Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 6, 2014

Event will have tortoises
with iPads mounted on them

“Since when is animal abuse art?”

That’s the question a group of protesters are asking Aspen Art Museum officials who plan to place iPads on tortoises during an art exhibition this weekend.

The stunt is planned as a part of the 24-hour public opening of the new art museum on Saturday. The debut show on the rooftop sculpture garden, put together by artist Cai Guo-Qiang, features desert tortoises wandering around the space with iPads attached to their shells with specially designed mounts. The iPads will be showing footage of abandoned ghost-town cabins from around the valley, images that were previously recorded with the devices while they were attached to the tortoises’ shells.

On Tuesday afternoon, more than 200 people had signed an online petition on the website change.org asking the art museum to abandon its plan.

Lisabeth Oden, who was born and raised in Aspen, created the petition around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. By 6 p.m., people from states as far away as Ohio had signed it.

“This is just so wrong in so many ways!” wrote Karen DiBenedetto of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Oden said she was pleasantly surprised that the petition was attracting so much attention.

“I normally don’t stick my nose out in public like this — by any sense of the imagination,” she said. “But to me this is just flat-out animal abuse.”

Oden said she has spent time rehabilitating tortoises in Florida, which led her to take action when she heard about the exhibit. Tortoises are a family of turtles that live on land, and their shells are sensitive.

“These creatures were not designed to carry 2-pound iPads,” she said.

Aspen has a reputation for doing the right thing when it comes to the environment and animal rights, Oden said, and that’s why the exhibit is so egregious.

“I can see them doing this is some rural town in some third-world country, but not here,” she said.

Stephanie Bell, cruelty casework director with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said the organization received a complaint about the exhibit. PETA officials are concerned about the exhibit, she said.

Tortoises are shy, docile animals who view humans as predators, Bell said. Taking them from their natural environment and placing iPads on them is wrong, she said, calling it “the height of disrespect.”

Even if tortoises’ shells could bear the weight of an iPad without being harmed, it’s still the wrong thing to do, Bell said.

“The only message that this artist in conveying from our interpretation is that nature is here for our manipulation, and of course we disagree with that,” Bell said, adding that this is the first time PETA has heard of such an art exhibit.

PETA officials plan to contact the art museum about the issue.

“We hope that people will choose not to support the exhibit because of the cruelty concerns,” Bell said.

Multiple attempts to reach art museum officials for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The petition will close on Friday, unless Oden decides to extend it.

The opening will mark the art museum’s relocation from its 7,200-square-foot building off North Mill Street to the new, 33,000-square-foot building on East Hyman Avenue designed by artist Shigeru Ban.

In addition to tortoises walking around with iPads on their backs, the opening features a range of activities that include a 24-hour event featuring live music, gallery tours, sunrise yoga, a “silent” dance party and film screenings that will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new museum was Saturday, followed by a members-only event at the museum.

Published in The Aspen Daily News on July 7, 2014

What makes for good art?

To be fair, that’s a loaded question, and one that artists and critics have debated for ages. In general, however, “good art” transcends cultures and ages, ringing true to a wide range of audiences.

The music of 25-year-old Jon Batiste — a singer, pianist and musical savant — did just that when he played a late-night, hour-long set at The Little Nell on Monday, June 30, as a part of the Aspen Ideas Fest.

That night, Batiste’s most moving pieces began in the classical realm — starting with the sort of songs you imagine classical pianists play to perfect their finger-placing technique and music-reading skills. As those songs progressed, Batiste began to improvise — throwing in ditties from classic song standards like “The Entertainer” and “Moon River.” At other moments, he would slow down the rhythm to create a blues jazz beat.

When Batiste finished his short set, the audience shouted for more. Batiste smiled and agreed to play one more song in honor of Aspen. It was an improvised classical piece weaving “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in and out of chaotic discord. The harsh juxtaposition was poetic and seemingly appropriate for an audience full of second homeowners visiting a resort town for a conference on “big ideas” related to the world’s problems.

Batiste blends musical genres, creating a complex pastiche, where music melodies from childhood songs swell up and disappear in the midst of a classical opus like fleeting memories. That’s why his music appealed to both the young and the old, the diners and the servers in the room. And that, I would argue, is good art.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News July 7, 2014

If you’re camping this weekend, you probably already know that you should keep food out of your tent.

