Originally published July 14, 2014 in The Aspen Daily News

Annual Bash for the Buddies raises more than $800,000

As storm clouds moved over Shadow Mountain Thursday afternoon, nearly 400 people made their way into a large white tent at Marolt Open Space for the annual Bash for the Buddies fundraising event.

A woman on stilts and a man in a stuffed horse costume greeted guests as they passed their car keys off to the valet. Inside the tent, a man wearing a long coat, Stetson hat and carrying what looked like a rifle primed the crowd.

“You can’t just look at the pretty girls,” the announcer said referring to the cocktail servers wearing short western dresses distributing shots. “It’s time to put your name to the paper and buy something.”

The announcer was referring to the more than 100 products scattered across rows of tables in the center of one of the tents. Each item on display had a sheet of paper with the product’s retail value at the top and a list of prices with blank lines next to them for people to place bids in a silent auction.

“Your name doesn’t sign itself,” the announcer said.

Within an hour of the event’s opening, five people had placed a bid for a Stella McCartney pink leather clutch that retailed for $895.

“It’s beautiful,” said one woman wearing a floor-length dress to her friend in a bustier and high-heels.

A few rows over, a crowd surrounded a table with five 2-foot-tall, fiberglass dinosaurs. The dinosaurs were created by the renowned Chinese artist Sui Jianguo. Three people had bid up to $2,600 for the pink dinosaur. Nearby, another crowd surrounded a display showcasing about 30 Hermes diamond-encrusted watches.

The Hermes watches weren’t up for auction, they were just a sponsor, explained Chelsea Dillon, the event’s party planner.

In the next room, a bartender and longtime Aspen local poured whiskey over ice. It was the man’s 12th year working at the Bash for the Buddies party.

“This is one of the smaller ones,” he said as he looked across 40 white dinner tables at a band setting up their instruments on stage.

From 20 to 1,000

In 1973, Aspenite Gregg Anderson started a nonprofit under the name “The Aspen Big Brother Big Sister Program.” The organization’s goal was to create mentor partnerships with Aspen youth, and it began by pairing around 20 adults with children. There was no staff, no formal organization and no budget.

In the past 41 years, however, the organization has grown.

The nonprofit’s name was changed to The Buddy Program, and last year the program served 973 youth and their families with 125 adult mentors. Some high-school age buddies also serve as mentors to younger kids.

The nonprofit’s success is largely due to the amount of money organizers raise during a race held every Fourth of July and the annual Bash for the Buddies summer party.

In 2012 — the most recent year The Buddy Program’s tax documents were available — the Bash for the Buddies brought in $720,179 and the Fourth of July race raised $69,478. The party raised about 39 percent of its revenue during the live and silent auctions.

Although numbers haven’t been finalized yet, The Buddy Program Executive Director David Houggy said Thursday’s event raised between $800,000 and $900,000.

Most of The Buddy Program’s revenue goes back into throwing parties, paying salaries and funding operational costs, according to the organization’s 2012 tax documents.

That year, the race and Buddy Bash collectively cost $387,911 and Houggy earned $92,001 excluding any annual bonuses, while the former director Catherine Provine, who resigned from the position in February that year, made $23,788. The biggest operational expense was paying the nonprofit’s 22 additional employees — 11 who were full time. Their salaries collectively cost the nonprofit $518,750.

Jordan Curet/Aspen Daily News Tina Staley and Gael Neeson, both of Aspen, bid on a vintage bicycle in the silent auction at the Bash for the Buddies at the Marolt Open Space on Thursday evening. More than 100 products were auctioned for the annual fundraising event.

The majority of the budget goes to paying its employees, because each staffer serves as a case manager who does more than just match adult mentors with youth, Houggy explained. Each case manager checks in with about 30 to 40 youth — also known as “buddies” — and they follow up with each family an average of 24 times a year to ensure the buddy is performing well in school and is living in a healthy, nurturing environment. If the youth is having problems at home or at school, the case manager will arrange for counseling.

