The region consistently ranks among the top few on surveys of the nation’s most expensive health-insurance markets. Whether that’s due to the limited number of local medical facilities — which allows existing providers to maintain the increased rates they ask of insurers — or the higher operating overheads these facilities face due to the elevated cost of living, it’s likely some combination of both, and those expanded fees are in turn passed along to the insured by way of boosted premiums.
Adding to Summit’s health-care woes is the Colorado Division of Insurance’s (DOI) October announcement that the Colorado HealthOP, the state’s lower-cost, nonprofit insurance cooperative, would be forced to close its doors at the end of the year because it did not meet Colorado’s capital-reserve requirements. For background, the federal health-care law provided about $2.5 billion in solvency funding to 23 startup insurers nationwide, including a little more than $72 million to Colorado’s co-op. The guaranteed funding fell short, however, and consequently several of the nation’s cooperatives have had to fold.
The departure of the Colorado HealthOP leaves its more than 80,000 members statewide in search of new insurance plans with the turn of the calendar. Included in those losing their health care are approximately 1,500 full-time, year-round Summit County residents.
“It’s really disheartening because we were just starting to see progress with decreasing the number of uninsured,” said Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, or FIRC. “Now that the HealthOP is no longer available, it will most likely mean an increase in uninsured again — and certainly in underinsured.”
Among the many community services it provides, FIRC offers free health-care enrollment assistance to residents, answering questions and helping them with the sign-up process for the state’s Health Insurance Marketplace as well as with Medicaid and Colorado Health Plan Plus (CHP+) eligibility for qualifying low-income families. FIRC cannot make recommendations of one health-care provider over another, but Drangstveit noted that of those residents who came through the organization for the standard health-care exchange, about 95 percent chose the state co-op because of its affordability.
“For most of our clients, the bottom line is definitely cost,” she said, adding that the consistency of care within the network and familiarity with their physicians is another key factor that weighs heavily on their decision for a provider. But with the cooperative now required to exit the exchange at year’s end and insurance costs in the area continuing to balloon, these low-income residents will have little option outside of the cheapest alternative, which is currently Kaiser Permanente
Even with potential subsidies, “there’s no choice in our market, really on that end of the spectrum,” Drangstveit said. “The only plan that’s remotely affordable is Kaiser.”
Kaiser is new to Summit County. The Oakland, California-based insurance provider has Colorado’s largest nonprofit health-care plan and will officially begin services for the mountain communities Jan. 4 of next year with the dual openings of facilities in Frisco and Edwards.
Both the Frisco location — in the Basecamp retail center at 226 Lusher Ct., across from the Whole Foods Market — and the one in downtown Edwards will start with a single permanent primary care physician, with rotating specialists from within the provider’s network of 1,100 doctors and “virtual care” video visits. Kaiser also plans to add permanent physicians down the road, as the community’s needs and requests warrant, in hitting its long-term membership target of upwards of 10,000 at each location.
The new provider has also been touting a recent deal it struck with Colorado Mountain Medical in Eagle County to offer expanded coverage through CMM’s staff of 30 medical practitioners who comprise some specialists and urgent care offerings, with offices in Vail, Edwards, Eagle and Basalt. That’s in addition to relationships already in place here in Summit with Dr. Christine Ebert-Santos, a pediatrician in Frisco, and Dr. Andrew Catron, an OB/GYN in Breckenridge at the Swan Mountain Women’s Center, and contract discussions ongoing with other physicians.
“Our mission is to bring down the cost of care,” said Brent Bowman, Kaiser’s executive director of Colorado’s mountain service area. “So that is going to be our kind of uncompromising position as it relates to our partnerships.”
The agreement both residents and health insurance experts are concerned about, in the meantime, is the lack of one between Kaiser and the county’s only emergency facility, St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco. It means that until an accord between Kaiser and the Centura-run hospital is reached — and at least for now that remains a big ‘if’ — a current or potential Kaiser patient is immediately on the hook for their entire deductible were they to suffer an injury of some significance, say, on the ski hill.
On Colorado’s health exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, Kaiser’s nine current plan options for Summit County are offered with a sliding scale of deductibles up to $6,000 and an annual maximum out-of-pocket expense of $6,850 for an individual. While the premiums associated with those plans are generally less expensive than packages from competitors such as Anthem, Cigna or Rocky Mountain, that still makes for a hard pill to swallow in terms of what happens to someone insured through Kaiser and has no choice but to take care at St. Anthony in an emergency.
Consider, as FIRC’s Drangstveit pointed out, many who choose the Kaiser plans are doing so strictly based on the affordability of the premiums for those plans, and that would be a notable financial liability for someone already in the low-income bracket and who selected a high-deductible, low- (relatively speaking) premium catastrophic plan. That’s already on top of her estimate that Kaiser premiums are still about a 20-percent increase from the Colorado HealthOP versus one of between 30 and 40 percent with all other plans.
At this time, it’s a tradeoff between cost and convenience, noted Bowman. And unless a Kaiser patient wants to pay extra to stay local — or what specialty care they need is not offered through Kaiser’s new primary care facilities nor with partnerships like CMM or another nearby supplemental relationship — the insured will have to make the trip to Denver. In the interim, Kaiser said it will foot the bill for its expanding Summit County membership — currently about 100 total but almost certainly to increase once Jan. 1 rolls around — to be transported back and forth, including overnight hotel stay for the patient and a caregiver.
