The time has finally arrived for registered Summit County Democrats and Republicans, and throughout Colorado for that matter, to let their preferences be heard, on Tuesday, March 1. As part of the state’s election process every two years, the party precinct caucus takes place on what has commonly become known nationally as “Super Tuesday” because Colorado is among the greatest number of states holding primaries on a single day.
The number of states participating in this crucial bellwether evening of the election cycle has changed through the years but in 2016 will include 13, plus one territory. They are: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming as well as American Samoa.
These preliminary show of hands — as opposed to actually voting — provide the time and space for, among other local and state representative candidate selections, a presidential preference poll for contenders as each tries to secure their party’s nomination (more on that in a moment). Each state’s delegates are then divvied up in building toward the threshold for officially selecting a nominee at the party’s respective national convention. Republicans will hold their convention in Cleveland on July 18-21, while Democrats will head to Philadelphia on July 25-28.
Local Democrats are holding their caucus at the Summit County Community and Senior Center (0083 Nancy’s Pl. in Frisco). The caucus is scheduled to take place from 7-9 p.m., and those wishing to participate are advised to arrive no later than 6:30 p.m. to complete registration.
The 2008 caucus for Democrats, which pit supporters for then-Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois) against those for then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (New York) was a record year in Summit County for those congregating to have their voices heard. Obama walked away the victor that year, and estimates on area attendance stand at more than 550 that evening, which pushed the limits of the capacity of the allotted space.
“At that time, there was just incredible amount of phone calls and emails and all sorts of communication from people organizing here in Colorado to turn folks out on both sides for the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” recalled County Commissioner Thomas Davidson, a Democrat. “We are getting more of that now, we’re seeing more emails, but I remember much more conversation in 2008 than what see and experience right now. Plenty of people say they plan to come to the caucus, but I’d be surprised if we see those same numbers on Tuesday. We’ll see.”
For the Democrats, Colorado has 66 delegates, plus 12 superdelegates, up for grabs Tuesday night. That total will be distributed proportionally based on, essentially, the number of supporters for each candidate.
Staffers say they are prepared should the gathering again approach bursting at the seams totals, though uncertainty remains about potential participation. Even so, there’s hopeful optimism for a good crowd.
“I don’t have a feeling for how much is going on behind the scenes to get people to show up,” said Bev Breakstone, chair of the Summit County Democrats. “It’s not one of these things where people have to RSVP. They just have to be registered, want to show up and participate.”
Summit County Republicans, meanwhile, will hold their party caucus at the Silverthorne Pavilion (400 Blue River Pkwy. in Silverthorne) also from 7-9 p.m. with qualified attendees who are registered as Republicans asked to show up between 6-7 p.m. for registration. Based on pre-registration numbers, organizers are expecting a good turnout.
“We’re looking forward to a very strong showing this year,” said Eric Buck, vice chairman of the Summit County Republicans. “We think it’s important for people to be involved in the process and elect delegates who reflect their values and have them move forward to the county and state assemblies to try and vote for the candidates that meet their goals.”
The Colorado Republican Party unanimously voted this past August to forgo a straw poll for president after national GOP leaders revised party rules to tether delegates to the one caucus winner. So instead, the state caucus will act as the first in a multi-step process for selecting the 34 delegates from Colorado who will attend the national convention and ultimately swing their support behind a candidate.
That said, local Republicans still plan to hold an informal poll for president.
“It’s not official,” added Buck, “but it should give elected delegates at the caucus a sense of where people in Summit County stand, and hopefully they respect those votes as they move on to the next level.”
In order to attend a caucus, whether registered as a Republican or Democrat, Summit County residents need to meet certain qualifications. First, he or she must have lived in one of the county’s 20 precincts for at least 30 days, must be registered in that precinct at least 29 days ago and then have designated themselves one of the two parties by this past Jan. 4, per the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. Those who turned 18 years old or became naturalized U.S. citizens and registered to vote two months prior to March 1 are also eligible to attend.
Individuals who do not satisfy all three of these requirements are out of luck. Caucuses are open to the public for those who want to watch, but those voters registered as unaffiliated will not be able to participate in either party’s caucus.
Following registration and the reading of both county and state party rules, attendees for each precinct will accomplish three main activities. Those are selecting two precinct leaders for the next two years — settling on delegates to represent them at the county assemblies and moving forward — and both draft and vote on resolutions in working toward the party platform.
Presidential election years tend to be much more highly-attended caucuses than off-year cycles, though each helps determine whether candidates make it onto the November ballot, including for U.S. Senate and Congress seats as well as for state-level offices. And the only way to have a say is to be present.
“I really encourage people to attend,” said Davidson, regardless of political affiliation. “There were some great conversations back in 2008. There is that same potential for this Tuesday night, and I always, always look for opportunities to encourage people to participate in our democracy. This is a great opportunity to do just that.”
