Summit County officials lose confidence in proposed Breckenridge-area housing development

Six years after Summit County officials approved the rezoning of a 23-acre parcel near Breckenridge for mixed-residential development, county leaders are pessimistic the project will ever come to fruition.

The Trails at Berlin Placer was meant to be the site of 14 market-rate single-family homes and 22 deed-restricted multifamily housing units east of Breckenridge. After rezoning the area to allow for the development in 2017, county officials said there has been little movement on the project. 

Three market-rate homes have been constructed under “various conditions,” said county community development director Steve Greer during a Monday, Sept. 25, Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting. 

“However, the road and utility infrastructure has not been completed or has failed inspection and needs to be reconstructed to meet minimum construction requirements,” Greer said. 

Even if the infrastructure needs are met, the county cannot issue certificates of occupancy to any of the three market-rate homes until the first 10 deed-restricted units have been built, due to a provision of the rezoning, Greer said. 

According to officials, no workforce units have yet been constructed. 

“It was expressly understood and required within the development permit that the development of the affordable workforce unit must progress in advance or in tandem with the development of market-rate, single-family units,” Greer said. 

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In 2021, a trench collapse killed a 20-year-old worker, Marlon Diaz, who was doing excavation work in the area of the development. Peter Dillon, the former owner of the now-defunct company A4S Construction, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in August after prosecutors laid out evidence of what they called “a pattern of unsafe behavior” that led to what the Department of Labor called a “preventable” death.

According to county engineer Paul Geiger, the incident caused a roughly six-month pause on the project while a federal agency investigated. After a new excavator was brought on, the prior excavation work was deemed “unacceptable,” pushing the project back even further, Geiger said. 

Construction is currently ongoing, with sewer and water infrastructure 75% to 80% complete, Geiger said. Still, officials expressed doubt about the project, in particular its workforce housing component.

After reaching out to the developer to try and “fix some of these issues,” county deputy attorney Keely Ambrose said she is “not at all confident that we will be able to reach an agreement.”

“All I can say is the county has legal avenues of recourse that will not necessarily make anything happen any faster,” Ambrose said. 

Commissioner Tamara Pogue said it was “a very frustrating situation, both for the market-rate owners and for us, as the entity that has the interest in this affordable housing.”

“We all know there’s desperate need for that,” Pogue said. “It’s disappointing to hear that this developer doesn’t seem interested in doing what they have told everyone they would do.”

Breckenridge officials, business owners voice concerns about Oktoberfest aftermath

While described by some as one of the more “tame” Oktoberfests in recent memory, some business owners on Breckenridge’s Main Street still say they were negatively impacted by the festival.

Once the event ended, those who participated flowed out into downtown Breckenridge, many of them intoxicated, some causing issues for local businesses. At Wednesday’s town council meeting Mayor Eric Mamula, a business owner on Main Street, told the Council something had to be done. 

“Saturday night of Oktoberfest is awful for a lot of the businesses on Main Street. I know it’s an important event for the town, but there has to be some assistance given rather than unleashing all the drunk people after 6 o’clock into the community,” Mamula said. 

After Oktoberfest ended, attendees were throwing up and breaking things near establishments downtown, Mamula said. He said one person even defecated near his business. 

According to Mamula, this has always been a bad event for retailers downtown, with some closing their doors early the day of the event due to previous negative experiences. 

The Mountain Goat Clothing Co. is one of those businesses and closed at 5 p.m. to avoid the drunken crowds. Owner Pete Meltzer said the shop used to close at 6 p.m. on Saturdays, but now closes earlier after past negative experiences with people bringing beer into his high-end clothing store despite being asked not to. He describes the weekend being historically taxing for him and his wife, as they are the only two employees of the store. 

“When the event breaks up, and people don’t have the streets to be on anymore, a higher percentage of people come into shops that are under the influence of alcohol and just obnoxious,” Meltzer said.

On top of that, Meltzer said the shop typically brings in more revenue on the weekends before and after Oktoberfest as opposed to the weekend of the event. Other business owners who had their establishments closed that night returned to them Sunday morning to find other surprises.

Brad Wynn, the owner of Peak-A-Boo Toys, returned to his store Sunday morning to find the bench in front of his establishment had been broken. 

“Every year it’s something: something is busted or there’s a fight,” Mamula said. “It’s just not something we deal with at any other point during the year.”

Mamula and other members of council also had concerns about the number of dogs at the event, which is supposed to be pet-free. 