Other local providers still say it’s a matter of “buyer beware.”
“A lot of people out there don’t know how to fully evaluate insurance,” said Chip Webb, CEO of Vail-Summit Orthopedics, which does not presently have a deal in place with Kaiser. “I’m not anti-Kaiser, but I worry, and my main message is that when people start searching on the exchange, look at the network because it’s important to understand what’s available in the community.”
“I cannot afford the liability associated with enrolling any insurance product that does not have proper contracts in place to handle patients,” added longtime insurance broker Stacey Gilbert of Denver Tech Insurance, “whether it’s M.D.s or hospitals missing from the provider list.”
For its part, Englewood, Colorado-based Centura, which also has a large presence in Western Kansas, said it’s also doing its part to lower insurance costs throughout the mountain community. However, it said that partnership discussions have not been held with Kaiser for between 10 and 12 months.
“It’s been many, many months,” said Mark Carley, Centura’s vice president of managed care and risk products. “We are not aware of any current interest by Kaiser to discuss and potentially formalize an agreement between Kaiser and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. I haven’t received any inquiries or telephone calls asking for discussions.”
There is precedent for an agreement between Centura and Kaiser, of which one is presently in place in the Southern Colorado communities of El Paso, Pueblo and Freemont counties. Carley says Centura is still open to the idea of working with Kaiser on a mountain pact, but, when the initial conversation about it began, Centura made two requests: that Kaiser keep as much care as possible local instead of transferring patients to the Denver-metro area and use community physicians and clinicians already established in order to limit the number of Kaiser employees it would bring into the county.
At the time of these collaboration talks, Kaiser did not commit to the two stipulations, and so, for now, Centura has instead focused on other strategies with the aim of St. Anthony Summit Medical providing “viable, appropriately-priced” health-care offerings to the local community through different insurance carriers.
Kaiser continues to unfurl and introduce its mountain health-care plans and long-term blueprint, first focusing on individual and small group plans before making a stronger push into the larger group plans starting in 2016. With no new agreements in place for the time being, that means many will have to drive to Denver for specialty-care needs.
Bowman acknowledges he understands in some cases the trek to the metro area is not the most desirable, but that claims data show between 30 and 40 percent of care received by Summit County residents already occurs in Denver. Additionally, what Kaiser insurance looks like for mountain communities on Day 1 will likely be much different than down the road.
“Ideally, we’d have had contracts in place six months ago,” said Bowman. “We know that in the early stages that this might not be set up as the ideal state would be. We’re continuing to try to expand our network of choice, but in an affordable way.
“If we can bring down the cost of care over time,” he added, “we’re going to be successful, and I think our membership growth will reflect success in those areas.”
Editor’s Note: “Summit’s Historic Yesterdays” is a new column running weekly on Sundays by local author Mary Ellen Gilliland. Excerpts from her books will begin this winter with stories of The Big Snow Winter and the anecdotes from the early days of Summit skiing, all these from her historical book, “SUMMIT.”
The Big Snow Winter of 1898-99 remains as Summit County’s record-setting and legendary snow year, still unrivaled well over a century later. Snow covered one-story log miners’ cabins well above their rooftops. Larger structures, such as boardinghouses and hotels, had snow to their second-story windows. Sometimes these windows were the only access to the outside. Steps cut in the snow from them led shovelers to the main front door in order to clear new snow, a job necessary more than once a day.
We have few stories of the Big Snow Winter because the railroad, Summit County’s lifeline to the outside world, tried valiantly to keep track open but eventually failed due to the wintry onslaught. Summit County lay sequestered for 79 difficult days. Saloons ran out of whiskey (the worst hardship), markets ran out of groceries and the newspaper ran out of newsprint. Decades later, Breckenridge resident E.C. Peabody chronicled the Big Snow story for his granddaughters. His 1950s-written account is our major source of information.
In the fall of 1898, a balmy autumn stretched lazily till Thanksgiving time. Then on Nov. 27, flakes began to tumble from a cloudy sky. Snow fell in sheets throughout the night and surprised Summit residents awoke to a full 5 feet of snow by 9 a.m. Nov. 28. But this was just the opening number of a snowstorm extravaganza unparalleled in known Summit history. Snow poured from the skies every day from Nov. 27 to Feb. 20. Snow tunnels provided pedestrian access to Breckenridge business places. One burrowed from Finding’s Hardware across Main Street to the popular Denver Hotel. People in one-story homes dug out by cutting steps upward in the snow to reach surface level. Anything not maintained by constant shoveling was lost — cabins, wagons, railroad freight cars. Atop Boreas Pass, only a bit of exposed chimney pipe emitting smoke signaled the existence of the rail buildings buried below. A 20-foot snow tunnel served as the station entrance.
Denver, South Park & Pacific trains tried valiantly to surmount snow-choked Boreas Pass. The trains encountered 40- to 50-foot drifts in South Park, then with the help of a rotary snowplow, pushed by seven locomotives, attacked the wall of snow that inundated Boreas Pass. Right behind them, the angry Storm King Boreas blew his blustery breath, re-covering the freed track with huge drifts of windblown snow.
Trains stalled with regularity. Ed Auge told the story in a 1935 Summit County Journal reminiscence: “On February 4, 1899, a train arrived, being about the first one in a week, but could get no further than Breckenridge. This train departed February 5 and no train was seen again for a period of 80 days.” The blockade cut off Breckenridge (and other Summit communities) from rail service, normal mail deliveries, sufficient fresh food stocks and all other supplies until April 24, 1899. (Wagons began to transport limited supplies after March 1.)
