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Man attacked by bear near Aspen: ‘I literally thought I might be dead’

The man who was injured Friday morning by a bear that got into a house in the Castle Creek Valley said he was trying to get the bear out of the house when it swiped at him.

A man identified as Dave Chenosky and in town visiting a friend’s house told ABC World News Tonight that he heard a noise about 1 a.m. Friday in the house and came across the bear when it was in the kitchen.

He said he attempted to get it to leave through the garage and tried to open the garage door to let the bear out. That is when things became dangerous.

“I turned around in the hallway and looked him straight in the face and he just went ‘bam’ and hit me in with his paw one time,” said Chenosky, who has large cuts on the left side of his face, including very near his left eye.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife area manager Matt Yamashita said officers responded to the incident at about 3 a.m. and are investigating how the bear got in and the encounter. He told The Aspen Times on Friday they were not able to find “any relatable attractants that were obvious as to why the bear was there or why it entered the house.”

Chenosky was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and then transferred by ambulance to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.

“I literally thought I might be dead,” he told ABC News.

CPW officials sent evidence from the bear, which they tracked near a mineshaft on the backside of Aspen Mountain and euthanized, to the state lab in Fort Collins on Friday afternoon. After testing there by state veterinarians, it will be sent to a lab in Wyoming for DNA analysis, Yamashita said.

He said Friday the officers are very confident it is the same bear, but protocol remains to send evidence to the labs for testing and analysis. Those results could come in some time this week, Yamashita said Friday.

Efforts by The Aspen Times to reach Chenosky have been unsuccessful.

Looking to make tracks: first phase of new 18-mile mountain bike trail system to begin this fall

Mountain bikers will soon have more options for single-track fun in western Garfield County as the city of Rifle and the Rifle Area Mountain Bike Organization start moving forward on carving a new trail system through the pinyon and juniper trees north of Rifle.

“Its going to be such a great system out there, I think it really is going to a be a big draw for us. It will be a pretty big deal once we get enough miles out there, it compares to a lot of other systems in Colorado,” Rifle City Planner Nathan Lindquist said. “It’s going to be really cool.”

The first phase of the 18-mile project is expected to cost just over $90,000, which organizers hope to start the beginning of September, will include nearly 7 miles of single-track trails.

“We really tried to minimize the crossings, they did a pretty good job with designing it that way,” Lindquist said. “You’ll climb uphill to the left of the trail, and then when you’re coming back to the trailhead you’ll be on the right side.”

Lindquist there will be only one major crossing of the trail, and one smaller crossing if you want to do more laps around the loop.

The city has contracted Aaron Mattix with Gumption Trail Works as the designated trail builder.

RAMBO board members met with Mattix on Sunday for a walkthrough of where the planned trails will snake through the BLM land that surrounds the Rifle Arch 9 miles north of Rifle. 

Board members are scheduling trail build training for local crew leaders/board members who have volunteered as trail crew leaders. 

“Their role is to supervise the larger volunteer trail build days we have coming up in September — we don’t have anything scheduled for those yet, but the plan is to train-up through August,” RAMBO president Erik Villasenor said. 

Organizers hope temperatures become milder moving into the fall and they ask for volunteers to help build trails. People interested in volunteering can watch the RAMBO Facebook page for dates to sign up; a new website is also in development.

See Thursday’s edition of the Rifle Citizen Telegram for more on this story.

kmills@postindependent.com

Bear attacks Aspen-area homeowner early Friday morning; officials find, euthanize bruin

An Aspen-area homeowner had to undergo surgery after being attacked early Friday morning by a bear that broke into his house through the front door, according to officials with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department.

Wildlife officials were able to locate and kill the bear they believe to be involved on the backside of Aspen Mountain.

A team with tracking dogs located the bear and treed it on the backside of Aspen Mountain around 8 a.m., but the bear then escaped from the tree and found its way into a mine shaft at around 10 a.m., according to CPW officials on scene.

Officers were able to euthanize the bear and are sending DNA from the animal to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife lab for testing fully verify it was the bear that injured the man, CPW area manager Matt Yamashita said Friday.

