| AspenTimes.com

When Aspen was Reagan Country: Evolving presidential preferences in Pitkin County, 1960-2020

Aspen-area voters delivered their largest turnout and the widest margin of victory in local history for president-elect Joe Biden last week, with nearly 12,000 Pitkin County residents casting votes and more than 75% of them going to the Democrat, according to the most recent unofficial tally.

The Aspen area has delivered landslide victories for the Democratic candidate for president in the past five elections, when more than two-thirds of the electorate has voted blue. But a look back at election results beyond that recent history demonstrates that Aspen’s electorate has not always been so predictably liberal.

While Aspen may often be caricatured as a cradle of limousine liberalism and high country counterculture, it didn’t begin delivering Democrats landslide margins until the George W. Bush era.

Richard Nixon, for instance, won here twice. Along with 1968, when he won Pitkin County and the presidency, he hammered John F. Kennedy with 58% of the local vote in 1960 when Kennedy ascended to the White House.

Ronald Reagan won Aspen and Pitkin County in both of his elections, topping Jimmy Carter here in 1980 and trouncing Walter Mondale locally in 1984 (that’s the last time that Pitkin County was won by a Republican).

Locals supported the conservative Reagan in those elections even as local politics grew more progressive and liberal, cementing slow-growth and community policing in local governance. Those policies were championed through the Reagan era by Sheriffs Dick Kienast and Bob Braudis and Mayor Bill Stirling, who as the sitting mayor in 1988 was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention for Jesse Jackson.

Reagan’s local support, Stirling explained, came during a cultural flashpoint for Aspen as the drop-out ski bum culture of the 1970s gave way to more profit-driven resort elements in the early 1980s. That shift manifested in battles over new hotel developments and created an electorate more open to Reagan’s conservative economic platform.

“That was the clarion call for when Aspen became a commodity,” Stirling, who served as mayor from 1983 to 1991, said. “Prior to that, the rascals from all over the country came here for a way of life, not to make any money off of Aspen. That changed in the 1980s because people were seeing, ‘Wow, I bought this condo two years ago and doubled my money.’”

Reagan won 56% of voted in 1984, over Mondale’s 41%. And in 1980, when Reagan ousted incumbent President Carter, 39% of local voters supported the Gipper while 32.5% pulled the lever for Carter.

Independent candidate John B. Anderson hauled in 27.7% of the local vote in 1980, which is not an anomaly for Aspen-area voters who are regularly wooed by third-party candidates: Ralph Nader in 1996 (5.2%) and 2000 (13%); H. Ross Perot in 1992 (25.5%) and 1996 (7.6%); and Eugene McCarthy in 1976 (5.5%). Even segregationist George Wallace earned more than 6% of the local vote in 1968, when the county overwhelmingly supported Nixon over the Democrat Hubert Humphrey.

Municipal elections in Aspen play out without party distinctions, observers noted, which encourages people to vote on the issues rather than on a party line. That habit perhaps extends to national politics as well, with locals willing to cast ballots for fringe candidates.

“By registration, more people are independents here and in lifestyle a lot of people are Libertarian or libertine,” said Aspen-based political consultant Mick Ireland, the former Aspen mayor and Pitkin County commissioner. “We do have an independent streak. Bottom line, a lot of people here don’t want to be labeled.”

Since 2000, when many blamed Democrat Al Gore’s defeat on liberal support for Nader, third-party candidates have gained less traction here. None broke 1% in last week’s election, when Libertarian Jo Jorgenson won 92 total votes and pop star Kanye West earned 22.

Voter turnout has risen consistently since Aspen’s rebirth as a ski resort in the 1940s.

But the watershed election was 1972, when turnout more than doubled over 1968 and when Aspen’s post-hippie political transformation took hold. That year, fueled by the influx of young ski bums and the voter registration efforts of Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 “Freak Power” campaign, Freak Power alumni Joe Edwards and Dwight Shellman won election as county commissioners and the local vote went to George McGovern over Nixon.

“It’s one thing to vote nationally against Nixon but it’s another to take action to control the local political environment,” said Daniel Joseph Watkins, author of a book on Thompson’s campaign and co-director of the new documentary “Freak Power: The Ballot or the Bomb.” “The credit for that engagement of the youth vote goes to the Freak Power movement.”

Four years earlier Nixon had won 56% of the local vote, which totaled 1,999. In 1972, the electorate was completely transformed as 4,595 total locals cast ballots, delivering 55% to McGovern, who lost every state in the Union except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia on his anti-Vietnam War platform.

“Hunter Thompson and Joe Edwards and that group, they registered tons of people and that swung Aspen from being this conservative ranching and tourism community to this young, liberal place,” said Lisa Hancock, vice president and curator of the Aspen Historical Society. “Since the Hunter Thompson era, people have been very engaged.”

McGovern won only two counties in Colorado (Costilla, which has voted for the Democrat in every presidential election since 1928, was the other). It might surprise some locals to learn that in 2020 Pitkin County is actually not the biggest blue landslide county in Colorado. That distinction belongs to Denver County’s 82% vote for Biden; Boulder and San Miguel counties also topped Pitkin’s 75% for Biden.

After the Reagan era, presidential votes have gone to Democrats in Pitkin County but by relatively small margins from 1988 to 2000. There were no landslides through those contests, when the largest vote went to Bill Clinton in 1996 with 56.5%.

It’s only since 2004 — the last time a Republican presidential candidate won Colorado — that the results in Pitkin County have been so lopsided in favor of the Dems. That year, Pitkin County handed John Kerry 68.4% of the vote riding an anti-Bush and anti-Iraq War local sentiment.

Voter turnout has gone up every four years here since 2000, except in 2012 when it ticked down slightly from the Obama boost of 2008, and went above 10,000 for the first time in 2016. It broke 11,000 this year. Margins for Democrats have grown along with that turnout growth.

Ireland noted that, while the Freak Power movement made Aspen a leftist stronghold and progressive outpost in the early 1970s, Pitkin County is not unique among mountain communities in turning overwhelmingly blue in the 21st century. Current voting trends in Aspen, he argued, are less about a local movement than about national culture shifts.