Households ran short of everything. Animal owners ran out of feed and sometimes butchered their skinny livestock for food. Butter, eggs, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables and cream became subjects of fantasy. But basic food supplies lasted, and though waistlines grew trim, no one in Breckenridge starved.
Miners attempting travel encountered some hairy moments. S. T. Richards carrying gold, mail and supplies on snowshoes across Boreas Pass, plunged into a 40-foot drift with his heavy load. Ed Auge relates the tale of three miners walking from Breckenridge to the Minnie Mine daily who often had to break trail both ways. The tops of telephone poles for a private line from Wapiti Mine offices on Farncomb Hill in the Golden Horseshoe to Breckenridge stood below their trail.
Jess Oakley volunteered to cross Boreas on cumbersome showshoes to fetch the Breckenridge mail. According to Breckenridge writer Helen Rich, Oakley slung 45 pounds of first-class mail on his back and took off for Como, 19 miles away across Boreas Pass. When he got to the top of the Pass, he wanted nothing so much as a cup of strong hot coffee, but he couldn’t locate the railroad station house. He finally saw smoke from a chimney 6 inches below the snow. He found steps dug from the snow leading down to the house 20 feet below. He had his coffee, got to Como and brought back newspapers to sell for $1 each.
After Oakley’s several trips, a pair named Shaw and Utes took over with a contract to carry the mail on skis. Like Oakley, their journeys were fraught with danger and mishap.
Next Sunday, readers will discover stories of the long thaw that held a prodigious snowpack in place through summer, 1899, barricaded the high passes and encased higher-altitude mine and rail camps in snowy isolation.
Mary Ellen Gilliland’s “SUMMIT, A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado,” has captured the colorful gold rush. She details the misbehavior of history’s miscreants in her “Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods” and recounts the story of the region’s first town in Breckenridge. Gilliland is also the author of the popular guide, “The Summit Hiker.” All are available from The Next Page Bookstore or online at alpenrosepress.com.
The Summit Stage switched to its winter public transit schedule on Sunday, Nov. 22, with a few new additions in place this season.
At the request of Blue River, the Stage added a new commuter route between the town and Breckenridge, running twice daily in each direction. Morning buses depart Quandary Road in Blue River at 6:55 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. Returning buses leave Breckenridge at 4 p.m. and 6:10 p.m.
“We’re really excited to be able to provide service to the town of Blue River for the first time,” Summit Stage director Jim Andrew said in a statement. “For Blue River residents, this opens up a whole new option for commuting, and it serves as a free, reliable alternative to using a personal vehicle.”
The Blue River Commuter will run seven days per week, and so far, is just slated to run during the winter. The town of Blue River is funding half of the operating cost of the new route.
With ski season ramping up, Summit Stage’s morning express routes will return this winter, offering locals and visitors a shorter ride straight to the Breckenridge and Keystone ski resorts. With fewer stops along the way, the bus shaves off up to 15 minutes of travel time from the standard routes. Buses on the express routes run once every morning, seven days a week, from Silverthorne to Keystone and from Silverthorne to Breckenridge via Frisco.
“When we first launched these express routes last year, they were incredibly popular,” Andrew said. “This year, we’ve fine-tuned the schedule so that you can arrive in time to get fresh tracks.”
The Breckenridge Express departs Ptarmigan at 7:10 a.m., stops at Silverthorne Station at 7:25 a.m., Frisco Station at 7:40 a.m., School Road at 7:42 a.m., Granite Street at 7:45 a.m., arriving at Breckenridge Station at 8 a.m.
The Keystone Express departs Ptarmigan at 7:15 a.m., stops at Silverthorne Station at 7:30 a.m., Summit Place at 7:32 a.m., Lake Dillon Drive at 7:37 a.m., Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue at 7:38 a.m., arriving at River Run in Keystone at 7:50 a.m. Skiers and riders headed to Arapahoe Basin can catch the Swan Mountain Flyer to arrive at the Basin at 8:10 a.m.
The Swan Mountain Flyer will also resume service this winter, providing hourly daytime service between Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. The route also offers evening service on days that Keystone is open for night skiing
Daytime buses on the Copper Mountain route increased in frequency, running every 30 minutes rather than hourly. Winter rush-hour buses provide more frequent morning and afternoon service on the Silverthorne Loop, Wildernest Loop and Copper Mountain routes.
The Lake County Link, which provides service between Leadville, Copper and Frisco, is maintaining the usual morning departures from Leadville at 5:50 a.m. and 7:10 a.m. New mid-day service includes a Leadville-bound trip that departs the Frisco Transit Center at noon and a Frisco-bound trip that departs CMC Leadville at 12:45 p.m. The last bus to Leadville now leaves Frisco Station at 9 p.m., ensuring that Bustang riders returning from Denver are able to continue on to Leadville via the Summit Stage.
The fluffy, frozen white gold that attracts so many to Summit County is an asset visitor and resident alike anxiously await each ski season, but at the state level it’s now being recognized that the priceless resource to behold is actually the end product of that annual snowfall: Water.
Under guidance and directive of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), Gov. John Hickenlooper formally announced the state’s first-ever statewide water plan last week. The policy’s primary objective is, generally speaking, to prepare for the year 2050, when, according to the State Demography Office, Colorado’s population could more than double from its current approximation of 5 million to as many as 10.5 million people.
