Nordic experience.

“It starts with us. If we’re passionate about what we know and getting people started, hopefully that rubs off,” Nelson said. “Whoever walks in the door, whether it’s a beginner or an elite skier, we want them to have a good time here and to leave wanting to do it again.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

‘A safe house’: Stepping Stones supports, empowers young adults in Roaring Fork Valley

It was just after 3:30 p.m. on a recent afternoon when exclamations, shouts and laughter erupted from the room of a Carbondale home.

There, six teens and their campaign leader were gathered around a table just getting into a soon-to-be three-hour afternoon of Dungeons and Dragons.

As they took on the roles of their characters, voice effects and all, the young adults exercised creative freedom through the tabletop fantasy game as they’d done most every Wednesday after school since they started the Dungeons and Dragons group last spring.

But it wasn’t just a game meet-up at just any home in Carbondale. It was a time for the teens to check in with each other and their mentors at Stepping Stones, a Carbondale-based safe space that aims to give kids ages 10 to 21 up and down the valley consistent access to positive adult mentors, basic needs, educational support, skills development and empowering experiences.

“It’s nice that there’s a place where you don’t have to worry about what people think,” said Juliana Carpenter, 15, one of the teens at the Dungeons and Dragons table.

“You can be and connect on your own terms and let go of the daily stress of your life for awhile,” added Shannon Moran, 19.

Over the past five years, Stepping Stones has created partnerships with families and schools to offer guidance and support to teens during the day and in the evenings.

Five nights a week in two buildings adjacent to each other, teens can access free dinners, laundry, showers and educational support. Adult mentors are available to talk one-on-one with young adults, or in group settings like the one held every Wednesday.

“I try to check in on everyone by working it into the game,” said Jonathan Greener, assistant director of Stepping Stones, mentor and the Dungeons and Dragons campaign leader for the Wednesday night group.

“Our model is about meeting kids wherever they’re at and living out life together in a way that prioritizes personal health and is empowering for ourselves and the young people.”

CREATING A YOUTH-DRIVEN SAFE SPACE

According to the Stepping Stones’ 2018 annual report, the nonprofit served over 6,000 meals, saw 6,279 drop-in visitors and engaged 92 kids in 1,232 mentor sessions.

The annual report also shows 68.85% of the drop-in centers’ youth identify as Hispanic or Latino, and 27.86% identify as White or Caucasian.

But while Stepping Stones aims to ensure the valley’s young adults have access to meals and other basic needs, along with experiential learning opportunities like camping and mountain biking, Executive Director Kyle Crawley said the nonprofit is anchored on building positive relationships.

“There aren’t a ton of brick-and-mortar spaces in the valley for just kids and having that space is important, but we want to go deeper than that,” Crawley said. “Here we meet with kids on an individual level and so naturally the challenges they face come up which we help them work through.”

Crawley said Stepping Stones mentors work with youth at a 10 kids-to-one adult ratio, and have seen everything from gender and identity struggles, to substance abuse and mental health challenges.

Because the nonprofit’s programming and resources are all free and voluntary, Crawley said not all of the kids who come to Stepping Stones are a part of the mentoring program, but those who are meet with adults on a consistent basis, year-round and whenever the young adult needs them.

“Life happens at all different times,” Crawley said. “These kids have a variety of needs and are facing a myriad of challenges that requires an in-depth kind of attention.”

Crawley has worked to give that level of attention as a mentor himself to several young adults in need, including Austin Brown, 19, of Snowmass Village.

Brown has been coming to Stepping Stones at least once a week ever since it opened its doors in 2014, and views it as a space that has helped him conquer his personal challenges.

“When I came in here, I struggled with a video game addiction. I’d spend two to three hours a day playing games because in that world, I could be who I wanted to be,” Brown said. “The video game world became the real world for me.”

Since he’s come to Stepping Stones, he said people like Crawley have helped him realize video games aren’t everything in life, and it’s best to go out, be active and meet people.

He also said the youth space has introduced him to new friends and helped him grow more confident in himself.

