Daily Archives: December 17, 2015

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Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy

Tucked between the mountains at the far side of Minturn, the first indication that Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy is unlike any school anywhere is that it is surrounded by miles and miles of Nordic ski trails. Then there is the massive, state-of-the-art fitness center next door to where Lindsey Vonn and other Olympians work out regularly. No need to even mention the giant Yeti that guards the front door.

Founded in 2007 through a partnership with Eagle County Schools and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV), Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy (VSSA) is the country’s first public school for full-time skiers and snowboarders and is still one of a kind. Housed in the building that was once Minturn Middle School, VSSA is the place where roughly 175 fifth to twelfth graders study algebra, earth science, biology social studies and the standard lineup of academics, just like other kids across America. What sets them apart is that their school is also the place where they refine their halfpipe tricks in the custom-built “trampoline room.” It’s where they move the cafeteria tables aside after their pro-athletic-planned-lunch for a round of floor hockey. It’s where many of them are absent for months at a time as they travel the world training and competing, but have a litany of online resources, study halls and academic coaches to keep them on top of their curriculum when they’re not in the classroom.

“Five days a week we have dryland [training] for an hour and 45 minutes. Mondays and Fridays we tramp and twice a week we’re in the gym,” says eleventh-grader Paula Cooper, who has been attending VSSA since the sixth grade and whose family moved to the valley from Steamboat Springs expressly so she and her sisters could attend the school. “Every day we run, do agility and strength. It’s maybe the reason Ski Club and the school is so successful. We have such a rigorous off season and such a great facility.”

One of Cooper’s older sisters now attends the University of Colorado at Boulder and the other Columbia University. Both are alpine ski racers and active on the collegiate level. Cooper is a free skier who competed in her first World Cup halfpipe event in New Zealand in August. She finished ninth. She is also lined up to compete in the Youth Olympic Games in Norway this season and is hoping for more World Cup starts. Like all VSSA students, she’ll be juggling homework and attending online study halls in between competitions from wherever she is in the world. When she’s back home in the valley, she’ll be going to school and navigating the typical lineup of VSSA on-site programming, which is not by any means typical by American school standards.

“This is a special place. Not many people have a tramp facility in their school. We just get out of class and go tramp. That’s unreal,” Cooper continues. “In the off season, every day you wake up, go to school, do dryland, go home and do homework. To go to school here, you have to be really serious and committed because it’s completely different than any other school. We’re training so hard every day of the week. In the winter the intensity level goes up. You have to be on top of it for school and skiing all the time.”

The Academy is part of the Eagle County Schools but a pre-requisite to attend is being enrolled as a full-time athlete (alpine, Nordic, freestyle, freeskier or snowboarder) with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.

According to VSSA’s Head of School Geoff Grimmer, the brainchild for the Academy spawned from Mike Gass, formerly with the school district, and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail founder Aldo Radamus. When VSSA launched in 2007 it was comprised of 31 students and occupied two small classrooms in Minturn Middle School. In 2011, the Academy overtook the building. Graduates include World Cup mogul skier Heidi Kloser and U.S. Ski Team alpine racer Abby Ghent.

“The goal when it started was to not lose Eagle County kids. Kids like Abby and Heidi, if we didn’t build a ski academy in Eagle County, they were probably going to go east to places like Burke. This was Eagle County School’s attempt to keep kids in Eagle County,” Grimmer says.

Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin was one Eagle County kid that the district lost to Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont. But these days, young, up-and-coming skiers and snowboarders do indeed stick around Eagle County because not many East Coast facilities have better options than VSSA.
Although the school mascot is the Yeti, students more readily identify themselves by their ski club – SSCV. In addition to the trampoline room, which is outfitted with foam pits and a variety of mats, the school has a full-fledged gymnasium regularly used for the younger students’ dryland training (team sports, running, etc). Lauren Lange, the Strength and Conditioning Chef, prepares meals based on a nutrition plan for U.S. Olympic athletes. The options on a given day might be breaded chicken, broccoli and cheese and complete salad bar.
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“I spent a lot of time with the USOC (U.S. Olympic Committee) and, one thing we noticed right away in providing the right nutritional program, was providing variety, but healthy variety,” says SSCV director of human performance John Cole, who heads up Minturn Fitness Center, the aforementioned wonder gym next door to the Ski Academy. “When we brought Lauren in, we made sure all the food came from organic grocers, as locally grown as possible. And because of caloric demands, nutrition is a huge part of the recovery for these kids. We look at caloric expenditure on the hill and give back what they’re expending with a variety of different meals. We also customize meals based on allergic and dietary needs.”

