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News from our neighbors: Former city councilman stole $2.4 million from Aspen Skiing Co., police say

A former Aspen city councilman and mayoral candidate allegedly stole and sold more than $2.4 million worth of skis, snowboards and other goods while working as an Aspen Skiing Co. executive for 17 years, according to court documents.

Derek Johnson, 51, and his wife, Kerri Johnson, 48, were charged Monday with theft of more than $1 million, a felony on par with attempted murder. The couple also were charged with burglary, cybercrime and conspiracy, which are all felonies.

Derek Johnson, who was fired by Skico in the wake of the theft allegations in December, is currently working as a delivery driver for an Aspen restaurant, while he and his wife and three children are surviving mostly on savings, Kenneth Citron, his lawyer, said Monday morning in Pitkin County District Court.

Citron asked District Judge Chris Seldin to grant the Johnsons personal recognizance bonds — which would have meant they could be let out of jail without posting any money — because the couple have “really limited financial resources.”

“This is a man who has dedicated his entire life — other than to his profession and family — to this community,” Citron said, noting that Johnson has sat on numerous boards including the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the Snowmass Village Resort Association and the Red Brick Center for the Arts.

Prosecutor Don Nottingham, however, said that Johnson was filling those community roles — which also included coaching kids’ hockey and football — while he was allegedly stealing more than $2 million “over a lengthy amount of time.” In addition, the Johnsons are each facing up to 24 years in prison if convicted, which could provide a compelling reason for them to flee, Nottingham said.

Seldin noted that he initially set the bond lower than the prescribed amount, and decided Monday to keep the Johnson’s bonds at $10,000 cash or surety. As of Monday afternoon, neither Johnson was listed as an inmate on the Pitkin County Jail’s online roster.

Neither Johnson spoke in court Monday.

Johnson helped found the D&E Snowboard Shop and sold it to Skico in 2001, when he was kept on as managing director of the company’s retail-rental division. He also served on the Aspen City Council between 2009 and 2013 and ran for mayor in 2013.

Skico fired Johnson in December, calling the situation “tragic” and “very painful and personal,” though company officials declined to comment further. Johnson, at the time, said his firing was “a private employment matter” and also refused to comment further.

Court documents unsealed Monday indicate that Skico’s security manager told Aspen police Nov. 9 about an anonymous tip the company’s human resources department had received about Johnson stealing demo skis and selling them through an eBay account called “sportandski.”

Spreadsheets found on Johnson’s computer at his home showed that between 2010 and 2018, he and his wife listed $2,146,180 in total sales from the eBay account, according to the court documents.

In addition, police found more than $224,000 worth of skis and snowboards in a storage unit rented by the Johnsons. That gear was turned back over to Skico officials, the documents state. Finally, the couple also billed Skico nearly $42,000 since November 2015 for ski boxes they used to send the allegedly stolen Skico skis to their eBay customers.

That is a total of $2,415,163 in alleged theft, according to the Johnsons’ arrest warrant affidavits.

“I did not find any receipts or documentation relating to the procurement of ski equipment,” Aspen police Detective Adriano Minniti wrote in an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Pitkin County District Court.

Skico hired an Aspen law firm to investigate the situation, and provided Aspen police with a copy of the report.

The investigation led to an employee hired in 2017 to better track company inventory. During the 2017 inventory, the employee discovered 150 pairs of skis missing and informed his supervisor, according to the documents. The supervisor asked Johnson about it, who told him not to worry about it, so the situation was forgotten.

The next year, the same employee organized the inventory of skis into categories, then noticed that 80 pairs of high-end demo skis later went missing, the documents state. Security camera footage then showed Johnson taking the skis from racks the employee organized and putting them into a Skico box truck.

The box truck was equipped with GPS, and was tracked to Johnson’s home and then to his storage unit, the documents state.

“Based on existing evidence, Johnson would take skis from ASC’s inventory and he or his wife would deliver them to a small warehouse in Aspen that they rented,” according to the report’s summary quoted in the court documents. “It appears that their practice was to remove any stickers identifying the skis as ASC property, photograph them and post them on eBay for sale by auction.