“In the past I’ve felt a lot of depression and felt this was the only place I could go in the valley and the only place that could help me overcome it,” Brown said. “Stepping Stones is a place that no matter what you’re going through you can really be yourself and no none will judge you. … Not only do you make friends, the moment you walk through the door it’s a big family that always has your back.”

STEPPING UP FOR MORE VALLEY YOUTH

Crawley said although the majority of the kids Stepping Stones serves are based in Carbondale, there are some teens who utilize its services from Snowmass Village to New Castle.

In 2018, the nonprofit started its youth program for middle-schoolers, expanding to the building adjacent to the original Stepping Stones house, which Crawley said was just the start of its plans to elevate its youth mentor model in Carbondale and bring it to more kids in need across the valley.

Over the next few years, Stepping Stones plans to renovate its roughly 8,000 square foot combined space in Carbondale, connecting the two buildings and creating more of a community hub for both kids and their families.

The renovation is the first phase of a three-pronged project, which includes raising $800,000 to revamp the Carbondale space, pay off the nonprofit’s loans and lastly start to expand its services through the creation of a new drop-in center in the Basalt area called Patrick’s Place.

“Our life-changing spaces and mentoring program creates stepping stones for youth to rise above adversity and find belonging and personal growth that would last a lifetime,” a Stepping Stones campaign statement reads.

For Temple Glassier, the expansion to the Basalt area, El Jebel specifically, is important to ensuring these stepping stones reach more of the young adults living up valley.

On Nov. 3, 2017, Glassier’s 15-year-old son, Patrick Palardy, died by suicide just a year after his father. Soon after Patrick’s death, Glassier partnered with Stepping Stones to craft the vision for Patrick’s Place, a drop-in center similar to the ones in Carbondale that would be open longer and offer more activities for Basalt-area youth, including sports fields, a student sculpture plaza, garden, barn with animals and more, according to preliminary plan documents.

A 1.8-acre area west of the El Jebel fire station was donated to Glassier and Stepping Stones for Patrick’s Place, meaning moving forward just comes down to raising the money; first to renovate the space in Carbondale and pay off loans, then to start on the previously estimated $2.2 million El Jebel project.

“It’s a big dream but it’s a dream that fulfills a huge need in our valley,” Glassier, a Stepping Stones board member, said of the Patrick’s Place project. “It’s still the same vision, it just takes time and it’s a matter of getting the valley community to buy in and want to participate.”

Glassier, Crawley and the rest of the Stepping Stones team aren’t the only ones who want to see the nonprofit grow its services and expand its reach in the Roaring Fork Valley — the young adults at the recent Wednesday night group meeting, the majority of whom are from the Basalt area, voiced their hopes for the Stepping Stones youth community to grow, too.

As they continued to roll their fates in the Dungeon and Dragons campaign, they talked about how the weekly group has grown to become a good support system for one another, and how they work to spread the word about Stepping Stones mainly through word-of-mouth.

“The diversity at Stepping Stones is amazing, when all of the groups come together for things like hut trips it feels like we’ve all been friends this entire time,” Chey French, 17, said. “You don’t get that in a normal school setting, there’s nothing like that.”

“In our area, I think a lot of young people feel isolated geographically, socially and financially, and our valley has one of the highest rates of mental illness and suicide in the country,” Shannon Moran, 19, added. “But this is a safe house. It’s a reprieve from all of that. Everyone should come here.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

The sustainability paradox: Striving for green in Snowmass’ tourism-based economy

Editor’s Note: This is part of a three-story series published in the Dec. 25 Snowmass Sun looking at sustainability efforts in the village.

In a house tucked away in the trees off of Faraway Road, Joseph Goodman sat in a chair, engulfed by his two sons.

He smiled as they climbed on his back and his legs and begged him to play. Goodman gave in and tickled them every once in a while. But the rest of his demeanor was serious.

“As a parent, I feel guilty,” Goodman said as his sons worked on untying his shoelaces. “Every morning when I kiss my kids goodbye, get into my car and start the gas engine, I feel guilty. There is real guilt there, … and I think others must feel it, as well.”

For Goodman, a member of the Snowmass Environmental Advisory Board, that guilt stems from contributing to the current and future catastrophic impacts of climate change by being a carbon energy consumer.