Some business owners only reported finding empty bottles around their establishments and others said this year was not nearly as crazy compared to previous years.

Breckenridge resident Jeffrey Ararat said he has both participated and volunteered at the event over the last 10 years and said this year’s Oktoberfest was the tamest yet. With security present this year, he said it seemed as though there was less violence and conflict among drunk patrons. 

Breckenridge Police public information officer Colleen Goettelman said the station received no more reports of drunk and disorderly activity than they usually would during an Oktoberfest weekend.  

Some councilmembers suspected that Oktoberfest attendees were not just getting drunk off of the locally offered beers. 

“From my experience, it’s not them drinking Breck Brewery beers at the event, it’s what they’re bringing in their backpacks.” Councilperson Jay Beckernman said. 

The Breckenridge Tourism Office, which runs Oktoberfest, is currently in the midst of completing its formal debrief, according to Melissa Andrews the office’s public relations director. For the debrief, the office will seek input on how the event went from the town’s operating departments, volunteers, representatives, businesses and community members. That survey went out earlier this week, Andrews said. 

These special events help fund the Breckenridge Tourism Office. Last year the organization pulled in nearly $611,000 from special events.

Jury acquits former Summit Middle School gym teacher of all sexual assault charges

A jury found former Summit Middle School gym teacher Leonard Grams not guilty Wednesday, Sept. 27, of sexually assaulting three of his students when they were about 13 years old.

The jury deliberated for just over three hours, before finding Grams, 62, not guilty of five Class 4 felony charges of sexual assault on a child and three Class 3 felony charges of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust.

“Mr. Grams is very grateful for the people of the jury for listening and considering all of the evidence He’s always had a deep faith in the justice system,” said defense attorney Jake Lilly after the trial’s conclusion.

Grams took the witness stand during his own trial to tell the jury he did not do what the three former students accused him of doing. Each of the three alleged victims — who were identified in court as J1, J2 and J3 to protect the anonymity of juveniles — also testified.

Over the course of the trial, J1, J2 and J3 identified Grams as the individual who allegedly sexually assaulted them. The prosecution presented video recordings of forensic interviews conducted with each of the three students, as well as audio of interviews Summit School District Human Resources employees conducted with J1 and J2, where the students repeated the allegations.

J1 alleged Grams touched her breast during a “high-five frenzy” in a class he taught in fall 2021 when she was in eighth grade. J2 alleged he touched her butt on two occasions during climbing activities that same fall when she was in eighth grade in a different class. J3 alleged he touched her butt twice during the 2020-21 school year when she was in seventh grade.

In closing arguments, Lilly said “repeating something over and over and over again does not make it true.”

Lilly pointed to what he called “major inconsistencies” in the “terrible accusations” the three students raised, including the lack of eyewitnesses and physical evidence. He said the three students thought Grams picked on them and “they don’t like him, they hate him.”

“You’ve seen how hard it is to prove nothing happened. That’s not our job,” Lilly said, reminding the jury that the burden is on the prosecution, not the defense, to prove the facts beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lilly recounted each of the students’ testimonies and pointed to what he described as inconsistencies in each. He said he does not know why the students would raise false allegations, and although he can “guess based on how much they hated him,” the defense does not have to prove anything related to that.

“They have J1’s statement, J2’s statement and J3’s statement. That is it,” Lilly said. He concluded, “before you convict (Grams), make sure the evidence is there.”

In closing arguments for the prosecution Deputy District Attorney Lauren Crisera pointed to what she described as consistent statements from the three alleged victims throughout their testimony, forensic interviews and interviews with Human Resources.

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“Yes, he did,” Crisera said. She repeated each of the allegations before adding, “One teacher. Three students. Five acts of sexual contact.”

Crisera said the defense wanted the jury to believe J1 and J2 are “great masterminds” who cooked up a “plot” to take Grams down, but noted J1 came forward after a friend outed her and J2 came forward only after telling another student during a panic attack.

All three girls testified they did not raise allegations because of bad grades or animosity toward Grams, and none of them have anything to gain by raising baseless accusations, Crisera said. She said life is hard enough for teenage girls in middle school without having to recount allegations repeatedly.

“Why are these girls coming forward?” Crisera asked. “Because these things happened.”

No one in the class noticed because “Grams is a smart man and he positioned himself to have really good deniability on this,” Crisera said. She said he “picked his victims” and created activities in his class where sexual contact was easy because other students were distracted and would likely second guess what they saw, if they saw something, because he was a teacher.

“There is only one fair and just verdict in this case,” Crisera said. “And that is a verdict of guilty on all counts.”