“Based on the direct and clear trail that tracking dogs quickly followed, along with the physical description of the bear from witnesses, we are certain that we got the offending animal,” Yamashita said. “We never like to have to put an animal down, but the protection of the public is paramount once a bear begins entering homes and responding aggressively toward people.”

The dogs were able to track the scent of the bear down Castle Creek Road toward town, he said. The dogs then tracked the scent up Aspen Mountain, according to another wildlife official.

The bear was located in a mine shaft on the backside of Aspen Mountain, just below Upper Roch Run trail off the Ruthie’s lift.

The bear attacked the homeowner with a paw swipe, which resulted in severe cuts to the victim’s head and neck, CPW officials said in a news release.

“The injuries are pretty significant lacerations to his face, neck and head,” CPW spokesman Randy Hampton told The Aspen Times on Friday morning. “We’re worried about his eye and his ear.”

Hampton said the victim was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and then transferred by ambulance to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction and is undergoing surgery. He was stable and the injuries are not life threatening, he said. No other updates on his condition were available by Friday afternoon.

Hampton said the incident happened at a house about 2 miles up the Castle Creek Valley.

The bear matched the description of a bear that has been frequenting the Castle Creek neighborhood for several days, according to officials, and it may be the same bear that has been reported for getting into trash in the area for the past couple of years.

Past attempts to haze or trap and relocate the bear have been unsuccessful, they said. 

This is the first bear attack in Aspen this year. In 2019, wildlife officers responded to three bear-human attacks in the Aspen area. 

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran takes lead of outdoors youth program

After two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army, Scott Partan sought solace and healing along America’s mountain trails.

As a soldier, he was part of something greater than himself. 

He had battle brothers.

He had a mission.

He was saving the world.

Returning to civilian life, Partan found himself alone and in search of  a new purpose.

“Coming back from a war zone, it’s pretty tough,” Partan said. “My brother took me on a hut trip in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and that was the first time I was starting to feel normal again.”

Diving into the East Coast hiking scene, he found therapy and a new mission: introducing youth to the boundless adventures waiting outside.   

“The outdoors was so instrumental in working through my own struggles,” Partan explained, “I realized this could probably help some kiddos out there going through their own stuff.”

As the Garfield County Outdoors Program’s newest director, he said he plans to do exactly that.

Stepping up

More than a thousand miles separate the Rockies from the Appalachians. 

For Partan, bridging that gap was quite the hike.

About six years ago, he headed west to serve a term with AmeriCorps in the Vail Valley, working with the nonprofit organization SOS Outreach, an adult mentoring program for struggling youth.

When the opportunity arose to move into a director position at Garfield Outdoors, a youth program funded by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), Partan said he was ready to “think big.”

“At SOS, I worked in program delivery — down in the weeds, working with kids a lot — directly managing programs,” he explained. “As part of my own professional development, I was looking for that next step up.” 

In Garfield County, Partan said he is looking forward to developing the partnerships and networks that make those youth programs possible.

Meredith Burke, Garfield Outdoors outgoing program director, worked alongside Partan for a couple weeks before leaving to attend graduate school.

“Garfield Outdoors is a collaborative initiative that works with about nine nonprofit partners … to connect more kids with nature by trying to break down barriers of cost and transportation,” Burke said.

The program operates in conjunction with Garfield County School District No. 16 and Garfield County School District No. Re-2. Founded about five years ago, Garfield’s Outdoors programming is free to its nearly 2,500 participants, ages 6-18.

Activities and events range from in-class education to days-long hiking trips on which the kids are paid to help maintain hiking trails, Partan said.

Maintaining funding levels and finding ways to expand programming are top priorities for Partan as he follows in Burke’s footsteps.

“(Burke) has done an amazing job building a foundation for this program,” he said. “I’m really excited to continue on all the work she’s done, and hopefully, move the needle and carry it on a little further forward.” 

Safer outside

Taking the reins of any school program during the pandemic could be a daunting task, but Partan said COVID-19 provided Garfield Outdoors with both positives and negatives.

“I’m really a silver-lining person and try to stay positive,” he said. “I see this forcing people to be a little more open to ideas and be more creative. And, there’s a general idea you’re safer outside.”