“To facilitate delivery of skis to purchasers, the Johnsons used ski boxes that were purchased and paid for by ASC.”

The Johnsons billed Skico more than $6,000 for the ski boxes in August 2018 alone, according to the documents. In 2018, the couple allegedly sold 580 pairs of skis to the tune of nearly $140,000. Tax documents found on ASC servers indicated the couple reported $495,000 in sales in 2017.

In addition, a forensic audit found that more than $1 million in inventory was missing since 2008, and that “the ski sales increased in the last couple of years and … that the loss incurred last year was approximately $500,000,” according to the documents.

In its report, the law firm said it didn’t know if Johnson procured ski equipment from other sources besides Skico. Johnson allegedly told the firm he had other sources prior to 2012, though the only source he named later denied selling him anything, according to the court documents.

In a file found on his computer titled “timeline,” Johnson said the eBay situation started as a way for D&E to reduce used inventory and was run, at first, with Skico knowledge, according to the documents.

The operation wound down when his children were young and when he was on the city council, then was brought back and “intended to (be) run above board,” the documents state. It eventually “spiraled out of control,” Johnson wrote in the file, according to the documents.

“I was miserable with role at ASC (we were trapped),” he wrote, the documents state. “Kerri was not happy with her work.”

Johnson told Aspen police that senior Skico executives did not know he had re-started the eBay business and that his wife was the only other person involved, though he was solely responsible for obtaining the skis, according to the documents.

“Several times he volunteered that ‘Kerri didn’t know where I got the inventory,’” the documents state. She did know the source of the ski boxes, however, according to the documents.

According to documents found on Derek Johnson’s computer, the Johnsons have nearly $102,000 in credit card debt and owe more than $294,000 in other debts.

On Monday, Johnson’s lawyer said the couple own only their employee housing unit in Aspen and no other property.

Sky-Hi News wins 28 awards, including Best of Show, Editorial Sweepstakes at Colorado Press awards

Reporters, editors and publishers from throughout Colorado converged on Aurora over the weekend for the 141st annual Colorado Press Association’s convention and press awards ceremony.

Sky-Hi News had a strong showing during the press awards banquet, covering work done in 2018, bringing home 28 separate awards including the distinguished Best of Show award for the paper’s advertising department. Each year the Colorado Press Association selects winners in a variety of categories. Newspapers from throughout the state compete against each other based upon their respective circulation class.

However, each year the Colorado Press Association selects three newspapers to receive Best of Show awards for advertising, editorial content, and photography and design. The Best of Show category does not distinguish between newspapers of varying sizes with twice-weekly papers, such as Sky-Hi News, competing directly against large daily papers like the Denver Post.

“I am so honored and humbled to have won this award,” said Emma Trainor, Sky-Hi News publisher. “To be judged among the best newspapers in Colorado, no matter their size, and come away with this award is inspiring. I have the best staff I could ask for and these awards prove that.”

Sky-Hi News also received the 2018 Editorial Sweepstakes award for its circulation class for its outstanding editorial content in 2018.

“I am beyond humbled and proud of my team,” said Bryce Martin, Sky-Hi News editor. “We’ve done such good and hard work over the last year and our commitment to delivering the best journalism possible to our audience has never been stronger.”

In total Sky-Hi News received 28 awards including the Best of Show and Sweepstakes award. Overall the paper received 13 first place awards and 13 second place awards. Of the total awards received by the Sky-Hi News staff, the paper received seven advertising awards, 11 editorial awards and nine for photography and design work.

Special Awards

  • Best In Show: Advertising
  • 2018 Editorial Sweepstakes – Class IV

First Place Awards

  • Best Real Estate Ad: Nate Lee for Remax Peak to Peak – Nate Lee
  • Best Health Care Ad: Nate Lee for Granby Dental – 10 Year Anniversary
  • Best Newspaper/House Ad Promotion: Sky-Hi News Staff, CMNM Magazines for Digital Solutions
  • Best Editorial Special Section – Glossy or Magazine: Sky-Hi Staff for Explore Grand Winter
  • Best Editorial Special Section – Newsprint: Sky-Hi News Staff for Best of Grand 2018
  • Best Informational Graphic: Bryce Martin for On the Mountain
  • Best Feature Page Design: Bryce Martin for Dec. 22 front page: How it all began
  • Best Sports Story: Sawyer D’Argonne for Once in a lifetime
  • Best Breaking News/Deadline Reporting: Lance Maggart, Bryce Martin for Silver Creek Fire roars
  • Best Feature Story: Lance Maggart for Yoshi’s tale
  • Best Breaking News Video: Bryce Martin for Golf Course Fire
  • Best Environmental Story: Lance Maggart for High water temps
  • Best Story/Picture Combination: Lance Maggart for Weathering a crisis

