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On the Fly column: Fishing resolutions

Taylor Creek fishing guide Kyle Holt holds two Roaring Fork brown trout.

After this year of our discontent, making a few fishing resolutions will provide us some light at the end of the 2020 tunnel. The beauty of fly fishing is that we never “cap out,” there is always something to learn, appreciate and strive for in our pursuits of those rascally finned friends of ours.

Giving back should top all of our lists. Local organizations, scout troops and schools provide so much to local youth and aspiring anglers. Groups like the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance, the Western Slope chapter of Casting for Recovery and the Roaring Fork Valley Fly Fishing Club can all use our help, whether it is financial or volunteering.

Stepping outside of our comfort zones makes us better anglers. This should be the year we learn to tie our own flies, learn to effectively fish dry flies or streamers better, or learn a new section of river versus stubbornly fishing the same spot all year.

The next step for accomplished trout fishers is to go on a saltwater trip. Planning a trip is half as fun as going on the trip itself, and hopefully we all feel more comfortable traveling soon. Consider bonefish, tarpon, permit or redfish if it’s your first attempt at going beyond Rocky Mountain trout. You can catch these fish in coastal areas right here in the good ‘ole USA.

Entomology is very important for fly fishers to understand, and this knowledge separates the novice from the accomplished angler. Read a book, grab a seine or dip net, and flip over some rocks. Understanding what insects the fish are focused on is half the battle out there. Don’t be afraid to pick the brains of your favorite fly shop employees either, we all ponder bugs morning, noon and night. Happy New Fishing Year to all of you, let’s all get to that next level of fly fishing together.

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.

WATCH: It’s beginning to look a lot like ski season at Sunlight

Sunlight Mountain Resort rolled out and dusted off the snow machines last week and have started the process of blowing snow on the slopes in preparation for the 2020/2021 ski season.

Skiers and snowboarders will have to wait a while longer before they can hit the slopes, however. Sunlight’s 54th season is slated to kick off Dec. 11.

Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli opens the hatch to the underground water hydrant valve before turning on the water to one of the snow machines.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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A snow gun machine is kicked on in the early evening hours at Sunlight Mountain.
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WATCH VIDEO

Video by PI Staff Photographer Chelsea Self
Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli checks the direction in which the wind is blowing and placing the snow near the base of the mountain.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli radios in with a coworker while firing up the snow machines near the base of the mountain.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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Snow begins to cover the slopes at Sunlight Mountain Resort.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli changes the position of the snow machine to ensure it is placing snow in the correct location.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli looks up to one of the snow machines after firing them up near the base of the mountain.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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The snow machines are typically fired up late in the afternoon and run over night until mid morning the next day.
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Aspen Skiing Co. outlines plan for ski operations during pandemic

Aspen Skiing Co.’s operations plan for the pandemic-plagued ski season was approved by Pitkin County on Wednesday and forwarded to the state of Colorado for review.

The 53-page plan covers everything from the Highland Bowl snowcat (it won’t operate) to procedures for ski patrollers (they will wear disposable gloves and other personal protective equipment when called on to treat an injured or ill skier or snowboarder).

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said the county checked for compliance with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s requirements for ski area operations this winter..

“We found that the company covered all the rubric,” he said.

The state health department also will review and inform Skico and the county within the next few days if changes are required, Peacock said. The Colorado ski industry is slowly cranking up for the season, just as state and national COVID-19 cases start to soar. Keystone, Loveland, Arapahoe Basin and Wolf Creek are among ski areas that have started spinning lifts. Aspen Mountain and Snowmass are opening two weeks from today, on Thanksgiving.

“Aspen Skiing Company’s primary goal for this season is to safely operate for the entirety of the season, while supporting and ensuring that our community stays safe and healthy,” said the opening of Skico’s operating plan. “ASC understands that this must be part of a broader community-wide effort.”

Skico will take actions that have become standard in the COVID-era — beefing-up cleaning and disinfecting of facilities and infrastructure, requiring employees and customers to wear masks in most situations, and marking off social distance in lines at retail operations, bathrooms and restaurants. But the plan also makes clear that virtually every part of the ski experience will be tweaked or altered this winter.