“It’s social services basically,” Houggy said.

That personal attention case managers give to the youth is why Houggy thinks the average buddy is partnered with an adult mentor for 4.4 years. The average at the nationwide nonprofit Big Brothers, Big Sisters is under two years, according to Houggy.

Meanwhile, in 2012 the nonprofit ran a $74,854 deficit (total expenses were $1.06 million, and the organization raised $986,870 in revenues). The nonprofit had an operating deficit last year as well, Houggy said. Despite operating at a loss, by the end of the year, the nonprofit’s total net assets were $1.59 million due to an endowment fund.

“Because we have this fund, we are able to continue to invest in our programs and the youth of our valley on a consistent basis, and take a longer-term approach to our finances,” Houggy wrote in an e-mail. “This is particularly important because unlike some nonprofits we have no earned income (i.e., ticket sales, product revenue) and count on donations and grants for all of our support, and we provide all of our services to our nearly 1,000 families completely free of charge.”

For the children

In 2012, only about 4.5 percent of the nonprofit’s revenue went directly to youth.

The organization raised $986,870 in total revenues that year — of which $50,500 came from government grants — but only $44,861 was distributed directly to local children. The Buddy Program gave out $34,900 in scholarships to 16 students, which averages out to about $2,181 per student. The program also distributed $9,961 to 116 students for what the tax documents defined as “extra curricular assistance for buddies.”

This year, Houggy said The Buddy Program awarded $38,600 to 34 high school seniors who participated in the program. Seven students who received scholarships were the first generation in their families to attend college, he said. Scholarship amounts range from $250 to $4,000.

Part of the reason the percentage is low is because the program’s goal is to provide case workers to manage relationships between the adult mentors, youth and their families, Houggy said.

“We don’t give out cash,” he said. “We’re providing services.”

The price of premium seats

As the silent auction ended on Thursday, people made their way into the dining room where two buffet lines served food from the Hickory House and Caribou Catering.

This year, a premium “Honky-Tonkin’ Host Table” with 12 seats went for $25,000 — or about $2,083 a person. There was also a $15,000 “Wild West Table,” a $12,000 “Cowboy Table” and a $1,000 table with preferred seating for one.

The nonprofit sold 19 tables — half of which were bought as entire tables and the other half were tables filled with individual attendees, according to Houggy. He didn’t have a final count of how much money was made on table sales alone, he said.

As people found their seats, the bar closed and an auctioneer took the stage to begin the party’s live auction.

“We do a lot for these kids,” the auctioneer reminded the audience.

During the half-hour live auction, a Los Cabos vacation was auctioned off for $35,000 after a four-night trip to New York featuring a private tour of the Whitney Museum of American Art with artist Jeff Koons sold for $9,000. The live auction culminated with a “Give to Give” paddle-raising event, where bidders raised their paddle to donate random amounts of money to the program.

After the last bid, the auctioneer thanked the audience, the bar reopened and a band took the stage. At around 11 p.m. they finished their set to cheers from the small crowd that remained. Before ending the night, the band came back on stage to play one more song — Journey’s rock-and-roll classic “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on Monday, August 18, 2014

Although Aspen local Tejay van Garderen is the favorite to win this year’s USA Pro Challenge, anyone could ultimately take the podium.

That’s the message top cyclists gave the public during a press conference on Sunday marking the start of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge. The seven-day race takes the peloton of professional cyclists across more than 500 miles and up 40,000 feet of mountainous Colorado terrain.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to predict who will win the race, because the pro challenge has such variety in its stages and that can favor different athletes on different legs, said Tom Danielson, a 36-year-old American cyclist, who recently won the Tour of Utah. The seven- stage race is made up of circuit races, time trials and point-to-point races over Colorado passes.

Van Garderen won the race last year and is favored to win this year. Still, van Garderen agreed with Danielson.

“Any day could be decisive,” van Garderen said.

Race organizers need to partner with professional cyclists to create race courses, said Jens Voigt, a 42-year-old professional cyclist from Germany. Voigt is the oldest man competing professionally and plans to retire after this season.