The Minturn Fitness Center, which is open to the public, is the training facility for older students -083at VSSA. It’s not unusual to find Olympic skiers or NHL players training there alongside the ski academy students. The center has a dedicated physical therapy area and a slew of bikes and weight equipment, ranging from basic to high tech and non shock-loading, including what Cole refers to as “the Lindsey Vonn machine,” a treadmill-like device that simulates different types of terrain and can be used by alpine skiers and snowboarders alike.

In September, while students convened in algebra class or discovered biomes in environmental science study hall, coaches meet in a classroom of their own for a pre-season planning period and pro technicians are hard at work in the school’s full-time service room.
The room, which was once housed the middle school’s Industrial Arts area, now resembles a Rossignol or Atomic ski factory, serving as the official tune shop for the 700-plus athletes in Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.

“Alpine and Nordic ski racers are by far the most exacting, so as far as equipment preparation, it’s a full-time requirement,” says SSCV pro shop manager Brian Eggleton. “In the season, our guys are here tuning before the kids go to school and long after they go home.”
And, as one might expect, the VSSA school clock ticks to a different schedule than that of most schools.

Once the snow flies in early November, the place is virtually empty Tuesday through Friday mornings because the kids are out skiing and snowboarding. Nordic skiers are on the trails surrounding the school, which have, by the way, played host to the High School State Nordic Championships and will likely host elite Nordic races of all variety – not only high school – in the near future. Alpine skiers are training alongside skiers from around the country and world at Vail’s early season training terrain at Golden Peak, snowboarders and free skiers are traveling to Summit County for park and halfpipe training.

“What’s wonderful about this place is that everyone is a full-time athlete, so the scheduling and everything that is happening is able to support the needs of a full-time athlete,” says SSCV director of admissions, Sharon Schmidt, whose office is located in the school. “Although it’s a two-semester academic setting, it’s broken into trimesters from an athletic perspective. So the fall and spring are much more heavily weighted in terms of the pace of the academics. The load is lightened in the winter trimester.”

If students are in town during the winter, they’re at school all day Monday and shuttled back for lunch after on-snow training Tuesday through Friday. They go to class all afternoon until just before 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays are spent training or racing.

Schmidt gets calls from parents all over the country and world who want their children to attend VSSA. Of course, not all kids can qualify. Besides being a full-time snowsports athlete at SSCV each child must prove to be extremely dedicated, motivated and focused.

“When I’m going through the admissions process, I’m looking at their athletic ability, at their academics, at their maturity. These kids have to be mature beyond their years to be able to handle balancing all of these things,” Schmidt says.

The balance between athletics and academics often becomes a big choice for students once they graduate from VSSA. Many are faced with the dilemma of choosing either a college career or a professional sports career. Besides Heidi Kloser, who chose sports and is a successful moguls skier on the U.S. Team (returning from a knee injury that sidelined her for the Sochi Olympics), freeskier Aaron Blunck is another recent VSSA graduate off to a successful athletic career, having finished seventh in the Sochi Olympic halfpipe contest and with a World Cup halfpipe win to his credit. Then there is Liz Strong who managed to juggle both her athletic and academic success beyond high school. After graduating from VSSA she went on to ski for Harvard and graduated last year with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. She is now attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue her Ph.D.

“The common thread for our kids is that they’re passionate about what they’re doing,” Grimmer says. “In the end, the athletics is just a model [by which] they follow their passion and achieve remarkable things. They then go back and use that model and graph it into a particular part of their life, personally or academically … it doesn’t matter really. The common thread is passion.”

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FAMILY LEADERSHIP Making a Change: One Person at a Time

In 2008, Meighen Lovelace left her bartending job to raise her newborn, while her husband juggled three or more jobs. When she eventually turned to the Salvation Army’s food pantry for assistance, she received enough to feed her family, but she noticed the shortage of fresh produce. She remained grateful for the food; after all, she knew about making sacrifices: She relied on public transportation to avoid driving costs, used cloth diapers to save money, canceled cable television and received donations from the Salvation Army and the restaurant at which her husband worked.
But through it all, she held a strong conviction that everyone — rich, poor or middle class — deserves fresh, nutritional food. She just wasn’t sure what to do about it — until she participated in Family Leadership Training Institute (FLTI).