Before even gaining statehood in 1876, Colorado’s distribution and usage of its water has, at times, been a point of heightened squabbling. And it’s become even more intensely scrutinized the last several years, particularly in the wake of California’s extreme drought. Since at least 2008, the Golden State’s conditions have mostly diminished, to the extent that Gov. Jerry Brown was forced to issue an executive order in April for mandatory water restrictions to reduce urban consumption by a quarter below 2013 levels ahead of March 2016.
“Seeing what California is going through, it’s much better to plan ahead than having to react to an emergency,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, one of Summit County’s commissioners, and vice chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, a council tasked with management and assessment of the Western Slope’s water supply. “That’s why we’re focused on conservation, which is obviously the most cost-effective way to ‘get more water,’ or share more water.”
Many, including a wide array of environmental and conservation groups endorse the new plan, citing a balanced safeguarding of the state’s $9 billion outdoors and recreation economy with its robust agricultural industries as well as the wildlife that call Colorado’s waterways home. They say it helps lay out Colorado’s environmental and outdoor values, and the timing is key.
“It’s very crucial in this moment, because it’s the best narrative of what is going on,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a public water policy agency in charge of protecting the Colorado River Basin. “Water is something people take so for granted until you go to your spigot and it doesn’t come out.
Pokrandt, also the chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and f0rmer Summit Daily editor, used the swelling weekend traffic of the I-70 mountain corridor as an analogy for this story of the West and how, similarly, increased measures will be necessary to help counterbalance an already stressed system. The state’s water network, he said, needs the liquid equivalent of traffic metering, a toll road and extra lanes bored through Veterans Memorial Tunnels, to negate the effects of earlier decisions like water-centric Kentucky bluegrass across the state’s suburban neighborhoods.
“The offshoot of that is the water equation,” said Pokrandt. “Those people are already coming. They’re already here. How are we going to build water infrastructure for the next increments of residential development? Are we going to put more importance on urban, grassy landscapes, or are we going to moderate that and keep an eye on a better future for the Colorado River and agriculture?”
Those questions are what backers of this plan — two years in the making — assert are, with action and implementation, precisely what it’s intended to do. Environmental activist Gary Wockner is more skeptical.
The executive director of Save the Colorado, a nonprofit organization that emphasizes combatting irresponsible water projects, says the policy is already outdated and doesn’t go far enough in its ambitions. He points to California yet again in what he believes should be Colorado’s continued efforts toward preventing the region from being left completely parched.
“It was a big opportunity to move Colorado forward into the 21st century, and about half of the plan is still rooted unfortunately in the 19th century, with dams and reservoirs,” said Wockner. “California is leading the Western United States in ‘alternative transfer methods.’ That’s the future, that’s where Colorado needs to go.”
As they’re known in the water community, ATMs are various techniques combined to meet agricultural needs, including long-term rotational fallowing, short-term leasing and supply agreements, and use sharing. The state’s new water plan proposes 50,000 new acre-feet — the U.S. standard unit of measure for water supplies, or 1 acre of surface area (approximately the size of a football field), 1 foot deep — using these methods. The average American family uses an acre-foot of water, or about 326,000 gallons, annually.
Wockner contends Colorado’s program should be making efforts toward producing 10 times that amount through ATMs. He also criticizes the plan’s call for 400,000 acre-feet of new water storage, with multiple diversion projects along the Front Range already in the permitting process. Notably among them are the Moffat Collection System Project, which is expected to nearly triple the capacity of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, and the Windy Gap Firming Project to create the proposed Chimney Hallow Reservoir near the city of Loveland. For greater context, Dillon Reservoir measures at a hair more than 250,000 acre-feet when at full capacity.
The mountain communities have consistency voiced concern over additional trans-mountain diversions, taking more of that melted snowpack downstream to the state’s largest population zones, such as Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs, that demand and require it. Before the final water plan was announced, a community group calling themselves the Citizens for Western Slope Water submitted a petition to Gov. Hickerlooper with almost 15,000 signatures against any new diversions from the headwaters. Fears of doing so consist of more negative environmental impact due to the rivers being tapped further, which could affect the rafting and fishing industries, in addition to producing more strain on local farmers and ranchers.
Colorado was one of the last Western states to adopt a water plan. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Texas and California all have one. Because Colorado’s individual municipalities are the ones that make decisions as to who gets water and how much, rather than the state itself, there is some question as to whether Colorado even needed one.
Proponents call the water plan historic in its deployment, even if at this stage, it provides no big solutions and produces little more than a suggested course of action that requires prolonged implementation of its guidelines. Few argue with the intent of the policy, however, in its attempts to solidify local awareness as well extend the conversation about Western water for decades to come — a move which even the plan’s harshest critics can agree upon.
“If — if — the plan promotes more water conservation, more river protection, and ways that cities can work with farmers to share and lease water, then it was a good step forward,” said Wockner. “If the state gets in the dam-building business, then it was a terrible idea and it’s going to meet with stiff resistance.”
The heart of Summit County was on display as nonprofits and community-minded residents were honored at the 25th Annual Philanthropy Awards. The ceremony was held on Nov. 20 at the Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center.