There is currently no plan to require season pass holders or lift ticket purchasers to reserve time on the slopes. However, Skico is ready to initiate such a plan, if needed. The company said it has “developed a backup reservation system that can be implemented” in case COVID-19 cases “move to problematic levels.”

In the meantime, Skico is using pass products to try to spread usage more evenly across its four ski areas and from traditional peak periods to less busy times.

The plan specified capacity limits for Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk but that section was blacked out from a copy The Aspen Times acquired from Pitkin County through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

“The following section on capacity is considered proprietary and is not available for public consumption,” the plan said. Nearly two pages that are blacked out follow it.

Skico said the winter operations plan is flexible so that capacity can be increased or decreased as conditions warrant.

Skiers and riders won’t be pampered with as many guest services as they have in the past. For example, people skiing Highland Bowl will have to fully earn their turns. The snowcat that provides a lift for a portion of the journey up the Bowl won’t operate this season.

At the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain and the Elk Camp Gondola at Snowmass, skiers and riders will be asked to load their own boards. “If help is needed, lift operators will assist,” the plan said.

Windows on gondola cabins will remain open, even in bad weather. An electrostatic sprayer will be used for a “deep clean” on the gondola cabins each morning as weather permits. “We will spray down cabins throughout the day so that they can dry on the way down if temperatures allow,” the plan said.

In lift and gondola lines, the guests will have “guidance to demonstrate appropriate spacing when waiting to load,” the plan said. Guests will be required to wear face coverings while loading, unloading and riding the lifts.

“Chairlifts will load with parties that are comfortable together,” the plan said. “Parties may load lifts to full capacity. No guests will be loaded with anyone outside of their party if they object to doing so.”

Facilities such as on-mountain restaurants and base facilities won’t be as inviting as in the past. For example, most of the furniture will be removed from the Aspen Highlands lobby and ticket office to “discourage loitering.”

The ski patrol headquarters will not be open to the public. If help is needed, visitors can knock on the window or call a number listed on the door.

Skico will post a “doorman” at on-mountain restaurants to help manage physical distancing at entries, waiting areas and queues. “All employees and guests will be required to wear a mask while navigating the facility, ordering food and at the cash registers,” Skico’s plan said.

Tents with seating capacity of as many as 50 people will be erected wherever possible to increase restaurant-seating capacity. They will have heating and air filtration.

They will be added at Elk Camp, Ullrhof and High Alpine at Snowmass; the Sundeck at Aspen Mountain; and Merry Go Round at Aspen Highlands.

In its bathrooms, Skico is considering “blocking off stalls” to provide adequate spacing. “Porta-johns” will be added outside of facilities to boost capacity.

“All public restrooms and Porta-johns will be cleaned and disinfected every hour,” the plan said. All hand dryers will be turned off and disposable paper towels provided. Hand sanitizer will be available.

Skico will use a carrot-and-stick approach to enforcement.

“ASC will train employees in empathetic dialogues that inform and remind the guests of our requirements in following the 5 Commitments to Containment,” the plan said. Signage on requirements for social distancing and masks will be provided wherever customers congregate. Individuals will be thanked for wearing masks and adhering to distancing. They will be reminded, when necessary, of the importance of the action and how each person’s behavior impacts others, according to the plan.

“Employees will not allow guests that are refusing to follow requirements into facilities or onto lifts,” the plan said. “If guests refuse to follow requirements, their pass/ticket will be blocked for the remainder of the day and they will need to speak with the mountain manager prior to re-establishing access.”

Skico said it has already implemented a comprehensive guest communications plan so that there are no surprises when customers arrive. The efforts will include clear explanations about cancellation and postponement policies.

“Our goal has been to clearly set guest expectations and develop reasonable policies that do not disincentive guests who are feeling sick from staying home and/or seeking medical attention,” Skico said in the plan. “ASC has developed a range of products and policies with various cancellation and postponement policies so that guests can make informed judgments about what makes sense for them.”

Sunlight Mountain Resort’s East Ridge chairlift gets Forest Service OK

The White River National Forest has approved the construction of Sunlight Mountain Resort’s East Ridge chairlift.

