Who caused the closures on Interstate 70 that made traveling on the mountain corridor last winter a nightmare? It seems to depend on who you ask.
Some angry drivers might say the Colorado Department of Transportation, while others will say out-of-towners and semi-truck drivers, and others still will insist it’s Colorado locals.
Officials and lawmakers are trying to answer that question as they look to ease congestion and accidents on the stretch between Denver and Vail. Eagle County businesses are especially eager for solutions before the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
At a recent meeting hosted by the Colorado Lodging and Hotel Association, state lawmakers such as representatives Diane Mitsch Bush and Millie Hamner, Republican nominee for governor Bob Beauprez and officials from Vail Resorts, Colorado Mountain Express and Colorado Ski Country discussed possible solutions for the too frequent jam-ups. The Colorado Department of Transportation outlined a number of improvements they plan to make, which include $6 million in operation improvements, more plow drivers for busy times, and metering trouble spots on the passes. Read more about CDOT’s winter plan at http://www.vaildaily.com/news/12870089-113/vail-transportation-department-state.
Department of Transportation research showed that road closures on I-70 usually weren’t due to mandatory closures, but accidents, mostly by vehicles that didn’t have snow tires or four-wheel drive. Officials cited a particularly infamous incident on Feb. 9, when a combination of 10 inches of snow and a number of pile-ups made drive times from Vail to Denver upwards of eight hours.
“This isn’t about a daily occurrence. It’s on the weekends during peak times. It’s season pass holders. I would ask the ski areas about thinking what their role is in solving this problem.” Don Hunt Colorado Department of Transportation executive director
PENALTIES FOR BALD TIRES?
Of the 22 passenger vehicles that received assistance from the Department of Transportation during the Feb. 9 snowstorm, 19 had “inadequate tires,” said Ryan Rice, the Department of Transportation’s director of transportation system management and operations.
Some say the problem is out-of-town drivers who have little experience driving in snow and may not be familiar with what “proper equipment” and “adequate tires” on the roads mean. More extreme solutions include setting up tire checkpoints before the passes as is done in California on Donner Pass, or issuing hefty tickets for drivers in an accident due to bad tires.
Colorado Department of Transportation executive director Don Hunt he’s skeptical that such measures will work, and said he suspects a much more local group.
“This isn’t about a daily occurrence. It’s on the weekends during peak times. It’s season pass holders,” he said. “I would ask the ski areas about thinking what their role is in solving this problem.”
Some are doing just that. Colorado Ski Country President Melanie Mills said the association would like to partner with the state Department of Transportation to educate drivers on what they need to drive safely in the winter.
“I’ve lived in Denver for 25 years and am president of Colorado Ski Country, and I can’t tell you what adequate tread is,” she said. “Can we partner a way to put out videos to educate people?”
Another solution is to limit the number of commercial trucks on the road. The number of semi-trucks going through the mountain corridor in the winter was already down 10 percent last year, but some are suggesting that the Colorado State Patrol also crack down on truck drivers driving without chains.
CHANGING THE CULTURE
One of the most puzzling challenges, said Hunt, is changing the Colorado driving culture. Transportation officials have been trying to introduce the “auto sock” for several years, without much success. The traction device is an easy-to-install cover for your tires that gives them extra grip in snowy conditions. They retail for $105 for a set. On Feb. 9, those 19 vehicles with inadequate tires were given the traction devices by the Department of Transportation to help get them over the pass, then offered the opportunity to keep the socks for $60. All but one declined to buy the product.
The Department of Transportation has also tried to work with airport rental car companies to equip rentals with the traction devices for little-to-no cost for the company and customers, but got little interest.
“When I moved here in 1982, we bought a four-wheel drive car because we didn’t want to get caught in an accident,” said Hunt. “I think we’ve lost that sense here, and I don’t know how to change that culture.”
9 p.m., Barkley Ballroom, 610 Main St. Drum set, amps, piano, mics, sound engineer and more are set up for your use. You don’t have to play music to enjoy Open Jam night with great drink specials and lots of seating. No cover, starts at 9 p.m.