On the other hand, Burke said the pandemic wreaked havoc on the program’s schedule at a time when activities were about to steam full ahead.

“It really paused all the programs we’re doing,” she explained. “We had a lot planned for the spring, but our in-school partners couldn’t really do anything, so they had to transition to virtual programming.”

Because of social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders, the program’s nonprofit partners also paused their events and activities.

While technology has opened some avenues, it removes the face-to-face learning experiences that allow an outdoor program to shine, Burke said.

The program’s grant funding might have taken a hit as well, which was scheduled to end next summer, but Great Outdoors Colorado allowed for an extension into the winter of 2021.

As a second wave of COVID-19 sweeps the nation mere weeks before the next school year is slated to begin, Burke said the future of the program could be in flux.

“Knowing that some of the (pandemic prevention) actions are limitless, there’s not really a concrete answer for the best way to move forward,” she explained. “Everybody is planning for numerous different obstacles, but we’re still going to pursue our mission to kids outdoors.” 

Building upon his wartime experience, Partan said despite the trials ahead, he thrives on exploring the unknown and finding solutions for problems on the fly.

“We’ll take it as it comes, and roll forward” he said.

ifredregill@postindependent.com

On the Fly column: The time is now

Plenty of fishing opportunities await anglers in the Roaring Fork Valley this week, whether you like to wade the Fryingpan, float the Roaring Fork, or enjoy hiking up to an alpine lake.

The Fryingpan River has been low and clear so far this summer, and we are seeing golden stoneflies and caddis hatch in the lower sections plus midges and pale morning duns up higher. Guides have seen a few random green drakes this week, but we won’t see real numbers of these giant bugs until late July into early August.

The Roaring Fork has had excellent hatches after runoff, with green drakes now hatching heavily in the zone between Carbondale and Basalt midday and again at twilight. The upper river near Aspen has plenty of yellow sallies, caddis and golden stoneflies and as you meander down valley pale morning duns are hatching well, too.

The Crystal River is in perfect shape now, and you’ll see a few salmonflies around Redstone with good amounts of caddis and pale morning duns as well. The Crystal is your answer to crowded river blues; the higher you climb in elevation the fewer people you will encounter. The mighty Colorado is fishing well too, with heaps of Rusty Spinners and caddis keeping anglers and fish entertained out there.

Most of the high country is now on the menu, so if hiking up to Cathedral, Lost Man, Fryingpan Lakes or Savage Lakes is your thing, the time is now. Taking along a few leech patterns plus damsels and flying ants should suffice to fool these wary high-elevation fish. No matter where or how you like to fish, this is the time. Be safe, have fun, and keep an open mind for those lessons the fish can teach us.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

Strawberry Shortcake 4K time trial runs Sunday

The Strawberry Shortcake 4K individual time trial — a replacement for the Strawberry Shortcut race that was canceled this month due to the coronavirus — takes place between 7:30–9 a.m. Sunday, June 28.

Runners are asked to show up at the starting line on the west end of Donegan Road in West Glenwood based on their estimated time, and clock themselves on the 4K (2.5 mile) course.

Up to four runners/walkers at a time will go off in time-trial fashion every 2 minutes.

Those expecting to complete the course up to the Mitchell Creek Fish Hatchery and back in less than 20 minutes are asked to be ready to go between 8–8:10 a.m. Under 24-minute runners should be ready from 8:12–8:20, and those in the 24-30 minute range should prepare to start after 8:20. Walkers will start after 8:30 a.m.

Suggested wave times are encouraged, but anyone can complete the course on their own and record a time. Prizes, including former Shortcut and Glenwood Springers medals and t-shirts, will be awarded to the top finishers.

Blizzards publish book on wild mushroom foraging

They may not have exactly “written the book” on wild mushrooms.

But they have written a book titled “Wild Mushrooms.”

Trent and Kristen Blizzard of Glenwood Springs run a website design company BlizzardPress.

But their alter ego is self-proclaimed mushroom geeks. They’ve been collecting mushrooms for eight years, Kristen Blizzard, 46, said.

“We started the hobby together,” she said.

In that time they’ve traveled the country foraging for mushrooms and attending events.

