The sun disappeared behind the mountains at Copper Mountain Resort Saturday, March 29, and Debbie Caves climbed into her snowcat.
She gripped the machine’s controls with both hands, feeling the way the cat’s arm met the walls of her halfpipe, checking her instruments and making tiny adjustments to scrape bits of snow in this place and that. Eddie Vedder sang through the speakers.
Caves, 44, has worked as a snowcat operator at Copper for almost 20 years. The expert pipe cutter also teaches part of the Ski Area Operations program at the Timberline campus of Colorado Mountain College in Leadville.
The program recently publicized the accomplishments of a few local women grooming and shaping snow in a field dominated by men.
In Summit County, Caves is one of two women out of about 30 groomers working on Copper Mountain’s slopes, parks and pipe. According to the resorts’ media coordinators, Breckenridge has one woman; Arapahoe Basin has four groomers, all men; and Keystone has three women out of its 37 snowcat operators.
In nearby Eagle County, Beaver Creek has two women this year out of about 30 groomers. Vail has one.
“Not many women apply,” said groomer Katy Crook, a graduate of the college’s program. “A lot of people don’t think about it as being a job.”
Regardless of gender, groomer Sabrina Lautzenhiser said not everyone is cut out for the position.
“It takes a special kind of person,” she said. “I wouldn’t call it male or female.”
Labor of love
For the three women the Summit Daily caught up with, grooming, shaping and carving the snow is an anonymous labor of love.
“They might not know who did it,” said Crook, 34, an Illinois native who lives in Leadville. But “if you put a really good trail out there, everybody’s going to ski your product.”
She likes listening to audiobooks in the middle of the night while she works.
Caves, who moved to Colorado from Louisiana at 18, said she enjoys the “pretty laidback and chill” environment and that “everybody pretty much leaves me alone.”
Lautzenhiser, 37, of Leadville, started grooming at Ski Sante Fe in New Mexico and now leads a crew on the graveyard shift at Copper.
“I enjoy it, which might seem odd to a lot of people,” she said. “Until I can’t climb in and out of that machine anymore, I’ll probably keep doing it.”
Her husband also is a groomer, and her friends and family are supportive.
“They think it’s crazy that I work late night,” she said, “but they think it’s great that I’m doing what I like to do.”
Caves also met her husband while working as a groomer. Their 8-year-old daughter loves to brag about her mom and rides with her sometimes. She usually falls asleep.
The job’s hours can be challenging. Every night, one team of groomers hops into $250,000 machines and combs the mountain from about 4 or 5 p.m. to midnight. Another team continues where they left off until 9 or 10 a.m.
Caves said the odd hours combined with atypical holidays make it hard for her to be with her family.
Pipe cutting can be especially frustrating, she said, mentioning one of the best cutters in the business who once kicked and smashed his cat’s windshield out of anger. The pipe won’t change overnight, so cutters make small adjustments every shift throughout the season. The best ones do their job with a lot of pride and patience, she said.
“If you’re just looking for your eight-hour shift to be done,” she said, “the pipe is not for you.”
In New Mexico, Lautzenhiser said she “trained with a bunch of rough types who tried to set me up for failure.” They assigned her tricky slopes where her machine would slide. She said she’s “not sure if that was to teach me something or if that was to get a good laugh.”
Now, the men she works with are “like big brothers.”
As a woman working at the resort, Caves said, “I’m treated just like anybody else.”
In teaching, however, she hopes being a woman will inspire her students. In two years of passing on her knowledge of heavy equipment in the college’s small program, “I’ve had one gal student,” she said, “and she dropped out.”
The program has helped four of her former students, who now work at Copper. Those without work experience in the ski industry or heavy equipment find the field hard to break into, she said.
When Caves first started, halfpipes were 13 feet tall. Standard pipes have grown to 22 feet, or two stories, tall.
Pipe cutters are in high demand, but the stakes are higher now, she said, so resorts can’t risk letting rookies train on their pipes. One mistake could lead to serious injury for the riders.
“It has to stay consistent,” Caves said. “These guys deserve a good product. They’re going extremely large.”
And no matter who’s flying down the pipe, 6-year-old shredders or pros, she wants them to be happy and safe.
“That’s all that matters,” she said. “That’s why we do this.”
And, she added, “Who wouldn’t like running a machine like this if you’re into running machines?”
For more information about the ski area operations program at Colorado Mountain College, contact instructor Jason Gusaas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-486-4229.
This year, movie fans won’t have to wait until September to benefit from the cinematic offerings of the Breckenridge Film Festival.
For the first time, the organization is offering a spring film series, featuring favorite films from the 2013 festival as well as a smattering from festivals past and a few new options.
