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Vail Daily’s Most Inspiring Stories of 2020

This article and photos first appeared in the Vail Daily on December 26, 2020.

As journalists, we are obligated to uphold our newsroom ethics, mitigate our own emotions and stick to the facts. Your humble narrator will not abandon those principles as he states, with confidence and objectivity, that “some would say” 2020 was an absolute dumpster fire filled with horse manure and swarmed with killer bees.

We entered a worldwide pandemic, social injustice fueled national outrage, wildfires ravaged the state, Eagle County lost beloved residents and local businesses were forced to adapt or shutter. And yes, there were killer bees too — or murder hornets to be exact.

But then on one sunny March day, Olaf stood on a street corner in Eagle, and reminded our community that we are all in this together, and we have good neighbors that we can lean on.

Olaf stands on a street corner with a sign saying “Some people are worth melting for.” Special to the Daily

And ‘til this day, Olaf remains with us in spirit, reminding us that even in 2020, there were some local stories worth melting for:

New Businesses Defy the Odds

To new businesses that stuck with their decision to open in 2020, we salute you.

And there were lots of them. When asking the Vail Daily editorial team what new businesses opened in Eagle County this year, it quickly became obvious that there were too many to list in this article.

The Assembly owners Caleb and Jaimie Mackey sought to create a gathering place, one where neighbors and visitors alike can come together to share a meal or a spare hour between responsibilities. Daily file photo

But down in Eagle Ranch, something especially noteworthy happened: The Assembly, a new restaurant that opened in August, left such an impression in its opening month that by October, it was voted by locals as a runner-up in four Best of Vail Valley 2020 categories, earning it an Editor’s Pick as Best Newcomer.

“Having an incredible reception from our community off the bat is really moving, and it makes us feel like we are accomplishing our mission,” co-owner Jaimie Mackey said upon receiving the news.

The Assembly, along with all of Eagle County’s 2020 newcomers, showed relentlessness in a time of vulnerability, and that is something that our locals won’t soon forget.

Mikaela Finds Her Flame

When a hometown hero is reeling, the whole community can feel the ripples. For Mikaela Shiffrin, 2020 was an especially difficult year.

After taking time off to cope with the sudden and tragic loss of her father early in the year, Shiffrin’s return to ski racing was later met with the nuances of competing in a COVID-19 world, and the fact that her top competitors were now leading in the standings.

The community watched as Edwards’ ski superstar, and her streak of dominance, had dimmed for almost all of 2020, not scoring a single win since January.

Then, in the last month of the year, on a December day in Courchevel, France, Mikaela woke up with her winning legs, and showed the world that her flame is far from extinguished.

Shiffrin won a gold that day, and something tells us it won’t be her last.

“Cheers to the wonderful and kind people who said I lost my fire forever. This one’s for you. Also this one’s for every single person who is helping me get the fire back,” Shiffrin tweeted following her victory.

Right on, Mikaela. May Shiffrin’s ability to overcome 2020 serve as a guiding light to us all through difficult times.

Miracle at Hanging Lake

When the Grizzly Creek Fire sparked in August, Eagle County residents were on edge for a multitude of reasons.

Some were on standby to evacuate their homes, while others planned for extended time indoors to avoid the smoke. It is likely, however, that all of them, at some point, worried about Hanging Lake.

A beloved area of our state, Hanging Lake is one of Colorado’s most popular hiking trails, where locals and visitors flock to take in its spellbinding scenery.

Hanging Lake was right in the path of the Grizzly Creek Fire as it spread aggressively up the ridge lines. Many had predicted the preserve would never be the same after the fire.

And then somehow, miraculously, the fire just missed it.

This was a welcome view from the air as local U.S. Forest Service officials surveyed the Hanging Lake landspace in the aftermath of the Grizzly Creek Fire. Special to the Daily

In a Vail Daily interview, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams recalled the August 14 flyover, when he saw an untouched Hanging Lake hidden in smoke.

“As we got closer to Hanging Lake, we both felt this anxiety, because we were afraid of what we were going to see,” Fitzwilliams said. “All of the sudden the smoke parted and we looked down, and that lake looked as tranquil as
 it always does.”

Fitzwilliams added that following the discovery, there were high-fives and fist bumps going on in the aircraft.

Furthermore, the Grizzly Creek Fire was the last wildfire in Colorado’s historic 2020 season to reach 100% containment, which just occurred on Friday, Dec 18.

Vaccine Makes It to Eagle County

Perhaps the most uplifting event of this year was when the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Eagle County, giving residents hope that we can maybe put this pandemic behind us sooner than later.

Vail Health Safety Manager Kimberly Flynn and Vail Health Population Health Director Chris Lindley are joined by Airman First Class Samuel Weber of the Colorado National Guard in receiving the first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Vail Health on Tuesday. The vaccine arrived at 12 p.m. and will be prepped for Vail Health to begin administering on Wednesday morning. Ben Gadberry, Vail Health

The first shipment of vaccines arrived on December 15, and people applauded as Vail Health Hospital administered its first COVID-19 vaccine to Lead Respiratory Therapist Julie Scales.

Vail Health received a total of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the initial shipment, which was administered almost entirely on local health professionals.

Furthermore, the county received 1,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 22, showing an escalation of shipped units that shines light at the end of the tunnel. “While we know our community is anxiously awaiting availability of the vaccine for everyone, we must remember that every vaccine given makes our county a little bit safer,” said Heath Harmon, Public Health Director for Eagle County, in a press release.

We don’t know how or when we will be able to put this pandemic behind us. The vaccine assures us, however, that we are making big strides in an unprecedented time.

So here’s to 2020: To all the hurdles and heartache, Eagle County has risen to the occasion, and shown our strength of community and of our character. It is reassuring to know that the odds of a better 2021 will be in our hands.

Thanks, Olaf.

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