The Summit Foundation bestows honors each year in ten different categories to recognize the contributions made by exceptional groups and individuals in the county. Wells Fargo Bank and Climax Molybdenum also sponsor the awards. The categories include outstanding: board member, citizen, community organization, educator, professional in nonprofit, philanthropists, volunteer, youth, youth mentor and business.
Phyllis Martinez, who was honored as the outstanding citizen, said she became involved with nonprofits starting nearly 40 years ago when she first landed in Summit County.
“It came as a complete surprise and I was a little embarrassed,” she said.
The former president of the film festival, Martinez said one thing that hasn’t changed during her four decades of working in the community is the welcoming and inclusive nature of Summit County.
Another Summit Foundation board of trustee member, Andy Lewis, was honored as the outstanding board member for 2015. The award was based on his work with a number of groups. Lewis said after relocating to the area 11 years ago, he partnered with his wife Sally to volunteer with the Breckenridge Music Festival and Applause. A few years later Lewis joined the board of CASA of the Continential Divide (Court Appointed Special Advocates) before being asked to join the Summit Foundation board in 2009.
“I think the whole evening is an affirmation of how generous and how compassionate this community is,” he said. “If you’re the least bit passionate for the organization then it isn’t work, it’ a true pleasure.”
Judge Ed Casias took home the David Olbright outstanding youth mentor award. Besides coaching youth lacrosse in Summit County, the judge has also worked with Mountain Mentors, which connects adult volunteers with youth ages 8 to 16. He is also active with the Summit-Lake Dillion Optimists.
“The application for the youth mentor award was a combined effort of people I’ve worked with on a lot of different projects,” he acknowledged.
Casias said one perk of his involvement over the years is crossing paths with kids he coached in the past.
“The kids I coached years ago in high school, it’s fun to see there’s that connection,” he shared. “It shows you had an impact.”
In fact, Casias said his entire family has maintained a nearly decade long relationship with a young man they became acquainted with through Mountain Mentors. Although mentorships officially end after the youth graduates high school, the family’s connection has maintained as the young man begins college of the University of Arizona.
“He’s like a son in our family,” he said. “We included him in last year’s family portrait.”
Representing the next generation of philanthropists was outstanding youth award winner Cait McCluskie, who credited a strong support system in her development.
“Getting recognized by my community was pretty amazing, especially considering all they’ve done for me already,” she said. “Growing up in such a tight-knit community like Summit County, I’ve always had so much support from everyone around me, especially teachers, coaches, and friends.”
Her claims of being passionate about extracurricular activities are evidenced by her involvement in hockey, rugby, dancing, speech, debate and theatre.
“I have learned incalculable lessons such as putting others before myself, listening and leading in equal balance, and never giving up,” she said. “I’ve tried to carry these lessons over to my community service activities, especially directing the Summit Middle School play.”
Burke & Riley’s Irish Pub took home the outstanding business honors. Co-owner Jack Riley said being recognized in a community that has an abundance of stellar people involved is no small feat. When the tavern began serving the pubic 11 years ago, Riley said he and partner Mark Burke wanted to make an impact.
“Right from the start we knew we were going to get involved with the town,” he said.
The pub began the Burke and Riley’s Golf Tournament their first year in operation. The event has donated proceeds to support high school athletic programs in the county.
“The first year we raised $15,000,” he said. “The last two or three years we’ve got over $30,000.”
The funds have helped support baseball and football camps where youngsters get to meet professional athletes, as well as purchase uniforms and equipment, Riley explained.
“We’ve also supported the homeless shelter in Denver and the Summit in Honduras,” he said.
Other honorees included: John Spierling as outstanding educator, Molly Lee as outstanding professional in a nonprofit organization, Dr. Wilson Strong as outstanding volunteer, Nancy and Tom Keltner as the Dr. Oliver Stonington outstanding philanthropists and the Education Foundation of the Summit as outstanding community organization.
ROB MILLISOR’S LEGACY
This year’s philanthropy awards were dedicated to the memory of Rob Millisor. Lewis said the recently departed community leader epitomized the idea of philanthropy. He hopes his example and the example of other community leaders will inspire the next genereation of philanthropists.
“All of us that are community minded are trying to get a younger generation to feel that,” he said. “I have never learned how to say no.”
Noting the abundance of positivity in Summit County, Martinez feels fortunate to reside in the mountains. She singled out the Family Intercultural Resource Center and the Summit Community Care Clinic as two groups doing exemplary work in the county. With new people always moving into the area, she recommends getting involved as the best way to meet folks.
“Getting involved in a non-profit is a quick way to get connected to the community,” she said.
Summing up her vision of volunteerism, Martinez mentioned a Gandhi quote to explain what many gain from giving of their time and energy.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” she quoted.
October real estate sales in Summit County took a 26 percent leap over the previous October. Total real estate sales in the county topped $157 million for the month, which improved significantly on the previous October’s sales number of more than $124 million. Total sales transactions, 283 this October, increased from 263 last October.
The average home sale price for October was just over $555,000, improving on last October’s average home sale price of more than $475,000. No doubt helping to drive up the average price was the number of homes sold for over a million dollars. This October, there were 29 seven-figure sales, which tops the 22 similar sales last October.
The top five most expensive home sales all were residences in Breckenridge, with the top figure of $3.5 million in the Westridge subdivision.
Jeff Moore, managing broker with Slifer Smith & Frampton Real estate, said that trend might change next month. Moore has just completed a sale on what he described as a very exclusive and rare property in Frisco for a whopping $2.75 million.