“We’re obviously in a little bit of a rebuilding stage,” said executive director Janice Kurbjun. “Providing a spring film series is just another step forward in a lot of different things that we have on our wish list … to give to the community.”
The organization’s mission statement calls for “year-round comprehensive celebration of independent film,” which the spring festival will help provide. The festival already featured a screening of “Climb to Glory” in early March. Its success led to the planning of the spring lineup, Kurbjun said.
What to see
The spring series kicks off at the start of April, with three sets of films that cater to the end-of-season ski crowd.
“McConkey” on April 3 and 5 is about freeskiing and ski-BASE jumping pioneer Shane McConkey. The film, which Kurbjun said is sure to be a highlight, is also the only film for which tickets are being sold in advance on the festival website, www.BreckFilmFest.com.
The following week, “Antarctica: A Year on Ice” is paired with “The Scenic Route,” both of which were part of the 2013 festival. “Antarctica” was particularly popular, selling out at multiple nights and requiring an extra showing.
The next week features the animated shorts “The Golden Sparrow” and “We Ride: The Story of Snowboarding,” which also were part of the 2013 festival.
From April 25 through May, mud season brings films focusing on a variety of subjects, including coming-of-age, politics, music history and adventure sports.
The animated short “Cadaver” includes the voice of Christopher Lloyd, who played the crazy scientist in “Back to the Future.” It’s paired with “Strings,” a pick from the 2011 film festival, which was picked up for theatrical distribution after its debut.
May features several sets of family-friendly films, from “Duet” — the story of friendship between an oboe player and a violinist — to “Lad: A Yorkshire Story,” about a young boy coming to terms with personal tragedy and growing older.
Viewers of the films on May 22 and 23 — “Pizzangrillo” and “Boom Varietal” — can participate in an auxiliary event. In honor of “Boom Varietal,” a documentary about the rise in popularity of Argentine Malbec wine, Trevor Johnson, sommelier at Antlers Discount Liquor in Frisco, will host a wine-tasting event before the film.
June’s films feature rock climbing and stand-up paddleboarding in Indonesia, which Kurbjun said will serve to get crowds into a summer activities mind-set.
“I think what I really like about this lineup is there’s something for everyone in it, whether you’re looking for a family-friendly film, a date night such as the wine night, senior-friendly or an adventure film,” Kurbjun said. “Really, it’s a way for us to showcase the best of the festival and just bringing the really excellent known and lesser-known films to the people who might want to see them. … You’re not going to see them anywhere else.”
The spring series features a partnership between the Breckenridge Film Festival and the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre. The theater is serving as the venue for all of the spring films and the wine-tasting event.
“(The partnership) goes back to the movement in Breckenridge right now to encourage a more unified arts presence,” said Kurbjun, citing the continuing updates to the Breckenridge arts district. “And so it only makes sense that if that’s moving forward, that different entities start to partner together and try to enhance the image of art in the county.”
In the 1880s, Summit County miners started diverting water. Today, residents drink, fish in and ski with that water. In 2050, how will that water be used and will we have enough?
Those are the questions Colorado is trying to address with a statewide water plan.
Summit County’s struggle is meeting the water needs of growing communities while satisfying Front Range water rights established here in the 1930s and ’40s.
“They need to be making land use plans for themselves,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, “instead of relying on us to save them.”
With the state projected to grow from 5 million people to 10 million by 2050, mostly between Denver and Colorado Springs, Stiegelmeier said she worries about groundwater issues people in that area face and their dependence on water from the mountains to solve their problems.
The Colorado Basin needs to rally around the idea of no additional water for other basins, said Peter Mueller, of the Nature Conservancy.
Both Stiegelmeier and Mueller are part of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, one of nine groups of stakeholders created in 2006 by the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act.
Eight roundtables represent the water basins on the Western Slope, and one was given to the Denver metro area.
The nine basin roundtables were charged with evaluating water needs in their areas, finding the gaps between water need and water supply and figuring out ways to fill those gaps.
Each roundtable will create a report and deliver it to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in July. That board has until the end of this year to fuse the reports from the nine roundtables and create one document, the Colorado Water Plan.
The plan must show how the basin will produce the projected water needed by 2050, said Louis Meyer, the project manager for SGM, the civil engineering and surveying firm in Glenwood Springs creating the plan.
Meyer explained issues the roundtable is considering, including water obligations to other states, agriculture needs, energy production, development, drought, climate change and endangered species. He spoke about a current lack of collaboration among people involved in land use and water planning. And he urged the public to give input on how to address water challenges.
Residents at the public meeting wrote down concerns about water quality, population growth, wetlands conservation and water use by agriculture and golf courses. A few spoke up about fracking, draining groundwater and fishing.
Stiegelmeier emphasized the importance of effective water conservation practices like xeriscaping. Conservation is not just water-saving toilets, she said, it should also include land use and development practices.
The seniority of water rights is another big issue.
“Colorado is a state where you can die of thirst sitting next to a stream that crosses your own property,” said Ken Neubecker, the roundtable’s environmental representative. Without the water rights, he said, “you can’t even dip a cup in it legally.”
“The environment just simply has no rights,” he added, lamenting a resistance to define and prioritize the water needs of healthy ecosystems.
SGM has already identified more than 60 potential projects in Summit County, and more than 1,300 projects in the Colorado Basin, that could help meet water challenges.
The firm is compiling data and creating a plan that includes common themes from the roundtable’s extensive public outreach, said Suzanne Stewart, SGM’s marketing director.
“The kids have been filling out the same surveys the adults are filling out,” she said, adding that the respondents include everyone from first-graders to people on the street who’ve lived in the area for decades, and every comment will be included in the plan’s appendix.
In a surprise move in the midst of a contentious land lawsuit, Vail Resorts said it would be willing to buy Park City Mountain Resort’s base area and parking lots in a letter from Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz.
Such a deal, as alluded to in Katz’s letter to John Cumming, CEO of PCMR parent company Powdr Corp., could settle the lawsuit between the Utah ski company and its landlords, Talisker Land Holdings LLC.
“Vail Resorts would be willing to pay fair market value for any of the assets you have that would be helpful to us in operating the resort,” wrote Katz in the letter on Tuesday. “While each situation is unique, there have been countless appraisals performed on land and parking facilities at the base of ski resorts. If you were willing to sell those assets, we are confident we can reach a fair price for both parties and ensure the continued smooth operation of the resort.”
Relations between PCMR and Talisker have been acrimonious over the last two years after Talisker, which owns the land on which the Utah ski resort is run, alleged that PCMR failed to renew its lease.
As reported in a recent Business Week article on the dispute, the lapse in renewal amounted to a clerical error — the papers were filed a couple days late, and the ski resort assumed all was well.
That is, until Talisker informed PCMR that they had failed to legally renew its long-term lease and that it had found a new tenant, Vail Resorts. The Colorado skiing giant joined the fray with their acquisition of the neighboring Canyons resort, just a few miles away from Park City.
Park City went to court and hearings on the matter are scheduled for April 3 and 8.
If Vail Resorts and Talisker won the suit, Vail Resorts would operate 85 percent of Park City Mountain. Powdr Corp controls the base area, which includes parking lots, lift-ticket offices and retail, as well as the water rights.
“While there has been much emotion and drama regarding these events, what transpired is relatively simple: a landlord believed that its tenant’s lease had expired and wanted higher rent. The tenant refused to pay and sued the landlord, so the landlord found a new tenant,” wrote Katz.
Katz’s letter to Cumming explored a number of options, including what could happen at Park City. Katz wrote that Vail Resorts had reached out after becoming involved in the lawsuit in 2013 to try and reach a solution, but to no avail. Vail Resorts is interested in connecting Canyons and Park City Mountain via chairlift.
“Our company believes that joining together the ski experiences of both Canyons and PCMR will create a one of a kind opportunity that could be a game changer for the Park City community and for Utah skiing and tourism,” wrote Katz.
The letter said that if Vail Resorts bought PCMR that the company would hire all the Park City employees involved with the resort.
The letter also discussed plans for a Woodward Park, which has freestyle training facilities around the world owned by Powdr.
Katz said Vail Resorts was interested in cooperating with Park City in that case as well.
Cumming told Business Week that a Woodward facility might be an option at the base if Park City loses its lease. But he added, “I will be horrified and appalled if they force me to do just that.”
Park City responds
Powdr spokeswoman Krista Parry said that no offer was actually made to Park City in Katz’s letter, and that there are number of reasons Vail Resorts can’t simply “buy out” Park City.
“We’ve put several offers on the table and none have been received,” she said.
Cumming responded to Katz’s letter in a public statement from Powdr on Monday, saying that he has no interest in “a Vail takeover.”
“We have repeatedly made it clear to Vail that PCMR is interested in exploring all possible solutions that will preserve the independence of PCMR as the nation’s premier family ski resort,” he said. “What we won’t agree to is a Vail takeover. Vail’s domination of the ski market in Summit County (Utah) would be bad for our community, bad for our guests and bad for our employees.”
He said that Katz’s letter doesn’t tell the whole story and said he preferred to present the company’s arguments in court.
“If Vail and Talisker are interested in having a public discussion about their negotiation strategy, they should be willing to disclose documents to the public. PCMR has sought to make this information public, including Talisker’s takeover proposal, only to have such requests blocked by Vail and Talisker in court. People should not be swayed by Vail’s attempt to try the merits of this case in the press. We will present our arguments to the court beginning April 3.”