The 20-week, 120-plus-hour curriculum teaches people from all walks of life the skills to positively impact communities. The statewide organization works with local communities to strengthen civic engagement and provide resources to support parents, teachers and adults from all walks of life interested in advocating for health, safety and education.

During the program — offered free to accepted applicants who commit to the three-hour, weekly sessions and a community-based project — participants identify deficits within Eagle County, and implement solutions.

In 2003, Lovelace created the Avon Community Garden, in conjunction with the Salvation Army, to provide fresh, organic produce to the food bank. She launched Produce for Pantries, which serves more than 500 families a month through donations and harvests from the community garden.

“When you open your refrigerator and it has fresh produce, there’s such a sense of gratitude that you’re going to give your body what it needs,” Lovelace says. Recently, she wrote grants to build a greenhouse for year-round yields and partnered with Colorado State University Master Gardener program, SOS Outreach and others to teach kids about growing organic food. She worked as FLTI’s site coordinator until Julia Kozusko took over in 2015.

“FLTI is a really powerful program for everyone in the county,” Lovelace says. “Nobody leaves the program without changing. It’s very impactful, not just for the participant, but for the community.”

FLTI blends participants of various ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, an attorney, who was new to the valley, applied to learn about the community and how she could contribute. She worked alongside recent immigrants and longtime residents.

“We meet you where you’re at with your leadership skills. If you’re in a higher socioeconomic level, we identify ‘Here’s where I want to go,’” Lovelace says, adding that FLTI also teaches basic skills whenever necessary. “The tagline is, ‘There’s a leader in everyone,’ and FLTI brings out that leader.”

Jennifer Pronga became one of those leaders in 2014 when she began teaching people how to plan nutritious, non-GMO meals on a budget. Her program has cut many family of four’s monthly grocery bill from an average of $1,100 to an average of $700, while incorporating more organic produce into their diets.

Pronga and Lovelace’s projects exemplify just two examples of the dynamic changes headed by FLTI graduates. Participants’ projects range from raising awareness of safe driving habits or helping residents become more fluent in English to developing modified high school diplomas for students with learning disabilities, or offering Zumba classes for mothers suffering from post-partum depression.

“My biggest take away from FLTI,” Pronga says, “is that one person can make a difference. You really do have a voice.”

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FULFORD

On December 31, 1891, Arthur Fulford ate the remains of a fluffy biscuit and washed it down with a swallow of nail-bending coffee. Glancing out the window of the Lanning Hotel in Nolan’s Camp, he watched snow fall. The hotel was located in White Tail Gulch at the end of a 22-mile trek from Eagle and a little above Polar City. Arthur knew he should be home in Red Cliff with his pregnant wife and two young sons. Yet here he was in a miner’s camp close to 9,800 feet in elevation; a place where women had no place and where men lived to work.

Art checked his pocket watch. It was after 10 a.m., and partner Byron Barthoff had not arrived. He pressed his handlebar mustache between his thumb and forefinger and smoothed his dark hair. A tall man at over 6’4”, Art got up from the table, having decided that he couldn’t wait for Byron. They would meet later.

Pulling his coat collar round his neck, Art went outside and strapped on his snowshoes. His shoulders were quickly covered with snow. The air was frigid, but he trudged away from Nolan’s Camp and climbed nearly 1,500 feet to the top of New York Mountain and past the Polar Star cabins. The going was difficult and he could barely see to the edge of the mountain. When he reached his goal, Art marked his claim. Now his hands were almost frozen, his lashes covered with snow crystals, his cheeks cold. Turning away from his claim, Arthur Fulford climbed down the mountain. He headed to Bowman Gulch where he would meet Byron at the Bayreta cabins, structures Art had built with his brother, Mont, and their friend, Solon Ackley, in 1886. He and Byron would then hike out the Lake Creek drainage then board a train at Berry Creek and ride to Red Cliff to file the claim.

The wind howled and the snow piled up. Very cold now, Arthur hurried as the route grew steeper. Suddenly, he heard a loud noise like a gunshot and looked down. The mountain of snow beneath his snowshoes was moving. He opened his mouth to yell, but instead, was suddenly swept off his feet.
On January 1, 1892, Byron started up on the backside of the New York Mountain looking for Art Fulford. He followed Arthur’s tracks to the point where they entered a massive snow slide on the Lake Creek drainage. Horrified, Byron returned to camp to get help. Thirty men returned to the site and began the search for Arthur. They found his body five days later.