“The seller of this lakefront home wanted a real estate brokerage that had cohesive synergy, marketing power, mountain connections and a proven track record of sales,” Moore said.
As we enter the heart of the holiday season, Moore doesn’t foresee record-breaking sales in abundance.
“Typically, September and October are the busiest months for closings and sales activity slows down around the holidays,” he noted.
Last December, sales were stronger than expected, Moore said. He also noted that, based upon market indicators, he doesn’t anticipate a significant drop off this year either.
“Last December and January, sales were extremely strong, and there was great momentum all year,” he said. “I expect the pace of sales to continue at above average levels to close out 2015 as buyers try to get into mountain properties before the height of the ski season.”
Kirk Dice, partner at Breckenridge Associates Real Estate, said steady sales have been assisted by the reduced number of units for sale.
“The real estate market (in Summit County) is the lowest its been on inventory in many years,” he said.
The diminished number of homes available in the area has been a major contributor to continually increasing prices, Dice noted.
As the year in real estate winds down, Moore said the year began with a boom and never really took a major dip.
“2015 started off with a strong first quarter that transitioned into an extremely busy summer that was reflected in record setting closings in September and October,” he said.
He noted that the robust activity of this year shows no indications of slowing down as we cross into the new year.
“As for 2016, I expect the market will continue to experience higher sales volume with upward pressure on pricing given the fact Summit County’s inventory is at an eight-year low,” he said. “Today’s mountain buyers are coming out of very healthy real estate markets around the country and wanting to invest in the high country lifestyle to enjoy everything the county has to offer.”
Copper wants everyone to get on skis or a snowboard this season — and stay there.
Just in time to welcome the U.S. Ski Team, Copper Mountain announced the return of the Ski and Ride School University program.
Ski and Ride U., as it’s known, offers newbies a hassle-free way to give skiing or snowboarding a try and provides plenty of incentive to stay with the sport. For $199 per student, the package includes: three ski or snowboard lessons, lift tickets, equipment rentals, close-in parking and lunch. That’s about the price of a single day on the hill if you headed out to learn on your own.
Upon graduation and completion of the third lesson, Copper will toss in a free season pass, so guests can continue to progress for remainder of the 2015/2016 winter season. Additionally after graduation, guests will also receive 50-percent off their 2016/2017 Copper Mountain Season Pass.
While enrolled in Ski and Ride School U, guests will take advantage of Copper’s newly-created, terrain-based teaching area. This beginner-friendly section is located in Green Acres, a small learning area between Center and East villages. This non-intimidating area highlights entry-level, manmade features, such as banked turns and a gentle mini-pipe, teamed with progressive teaching principles from ski and ride school instructors.
Guests must be 18 years or older and completely new to the sports of skiing and snowboarding to participate. It’s the honors system — don’t abuse the system by signing up to get a season pass. To be eligible for both pass discounts (complimentary 2015/2016 Copper Mountain Season Pass and discounted 2016/2017 Season Pass), the third lesson must be completed on or before April 10, 2016.
If you’re here for vacation and plan on returning, remember that Ski and Ride University lessons will not be available between the dates of Dec. 27, 2015 and Jan. 3, 2016 over the New Year’s holiday.
The product must be purchased in person at Copper Mountain guest services or the Mountain Sports Sales Center located in the Copper One building in Copper’s Center Village. There are no online sales.
The program is limited, and registration won’t last the entire season. For more information on Copper’s Ski and Ride U., see www.CopperColorado.com/SRSU.
Early storms have dropped more than 50 inches of snow on the Vail Valley so far in November, and powder-hungry skiers and riders have taken advantage, hiking up the mountain to enjoy fresh tracks.
“It has been really good so far this year,” said Delya Schock, a local telemark skier who has been touring nearby mountains for the past eight years. “The snow has motivated a lot of people to get up on the mountain early this season.”
This uphill action, called randonnee, but also known as skinning or touring, is in full swing at local resorts and popular backcountry areas. Randonnee utilizes equipment specially designed for going uphill and downhill. The activity extends to telemark skiing, alpine skiing and snowboarding.
“It’s a different attitude — you have to be laid back about it a little bit,” Schock said. “People are in it for the adventure and the conversation and the stories of all the things that happen along the way.”
The rapid evolution of randonnee equipment, the promise of powder and a group mentality have caused the activity to become more popular over recent years, said Sean Glackin, owner of Alpine Quest Sports, a retailer in Edwards that specializes in alpine touring, telemark and backcountry gear throughout the winter.
“People have been wanting to get out as soon as the snow started falling,” he said. “The equipment has gotten much better for alpine skiers, telemarkers and even snowboarders with split boards. There are suddenly a lot of people to go with and the right equipment to get you out there.”
UPHILL AT LOCAL RESORTS
Before Vail opened Friday, uphillers enjoyed full access to the mountain, day and night. Skin tracks, the trails uphill traffic follows, were set all over the mountain.
At Vail, a popular skin track left out of the Golden Peak base area and followed the Tourist Trap and Riva ski runs to the top of the mountain. The track was just more than 2 miles long and gained 2,400 vertical feet, opening access to ski down Riva and Prima. Other tracks were set up Lindsey’s and catwalks out of Lionshead.
At Beaver Creek, popular skin tracks aimed toward the top of Larkspur Bowl or the top of Centennial, gaining nearly 2,600 feet over 2 or 3 miles of hiking. The track opened up access to ski Larkspur or any run serviced by Beaver Creek’s main Chair 6.