A lot was happening in 1984. People around the country were watching the movie “Ghostbusters” for the first time, rocking out to Bruce Springsteen’s latest hit, “Born in the USA,” and marveling over gymnast Mary Lou Retton’s five Olympic medals.
In Summit County, 1984 marked the inception of the Breckenridge Development Foundation, now known as The Summit Foundation. Saturday, March 29, people from all corners of the community will gather to celebrate the organization’s 30-year anniversary and the effects of the more than $18.7 million in grants and scholarships that it has awarded during that time.
Art Bowles, of the Breckenridge Ski Corp., was instrumental in founding the Breckenridge Development Foundation. The organization’s first office was in a trailer in the parking lot at Peak 8, shared with the ski resort’s marketing department. Deb Edwards came on during that time as executive director and stayed in the job for 22 years.
“Deb really made The Summit Foundation what it is; she really shaped and molded it,” said Elisabeth Lawrence, events and marketing coordinator for the foundation. “Art (Bowles) had this vision and they went with it from there.”
From the beginning, the organization’s mission was to act as an umbrella for the other local nonprofits, awarding grants and scholarships to those in need. The first grant cycle was held in April 1986. Now, two grant cycles annually are available to Summit County nonprofits in spring and fall.
Three years after its inception, the foundation started two events that it still runs today — a golf tournament and the rubber duck race. The Parade of Homes was added in 1994.
The name change came about in 1991. The Patron Pass program, which offered a transferable ski pass (now medallions, the passes were previously plastic squares) to Breckenridge Ski Resort, opened up to include all of the other Summit County ski areas. The organization’s new name reflected its involvement in and commitment to the entire county.
“The Summit Foundation truly would not exist without the Patron Pass Program and what the ski areas do to make that happen,” said Lawrence.
In 1992, The Summit Foundation exceeded $100,000 in grants awarded to about 25 local groups. The amount has grown every year, with 2013 recording more than $2.2 million given in grants and scholarships to 96 nonprofits.
Celebrating 30 years
When the foundation hit its 25th anniversary, it launched a fundraising drive that stands out as a milestone for current executive director Lee Zimmerman.
“We did a fundraising campaign to raise half a million dollars for our endowment and we were successful in doing that,” he said. “And that was in 2009, when the economy wasn’t so great, so that’s a huge milestone and a huge event.”
For this anniversary, the main focus is celebration, said Lawrence.
“We are so blessed to still be in the community and we see the vision of the work that we’ve done for 30 years and will continue to do for 30 years.”
Tickets to the event are $30 and anyone is welcome. Lawrence encourages attendees to eat dinner beforehand, but not to fill up, as the event will feature desserts and other fancy sweets from such local aficionados as Ned Archibald, executive pastry chef of Keystone Resort, and Katy Schabert, of Sugar in Breckenridge, as well as the folks at Butterhorn Bakery, Higgles Ice Cream and Dining Redefined, which will provide gluten-free and vegan desserts. Musical entertainment will feature the 6 Million Dollar Band. The event will take place at the Silverthorne Pavilion at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 29.
Meg Lass became involved with The Summit Foundation at its beginning, when her marketing company, Wilson Lass (which is now Wilson Lass + Brandon), worked to evolve the foundation’s brand. The company created the swirling mountain-and-letters logo that the organization still uses, as well as the tag “Soul of the Summit.”
“I really do think they are the soul of this area,” said Lass. She started volunteering with the organization and served for years on the board, as both vice president and president. One of her proudest moments with the organization, she said, was when it expanded to offer grants to Summit’s neighboring counties, such as Park and Grand.
“People in those counties really support Summit County. We could not survive without people from our surrounding counties.”
Although she’s no longer on the board, Lass continues to volunteer with the organization, and her company continues to do pro-bono work for it and other county nonprofits.
Kathy Grotemeyer has been a volunteer for The Summit Foundation for all of its 30 years, including some time served as a board member.
“I think it’s a great organization,” she said. “I really believe in what they do and they help so many nonprofits in the county. I just really love the organization.”
When asked why she has spent so much time with the foundation, she said, “I just really liked the people that are involved — the people who work for the foundation and also the donors, the people who are very generous. We’ve got people here who are generous, obviously, with their money, but also with their time.”
When asked how she felt about the upcoming anniversary, she laughed.
“I can’t believe it! We’re at 30 years but I know that they’re going to be here for 30 more.”
Chipping away the paint on the two staircases inside the red brick Harris Street building in Breckenridge revealed bright greens, purples and pinks as the layers of history peeled away to show the original grain.
As demolition winds down at the new Breckenridge Grand Vacations Community Center, construction crews are working on the historical renovation and new blueprint, which will house the South Branch Library as well as a number of nonprofit offices and a 160-seat movie theater.
The Breckenridge Town Council toured the space on Tuesday to see the progress of the rehabilitation, which includes interior work on rough electrical, rough plumbing, framing, underground HVAC ducts, mezzanine steel and staining of the trusses.
The project is on track, and on budget, to open in the late fall — most likely November.
“We’re excited to stop demo and actually start rebuilding,” said project manager Graham Johnson.
The historic building’s windows have been down in Denver all winter being restored, and the crew will start working on the window frames and sills next week, Johnson said. Most of the masonry work has to wait for summer, he said, because the temperature has to be above 40 degrees.
The main level houses the majority of the library, with separate teen, junior and children’s rooms, which will include sliding barn doors and a slide coming down from the second floor.
The original 1909 brick chimney will remain exposed on the first floor, along with the wood beams in the ceilings. An elevated reading platform on the main floor lines up with the west-facing windows. The library will also have an outdoor reading deck, currently just a rough wooden platform.
“This is my new office,” Councilman Ben Brewer said, looking out to the porch.
Strips of the old gym floor, red stripes still visible, will be kept in small areas of the library, which will mostly be carpeted. The upper level, up the restored wooden staircases, includes numerous offices for nonprofits, including The Summit Foundation, and will feature a small local history collection near the fireplace, said Liz Hallas, architect with Anderson Hallas Architects, who led the tour.
“We’ve been working in different stages, in the 1909 and the 1921 building sections,” Johnson said. “We’ve almost been working on several projects at once, and now it’s about bringing them together.”
On the lower level, a vast open space with high ceilings will house a large community room space and the new Speakeasy movie theater, which will have a separate entrance through a new north addition that is under construction.
“It’s a historical building and we want to respect the integrity of that,” Hallas said.
A coffee shop will take over the space that used to be the old sheriff’s office on the lower level. Rocks and soil still line the floors downstairs, but most of the indoor framing for the rooms has been completed.
“Not many places have a library and a movie theater,” Hallas said. “We have looked a lot at keeping the spaces separate and the acoustics involved.”
Johnson hasn’t met any ghosts so far, he said, but with several months’ work remaining, he’s holding onto the hope of running into one.
Councilman Mark Burke supported the idea of creating a time capsule for the project.
“We want to keep up the momentum,” Johnson said. “We’re going to fly in the summer.”
The town of Silverthorne reported more than 100 people attended the Monday, March 3 public open house about its comprehensive plan update and received loads of participation during subsequent community meetings earlier this month.
Town officials are hoping the community’s interest continues to build momentum as they prepare to host their final community input event during a public workshop from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, March 31 at the Silverthorne Pavilion, 400 Blue River Parkway.
During the workshop, residents will have the opportunity to provide feedback on detailed sketches that have been prepared for various parts of the town. Following a presentation, residents will break up into small groups to evaluate opportunities to enhance Silverthorne’s commercial areas, including downtown retail, gateway features, walkability and connections, and urban design.
“We hope that this final workshop is equally as successful as the other public outreach events,” said Silverthorne planner Lina Lesmes in a news release. “The public is invited to participate and dinner will be provided by Which Wich Superior Sandwiches.”
During the first public open house, town staff and Frisco-based SE Group consultants spoke individually with visitors about their observations and goals for Silverthorne. SE Group was hired by the town of Silverthorne to facilitate the public input process.
In addition to background boards, there were several hands-on activities community members participated in, including a visual preference exercise.
“The town of Silverthorne has many great opportunities to enhance its downtown and celebrate its unique resources,” said Melissa Sherburne, SE Group’s project manager, in the release. “The public open house, and other outreach events so far, revealed that the community is ready to see improved connections, vibrant commercial areas, and even more places to stay and play in Silverthorne.”
Following the open house, Silverthorne officials hosted four additional community planning chats at Red Buffalo Coffee, the Silverthorne Recreation Center and Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church where residents were able to provide more input about the future look and feel of town.
“Overwhelmingly, the desire for more restaurants and gathering places was the resounding message from all events so far,” said Silverthorne Community Development director Mark Leidal in the release. “In addition, we heard the public say that they want a downtown to have a unique yet consistent mountain-town feel, with a focus on the Blue River.”
More information about Silverthorne’s Comprehensive Plan Update process can be found online atwww.silverthorne.org. Residents unable to attend Monday’s final meeting can engage in the conversation by visiting www.engagesilverthorne.com.
Sebastian Foltz / email@example.com | Summit Daily
It was big lines and big air at Breckenridge Ski Resort Sunday as the mountain hosted its inaugural big mountain competition, the Go Pro Big Mountain Challenge, part of the International Free Skiers Association’s (IFSA) Ride the Divide junior regional series.