Recent decades, Ireland pointed out, have seen more counties across the U.S. turn more homogeneously red or blue in voting patterns. Mountain towns across the West have nearly all become landslide Democratic territory since the George W. Bush era. Not so long ago, Republican strongholds remained like Teton County, Wyoming (home to Jackson Hole) and Blaine County, Idaho (home to Sun Valley), but over the last two election cycles those too have turned into reliably blue landslide counties.

Ireland noted that predominantly white and highly educated populaces like Aspen’s are more likely to vote Democratic than they were a generation ago, and that other local factors put a thumb on the scale for Democrats. The county’s move into deep blue territory, Ireland suggested, is turbo-charged by people voting on environmental issues and climate change, which in ski country are also business issues that push pro-business voters toward Democratic tickets.

“Democrats align with local interest in protecting the environment, which here is an economic interest as well as a moral interest,” Ireland said.


Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler leaves legacy as first female mayor, strong facilitator

Fierce. A strong facilitator. Passionate. Extremely hard-working. A true community leader.

These are just a few of the characteristics and phrases used to describe Markey Butler, the town of Snowmass Village’s first female mayor.

Butler, who was first elected in 2014, is finishing up her third and final two-year term as mayor of Snowmass, a role town staff and her fellow council members feel she’s commanded with her facilitation skills and focus on what’s best for the Snowmass community.

On a September afternoon in Snowmass Town Hall as she headed into her final month as mayor, Butler met with the Snowmass Sun to talk about her experiences while in the elected position and her service as both a Town Council member and chair of the town’s Planning Commission.

Butler and her husband, Jerry, first started coming out to Snowmass from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to ski in the ’80s. Butler said she, Jerry and their two daughters quickly fell in love with the village area, deciding to purchase a second home in town in 1988.

In the late ’90s, Butler said Jerry retired and moved to the village full-time while she — CEO of Arbor Hospice at the time — finished up her work in Michigan. She moved to Snowmass full-time herself in the early 2000s to retire as well — or so she thought.

“I thought I was going to retire,” Butler said of moving to Snowmass full-time. “But there was a ‘hospice of the valley,’ it was owned by Valley View Hospital and I was on the advisory board, and one day at a meeting the hospital administration announced they were closing and they did. … Fast forward, I was cornered at a Rotary meeting to help start another hospice organization, so we did.”

A nurse with decades of experience working as the head of nursing at a children’s hospital in Detroit and a hospital in Ann Arbor, and as the CEO of her own health care consulting company and two large hospice organizations, Butler was well-equipped to spearhead the creation of the Roaring Fork’s HomeCare & Hospice of the Valley.

She said she ran the end-of-life care organization as executive director for 10 years before retiring in 2018.

But retirement is a loose term for Markey Butler, who has worn many local leadership hats over the years and has never really stopped working. After moving full-time to Snowmass, it didn’t take Butler long to get involved in town government, first serving on the town Planning Commission for two years, Town Council for six years and most recently as mayor for six years.

Butler said she’s always been an avid student of politics, serving on several task forces and committees in Michigan before moving to Snowmass. Butler also is the current chair of the Pitkin County Board of Health and serves or has served on various area volunteer committees and boards over the years, including those for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Rotary Club of Snowmass Village, Hospice & Palliative Care of the Rockies and more.

According to Bob Sirkus, current Snowmass Town Council member, Butler has always been pretty quiet about her ongoing commitments and contributions to the valley community.

Sirkus and his wife have known the Butlers for years, purchasing the Butlers’ old condo in the late ’90s. But it wasn’t until Sirkus was appointed onto Planning Commission when Butler was serving as chair that he really got to know her as a person and as a leader.

“Markey made it clear that she knew how to run a meeting,” Sirkus said of his time serving with Markey on Planning Commission. “She knew how to give people the opportunity to share their opinion and helped guide the discussions, … and she’s used some of the same techniques as mayor.”

Sirkus went on to say he always wondered how she was able to head HomeCare & Hospice of the Valley for so many years while also serving on Town Council and the various other organizations she’s a part of — and that while she’ll be missed as Snowmass mayor, he doesn’t think the community will miss Markey much because she’ll still be very involved.

“I don’t know what Markey will do next but I know she’ll do something. I don’t think she’s finished serving the community yet,” Sirkus said. “Yes, (Town Council members) have to adjust to a different style perhaps under the new mayor’s leadership, but as for Markey I think she’ll still be very active in town and we will continue to hear from her moving forward.”

Over her tenure as mayor, Butler has established herself as a strong facilitator of thorough council discussion that more often than not leads to consensus-driven decision-making, bringing a number of key town projects and initiatives to fruition.

For example, in 2015 Snowmass Town Council had to navigate the restart of Base Village development with East West Partners; went on to create the Parks, Open Space, Trails and Recreation plan and board; revamp the town’s public art acquisition process and advisory board; create the 2018 Town Comprehensive Plan; and most recently move forward toward the final approval of the Snowmass Center redevelopment, Town Park redesign project, changes to the last phase of Base Village development and Snowmass Inn purchase.

Butler also has been instrumental over the past year in both the county and local COVID-19 response, guiding Board of Health decision-making as chair and heading the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Task Force in Snowmass to help local businesses get through the early pandemic period.

Similar to Sirkus, Tom Goode, current councilman and Snowmass mayoral candidate, feels Butler’s leadership has been outstanding over the past year, and that he’s going to miss the current council’s ability to work as a team and reach consensus on difficult issues.

“I will miss her in her role, she was by far a great person to work under,” Goode said. “She was a facilitator, she led the team and we were a team. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Current Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk expressed similar thoughts. Shenk said she feels Butler’s leadership has shown through in her ability to guide deep discussion and her institutional knowledge, and that Butler’s been a role model for Shenk as the first woman to serve as mayor in Snowmass.