“We were up at Beaver Creek after the first big storm three weeks ago,” Schock said. “We’d skin up to Spruce Lodge and then past there to ski some of the upper pitches on Cinch (Chair 8). At Vail, Riva and Prima have been the most popular spot, but there have been some tracks out at Chair 10, even though it is a little more of a hike.”
However, with Vail operational and Beaver Creek soon to follow, the policy toward uphill traffic shifts out of respect for mountain operations and skier safety. Due to early-season work on the mountain, uphill travel on Vail Mountain is currently limited to Simba on the west end of the mountain, which can be accessed from Lionshead. Those climbing up the mountain must obey all signage and should expect to encounter snowcats, including winch cats, snowmobiles, snowmaking equipment and other traffic both day and night.
Right now, uphill travel at Vail is not permitted between the operating hours of 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. As the season progresses and more of the mountain opens, uphill travelers will once again be free to go up during operating hours, but you may only bring your dog along once the mountain closes for the day.
“There is some summer construction that is wrapping up, groomers out on the mountain and snow making,” said Sally Gunter, senior communications manager at Vail Mountain. “We encourage everyone to read the policy on our website, call the hotline and know their responsibilities on the mountain, really so everyone can be safe.” The uphill policies can be found at www.vail.com orwww.beavercreek.com (Find the uphill access rules for Breck, Keystone and A-Basin atwww.summitdaily.com) and include information on use of ski-area facilities, year-round mountain operations, vehicles, snowmobiles, mountain bikes, winter camping, hiking and uphill etiquette.
During daytime operation, uphillers are encouraged to call the trails hotline for updates on mountain operations. Stay toward the side of the trail, position yourself so you are visible from above, wear bright colors, obey signage and avoid areas where machinery is in operation. Also, dogs are not allowed.
Evening uphill access etiquette includes calling the trails hotline for evening mountain operations, abiding by daytime recommendations and wearing reflective material. All dogs must be on a leash, and you must carry a light or headlamp and be aware that ski-area emergency services are not available.
Vail, Beaver Creek and all Summit County resorts do operate on public land and have a permit to do so, which raises questions of whether or not the resort can restrict access. Therein lies a gray area where regulations are substituted for mutual respect and common sense.
“A lot of situations are conditional,” said Max Forgensi, mountain sports administrator for the Eagle Holy Cross Ranger District, the section of the U.S. Forest Service that oversees the land upon which local resorts operate. “It is your land, it is my land, it is everyone’s land. People can access the resorts uphill, but they have to abide by certain terms and conditions in the resort operation plan.”
While it is public land, if someone traveling uphill interferes with operations of the ski area, then the resort has the authority to do something about it, he said.
This includes trying to board a lift without a pass, which is considered “theft of services” and opens that individual up to legal prosecution. However, the resorts do not have exclusive use of the land and, therefore, the land is open for all to enjoy.
Forgensi said the uphill policies that are recommended by the resort allow the individual traveling uphill, the skiers traveling downhill and mountain operations to all exist alongside one another.
“We do encourage the use of public land,” Gunter said. “But we want users to be aware of the areas they are entering, their responsibilities and abide by the rules that are in place.”
Local extreme sports photographer Bjorn Bauer has already made runs on Vail and Beaver Creek, but also on Vail Pass and back in Lake Creek near Edwards. Backcountry spots, such as Vail Pass, reflect the origins of randonnee, as skiers look to conquer peaks and explore terrain not served by lifts.
“Hiking at a resort is usually much shorter, much safer and much cleaner,” he said. “In the backcountry, there are obstacles and rewards you don’t find in a resort.”
These obstacles and untamed nature of unmaintained terrain deter the crowds that hike the resorts. He sees this as a benefit — in the backcountry, you likely won’t run into many other skiers and obviously no mountain operations.
There is etiquette to backcountry skinning and skiing, as well. It, too, centers on skier safety.
“You need to be prepared,” he said. “You can be out there for much longer than if you were going to a resort. Avalanches are a real possibility, and you have to be able to recognize a situation and act appropriately if something happens.”
He also said it’s important to ski with the right partner. When it comes to hiking and skiing, the people you set out with need to be good skiers and in good shape. If you are going to the backcountry or skiing dangerous terrain, then the entire group needs to be trained and capable in an avalanche or emergency situation.
Despite being early in the season, when avalanche conditions should be calm, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center has already posted videos about how the early-season snow has set up in a dangerous way in certain areas.
Popular backcountry destinations include Vail Pass, Loveland Pass, Mayflower Gulch and areas around Summit County and Leadville.
“There are risks, and there are rewards. I would pretty much always choose to hike or ski in the backcountry,” Bauer said. “You can escape the crowds. You can find fresh snow, and that snow doesn’t get skied out.”
On July 23, 1887, Tom Groves and Harry Lytton struck it rich — they found the largest piece of gold ever discovered in Colorado, a record that stands to this day. The discovery happened in the Farncomb Hill area, outside of Breckenridge, and after finding the piece of irregular massive gold, Groves wrapped the 13 ½ pound hunk of glory in a blanket, parading it around Breckenridge — thus earning it the nickname of Tom’s Baby.