Races that cover extreme distances aren’t necessarily fun to watch or to compete in, because they can be too long before the race becomes competitive, he said.

“The commentators don’t know what to say, because nothing happens,” Voigt joked.

“We can only go so hard, for so long,” said Michael Rogers, a pro cyclist from Australia. Rogers added that he doesn’t want professional cycling to become like test cricket, where matches can last up to five days.

The pro challenge does a good job of keeping the stages short, challenging and different each day, Rogers said.

Meanwhile, van Garderen said he’s happy the race is starting in Aspen.

“It’s pretty cool to start in your hometown,” he said.

Van Garderen has been home for about two weeks. Before that, he was traveling after competing in the Tour de France where he took fifth place. Since he’s been home, he’s been training.

Shawn Hunter, CEO of the pro challenge, said Aspen essentially serves as an anchor for the race and will host stages in the future.

“You can pretty much count Aspen as being in every iteration,” he said.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 16, 2014

$5 million endowment would be first in the 49-year history of local nonprofit

Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA) launched a campaign to raise a $5 million endowment this week in an effort to secure the organization’s financial future.

MRA is made up of about 50 volunteer members, who are trained to perform technical rescues in the backcountry. The organization is an arm of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, and is called on in search, rescue and recovery situations.

Since the all-volunteer organization officially started in 1965, it hasn’t had an endowment, said Doug Paley, vice president of MRA. An endowment would provide funding for four items essential to the organization, he said.

First, it would pay for insurance if members get injured during a rescue and it would provide a member’s family with benefits in the case of a death.

There’s an inherent risk associated in performing backcountry rescues, and that’s why it’s important that MRA members have financial backing in the worst case scenario, Paley said.

“The most important thing for us is to protect our members,” Paley said. “And we just haven’t had the funds to take care of them in the past.”

The point is particularly timely this summer, Paley noted. On Aug. 6, two MRA members were hospitalized after a climber triggered a rock slide that sent trash-can-sized boulders down on them while they were recovering a body near Capitol Peak.

“It would provide [members] with protection that mirrors the risk they take,” he said of the endowment’s insurance fund.

Funding also would go toward enhancing training. In order to perform rescues, members have to be trained in a variety of disciplines, including areas like emergency medicine, trigonometry and advanced rock climbing techniques, Paley said.

“What we deal with is incredibly sophisticated,” he said. “It’s not cookie cutter — we’re solving problems based on what the environment offers us.”

After taking the logo off the exterior, Mountain Rescue Aspen  members this week pack up the contents of the cabin on Main Street that has been their headquarters since 1965. The volunteer search and rescue organization is moving to a new headquarters on Highway 82 near the airport, and is launching a campaign to raise a $5 million endowment.

Those training courses take a lot of time, effort and expertise. An endowment would not only help pay for those courses, but it also would help pay for new gear that members use during rescues.

The endowment would help fund public education efforts on how best to prepare for traveling in the backcountry. MRA offers avalanche awareness courses in the winter and distributes pamphlets with tips on traveling in the backcountry.

“We really believe that through public awareness and education, we can prevent a lot of problems,” Paley said.

Finally, it would pay the utility bills at the new MRA headquarters along Highway 82 near the airport. MRA has operated out of a 3,500-square-foot cabin off of Main Street since 1965, and in recent years the organization raised $5 million to pay for the land and construction of the new facility, which includes a 45-foot-tall training tower. The new 13,000-square-foot headquarters also will serve as a functional dispatch center, incident command post and emergency management location as a back-up for the sheriff’s office.

“We are very much dependent on this to support our operation, which is minimal” in terms of its expenses, Paley said.

He noted that the nonprofit’s bylaws explicitly state that the organization cannot have any salaried employees. That rule is unlikely to change, he added.

The organization will hold its first fundraiser on Sept. 1 during the opening of the nonprofit’s new headquarters.