Since he moved to Snowmass Village about five years ago, Goodman said he’s dedicated his career to addressing climate change and protecting the Earth’s ecosystems. After working for a few years at the Rocky Mountain Institute, he established a fund and began “investing small amounts of personal capital and insane amounts of time” into promising renewable energy projects.

Yet, in the same breath of acknowledging his drive and dedication to clean energy initiatives, Goodman also acknowledged the fact that he still contributes to the problems he spends countless hours trying to solve on a daily basis every time he flips a light switch.

“There’s a lot of paradox in climate change right now because half of the global economy is tied to making the planet dirty,” Goodman said. “So, it’s virtually impossible to be a part of the economy and not be tied to part of the carbon bubble.”

Snowmass Village is no exception to this global paradox; in fact, it’s a seemingly strong example of the push-pull relationship with the carbon economy countless communities face.

Since 2009, town officials have strived for sustainability and greater efficiency through a set of guiding focal points and criteria for improvement (see related story on page 6).

But at the same time locals are working to decrease their emissions and the village’s carbon footprint, the number of visitors and tourism opportunities the town economy so heavily depends upon continue to increase, creating a paradox that begs the question: How can a town really be a green community if its economy is anchored on such a high-carbon industry?

According to the town’s 2017 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory report, emissions have decreased by 17% from the 2009 baseline, and the village is on track to meet its 20% carbon emissions reduction by 2020 goal.

But while water and building emissions are on a decreasing trajectory, aviation and transportation emissions are on an increasing trend, with a 60% increase in aviation emissions since 2009.

This large increase is due to the increase in airport operations at the Aspen Pitkin County Airport, the report stated, and the increase in transportation emissions was related to more trucks and cars being on the village roads than in 2014.

In May 2019, the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, presented this emissions report to town officials. The local nonprofit has been working with the town for over 25 years to save energy and cut carbon emissions, and though there has been progress, Executive Director Mona Newton said she feels the village can do even more.

“Like every community, Snowmass has a ways to go,” Newton said. “I think they’ll reach their ‘20 by 20’ goal because they’ve been really working at it, but they need to work harder and need to get more people involved.”

As acknowledged by CORE and town officials, part of the reason Snowmass Village has been so successful in reducing its overall emissions is a direct result of Holy Cross Energy’s local energy conservation efforts and move to a 39% renewable energy grid.

According to Mike Steiner, key accounts specialist with Holy Cross Energy and a member of the Environmental Advisory Board, the energy co-op aims to have a 100% renewable energy grid by 2040.

Like Newton, Steiner is confident in Snowmass Village’s ability to find a sustainable balance and serve as a green model for other communities around the world.

“Government policies or not, the fact is renewables have become affordable and they are competing and beating fossil fuels on price,” Steiner said. “Ten years ago if you would have told me that wind and solar was going to compete with the coal plants on the variable cost of energy, I would have called you nuts. So it’s just been crazy how quickly this stuff has become economical and more efficient, too.”

Auden Schendler, senior vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Co., was another voice advocating for Snowmass’ ability to be a sustainable resort community.

But when asked about the village’s sustainability paradox and how to find balance, Schendler said balance isn’t an option.

“Climate change is a societal problem, the entire economy is based on carbon,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we rely on tourism or manufacturing or whatever, the most effective way to make a difference is to decarbonize the economy and the planet.”

For over 20 years, Schendler said he’s worked in a sustainability capacity with Skico, which has various green initiatives to point to at Snowmass Ski Area, like its micro hydro project on Fanny Hill, its on-mountain dining compost program, and years-long efforts to increase its snowmaking efficiency in collaboration with the local water district.

But Schendler said Skico is mostly focused on using its company leverage to influence substantial green policy changes at the local, state and national levels, and to leave an impression on Aspen-Snowmass visitors by advertising its “Give a Flake” campaign and handing out its most recent sustainability report.

“These things are important because they keep people inspired and optimistic,” Schendler said of Skico’s localized sustainability projects and larger green policy initiatives. “The fact that we get so many tourists just makes our efforts even more influential.”

Goodman sees the village’s status as a resort location as a potential driver for change, too.