Breckenridge, Sept. 15, 17, 19 & 20
7 p.m., 180 Jefferson Ave. A ghost hunt and walking tour of downtown Breckenridge. Visit some of the most haunted buildings in town. Equipment included. Adult $15, child $10. Call for reservation - Gail (970) 343-9169 or Jamie (970) 485-2894.
Gold Miner’s Hike
Breckenridge, Sept. 15
10 a.m., Iowa Hill Trailhead, Airport Roade. Enjoy an easy guided hike through the historic Iowa Hill mine site, which takes you past mining artifacts, interpretive signs, and up to a restored miners’ boardinghouse. Weather permitting, reservations required - online or call (970) 453-9767 x2.
Living History Tour
Breckenridge, Sept. 15
1:30 p.m., Breckenridge Welcome Center, 203 S Main St. Join Mrs. Engle, the banker’s wife, as she takes you through Breckenridge in 1900 on this living history walking tour. Hear stories of the locals of the day and catch up on the gossip of those Victorian ladies and gentlemen. Finish with tea and home made scones in one of our fine, historic eating establishments. Call for reservation, Gail (970) 343-9169.
Stand Up Paddle Board Yoga
Frisco, Sept. 15 & 17
7:30 a.m., Frisco Bay Marina, 267 Marina Road. All levels welcome. Please register online.
Hungry? If you aren’t now, you will be after watching the documentary “Pie Lady of Pie Town,” which will appear in a fun-filled, family-oriented afternoon session of the Breckenridge Film Festival on Friday, Sept. 19. The film profiles Kathy Knapp, owner of the Pie-O-Neer Café in the small New Mexico burg of Pie Town.
Kathy Knapp was a successful businesswoman in Dallas, Texas, before she decided to leave her charmed life to bake pies in a dusty town with no traffic light or gas station but with plenty of quirky characters.
The film chronicles the Old West history of the area and Kathy’s resolve, her heartache, the subsequent healing and how her pies are vehicle for love and peace. The film includes interviews with devoted eaters of Kathy’s pies, as well as some finger-snapping tunes.
Director Jane Rosemont said of making the film, “The biggest challenge of all was self-control. Can you imagine what it’s like to be in a pie shop with ‘the best pies in the universe’ and having to choose between Cheery Cherry, Starry Starry Blueberry Night, Chocolate Cream, Coconut Cream, Chile Apple Pie, Peachy Keen, Pear and Lemon Ginger, Pecan Oat, Apple Cranberry Crumble ... ?”
Other films featured in this session include cartoon comedy “Green Acres,” short comedies “Bingo Night!” and “There Is No God and We All Die Alone” and the uplifting short drama “What Cheer?” which features a brass band and versatile character actor Richard Kind.
Breckenridge restaurant owners, be prepared. A horde of festivalgoers will definitely want pie for dinner right after this Friday-afternoon film session.
The Breckenridge Film Festival will bring more than 50 independent films, their filmmakers and festival-goers to Breckenridge from Thursday, Sept. 18, through Sunday, Sept. 21. Learn more about this and other films online at www.breckfilmfest.com.
Colorado and Summit County’s High Country provide a year-round home to a seldom-seen bird more commonly found in the alpine tundra of Alaska and northwest Canada, the white-tailed ptarmigan. Related to 21 species of other upland game birds, from grouse to quail, the white-tailed ptarmigan is the smallest bird in the grouse family and the only ptarmigan regularly found south of Canada. In the lower 48 states, the largest white-tailed ptarmigan territory is in Colorado, where it lives year-round at or above timberline.
This is a fairly good-sized bird for being difficult to find, at about a foot in length, weighing a pound and with nearly 2 feet of wingspan. At that size, and as a permanent resident of the state, the bird would be easy to find, one might think, if not on the treeless summer slopes at least in the pure white of snow-swept winter High Country. However, this is a bird prized by high-mountain predators and, consequently, has evolved cryptic plumage as camouflage that fits every mountain season.