MRA leases its current space on Main Street from the city. The lease will end in October. The organization held its last meeting there last Monday. After the lease ends, city officials are considering temporarily moving municipal offices to the old MRA headquarters, but the issue will go before Aspen City Council before a final decision is made, according to Barry Crook, assistant city manager.

People interested in making a donation to MRA can email support@mountainrescueaspen.org or contact Paley directly at (970) 710-1044.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 15, 2014

Until about a week ago, I never considered traveling to the Pennsylvania countryside for a vacation.

I had only visited the state once before on an eighth grade class field trip to Philadelphia. It was January and I distinctly remember how in awe I was of Independence Hall — where I incorrectly assumed the movie “1776” was filmed — and how unimpressed I was of the Liberty Bell.

Since, I considered the trip satisfying enough to check off Pennsylvania on my bucket list of places to visit and figured any further curiosity about the area could easily be satisfied by watching an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” In short, I never expected to visit the state again.

Those plans changed about six months ago when a close friend I met while living in Aspen in my early 20s announced her engagement to a Pittsburgh local. The wedding would take place in August in her home state of Pennsylvania, naturally.

While I was happy for my friend’s newfound love, I was less than thrilled about the idea of traveling to Pittsburgh for a wedding. A place known as the Steel City doesn’t exactly ring “destination wedding” in my mind, I thought.

But, the main thing about weddings is that the event is not about you, unless of course you’re the one getting hitched. So I sucked it up, booked my ticket and planned to experience Pennsylvania for the first time since I was 13.

The wedding was held at the Oak Lodge in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, which is about an hour drive southeast of Pittsburgh. The highlands are located in the Allegheny Mountains, which have the highest peaks in Pennsylvania.

To my surprise, the Laurel Highlands have a lot of similar outdoor activities that Coloradoans love. The area is popular for hiking, mountain biking, hunting, trout fishing, wildlife viewing and leaf peeping. There are even a few ski hills in the area — although they resemble Fanny Hill more than Ridge of Bell.

The lodge where the wedding took place is on 800 acres surrounded by farms and agriculture and includes a tavern, 18th century village, log chapel and reception hall.

To get there, party-goers took a 20 minute shuttle through Pennsylvania’s rolling hills. As I looked out the window, I was surprised by how lush and pristine the area was. It reminded me of an article I recently read in the New York Times. The story, titled “Neighbors Say Barn Weddings Raise a Rumpus,” said the number of weddings taking place in rustic areas like barns are on the rise much to the chagrin of neighbors.

The modest log chapel was in the middle of a dense forest. The venue had a warm, comforting vibe as if we were traveling to a chapel where characters in fairytales and Disney movies wed.

The owners also produce bottles of maple syrup on the property — something I didn’t actually witness firsthand during the wedding, but I could believe based on the surroundings.

The day following the wedding, we ate brunch at the nearby Stone Tavern and Restaurant, where a fresh arugula salmon salad cost a mere $12. My friends and I noted, the benefit of having a wedding in the middle of nowhere is how affordable the food and lodging tends to be.

As I learned more about the area and the trails I could be exploring, I realized I should have taken a longer vacation. I had only given myself enough time to go to the wedding and have lunch before I had to get back to the airport. Even so, the experience – lovely, affordable and truly ideal – was enough to make me want me to visit again.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News August 15, 2014

Study to serve as baseline data if drilling occurs

A new study released Thursday indicates that water in the area surrounding the Thompson Divide is uncontaminated by chemicals.

The data is intended to serve as a baseline for future studies if oil and gas companies develop in the Thompson Divide. The Thompson Divide encompasses 221,000 acres of relatively pristine federal land outside of Carbondale where oil and gas companies are making moves to drill. The study was performed by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, analyzed by Dr. Robert Moran of Golden and commissioned by the Thompson Divide Coalition, a nonprofit made up of a range of stakeholders in the area.

The samples were taken around the Fourmile Creek and Thompson Creek watersheds. The first samples were taken between September 2009 and August 2010 and a second sampling was taken last year between February and October.

The samples indicate that the water in the area is cold and highly oxygenated, with minimal amounts of sediment and low concentrations of dissolved chemicals.

“In short, the water quality of both studies show that they are very high quality waters,” Moran said. “There is no evidence of industrial development at all either organic or inorganic.”

It’s unusual for communities to collect water quality data before development occurs in an area, Moran said. Typically, oil and gas companies will test waters surrounding oil and gas wells after drilling has already begun, he said.

“There’s a general trend in the conduction of water sampling, and it is for industry to be collecting their own samples,” Moran said. “That creates a lot of dissent among groups.”

The study, which is funded by the coalition, can be useful in the future if development occurs, he said.

Zane Kessler, executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, hopes the baseline study will serve as a disincentive for oil and gas companies to develop in the area, he said.

“We are working as hard as possible to prevent oil and gas development,” Kessler said.

In April, the Bureau of Land Management announced it would grant a two-year extension on 25 leases in the Thompson Divide area as the federal agency drafts an environmental impact statement to address National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) deficiencies identified by the Interior Board of Land Appeals for 65 leases on the Western Slope.

Two oil and gas companies — SG Interests and Ursa Resources Group — have pending development proposals that will not be analyzed by the Forest Service and BLM until the EIS is completed. Continuing the suspension of the leases pauses the 10-year deadline leaseholders have to begin developing the sites.

“The [Thompson Divide Coalition] is making sure the BLM considers these findings in their review,” Kessler said.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 15, 2014

A developer who has invested in a dozen commercial properties in downtown Aspen is hoping his tenants will pay higher lease rates to rent his commercial spaces, Randy Gold, an appraiser for Aspen Appraisal Group, said Thursday at a real estate symposium.

Since 2010, developer Mark Hunt invested approximately $80 million into 12 commercial properties, which add up to about 100,000 square feet of space in Aspen, according to Gold.

“It’s hard to talk about commercial sales without talking about Mark Hunt,” Gold said during the Aspen/Snowmass State of the Real Estate and Tourism Economy Symposium presented by B.J. Adams & Co.

“He probably would agree he overpaid for everything he bought,” Gold said.

Gold added that Hunt probably will be in Aspen for the longterm and in 5-10 years his purchases will likely have been very smart plays.

One way commercial buildings are valued is by using an equation called the capitalization rate, which is the ratio of the amount of net income a building generates divided by the sale price of the building. The capitalization rate for commercial buildings in Aspen has trended down over the past few years and it is currently around 4 to 6 percent, Gold said. That is an extremely low value, he noted, adding that the more investors pay for buildings, the higher rents they need to charge.

Generally, if a business were paying $200 per square foot for a 1,500-square-foot space, it would have to make $3 million or more in gross sales for it to be a prudent decision, he said.

“These are huge rents,” Gold said.

Michael Adams, President of BJ Adams and Company, takes a historical look at the trends of real estate inventory and sales during the State of the Aspen/Snowmass Real Estate Market at the Aspen Institute on Thursday afternoon.

He speculated that most businesses paying that kind of rent are not generating the sales to justify it. Despite that, Aspen’s commercial buildings are likely a good investment in part because business owners don’t necessarily make the right decisions.

“There are a lot of tenants that don’t make prudent decisions,” he said.

That’s particularly true in Aspen, because the resort town has a history of attracting international luxury brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Prada, which can afford to take a loss for a few years in exchange for having a store-front in Aspen. If a business moves out, another one can replace it, he added.

“There’s always someone in line,” Gold said after his presentation. “We’ve always had that phenomenon.”

Gold noted the businesses that can afford to take the loss are not local “mom and pop shops.”

He added that about 45 percent of commercial real estate in downtown Aspen is controlled by five owners, which makes the market stable.

As for the residential market, more multimillion-dollar, single-family homes are likely to come on the market in the next few months, because buyers have purchased 70 vacant properties in the past three years and some are going to be developed by speculators into single-family homes. There are usually only about one to three single-family home sales above $20 million a year in Aspen, Gold noted.