Shenk, who has worked alongside Butler as an Aspen Skiing Co. ambassador at Snowmass outside of Town Council, also said she feels Butler’s ability to connect with so many different locals has helped inform her decision-making and driven her to ensure everyone’s opinions are heard.

“Markey really knows how to keep things moving forward and how to navigate our meetings and get us to think together as a group for the common good,” Shenk said. “… and just being the first woman mayor ever for the town is really amazing and I think just paves the way for a lot more opportunities for women. It’s just really inspiring.”

Bill Madsen, current councilman and Snowmass mayoral candidate, echoed Shenk’s sentiments. He said he feels Butler’s legacy will be that she served as the first female mayor of Snowmass, and that he’s learned a lot from her leadership style over the years.

“I just think being the first female mayor of Snowmass is such a huge accomplishment and I hope we have more women who want to get involved moving forward,” Madsen said. “It’s really important to have that voice on council and I think she’s really led that way.”

For Butler, serving on Planning Commission and Town Council both as a member and as mayor hasn’t been easy but has really allowed her to understand the processes that keep the town of Snowmass Village running and the needs of the entire Snowmass community. She said she’ll miss the collegiality of the current Town Council team and work they’ve been able to get done together as a result, but that she’s excited for a break.

“This council hasn’t always agreed on everything, but we all care a lot about each other and they’re just amazing and all very committed to this,” Butler said of the current Town Council. “You have to have a commitment to love your village and your community and have to care deeply about every human person living in your community to do this. And I think we all do that and we all honor and respect the environment we live in.”

When asked what advice she has for the next mayor and Snowmass mayors to come, Butler said they should keep the focus on what the town goals are and how to best meet those goals for the entire village community as a united Town Council by taking the time to listen to the people that live here.

“Keep your eye on what they need, what the goals are. How do you continue to build and create the best community?” Butler said. “That’s the number one thing. Keep that strategic vision in mind and take the time to listen… know that you do not always have the right answers alone.”


Introducing a new series — ‘The road ahead: New realities in a pandemic economy’

From Ralf Garrison, founder of Insights Collective, a pandemic economy think tank:

The Aspen Times in partnership with Aspen Chamber Resort Association is pleased to announce a new series, “The road ahead: New realities in a pandemic economy,” launching in Wednesday’s paper (see page A15) dedicated specifically to the COVID-19 pandemic economy in mountain resort communities across the West.

Six months in, it’s clear that both the pandemic itself and the economic consequences continue to be a major disruption to business-as-usual and the lifestyle common to locals, part-time residents and visitors. And while much has been learned about summer COVID considerations, winter brings with it new threats from fall flu season, COVID-20 and winter weather considerations, not to mention the context of a volatile economy, election cycle buffoonery and social unrest.

“The road ahead: New realities in a pandemic economy” is part of a new partnership between The Aspen Times and its sister publications and the Insights Collective, whose members are researchers, economists and market strategists who share a common goal of working together to help resort communities — and their tourism-dependent businesses — navigate their way through the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal is to analyze economic consequences to help establish a sustainable business case and lifestyle for all, likely based on new realities.

The Collective uses data analysis and decision-making systems well established in other industries but not frequently found in the tourism industry, to 1) Gather such facts/evidence as is available, 2) Add selective original research, 3) Aggregate emerging best practices, 4) Apply a scenario-planning process from its think tank system to provide insights and recommendations about what you need to know to prepare for this coming winter, and what you should begin to anticipate in 2021 and beyond.

For those on the business side of mountain resort communities, the Swift organization is well known for the communication platform underneath many of the leading resort communities in the Rocky Mountain West. Swift’s commitment to the greater good of the industry is particularly important for an industry in need these days, and a great complement to our credo: “All of us, together, are smarter than any of us, individually,” — the collectivist approach upon which our Collective is founded.

From Bob Brown, president, Swift Communications:

The pandemic has delivered grueling days, weeks and now months filled with concern for our people, communities and our businesses. It was a couple days prior to the Labor Day holiday when one of our talented people sent me a note asking to connect me with Ralf Garrison to discuss an idea that appeared to be aligned with our mission.

Although I didn’t know Ralf personally, our resort newspapers had been using his information and research — he is the founder of Mountain Travel Symposium, DestiMetrics and the Central Reservation Association — to inform our communities for the past 25 years. Ralf and his group of colleagues are Western U.S. destination market experts when it comes to identifying consumer trends, sentiment and business insights.

After many planning discussions with Ralf and my team, I am pleased to announce The Aspen Times and our sister resort publications are collaborating with the Insights Collective to publish nine articles over the next nine weeks. “The road ahead: New realities in a pandemic economy” begins Wednesday and will culminate Nov. 25.

The purpose of the series is to illuminate insights on the changes to our markets and consumers, and offer thoughts about where we need to head as our new realities settle in for the coming year. The initial focus will be “What You Ought To Know” in order to plan and prepare for winter 2020-21, and evolve toward the “New Realities” forthcoming in 2021 and beyond.

Through this partnership with the Insights Collective team, The Aspen Times can deliver timely information to the community, with the overarching goal of promoting economic sustainability through actionable ideas and analysis. This series will be both in print and online offering flexibility to you to stay connected.

I’d like to leave you with what The Aspen Times and its sister publications endeavor each day to accomplish: “Champion the Power of People to Improve Communities.”

We intend this series will support this purpose, and we hope it provides insights for all to successfully move forward this winter and into 2021.

Walking the ‘Sculpturally Distanced’ exhibition at Anderson Ranch Arts Center

The conversation started with Peter Waanders saying “I have this idea…”

Waanders, the president and CEO of Anderson Ranch Arts Center, had called Aspen-based curator Lissa Ballinger in late May with what sounded to her, at first, like an insane idea: obtain a dozen monumental sculptures installed on the Snowmass Village campus by Fourth of July.

The proposal was to do in little over a month what an art institution might normally spend years planning. And to do it in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which was disrupting shipping and travel along with most every aspect of life on Earth.

But then an amazing thing happened: they got it done.