“We attend a lot of festivals and conferences every year and speak publicly at them as well on foraging,” Trent Blizzard, 50, said.

The Blizzards’ mushroom book is scheduled to be released on Oct. 13. The cover may change some. For one thing, there are 115 recipes in the book.

‘Wild Mushrooms’ book

And their book “Wild Mushrooms: How to Find, Store, and Prepare Foraged Mushrooms” is scheduled for an Oct. 13 release.

“It focuses on about 15 mushrooms and focuses on how to preserve mushrooms. Then we have over 100 recipes that we interviewed about 20 different foragers for, and they each provided a few recipes and tips. So it’s a combination of wild mushroom preserving, cooking and forager stories about those mushrooms,” Trent Blizzard said.

It took a lot of work to finish the book.

“We’ve been working on it pretty hard for a year. Definitely a lot of work. The photography was a difficult part; we had to learn how to do a lot of photography. We had to interview all the foragers. Then we had to cook up 115 recipes and take pictures,” he said. 

The COVID-19 lockdown gave the Blizzards time to dedicate to the book.

‘In a way the pandemic helped us because we just finished up all the cookbook pictures and then it hit. … We had two months of downtime to sit here and write, edit, rewrite and re-edit. That was our pandemic project. We probably got the book out a couple of months early because of that,” Trent Blizzard said.

One of the websites BlizzardPress designed was for Modern Forager, the couple’s mushroom-hunting side business.

The website features blogs, links to resources, items for sale and burn maps. The Blizzards have looked at fires in all western states except Nevada and selected the ones that are accessible, where picking is legal and which are most likely to have burn morels.

Mushroom class

Enthusiasts can also sign up for one of Trent Blizzard’s online mushroom classes. Session 1 of Learn Colorado’s Wild Mushrooms just wrapped up on June 19 with all 50 slots sold out. According to the website, the class covers when, where and how to forage for gourmet mushrooms along with identification, habitat, preservation and cooking.

A second session started June 24 and continues Wednesday and July 22. 

‘We did one a couple of weeks ago and it sold out, so we figured we’d better do another one,” Trent Blizzard said.

He said missing a class is not a problem as recordings will be made available to people who sign up.

“We will be recording the class and providing the recordings for people because a lot of times people can’t attend all the classes or they move too fast and they want to watch them at their leisure. So as people come in and miss the first class it’s no big deal,” he said.

The class will cover Colorado’s popular and lesser-known mushrooms.

A morel looms in the foreground as Kristen Blizzard forages in back.
Trent Blizzard

“In Colorado we talk about the easy to identify [mushrooms as being] morels, porcini, chanterelle, puffball and hawkswing. Those are generally the big ones here in Colorado that people chase that are very easy to identify. Oyster mushrooms are also probably on that list or would be the next one you would add,” he said. “The class will talk about each of these mushrooms as well as more difficult ones, too, what you look for to identify them, and what are some of the key lookalikes you might want to be aware of or look out for.”

Knowing which mushrooms look like edible mushrooms but are not is very important.

“If you’re identifying mushrooms and you’re not aware of what the lookalikes are, you’re not identifying them properly,” he said.

Certified experts

The Blizzards are Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment certified wild mushroom identification experts, which is not an easy certification to get, Trent Blizzard said.

“Colorado has a certification for wild mushroom experts. You go through a process with that. It’s a fairly difficult process. There’s only a few people in the state I believe that have completed it. Kristen is — I think — the only woman to have completed that process. It’s difficult, that’s why there’s only a few people that have it in the state right now. … You basically have to have a scientist write a letter listing each mushroom that you’re qualified to identify,” he said.

Personal faves

So what mushrooms do the experts like?

“It’s tough not to love Colorado’s porcini the most (Boletus rubriceps) for the thrill of the hunt and their versatility in the kitchen. My favorite wild mushroom to eat is the chicken of the woods (Laetiporus cincinnatus), which does not grow in Colorado,” Kristen Blizzard said.

While many fungophiles revere morels, Trent Blizzard said he can’t eat them.

“I personally am allergic to morels. … I pick huge quantities of them and I can taste them, but if I eat more than a couple I get pretty sick,” he said.