B.J. Adams noted at the beginning of Thursday’s symposium that the event was created four years ago in response to the Great Recession, which hit the local real estate economy particularly hard. The symposium was created in an effort to contribute to the community’s understanding of the local real estate economy.

“We were flying so high in ’08, we didn’t see the recession coming,” Adams said.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 12, 2014

Aspen Skiing Co.’s Power of Four summer race series has grown since the first event was held four years ago, so much so that it’s being considered for the international stage.

The Power of Four summer race series consists of a mountain bike race, which covers 36 miles of terrain gaining 9,000 vertical feet, and a 50-kilometer trail running race, covering more than 31 miles and nearly 10,000 feet of vertical gain. Both races cross each of SkiCo’s four ski mountains, including Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk Mountains. The bike race is in its fourth year and the trail race is in its second. The bike race was held Aug. 2 and the foot race was on Aug. 3.

This year, SkiCo saw about a 25 percent increase in the number of participants competing in both races, according to Deric Gunshor, senior event marketing manager for SkiCo.

“We’re seeing about 25 percent growth, year after year,” Gunshor said.

About 120 cyclists competed in the bike race, which is up from last year when about 100 racers competed. The trail race had 100 participants, which was up from last year when about 75 people registered to compete.

With participation on the rise, SkiCo is trying to build the brand and draw more elite athletes to compete.

“Both races have tremendous potential to be iconic races in the area,” Gunshor said.

SkiCo is currently trying to get the Power of Four Trail 50K included in the Skyrunning World Series, which is a race governed by the International Skyrunning Federation. “Skyrunning” is a term for the extreme sport of running above 6,600 feet where the incline exceeds 30 percent.

The Skyrunner World Series is an annual international championship series that includes between six and eight races in at least five different countries. Racers receive points for their placement, and points are doubled in the final race. At the end of the season, points are totaled and the racer with the most is declared champion.

The Power of Four Trail 50K is an ideal candidate for the series because of the steep terrain covered throughout the course, Gunshor said.

“I think it would be a good fit for our race,” he said.

There is no formal bid process to host the race, but Gunshor has been having conversations with the director of the event. A decision will be made after this year’s Skyrunning World Series ends, most likely in the winter, Gunshor said.

“There are not a lot of other events that qualify [to host the race],” he added.

Local athletes who competed earlier this month were generally pleased with the courses and how the races have grown over the past few years.

“It’s been fun watching the size of the field grow and the level of competition grow,” said Max Taam, a local athlete who has competed in all but one of the Power of Four races since the series began.

Jessie Young, who placed third in the women’s division of the bike race and has competed for the past four years, said the course showcases the mountain bike trails that SkiCo has invested in over the years.

“It really shows the variety of what we have to ride in the upper valley,” she said, adding that she wishes more women would compete.

Young noted that the cash prizes that are offered probably draw more people to the race. This year, both races awarded first place $750, second place $350 and third place $150. It was the third year a cash purse was awarded, according to Gunshor.

Kathy Fry, who competed in the trail race and has run other ultra races, noted that the Power of Four Trail 50K course was more challenging and steeper than other ultra races.

“I think it’s an extremely competitive race,” Fry said. “And I think it’s great to have it in Aspen.”

Fry added that she would like to see more locals compete in the relay races.

Michael Barlow, who placed fifth in the trail race, said SkiCo does a good job utilizing the resources in the area, and noted one of the challenges organizers have is attracting racers from outside the valley to compete. Getting the trail race included in the Skyrunning World Series would likely do that, Barlow said

“That would increase its visibility in a big way,” he said.

The biggest challenge with hosting both races is maintaining the trails and clearly marking the courses, Gunshor said. That’s something that organizers are trying to improve each year, he said. Some competitors aren’t from the valley and don’t know the course, and the last thing competitors want to do is run extra miles because the trail isn’t marked well, he said.

“Really we’re just trying to be as diligent as possible to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Gunshor said.