While spring breakers and wedge-skiing beginners crowded the lower slopes, a group of close to 60 amateur skiers ages 12 to 18 were charging off of 30- to 40-foot cliff drops into the narrow chutes high above treeline in the mountain’s new double-black diamond hike-to terrain.
“I don’t think anyone was prepared to see how great this new venue is,” Chris Carson, freestyle director for Summit County-based Team Summit ski club said. “The Peak 6 terrain has put Breckenridge on the map for big mountain extreme skiing.”
In big mountain formatted competitions skiers and snowboarders charge down extreme terrain that often features a near 50-degree slope with a number of cliff bands, rock outcrops and narrow chutes. Competitors are scored on line choice, control, fluidity, technique, style and air.
This new event is another big step toward a new reputation for Breckenridge as a home to extreme skiing and snowboarding. More commonly known as a destination resort with abundant family-friendly beginner terrain, the resort clearly seems to be expanding toward a new demographic. As host for the annual Dew Tour — pro halfpipe and slopestyle competition — and with an expansive terrain park that a number of Olympians and other pros call home, Breckenridge could soon add hosting a number of big mountain competitions to their list of offerings, catering to the more extreme skiing and snowboarding crowd. That’s what organizers are hoping, and with the success of this first event it could eventually mean national level or even pro big mountain competitions.
“Breckenridge has some great stuff to offer now,” Carson said. “There’s a lot of potential.”
Standing at the top of the Six Senses terrain with some of his team ready to drop, Team Summit executive director Jerry Karl was equally impressed.
“Wow, this is a world-class venue for these athletes up here,” he said. It was his first trip up to the hike-to portion of the resort’s recent Peak 6 expansion. “I always thought Peak 6 is flat and now you’re standing up here going ‘holy cow, this is some of the best skiing in Summit County.’ This is the thing we’ve wanted for this group of kids.”
For Team Summit’s freestyle program it means a local venue for their growing freestyle team, who — prior to this year — has had to travel long distances for these kinds of competitions.
Originally scheduled for Saturday but delayed due to weather, the inaugural competition kicked off under perfect conditions. Competitors were treated to bluebird skies and a few inches of fresh snow.
With minor delays due to avalanche mitigation, athletes took to the hill around 10 a.m. to spend an hour scouting their lines, eyeing potential jumps and preparing for their first run.
While organizers had scheduled to have both a qualifying and final round, they decided to cut the competition to one round due to time constraints and the surprisingly large field of competition for a first year event.
By the day’s end, home field turned out to be an advantage for Team Summit as a number of the club’s athletes made the podium in each age category.
Fifteen-year-old Grifen Moller of Leadville took top honors in the male 15-18 age bracket.
“It feels pretty good,” he said afterwards. “It was one of the fastest lines I’ve skied in competition.”
He topped 25 other athletes in his grouping.
As for the new course, he said he’s glad to have it in the backyard. “It’s so much fun. I’m so happy they opened this all up this year. It’s a blast.”
He went on to say it is right up there with other big mountain competition venues.
“There are so many lines you can do,” he said. “It was probably one of the better venues this year and probably one of the better ones I’ve skied.”
Teammate Caroline Hardy of Golden, 18, won the female 15-18 division.
“It was really nice to have a home advantage,” she said, equally impressed by the course. “I think it was the steepest venue I’ve skied all year. It’d be cool if there’s a nationals here.”
With the variety of terrain, steep grade and length of course, more big mountain competitions would appear to be a very real possibility in the coming seasons.
“It sounds like everyone who was here today wants to see this as a nationals kind of venue,” Carson said, adding that pro level competition would also be a possibility.
Members of Summit County’s Rotary Club gathered Saturday morning at the Dillon Marina to position the device used for the club’s 29th annual Dillon Ice Melt Contest.
The device, a bright-orange 55-gallon drum, will measure the official time Lake Dillon’s ice melts with clocks that stop when it falls in the water.
People can buy tickets to make guesses for when the ice will melt.
The person whose guess is closest to the time recorded by the clocks wins a $4,000 prize. Second place wins $2,000, and third place $1,000.
Diane Monaghan, chair of the Ice Melt committee, said money raised through ticket sales funds the prizes and extra money goes to Rotary projects and programs.
Volunteers with the Summit County Water Rescue Team helped load the device onto a hovercraft and unload it in the middle of the lake, where Monaghan said the ice is the thickest.
Most years, the ice melts sometime in May. Last year, the official drop time was May 20 at 5:52 p.m. The earliest drop time in the contest’s history was recorded on April 11, 2012, and the latest on May 26, 1995. Those who want to make a historically informed guess can find every year’s drop time on the Ice Melt’s website. Corresponding weather data must be checked separately.