Sunlight proposed the new quad chairlift to provide better access to the intermediate and expert terrain in the East Ridge area. The project also includes constructing catwalks at the top of the lift for access to the Rebel and Grizzly trails as well as installing a vault-style toilet. 

“These upgrades should enhance recreational opportunities and improve skier circulation across the mountain,” said Acting Forest Supervisor Lisa Stoeffler. 

The majority of the project is on private land. Less than five acres would be disturbed on the White River National Forest, including clearing a 2,000-foot linear corridor for the new lift, clearing and grading for the top terminal, and installing supporting infrastructure. Ten of the lift’s towers would be on the White River National Forest. 

Sunlight Mountain Resort operates on the White River National Forest under a special use permit. The new lift and associated disturbance would occur within Sunlight’s permitted area. 

Sunlight expects construction to be completed for the 2021/22 ski season. 

Backcountry ski equipment expected to sell out quickly in Colorado as pandemic uncertainty persists

When ski resorts suddenly shut down in mid-March, skiers and snowboarders flocked to the backcountry. With lingering uncertainty about resort operations this ski season, backcountry shops are expected to be in high demand.

Eric Henderson, spokesperson for SnowSports Industries America, said that as ski areas and retail shops shut down in March and April, the backcountry industry saw a record-breaking amount of internet sales for equipment, including items like boots, shovels, packs and skins. He said sales for Alpine touring gear were up 34% in March and 15% for the season, according to internet sales data from NPD Group.

“What that did do going into this winter, though, is it increased everyone’s forecasts,” Henderson said.

Henderson explained that growth forecasts are intended to help purchasers order products in the summer in anticipation of what could happen in the fall. He said he’s expecting suppliers to sell out of products, particularly apparel and skins — which attach to skis or a splitboard to assist in ascending a hill or mountain. 

Specifically, Henderson said Swiss brand Pomoca, a pioneer of skins, is expected to sell out this season with certain products selling out as early as mid-November.

“With people buying this gear, we’re definitely going to see an increase of backcountry users, we’re definitely going to see people venturing into areas that they haven’t been before, which is great for the sport, no question,” Henderson said. “I think backcountry skiing deserves this chance. It does beckon the question of importance and need for education.”

While Henderson appreciates the growth of the sport, he said the industry wants to make sure people are educated and taking the right steps to avoid potentially deadly accidents. 

“What we don’t want to have happen is — great, backcountry skiing is growing — and then what if something happens on a massive scale,” Henderson said. “Then everything that we’ve put into growing … backcountry skiing could then get painted in a negative light if there was to be a major incident.”

That could become a problem if necessary backcountry safety items — like shovels, beacons and probes — are sold out.

Jackson Renner, owner of Gore Range Sports, recently opened his ski and bike shop in Silverthorne. In winter, the shop is focused on Alpine touring and Nordic skiing.

Renner said he is preparing for a busy season, specifically on the Nordic front. He said some customers who have never cross-country skied are coming into his shop looking for a way to get into the backcountry. Because Nordic skiing has a lower learning curve and associated risk than Alpine touring, he said he expects it to be particularly popular this year. 

“It’s kind of the activity the whole family can do out the back door,” Renner said. “Whether you live, say, in Wildernest or Breckenridge, you can ski all the local low-angle hillsides right out your back door, and it’s just safer. It’s kind of like taking the dog for a walk.”

Renner is expecting a shortage of backcountry gear this year and anticipates the product reordering process will be difficult. He said most of the vendors he’s currently working with are experiencing delays in production.  

Wilderness Sports owner Lucy Hedrick said there have been a lot of delays in production and that the bulk of what the store has received so far is Nordic gear. Hedrick said the store got a shipment of gear less than two weeks ago, and half of it already has been sold. The shipment would last until Christmas in a more typical season.

While Nordic skiing is expected to be popular, Hedrick said a lot of people are ready to commit to Alpine touring.

“A lot of people who have already done a lot of resort skiing — and maybe have even demoed our backcountry stuff or gone out with friends before — those people are ready to make a commitment this year to learning it and getting the education,” Hedrick said. 

Alpine touring equipment has a lot of interest, Hedrick said, but is experiencing shipping delays for some products. Hedrick said people are coming into the store panicked to get their equipment purchased for the season.

Hedrick is telling people not to stress. She said equipment will come; it’s just taking awhile to arrive. But once the equipment does arrive, it will go quickly, so the store is encouraging people to snatch up their gear — particularly safety gear — early. Hedrick said the store has increased its orders in anticipation of the high demand.

In a normal year, Hedrick said, the store would host educational events to help with backcountry safety. They won’t this year because of the pandemic, so Wilderness Sports staff members are trying to have conversations about safety with anyone who is new to the sport, including asking customers if they know where to go to receive proper avalanche education and ensuring they have the necessary safety equipment and know how to use it.

Wilderness Sports is pointing people to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Colorado Mountain College and other local programs for safety courses.

“We’re expecting it to be crazy, and I think that a lot of people that have already been in the backcountry world are nervous,” Hedrick said. “… The best thing that we can do is just try to hold each other accountable and educate people in a way that makes them feel welcome into the community.

“At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to make the best of this winter.”

Valley local Theo Williams completes bike ride from Aspen to California, raising $25K for Aspen Hope Center

Nearly 1,000 miles and almost two weeks after setting off from Aspen, Theo Williams arrived in Santa Monica a changed man. He battled weather, physical fatigue and self-doubt — not to mention flying trashcans and traffic cones — but finished stronger than he began on his journey of, well, hope.

“It feels like it hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s very strange how I feel like I didn’t do anything special,” Williams said Friday, just over a week after finishing his 12-day bike trip. “I didn’t realize the momentum behind it or how important the message was. I didn’t know how — I don’t like the word love — but I definitely felt more respected, a little bit, in the community, that people were actually getting behind me.”

Williams, a native of England who has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley since 2013, cycled roughly 979 miles from Aspen to Santa Monica, California, beginning Oct. 18 and finishing Oct. 29. Originally he was doing this for his own mental health, as this past year has been as tough on him as anybody, but also decided to partner with the Aspen Hope Center with the original hope of raising around $5,000 for the local nonprofit. Word got out quickly and before he had even started his 12-day trip, he had raised more than $10,000 and readjusted his goal to $20,000.

As of Friday night, Williams said he has raised $25,320, which he hopes will go toward putting counselors in schools to help kids who may be going through difficult times.

“It was fun and I’m super pumped of the money that was raised, but it was hard,” Williams said. “It’s been unbelievable in terms of I don’t really understand how much $25,000 is until I spoke to the charity and they say that’s actually a significant amount of money to raise.”

Williams chronicled his trip through Strava, Instagram and Facebook, often using the hashtags #MentalHealth, #DepressionAwareness and #BreakTheStigma. Here’s the breakdown of his journey to California, according to his Strava profile:

Day 1: Aspen to Rifle (67.98 miles)

Day 2: Rifle to Fruita (87.69 miles)

Day 3: Fruita to Green River, Utah (98.69 miles)

Day 4: Green River to Torrey, Utah (102.99 miles)

Day 5: Torrey to Panguitch, Utah (73.33 miles)

Day 6: Panguitch to Hurricane, Utah (79.46 miles)

Day 7: Hurricane to Mesquite, Nevada (63.33 miles)

Day 8: Mesquite to Las Vegas (87.63 miles)

Day 9: Las Vegas to “Somewhere on I-15” in California (56.78 miles)

Day 10: “Somewhere on I-15” to Barstow, California (95.67 miles)

Day 11: Barstow to Palmdale, California (77.67 miles)

Day 12: Palmdale to Santa Monica, California (64.18 miles)

Riding on fumes most days, Williams said he felt the strongest on Day 12 riding into the Los Angeles area and his finish line.

“Day 12, of all of the rides, was the only day that my legs felt great, my body felt great. If there were any hills to climb, I nailed it,” Williams said. “It was relieving. The feeling that I didn’t have to cycle the next day was by far the most important and best feeling about it. I had some family and friends that welcomed me in, and that was a surprise.”