The white-tailed ptarmigan’s plumage turns mottled and barred in spring, with brown feathers on its head, back and breast and white on its belly, tail and wings. This camouflage blends perfectly with the rocky tundra, making it extremely difficult to find a ptarmigan at rest, whether you are a golden eagle or a High Country birder. Likewise, as winter arrives and snow covers the alpine rocks, all of the white-tailed ptarmigan’s brown feathers are replaced with white, leaving only two small black eyes and a small black bill to locate the bird in the snow banks where it roosts, making winter spotting even more difficult than summer.
Nevertheless, predators are as patient as they are hungry, and ptarmigan mortality rates, especially for newly fledged birds, are high. Like quail and other family members, ptarmigans are hatched as precocial, meaning they are out of the nest and foraging less than a day after hatching. Also like other family members, they are hatched in numbers, typically up to eight, which is important for survival when more than 50 percent of the young are lost to predation. Those that survive, however, can live up to 15 years or more, perfecting their habitat-blending skills along the way.
The downy young start life by eating insects but soon switch to a vegetarian diet consisting of flowers, buds, leaves, seeds and twigs. Willow is their preferred food source, but they are happy with needles in the dead of winter, when they move down closer to timberline. The bitter cold of winter doesn’t seem to be much more than a seasonal inconvenience to the ptarmigan, either. They conserve their energy in winter by avoiding flight and seeking out warmer snow banks for long roosts.
They’ve also developed feathers around their nostrils to mitigate breathing icy air and even grow feathers on their feet to give them snowshoe-like insulation against snow. Those feathered feet gave them their genus name, Lagopus (foot of the hare), and their full scientific name, Lagopus leucurus, means “white-tailed hare-feet.” Not the most complimentary of names, maybe, but at least it’s accurate.
Vail Resorts surprised the ski industry Thursday when it announced the purchase of Park City Mountain Resort after more than three years of tense litigation.
Vail’s stock surged after news of the $182.5 million deal broke — MTN was trading at more than $85 per share as of noon, up more than 11 percent from Wednesday’s $76.77 close.
The deal settles litigation between Park City Mountain Resort and Talisker Land Holdings Inc., the landlord for both Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, which began in 2011 when Park City Mountain Resort’s parent company, Powdr Corp., missed a deadline to renew its lease.
When Vail Resorts announced a $305 million, 50-year lease of the Canyons Resort from Talisker in 2013, it also inherited the litigation with Park City Mountain Resort and the potential, pending the outcome of that litigation, to operate both Utah resorts.
At the time, industry analysts speculated that Vail Resorts was confident the outcome would work out in its favor or else the company never would have paid that much for the Canyons deal.
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz has often alluded to grand plans for linking Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, but he revealed his vision definitively with Thursday’s announcement.
“Our hope is to connect the two (resorts) in the summer of 2015,” he said, noting that the connection would create a 7,000-acre resort, larger than Vail Mountain.
Connectivity plans still have to go through local approvals with both Park City and Summit County, Utah, Katz said.
Relief in Park City
Katz was focused more immediately on the fact that Park City Mountain Resort’s 2,000 employees will keep their jobs this season. Powdr Corp. had announced Tuesday that it was posting a court-ordered $17.5 million bond required to operate the resort this coming season, adding that it would continue to work toward a long-term solution with Talisker and Vail Resorts. That long-term solution came less than 48 hours later.
“Selling was the last thing we wanted to do, and while we believe the law around this issue should be changed, a protracted legal battle is not in line with our core value to be good stewards of the resort communities in which we operate,” Powdr CEO John Cumming said in a statement released Thursday. “A sale was the only way to provide long-term certainty for PCMR employees and the Park City community.”
That certainty was welcomed this week in Park City, said Matt Mullin, a Park City realtor who grew up in Vail. He said there had been a nagging concern about what would happen at the resort for the 2014-15 season, which had been worrisome for many people in the community.
“Everybody’s pretty relieved that it’s settled,” Mullin said.