Arthur’s body was taken to Red Cliff and buried in grand style. For years afterwards, tales were told of a fabulous fortune that Arthur had hoped to claim.

What was so important to Arthur that he risked his life to stake a claim? Perhaps we will never know.
Arthur was born to Edward and Sarah Fulford in Canada in 1857. When Art was 14, Edward, a Methodist-Episcopal minister, moved the family to Fairborn, Nebraska. Art was the eldest of the children which included Adelaide, Albert, Marshal “Mont”, Francis and twins Harriet and William. He left home to venture to Leadville, Colorado, in 1879, when the silver boom began and soon married 19-year-old Annabelle Donald. However, the union did not last and Art migrated to Red Cliff where, at age 24, he was elected town marshal, serving two years. A big man, who demanded respect with his six-shooter on his hip, it was said that Arthur could tame a rowdy saloon by stepping into it.

After discovering several mines, Arthur began prospecting around a fledging mining camp called Nolan’s Camp, which was tucked some twenty miles south of the town of Castle. It was first named for William Nolan, an early prospector who, one day in 1887, was hiking up a creek when his gun discharged, the bullet entering his jaw and severing his tongue. After Nolan died from his wound, his friends named the creek after him. The area above Nolan Creek was in the direct line of the Battle Mountain and Aspen mineral belt and a new mining area began to grow. Now it contained two towns, sitting side by side: Nolan’s Camp and Polar City.
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In 1887, Edward and Sarah Fulford moved to Brush Creek area with their younger children to join their older sons. Edward purchased a ranch ten miles up Brush Creek, which later became the “Halfway House,” a rest stop for travelers going from Eagle to the mining camps above Nolan Creek. Edward built a large barn where teams of horses could be brought inside, turned around and fresh horses then hitched to the carriage.

Many tales persist about Fulford: a lost mine, piles of gold, murder, a map to the treasure. Yet, the end of the tale stopped with Arthur Fulford. Probably this most popular theory involved a man named Buck Rogers and over the years, the fascination with this little town and its possibilities continued.
As the story goes, … In 1849 Buck and a group of men from Ohio passed through Colorado on their way to California. Finding some color in Brush Creek, Buck and several other men decided to stay to find the mother lode. They found an enormous amount of gold. However, winter set in and the group was low on supplies. The men sent Buck to the nearest camp to get provisions. Buck lingered, dousing himself with rot-gut liquor. More than a month later he returned to the mine on Slate Mountain but, to his shock, discovered that a snow slide had covered the mine entrance and any sign of his partners. Buck never found his mine and on his deathbed, supposedly, gave those present directions to the mine. Over the years, however, the directions changed hands several times.

One day a prospector arrived at the Halfway House in need of a horse to go to the mines. He and Arthur became friends and, eventually, he asked Arthur to become his partner in the lost mine. Two weeks later the man was killed in a barroom brawl. It is said that Arthur searched the man’s cabin and found the map to the mine. However, he needed to stake a claim before the end of the year – and that was why Arthur took off on that fateful day – December 31, 1891. Weather was not going to stop him!
After Arthur died, Nolan’s Camp and Polar City were combined to form one town that was renamed Upper and Lower Fulford. Those were the glory days in the mining camp when men swarmed the mountains in search of gold. At its peak, the Upper Fulford district had more than 500 mining claims. Some of the more profitable mines included Polar Star, Cave, Adelaide, Lady Belle, New York, Iron Age and Killier B. Lower Fulford, too, eventually grew in popularity and finally became the prominent town with just the name Fulford.

Rumors of Buck Roger’s lost mine continued. In a time when word was spread by mouth or sketchy newspaper reports, such a story was typical of the dime novel entertainment that took place in the 1880s. The story grew and by 1890 the directions to the lost mine had been published in a Denver newspaper, bringing flocks of adventurers following the clues to Slate Mountain. All they found, however, was a cluster of log cabins high against New York Mountain. But, no mine.

The mines continued to produce in Fulford until 1895, with 1893 being the high point of boom with the gold frenzy. At one time, over 600 residents lived in Fulford. In 1896, the 59-acre Fulford town was platted in the Eagle Country Courthouse. At that time, Fulford claimed 100 residents with 25 buildings, including two hotels, two general stores and three saloons. Of all the mines, the Polar Star was reputed to be the richest in the district. During boom times, ore from the Polar Star mine was processed at its own stamp mill around the clock.