There are two stories to the tale of Tom’s Baby, according to local Rick Hague, a mining historian and member of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance and Summit Historical Society boards. The first story tells the tale of the discovery of Tom’s Baby, the second — its re-discovery.
Groves and his partner Lytton were contract miners in the late 1800s. Contract miners did not own the land they were working on, but paid a royalty for their finds, usually around 25 percent of the gross. Farncomb Hill is an area that is a bit peculiar geologically, Hague said, and for that reason it’s very famous amongst mineral collectors even today for its spectacular specimens of wire gold.
“Wire gold is very fine crystalline gold, very unusual — it sort of looks like a Brillo pad — it formed up in that area in underground cavities called vugs,” Hague said. “These vugs initially were gas bubbles that occurred during the geological formation of that area. Over time, what happened was that fluids — very hot, high-pressured fluids — forced their way into these underground cavities and deposited mineralization. That’s what caused this area to become famous, was they had these vugs, and fluids would come into the cavities underground. They wouldn’t completely fill the cavities with solid material, they would deposit some of this wire gold on the surfaces of the cavity, and the rest of it would be empty.”
Groves and Lytton were mining away one day underground — drilling and blasting their way through the area. They were most likely hand drilling, Hague said, with hand steels and heavy hammers. After blasting, they went back in to see what had happened, and they discovered in the remaining solid rock one of these types of cavities they had blasted into.
When they looked inside, the cavity was covered with crystal and gold.
“Understandably, they were ecstatic,” Hague said. “We don’t know precisely what happened, but in the bottom of this cavity was a great big chunk of gold, which originally weighed about 13 ½ pounds.”
The trip to Breckenridge was a decent horseback ride or walk from the area they were at in Farncomb Hill, and the two were afraid of being robbed on their way into town.
“So Tom wrapped it in a blanket, put it in his jacket, and carried it like a baby — and that’s where the name Tom’s Baby came from,” Hague said.
Once the two got into town, Groves paraded it around, and the piece became instantly well known.
“I’ve read a newspaper article that was written that Monday, the following Monday, and already they called it Tom’s Baby, so that was early on,” he said.
Tom’s Baby was taken to an assayer, professionals who would take samples of rock, clean them up and put them through a series of tests to give the miner a certificate that would tell the miner how many pounds of lead or zinc, or ounces of silver per ton were in that sample.
The assayer’s shop was located on what is now Ridge Street, currently home to Angel’s Hollow restaurant. The problem was, the shop had a large plate glass window, and everybody was a little bit scared of people looking in and seeing this huge pile of gold. So they ended up taking it across the street to the assayer’s house, which is now Moe’s Original Bar B Que.
The assayer cleaned it up and put it in an acid solution to eat away all of the non-gold material, and weighed it. There is one account of a piece of Tom’s Baby falling off — a small piece — during the process.
“That was the last time apparently the piece was seen as 13 ½ pounds,” Hague said.
Groves and Lytton contacted the owner of the mine, a local man by the name of Ward who is very famous in local mining history circles. It is said that Tom’s Baby was given to Ward, who had a partner down in Denver.
Presumably, Ward, Groves and Lytton made some sort of financial arrangement, where Ward got the specimen, paying the two miners the other 75 percent in cash. Ward took possession of Tom’s Baby, with plans of shipping it to his partner in Denver. The last time it was seen was when he handed the gold to the conductor on the train that went out on the narrow gauge to Denver — and then it disappeared.
THE RE-DISCOVERY OF TOM’S BABY
Around 1900, there was a group of people trying to organize what eventually became the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The collections of two Breckenridge folks, Edwin Carter, a naturalist, and John F. Campion, a famous gold specimen collector, were added to the museum, which opened in 1916. Tom’s Baby was not found in either collection.
In those days, it was very common to hold large world fairs, and in these fairs, one of the features was exhibits of gold and silver specimens from the West.
“It was a matter of prestige to get it exhibited in one of these things,” Hague said.
The most famous one was Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and interestingly enough, Tom’s Baby didn’t show up in any of these exhibits.
“It is the largest mass of gold ever found in Colorado — it should have been in any number of these exhibits but it was not,” he said.
Fast-forward to the late 1960s, early 1970s, and a local pastor of the Father Dyer Church in Breckenridge, Mark Fiester, was writing a book he called “Blasted Beloved Breckenridge.” He made it his mission in writing this book to find out what happened to Tom’s Baby.
He did a tremendous amount of research, and in 1972, he discovered Tom’s Baby in a bank vault in Denver, owned by the Museum of Natural History, now known as the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
“It was in a wooden box, off in a corner buried by a bunch of other stuff, labeled ‘dinosaur bones,’” Hague said. “They pull it out — sure enough there is Tom’s Baby.”
They had found a large mass of gold, and everyone assumed it had to be Tom’s Baby, but they couldn’t be sure, as no photographs had been taken of the original specimen. Officials managed to find Ward’s daughter, who verified it was indeed Tom’s Baby. Hague points out that Ward’s daughter saw the gold in 1887, and it was now 1972 — “if you had seem something as a child would you remember it at 80 years old?” The piece they found weighed approximately 10 ½ pounds.
“So it’s always been a little bit of a mystery what happened to other three pounds,” he said.
Fiester found a couple of other pieces that look like they may have come off of Tom’s Baby, but had no way to verify it, and those pieces may very well be in the Museum of Nature & Science, Hague said.
Tom’s Baby is now housed safe and sound in the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and can be viewed behind a thick glass case today.