Historians often describe Summit County history in terms of gold. Given its role in the Pikes Peak gold rush, that makes sense. However, people often overlook all of the other different types of “gold” that helped form the county’s diverse history.
Before the Pikes Peak gold rush of 1859, the Mountain Utes and their predecessors sought “brown gold” — American mountain bison, elk, deer and other game that roamed the valleys and meadows, migrating with the seasons. The Utes followed the herds but left little evidence of their presence or lifestyle on the landscape. However, many of today’s roads and trails follow their routes along waterways and over passes.
The years from roughly 1820 until the 1840s saw the next quest for “brown gold” — this time beaver, otter and muskrat pelts sought by trappers for sale to wealthy, fashion-conscious patrons in Paris, London and New York. The trade came to a halt in the 1840s when tastes turned to silk.
Except for a place name in Summit County — La Bonte’s Hole — these trappers also left few footprints on the landscape; today, a café at the Keystone Resort ski area bears the name La Bonte’s. Trappers called valleys “holes.” At pre-designated holes, they met each fall to trade and carouse. La Bonte’s Hole, located at the confluence of the Blue and Snake rivers with the Tenmile Creek, was the site of such a local gathering for an unknown number of years. Lake Dillon now covers the site.
The spring of 1859 witnessed the first seekers of “yellow gold” — the 59ers of the Pikes Peak gold rush. They streamed into Summit County desperately seeking placer gold — nuggets and flakes found in stream sediments and mined largely by hand with shovels, gold pans and sluices.
After the initial rush, in about 1862, life quieted down until the very early 1880s when a second rush began — this time for silver, lead, zinc and gold mined underground. The sounds of drilling and blasting echoed through the valleys into the early 1900s. Towns like Breckenridge, Frisco, old Dillon, Keystone and Montezuma turned from wild mining camps into “civilized” villages that supported families, schools, churches and stores.
During this 50-year period (roughly 1859 through about 1910), settlers established ranches mainly in the flatter, northern part of the county. They sold their produce to those living and mining in the southern part of the county. The railroad arrived in 1882, connecting all of the major towns to the outside world, while bringing in fresh fruit and vegetables, supplies and people. The so-called “High Line,” because the rails crossed the Continental Divide twice, carried mineral products and lumber to Denver and points beyond.
After about 1910, the mining boom collapsed except for gold dredging in several local rivers beginning in 1898 and continuing until 1942. Life in Summit County languished, with few people and little activity, until the 1950s when the quest for “white gold” — mountain snow — began.
The Denver Water Board started work in 1956 on Dillon dam. The reservoir supplies water for Denver and the Front Range through a 23.3-mile-long tunnel under the Continental Divide east of the reservoir. The town of Silverthorne grew from its beginnings as a home for those building the dam and tunnel. Land developers, eager to cash in on the second home and recreational potential of the new lake and its surrounding mountains, rushed in. The Peak 8 Ski Area (the forerunner of Breckenridge Ski Resort) opened in 1961, to be followed shortly by Keystone and Copper Mountain resorts. The boom in second homes, restaurants, shops and recreational amenities continues today.
The quest for “green gold” began in the 1970s. The enjoyment of Summit County’s forests, streams, lakes and mountains for hiking, biking, fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities brought with it an appreciation of our environment and the need to “go green” in our daily lives.
Who can say what color the next “gold” will be for Summit County?
Rick Hague is a local mining historian and member of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance and Summit Historical Society boards. This article is part of a book currently being written for the Summit Historical Society’s 50th anniversary. “Windows to the Past” by Hague and Sandie Mather, president of the Society, is expected to be published in July or August 2016.
9 a.m., Randall Barn, 114 E. Washington Ave. Students will learn and apply the basis of screen-printing with hand cut stencils, and be able to print their own multi-colored artwork. Students should bring inspiring resource imagery to work from. (970) 453-3364.
Lucid Vision, Evanoff, Transfer Station and Homemade Spaceship
Frisco, Feb. 27
9 p.m., Barkley Ballroom, 610 Main St. Four of the front range’s best electronic acts - many with live instrumentation. Free.
Turtles for Kids with Jeni Licata
Breckenridge, Feb. 27
10 a.m., Ceramic Studio, 125 S. Ridge St. Children will create clay turtles using coils, slabs, and pinch pots. Finished turtles can be picked up or mailed the following week. Additional shipping fees will apply if pieces are mailed. (970) 453-3364.
There are plenty of reasons to come to Summit County, but arguably the main draw to our beautiful section of the mountains is the recreational opportunities that abound. Whether it’s the sun or the snow on the slopes, Summit and other such areas see consistent traffic from tourists seeking escape and fun.
Inevitably, there are those who decide that enjoying the mountains is something they’d prefer to do all year, not just when another vacation comes around. These people make Summit County their home, and they’re not always who you’d expect.
Physical activity — even extreme physical activity — is not limited to young people here in the mountains. Recreational enthusiasts of all ages can be found out on the slopes and trails of Summit County. That includes people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s.