Of the bad days, he said Day 5 — Torrey to Panguitch — was the most memorable. That was the day he got caught in a bad windstorm on trash day, one that literally sent both a trashcan and traffic cone flying into him on separate occasions that took him off his bike. To his surprise, a local family helped him up and drove him 40 miles north and out of the storm so he could safely continue his journey.

After completing Day 11 and getting to Palmdale, the eve of his finish, Williams posted on social media a “rant,” as he put it, which summed up the purpose of the journey.

“I created this idea with a selfish goal in mind. Some time for myself to get away and do something for me,” he wrote. “(Aspen Hope Center) came into the picture late but I’m thrilled it did. I’ve learnt on this trip that it’s important that we all do actions that are ‘good selfish.’ It’s OK to do things that better us individually. If you get the opportunity to do something for you, definitely go ahead and do it. It’s way more important than I ever knew.”

Williams doesn’t see this as the end of his work with Aspen Hope Center, but the beginning. As difficult as his 12 days were and as happy as he was to be home, he was already talking about what he could do next year to raise more money for the nonprofit.

He wanted to thank his employer, Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate in Aspen, as well as valley locals Simon Chen, Bob Perlmutter, Murray Cunningham and Bob Stumpus for their support and for providing occasional company on the road.

“It was hard. I definitely feel like I changed and grew a lot as a person, for the better,” Williams said Friday. “I really want to help people more. It’s always wonderful to have a Range Rover, but my mindset has definitely shifted. I feel like I grew more internally than ever before.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

On the Fly column: Winter is coming

It’s finally time to take a deep breath, reflect on what an awesome summer it was, and get your game plan together for the fall and winter to come. Maybe you need to send a few broken rods in for repair, book that trip to warmer climes for bonefish or redfish, or take inventory of those nearly empty fly boxes and get a tying plan together. Fall and winter certainly provide respite for the weary fisherman, but there is plenty to keep us busy all year here in the valley.

This could be the winter you build that fly tying bench you’ve been designing in the back of your mind. Those chine cracks on your drift boat probably need some attention, and your trailer might need a little love, too. Perhaps this is the winter you dial in the upper Fryingpan, stubbornly casting dry flies to a sporadically rising fish. This might be the year you finally knock down an elk and fill your freezer, and in turn, have a lifetime supply of elk hair for caddis dry flies.

Perhaps you’ll join the Roaring Fork Valley Fly Fishing Club, Trout Unlimited, the Roaring Fork Conservancy or the Roaring Fork Guide Alliance and start giving back a little. Maybe you will get a few close fishing friends together and do a river clean up on your favorite stretch of water. Your local Scout troop could probably use a volunteer to teach the next generation a few knots, how to cast, or how to tie up some pheasant tails and foam hoppers, too.

Those rods you never use any more might end up in a neighbor kids’ hands, along with a few flies and a promise of a fishing day or two in the spring. Maybe you’ll check out some of the sportsmen’s shows down in the big city (if they happen this year) and cast all of the rods in next year’s lineup. Whatever your plans are to keep your sanity until we warm up again, make it a great winter, get out there and fish, and get that project that has been gnawing at you underway.

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.

Swansons shine at final Sequoia Glen 5K race in West Glenwood

A sunny Halloween Saturday afternoon welcomed 34 runners and walkers to the 21st annual Kenny Cline Memorial Sequoia Glen 5K+ run in West Glenwood Springs. The race, which was run for the last time on scenic Mitchell Creek Road to a point above the Glenwood Fish Hatchery, raised $760 for local animal shelters.

Multi-sport athlete Reid Swanson, a junior at Glenwood Springs High School, outraced his younger brother Benny to the finish line to claim the overall race title in 21 minutes, 38 seconds on the challenging course.

“My legs can really feel those hills right now,” said Swanson following the completion of the run. “Doing cross country this fall helped to keep me in shape. This is probably the last time I will be able to beat my brother.”

Benny Swanson, an eighth grader at the Glenwood Middle School who claimed the Colorado class 4A/5A middle school state cross country championship last weekend in Denver, was timed in 22:15. When told that Reid had commented that it may have been the last time he could defeat his younger brother in a footrace, Benny confidently responded, “He’s probably right.”