In the first week of July, the Ranch unveiled 17 sculptures on its idyllic 5-acre mountain campus, now on view and open to the public for self-guided tours. Artists near and far — from Roaring Fork Valley legend James Surls to the international art star Sanford Biggers — hopped on board quickly, Ballinger recalled. She sent a letter to artists, calling for proposals by June 15, and the whole show was booked within three weeks of that first conversation.

“It’s a complete credit to the artists and the staff at Anderson Ranch,” Ballinger said. “It took so much creativity from them to get it done.”

The show activates the Ranch in a welcoming and safe manner for a season when it was expected to be uncharacteristically quiet, following the cancellation of summer workshops. With most of the sculptures on sale — and some selling already — it serves the goal of supporting artists during a challenging time for the art market and supports the Ranch in a moment when it has lost most of its summer revenue.

The exhibition will remain on view through September 2021, with sculptures rotating out as they sell.

Here is our peek of what you’ll find as you wander this pop-up sculpture garden.

— Andrew Travers

“A Kinder Mind”: Aspen-Snowmass locals produce mental health podcast

A therapist and a client call into a Zoom meeting.

No, that’s not the start of a COVID-19-age joke — it’s the blossoming routine for Aspen therapist Kathleen Callahan and Snowmass resident Marc Fernandes.

But these call-ins haven’t been for therapy sessions or virtual business meetups. These Zoom meetings are part of the therapist-client duo’s new mental health podcast “A Kinder Mind,” which aims to put out real life, experience-based mental health, coping and self management strategies to support people through the pandemic and beyond.

“With COVID and everything, we saw an opportunity to talk about mental health issues and maybe alleviate some pain people are having,” Callahan said.

“It became obvious to Kathleen and I that there was a huge need in the community,” Fernandes added.

On a recent afternoon in Snowmass Base Village, Callahan and Fernandes talked about their inspiration for “A Kinder Mind” and explained how their relationship has shifted over the past two years from a “difficult” client and therapist partnership — as Fernandes tends to push Callahan to thoroughly explain the reasoning behind many of her mental well-being strategies — to a close friendship.

“Marc never takes anything at word value, I definitely had to prove the science of what I was saying, which was great for me because I am a nerd, 10,000 times over,” said Callahan, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist based in Aspen, laughing. “We have a great rapport and while we started as therapist-client, now we’re friends.”

Callahan said she’s been pushing Fernandes, a longtime Aspen Skiing Co. ski pro with a background in musical theatre and video production, to pursue his dream of creating an at-home studio where he can produce voice overs, audio book readings, music and more.

Late last year, Fernandes said he started getting the information and equipment he needed to make this studio a reality. So when COVID-19 spread to the valley and life as most people knew it was derailed due to the pandemic, Fernandes and Callahan said they decided to try producing a podcast that could give people realistic coping mechanisms and mental well-being strategies to help them through.

“We started with a focus of we’re all stuck at home, the pandemic happened, so how do we help people be better partners, better parents and better spouses?” Fernandes said.

“I don’t feel like anything we’re putting out there is completely earth shattering but it is a constant reminder, if nothing else, that we should be paying attention to self care and taking care of ourselves in a way that allows us to be healthier, especially with everything that’s going on.”

As the COVID-19 crisis has evolved, so has the podcast. From tips and strategies to stay sane during the stay-at-home order, published on SoundCloud as “Marc and Kathleen’s Mental Health Podcast”; to more tips based off personal experiences on things like how to recognize your values, carry forward the positive self-care aspects of the COVID-19 lockdown, and learn to be a better listener, especially amid the current Black Lives Matter movement, Callahan and Fernandes said the podcast episode discussions have grown in breadth and in listenership.

Instead of just being published on SoundCloud, Callahan and Fernandes recently began posting Zoom videos of themselves recording the podcast on Facebook, too, with the current “A Kinder Mind” title — which refers to helping people learn how to be mentally kinder to themselves and then in turn be kinder and more compassionate toward others, becoming the best versions of themselves.

And while both Fernandes and Callahan said the COVID-19-related social distancing and public health protocols offered up more time and resulted in the more immediate need of a resource like “A Kinder Mind,” the duo plans to continue tweaking and evolving the podcast so that it stays relevant and helpful moving forward.

“We’re not sure where it’s going to go from here but we keep getting more and more followers and we want to keep it lively and relevant with what’s happening in the world,” Callahan said, noting that the podcast’s Facebook group already has more than 500 followers. “We’ll keep going as long as people see it as useful.”

Ensuring the podcast is useful and helpful to local listeners who may be struggling with their mental health is the anchor for Callahan and Fernandes. Over the past two years, both said the Aspen-Snowmass community has greatly suffered from clusters of suicides, mainly during the offseasons. Fernandes lost two coworkers in back-to-back offseasons and Callahan lost her son to suicide in July 2018.

Both feel that through being open and honest about their experiences and personal mental health struggles they can encourage and inspire other people to do the same, and want to do whatever they can support the mental health of their friends and neighbors.

“I had a son who committed suicide almost two years ago and I’m not afraid to talk about it,” said Callahan, who also helps lead the Hospitality Matters support group in Aspen. “I try to teach people that you can be real, you can be kind and you can still move forward. … If you can be real with others they’re more likely to be able to be real with themselves and then back with you.”

When asked how Callahan and Fernandes feel the pandemic will impact people’s willingness and openness to discuss their mental health issues and struggles — considering the COVID-19 crisis is serving as a shared stress-, anxiety- and even depression-inducing experience and discussion topic for everyone — the podcast producers said they hope it will help people create healthier, self-care habits, to feel more resilient and to continue connecting with others.

For example, Callahan said she knows people in Aspen who live with roommates they never really connected with before, but who they are now consistently cooking and playing games with due to the pandemic for the first time, which she hopes people will make time to continue.

“One of the things Kathleen has said a few times in the podcast that has really helped me is reminding people that yes, we’ve been through this really traumatic thing. It’s been really hard for many people in different ways, but we if we’re sitting here today, we’ve survived an awful shared human experience,” Fernandes said.

“And I think what we’re seeing now from a social justice standpoint is due to the pandemic to a point. We’ve gone through this shared experience, realized human kind is human kind and all of a sudden there’s a sector of our society that has been oppressed and pushed down and we’re like, ‘Yeah, no that’s not OK, that can’t continue.’”

As the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement continue to impact people in Aspen and around the world, Callahan and Fernandes said they hope to frame their future episodes around more listener-based questions and topics, assuring their reach and content will make a difference now and over the months to come.

“I feel like the human experience is we often feel like we’re very alone but we’re not,” Fernandes said. “For me, the most powerful piece of this podcast is helping release the stigma of needing help. … If I can help anyone find a way to either help themselves or ask, that feeds my own journey and mental health.”


A path to reopening: Snowmass creates task force to guide economic, business recovery

At the most recent regular Town Council meeting May 4, several Snowmass merchants put their situations bluntly to village officials: Local businesses need help and guidance on how to persevere through the COVID-19 crisis if they’re going to survive. And they need it now.

“If we don’t work together, we’re going to end up with a lot of empty spaces up here and we’re going to spiral in the wrong direction,” said Reed Lewis, owner of the Daly Bottle Shop, Grain Fine Food and 81615, to council. “I think it’s going to take all of us working together to make something happen, but I think we need to be realistic.”

For local merchants like Lewis, losing the last few weeks of March and early April — which are often some of the most fruitful of the season — due to the early closure of Colorado ski areas and spread of COVID-19 to Pitkin County was a major financial blow and has left many businesses barely hanging on.

Since then, some Snowmass restaurants and stores have been able to maintain limited operations in April and May, offering online, takeout or restricted in-person services only. However, most merchants haven’t been able to stay open at all due to public health requirements and the COVID-19 crisis, which aligns with most village offseason business plans but leaves a cloud of uncertainty over the summer months ahead.

Lewis and a handful of other merchants have expressed the need for the business community to collaborate with town officials about what the path to reopening for the summer could look like.

Starting as early as this week, that collaboration will begin through the mayor’s Task Force for Economic Recovery, a group of finance experts, merchants and town officials appointed by Mayor Markey Butler to identify strategies and significant but realistic actions the town can take to help Snowmass businesses “survive and thrive” through the pandemic.

“I was so, so satisfied when I heard a round of ‘yes, I am so honored to serve and I want to do whatever I can to help our businesses and all of our community.’ That was music to my ears,” Butler said of appointing the task force, which is made up of 10 people. “I look forward to it and I know everyone looks forward to their recommendations and strategies.”


Up until last week, Pitkin County merchants and business owners had little knowledge about when they may be able to resume semi-normal, in-person operations.

But at the Pitkin County Board of Health meeting May 7, which Butler chairs, the board decided to pursue opening county restaurants at one-third capacity as early as May 20. The board also is looking to allow hotels and lodges to begin hosting guests May 28, as reported in The Aspen Times.

While these dates aren’t set in stone, they do provide some guidance for county business owners on what to expect and when.

“It’s important for us to get open even with restrictions so we can train our staff and get the new systems in place,” said Wendy Harris, owner of the New Belgium Ranger Station in Snowmass, during a phone interview.

Since Harris was forced to close the Ranger Station a few weeks early in mid-March, she said she has listened in on all of the county public health meetings, along with weekly meetings with other county business owners, to keep a pulse on the pandemic and how it will continue to impact the local economy.

“It’s complicated, to say the least,” Harris said of trying to navigate the best next steps as a business owner and of staying up-to-date with the constantly changing public health information.

While the process is multi-faceted and Harris understands why it’s important to carry out a slow, phased reopening, she also feels that getting county restaurants open specifically is a safer step than many people may realize.

Restaurant staff has to constantly wash their hands, sanitize, track food temperatures and uphold stringent cleanliness standards, Harris said, making them an experienced group to successfully reopen with stricter health guidelines.

“Our advantage is our education and background on sanitization, hand washing and food safety. We’re pros at it,” Harris said. “These are things we already do and do well, we just need time to make whatever adjustments are required for health and safety but we can make that shift easily … and if we do it properly, we can help with the contact tracing and tracking, too.”

Harris will serve on the mayor’s economic recovery task force, which is set to meet as early as this week. She feels timing is imperative and that detailed efforts to support Snowmass businesses in reopening need to be put in place sooner rather than later.

“We have to at least try and provide a safe environment and we can’t do that if we don’t start to open things up,” Harris said.

According to town documents, the mayor’s economic recovery task force will look at various incentives and initiatives the town can help implement to ensure Snowmass businesses “survive and thrive” for the long-term.

Some specific ideas the task force will evaluate and pursue early on include adapting the liquor license process to allow restaurants to serve food and alcohol in larger outside areas (helping address social distancing requirements among larger groups of people); creating a revolving loan fund for businesses; and purchasing things like hand-sanitizing stations and thermal-scanning devices that can go in various businesses.

On May 12, town staff already got the ball rolling with potential changes to the liquor license process, which involves local and state government approvals, by talking with state officials about whether local license area expansions would even be possible and allowed at the state level.

Travis Elliott, assistant town manager, said state officials are working to put in place an expedited temporary modification process that would allow for liquor license area expansions and rely on local governments to implement and enforce.

None of the details are finalized and restaurants have to be given the go ahead to reopen before anything else, Elliott emphasized, but said having this background on what the state is working toward will help better inform the Snowmass task force’s discussions.

Elliott also said the town is working with county public health officials to create a website that helps business owners navigate the new public health orders, and recognizes the critical economic importance of the local business community in Snowmass especially.

“It’s kind of impossible to be successful without them,” Elliott said of Snowmass businesses and lodging groups. “It’s going to take the entire community to rebound and recover and we (the town) certainly play a part in that.”


Outside of the mayor’s task force, many other stakeholders are pitching in to support local businesses and brainstorm ways to ensure the entire community has a safe, sustainable summer season.

A key driver of the Snowmass economy is tourism and bringing visitors into the village, as explained by Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism. But because restrictions on gathering sizes (outside and inside) are likely to be in place throughout the summer, Abello said her staff is working to re-imagine many of the town’s activations and staple events.