Beau Thomas strode confidently onto the stage, looking down briefly, taking a breath. His eyes rose with the spotlights as his family cheered from nearby. Then his voice broke the silence, strong and soulful.
But instead of the typical open-mic night in Frisco, playing to a familiar crowd, the 27-year-old was being scrutinized by four judges and millions of people on network television in a blind audition for NBC’s “The Voice.”
The camera panned from one judge to another — Shakira, Adam Levine, Usher, Blake Shelton, all musical powerhouses in their own right — as Beau amped up the crowd, a nearly unbreakable smile on his face. He seemed to be willing one of the judges to spin his or her chair around, proclaiming that this man from a little Colorado mountain town had been selected to continue the path to vocal superstar.
The early years
The road to stardom is never a short one, and Beau’s mother, Lynn Thomas, said her son’s began as a little boy, when he first took an interest in music.
“I remember one Christmas, I think he was about 5 years old, he had a lot of musical instruments and he would stand in front of the microphone and sing,” she said. “I could always tell he had a really good voice when he would sing along to the radio and that kind of thing.”
Beau joined the school choir in seventh grade and picked up the guitar when he was 15 after his father bought him an acoustic for Christmas, but he never had any formal musical training.
“I’m just all self-taught,” he said. “The Internet kind of taught me how to play music. It’s not where I get my soul, but that’s where I’ve learned chord progressions and all of that. My mom was a singer for a little bit before she had me, from what she says. That’s where I get my voice from is from her.”
Lynn, who now resides in Las Vegas, said all of her kids got a little bit of her love for music, and Beau remembered a lot of songs that she would sing along to in the car.
“I think that it’s a genetics thing, just like you get blue eyes,” she said. “I think a certain amount of that is born into people.”
Though he knew he could sing, Beau didn’t truly find his voice until after high school, when he got another guitar and started playing for friends at parties.
“I discovered open mic nights in Denver, so I started going and doing open-mic nights when I turned 21,” he said. “The first time I ever played for money was on 16th Street Mall. And I would go down there on a busy holiday weekend and set up on the corner and open my case and make 30 or 40 bucks in a few hours and go drink it away at a bar.”
Unsure of what to do with his life at that point, Beau moved to Summit County, where his two older brothers lived. He traded in busking on street corners for a job at Prost in Frisco.
“I would bring in my guitar every once in a while when it was slow, and the owner heard me play and decided that I was going to host their open-mic night,” Beau said. “He bought me all the equipment I needed, and I hosted open mic there and then kept getting phone calls and kept getting phone calls, and now I’m able to do this full time, as a job, a career, a business, and it’s been a blessing. I’m just super thankful to be able to do it for a living.”
Round 1 of ‘The Voice’
Beau had established himself as a career musician, but it took a push from his mother to get him to take his talent to the national stage.
“About two summers ago, my mom called me and said, ‘Hey, I know you said you would never do ‘American Idol’’ — which I said I never would, I’d never do any of that crap, but I’d never heard of ‘The Voice’ before — my mom calls me and she says, ‘I know you told me you’d never do ‘American Idol,’ so I signed you up for this show called ‘The Voice’ and bought you a nonrefundable plane ticket; you have to do it for me.’”
Lynn said it would make a great Mother’s Day gift for her son to audition.
“It was undeniable that he had some real talent, and along with the real talent, he had the heart to go along with it,” she said. “I couldn’t stand by and watch him waste that opportunity.
“I think he needed the extra push. Sometimes, as a mom, they don’t take you as seriously when you tell them you’re good because people tend to think their kids are better than they are. I wanted to prove to him that it wasn’t just what I thought; it was an undeniable talent, not based on the advice of a mother.”
Beau humored his mom, took the ticket and went to an open call audition. The process started with a group a cappella song, after which the room was cleared, leaving Beau the only one of 10 to move on. The second round was a callback audition, where he performed with a backing track and was sent to a casting interview.
“Then they send you home and you kind of wait for a phone call,” he said. “Then they flew me to L.A. for executive callback auditions. I was there for a week for psychiatric evaluations, interviews, testing, one final audition, and they send you home.”
After all of the work and auditions, the show called to say he hadn’t made the next cut.
Family support to try again
Beau said he was happy with how far he had gotten, but it was actually his girlfriend, Brittany Harmon, who encouraged him to try again.
“After Season 4, I didn’t want to,” he said. “She made the point that I needed to strike while the iron’s hot. She knows that music is my passion, and she said, ‘I want you to set a good example for our kids. I want them to have something to look back on in 10 to 20 years when they are down in the dumps and feel like they can’t chase their dreams. We can show them this trip and show that you can.’