Second Place Awards

  • Best Classified Page(s) or Section(s): Sky-Hi News Staff
  • Best Advertising Special Section: Sky-Hi News Staff for Explore Grand – Summer 2018
  • Best Newspaper/House Ad Promotion: Sky-Hi News Staff, CMNM Magazines for Rocky Mountain Gold Card
  • Best Small Space Ad: Nate Lee for Barba de Sapientia – Soft Opening
  • Best Editorial Special Section – Glossy or Magazine: Sky-Hi News Staff for Explore Grand Summer
  • Best Headline Writing: Bryce Martin for Quitting smoking leads to massive headache for local smoke shop owner
  • Best Photography Portfolio: Tyler Tomasello
  • Best Cover Design: Sky-Hi News Staff for Explore Grand Winter
  • Best News page design: Bryce Martin for Jan. 12, front cover – Weathering a crisis
  • Best sustained coverage: McKenna Harford, Lance Maggart, Bryce Martin for Silver Sage Fire ravages Grand County
  • Best Breaking News/Deadline Reporting: Sawyer D’Argonne for Search continues for man on the run
  • Best Investigative Story Package: McKenna Harford for Dispensary believes 2 ballot measures are misleading voters
  • Best Sports Event Story: Sawyer D’Argonne for Seeman takes 10th at Moscow World cup as Olympics near

Colorado Mountain College to expand bachelor’s degree offerings after state approval

Colorado Mountain College has received state approval to expand its bachelor’s degree offerings, which will give Summit County and Western Slope residents more four-year degree options and opportunities to live, learn and work in the High Country.

Gov. Polis signed HB 19-1153 into law this past Friday, April 5. The bill was sponsored by a bipartisan mountain delegation, including Summit’s own Rep. Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon) and Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), and passed both houses of the state Legislature unanimously.

The act authorizes CMC, a public institution, to expand the number of bachelor’s degree programs from the five offered there since 2010 to a “limited” number of bachelor’s programs. A definite number of additional offerings will be decided by the school’s board of trustees after consultation with Western Slope communities and the state department of higher education. The college will take into account community and regional needs when finalizing new program offerings.

Testifying in favor of the expanded bachelor program offerings last week were two Summit County locals, current CMC student Stephanie Beste and recent CMC graduate Flor Cruz Valdez, who both benefited from the introduction of bachelor’s degrees to CMC back in 2010.

Beste started her higher education at CMC two decades ago, when she got her GED there. She went on to spend long hours commuting to Denver for a dental certificate, and then earned two associate degrees at CMC Breckenridge. Beste is now a nontraditional student and financial aid advisor at CMC, who is close to completing a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

In her testimony to the House and Senate Education committees, Beste urged legislators to pass the bill and give High Country residents the freedom to learn and grow where they live.

“I ask you to think about (people living in) our rural communities,” Bestes told the committees. “Help them stay without the complete relocation of their families. Keep them here to receive their bachelor’s. Help us grow the people around us.”

Valdez, the first member of her family to complete college, also earned a bachelor’s of business administration from CMC Breckenridge. She now works at CMC as an academic advisor. Valdez testified that shortly after starting classes at the college she lost her mother to cancer. Valdez said she was able to move forward and complete her education because of the community within and around CMC Breckenridge, a critical component to higher education.

“Colorado Mountain College gave me the opportunity to be part of a community when I had nothing else left,” Valdez told legislators. “As an advisor myself now, I see a lot of CMC students come back to pursue that dream that I once had. I see them … wanting to be part of a community, wanting to better themselves and to learn and grow. So today I ask of you to please think of students like me, and many other students who have their own stories.”