Lilly noted the lead investigator on the case, Summit County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Detective Mark Gafari, testified that he reached out to dozens of people who might have been witness to the alleged acts but none reported seeing it.

The fact that J1 went back to Grams’ class after raising the allegations is “perhaps the most inexplicable part of it,” Lilly said.

But, Crisera said everyone responds to trauma differently and noted that J1’s mom said she felt J1 was being punished by being kept out of the class, which included climbing rope courses.

“What makes it impossible to believe,” Lilly said, is that J3 testified that she shouted “f— off” at Grams in the middle of class after he touched her butt. But J3’s classmate testified that she doesn’t remember that ever happening or Grams ever touching J3. Crisera noted that in testimony the same classmate also said she didn’t want to be in court and stated it is easier not to remember hard things.

Crisera told jurors they would have to assess the credibility of each individual’s testimony and raised questions about why Grams, in hours of police and human resource interviews, had never mentioned that a course instructor, Tom Leahy, had been observing the class on one of the days J2 said Grams during a climbing activity.

Two of the alleged victims sat in the courtroom through closing arguments. Grams, dressed in a navy blue suit, sat quietly at the defendant’s table as the jury rendered its verdict.

The school district placed Grams on leave in October 2021. Police arrested him on Aug. 9, 2022, and he submitted his resignation to the school on Aug. 31, 2022.

Grams declined to comment after the trial, deferring to his attorney.

Summit Tigers mountain bike team takes 2nd at 3rd consecutive race

The Summit Tigers mountain bike team continues to perform at a high level, with the team notching its third straight second-place team finish of the short Colorado High School Cycling League season.

Two weeks ago, Summit placed second overall at the Showdown in the Boat race at Howelsen Hill and the team was able to back up that performance with another second-place finish at the Cloud City Challenge on Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Leadville.

Although the Tigers did not get the opportunity to host a home competition during the high school’s homecoming week, the team still enjoyed competing close to home on the large network of trails in the Leadville area.

Most athletes in attendance completed two 6.2-mile loops for a total of 12.4 miles of mountain bike racing while the varsity boys and girls completed three loops for a total of 18.6 miles.

Cool, fall morning temperatures started off the day of racing with the junior varsity boys being the first group of athletes to line up their tires behind the start line. 

The junior varsity boys race featured a group of four Summit athletes with junior Nicolas Bonta displaying his fitness and placing seventh overall with a time of 1 hour, 1 minute and 12.06 seconds.

Bonta was soon followed by his older brother, Mateo Bonta, who placed 11th overall with a time of 1:02:53.48. Junior Reid Litwiller and junior James Sowers also managed to finish within the top 30 with Litwiller placing 14th (1:04:03.75) and Sowers finishing in 29th place (1:09:00.10). 

Following the success in the junior varsity boys race, Summit put six athletes in the top 25 of the freshman boys race. Leading the way was Trent Granshaw, who battled alongside Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy’s Freedom Bennett at the front of the race. 

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Bennett completed the first lap in 29:37 with Granshaw following in 29:49 before Bennett pulled away over the final lap. Bennett placed first in 1:00:08.07 and Granshaw placed second in 1:00:44.81.

Devin Mumford placed fifth (1:05:53.11) before a pack of three Summit athletes rounded out the top 20. Braydon Ernst finished in 16th (1:13:43.83), Austin Johnson followed in 17th (1:13:43.83) and Gabi Bonta placed 18th (1:14:50.16).

Jude Kaltenback placed 23rd in 1:17:14.53.

Summit’s success on the trails continued in the junior varsity girls race, where sophomore Fiona Florio managed to maintain her season points leader biking jersey by placing first overall in a time of 1:05:03.20.

Florio completed the first lap well in front of the rest of the field. Florio carried a 33-second lead over Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy’s Katie McDonald after lap one and extended her lead to close to two minutes over the final lap. 

With the win, Florio secured her second individual win of the season after earning the junior varsity girls race title at the Frisco Bay Invitational on Aug. 27.

Senior Samantha Myers also had an impressive performance, placing 18th overall (1:47:51.86).

Summit Tigers High School Mountain Bike Team/Courtesy photo
Gabi Bonta, front, and Braydon Ernst compete at the Cloud City Challenge in Leadville on Sunday, Sept. 24.
Summit Tigers High School Mountain Bike Team/Courtesy photo

In the sophomore boys race, the Tigers were led by a core of strong cyclists with Noah Dippenaar recording the highest finish in seventh (1:00:57.35) before Axel Crawford and Cater Niemkiewicz crossed the finish line in 13th (1:05:02.75) and 14th place (1:05:10.60), respectively. 

Finn Brown recorded lap splits of 28:56 and 32:36, but received a five minute penalty which dropped him out of the top 15 and into 20th place with a total time of 1:06:33.21.

Summit’s day of racing was bookended by the varsity boys and girls races where all four competitors finished within the top 30. 

Junior Eli Love was the top athlete for the Tigers in the varsity boys race, placing 19th overall (1:31:32.60), before junior Mason Wescott crossed the finish line in 20th place (1:31:43.66) and junior Isaac York finished in 29th. (1:38:57.44).

Junior Aila Harmala snagged her first varsity podium finish of the season in the varsity girls race. Harmala latched onto the main pack over the first lap of the course, before splitting consistent times over the final two laps.

Harmala clocked lap times of 33:20, 33:54 and 33:51 to place third in 1:41:06.22. Steamboat Spring’s Mary McLarnon placed first overall (1:36:10.78) with her teammate, Eva Minotto, placing second.

For the third race in a row, Summit placed second overall in Division 2 of the Yampa Region with 4,783 points. Harmala and Florio led the team in points with 556 and 540 points, respectively.

Summit was topped by Steamboat Springs with 5,214 points and followed by Stargate with 3,867 points. 

Summit will conclude its regular season schedule with the Haymaker Classic in Eagle on Saturday, Oct. 7. The event will begin with the junior varsity girls race at 8:30 a.m. and will conclude with awards around 5 p.m.

After competing in Eagle, Summit will travel to Glenwood Springs to compete in the Spring Valley Scramble which will serve as the cycling league’s state championship race for the season. The event will take place from Oct. 21-22.

Breckenridge Strings, Ciders and Sours is coming to town this weekend

Tickets are for sale for Breckenridge Strings, Ciders and Sours event Friday, Sept. 29 to Sunday, Oct. 1. The event will be at Main Street Station and The Village at Breckenridge.

All-access passes go for $250 per person with advance purchases only. This includes a reserved seat for the Cider & Sour Pairing Dinner on Friday, VIP Experience & Grand Tasting access on Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. 

VIP passes must be purchased in advance and cost $150 per person. This provides access to the Grand Tasting and access to the hospitality lounge. Tickets for the cider and sour tasting on Saturday will cost $60 in advance and $70 on the day of the event. 

Those who purchase a ticket can taste their way through a wide array of samples from local and national craft breweries. Live music will be provided by Blue River Grass. 

Guests will receive a commemorative tasting glass in addition to festival activities. 

Summit County public health director encourages residents get COVID and flu shots ahead of fall and winter season

As the cold and flu season approaches, Summit County’s public health director is recommending residents receive fresh COVID-19 and flu vaccines. 

Cases for both are likely to rise heading into the fall and winter, said Public Health Director Amy Wineland, adding, “COVID is here to stay.”

“COVID-19 will continue to mutate, not unlike the flu virus,” Wineland said. “It will be expected, going forward, that we will likely have a new COVID-19 shot every season like we do with flu.” 

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 88% of Summit County residents have received an initial round of COVID-19 vaccines, while 24% have received the most recent booster shot. 

Staying up-to-date on boosters will be critical for avoiding severe infection, Wineland said, as each iteration is designed to target the current virus mutation. 

While vaccines remain free through most health insurers, access is available in the county for children and adults who are uninsured or underinsured, Wineland said. 

Walk-in clinics for COVID-19 and flu shots will be held at the Summit County Public Health Department building at 360 Peak One Drive from 2-4:30 p.m. every Monday through Nov. 13. 

Additionally, clinics will be held at Dillon Valley Elementary on Oct. 12 and Upper Blue Elementary on Oct. 19 from 3:30-6 p.m. in the school cafeterias. A clinic will also be held at the Summit County Elks Lodge in Silverthorne from 5-7 p.m. Oct. 24. 

The Biden administration also recently resumed its free COVID-19 testing program, making every United States household eligible to receive four at-home test packets. Those can be ordered online at

Mountain Top Explorium introduces free entry for qualifying families

Mountain Top Explorium, a children’s museum in Breckenridge, has introduced its Mountain Top for All initiative, aimed at making the Explorium and programs more accessible to everyone in the community.

Free explorium entry will be available for children and families facing financial or other barriers. Families receiving SNAP or Medicaid benefits can gain free access to the Explorium by showing their EBT or Medicaid card.