However, darker days loomed for the town of Fulford. Few new strikes were found after 1895 and profits began to decline. In 1901, Mrs. Lanning closed her Fulford Hotel for the winter season. Other locals followed suit. By 1902 only eight students were enrolled in school. In 1908 the Eagle Valley Enterprise reported, “practically no work being done on any of the mines in the Fulford District.” And the school closed its doors in 1912.

Some towns never die. So it was with Fulford. In 1913, the Lanning Hotel was once again filled with customers when a fresh strike in the 1913 Tunnel was discovered. However, the boom only lasted a few weeks and even the coming silver boom of 1912-1913 did not bring Fulford back to its heyday and the town grew quiet, the cry of a winged jay the only sound on the mountain.

In 1948, a tax assessor, by the name of Hemberger, bought most of Fulford land. When he died, his estate liquidated the town lots. Few lots were sold. In 1974, the Scandian Corporation of Denver bought the remaining Hemberger lots. These lots were put up for sale to the public.

However, the little town of Fulford did not slip from history. It had too much character, too many memories and was a bucolic spot in a lodge pole pine grove. Eagle County residents and those looking for an isolated vacation or second home climbed the road to Fulford and bought one of the lots. Today the town has 80 landowners from all over the country. Mixed in with many of the old mining shacks are now some $250,000 log cabins and Fulford lots are still advertised for sale.

Just as it was 100 years ago, today life in Fulford is not easy. Cabins with adjacent outhouses are laid out along a total of eleven dirt streets. Newer log buildings sit beside dilapidated dwellings. No public utility service is available to the town. Propane tanks are filled in the fall and electricity comes from solar or hydroelectric generators. Satellite dishes can be seen pointing at the sky. Snowmobiles are parked like cars, awaiting the first snowfall, since there is no road access to Fulford during the winter. Most of Fulford’s residents are summer residents, yet a few stay year round, which is a challenge. And those who do live there year round are some of the heartiest, hardworking and sincerely environmentally conscience people anywhere. They may have changed the area from ghost town, but they are in many ways preserving a way of life, in a newer style.

For many years, Harvey Icks was the sole resident of Fulford and self-proclaimed mayor of the town. During his tenure at Fulford, he communicated with the outside world by band radio and each day radioed the weather conditions to the local forestry service. He also kept a guest book. One year, between June and November, he recorded over 1,900 signatures. Harvey lived in Fulford until the mid-1970s when his health caused him to move to Eagle.

The 2010 census listed two permanent residents in Fulford. Although not actually a ghost town, Fulford is now quiet compared to the noise of the boom days of prospecting for gold, from the plod of horses, to the strike of the pick and shovel, to the clink of glasses at one of the two saloons. Tourists come and go during the summer months and hearty souls arrive via skis or snowmobile in the winter. It remains an enchanting place but more importantly, its history is filled with sweat and tragedy and tales of riches found and lost.

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Because there is no earthly fascination as absorbing as searching for gold, the Buck Rogers story has lingered for generations. To this day, people drive up the mountain road to Fulford with a copy of the directions to the Buck Rogers mine.

One blog on Rocky Mountain Profiles reads: September 11, 2011. My name is Wade. I grew up in Eagle and as a teenager hiked in the New York range with my father and did some prospecting. We researched the “The Lost Buck Roger’s Mine” and had a map to the mine. After several years of searching, we found the mine portal, including some of metal and tools, square nails and a cabin foundation. It is located above timberline in a spooky valley between the peaks. The location is covered with boulders and would take heavy equipment to re-open the entrance. The only access is by rope. It’s a gravesite up there now. So spooky and chilly, yet so beautiful. It remains one of my favorite places on earth. This is a true story.

Fulford now stands quiet as the slender shafts of the pines stand motionless in the cold air. It started with the promise of riches and also ended the life of Arthur Fulford, a man who was larger than life.

Today you can drive up the winding road along Brush Creek, past ranches a snow-covered golf course to the Yeoman Park trailhead. Breathe the pine-scented air and snowshoe or cross country ski to up East Brush Creek Road to the Nolan Creek Road. From here it is a half-mile climb to the upper town. Once there you will understand the allure of the town, the place, and the adventure of searching for gold.