The company also wants to build the local community’s involvement in the race, and refine elements of it like offering full water bottles to competitors at the aid stations, he said.

Another goal is to have more people participate, Gunshor said. That’s why SkiCo offers team relay races for people who want to participate, but who don’t want to complete the full courses.

“More than anything we want to offer something for everyone,” Gunshor said.

A 74-year-old woman from Crested Butte finished the trail race on Sunday, Aug. 3.

“The Snowmass rangers did an amazing job of supporting her and encouraging her to finish,” Gunshor said.

She completed the race in 10.5 hours, he said.

Over that weekend a few participants dropped out of the race because they couldn’t complete the courses, including a father-and-son team from Denver competing in the bike race.

“They were humbled by the experience up here,” Gunshor said. “But you know, that’s all part of it. Pushing people to their limits and for them they pushed themselves to the limits.”

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 8, 2014

It’s August, and that means afternoon rainstorms are pretty much a sure thing in these mountains.

Daily rainstorms may be good for our water reserves, but it can be frustrating when you’re trying to squeeze in an afternoon hike in the middle of the week. That’s why I consider a good rain jacket – like Marmot’s Rincon – a necessary investment for living in the mountains.

The jacket’s shell has what Marmot calls a “PreClip Dry Touch coating technology,” which makes the jacket waterproof, while still being breathable – a combination that’s hard to find.

In general, when you’re buying a rain jacket make sure to check the label to ensure the jacket will indeed keep you dry. A jacket can be water resistant, water repellent or waterproof. Water-resistant fabrics shed water, because of their tight weave or because they’ve been treated, but will soak through in a heavy rain. Water-repellent fabrics are more effective, and are either very tightly woven or coated with a finish that causes the water to make little beads when it hits the fabric rather than soaking through. The finish may wear off over time, however, or come off in dry cleaning. Waterproof fabrics can’t be penetrated by water and should keep you dry, even in heavy rains.

The Rincon jacket is waterproof and it’s designed to keep everything above your waist dry. There’s a Velcro seal and elastic chord just below your chin to tighten the face opening and ensure your head stays dry when the hood is raised. There are also Velcro seals around the cuffs so water won’t get up your sleeves, and the jacket has two deep pockets with water-resistant zippers for items as big as your cell phone.

The best part of the jacket is that it’s designed with ventilation, so if you’re hiking in a rainstorm sweat vapor works its way outside the jacket, while keeping water from coming in. To be frank, I don’t know how the technology works exactly, but I do know it’s worked for me.

The Rincon jacket has kept me warm when I was caught in a hail storm, dry during city deluges and comfortable during sun showers while hiking around the mountains. I’ve even worn it as a makeshift ski jacket during spring ski season. (The material is not only waterproof, it’s wind-proof too!)

The jacket is light enough for most outdoor activities, except maybe running. It comes in black, white, bright green, blue and purple. It starts at $140. I consider that a steal for how often I use it.

Get Your Own
Available online at marmot.com, starting at $140

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 8, 2014

Opening marks first JCC west of Denver in the state

Hundreds of people made their way to Main Street for the opening of the new Chabad Jewish Community Center.

Outside the 10,550-square-foot building that houses the synagogue at 436 W. Main Street, a trio played classical music as rabbi Mendel Mintz posed for a photo with his wife and five children.

“Your family is so big, it’s hard to get them all in a picture,” said the photographer.

The center’s opening is significant, because it indicates that there is a strong, proud Jewish community in Aspen, Mintz said in an interview Thursday morning. The JCC is the first synagogue and mikvah — a bath used for ritual immersion — west of Denver in the state, according to Mintz.

“This is a paradigm change,” Mintz said. “This is a new era in the annals of Aspen.”

Although construction started two years ago, the $18 million center has been in the works for more than a decade, when the Jewish Resource Center originally purchased the property, Mintz said.

“I knew it was going to happen, I just was hoping I would be a live to see it,” Mintz said.