At the moment, CMC offers bachelor’s degrees in nursing, elementary education, business administration, sustainability studies, and leadership and management. CMC has 11 campuses with 20,000 students across six counties — Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Lake, Garfield, Routt and Summit, where CMC has campuses in Breckenridge and Dillon.

“Colorado Mountain College is a gem in the higher education system,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie, one of the bill’s prime co-sponsors. “It is a very powerful model of education for our kids to be able to graduate from high school and go to a CMC campus near their home in a rural or resort community, and then be able to choose to do a two- or four-year degree. It is especially important for first generation college students or those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to maintain support systems and to be with families and friends, as well as able to live at home while getting their college degrees.”

McCluskie said that she would like to see secondary education as an offering, as it would create the kind of “grow your own teacher” ecosystem that could help with critical teacher shortages in the High Country. McCluskie would also like a forestry degree introduced in association with Colorado State University, with foresters being another local need and career that could be cultivated in Summit County.

CMC communications director Debbie Crawford said that while more discussion is needed with various official agencies and stakeholders, secondary education is definitely an area the school is looking at for a bachelor’s degree. Others may be in high-growth fields such as health care and local government.

“Based on the lessons we learned in offering those first five degrees, we are being asked again by local residents, employers and taxpayers to broaden our degree offerings to meet workforce demands,” said CMC president Carrie Besnette Hauser in a press release. “Doing so will also contribute to Colorado’s higher education master plan and help to sustain the state’s dynamic and rapidly changing economy.”

Mind Springs Health to host open house for mental health crisis treatment unit on April 17

Mind Springs Health is hosting an open house for the public preview the mental health provider’s new “Summit Safe Haven,” a 24/7 acute mental health treatment unit. The unit, with six beds, will be a regional facility where people undergoing a short-term mental health crisis can be taken for proper evaluation and treatment with a licensed clinician supervising. Until this unit was built, Summit County did not have a proper facility for those undergoing an acute mental health crisis to be observed and treated. Previously, individuals experiencing a mental health crisis would be admitted to a hospital by law enforcement, which are not always prepared to handle such cases.

“It’s going to be a game changer in this community,” said Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, a proponent of treating mental health instead of criminalizing it. “It’s two years in the making. This year, the Sheriff’s Office is going to start responding to mental health crises with deputies pairing with a mental health clinician to bring people undergoing a crisis to this unit, instead of the hospital.”

“Having access to crisis stabilization services in the county is such a huge victory for our community,” said Building Hope program manager Betsy Casey. “A lot of partners have been working for a while to get it up and running, it’s exciting.”

The open house will take place on Wednesday, April 17, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Medical Office Building, 360 Peak One Drive in Frisco, next to the Mind Springs Health office on the first floor.

The $30.5 billion state budget bill is done, and transportation gets a boost

Colorado lawmakers gave final approval Friday to a $30.5 billion state budgetpackage that includes $300 million for road projects, $175 million for full-day kindergarten and a 3% pay hike for all state employees.

The agreement on the spending plan that starts July 1 came after the budget writers found an extra $70 million for transportation as part of a deal with Republican lawmakers who threatened to obstruct the debate

The additional dollars will come from a variety of sources, including $40 million out of two reserve accounts. The state’s push for full-day kindergarten took a $10 million cut because fewer students are expected to participate. And the remaining $20 million came from unspent dollars and minor accounting tweaks.

The original budget package allocated $230 million for roads. The new $300 million total — which will require additional legislation this session — would get split between the state and local governments for highway construction, mass transit projects and road maintenance. The total need for transportation in Colorado is estimated near $9 billion.

State Rep. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat and budget writer, said the budget package boosts spending in key areas, such as education and road building. “We are making historic investments across the areas we care about,” he told lawmakers.

Read the full story via The Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

Castle Rock steps out front on regulating kratom, the popular but controversial herbal extract

CASTLE ROCK — Kratom, an herbal extract derived from a tree that grows on the other side of the world, has been touted for its calm, soothing effects on those who consume it.

But it is causing some agitation in Colorado as the extract — seen by many as a safe, natural alternative to addictive and sometimes lethal opioid painkillers — grows in popularity.

Castle Rock is one of the first communities in Colorado to take a deep dive on Mitragyna speciosa, the formal name for kratom. The town imposed a six-month ban on the licensing of any new kratom shops last December while it works out a set of rules. Kratom is largely unregulated in the country and banned in six states.

Last week, Castle Rock hosted an open house to get feedback from the public on how it should regulate the product, which is largely sold in powder and capsule form at gas stations and head shops.

 To read the full story on The Denver Post website, click here.

I-70 motorists could soon need snow tires, chains or AWD all winter long

Motorists are breaking the law if they try to traverse snow-covered mountain roads in Colorado in two-wheel drive vehicles without specialized tires, chains or other grip-control devices.

But now a bill that’s nearing passage in the state legislature would make Colorado’s traction statute a snow-or-shine, all-winter-long policy on Interstate 70, mandating that from September through May drivers traveling between Morrison and Dotsero prepare their vehicles for whatever Mother Nature has in store. 

And there’s more: The measure also instructs the Colorado Department of Transportation to explore how to best educate the public about the would-be law and enforce it. Checkpoints are one possible tool to ensure the policy is being followed.

“Sometimes one side of (the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels) is spring and the other side of Eisenhower is a white out,” said state Sen. Kerry Dononvan, a Vail Democrat. “You can’t react in that amount of time — instantaneously putting on snow tires. Winter can come at any moment.”

Read the full story via The Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at coloradosun.com.

Pow daze: Winter Park Resort tallies 21 inch snowfall over 24 hours

It was a wild Wednesday in Colorado this week as a second “bomb cyclone” moved across the High Country and eastern plains dumping multiple inches of snow and depositing over 20 inches at Winter Park Resort.

Thursday morning officials from Winter Park Resort reported that 21 inches of snow had fallen at the ski area in the previous 24 hours with 14 of those 24 inches falling overnight. Steve Hurlbert, spokesman for Winter Park Resort, stated the snowfall over the past day represents the largest one-day accumulation Winter Park has seen this season.

The early April powder day brings the resort’s total snowfall this season to 302 inches, from a total of 70 snowfall days, according to ski resort snowfall data aggregation website On The Snow. Prior to this week Winter Park Resort saw its largest  one-day accumulation total on March 14 when the resort received 16 inches.

The summit snowpack base at Winter Park is holding strong despite warm spring temperatures that have climbed into the 50s multiple times in the past few weeks. As of Thursday morning the summit based was tallied at 102 inches while the base area snowpack remained strong as well at 98 inches.

Open Snow, another popular resort snowfall data aggregation website, estimated Winter Park Resort’s snowpack at 116 percent of historic averages as of April 11.

All around Grand County local ski areas experienced varying amounts of snowfall. Steamboat Springs ski area, northwest of Middle Park, was reporting nine inches in the past 24 hours on Thursday though no overnight snowfall. Copper Mountain, just west of Frisco, saw six inches of snowfall overnight and 10 in the previous 24 hours.

Things were paltry for Keystone, which reported no new snow in the past 24 hours as of Thursday morning. Closer to the Continental Divide Arapaho Basin received six inches in the previous 24 hours while Loveland tallied eight. The situation was slightly better for Eldora, which reported 10 inches of snowfall in the past 24 hours as of Thursday morning.

Thursday morning the US Department of Agriculture’s SNOTEL weather data gathering site near Berthoud Pass had tallied 13 inches of newly accumulated over the previous 24-hours. The National Weather Service is forecasting continued light snow showers for Winter Park on Thursday with a 50 percent chance of snow showers on Friday and a 40 percent chance for snow showers on Saturday. Forecasters from the National Weather Service are predicting a 60 percent chance for overnight snowfall from Friday into Saturday calling snow showers, “likely.”

Defendant in Granby black market marijuana bust pleads guilty to three counts

Over one year after local authorities initially raided a black market marijuana growing operation in Grand County, the defendant in the case has pleaded guilty.

On Thursday morning, Matthew Niedermeyer, 43, of Granby pleaded guilty to three separate charges, including two felonies and one misdemeanor, as part of a plea agreement worked out with officials from the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. He pleaded guilty to possession with intent to manufacture or distribute marijuana or marijuana concentrates, a class two drug felony, tax evasion, a class five felony, and distribution of marijuana or marijuana concentrate, a class one drug misdemeanor.

According to officials from the district attorney’s office, Niedermeyer faces a maximum sentence of eight years under the terms of the plea agreement he signed.

He is scheduled for sentencing in Grand County District Court at 9:15 a.m. June 6.

“Mr. Niedermeyer was initially investigated in 2018 for operating an illegal marijuana grow site and distribution business in Grand County,” said officials from the district attorney’s office. “The investigation resulted in law enforcement offices seizing a total of 12.83 pounds of processed marijuana and marijuana products as well as 468 live marijuana plants totaling 266.18 pounds from two locations in Grand County.”

According to the district attorney’s office, the investigation also revealed that Niedermeyer evaded taxes to the state of Colorado, the city of Granby and Grand County totaling more than $83,000.

The investigation into Niedermeyer’s activities entered the public sphere last March when local authorities raided two separate locations connected to Niedermeyer’s black market marijuana operation. The two separate marijuana grow sites were located in a neighborhood in Granby Ranch and near Lake Granby respectively. At the time of those raids, multiple individuals were detained and questioned by authorities though no arrests were made and no formal charges were filed.

Formal charges were filed against Niedermeyer roughly two months later in May 2018. The district attorney’s office initially filed 22 separate criminal counts against Niedermeyer related to the black market grow operation.

“We greatly appreciate the good hard work of the investigating agencies on behalf of the citizens of Grand County,” said Brett Barkey, district attorney. “Their dedication and professionalism is center to our ability, as a community, to deter this kind of behavior.”

The Granby Police Department conducted the investigation into Niedermeyer’s black market marijuana operation with assistance from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Marijuana Enforcement, the Fraser-Winter Park Police, 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Revenue Criminal Investigation Section. Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Dowdell prosecuted the case.

96-year-old Frank Walter skis his final run of the season at Keystone Resort

Frank Walter, 96, talks about skiing while riding the River Run Gondola Thursday, April 4, at Keystone Resort.
Hugh Carey / hcarey@summitdaily.com

FrankTimberline-SDN-040619-1

For 24-year-old Steven Kennedy, the final touch of his ski preparation on Thursday at Keystone Sports was to tie the knot around his neck of his beloved red Superman cape. Like he does on most any other ski day, the Summit County Special Olympian Kennedy, who has Down syndrome, will have the cape flap in the wind behind him on this cloudy, slushy Thursday as he shreds from top to bottom at Keystone Resort.

“I hope I can keep up,” says Julia Aaronson, an intern with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center who will ski with Kennedy as part of Timberline Adult Day Services’ annual ski day with BOEC. “I heard you’re a pretty good skier. Don’t leave us in the dust.”

But it’s the man sitting next to Kennedy in the ski shop within Keystone Resort’s River Run Village, a man 72 years his senior, who is also regarded as a superman of skiing for so many Summit County locals.

That man, a friend of Kennedy’s through Timberline, is Frank Walter of Copper Mountain. And, in recent years, Walter has inspired many transient Summit County visitors and longtime residents alike because he’s continued his lifelong passion for skiing despite his age and despite his reduced mobility.

Thursday at Keystone Resort was only Walter’s third day skiing this season, after a couple days skiing with his son and nephew at Copper Mountain Resort over the holidays. Three ski days — it’s far from the numbers the longtime Copper Mountain resident used to register when he was younger. These days he can’t run and walks gingerly with a cane. Still, Walter was there in November at Copper’s opening day to press the button to start up the Super Bee lift, long his favorite chair to ride off of.

“I got the chance to grab the hands of all of the memories, the people that I’ve met over the years,” Walter said of opening day while riding up the River Run Gondola on Thursday, his ski poles in hand.

“I used to average 151 (days). That’s all they were open,” Walter said. “And then, I just ran out of gas.”

Walter will run out of gas on this day too. After just two runs down Keystone Resort’s short, beginner Scout trail at the top of Dercum Mountain, he will download the gondola to return to his home at Copper Mountain. That’s where the remnants of March’s epic snowfall still rise above his first-floor windows. It’s at his home in Copper Mountain where Olya Alden of Frisco has lived with Walter for the past three months. Alden, who also works as Timberline’s activity coordinator, moved in with Walter full-time in January to aid in helping to keep him as independent in his daily life as possible, though that’s proved a test.

Though rewarding, Alden said living with a 96-year-old can prove trying at times. For example, in more serious situations, she is there to help him when he is confused. She’s also there to help with less pressing matters, such as putting the milk back in the refrigerator when Walter’s forgotten.

“But he has a lot of stories,” Alden said.

Along with keeping pace with those tangential stories, Alden has also experienced situations she’s found rewarding, such as last month, when Walter looked outside his condo with excitement. A major snowstorm dumped nearly 2 feet of snow at Copper.

“He loved all of the snow that we’ve gotten,” said Timberline’s Gini Patterson, one of Walter’s longtime caretakers, “and not every 96-year-old can say that. They want to move to Florida.”

“I was even getting sick of it,” Alden said, “and he was like, ‘Yes! It’s snowing again! And I was like, ‘Yay, more snow.’”

On that snow day, Alden and Walter remained inside his condo at Copper as the body-width tunnel through the snow leading to his door was flanked by walls taller than him.

On Thursday though, he was out of the house, back on a ski hill. And though this ski day will prove to be a short one, Patterson is just happy he’s here. She’s happy he’s ready to ski, seemingly, like he’s always been.

“I’m just glad he’s here,” Patterson said once at the top of Dercum Mountain. “And I think he is too.”

Patterson’s glad he still has that glimmer in his eyes when riding the gondola. She’s glad he’s so eager while riding the gondola that he begins to stand up at Keystone’s mid-mountain gondola stop.

“Not here! Not yet!” Patterson says, as Walter sits back down as the gondola doors open.

Just a few minutes later, Patterson and registered nurse Libby Popkova help Walter depart the gondola at the top of Keystone’s 11,640-foot Dercum Mountain. When they do, a passerby notices the black number “96” on Walter’s ski coat.

“Is he really going skiing?” Scott Holloway of Boulder asks in an excited voice. “Because, if he is, that’s amazing. I love to see older people still engaged in skiing. That’s great. I hope I’m still doing it at 96.”

As Kennedy and his fellow Timberline program participant Lonnie Sullivan ski down the Scout run, Frank and the group helping him, led by BOEC volunteer Lance Glaser, remain about 100 yards uphill behind them. Kennedy and Sullivan ultimately proceed to ski down to the bottom of Dercum Mountain while Walter sticks to the beginner slope.

This moment, Patterson says, is Walter’s last ski day of the year. Skiing in front and showing him the way, Glaser is sure to lead Walter, primarily, by using his voice.

“The main thing was I’m giving him direction,” Glaser said. “I’m in front of him, almost like how I ski with a blind skier, you know? ‘OK, Frank, let’s make a turn downhill. Turn, turn, keep turning. Good. Alright, let’s make another turn downhill.’ Just giving him direction.”

Though Frank struggles with his vision in the dim, flat-light conditions, taking minutes to descend a 200-yard slope, Glaser is impressed with his balance and actual skiing.

“He’d get off and you’d see him correct,” Glaser said. “Muscle memory with Frank is alive and well! I didn’t have to do any of that. I just have to get him directions that he understood. He knows how to stop. He knows how to turn, stand up. It’s there. It’s built in.”

As he takes his skis off, the only known entity is that this was Walter’s last ski day of the season. But, as he downloads the gondola, the reality is there is no guarantee for the future. This may not be the final ski of his lifetime, but it also may ultimately go down as that.

That said, skiing isn’t all that has made Frank Walter Frank Walter. He’s long been a painter, something he continues to do at Timberline. He’s also been up to outdoor adventures outside of skiing. In fact, this past summer, Walter participated in BOEC’s high ropes program at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Fully harnessed, he traversed the course high above the ski hill.

For Walter, after all these years at ski resorts, it was truly something new for one of Summit County’s supermen.

“It’s never too late to do something you’ve never done,” Patterson said. “And to learn.”