“She was a big catalyst to push me to audition again. I’m so thankful that she was. With my brothers that live in Summit County and my mom and my dad and everybody that’s a part of my family that’s supportive, it’s been amazing.”
Beau has a 3-year-old stepdaughter, Cameron, and 10-month-old twins. Brittany said he’s an amazing dad, often staying home with the kids more than their mother because she works days at the Butterhorn Bakery & Café in Frisco and he works evenings at his music gigs. Brittany said Beau is a good role model for their children, pursuing his goals and not letting setbacks discourage him.
“I love that it shows them that he’s taking a risk on himself, and he’s following his dreams, and that’s exactly what I want our kids to do,” she said. “Every time he doubts himself or wonders if he’s being selfish, I just tell him, ‘You’re doing it for our whole family and, most important, you are showing our kids how to follow their dreams.”
‘Hunger Games’ for artists
With the support of his family, Beau once again went through the entire grueling audition process for “The Voice,” from open call to executive callback, but this time, the caller on the other end of the line had better news: He’d made it to the next step, the blind audition.
“It’s funny because it was almost like ‘The Hunger Games’ for artists because it was so intense and hurry up and wait,” he said of the process for the blind audition. “But it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done because of the people that you meet.”
A pool that started with 70,000 performers was whittled down to 119 of the best. All 119 were sequestered in a hotel in Burbank, Calif., for a month, not allowed to leave or talk to the other hotel guests.
“The 119 of you, with all the same dream, you get very, very close, almost like a summer camp for adults for most of us,” Beau said. “What made the process wonderful was the relationships I built with people; friends who will be at my wedding, people I’ll know for the rest of my life.”
Days were filled with wardrobe fittings, band rehearsals, camera rolls for the various segments of the TV show, an awkward interview with Carson Daly that was never aired and vocal lessons with a professional coach. There was also a lot of sitting and waiting, wondering what would happen next.
“We were all going kind of bonkers out there,” Beau said. “They gave us the psych evaluation during the executive audition. At the end of the blind audition process, we were saying they should have given us the psych eval now because I don’t think half of us would pass it after spending a month in this damn hotel.”
Singing for the judges
As time ticked by and the dreamers each took their turn on stage, the judges for “The Voice” began to pick and choose who would move on to the next round of the show. Each judge could only take a set number of contestants for his or her team, and Beau began to fear that the teams would fill up before he ever stepped foot on the stage.
“I sat in the studio all day, from 7 in the morning to 8 or 9 at night on Day 4 of the auditions,” he said. “I thought, man, I might not get a chance to do this. When they finally called my name, I wasn’t nervous, I was just super pumped that I got to do it at all. … I had a few friends who didn’t get to get up there at all, and they were devastated.”
Singing for the judges was amazing, but Beau said the best part was the studio audience cheering him along, none louder than the voices of his family.
“It was incredible,” Brittany said. “I was just proud of him for going in the first place, but watching him just get onto the stage — he clicked his heels on his way up. We were all just so happy that he got a chance to perform, and then to watch him be so giddy and so grateful to be there, I could not have been prouder.”
“It was surreal,” Lynn said. “As a parent, we always have these proud moments that fill our hearts, but I never imagined that feeling of pride could be so enormous as it was at that moment. It wasn’t just for his singing ability, it was for how he handled the whole process.”
As the final notes of Beau’s song, Ray LaMontagne’s “You Are the Best Thing,” drifted into the darkness, it became clear that his television journey had come to an end: None of the judges had turned a chair.
“It was disappointing,” Beau said. “It was hard because you go through that whole process, I’d dedicated so much time to hopefully taking it on, that when they didn’t turn, it was tough, but it was quickly overcome just by how excited I was to be there at all. It was an honor to share the stage with all those artists.”
“I just think it takes a lot of guts, and I think it’s probably one of the scariest things you can do is to follow through with what you’ve always wanted to do,” Brittany said. “I think it takes so much to bet on yourself, and it’s scary to go through with something like that. And I’m so proud of him for doing it, and he’s so talented. I’m just so happy that he got to share it with the world.”
It’s a long and time-consuming process to film a TV show, to tough it out through rounds of auditions, but to be one of 119 of a crowd of 70,000 shows Beau’s determination and virtuosity.
“It’s a five-minute segment for everyone else to see, but Beau has put in so much work just for the filming and all the auditions he went through,” Brittany said. “And that five minutes — he put in over nine months, from the very first auditions, well over a year of work and flying and traveling and just the nerves — he’s worked so hard, and he deserves every bit of it.”
“He was just so upbeat,” Lynn said. “Even without a chair turning, he was just so excited to be there. It was like watching the little boy I mentored and raised in a moment of pure joy. For him, it was pure joy.”