John McCain campaigns in Colorado

ASPEN – John McCain dropped into the Vail and Aspen areas for a day last week.

In the Lake Creek Valley near Vail, McCain scooped up $300,000 from people at a luncheon. Local Republicans told theVail Daily they had rustled up $3 million for McCain in three weeks.

The candidate also saw an old roommate, of sorts. Tom Kirk, a Vail resident, was a prisoner of war alongside McCain at the so-called “Hanoi Hilton.” He said it was “thrilling and marvelous” to see his old friend.

Bouncing into the next valley, McCain passed the hat again at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser in Aspen. Later, McCain and his wife, Cindy McCain, made plans to spend the money, strolling on a 53-acre ranch for a television commercial.

Although it’s probably been a half century, maybe longer, since Pitkin County voted for a Republican for president, McCain has been there five times in the last four years. Just a year ago, during his last visit to Aspen, it appeared that his presidential aspirations were dashed.

This year, he spent 70 minutes talking before 800 people, answering questions about Iraq, energy and Christian evangelicals.There were smiles and jokes. Some were intended, butThe Aspen Times said one guffaw from the crowd was not. At one point McCain complained about $3.75 per gallon gasoline, when it’s currently $5 per gallon in Aspen.

McCain also met privately for 90 minutes with another Aspen visitor, T. Boone Pickens. A billionaire oilman, Pickens has made headlines this year in calling for ramping up renewable energy as a way of cutting oil imports. Those imports currently cost U.S. consumers $700 billion annually in what Pickens calls the “largest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind.”

Pickens hopes to tap the energy of a wind corridor that extends from West Texas to Canada that he says could supply at least 20 percent of America’s energy needs.


Lance Armstrong takes on Leadville

LEADVILLE – There is only one Lance Armstrong, and so the atmosphere this year at the Leadville 100 – a fat tire race – was electrified with the seven-time Tour de France champion competing.

The course demands Herculean efforts. As the name suggests, it covers 100 miles, with 14,000 feet of climbing, topping out at a maximum elevation of 12,600 feet.

There can be special challenges peculiar to Leadville, a one-time mining town set to resume its mining ways in another year or two. “Lycra will never replace denim as the fabric of choice,” observes theGunnison Country Times in its report of the race.

For example, one rider said he had to “yoo-hoo” to get past an oblivious woman driving a pickup truck down the middle of the road, a cigarette dangling out of the window. That same racer was chased by dogs down a hill near the finish.

Then there was Armstrong. One competitor, Crested Butte’s Ethan Passant, with outstanding accomplishments in long distances in his own right, found himself in an unusual position at one point. “I looked back and said, ‘Holy shit, Lance Armstrong is on my wheel, drafting off of me,’” he said.

It came down to Armstrong and David Wiens, a Gunnison resident who had previously won the race five times – all after supposedly retiring from racing.

In the end, Armstrong conceded the race, and Wiens eased to a win, despite a rear tire that held only 10 pounds of air as he squished across the finish line in a record 6 hours and 45 minutes.


Vail humanitarian faces charges

BEAVER CREEK – Alberto Vilar is scheduled to go to trial in September on charges that he defrauded clients. But unlike a procession of other part-time Beaver Creek residents in recent years who have been imprisoned for looting their businesses for lavish personal lifestyles, the accusations against Vilar are of a different sort.

Federal prosecutors say he took money from investors and plowed at least part of the money into nonprofits, mostly to further the performing arts. Above all, he loved opera and symphony music.

Altogether, Vilar gave $200 million to various nonprofits around the world, according to published reports. More than $10 million of that was to venues in Vail and Beaver Creek. A princely concert hall at the latter resort, where Vilar also had a 16,000-square-foot house, bears the name the Vilar Center.

A Cuban immigrant, Vilar had started a firm in 1979 called Amerindo Investment Advisors.

“Clearly, he was driven by ego and his desire to be known, which is human nature,” said Oscar Tang, one of Vail’s most prominent property owners and cultural benefactors.

Vail cultural programmers were left hanging when, after originally agreeing to underwrite a summer residency by the New York Philharmonic, Vilar came up short in 2002. He also reneged on his commitment to help refurbish the Ford Amphitheater, Vail’s summer outdoor performing arts center.

Tony O’Rourke, director of the Beaver Creek Resort Co., said the only thing he knows Vilar is guilty of is “being addicted to philanthropy.” Beyond that, he said, “justice will have to run its course.”


Jackson cops start ticketing cyclists

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Blowing through a stop sign while riding a bicycle is costing riders money this summer in Jackson. The local police department has ramped up enforcement of the laws. TheJackson Hole News&Guide says 40 percent of cases in traffic court on a recent day were riders charged with failure to stop at stop signs.

“The warnings weren’t working,” said Alan Johnson, a police officer, who is leading the charge. The fine is $100, plus $35 tuition for an eight-hour traffic school.

John, who is a cyclist himself, says he gives riders the benefit of a doubt. “If somebody gives a worthwhile attempt to stop and look both ways, they’re good,” he said. “If they don’t even come close to stopping and they just look around and go, they’ll get a ticket.”

The newspaper says Jackson Hole has considerable annoyance with bicycle riders. Four of five people in a recent poll said they found riders more aggravating than either mosquitoes or the smoke from forest fires. Bicycle riders, of course, have their own version of what’s wrong with the world.

Taos farmers grow high-altitude hops

TAOS, N.M. – With its mountainous background, Denver would likely be the first guess of many people if asked to name the state capitol with the highest elevation. It is, after all, the Mile High City.

Highest of all is the elevation of Santa Fe, the capitol city of New Mexico, at 6,989 feet. Only a few feet lower is nearby Taos, which now has several farmers who are growing hops, the substance that gives beer its pleasantly bitter taste.

Organic farmers Todd Bates and Steve Johnson have bred wild varieties of hops. The climate of northern New Mexico’s higher elevations may be an issue, but the growers have high hopes. “They said that they wouldn’t grow organically at altitude,” Bates toldThe Taos News. “But anywhere apples grow, hops grow. And we’ve got some pretty good organic apples around here.”

Yellowstone Club settles with LeMond

BIG SKY, Mont. – A settlement has been reached in the lawsuit filed between former bicycle racing star Greg LeMond and Timothy Blixseth, the owner of the ultra-elite Yellowstone Club, a private ski area.

The settlement requires Blixseth pay LeMond and his partners $39.5 million. They had been ousted from the club, where building lots cost upwards of $10 million.

LeMond and his partners accused Blixseth of diverting more than $420 million into personal bank accounts and unrelated companies, using it to finance a lavish lifestyle, including a 2-seat Gulfstream corporate jet for $44 million, a Hawker 600 jet, two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, and three Land Rovers.

The Times says the agreement coincides with settlement of the contentious divorce between Blixseth and Edra Blixseth, who now controls the club.


Bears put Crested Butte to the test

CRESTED BUTTE – As happened in Vail and Aspen before them, people in Crested Butte this summer are learning the difference between “wildlife-resistant” trash containers and those that are “wildlife-proof.” The short answer is that it takes a lot of steel to secure trash from the five bears that are believed to be causing all of the ruckus.  It helps, however, if the lids are latched shut. The so-called Bear Smart trash bins have been ripped open by hungry bears. “The key word is ‘resistant,’” said Tom Martin, the police chief, speaking of the trash containers.

– Allen Best



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows