2017, a year in review: We recap and update this year’s most-read stories | SkyHiNews.com

2017, a year in review: We recap and update this year’s most-read stories

No. 1, most read story of the year

Police ID man who died in crash south of Kremmling; criminal charges follow for driver

Police identified the man who lost his life after a crash Aug. 12 south of Kremmling as 33-year-old Brian Ward of Denver.

Ward and seven other individuals were involved in a two-vehicle crash that occurred at 4:11 p.m. Aug. 12 on Highway 9 south of Kremmling. The incident resulted in one fatality, multiple medical transports and criminal charges for 30-year-old Brandon Wilson of Denver, driver of the vehicle in which Ward was riding.

According to officials from the Colorado State Patrol, late Saturday afternoon a 2015 Chevrolet Equinox driven by Wilson was traveling northbound on Highway 9 near mile post 128. At the same time a 2005 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 pulling a trailer was also traveling northbound, behind the Equinox. Investigators stated the Equinox slowed and pulled onto the northbound shoulder. As it did, the Silverado driving behind it pulled into the southbound lane in an attempt to give the Equinox space.

The Equinox then proceeded to make a U-turn into the southbound lane of traffic where it collided with the Silverado. The front of the Silverado struck the driver’s side of the Equinox causing extensive damage and injuries.

The Equinox driven by Wilson had four additional passengers, including Ward.

Wilson, the driver of the Equinox, sustained minor injuries.

After being released from medical care, Wilson was taken into custody and booked into Grand County Jail, facing multiple charges including vehicular homicide, two counts of vehicular assault, DUI, and making an unsafe U-turn at an intersection.


Wilson was arrested on Aug. 12, and charged with vehicular homicide, driving under the influence, reckless driving, two counts of vehicular assault DUI, two counts of vehicular assault reckless driving and making an unsafe U-turn.

Wilson bonded out of jail on Aug. 14, and made his first appearance in county court on Oct. 31. He chose to waive advisement and his right to a preliminary hearing, and asked that the hearing be moved to district court. His first hearing in district court will be on March 1.

No. 2

Authorities seize Granby Ranch property; CEO calls it ‘misunderstanding’

Granby’s beleaguered ski resort, Granby Ranch, was in turmoil the morning of Oct. 3 as local law enforcement officials moved into the area and seized the resort property for failure to pay more than $100,000 in delinquent local taxes.

Grand County sheriff’s deputies seized property at the resort, closing off several buildings and escorting resort employees off the premises before chaining the doors closed.

Dustin Lombard, Granby Ranch’s chief financial officer, arrived to the scene at around 10:30 a.m. and presented Grand County Treasurer Christina Whitmer with a check for $104,200.86, covering unpaid personal property taxes for Granby Realty Holdings LLC and Granby Amenities LLC.

The property was then immediately released back to Granby Ranch’s senior officials.

The unpaid taxes pertained to all personal property owned by the two entities, according to Whitmer.

Whitmer confirmed that Granby Ranch has paid the full balance of its unpaid tax liability. She added, however, that the resort has not paid its “real” property taxes — which are taxes on immovable properties and lands — to the county for the past two years and remain outstanding.

Granby Ranch CEO Melissa Cipriani called the incident a “misunderstanding that has been taken care of,” in a phone interview Tuesday morning with Sky-Hi News, but did not elaborate. She added that the resort was now back to “business as usual.”


In the weeks following this story, Granby Ranch issued full payment for all of its other outstanding taxes. Then, in November, Granby Ranch CEO Melissa Cipriani and owner Marise Cipriani announced that the resort would be put up for sale in January 2018.

No. 3

Brian Ward, who died in Highway 9 crash, was commercial pilot, devoted husband

Grand County witnessed three separate traffic incidents in late August that claimed the lives of three men. One of those individuals was 33-year-old Brian Ward, who was described as having an adventurous spirit.

Ward, a resident of Denver, was an airplane pilot for United Airlines, a native of New Jersey. He passed away from injuries sustained in a two-vehicle collision Aug. 12 on Highway 9 just south of Kremmling.

Ward’s sudden death left innumerable family and friends behind, including his wife, parents, brother, sister and two nieces. Around 450 people attended funeral services for Ward last weekend in Evergreen.

His best quality, according to his mother, was his empathy. He knew when someone was hurting, she explained, and when it was time to be there.

“He was never afraid to dive into something,” she added.

Ward’s sense of adventure and the caring, comforting heart he had were themes Kathy continually returned to when speaking of her son.

From an early age, he found strength in compassion, from himself and others, and, according to his mother, had a knack for making friends with unique characters.

From his days spent working as a raft guide on the Arkansas River to scuba diving and ski adventures, to his professional life as a commercial pilot, Ward was seemingly always on the go, often with his wife by his side.

After Ward’s death, his family received sympathy cards from an epilepsy camp where he had previously volunteered.

Ward’s career as a commercial pilot reached a milestone in March 2016 when he accomplished one of his life dreams: flying for United Airlines.


While Ward’s death in August sent his close knit family into mourning, the Wards have since worked to create meaning out of Brian’s terrible tragedy and have established the “What Would Ward Do Memorial Fund” to honor, “the adventurous life of Brian Ward.”

What Would Ward Do Memorial Fund provides funding for grants that go to organizations supporting the types of things Brian loved, explains the Fund’s website.

“We, his family, plan to dedicate our time and research to finding education-based causes that will enable people to experience the adventures that gave Brian’s life meaning: mountaineering, skiing, geologic field camp, aviation, and outdoor experiences (both adrenaline-fueled and other),” states the website.

According to their website the fund is a donor advised fund managed through Boulder Community Foundation. The fund has already raised $25,000 and has distributed one $5,000 grant to Big City Mountaineers on Oct. 12, Brian’s birthday.

Brian’s mother Kathy said the entire Ward family is still working through the grieving process after their loss but noted she was extremely proud of the life Brian lived and his personal character and explained she found solace in the remarkable and full life her son led.

“Please help us honor Brian’s life by donating,” reads the Fund’s website. “And, more importantly, whenever you are faced with a choice in life to take on a new adventure, ask yourself: What Would Ward Do?”

You can find out more about What Would Ward Do Memorial Fund by going to the fund’s website at http://www.wwwd.life.

No. 4

Officials still investigating death from chairlift fall

State and local authorities continued their investigation in January into the cause of a recent fall at a Grand County ski resort that resulted in the death of a Texas woman.

The woman, who authorities identified as Kelly Huber of San Antonio, Texas, experienced a traumatic rupture of the aorta and blunt force trauma to the torso after she fell 25 feet from a ski lift Dec. 29 at Ski Granby Ranch.

An ongoing investigation into the incident is being led by the Granby Police Department and the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board, part of the Colorado Department of Regulator Agencies (DORA).

Huber and her two daughters, ages nine and 12, were riding up the Quickdraw Express lift at around 9:30 a.m. Dec. 29 on the ranch’s east mountain when all three fell approximately 25 feet to the ground.

The Quickdraw Express remained closed Jan. 3. It is the only lift access to the top of Ski Granby Ranch’s east mountain, which contains the majority of the ski resort’s beginner and intermediate terrain. The resort’s other lifts remained in operation.


Nearly 10 months after the fatal fall at Ski Granby Ranch, officials from the ranch confirmed in October plans to replace the lift’s drive system, which state investigators pointed to as the cause of the incident that killed Kelly Huber.

An investigation conducted by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board identified “issues within the electrical drive/control system that contributed to a rare dynamic event that occurred on the lift at the time of the incident,” according to an official report from the safety board.

The drive was replaced and programmed ahead of the resort’s opening on Dec. 15, and the Quickdraw Express began operations for the 2017-18 ski season last week.

No. 5

John Catt, founder of Grand Co. Blues Society, dies from brain tumor

John Catt, founder of the Grand County Blues Society, passed away May 15 in his home in Homestead Hills, after 14 months battling an inoperable brain tumor.

In response to Catt’s death, the Winter Park Mayor Jimmy Lahrman and the town’s council issued an official proclamation recognizing Catt’s many contributions to Grand County and declaring “John Catt Day” to be June 24.

“He was pretty tenacious,” exclaimed Art Ferrari, treasurer for the Grand County Blues Society and long-time friend of Catt. “…He always started from a vision in his head of what could be, and basically dragged the rest of us along to help fulfill that vision.

“We’ve all been grateful to have helped him fulfill some pretty significant things.”

Catt, 68, was a major figure in the Grand County community for years. In 2002 he created the Grand County Blues Society, a volunteer organization that produces and presents blues shows and festivals. Under Catt’s leadership the society presented over 150 shows and produced 12 festivals in Grand County, including the annual Blues From The Top festival in Winter Park.

When he wasn’t organizing a festival or leading nonprofits, Catt prided himself on being one of the best specialty dry-wallers in the county, according to Ferrari. In his spare time he enjoyed golf and playing his guitar, although rarely in public.

His legacy will live on in his four children: Eli, Halley, Ryan and China.

“I think John was a treasure for our community,” Ferrari explained. “He was able to bring folks, resources together in our small community and serve it back in a way that people could be proud of and enjoy.

“His attitude was always about creating the best with whatever we were doing.”


While the death of Catt was certainly devastating to the Grand County Blues Society, along with Blue Star Connection and those who called him friend, those involved in the organizations Catt built are working hard to fill the gap he left behind.

“It’s been challenging,” said Art Ferrari, treasurer and accountant for the Blues Society and close friend of Catt. “The board of directors for the Grand County Blues Society have all challenged themselves to step up their efforts in order to keep John Catt’s legacy alive.

“We put on Blues From The Top after he passed away, and we’re continuing our work with blue star connection…From an emotional standpoint we’re all still very sad that he’s not around. We don’t get to see him swing dancing on the Smokin’ Moe’s dance floor.”

No. 6

Man rescued after vehicle careens off side of Berthoud Pass

One Florida driver got a harsh lesson in just how dangerous high country roads can be after careening off the side of Highway 40 on Berthoud Pass on Oct. 7 and tumbling down the mountainside approximately 400 feet.

Officials from the Colorado State Patrol confirmed that a black 2000 Ford Explorer driven by a 78-year-old man carrying a Florida driver’s license was traveling on Highway 40 on Berthoud Pass, near milepost 238, when his vehicle went off the side of the road. The Explorer went over a guardrail located near a large pullout on Berthoud, above the second switchback from the bottom on the Grand County side of the pass. After going over the edge the Explorer tumbled down the side of the mountain roughly 400 feet before coming to a stop in a collection of trees and rocks.


Nearly three months after his life threatening accident, 78-year-old Bill Newell is doing well and, despite the pain he endured and the impact the accident had on his wallet, he has not lost his sense of humor. He was the driver who ended up roughly 400 feet down the side of the mountain on Berthoud Pass. Luckily for Newell, he had a cell phone in his pocket and was able to place a call to first responders who rescue him later that evening.

“I’m doing just fine,” Newell told Sky-Hi News on Wednesday. “I just had my last physical therapy session this morning. I go back on the 9th of January to see my surgeon. Hopefully that is the last visit I have with them.”

Newell considered himself very fortunate in relation to his wreck and noted he was lucky on several levels. Newell’s injuries, while serious, could have been significantly worse. Newell broke his right wrist in the accident, and suffered serious contusions and cuts but he did not break any bones in his legs and besides his wrist the bones in his arms were also undamaged. He said doctors told him he did not suffer a concussion during the accident.

Newell said the accident scrapped off several layers of skin on his arms and legs but despite the pain of that injury his dry sense of humor was undimmed.

“I guess I can’t wear my bikini any more,” he joked with a sardonic laugh.

Newell remembers only portions if his accident after drifting off the side of the highway.

“All I saw was blue sky and I knew I was going over the cliff,” he said. “I remember the first hit, the front of the car hit a big boulder. It must have knocked me out because I don’t remember the car rolling over but they say it rolled numerous times.”

Newell said the next thing he remembers is coming to and realizing his vehicle had stopped on the steep slope after crashing into a stand of trees.

“My first thought was, I wonder if these trees will hold or if I will go down further. I had a feeling I wasn’t at the bottom.”

Newell remembered the small phone he keeps in his pocket and was able to call 911 who tracked his location using his phone’s GPS coordinates.

Newell said he was immensely thankful to the first responders who rescued him this fall and said he was surprised by the media coverage that followed his near-death experience. Though he understood why there was such much interest in the accident.

“I was surprised,” Newell said. But I guess if you sit back and look at where I went off, and how steep it was, and how far down I went, and that they pulled me out, it makes sense.”

No. 7

New ski trail unsavory to some

Winter Park Resort’s newest trail finally has a moniker, with “Sober Englishman” being selected after a resort-wide employee naming contest. But it’s not the name drawing attention, rather it’s the backlash from some people opposed to the trail itself.

“One of the best trails ever has been destroyed,” wrote Kyle Robinson on the Sky-Hi News Facebook page in response to the news.

“Sober Englishman,” earning its name because it crosses Mary Jane Territory’s iconic “Drunken Frenchman,” is a half-mile long intermediate run that will link the top of the Zephyr Express lift to “Mary Jane Trail.”

“Anytime you enact change on something as sacrosanct as Mary Jane, a reaction is completely understandable,” said Steve Hurlbert, spokesperson for Winter Park Resort.

Drunken Frenchman is one of the resort’s most iconic trails and “it’s never been, and never will be our intent to arbitrarily ruin something historic,” according to Hurlbert.

Hurlbert explained that the new trail will terminate at the top of Gandy Dancer and there will be a minimally invasive cut less than one-third of the way down Frenchman. The majority of the run will remain completely untouched.

The new trail is the first at Winter Park since 2011 and the first at Mary Jane since the Panoramic Express lift and corresponding Parsenn Bowl Territory trail complex were opened in 2007.

Derek Graven, who works in Winter Park’s security department as a Security Officer, beat out 177 other submissions to come up with the name, which will be featured on trail maps and on-mountain signage. After this winter season, Graven will receive the authentic trail sign to keep as a reminder of the name’s permanent entrance into Winter Park lore.

“That’s exactly what that mountain needs is more gapers on the Jane,” wrote Ben Schemel. “Well. I had my fun there.”


More than a month into the 2017-18 ski season, Winter Park Resort hasn’t heard anything in the way of feedback of the new trail.

“We really haven’t heard anything,” said Steve Hurlbert, director of public relations and communications for the resort, which he said was probably a “no news is good news” type of situation.

“I know when we opened Mary Jane on Dec. 16 a lot of people used to easily access the terrain we’d opened up from the Winter Park side, so it was definitely utilized immediately.”

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