“We are regrouping and trying to figure out what kinds of activations we can have on a regular basis to support businesses and bring folks here,” Abello said. “Whatever we do is going to be in full compliance with the letter and spirit of the law.”

For example, Abello said the town’s free Thursday night concert series will not take place “as locals know and love it” in front of the big stage on Fanny Hill this year. However, Snowmass Tourism is determined to keep free music a part of the summer schedule each Thursday, but most likely as smaller, more spread-out activations.

Snowmass Tourism is also working to re-imagine larger events like the Snowmass Balloon Festival and how it can still take place in a safe, social-distanced way, Abello said.

“Our goal has always been to support local businesses, locals and visitors,” Abello said of Snowmass Tourism. “We have a lot of fun ideas but it’s going to come down to how we can truly host activations in the public health order of the moment.”

Beyond town government support, village landlords at the Snowmass Center, Base Village and the Snowmass Village Mall are also working to be flexible with their tenants, in some cases even helping them secure state and federal financial support, to ensure they can make it through the pandemic.

The main landlords in all three of these village nodes — Jordan Sarick of Eastwood Developments, Andy Gunion of East West Partners, and Dwayne Romero of the Romero Group — will all be on the mayor’s economic recovery task force and said they all look forward to the safe and sustainable reopening of businesses this summer.

“Losing the last part of ski season was a huge blow to all local businesses. The pandemic essentially threw everything into off-season mode a month or so early, causing everyone to miss out on critical spring break cash flow,” Gunion said via email.

“However we’re all looking forward now and are focused on what reopening for the summer season may look like.”

But for many merchants, perhaps the most vital support needed to survive and thrive through the COVID-19 crisis is that of Snowmass residents. By shopping locally and tipping a little extra when ordering carry out or delivery, residents can ensure their dollars stay in Snowmass Village.

“It’s important to be cognizant of where your money goes,” said Andrew Wickes, who helps run his family’s longtime village store, Sundance Liquor and Gifts. “Consumers may save a buck or two if they go elsewhere but they’re not putting their money back to the local work force and economy.”

Over the past two months, Sundance has been able to keep its doors open and hasn’t experienced as hard of a hit as other businesses in town, Wickes said.

He credits the ability of the liquor, pharmacy and gift store to persevere to the support of Snowmass residents who choose to buy in town versus in Aspen or downvalley.

Wickes said in the coming months, Sundance plans to roll out incentives for residents to continue to shop locally, including wine discounts and shifting store inventory to include more pandemic- and social-distancing-relevant items.

He said he hopes the business community and greater community at large can work more in tandem to support one another during this difficult and uncertain time.

“I know it can be cheaper to shop online, but in the end when you shop local you help employ locals and add to the local tax dollars,” Wickes said. “It’s one big magical feedback loop that relies on the collaborative effort of all locals.”


A collaborative effort: Aspen Family Connections brings food distribution, support to Snowmass

On May 1, the Snowmass Town Park and rodeo lots were the busiest they had been in weeks.

Cars lined up perpendicular to the parking spaces, drivers waiting to register their households with volunteers before moving up to a tent where a large box of free food was waiting for them. Locals picked up meat, bread, eggs, canned goods and special items for kids and pets, all offered as part of Aspen Family Connections’ first Snowmass Village Food Distribution day to help residents get through the COVID-19 crisis.

And on this first day, 348 individuals from 147 households showed up, with 85% identifying as Snowmass Village residents.

“It’s incredible. There’s definitely more demand than I thought,” said Erin Kinney, a Snowmass Village local and case manger with Aspen Family Connections. “People seemed really excited and very grateful that we are doing this.”

Aspen Family Connections is a family resource center based within the Aspen School District that supports and provides case management services to Pitkin County families year-round, including those in Snowmass Village.

For the past three years as one of the resource center’s three case managers, Kinney has met with dozens of local families to see what their needs are and to create a tailored approach to address those needs, often utilizing other community organizations and resources to help.

“We act as the spoke that gets folks connected with the other agencies in our community that can help them,” Kinney said. “We look to help the entire family, supporting the whole unit moving forward to make sure everyone is doing well emotionally, mentally, physically and financially.”

But since COVID-19 was first linked to Pitkin County and the stay-at-home public health order was put in place, Kinney said her case management has shifted somewhat as her family meetings are now virtual, not face to face. However, Kinney said the focus is still on supporting families in a collaborative, team environment and ensuring they’re connected to the resources they need.

Kinney also said since the COVID-19 crisis started, her caseload has gone up at least 25%, amounting to about 20 families she’s checking in with on a weekly basis.

On a larger scale, Aspen Family Connections has moved quickly to start offering weekly, free food distributions for the county community. It also has organized food deliveries for families and individuals who may not be able to leave their homes, has supplied financial aid for “second tier” bills like utilities, internet or car payments, and has connected families with additional emergency relief and financial resources if needed.

“We knew some of our families were going to be impacted by the world shifting from underneath them and wanted to at least provide the basic need of food so folks could take that off of their plate,” Kinney said, who has been helping out at the food distribution days.

For the past eight weeks, Alyssa Shenk, a Snowmass Village resident and Town Council member, also has helped with the Aspen Family Conenction food distributions, specifically those held every Thursday at Aspen Middle School.

Although Shenk volunteers a lot of her time with the Aspen School District and knows about the family resource center, this has been the first time she’s volunteered directly with them.

“I thought it’d be a nice thing to do as a way to help, get out of the house and interact with people from a safe distance,” Shenk said. “It’s in my nature to volunteer and I thought this would be a really good use of my time.”

Since she’s been helping out with the free food distribution, Shenk said she’s gained a better understanding of the great level of support Aspen Family Connections offers to families, especially now during the COVID-19 crisis, and the strong relationships they have with residents beyond school doors.