Kristen Blizzard said one particular day foraging stands out as special for her.

Kristen and Trent Blizzard show off a matsutake mushroom.
Provided

“Oh, so many adventures. Last year in Colorado was quite special, though. I think I would say it was then, when we found a hillside of matsutake here in Colorado. Special because we had yet to find any matsutake in Colorado, and because of the sheer number of mushrooms we stumbled into,” Kristen Blizzard said.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

Hikers suspect they saw a wolf at Crater Lake in Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

Jim and LuAnne Spurrell were hiking the trail alongside Crater Lake in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness close to dusk Tuesday night when the alarmed cries of an animal stopped them in their tracks.

They pivoted to see what the commotion was about and were startled to see what they believe was a gray wolf loping across terrain they had just passed 30 to 40 yards behind them.

“I immediately yelled, ‘That’s a wolf,’” Jim Spurrell recounted Thursday. “At about the same time, my wife blurted out, ‘That’s a wolf.’”

“When you saw it, you knew exactly what it was,” LuAnne said.

The sounds of alarm were coming from a smaller animal that they couldn’t see well enough to identify but suspect was a beaver or marmot. The presumed wolf was walking across a pile of downed timber on the north end of the lake, paying no attention to the smaller animal. The wolf “floated” through the tree trunks without a problem, Jim Spurrell said. Once clear of the logs it followed the trail in a “characteristic wolf-like gait” and soon disappeared to the west into the woods, he said.

The Bethesda, Maryland, couple are in the Roaring Fork Valley to visit their daughter in Carbondale. They had booked time to visit the Maroon Bells area under the new reservation system and were hiking at Crater Lake at 7:53 p.m. when the shadows were long and the number of people dwindled.

LuAnne said it was ironic that just a few minutes before seeing the presumed wolf, she and her daughter were talking about the evening taking on a “fairy tale” kind of atmosphere with the dark forest and deteriorating light. The trip back to the parking lot at Maroon Lake was slightly eerie after the wolf sighting, she said.

In retrospect, Jim wishes he would taken time to search for a paw print, but it was getting dark and they didn’t want to be roaming around after dark in the presence of a wolf.

“We were a little bit freaked out,” Jim said.

The couple is certain what they saw wasn’t a coyote. Jim said they are accustomed to seeing eastern coyotes, which are slightly larger than those in the West. What they described as a “beigey-white canid” was one-quarter to one-third larger than their 85-pound German shepherd. Jim said he frequently throws a Frisbee to his dog and is used to seeing his pet 30 to 40 yards away. Therefore, he said, he is confident of his assessment of the size of animal he saw in the wild.

Unfortunately, they don’t have a picture of the possible wolf.

“I think we were all so drop-jawed that no one even thought of taking a picture,” Jim said.

He did report their encounter to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Wednesday and was urged to go on the state agency’s website to file an official report on a possible wolf sighting. He filled out the report on Thursday.

“I’m not doing this as an alarmist,” Spurrell said. He just thinks the possible sighting could be an interesting development. Spurrell had double majors at the University of Tennessee in chemistry and zoology, though he didn’t pursue species identification in his studies, he said.

CPW has confirmed the presence of a wolf pack in northwestern Colorado and it is investigating a handful of other reports of wolves that the agency has deemed “credible.”

In a recap of wolf activity issued on June 12, CPW said a lone wolf that was first confirmed in North Park one year ago remains in that area. The wolf was collared in the Wyoming Snake River pack and migrated to Colorado, where it was first photographed in July 2019. It’s labeled as 1084-M.

Another lone wolf, with a wildlife-tracking collar, has been reported in Larimer County. Officials believe it left a pack in Wyoming or Montana. However, flights and ground crews haven’t been able to detect a signal or visually confirm the wolf.

Two groups of campers in Grand County reported spotting a “large, wolf-like animal” on the weekend of June 6-7, according to CPW. The agency is investigating to try to confirm the presence of a wolf.

The presence of a pack of at least six wolves was confirmed late last year in the extreme northwest corner of Colorado. There have been several sightings by wildlife officers, hunters and landowners.