Peter Lemis, a cardiologist at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, said he’s noticed a trend of high physical activity among his older patients.
“All kinds of activities — in the summer it’s hiking and biking and in the winter it’s Nordic and Alpine skiing, and snowshoeing,” he said. At 62, Lemis himself enjoys similar activities, which are part of the reason he moved to Summit last year.
Anyone considering moving to higher elevations, particularly in older age, should pay particular attention to their health, he advised. Some problems may even have the potential to be lessened or prevented if proactive steps are taken, such as getting in touch with health professionals. And physical activity is yet another piece of the pie.
“Remaining active can certainly stave off other medical conditions,” Lemis said. “It’s good for your heart, it’s good for your bones, it’s good for your lung capacity. An active lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle.”
There is no shortage of people in Summit over the age of 50 who embody that sentiment. Simply head out onto the ski lifts or the hiking trails to find fellow enthusiasts making their way faster and more confidently than people many years their junior.
Doris Spencer and Kent Willoughby are two such locals. At age 60, Willoughby conquered his first 14er, via the Pikes Peak Marathon. Now in their 70s, the couple has climbed every 14er in the state and many of the 13,000-foot peaks as well. They also make sure to skin to the top of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area nearly every day during the winter.
Another example of the impressive athletic array of Summit’s older crowd is the Summit County 50+ Winter Games. Open to anyone over 50 years of age, the competition features events such as Alpine and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, biathlon, figure skating and more.
It’s always a good time to start
While many of Summit’s senior population have been active all their lives, it’s not true of everyone. Gretchen Boetcher is a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator with Centura High Country Health Care. She teaches classes on weight management and healthy eating, among others.
“There are a lot of folks who don’t want to get out and be active because they feel they’re not as fit (as others),” Boetcher said. Her goal in the classes is to teach people how to improve their health, often through physical activity.
The key, Boetcher teaches, is to just get out and do it. You don’t need to be an expert, you just need to make the effort, she emphasized.
That is exactly what Spencer did in 1988 when she moved to Summit County.
“I kept looking up at Quandary and kept thinking, ‘I’m going to climb that,’” she said. And she did, step by step, despite being in recovery from various back injuries.
“After two years, I finally made it to the summit,” she said, and she hasn’t stopped since.
Simply being around the mountains is a good motivator for people wishing to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Being here gives you the opportunity and also the desire,” said Lemis. “You look out the window, it’s so beautiful here; you want to be out there doing something. You don’t want to be sitting at home watching TV all day.”
And there’s no time like the present. As Boetcher said, “You’re never too old to get started.”
Breckenridge Town Council passed the first reading of an ordinance on Tuesday, allowing the town to specify how a lift-ticket tax approved by voters last November may be collected.
The 4.5-percent excise tax would be levied from lift ticket purchases at Breckenridge Ski Resort and put toward a Parking and Transportation Fund intended to improve parking, traffic, bus systems and pedestrian access within the town.
“This is just putting into process how it will actually work,” Breckenridge communications director Kim Dykstra said. “It was worded such that we would be able to interpret that and put it toward a wide variety of ways to be able to solve some of those issues.”
Over the next few weeks, the town will work with Vail Summit Resorts Inc. to craft a Memorandum of Understanding with all of the specifics. While the tax was originally proposed to create a parking structure in the town, it was expanded for a review of more long-term transportation solutions, currently being analyzed by DTJ Design and Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates.
“It’s more broad than just, say for instance, a parking structure,” Dykstra said. “There are a variety of ways we’re going to go on and try to solve some of those issues.”
The town hosted two transit meetings last Thursday to gain suggestions from the community, to be used to draft initial plans with the help of DTJ Design and Nelson\Nygaard. In April, the town will host another set of public meetings with more concrete proposals.
Some ideas brought forth by both companies included improving way finding for both pedestrians and vehicles, improving lighting and encouraging the use of public transportation.
“We know that part of the challenge is that visitors aren’t familiar with our parking reservoirs, and they kind of drive around and they’re not sure where they should go,” Dykstra said. “It’s getting them to the right parking areas.”
Breckenridge police chief Shannon Haynes, who is currently heading the town’s Parking and Transit Taskforce, noted that the town expects to have a new crosswalk-lighting system delivered soon to improve safety on Airport Road, the site of two hit-and-run accidents.
“We are making sure all these pieces are in conjunction with each other,” she said. “I think the police part brings to it the public safety mindset. But all of these potential changes have an impact broader than the scope of the police department.”
The idea for that particular crossing was brought to the committee and vetted externally before it was implemented. But it is just one small piece of the big picture of improvements to safety and transportation within the town.
“We work collaboratively when we come up with a solution,” Haynes said. “Our small group committee looks at variety of options, and looks at other communities for what works well in other places.”