Skiers and snowboarders in Colorado and Utah took to social media Thursday expressing excitement about yet another resort being added to the $750 pass. The Epic Pass now includes access to 12 ski resorts in the United States — five in Colorado, two in the Midwest, three around Lake Tahoe and now two in Utah — with limited access to other resorts in Europe and Japan.
The news also brings to fruition at least part of a Ski Utah vision to connect seven Utah resorts over-the-snow. That initiative, known as One Wasatch, proposes to connect Little and Big Cottonwood canyons, Big Cottonwood Canyon to Park City, Park City to Canyons, and Deer Valley to Park City (which requires just the drop of a rope).
The plan would connect 18,000 acres of terrain and more than 100 lifts, and, according to Ski Utah, it could be offered on one lift ticket.
“We support the One Wasatch concept and look forward to working with Ski Utah and the other resorts to make it a reality,” Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said.
For now, two Utah resorts on one pass is enough for Colorado’s Epic Pass holders to get excited. Talks of Utah road trips emerged on Facebook, along with criticism of the “evil empire of Vail Resorts,” said one person on Vail Mountain’s page.
Katz doesn’t worry much about those sentiments, though. He pointed out Thursday that Vail Resorts would now offer 12 U.S. ski resorts on its pass — out of roughly 500 total resorts in the country.
“Everybody has choices,” he said, adding that what Vail Resorts brings to the table is a top-notch guest experience through continuous upgrades such as faster lifts and better restaurants.
Any acquisition is all about the overall strategy for Katz, though. While he acknowledges there could be shifts in skier patterns — such as destination guests now traveling to both Utah and Colorado in a season rather than to Colorado multiple times — he looks at it from the perspective of overall market share.
While this $182.5 million deal is a relatively high number when compared with past company acquisitions like Heavenly ($96 million), Kirkwood ($18 million) and Northstar ($63 million), Katz said it’s hard to compare those numbers.
“Park City is a very significant resort,” he said, noting skier visitation, destination visitation and a strong brand. “We factor all of that in, and this transaction had many complications.”
Analysts liked the deal Thursday due to higher long-term growth potential associated with connecting the two Utah resorts. JMP Securities increased the stock price target from $85 to $95, and increased fiscal year 2015 earnings estimates to $365 million.
The deal has clear economic benefits for Vail Resorts, but the benefits for the Park City and Vail communities won’t be known until ski season. Park City Mayor Jack Thomas, who said he is thrilled about the long-term resolution to the ongoing saga, but he’s not sure this necessarily changes much for business in town.
“Utah’s definitely on the map,” he said. “The 2002 Olympics had a positive impact on who we are. People know Utah skiing now. They know how easy it is to get to and from the airport — you can be in your bindings in 40 minutes.”
Note: This is the first in a series of short reviews of films showing at the Breckenridge Film Festival.
How close are you with your BFF (best friend forever)? Best friends Kat and Samantha explore the meaning of friendship, love and loyalty in this “dramedy,” when Kat is given an all-expenses-paid trip to a couple’s retreat to figure out why she can’t keep a man.
The BFFs use the retreat as a ruse for a weekend getaway by posing as a lesbian couple. Over the first couple of sessions, things begin to go awry as the ladies must explore their feelings. Tensions mount and emotions surface as the physical proximity of the counseling leads to their first kiss.
Producers, co-writers and lead actresses Tara Karsian and Andrea Grano have constructed a film that explores what friendship means and how a romantic relationship may bloom from it. Between the wry screenplay, the chemistry between Karsian and Grano and the superb supporting cast, “BFFs” is sweet and subtle, fresh and fun, a new take on the tired genre of romantic comedy. Shown with short comedies “Help Point,” “Practice Makes Perfect” and “One-Minute Time Machine,” this block of films starting at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19, at the Breckenridge Film Festival will leave you smiling.
film festival comedy ‘BFFs’ looks at women’s friendship
The Breckenridge Film Festival will bring more than 50 independent films, their filmmakers and festival-goers to Breckenridge from Thursday, Sept. 18, through Sunday, Sept. 21, featuring chances to meet filmmakers, panel discussions, plenty of parties and mingling and the Adventure Reel for young and young-at-heart audiences. Learn more about this and other films online at www.breckfilmfest.com.