Glenwood’s Josh Hejtmanek, a former Sequoia Glen champion, came in third overall at 23:15. Eddie Murray (25:13) and Bryce Risner (25:19) rounded out the top five places.

Anne Swanson, mom to the top two finishers, was crowned the women’s winner with a time of 26:27. Swanson’s run placed her sixth overall, edging out her husband, Warren, who finished in seventh place at 27:54. “Judy Jetson,” who has been positively identified by many in Glenwood as Nancy Risner, was second for the ladies in 33:02. Tianna White rounded out the women’s top three with a time of 35:09.

Donations from all race proceeds were sent to: Colorado Animal Rescue (Glenwood), Rifle Animal Shelter, Lucky Day Animal Rescue (Aspen), Valley Dog Rescue (Carbondale), and the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation (Silt).

Community profile: Canoeist still paddling after stroke

Lee Snyder just finished hiking the final segment of the Colorado Trail at age 68.

It’s more impressive knowing that he undertook the project after suffering a major stroke in 2017. He and his wife, Susan, starting hiking segments in 2018.

After his stroke he had to be attentive when holding things or he’d drop them.

But that was early on. It’s not such an issue anymore. 

He attributes that to a combination of learning how to compensate and his body rebuilding itself.

Still, there have been some changes.

“It makes his voice almost hoarse,” Susan said.

“I think he’s different, but one thing that’s the same is his sense of adventure,” his daughter Jess Kramer said.

That’s what he’d rather talk about; and, canoeing in particular. 

He even took three weeks off from his Colorado Trail hiking this summer to canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with his brother. 

“We get along pretty good,” Snyder said.

Well enough that he paddled a tandem canoe with him instead of taking two solo canoes.

He said he likes to go to Hoare Lake, which he pointed out on a Boundary Waters map that showed portages between lakes. 

There is no portage to Hoare Lake.

Adventurous spirit

Snyder has a history of doing things the hard way.

In mid-July 1975, when Snyder was 23, he embarked on a 29-day trip from Thompson to Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson’s Bay. He, Dick Davidson and one other covered between 600 and 700 miles.

In mid-June 1979, when Snyder was 27, he made a canoe trip of 900-1,000 miles, which he could have called the Yukon to Yukon excursion. He, Davidson and two others started in the Yukon Territory off the Dempster Highway the first year it was open to the public, and ended up on the Yukon River at the North Slope Haul Road, now better known as the Dalton Highway.

“We didn’t have any trip advice about that, we just kind of did that on our own. We made our own trail, that was good. That was back in the days of compass and maps and making your own trail,” Snyder said.

While he says the trip was fun, it didn’t start out so well.

“The first nine days were the toughest,” Snyder said.

Considering they had canoes but no navigable river, that’s not surprising.

“The only problem was our starting point was 20 miles off the road so we had to portage to that,” Snyder said. 

The trip report written by Davidson describes the portaging the group faced on day 1.

“About 85% of the tundra this day (and the days to follow) was a ‘bad news’ type of tundra. Unstable, mushroomlike grass clods surrounded by quagmire. These clods rise 3” to 28” above the quagmire, and the quagmire was 2” to 15” deep before footing was reached,” Davidson wrote.

On days 3 and 4, at least there was some water to follow.

“We walk, lift, push, drag and plow the canoes through the willows. The lead man attacked the willow with the machete,” Davidson wrote.

On day 8 they lost the machete, but no longer had a need for it as they began to canoe the McFarland River. They canoed the McFarland to the Whitestone, which eventually joins the Miner which becomes the Porcupine, which flows to the Yukon River. 

The trip took “34 days with no nights,” as Davidson put it, not including the 12 days of driving time.

Journey to Glenwood

At the time, Snyder was living on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota bordering Nebraska. During the Hudson’s Bay trip he was working at Standing Rock bordering North Dakota.

“I had a social case worker job,” he said, which worked well when he was in his 20s.

“You’re kind of socially conscious; it was good work, it fit my values good,” Snyder said.

In his spare time he could canoe the tributaries of the Missouri River.