Food attracts bears and there are plenty around these mountains this time of year.

I’ve heard horror stories about campers waking up to bears sniffing for food in their tent. Those stories have been enough to inspire me to keep food far from my campsite. I’ve been told to hang food in trees so bears won’t get near the tent, but that method is not necessarily bear proof.

Martha Moran, recreation supervisor for the U.S. Forest Service’s Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, said there was a recent incident near Crater Lake during which a couple of campers hung their food in a nearby tree. A bear climbed up and swatted it down, Moran said.

That’s why the Bear Keg sounds like a good investment for avid campers.

The Bear Keg looks like its namesake — it’s a cylinder that resembles a mini-beer keg. It has smooth round corners so that bears can’t easily hold onto it and includes three stainless-steel locks, which humans can easily open with a coin or screwdriver but proves impossible for bears. The keg has 716 cubic inches of storage for food — that’s enough for say a gallon of milk and a few sandwiches.

The one negative aspect of the container is its weight. The Bear Keg weighs a little over 3 pounds. That may seem light to some folks, but when you’re going on multi-day hikes into wilderness areas the 3 extra pounds are no joke. It’s also bulky, making it a challenge to pack.

Still, if you want to keep your food safe and bears away from your campsite, the Bear Keg is a reasonable option.

Get Your Own
Ute Mountaineer

This story originally ran in The Aspen Daily News on June 22, 2014.

There’s no accounting for taste.

That’s according to Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin and three top chefs — Jacques Pepin, Marcus Samuelsson and Jonathan Waxman — who spoke at the annual Food & Wine Classic on Saturday.

Cowin hosted a panel titled “Food Memories,” as a part of the festival’s Classic Conversation Series. The 45-minute conversation with the world’s top foodies drew about 45 people to the Theatre Aspen tent. Everyone in attendance was sober from the previous day’s festivities, which was an impressive feat, Cowin noted at the start of the session.

Cowin asked each chef to describe their first memory of food.

Pepin, a 78-year-old internationally recognized French chef, television personality and author, said his first memory was being on a family-owned farm in France, drinking fresh milk from a recently milked cow.

“That kind of taste was more than a taste,” Pepin said. “It was comfort. It was happiness. It was security.”

Waxman’s first memory was biting into a chocolate Hershey’s candy bar when he was about 6 or 7 years old visiting his father in Los Angeles, he said. Waxman, who grew up in Berkeley, Calif., remembers how that taste tingled in his cheeks.

“I always want to go back to that sensation,” he said.

Waxman is a classically trained cook and he’s considered a pioneer of California cuisine.

For Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia, raised in Goteborg, Sweden, and worked his way up the culinary ranks, his first memories go back to his grandmother’s house in Africa. The food was rustic and minimal, because his grandmother didn’t trust electric appliances, he said.

“Everything tasted different at my grandma’s house,” Samuelsson said.

Despite their different backgrounds, the panelists all agreed that the experience of eating a meal is impacted by the event’s time, place and company. That means certain meals stick out in their memories as being the best, even though from a traditional culinary standpoint the food might have not been prepared right.

Ultimately, what defines good food comes down to the person who is experiencing it.

“To cook and to be a good host is to please someone,” Pepin said. “ … Whether you agree with it or not is irrelevant.”

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on January 10, 2014

For all of you supposed expert skiers out there, I have a challenge: Ski Highland Bowl in Dynafit bindings.

That’s what I did on a recent bluebird day when I decided on a whim to extend my morning skin to the Merry-Go-Round on Aspen Highlands. The sky was clear, the weather warm and I was on a Black Diamond ski setup with Dynafit TLT Radical ST bindings. There’s only one way to go and that’s up, I thought. So I made my way to Loge Lift and started hiking up the bowl.

At the summit, a local wearing a purple Aspen Skiing Co. jacket spotted my bindings.

“Aren’t you scared to ski down on those things?” he asked.

“Heh ya,” I said, only then realizing that I was about to drop in on a 42-degree vertical pitch with less than two pounds of metal locking me onto my skis. “I’m just going to take it slow.”