If passed on second reading, the ordinance would go into effect on July 1, 2016. Dykstra said the tax funding would start flowing into the town in 2017, giving Vail Resorts time to assess lift ticket sales, collect the tax and remit it to the town.
“It’s a little bit of a formality, but now it’s our job to take what voters asked for and put it into law,” she added.
While 2015 closed with unseasonably strong sales across the county, January sales dipped slightly due to a lack of property on the market. Jeff Moore, managing broker for Slifer, Smith and Frampton Real Estate, noted real estate inventory is currently at a six- to seven-year low, though demand is still strong.
“Skier traffic leads to more potential buyer activity in the marketplace,” he said. “They’re in town, enjoying time with their families and enjoying time on the mountain. Those types of experiences lead to people thinking, ‘We should look at something in the mountains.’”
January has historically been a slower month for sales. But this winter has been as busy as the limited inventory allows.
As for the driving factor behind the lack of listed properties ... it depends on who you ask.
“In some respects, it’s a good endorsement of our market because we have a lot of people who are happy,” Coldwell Banker broker associate John “Turk” Montepare said. “I think people who have bought in or stayed in for the long haul are very happy with what they’ve got here in Summit County.”
While he would normally encourage homeowners to wait until April to put their property on the market, when demand begins to peak, he said he was comfortable listing properties now between a strong selling market and lack of inventory.
On the other hand, Brooke Roberts, director of sales and marketing for Land Title Guarantee Company, interpreted the paucity of listings in a different light.
“I think people are waiting to see what the market’s going to do,” Roberts said. “They put it on a rental program in the wintertime, and they’re waiting for the summer sale season. This is a really, really record low inventory that’s out there right now.”
According to a market analysis by Land Title Guarantee Company, the monetary volume of sales countywide was down 5 percent this month compared to January 2015. The total number of transactions was down 2 percent.
Even with total sales down for the month, both Roberts and Montepare noted that high-priced transactions, above the million-dollar mark, are climbing.
“We think a lot of people are pulling their money out of the stock market and investing in real estate again,” Roberts said, pointing to the weakening stocks in the first quarter of 2016.
At $2.72 million, January’s largest sale is an example of this market. The five-level home, located in an extension of the Yingling and Mickles Subdivision, overlooks all of Breckenridge from its perch on a steep slope.
“The views were breathtaking,” Montepare said. “You could see really from Pacific and Helen all the way to Buffalo.”
The 5,200-square-foot home features four bedrooms, four bathrooms and two large living areas all connected by an elevator. The traditional mountain-style home was by local architect Suzanne Allen and constructed by local builder Bob Blass. Montepare added part of the home’s value was in the quality of the build.
“Bob is a very good builder; I’ve had some great success with him over the years,” Montepare said. “Since house was on smaller lot, we thought some of our buyers were very busy and don’t want a lot of landscaping. You can come in, spend five days and leave. And you’re not worried about cutting the grass or raking leaves.”
Another property designed by Allen made a notable sale for the month. The brand new, 3,838-square-foot home brings a more modern aesthetic to the Highlands at Breckenridge neighborhood.
The property, located near the golf course and with Nordic ski-in/ski-out has views of Peaks 1 and 3, and features five bedrooms and four bathrooms.
“Your high-value properties are going to adjoin something that’s typically location, location, location,” Moore said. “So many of our buyers are coming out of areas of country where walkability ratings are really important to them.”
The Board of County Commissioners named current assistant county manager Scott Vargo as the replacement for long-time county manager Gary Martinez, who will retire at the end of June.
The commissioners made the hire official this past Saturday, Feb. 20, following a swift process that started with Martinez’s announcement at the end of January. Formal interviews were held with two internal applicants, Vargo and fellow assistant county manager Thad Noll, the morning of Friday, Feb. 19, and a decision made and the candidates informed by the afternoon.
Vargoleft on a previously planned vacation to Florida with one of his two daughters Saturday, which soon became a celebratory trip. Reached by phone while away, he called receiving the news of landing the position like winning the big one.
“I joked that this is like my Super Bowl,” he said, “and now I’m headed to Disney World. I am extremely excited and just really looking forward to the opportunity to lead such a great organization and very happy to be working for the Board of County Commissioners.”
“The level of collaboration that people in Summit County are accustomed to is a real strength of Scott’s. ... And man, does he do his homework.”County Commissioner Thomas Davidson
He has been with the county government in various capacities since 1999, when he took the position of director of human resources. In that role, he served the organization’s more than 500 employees, establishing existing pay and benefits programs including, notably, negotiating its current health-care plan.
In 2004, Vargo, a Frisco resident, was promoted to his present position of assistant county manager and now into his 12th year has paid particular attention to the departments of public health, human services as well as the 911 call center and ambulance services. He took the lead, for example, onhelping coordinate the area’s emergency response system between the local fire districts and ambulances, improving communication, efficiency and also saving the county money. He also helped with the South Branch Library relocation project to Harris Street in Breckenridge.