And now, with the help of a $10,000 grant from the Snowmass Rotary Club and support from the town, Aspen Family Connections has been able to extend its support to village locals more directly by starting up a Snowmass food distribution day and putting a food donation bin outside of Clark’s Market. Food distribution will take place every other Friday in May, with the next distribution scheduled for May 15 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

The Snowmass Rotary grant money also will allow Aspen Family Connections provide more financial support for village residents needing help paying their smaller bills, as previously reported.

For Shenk, this direct support for Snowmass locals is great to see and much needed. She said she knows many village residents have been coming to the Aspen food distribution days, which continue to serve more and more locals each week.

“The need is not just within one segment of the community,” Shenk said. “It’s overwhelming, sometimes you leave and just want to cry because you know how appreciative people are and so incredibly grateful for whatever you’re able to offer them.”

Moving forward, both Shenk and Kinney said they expect to see demand for COVID-19 relief increase in Snowmass Village. The women hope to see more locals at the town food distribution days and encourage more people to reach out for help, no matter how big or small their ask may be.

“This is a collaborative effort for sure between the families and community partners,” Kinney said. “Please, feel free to reach out, we’re happy to answer questions and to check in and to just see how folks are doing. … So whether it be through the food distribution or weekly check-ins or our community partners, we’re trying to cast that net to make sure people aren’t falling through.”


Construction resumes in Snowmass under site-specific COVID-19 safety plans

Snowmass Village grew a little livelier April 27 and 28 after roughly 60 construction sites were approved to start up again so long as approved COVID-19 social distancing and hygiene measures are in place.

The town’s community development department worked through the weekend to evaluate each site’s COVID-19 safety plans submitted for continued work, ensuring Snowmass construction started back up in a way that would help the local economy and mitigate the spread of coronavirus as much as possible.

“This is concerning for all of us. No one wants to be sick and no one wants to get sick, but we know it will happen regardless,” said Julie Ann Woods, Snowmass community development director, referring to the expected increase in COVID-19 cases as a result of restarting construction projects in Snowmass and Pitkin County.

“If we can pace things through the site safety plans and are all aware of the potential impacts going in, hopefully we can keep things under control and not overwhelm our hospitals and health care workers.”

At the Pitkin County Board of Health meeting April 16, board members and health officials determined construction projects with a submitted and approved “COVID-19 Site Safety Plan” were permitted to operate, as previously reported. Landscaping companies with a determined COVID-19 business safety plan also were allowed to operate, but not required to have their plans approved before doing so.

Starting April 23, existing construction sites forced to shut down as a result of the county’s stay-at-home public health order were allowed to submit their site safety plans to the respective municipality they were working in, or unincorporated Pitkin County if relevant, for approval.

Some of the safety plan requirements include designating a project specific public health safety officer, implementation of and education on strict hygiene and social distancing measures, limiting work team interactions and team size when possible and daily monitoring and reporting of employee health, including temperature checks and COVID-19 symptom screenings, according to county public health documents.

In Snowmass Village, 56 site safety plans had received approval as of April 27 and four were within the town’s approval process through the community development department.

Woods said the department created a workflow to efficiently and effectively go through each application — moving from permit checking, to plan evaluation and feedback by building officials and town planners, to Woods for final review — which she feels has worked out pretty well so far. She also said that developers and contractors applying for new building permits through the town also will have to submit a COVID-19 site safety plan moving forward until public health officials advise otherwise. Construction officials must display their approved plans onsite and Snowmass police will help ensure all construction in town is approved and conducted according to the COVID-19 safety guidelines in place, Woods said.

“We’ve definitely had some glitches we’ve worked through, but its gone pretty well,” Woods said of approving town construction sites’ COVID-19 safety plans. “We’ve never done anything like this before so it’s all new to us but I’m really pleased we were able to get through as many site plans as we did. … Construction has always been a big part of our local economy and it’s important to get people safely back to work.”

Greg Woods, president and founder of G.F. Woods Construction, said he has been very impressed with the approval turnaround time in Snowmass, Aspen and Pitkin County. He is not related to Julie Ann Woods.

Greg said April 28 that all seven of his site safety plans submitted had been approved, including three sites in Snowmass Village. He said about one third of the year-round work his company does is in Snowmass, and that his teams were all eager to get back to work this week.

Greg feels construction is a good place to start when it comes to easing out of the county’s stay-at-home public health order, as it is an industry that already operates under heightened safety requirements.

He also said his staff has been cognizant and more than happy to abide by all of the safety plan requirements, which were not too difficult to put in place, and determined to do its part in helping the local economy safely get back on its feet.

“Construction gives a good read on the local pulse of the economy. If you see dump trucks going up and down (Highway) 82 the economy is probably doing OK, if you don’t see that it’s probably the antithesis,” Greg said.

“I think the county is taking some really good first steps to easing back into things. Really in a nutshell we’re all eager to get back to work and get our economy moving again and will do our part to adhere strictly to all the safety requirements to help make that happen.”


Farm Collaborative promotes education, homegrown food production during COVID-19 crisis

Find a spot to sit each day and practice actively observing the surrounding environment. Go on a scavenger hunt in search of bugs, birds, traces of winter and signs of spring. Build a natural fairy garden or birdhouse made of recyclable materials with family.

These are just a few of the prompts put out to local families over the past several days as part of the Farm Collaborative’s “Adventure in Place” series, a nature-inspired week of activities leading up to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the Farm Collaborative — a family-run nonprofit that aims to connect children and community to nature through farming and food — can’t host its annual Earth Day bash in-person. That’s why through seven days of various prompts encouraging families and individuals to explore the natural world, the nonprofit hoped to help locals maintain connection with the environment in-person while having to social distance from each other.

“It’s important to do these kinds of activities to show we care about the Earth and are not just in front of our screens all day,” said Lucy Taber, 10, of Snowmass Village. Taber and her sister Anna, 7, participated in some of the “Adventure in Place” activities over the past week and are active with the Farm Collaborative’s Earth Keepers youth program.

“This is not our Earth, we can’t just do what we want. We have to think about the plants and animals and other things and respect them.”