Dynafit’s Radical ST bindings have no frame — meaning the heel and toe pieces are separate — and the heel rotates offering three climbing modes. What could be considered the best (and in my particular situation, the most worrisome) feature of the bindings are the two seemingly weightless stainless steel pins, dubbed the “power towers,” that pinch the toe of your boots.

The towers are what make the binding light and easy to mount, but despite the name it doesn’t necessarily sing stability. Intellectually I know that if technology can put men on the moon, there’s probably a way to lock a 140-pound person to skis with two pins the size of eraserheads. But as I stepped into the setup, my instincts kicked in and I started to think it might be a better idea to walk down the mountain.

Dynafit bindings are made to ensure a quick release on the downhill, almost to a fault. That feature is particularly troublesome, because the weightlessness of the setup makes it easier to jump turn and ski faster than you might on an Alpine setup. That was, at least, my experience.

Questions about the durability of my gear quickly disappeared as I got into a groove skiing down G8. But the thrill of a good powder run came to an abrupt halt at the bottom of South Fork when my left boot released from the binding for no identifiable reason. There was no powder, no random debris that caused the release. Just a small lip on the runout. With a bruised shin and ego, I remounted my skis and, like a Powder Panda on Buttermilk, snowplowed to the catwalk.

The whole experience gave me a newfound respect for the ski mountaineering pros who dominate the Battle of the Bowls each year. It’s one thing to race up a mountain, but it takes a whole other form of insanity to want to ski down on gear that weighs less than a gallon of milk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the binding. Its weightlessness and easy accessibility makes skinning up not feel like work, but unless you’re as skilled as one of the Gaston brothers or maybe Max Taam, I would stay out of the steep and deep on the Radicals.

Get Your Own
$499.95 Dynafit Radical ST
Ute Mountaineer in Aspen


Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on April 19, 2013

I have become a kind of a connoisseur of reusable bags since Aspen City Council passed a plastic-bag ban over a year ago.

I’ve tried out bags made out of recycled plastic bottles, which are sturdy, but not easily compacted when you’re not using them. I’ve used bags that are lined with a silver, thermal layer intended to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. I’m not a fan of those either, because the bag’s technology seems unnecessarily advanced and not very effective considering there’s no way to close the top.

By far, the best bags I’ve found are the ones that are made by Equinox, a company that sells outdoor camping products. Equinox’s Ultralight Tote Bags are made out of nylon and silicone, they weigh less than an ounce and can carry over 100 pounds. They also fold into a small pouch when you’re not using them, making it easy to tuck them away into your purse or pocket and pull out if you happen to swing by the store on a whim.

I grew up in Miami where using reusable bags for shopping and recycling in general is as foreign of a concept as skinning up a mountain. For example, Miamians understand in a broad sense what recycling is and they get that they should probably be doing it. But they have no sense of urgency about it. If you happen to toss your soda bottle in the trash no one shoots you the evil eye or launches into a rant about the environmental harm of single-use plastics. Generally, nobody really cares.

In Aspen, things are different. The city has a car-share program made up of a fleet of hybrids that locals can use at their leisure instead of opting to buy their own gas-guzzling vehicles. At special events, there are always three trash bins. One is designated for compost, one for plastics and a third for actual trash — the differences of which would be lost on an average person from Miami. At Belly Up, people are paid to go through the trash after shows to separate any recyclable items that were thrown away.

None of those things happens in Miami and I think it’s fair to say they don’t happen in most other American cities either. What makes this town unique compared to the rest of the world is that the importance of being environmentally conscious permeates our culture. Although the local government spearheads the effort through “green” programs, people here genuinely want to do the right thing partly because it also happens to be the cool thing to do. I have plenty of friends who show off their reusable bags, water bottles and coffee cups arguing one style over another practically on a daily basis.

That’s why, regardless of what reusable bag style you chose, they’re all winners. At the end of the day, you’re making the conscious choice to do the right thing, and, at least in Aspen, you might even get a high-five for doing it.

Get Your Own
Equinox tote bag upstairs at Carl’s Pharmacy

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on March 8, 2013

I received my first OtterBox case three years ago in a schwag bag I was given while covering the Winter X Games.