“All of those opportunities to partner and collaborate with others,” he said, “I think that was a great opportunity for me understand maybe how these other organizations operate, and how we as the county can work together to make the situation better. (We want) to come up with projects at the end of the day that are going to be a great benefit to the community.”
The commissioners said they are thankful to transition so seamlessly from Martinez, who has been in the role since 2007 following an earlier 15-year stretch as Breckenridge town manager, to another so uniquely qualified individual.
“Scott has an incredible ability to take very complex topics and challenges that many different entities are involved in and figure out a pathway forward that works for all,” said Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “The level of collaboration that people in Summit County are accustomed to is a real strength of Scott’s. He is incredibly woven into the community and knows Summit County and the people of Summit County quite well. And man, does he do his homework.”
Even so, challenges lie ahead for the county and for its new county manager come July. Solving the predicaments of affordable housing for the local workforce, driving down the cost of health care and issues surrounding early child care are those Davidson pointed to as the most substantial facing the county today and into the future. Vargo, he noted, has been closely tied to each of them during his tenure.
“If you think about big three that challenge local working families,” said Davidson, “he has been intimately involved for a number of years representing Summit County government. And he’s really kind of moved the needle on all three of them.”
Vargo has served on various commissions and boards through the years, in this case including those of Early Childhood Options/Head Start and the CARE Council. For the latter, he functioned as the person who oversaw and negotiated support for the Summit Community Care Clinic in Frisco, which has served a medically underserved population in the county since 1993.
“We’re trying to come up with, ‘How can we reduce overall cost of care within Summit County and affect pricing?’” he said of the ongoing regional health-care dilemma. “I think we might make some headway in those areas and hopefully provide some relief for the folks that are living in Summit County.
“In terms of housing,” he added, “certainly the county is very much involved in trying to address that issue. The availability of workforce housing is not going to go away overnight. We know that, we understand that it’s going to have to be a strong, concerted effort.”
He originally moved to Colorado from Minnesota in 1994 with his then-fiancée-now-wife Jody shortly after completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Minnesota. He said he has learned plenty from his education, his previous positions with the county as well as from his predecessor that will help inform his decision-making in the new role.
Although Vargo said his style of management is slightly different from Martinez’s, he doesn’t anticipate any radical shifts in the delivery of services for residents or how county business is conducted. It will still remain about the people.
“Interpersonal interaction and understanding why people are doing what they’re doing, at least to some limited degree, is an incredible benefit as you try to lead an organization, or lead a group, or lead a project for that matter,” said Vargo. “What makes people tick and why maybe they do what they do was certainly invaluable to me.”
A single lane of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon will reopen this evening to traffic led in alternating directions by pilot vehicles, the Colorado Department of Transportation said late Sunday afternoon.
However, the road will be fully closed again at 9 a.m. Monday for more safety work and will be open for only limited hours for the next several days, CDOT communications director Amy Ford said in a media briefing late Sunday afternoon.
The road had been closed because of a rockslide since the evening of Monday, Feb. 15, the longest such closure in the history of I-70 through the canyon.
CDOT planned to start the pilot car operation at about 6 p.m. Sunday, close the road at 9 a.m. Monday and then resume the pilot vehicle operation again at 4 p.m. Monday, Ford said.
The plan for a few days — CDOT can’t say yet precisely how long — will be for pilot vehicles to lead traffic through between 4 p.m. and 9 a.m. Under the plan, the road will be fully closed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to allow more rock removal and longer-term rockfall mitigation work.
“People driving through there will see a lot of rock still on the roadway” that must be blasted to break apart and hauled away, Ford said. Additional fencing will be erected, and helicopters will be flying in equipment during the day.
The reopening is tenuous, and bad weather, such as the rain and snow forecast early in the week, could result in additional closures, according to Ford and David Eller, CDOT Region 3 program engineer.
Ford said CDOT crews brought down about 400 tons of rock in the past week after a major rockslide at about 9 p.m. Feb. 15 severely damaged the road, forcing the closure.
Ford said crews on Sunday finished clearing a “rock nest” that was of major concern. Workers broke up three boulders of 2 to 5 tons each on Sunday, allowing the agency to feel confident enough about safety to approve the limited reopening.
For the pilot car operation, east and westbound traffic will be led in alternating fashion by pilot cars through a six-mile zone on a single eastbound lane between the Grizzly Creek Rest Area and the east side of the Hanging Lake Tunnels.
The pilot car operation is likely to be in place for several days as CDOT crews continue to assess the extent of damage and begin to make repairs. The damage has been estimated in the range of $2 million to $5 million.
When pilot cars are running, eastbound I-70 traffic will be down to one lane from Exit 116 in Glenwood Springs to the Grizzly Creek Rest Area, where a pilot car will lead traffic for six miles through the rockfall area, CDOT Region 3 spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said.