Staff are also working to update all Explorium signage to include both Spanish and English translations. Additionally, facilities are being improved to accommodate visitors with physical, neurodivergent, social emotional or other exceptionalities.

Those interested in learning more about participating in the Mountain Top for All initiative and call 970-453-7878 or email The Explorium is located at 100 S. Park Ave., Unit C100 in Breckenridge.

USA Skimo enters into agreement With U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee

The United States Ski Mountaineering Association (USA Skimo) announced on Monday that it has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) to establish an Olympic high-performance program for ski mountaineering. The sport will make its Olympic Winter Games debut in Milan-Cortina in 2026.

The release stated that the agreement also “establishes the roles and responsibilities of USA Skimo and the USOPC in selecting and sending athletes to the 2026 Olympic Winter Games and competitions within the qualification pathway to the 2026 Games.”

“Formalizing our role with the USOPC represents a true inflection point for our sport. The USOPC will provide resources and expertise to our athletes, aspiring athletes, and the U.S. Ski Mountaineering community,” said Anthony Armstrong, executive director of USA Skimo.

“This partnership will take our sport to the next level of competition and professionalism.” 

The agreement contains 24 terms and conditions. The first states, “All Delegation Events and USOPC Ski Mountaineering activities for the sport of Ski Mountaineering are under the jurisdiction of the USOPC. The USOPC has the exclusive authority of athlete and staff selection criteria, and athlete nomination and entry into Delegation Events.”

Colorado is likely to supply at least a few members of the nation’s first Olympic team. Crested Butte’s Cam Smith was the first American to claim a World Cup podium in January of 2022 and headlined the Winter Mountain Games in Vail a month later. His Power of Four skimo record-holding teammate, John Gaston (Aspen), out-dueled him in the Mountain Games individual event that February. Both are among the six Colorado-based athletes on the 11-member U.S. senior squad. Gwen Rudy (Leadville), Hali Hafeman (Colorado Springs), Arthur Whitehead (Frisco) and John Rauen (Breckenridge) are also based in the state, as are all three U23 national team athletes, including Silverthorne’s Grace Staberg and Dillon’s Sam Burke.

“Though new to the Olympic Games program, ski mountaineering is a dynamic, fast-growing sport that also boasts more than a century of tradition,” said Rocky Harris, USOPC chief of sport & athlete services. “We are excited to welcome ski mountaineering onto the Olympic program and are excited to partner with USA Skimo to deliver results for Team USA.”

The International Olympic Committee unanimously approved adding the sport to the Milan-Cortina Olympic calendar in July 2021. According to the release, further details regarding athlete selection and resources will be made available as race calendars and IOC selection criteria become available.

To learn more about the sport and support USA Skimo, visit

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Silverton Mountain ski area sold to Aspen-based adventure travel company

Aaron and Jenny Brill are selling Silverton Mountain, the ski area the couple started building in the remote San Juans more than 24 years ago. 

“It’s a pretty emotional day,” said Aaron Brill, who in 1999 landed in Silverton after scouring the West for locations to establish a no-frills, steep-and-deep ski hill for expert skiers. 

The Brills are selling to Andy Culp and Brock Strasbourger, whose 7-year-old Aspen-based Heli Adventures Inc. offers an online marketplace for heli-skiing and adventure travel. The adventure travel company in late 2022 purchased a boutique heli-skiing operation and lodge in British Columbia

The Brills began looking for an investor in 2022 as the ski industry weathered the shutdowns of the pandemic. The search for investors morphed into a possible sale. The Brills since the mid-2000s have guided helicopter skiers in Alaska and the couple’s Silverton Mountain Guides has more than 25 million acres of permitted terrain across Alaska. The Brills are not selling their Alaska heliskiing operation. 

Aaron had exacting requirements for a buyer. A new owner would have to retain every one of the ski area’s 50 employees. They had to share the vision for the ski area with a “strong passion for skiing” and “were not golf course-slash-real estate guys,” he said. And they had to have deep pockets to keep the ski area vibrant.

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Ice Castles returns to Colorado after two years

Winter is coming – and so too are the Ice Castles.

The popular frozen attraction will return to Colorado following a two-year hiatus and set up in a new location in Cripple Creek.

Construction of the Ice Castles’ famous ice slides, tunnels, towers and crawl spaces will begin in October “in hopes of opening in late December, or early January, depending on the weather,” according to an announcement posted on social media.

Tickets will go on sale closer to the opening date.

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