But while Earth Day is an international reminder to care for and respect the Earth’s natural ecosystems, so is the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to Cooper Means, agriculture director at the Farm Collaborative.

Though there haven’t been any food shortages in Pitkin County, Means said crises like the current pandemic highlight the importance of having access to local produce and meat sources.

“We are an essential business and I wish we were viewed that way more so because having a secure food source is of vital importance,” he said. “Now we see how fragile that source really, is especially since we do not live in a large agricultural community… agriculture is a good opportunity to bring more diversity into the economy and to create resilience.”

Means, an Aspen native, has been involved in food production at the Farm Collaborative on and off since he was in high school. He was really drawn to food production from a young age, Means said, almost feeling it’s what he was meant to do.

As agriculture director at the Farm Collaborative, Means has worked to both ensure valley residents have access to local food by producing it on the Farm Collaborative’s roughly 15-acre space adjacent to Highway 82 and Cozy Point Ranch in the Snowmass Village zip code; and to help facilitate education for kids and adults on food systems, including how to produce homegrown food and care for livestock.

“I just had a light blub go off in my head and realized the Farm Collaborative was an incredible opportunity for me to help light the bulbs in other children’s heads too,” Means said. “The positive impact it’s had on my life is incredible and it’s just a really good way to help educate and enlighten people by connecting them to their food.”

During the COVID-19 crisis, Means said he’s done all he can to keep his staff of five working but now individually on projects versus as a team. The Farm Collaborative plans to plant all it can manage this spring and to work with other local farm operations to find new ways to create avenues to sell their products over the summer and fall seasons, especially if there are no Farmer’s Markets this year.

“We’re really trying to continue ahead because now more than ever we want to be sure we produce a lot of food,” Means said. “There’s plenty of demand for local food but it’s the avenues to sell that’s going to take some creativity in coming up with.”

Staff members are producing videos and sharing tips for locals interested in starting their own box gardens or in raising animals at home to further promote connection to local food. Means feels while homegrown food production is always important and relevant, projects started during the pandemic may help promote mental well-being, can give locals a sense of purpose and relieve some pressure on the larger food system.

Overall, Means and the Farm Collaborative staff aim to keep people connected to the organization, the natural environment and to local food sources through education and production despite COVID-19.

And for people like the Taber sisters, that connection is important and something they can’t wait to rekindle back at the Farm Collaborative property soon, a place where they said they feel safe and happy.

“I really like to pet and hold the baby goats and chicks,” Anna Taber said. “I’ve learned that the Earth is the only place we have and so we need to take care of it.”

“I enjoy being on the farm and making things with the fresh fruits and vegetables there,” Lucy added. “When you come into the garden it’s just such an ecofriendly environment that makes me want to protect and learn about the Earth.”


St. Benedict’s Monastery feels isolation, focuses prayer during COVID-19

Quiet and contemplative. Solitary and devoted. Simple.

These are some of the words used to describe the monastic way of life. For hundreds of years, Christian men and women around the world have chosen this lifestyle, giving up much of their individual freedoms to live in a monastic community rooted in religious tradition, humility and obedience to God.

St. Benedict’s Monastery in Old Snowmass is one such community. A Cistercian or Trappist tradition, the St. Benedict’s monks aspire to be “transformed in mind and heart by embodying Jesus Christ in ways appropriate to our times” and to share their values and spirituality with interested visitors and regular locals often on a daily and weekly basis, according to the monastery website.

But with the novel coronavirus pandemic and local COVID-19 outbreak, times have changed. The Old Snowmass monastery closed to the public in late March and even though the six monks who call it home are used to being isolated from much of the Aspen-Snowmass area, Father Charles Albanese said it doesn’t really make social distancing for their small community any easier.

“We have no guests, no one sharing the liturgy we have so we’re by ourselves,” Albanese said. “I don’t feel disconnected but we are isolated. … We’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

For the past 42 years, Albanese has lived at St. Benedict’s Monastery and is its current abbot, or head monk.

Originally from New York City, Albanese said he first became interested in the monastic way of life after visiting 11th century monastery ruins in Europe, which sparked him to learn more about Cistercians, or Trappists.

“It’s a long-term experience of growth in God if I could put it that simply, so I’m not the same person I was 42 years ago. I don’t know who that was. I used to think I knew everything and now I probably know less than I started out knowing,” Albanese said of his experiences as a monk, chuckling.

“Our growth in God is also how we serve those who visit us, mostly through the retreat house and the local people who visit us for liturgy. That’s why it’s so difficult right now.”

According to Albanese, sharing this lifestyle with others is a prominent aspect of St. Benedict’s. Before COVID-19, at least 50 locals attended services at the monastery each Sunday and roughly 10 to 15 visitors on group or individual retreats were at the Old Snowmass site each week.

Retreats also are a major source of income for the monastery, running on suggested donations. However, he said the monastery has financial support from “the generosity of a lot of people” along with the land it leases for ranch operations.

Albanese went on to say the monastery specifically is a “small community that’s going through a vocational challenge” and that has experienced a lot of loss. He doesn’t know what the future holds, especially now as it navigates through the pandemic.

“We’re each trying to understand what this all means and we realize the impact no so many people. We’re praying for all of these people but I think it’s really too soon to know the massive impact that this is going to have on us and everybody,” Albanese said. “You can’t stop thinking about it. It’s traumatic how this has affected people’s lives.”

Spiritually and socially, Albanese said the small St. Benedict’s community is continuing its worship services for those living on site, is devoting its prayers to all those affected by COVID-19 and is optimistic about international, national and local recovery, including its own. Many people have called to check in on the monks and they are all doing their best to stay in touch with their families and friends over-the-phone.

Albanese said he feels all of the monks are in pretty good spirits so far, and is looking forward to a resurrection of sorts for the global community.

“When you have the ability to pray I wouldn’t give it up. I would just pray my concerns to God and to pray for people. Look at the beautiful place we live, not everyone has this experience so I just hope our prayers are spreading,” Albanese said.

“I feel it’s a good idea to do what we can to help each other and I hope we at the monastery can open up again and invite people to experience our life.”