Westbound traffic will go to one lane at the Bair Ranch Rest Area (mile marker 129) and will meet the pilot car just east of the Hanging Lake Tunnels, she said.
Vehicles longer than 10 feet will not be permitted on the road during the pilot car operations, Ford said.
Motorists should still expect up to hour-long delays getting through the canyon while the pilot cars are operating, especially during peak times when CDOT sees around 300 vehicles per hour pass through Glenwood Canyon.
The other eastbound lane may appear to motorists to be driveable, but will be closed to the public and reserved for highway crews and emergency access. So, people are asked to not get out of their cars and walk around while waiting for the pilot car.
“We want to encourage people to remain safe and stay in their cars,” Trulove said.
After the interstate is reopened to free-flowing traffic, it is likely to be limited to two-way, head-to-head traffic in the eastbound lanes for a period of time while repairs are being made to the elevated westbound section. Motorists should also expect occasional delays as permanent rockfall mitigation work continues, Ford said.
While the road is closed during workdays, cross-state motorists are still asked to take one of two detour routes around Glenwood Canyon, to the north via U.S. 40 and state Highways 13 and Highway 9, and to the south via U.S. Routes 50, 24 and 285. I-70 remains open to local traffic only between Glenwood Springs and Rifle and east of the canyon between Dotsero and Wolcott.
Last week’s closure is the longest to date of I-70 through the canyon. The previous longest such incident was in March 2010, when the road was closed for three days.
“I think the sheer amount and type of rock coming down” was the reason for the length of the closure, Ford said. “It turned into a more continuous event given the nature of rock scaling that was necessary. The others had something similar but more of a first incident and then it was cleanup and repair.”
The 12-mile stretch of canyon east of Glenwood Springs has been closed since the area just west of the Hanging Lake Tunnels was hit by two rockslides on Feb. 15. The second slide did extensive damage to the road, particularly the elevated westbound lanes, which have a gaping hole through the deck.
Lesser rockfall occurred through the week, including a small slide farther west on Thursday morning that knocked out electrical power in No Name. High winds, rain and sleet Thursday slowed work to remove loose rocks that appeared to be in danger of falling.
The massive amount of rock that fell or was intentionally removed from the canyon wall will have a future life, Eller said, either as riprap or by contractors for various projects.
It’s time for this town’s over-the-hill gang to show off their stuff.
On Monday and Tuesday — oh, and don’t forget the carb-loading pasta kickoff dinner tonight — the annual Summit County 50+ Winter Gamescomes to the Frisco Nordic Center and Keystone’s NASTAR slalom course. Now in its 36th year, the games features typical winter events like giant slalom, figure skating and various Nordic events (there’s even a biathlon), plus a few oddities like the hockey goal shoot, an alpine skiing rally race and the infamous snowball throw.
Registration is open for all events today from 4-8 p.m. at the Summit County Senior and Community Center, found at 83 Nancy’s Place just past Frisco on the way to Breckenridge. The opening night dinner and silent auction fundraiser begin at 4 p.m. to raise cash for senior programs across the country.
The 50+ Games is something of a ritual for Summit residents in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Folks come from every corner of the state and country to compete, like Minnesota native Dick Hawley and his wife, Claudia. The Hawleys first competed five years ago when their good friends, Breckenridge locals and longtime 50+ Games coordinators, Steve and Sandy Bainbridge, basically told them they had no other choice.
“Steve said to me, ‘Well Dick, I’ve got you entered in a race,’” the 69-year-old Hawley remembered from his first time competing in 2011. “So I said, ‘This is my first time out (this season) and you’ve been ski instructing. You must want to beat me bad.’”
That’s all it took to get Hawley hooked on the 50+ Games, and he now makes the annual February trip with his wife to compete. This season he’ll do his usual events: the ice skating race, hockey shoot, giant slalom and obstacle course, all held the first day of competition on Monday at Keystone.
“I’ve met a lot of other people from Summit County and across the country just coming into town to have a good time,” Hawley said. “It’s just very social and very friendly, and for us that’s nice. We’re no longer just locked in a room. We have people we can meet up with.”
SLALOM AND ICE
After the $15 opening night dinner tonight — rumor has it they’ll serve lasagna — competition gets underway with skiing and ice events at Keystone. The day starts with hockey and ice skate events at 9 a.m., held at Keystone Lake outside of the Keystone Lakeside Village. The lake is a true outdoor venue, and for a Minnesota native like Hawley that means a taste of home during the ice shoot — even if people come out in tennis shoes.
“You don’t even have to have skates to do that one,” Hawley said. “You just need shoes and a hockey stick and good aim. It’s not too strenuous — you get lots of people involved in it. People both encourage and heckle each other standing around.”
Good-natured heckling is part and parcel of the 50+ Games, Hawley said. Things never get too competitive, but he still likes going head-to-head with the Bainbridges and anyone else on the GS course. After all, what’s life without a little friendly competition?
“I like to think I’m a good skier,” Hawley said. “I’ve spent time skiing with Minnesota ski instructors and they like to get competitive. It’s just fun, you know?”
ON THE TRACK
Tuesday takes the 50+ Games to the west side of Summit for Nordic skiing and those odd events at the Frisco Nordic Center. Hawley doesn’t do the Nordic races — yet — but they’re how Joyce Bearse fell in love with the games. Well, after she finished a 5K she only thought was a 2.5K in the 70-75 age division.
“I didn’t get off the course when I was supposed to get off, so I won gold by accident,” Bearce said with a laugh. “Like I say, this is really just fun for me.”
Bearce will be back this year for the ice skate (a race of three laps around a course on the lake) and two Nordic races, the 2.5K and the relay. Teams are picked on the spot to make things fair across the board, and it fast becomes one of the most social events.
“I’ve met a lot of people who do it and we have a great time getting together for it,” Bearce said of the Nordic races and games. “There are a couple of serious groups that participate, but a lot of us just head out to have a good time.”
It’s why organizers have events like the obstacle race — an event held on Nordic skis with barriers like logs — and the snowball toss, like a winter version of dunk-the-clown with snowballs, targets and, unfortunately, no clowns.
The biathlon is a favorite for veteran sharpshooters, like first-time competitor Bill Handley. He’s a 65-year-old Breckenridge second-home owner who retired from the military and settled in Florida. His background with the U.S. Army Reserves means he has the chops to do just fine with a rifle — as long as the skis don’t get in the way.
“I figure I can make up for any skiing deficiency with my shooting,” Handley said. “I haven’t done it consistently in a long time, but I’ve probably shot a half-million rounds in my life. I just want to finish the biathlon without falling.”
Vacation rentals have been the centerpiece of several local discussions about housing, between a growing shortage in living spaces available to the workforce and a growing spotlight on the “sharing economy.” But just how much have vacation rentals grown in Summit County, an area historically populated by VRBOs prior to the recent spike nationwide?
“Certainly vacation rentals have grown,” said Mark Waldman, owner of Summit Mountain Rentals. “But it’s only growing as fast as the units grow.”
Nationwide, the number of available vacation rental units has increased astronomically in recent years, with 340 million rentable nights available in 2012, according to a study of U.S. vacation rentals from 2009 to 2014 by travel market research company PhoCusWright.
The same study reported that the rentals account for more than one-fifth of the U.S. lodging industry, though inventory has grown faster than demand. According to statistics from HomeAway on vacation rental trends, the market was up 25 percent and at a post-recession high as of 2014.
Summit, however, is in a unique position, with growth hemmed in by the available space between the mountains. With just a handful of hotels throughout the county, vacation rentals have historically accounted for a significant chunk of the lodging industry.
“In Breckenridge and Summit County, it can’t grow that much,” Waldman said. “It can only grow by the number of units built, and not that many new units have been built. … Unlike other areas, it’s the primary source of occupancy for tourists.”
His company manages about 3,000 reservations, or about 15,000 guests per year, helping clean homes and market rentals for a commission.
One area of growth within the county was summer rentals, with the less-traveled season becoming more popular to visitors in recent years.
“Our summer is growing great,” Waldman said. “In the winter, it’s hard to determine if demand has increased or if customers are willing to pay more.”
Breckenridge financial services manager Brian Waldes commented on the industry’s unremarkable growth in the area, noting that the town had not seen a large increase in the number of licenses in the past year.
“Over half of our lodging is homes,” he said. “That’s always been a huge part of the lodging equation in Breckenridge.”
According to a June 2015 report by the Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST), vacation rentals accounted for 41 percent of Breckenridge’s total estimated units, with 2,911 vacation rental listings and 7,187 estimated units in the town. In Frisco, vacation rentals contributed to just six percent, with 184 listings for 3,167 total estimated units. However, Frisco just requires one business license for vacation rental management companies, as opposed to each property.
Regardless, Frisco saw an increase in tax collections from vacation rentals between 2010 and 2014, up from 28 to 31 percent of all lodging sales tax collections.
Frisco revenue specialist Chad Most said that of 1,000 active sales tax accounts in the town, about 20 percent were registered as vacation rentals (202 active licenses). Of those, about 180 were for individual property owners, and 22 for property management firms.
“I would say also that our business is growing. It’s not leaps and bounds but it’s growing,” said Scott Wilson, co-owner of Twin Season Vacation Rentals, a smaller management company. “It’s waxed and waned over the years. In terms of a general trend, we’re not seeing a big change in the number of people who are investing in second homes here.”
THE SHARING EXPLOSION
“Vacation rentals, in a very real sense, started in Breckenridge,” Waldman explained. “The people who founded VRBO were trying to rent their unit in Breckenridge.”
Several years later, during the recession, vacation rentals started to pick up national attention.