Area Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita and district wildlife manager for the Aspen area Kurtis Tesch couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday about the Spurrell’s possible sighting of a wolf. It is unknown if wildlife officers attempted to collect scat samples of look for paw prints.

Officials with the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District said they are unaware of wolf sightings in the terrain around Aspen but noted CPW is better suited to answer if it is feasible a wolf could have ventured into the Aspen-area forest.

Jim Spurrell said he couldn’t rule out seeing a wolf-dog hybrid, although there was no evidence of a human around that would be accompanying a domesticated animal. They saw two tents at Crater Lake, but no people.

“I don’t know how to explain it — this was not a domestic animal,” Spurrell said. The fur was mottled, he noted.

“I’m pretty certain of what I saw,” Spurrell said.

This isn’t the first possible wolf sighting in the Aspen area. A Roaring Fork Valley resident said he encountered a wolf while hunting on Independence Pass in 2007.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Tie one on: The simple joys of popper fishing

It wasn’t too long ago that my springs were spent on the waters of Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap reservoirs on the outskirts of Rifle, pursuing smallmouth bass with a fly pole. I say pole because rod seems overwhelmingly too fancy a term here in the heart of trout country where tourists spend thousands of dollars on gear and guides to catch pretty trout on a fly rod during the famed green drake hatch standing next to other sports from Texas, California and New York trying to do the same. 

Smallmouth Bass, long considered pound-for-pound the strongest of freshwater fish are also considered as pound-for-pound one of the most dangerous of fish, threatening populations of endangered native chubs and sucker. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has therefore been trying to eradicate smallmouth bass and northern pike among other species that prey on or compete in habitat with the endangered fish species

For the past few years the pickings were slim for smallie fishing diehards like myself as CPW staff gillnetted the reservoirs several times in efforts to drastically reduce the numbers of smallmouth bass and northern pike present in Rifle Gap, Harvey Gap and other Western Slope impoundments. My friends and I were going through bass withdrawals and would regularly travel to the far corners of Colorado and surrounding states to go catch a few measly bass. Gone were the days of heading out after work in the jon boat and enjoying the sunset while stretching out the fly line on numbers of wildly acrobatic bronzeback smallmouth. I continued to go out to the lakes in subsequent years and chased the last few remaining specimens simply out of habit and nostalgia. I continued to release them all but cherished each one more than the last, taking the time to really look at their beauty as they become even fewer and farer between, thanking them for letting me into their world.

I obviously wasn’t alone in my frustrations as CPW staff have recently been appeasing the Western Slope bass, pike and warmwater fishing crowd by stocking non-threatening fish species like Largemouth Bass, Tiger Muskie, sterile Walleye, Crappie and Bluegill in places such as The Gaps. 

There’s simply nothing as enchanting as fishing a popper for bass. These large, air resistant flies don’t necessarily imitate anything and fish often eat them out of instinct and curiosity. Some vaguely resemble frogs, snakes, and birds while others remind me a foam-bodied grasshopper at a rave party spun-out on molly. Anything seems to go in bass fishing as they are welcomed opportunists making fly selection more about your gut feeling and mood compared to which stage of the ephemerella grandis green drake is hatching at the moment on the Roaring Fork.

While fishing this past weekend, my friend Mark compared fishing a popper to watching a fire. There’s just something rhythmical and totally enchanting in the pops, glugs and splooshes (all technical bass terms) of poppers as they leave bubble trails and rings when stripped and pulled on the waters surface. There’s nothing delicate or dainty here like trout fly fishing – you fish the banks, the rock piles, the ledges and edges, and any other piece of structure where bass can hide near cover. The takes are fast and explosive, not gentle sips like the elegant trout. 

Fast forward to the present, where this spring my fishing partner, Travis, and I took my skiff out for an evening of nostalgia. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the CPW recently released a brood stock of around 50-100 largemouth bass that varied in size from 10-12” inches up to 5-7 pounds. We ended up boating three bass that evening totaling over 10 pounds including a fish approaching 7 pounds all on topwater popper flies. To put that in perspective, the state record largemouth bass is 10 pounds. That would be the equivalent of catching a 15 pound trout on the Fryingpan River on a large dry fly.