The center is located between Third and Fourth streets on a block that was previously the home to L’Auberge d’Aspen tourist cabins. Six of the L’Auberge cabins remain on the site for housing and guest accommodations. The remaining three cabins were deemed historic and moved off site.

“It’s been quite the journey,” Mintz said of the project.

Mayor Steve Skadron addresses attendees of the grand opening of the Aspen Chabad Jewish Community Center on Main Street on Thursday evening. It took nearly 10 years to complete the $18 million mega Jewish community center.

The original plan for the JCC included a 4,500-square-foot social hall next to the building that houses the synagogue, the rabbi’s offices and classrooms. In 2012, the developer changed the plan and replaced the social hall with a 3,500-square-foot, single-family home for Mintz and future rabbis.

Mintz moved his family from New York City to Aspen 14 years ago. He knew Aspen had a Jewish community that had the potential to thrive here, he said. However, the process to get the center approved through the city was lengthy and challenging, he said.

“But everything that is good in life is not easy,” Mintz added. “That’s my philosophy.”

During the opening reception on Thursday, hundreds of people made their way through the lobby to the synagogue on the second floor. The synagogue has high ceilings and an A-frame roof with square glass windows. Outside, a balcony wraps around the side of the building overlooking the L’Auberge cabins and a large lot being excavated for the Mintz family’s future home.

There was standing-room only in the synagogue as U.S. rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican who represents the state’s 3rd Congressional District, took the stage. After Tipton’s short remarks, Democratic state rep. Millie Hamner and Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron spoke. Three donors who contributed funds to the construction of the center also spoke, along with Mintz.

The center does not have an official membership, Mintz noted.

“It’s a place for everyone from the community,” he said. “I would love for people to come out, take a tour and see for themselves.”

The center will have a preschool and Hebrew school, and there will be regular lecture series held at the center, Mintz said. To find up-to-date information on events happening at the center visit http://www.chabad.org.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 7, 2014

Two Mountain Rescue Aspen members were injured during climber’s recovery mission

Two Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteers were hospitalized after being injured in the field while they were recovering the body of Jim Nelson from Salt Lake City near Capitol Peak on Wednesday.

A team of two MRA members went into the field via helicopter above Moon Lake at an elevation of about 11,000 feet. As they were attempting to reach the body, a climber above them set off a rockslide and triggered several rocks the size of trash cans to tumble down onto the MRA members, according to Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy Alex Burchetta.

The civilian also sustained lower leg injuries, and along with one MRA member who had a shoulder injury, was transported to the hospital via helicopter. The other MRA team member who had minor injuries retrieved the body, and then flew back to the Aspen airport where an ambulance was waiting to take the volunteer to the hospital. All three sustained orthopedic injuries that are not serious, Burchetta said.

At 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, a family member of the deceased contacted the sheriff’s office to report that a 53-year-old man from Salt Lake City had not returned home as scheduled and he didn’t show up to work on Tuesday. Nelson’s car was located late Tuesday night at the trailhead to Capitol Peak.

On Wednesday morning, a search team from MRA and the Colorado National Guard’s High Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATS) searched the area surrounding Capitol Peak. At 11:30 a.m., the team located what they believed to be the body of a man located in the Mount Daly basin. The search team was able to land nearby and identified the body as that of Nelson’s.

Jeff Edelson, president of MRA, said it was the first time this year that MRA volunteers have been injured during a rescue. The nature of the work is dangerous, so volunteers can get hurt on the job, he said. Edelson added that it’s important people are prepared when venturing into the backcountry.

“Make sure if you’re climbing in the backcountry that somebody knows the route you’re going to take,” he said. “Climb with a partner and stay on the established routes.”

The recovery couldn’t have happened without the help of HAATS, Edelson added.

Nelson was described as an experienced climber and outdoor enthusiast. Details about what caused his death or where exactly he was found have not been released.

Capitol Peak is 14,131 feet high and the 32nd highest mountain in the United States. It’s located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area. It’s the first death on a 14,000-foot mountain recorded in Pitkin County this year and at least the fifth in the state.

(Carolyn Sackariason contributed to this report).