“I started out just selling tickets and the steins and that, and then they created a cash-only booth,” DeCarli said of the booth she now runs every year. “The lines were getting pretty long, but at the cash-only we’re able to whip them in and out.”
DeCarli’s booth is smaller than the main booths on the perimeter of the event, and it’s right in the middle of the action.
“We sell beer tickets, check IDs and just give everyone a smile and hope they come back again and again,” she said.
In its 20th year, it seems the Breckenridge Oktoberfest is keeping up its continuity. The three-day celebration is held from Friday, Sept. 12, through Sunday, Sept. 14, this year, and guests can expect the same festive traditions that keep them coming back for more.
TOPPING OFF TRADITION
In years past, the event has seen some 8,000 gallons of beer, and more than a mile of pretzels consumed, according to GoBreck, the organization that promotes the event.
To kick off the weekend, the Paulaner Brewmaster’s Dinner will feature a five-course beer- or wine-pairing meal at Spencer’s in the Beaver Run Resort at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12.
“The Brewmaster’s Dinner is a highlight of the weekend,” said Gavin Dalgliesh, GoBreck events coordinator. “Brats and pretzels are a great part of the street party, but this dinner elevates those traditions, and Paulaner knocks it out of the park with beers to match.”
The new venue for the dinner offers more seating than in years past, said Rachel Zerowin with GoBreck, which means there is still an opportunity to buy tickets.
“The dinner refines typical Oktoberfest flavors, and the pairings transform it from a kickoff party to a true food and drink event,” Zerowin said.
The beer will continue to flow throughout the weekend as Main Street Breckenridge closes and the street party comes to life with traditional costumes, authentic Bavarian food, oompah polka music and dancing, children’s activities, a keg-tapping ceremony and a 5-kilometer trail run on Saturday morning, Sept. 13. The fun is in motion until 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14.
SPIRIT OF THE SEASON
DeCarli and her husband, Wiley, sold their second home in Breckenridge last year, but they are renting their old neighbor’s place in Breckenridge this summer, and DeCarli said she simply could not miss Oktoberfest.
“I love working with the people from the town and I like the hustle and bustle — it’s kind of my forte,” she said with a chuckle. “And it’s nice that I get to work with some of the same people, year after year. I feel very honored that they ask to be with me in the booth.”
Although there will be a lot of dirndl and lederhosen attire around, event-goers will be able to spot DeCarli by her festive dress.
“They give us a T-shirt,” she said. “But I have an apron, and on it looks like a fraulein with a lot of cleavage. So I wear that over my T-shirt.”
Just be prepared to throw some layers over your costume, since the mountain weather in September can be unpredictable. DeCarli said one year, a second-hand ski shop did record fall business during Oktoberfest because it snowed.
Or if it’s cold, just keep consuming. The busy booth doesn’t allow DeCarlie to do much beer drinking or bratwurst eating of her own, but she said a must-try food vendor is “the one that has the lobster rolls.”
“They are absolutely fantastic,” she said. “The booth is usually down toward Ski Hill Road.”
Oktoberfest includes more than two dozen food vendors, with everything from spaetzle and schnitzel to cinnamon pretzels and giant apple fritters.
The festival will feature three beers from Paulaner, including the traditional Oktoberfest Weisn, which is the same brew served at the original Munich Oktoberfest in Germany. Local libations will be served from the Breckenridge Distillery, as well as a gluten-free beer by Omission and a selection of wines and drink offerings. GoBreck recommends pre-purchasing beer tickets and steins.
Music and dancing will rotate on the stage at the Blue River Plaza throughout the weekend. For full event details and to pre-purchase steins and tickets online, visit www.breckenridgeoktoberfest.com.