Lee and Susan Snyder at home in Glenwood
Charlie Wertheim / Post Independent

He had just met his wife, Susan, and she watched his dog, Blue, for him while he was gone on the Yukon trip. Actually, she didn’t see much of the dog, but she’d leave food out for him. She saw Blue when Snyder returned 46 days later.

Two years later, Lee and Susan married, and they moved to Glenwood Springs in 1989. 

Snyder, a licensed clinical social worker, worked for 18 years as a therapist in Glenwood Springs for Colorado West Regional Mental Health Center (now Mind Springs), and for seven years as social service director at the veterans home in Rifle.

Along the way he coached Little League and soccer for his kids. His son, Matt, was a senior on the football team during Glenwood’s illustrious undefeated state championship season. Snyder offers what may be even higher praise than that: “He’s a good paddler,” he said.

Like father like son.

Kramer said of her father, “He’s always the fastest one out there, and we’re all trying to keep up. Even when he takes my high school friends on a trip, we’re all younger and most of those guys are pretty muscular, but we’re all struggling to keep up.”

Susan said she’s never done a 900-mile canoe trip, but “most of the 10-day trips I’ve gone with him.”

She mentioned several locations, like numerous trips on the Niobrara in Nebraska; Quetico in Canada, which borders Boundary Waters; and Banff.

“He’s dragged us on a lot of trips,” Kramer said.

And he might even “drag” Susan on a Canada canoe trip for their 40th wedding anniversary in May — though she’s hoping for the French Riviera.

Trail time

Susan also joined him for 430 miles of the Colorado Trail hikes before she needed to give her feet a rest.

After a particularly hard day Susan was exhausted. Lee was indefatigable.

“He comes up to me and he goes, ‘Livin’ the dream,’” she said.

Snyder said he and Susan had no particular difficulties out on the trail.

“Her blistered feet and toenails were the only problems,” he said.

One advantage of hiking this summer was being away from the Grizzly Creek Fire.

“It was good to be down south, to tell you the truth,” he said.

COVID managed to have an impact on the hike to a certain degree.

“This year, we didn’t meet any international people. Usually you can meet people from a lot of places,” Snyder said. 

After 486 miles of adventures on the Colorado Trail, does Snyder prefer canoeing or hiking?

“I’d rather paddle,” Snyder said.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

Ruedi Reservoir inspectors reel in highest number of mussel-contaminated watercraft in Colorado this season

Inspectors in Colorado this season intercepted a record number of watercraft showing signs of invasive mussel infestations as reservoirs across the state saw surging numbers of boaters. 

Ruedi Reservoir, near Basalt, recorded the state’s highest number of intercepted boats carrying mussels. Officials said that is probably due to the reservoir’s relative proximity to Utah’s Lake Powell, which has been dealing with a mussel infestation for years.

As public health experts have urged people to maintain their distance and avoid enclosed spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, one logical response for many Coloradans has been to take to the water. Boating, kayaking and paddleboarding have exploded in popularity this year, according to reservoir managers across the state. Riding the wave of that trend are invasive mussels, attaching themselves to watercraft.

“With more opportunities … for a boat to be transporting something into our waters, there is, of course, a little bit more risk,” said Robert Walters, an invasive-species specialist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

By mid-September in Colorado, where the boating season officially will close in November, the state had already recorded more than 600,000 boat inspections. In an average year, it conducts about 475,000. At least 94 boats were intercepted with confirmed adult mussels, the highest number recorded in the state since it began boat inspections in 2008.

Native to Eastern Europe, zebra and quagga mussels have infested waters around the world. The creatures, each wrapped in a hard, sharp shell, cling to surfaces in fresh water and quickly breed. Mussels can devastate aquatic ecosystems and damage infrastructure such as pipes and hydroelectric equipment. The larvae of these aquatic nuisance species — as they are designated by the state — have been detected in several Colorado reservoirs over the years, but adult mussels have never emerged. 

Mussels pose a particularly high threat in Colorado because of the state’s position upstream of other watersheds. Scientists suspect that zebra and quagga mussels would have difficulty establishing in a high-elevation river, but it’s still possible that they could be distributed downstream.