The multi-layer case was designed for the iPhone 4, which at the time had just been released by Apple, and it seemed flimsy and cheap to me. The black case was made up of a thin silicon layer surrounded by an equally slim plastic shell. I thought that my relatively active lifestyle combined with my natural clumsiness ensured that my phone wouldn’t last a week in this thing called an OtterBox. (The name didn’t exactly incite images of sturdiness and durability either.) Regardless, I had an iPhone 3 and wasn’t due for an upgrade for another six months. The case was useless to me.

Over the next few weeks, every time I went to toss the brand new case away, First World guilt took over. I didn’t want to throw away a perfectly good case. So when my iPhone 3 finally died, I decided to give the ol’ OtterBox a go.

Its first test came during a climbing trip up Monitor Rock when I accidentally knocked my phone off a ledge. Considering the height from which it fell and the number of times it hit rocks on the way down I was pleasantly surprised to find only a small crack on the screen.

While the feat was impressive, the ultimate test of the OtterBox’s durability came later.

On a recent powder day I was skiing down a short mogul run on Aspen Mountain when my phone popped out of my pocket and was instantly lost in the snow.

I spent a few hours lapping the run and recruited some friends to help the search effort. I used Apple’s “FindmyiPhone” application to pinpoint where exactly on the run my phone had fallen. Still, with all of the powder, I was out of luck and I went home defeated. My phone had been donated to the powder gods.

The next day a friend took a lap and spotted it sticking out of the pow. Although it was pretty shocking that my phone was found at all, I was most impressed by the fact that the recovered device was still fully functional and had full battery life. The incident was enough to convince me: OtterBox is the real deal.

A cell phone is a very personal thing. We check them compulsively, get anxious when they’re not near us and many of us even take them to bed. Some people like to pamper their phones with bedazzled or furry cases, while others pride themselves in not relying on a case to protect their fragile phones. I’d like to think I don’t need a case, but if history has taught me anything it’s that I can’t own a phone for more than a year without cracking its screen.

Without the OtterBox in my life, Apple would be richer, I would be poorer, and no one would ever be able to get a hold of me. Consider me a believer.

Get Your Own:
OtterBox phone case
At Active Communications on 300 Puppy Smith St, Aspen, 970-429-8550
Models start at $29.95

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on December 21, 2012.

Dear Santa,

This year all I want for Christmas is one thing: My dream backcountry touring set up. That includes Kastle TX97 skis, Scarpa Gea alpine touring (AT) boots and some super sticky Kastle skins. Well, okay more like three things.

I think the point of touring is sometimes lost on the extreme endurance athletes who beam up Aspen Mountain each morning. The purpose of having the ability to walk up hill on skis is not to get first tracks on fresh corduroy and a sick cardio workout. It’s for adventuring into the backcountry, where hazards exist that are not marked and fresh powder sits for days waiting for someone, anyone to drop in and carve a line.

That’s why it makes sense that big mountain skier Chris Davenport, who was the first to ski all of Colorado’s 54 14,000-foot mountains, is the brains behind Kastle’s lightweight TX97 powder ski. The skis are not only light enough for long treks, but they’re long and fat enough to allow skiers to float on deep backcountry powder.

The 177 cm skis together weigh a meager 7 pounds, 8 ounces, which is nearly half the weight of Kastle’s all-mountain FX94 model. That’s because the skis use a lightweight carbon fiber layer, which heavier skis don’t have because they are more difficult to repair when an edge is blown. The skis are also available in 167 cm and 187 cm lengths.

Meanwhile, the Scarpa Gea AT boots offer comfort during long backcountry climbs and stiffness on descent with three different user settings. In its climbing mode, the inside of the boot loosens up for maximum comfort, something typically only known to snowboarders. On the downhill, skiers can choose between one of two  modes that will fix the boot either forward or upright depending on how aggressive the skier is.

A set of Kastle skins round up the perfect setup for backcountry freshies. It might seem like a big order Santa, but I promise I’ll make some sick turns for you.

Get Your Own:
Kastle TX97 for $749, women’s Scarpa Gea AT boots for $599 (or men’s Scarpa Maestrale AT boots for $699) and rent Kastle skins for $7 a day at Ute Mountaineer, 210 South Galena Street.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on November 16, 2012

If I could go back to my 22-year old self and give her one piece of wardrobe advice for living in the mountains, it would be to buy SmartWool clothing.

When I first moved to Aspen, I had spent the majority of my life living at sea level where the average temperature was about 80-degrees year round. Needless to say, it took me a few years to figure out how to dress appropriately for shredding the so-called “gnar.”