An optimist who’s also very risk-conscious, Goodman said he plans to continue to actively pursue clean energy initiatives and hopes Snowmass locals will do more to protect the village ecosystem, actions which he feels could potentially rub off on visitors and spread sustainable change to their home communities, too.

“There’s a lot at stake here. We have so much to lose and so much opportunity to do well and have a huge outside influence,” Goodman said. “If you’re in Snowmass Village, take the time to go out on the mountain and reflect on how much is not lost, what’s worth saving and the legacy you want your kids and grandkids to experience.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

Ordinance passed to help “harden” Snowmass Village against wildfire

After little discussion, the three Snowmass Town Council members present at the Dec. 16 regular meeting unanimously approved an ordinance that strengthens the village’s wildfire protection code.

The new ordinance, which amends three chapters of the Snowmass Village Municipal Code, is a generalized reform of the town’s fire protection requirements to help “harden” the community to the threat of wildfire.

For Snowmass locals and developers, it means Roaring Fork Fire Rescue officials will review future development plans and new construction projects on existing sites, recommending appropriate mitigation techniques that will be checked and approved by Town Council.

For John Mele, longtime local fire marshal for the Roaring Fork fire authority, it’s partially the result of over a decade of prevention and education efforts in the village area, and a step in the right direction in making Snowmass a more resilient community.

“The community determines the level of fire protection they want, we work for the community,” Mele said. “This is a more appropriate code for the wildland-urban interface that we live in and it’s ultimately what the community wants.”

On a recent afternoon in Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Station 45 on Owl Creek Road, Mele and Fire Chief Scott Thompson talked about the importance of community wide buy-in to wildfire protection and mitigation efforts.

The Roaring Fork fire officials said the reality is that there aren’t enough resources in the valley to protect all of the Snowmass Village structures if a wildfire were to ignite, and that mandated and voluntary structure “hardening” efforts can make all of the difference.

Some of these efforts include clearing roofs, gutters and yards of debris; using non-combustible building materials in new development projects; and manipulating vegetation to create a buffer and defensible space around a structure.

A recent study on the effectiveness of wildfire mitigation in certain areas affected by the Lake Christine Fire backs Mele and Thompson up. According to the Community Wildfire Planning Center post-fire study, property mitigation in place in or near the El Jebel Mobile Home Park and Missouri Heights supported firefighters in their suppression efforts, creating a more efficient response to the Lake Christine Fire.

“Based on the results of this study, wildfire regulations and proactive voluntary measures must continue to be actively supported and integrated into the planning process to prepare for future wildfire incidents,” the August 2019 study stated.

“Mitigation activities support the ability for firefighters to safely respond to residential areas threatened by fire, and in most typical WUI (wildland-urban interface) disaster situations may be the only available strategy that enables homes to survive when suppression resources are overwhelmed, or simply not available.”

Both Roaring Fork fire officials said they feel the Lake Christine Fire two summers ago contributed to the community’s desire for more proactive protection against wildfire, and said the authority usually visits 20 to 25 Snowmass homes a summer to do free, voluntary inspections.

“When there’s smoke in the sky, people call, but as soon as the sky is blue we don’t hear from many,” Thompson said of locals asking for the fire authority to recommend hardening measures for their homes or businesses.

But while the Lake Christine Fire is drifting further into the rearview mirror, wildfires are certain to continue in the years ahead as the new reality of the West.

According to Patrick Kieran, acting mitigation and education specialist for the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit (UCR), and Lathan Johnson, UCR deputy unit fire management officer, forest health in areas across the Rocky Mountain region, including Colorado, is deteriorating as different tree species miss their natural fire cycles, becoming more susceptible to disease, forest pests and resulting in more underbrush and debris.

That’s why in certain areas of the White River National Forest this spring, Kiernan and Johnson said there are planned prescribed burns to help regenerate the forest ecosystem.

But the UCR officials also said that although fire authorities do their best to remove debris and mitigate fire threats in local forests, especially among the wildland-urban interface, wildfire has the potential to further impact the Roaring Fork Valley.

“This cycle of catastrophic fires across the West is a thing of the norm now,” Kieran said. “But we can lessen the impact if people are properly educated.”