After landing our third fish that evening, still with about a half hour of light remaining (what we refer to in fishing as the magic hour), we sat motionless on Harvey Gap watching the sun set, stunned and still in awe of our rejuvenated local bass fishery. Finally, with all the doom and gloom surrounding the Corona virus and racial tensions, there was a brief moment of escape, relief and hope for us – the Gaps are back and fishing possibly as well as ever. 

I leave you this week with a quote from President Hoover, “To go fishing is the chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of sun on blue water. It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature, charity towards tackle makers, patience towards fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a rejoicing that you don’t have to decide a darned thing till next week. And it is discipline in the equality of men – for all men are equal before the fish.”

Kirk Webb is a longtime angler who lives in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Sunlight looks ahead after COVID closure sours season

Sunlight Mountain Resort is predicting a 25-30% decrease in overall revenues for the 2019/20 season, but staff still found something to smile about.

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, Sunlight has an updated season pass policy called the Sunlight Smile Guarantee, Sunlight sales and marketing director Troy Hawks said in an email.

If Sunlight is open less than 50% of its planned 2020/21 season, pass holders may be eligible for a 50% discount on 2021/22 season passes. If Sunlight is open 50–74% of the season, the discount drops to 25%, Hawks said.

“The words ‘may be eligible’ are included in the Sunlight Smile Guarantee primarily as an indication that should the circumstances arise, we will look at each season pass transaction on a case-by-case basis to confirm that each season pass does indeed qualify for a particular credit, refund or no refund,” Hawks said.

“If it turns out we are closed, say, 52% of our season, we will review our policy and determine the appropriate credit at that time,” he said.

There will be no discount offered if Sunlight is open 75% or more of its planned season, as was the case in 2019/20. Sunlight was closed for 22 days out of its planned 114-day season, which means it was open for 80% of its season.

While that’s 20% shorter than the resort planned to be open, those three weeks included spring break, so it affected revenue by a greater percent.

“Spring break is our second-most-important period in terms of revenue,” Hawks said. “Our out-of-state and international guests generally ski here two to four days during their stay.”

Prior to COVID-19, Sunlight was having an excellent year, Hawks said.

“At the end of February, our revenues were on-pace to eclipse that of our 2018/19 season, which was the best season on record in terms of revenues in Sunlight’s 53-year history. … Strong season pass sales last season (up more than 40%) has played a primary role in helping us weather this storm so far,” Hawks said.

Sunlight’s finances were also helped by strong sales in the downtown bike shop, Hawks said.

“Our revenues are ahead of budget at Sunlight Ski & Bike, attributable to strong demand for bikes in April and May. Success at our downtown shop helps offset expenses we incur at the mountain as we have staff employed doing our regular lift maintenance, etc.,” he said.

And it wasn’t just revenue that got a boost.

“This spring there was so much uncertainty that the strong response at our downtown shop really infused our entire company with confidence,” Hawks said.

Sunlight expects to escape the pandemic slightly on the positive side financially, Hawks said.

“Our fiscal year ends at the end of August, and we do anticipate closing the year in the black, but not by a large margin,” he said.

The resort has reserves to dip into for next season, but doing so comes at a cost.

“We will head into 2020/21 with financial reserves that we can tap into for payroll or other operational expenses as needed as next season unfolds. Unfortunately some of those funds are being drawn from the reserve we intended to dedicate toward the installation of a new $4 million lift on East Ridge,” Hawks said.

Work is still being done on the project, though.

“The East Ridge Expansion is in progress (Phase II) this summer with trail crews doing more glading east of Perry’s Plunge. There will be additional glading within our existing terrain in concert with Forest Service mitigation efforts,” Hawks said.

Even without a lift, the new terrain will be available this winter, Hawks said.

“For the coming season skiers and riders can look forward to limited shuttle service from the new East Ridge terrain, returning them to the lifts. We are still working out details, but on days that we are able and when snow conditions warrant it, we plan to have a shuttle available near our lower lot, making it a cinch for skiers and riders to return to the lifts after scoring fresh powder on lower East Ridge,” he said.

And that would probably put a smile on anyone’s face.

cwertheim@postindependent.com