“We are at the top of the watershed,” Walters said. “So if something were to happen in one of our headwaters or really anywhere in the state of Colorado, it would have significant potential to impact those downstream of us.”

Keeping up with the crowds

CPW regularly tests the state’s reservoirs for mussel larvae, and so far there are no signs that the increased boating activity has spurred an infestation, which is a testament to the state’s thorough inspection program. Still, keeping pace with the increased boat inspections has been a challenge for many agencies, especially those dealing with pandemic-induced budget constraints.

“I think we’re pretty fortunate that we were even allowed to hire our normal staffing,” said Mark Caughlan, district manager at Horsetooth Reservoir, just west of Fort Collins. “But don’t get me wrong, it still wasn’t enough staffing to handle that massive influx of visitation that we saw.”

According to Caughlan, Horsetooth Reservoir normally gets around 1.2 million visitors a year. This year, the reservoir saw a 30% to 40% increase in visitation, much of which was boaters. The volume of visitors, the limited staff and the need to carefully inspect boats meant that some people waited hours to get on the water. Most reservoirs, including Horsetooth, put inspection stations at every boat ramp, making it improbable that any boat will touch the water before it’s checked out.

Adult mussels can stick to the outside of a boat or be sucked into the ballast tanks of wakeboard boats and ski boats. If mussels are found, inspectors spray the boat with a high-powered water jet to clear them off. The ballasts have to be emptied and washed to ensure that no larvae are inside. The full decontamination process can take up to 30 minutes depending on the extent of the infestation.

Even before boating exploded in popularity during the pandemic, the threat of mussels slipping through the cracks was increasing. In 2017, CPW intercepted 26 infested boats, which was a record at the time. That number increased to 51 in 2018 and to 86 in 2019.

Reservoir managers attribute the increase to surrounding states’ growing number of bodies of waters with mussel infestations, in particular Lake Powell, which became fully colonized by mussels in 2016. Boats leaving Lake Powell are required to undergo inspection by the National Park Service, but many boats slip through. Nearly 70% of the mussel-infested boats intercepted in Colorado come from Lake Powell. 

Ruedi on the frontlines

The impact of Lake Powell’s mussel colonies on Colorado is most striking at reservoirs closest to the Utah border. Ruedi Reservoir, in the Fryingpan River Valley above Basalt, has seen more boats containing invasive mussels than any other body of water in Colorado, with 17 interceptions this year. Ruedi is particularly vulnerable to mussels. The turbines and pipes inside its hydroelectric dam are difficult to clean and could be destroyed if they are colonized. Mussels are also a filtering species, meaning they feed off the microinvertebrates, such as plankton, in their ecosystem. These microinvertebrates make up the base of the food chain, which helps sustain the renowned fishery downstream of the reservoir on the Fryingpan River.

“Given our proximity, I think we share a lot of the same boaters with Lake Powell,” said April Long, executive director at Ruedi Water and Power Authority. “Their mussel population is increasing, and I don’t believe that their ability to inspect is also increasing.”

Due to the pandemic, Ruedi delayed opening to boaters until June 1, but Long said the number of boats inspected there has still nearly doubled in 2020. Inspectors worked overtime hours through June and July to keep up. 

Despite the long waits, inspectors across the state say most boaters are cooperative. Long worries that this could change if long lines become the norm, and she said the RWPA is discussing expanding its inspection staff next year.

“If they get frustrated with the amount of time that it takes to do these inspections or decontaminations, we may see some compliance shift to noncompliance,” she said. “We don’t want that to happen.”

While long lines could aggravate some boaters, Walters said boaters, generally, are invested in keeping the waters where they spend time healthy. The mussel colonies at Lake Powell have served as a firm warning for many Colorado boaters.

“If there is anything positive that I can say of the infestation out there at Lake Powell,” he said, “it’s that Colorado boaters love to go out there and seeing something like that happen to one of their favorite waters has really hammered home what this could potentially look like if it happened here in Colorado. From what I’ve seen, I think that’s made the boaters much more supportive of the program and that they don’t want to see that happen at their home waters.” 

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.