In Snowmass Village specifically, Mele and his fire protection team have worked diligently to reduce the amount of potential fuels a wildfire could latch onto and to educate locals on how to harden their homes and businesses.

Now with the reinforcement of the new ordinance, Mele said the team hopes more can be done to protect Snowmass Village for years to come.

“It’s a shared responsibility. We all have to do more to be resilient,” Mele said. “Now we can be more proactive versus reactive and build safety in the community.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

Hundreds turnout for The Collective’s opening weekend

On Dec. 7, over 1,000 locals and visitors poured into The Collective in Snowmass Base Village to fully experience the community space for the first time.

Previously known as Building 6, The Collective served as a shell to test out various affordable programming and activities last season, in hopes that the “best of the best” would move into the completed build-out.

One year, a few short speeches and a snip of a large, red ribbon stretched across the finished Base Village building later, the public was invited to experience a free sample of what the community space will offer.

“The opening weekend went so great, we heard a lot of feedback that people were excited to come and experience something new in Snowmass,” said Sara Halferty, curator for The Collective. “We’re all really happy with how it went.”

From 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 7, locals and visitors enjoyed a free dinner at mix6 — The Collective’s fast-casual nutritarian eatery by longtime local chef Martin Oswald — drinks at the moxiBar, and experienced the immersive art and gaming options in the downstairs game lounge.

Families faced off at the eight-person fusbol table, kids and adults swam through the Ziegler Reservoir-inspired ball pool, and many tried to imprint their bodies onto a life-sized, 3D pin art frame.

“I think this place is sick, it’s so cool,” said Michael Quintanilla, 14, as he set up the lounge’s pool table for a game with his friends.

“I love all of the graffiti, the art and the pool balls,” Sheldon Sims, 14, added. “I’ve seen the building from the outside and heard some things about it from my aunt who is the bar manager, but I never knew it was going to be like this. It’s amazing.”

While some kids and adults played in the downstairs lounge Dec. 7, a seemingly never-ending line for the mix6 dinner wound around the top floor for several hours as people waited to pick four or six foods from 12 options, including broccoli, mac and cheese, sauteed greens, tofu, chicken, steak and squash.

Martin Oswald and his staff served over 1,000 people Dec. 7 and 60 people Dec. 8 at the first-ever mix6 brunch. Oswald said he felt it was the most successful restaurant opening he’s ever had.

“There was so much collective effort that went into this unlike other towns I’ve been in,” Oswald said of The Collective and all its offerings Dec. 7, highlighting the efforts of town government, tourism, Snowmass Base Village developers and the building’s contractors.

“A lot of people have grand visions and great ideas but very few people manage to follow through. Here, the community really came together and persistence paid off.”

As previously reported, the town of Snowmass Village owns The Collective building and leases it to East West Partners to manage for the community.

And for East West Partners, who oversaw the completion of The Collective and will coordinate its programming moving forward, the finished building wouldn’t have been made possible without the town’s collaboration.

“I’m really excited to get this open, a lot of work by a lot of people was put in to get it here,” said Charlie Singer, East West Partners project manager of The Collective opening. “This building is for the community and was designed for everyone. … Our hope is that anyone in the Roaring Fork Valley will have a reason to want to come here.”

While the opening weekend of the completed The Collective was deemed a success, the building and its offerings aren’t quite finished evolving, according to Halferty.

She said she hopes to keep the space truly rooted in the community by keeping dialogue for improvement and ideas open with locals and visitors, and encouraged people to reach out with their feedback.

“We would love to hear from the community about what they want to see at The Collective,” Halferty said.

For now, Halferty and Dawn Blasberg, plaza and events manager for Base Village and The Collective, are preparing for the Snowmass Casino Night on Friday, a benefit for the Little Red School House, for the Snowmassive Celebration from Friday through Saturday in Base Village, which recognizes the opening of both the community building and the One Snowmass buildings, coinciding with Aspen Skiing Company’s Passapalooza weekend.

A calendar of more regular programming and events scheduled at The Collective can be found at thecollectivesnowmass.com, and the building is now open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

mvincent@aspentimes.com