I tried many different techniques to keep me warm on the mountain. I layered a mixture of cotton long underwear with cheap clothes made of synthetic mystery materials that looked like they would keep me warm. Those did little better than retain sweat, which in turn froze on chair lifts.

When layering didn’t work I bought a large puffy ski jacket to cover a light layer. That worked great on the frigid days early in the season, but it was smothering on most mild days. The few occasions I tried to hike Highland Bowl in the jacket it became a heavy weight reminding me of my own mountaineering fashion ignorance with every step.

After three seasons, I was finally turned on to SmartWool clothing. The product’s labels are — in a word — cutesy. The brand is written in sloppy cursive with the loops filled with bright colors — a style that is very similar to one I used when I was in fifth grade writing love letters to JTT. Meanwhile, the company’s website looks like it’s selling cupcakes or knitting equipment rather than base layers meant to keep you warm during super-sick, extreme outdoor activities.

Still, the label wasn’t intimidating to someone like me who has been fooled before by high tech base layers that boast their five-syllable materials as the end-all, be-all answer to outdoor mountain wear.

SmartWool makes those claims, but it does so in a way that I understand. It’s made out of Merino wool and wool comes from sheep. I get that!

Regardless of your views on branding, the kicker is that SmartWool actually does what it’s suppose to do. It keeps you warm in a single layer and it doesn’t hold onto moisture. The company claims that it’s more effective at regulating body temperature, heart rate and “lactic acid build up” than its synthetic competitors. I’m not sure about all of that, but from my experience it is the best at keeping me warm and dry so it gets my vote.

SmartWool makes its products for men, women and children and it comes in shirts, pants, socks, hats, scarves and even some bright colored gloves. I recommend them all.

Get Your Own
Women’s SmartWool base layer shirts and pants, starting at $95 at Ute Mountaineer 210 South Galena Street

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on October 5, 2012.

When it comes to a new hobby, I’m generally wary about investing money into any new gear. In this town, it’s relatively easy to drop hundreds of dollars on gear that you’ll never actually use in the long run, so I tend to hold out as long as possible before I make a purchase, which others might call necessary. (It took a year and a half for me to finally buy my own PFD when I was a raft guide.) Recently I made the  decision to invest in my own climbing harness after I annoyed a group of experienced climbers by asking them to loan me their harness after each other climb.

It’s a good way to get out of belaying someone, but a bad way to make friends.

There’s a wide range of options out there for harnesses in both comfort and affordability. When I walked into the shop to choose one, my first instinct was to buy the cheapest $40 model and call it a day. I was quickly informed by the sales person that when you’re buying a harness, which will be responsible for holding you up some hundreds of feet in the air, cheap isn’t the way to go.

Good point. The cheaper harnesses offer the bare minimum of support without providing pads for comfort. Investing $30 more, you can buy a Black Diamond harness that not only gives padded support, but comes in pretty colors like daiquiri green, fig red and something they call Aruba fire (light blue and red together). Ultimately, I settled on a Petzl harness, which got the recommendation from both the sales person and my experienced climbing buddy. After being on rope in the Petzl Selena for a couple of days I know why.

Petzl is also the greatest company in the world for idiots. It costs roughly the same as a Black Diamond harness, but its small safety features make it the clear winner. The most notable downfall of the Black Diamond harness is that you have to be sure to double-back your waist strap so that it doesn’t accidentally come loose mid-air. For someone like me, who has a problem remembering details, that could be fatal. With a longer waist strap, Petzl assumes you’ll forget and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to untie the double-backed strap.

All of Petzl’s gear comes with detailed pictures of how the product should be used. While most companies rely on a packet to instruct users, Petzl puts universal instructional images right on the product, so that users get it right the first time. On the Petzl harness, for example, there is a drawing of a rope through the section of the harness where a climber would put a rope, so it won’t take people like me 20 minutes to figure out which way is the front.

Before I made the purchase, I wondered if I would be judged by fellow climbers as a rookie with Petzl gear. But the more I climb, the more I’m genuinely appreciative of Petzl’s attention to detail and concern for my safety.

Get Your Own
Petzl women’s Selena harness
at Ute Mountaineer $64.95