“This may sound strange, but I think the recession was one of the big catalysts for the sharing economy,” said Adam Sherry, co-founder of Evolve Vacation Rental Network, a Denver-based rental management company. Evolve works with more than 1,500 homeowners across the country, recently starting with just over 50 in Summit County. “We’re sort of a counter-cyclical business in a lot of ways. The worse the economy gets, the more people need and want to rent out their homes.”
He added that nationwide, the vacation rental model started to take off within the last year.
“Now it’s sort of drafting on the excitement that’s been around the share economy,” he added.
For vacationers, renting out a private residence is an increasingly appealing option nationwide. According to HomeAway, the largest segment of growth is with the younger crowd, travelers ages 18-44; more than half of all rental travelers are between the ages of 25 and 44.
While the majority of visitors (78 percent) still prefer hotels, just over half of vacation-rental users are “cross-over hotel customers.” In 2014, 52 percent of vacation rental users considered a hotel first.
According to PhoCusWright, the top three reasons travelers considered vacation rentals were the home-like amenities (58 percent), added room or space (49 percent) and value for their money (47 percent). Vacation rentals are especially appealing to larger groups with longer stays, with the average rental stay at 5.8 nights.
For homeowners, the reason for renting comes down to more than money.
“We have found that, in essence, it’s never really the money,” Waldman said. “Money is always the first question, but it’s really the last reason (homeowners) choose a company.“
According to HomeAway, 77 percent of vacation-home buyers said they planned to rent their future properties short-term. The top motivations were not the profit, but low real-estate prices and a personal or family retreat.
“You don’t buy up here to rent. You buy up here to vacation,” Waldman added. “In Summit County, if you own a second home, I have yet to meet anyone who really has to rent it to afford to own it.”
Cynthia Wilson, co-owner of Twin Season Vacation Rentals, said that while homeowners will not make a profit off of vacation rentals, it can help offset the cost of mortgages, HOA fees, taxes and insurance.
“There was a time in the ‘70s, ‘80s, where they could make a profit,” she said. “But for various reason, it’s harder to make a profit. But they can offset their costs.”
The typical profile of a short-term rental owner is a second-home owner, who lives in the Midwest and uses their vacation home in Breckenridge five weeks per year.
“For us, its been particularly interesting because I would say about 60 percent or even more of our clients are first-time renters,” Sherry said. “Some just bought the property and want to put it on the rental market. Some have owned it, maybe even for generations, and haven’t thought about it.”
TAXATION AND REGULATION
In Summit County, homeowners looking to rent out their home short-term (less than 30 days) are required to register as a business, paying sales and lodging taxes. So far, local governments have been able to enforce taxation for most renters, with 99 percent of units estimated to be in compliance in Breckenridge, according to 2011 statistics from CAST.
“We’re scanning VRBO sites and Airbnb. We compare addresses with property tax schedules. We are out there looking,” Waldes said. “Breckenridge does have an audit program. We do scan through those things.”
While most will give homeowners an initial warning, each town indicated that they were on the lookout for those not in compliance. Other cities outside of the state, such as San Francisco, have succeeded in obtaining millions in back-taxes from vacation rental sites.
“I spend 2-3 weeks of every year trolling these websites and contacting folks,” Most said. “We get 2-5 calls per week for folks voluntarily coming into compliance.”
Communities statewide are also determining the best way to ensure vacation rentals have a minimal impact on neighborhoods, between managing parking and maintenance.
“We’re looking at how many people should be allowed in short-term rentals for safety,” town manager Bill Efting said. “They’re not all having issues. But some are parking three cars on the lawn, having a bonfire in middle of street… it’s crazy stuff.”
The shortage in workforce housing has also been a focus of the discussion around short-term rentals. While some long-term rentals may have been converted into vacation rentals, the number is difficult to track.
“I think that there have been some long-term rentals turned into vacation rentals, there’s no doubt about that,” Efting said. “But that’s not the only factor. There’s more construction, more business, busy ski areas. It all adds to housing shortage, it’s not just one thing.”
In Breckenridge’s property database, long-term rentals have held steady at nine to 10 percent of all housing inventory, despite fluctuations with new construction and conversion into vacation rentals, according to CAST.
In a few cases, there have been properties converted from short-term to long-term rentals, for a number of reasons.
“I do field maybe one or two calls per month of folks who said we tried short-term rentals but long-term rentals are more stable,” Most said. “Sometimes, more stable revenue is nice for some folks.”
The biggest benefits to long-term rentals include fewer maintenance fees, management fees and potentially more reliable tenants as well.
“There are lots of barriers for (short-term rentals),” Waldman said. “The biggest barrier is you have to furnish the property. And you have to furnish it nice.”
While there is certainly a correlation between the rise of the sharing economy and vacation rentals, Waldes added it might not necessarily be the primary driver of the housing shortage.
“(Housing) has always been an issue; it’s kind of coming to a crux,” he said. “There’s a correlation but I don’t know if that’s the cause.”