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Women of Aspen

Meet the town’s next generation of ladies ascending to new heights and making a difference.

Logan Hood

Lauren McCloskey Elston

Mirte Mallory

Rachel Hahn

Lexi McNutt
 

Virginia Edelson
 

Ashley Rankin
 

Melissa Long
 

Piper Foster
 

Aspen women aren’t an ordinary breed: Having escaped the trappings of suburbia or the frenetic pace of city life, most have moved here (or stayed here, as is the case for many second- and third-generation Aspenites) for their love of the mountains, and the town’s close community. In many ways, living in the high country demands a certain drive—the innate desire to push further, faster, longer in order to climb higher. It also means striving to create and cultivate success, to formulate ways to make your way in a ski town with far more than running chairlifts and waiting tables on its agenda. Like the majestic Elk Mountains marching through the Aspen sky, this inestimably capable class of women has risen to the occasion, blazing a trail to the very top. Charging ahead in life, career, family and charitable endeavors, watch them as they go—onward and upward.

Logan Hood
Executive Director, Response

Logan Hood knew she was destined for the nonprofit sector by the time she was 18, and became the director of campus activities at her community college. “I loved rallying people for a cause,” she says. “I always felt like I had work to do because there were people out there [who] needed help.”

Originally from Eureka, Calif., the 29-year-old moved to Aspen in 2007 with her husband, Justin Hood, a native Aspenite she met in San Diego. Falling hard for her new hometown (“I think of Aspen as a small town with big opportunities,” she shares, “but the sense of community is really what I love most of all.”), Logan wasted no time diving into the nonprofit world, jumping on board with the Aspen affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation and eventually rising to become its executive director.

And when Komen announced in January of 2013 its plans to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, Logan responded—with a front-page ad in The Aspen Times, no less—by announcing that the Aspen affiliate would not comply with the headquarters’ policy, even if it meant risking her job. “We know our community, and we’re going to stand behind them,” Logan says.

And though Logan shifted gears last May, completing an online master’s degree program in nonprofit fundraising and leadership from Regis University and becoming executive director of Response (responsehelps.org), a nonprofit providing help to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, in July 2013, she remains committed to both cause—and effect.

“People can’t believe abuse happens here in Aspen, but one in four women are victims of [it],” says Logan, who’s got her work cut out for her, raising funds for a wide variety of bilingual programs, including an emergency shelter, a 24-hour hotline (970.925.7233), youth prevention programs, legal and medical victim’s advocacy, and continuation of care. “Its fulfilling, hard work, but I’m here to serve others. It’s rewarding to know the work I’m doing touches a lot of people.”

Lauren McCloskey Elston
Partner, Cornerstone Holdings LLC

Wearing a silk blouse with fine sequin stripes tucked neatly into a pencil skirt, her blond hair pulled back into a chignon, Lauren McCloskey Elston introduces Dr. Deepak Chopra to an audience of more than 450 people at the Aspen Institute for a lecture on Self-Directed Biological Transformation.

But it’s just another day in the life at the Aspen Institute for the founder and chair of The Vanguard Chapter of the Society of Fellows, an organization Elston helped create two years ago to encourage those aged 30 to 45 to engage in the work of the Institute. In that time, the 33-year-old mother of two daughters (Palmer, 4, and London, 2) has recruited more than 300 Vanguard fellows and has far exceeded her fundraising goals. Introducing Chopra to a packed house last January? A mere glimpse into the organization’s success.

“Two years ago, when I presented the idea of The Vanguard Chapter to Walter Isaacson, my goal was to create an accessible Institute portal for a younger demographic,” Elston remembers. “We aimed for 40 fellows in our first year.” Not only has she exceeded that goal exponentially in terms of membership, the organization also is expanding. Last spring, a Vanguard Washington Chapter launched in Washington, D.C., and there are hopes to create a Vanguard San Francisco Chapter in 2014.

Elston was raised in Aspen, and her parents, Bonnie and Tom McCloskey, have been involved with the Institute for more than 30 years. After completing her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Colorado Boulder, Elston went on to earn her MBA cum laude from the University of Notre Dame, but eventually settled in her hometown, where she and husband Ryan (also an Aspen native) gracefully carry on her parents’ philanthropic legacy.

“Growing up here, I was aware of the incredible intellectual life in Aspen and the natural beauty we all wake up to each morning. Giving that to our daughters is such a gift.”

Mirte Mallory
Founder and Director, WE-cycle

Mirte Mallory is a deep thinker. She has the kind of intelligence that’s so acute, it’s almost tangible, emanating from her full head of thick, curly hair with kinetic energy. The 33-year-old Dartmouth College grad hails from a third-generation Aspen family and has used her mind to already create a legacy all her own, co-founding the nonprofit WE-cycle (we-cycle.org) with her husband, Philip Jeffreys, in 2010—a bike-share program that put Aspen on the map as North America’s first small, rural community to launch this type of system.

“There’s nothing like experiencing Aspen by bike,” Mallory says of the endeavor. “Aspen has real traffic problems, and a large percentage of pollution from emissions comes from vehicles.”

The “pedal-powered” program launched last spring with 13 stations and 100 bicycles that can be checked out and then returned to any station in town. It’s a similar system to those that exist in major cities like New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco, with 24-hour, three-day and seven-day passes available from as little as $7.

Mallory still lives in the same Aspen home her grandparents first purchased years ago. Her grandfather, Ferenc Berko, was a famous photographer who documented Aspen’s revitalization by Walter Paepcke as part of the Goethe Bicentennial. Considered a pioneer in abstract color, his photography is exhibited throughout the world at major museums such as MoMA and the Met. After graduating from Dartmouth, Mallory received a Reynolds Fellowship to research her grandfather’s photography and to write his biography in French. “It’s amazing to honor [and] to be able to keep his legacy alive,” she says.

What Mallory doesn’t seem to realize, or at least acknowledge, is that she’s already managed to create her own vision for the community. She does, however, admit her program has made a positive impact. Deep in thought, she says, “It’s been really invigorating to see people’s lives transformed by bikes.”

Rachel Hahn
Co-founder and President, Lucky Day Animal Rescue of Colorado

If there is one thing people know about Aspen native Rachel Hahn, it’s that she doesn’t mince words, nor will she hold back her
opinions, especially when it comes to the welfare of abused or endangered animals.

“People think I’m too direct, but I just get to the point,” Hahn laughs. As co-founder and president of Lucky Day Animal Rescue of Colorado, she dedicates her life’s work to rescuing animals from kill shelters and abusive situations in Colorado and nearby states, and finding them “forever homes” in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Hahn, who spent her young-adult years working and traveling abroad before later returning to Aspen, is, after all, deeply rooted to the community. “My whole family is here,” she shares, “and every time I went somewhere there was always a subtle longing to come back; many times I could not even explain the draw. … I am not sure if it is something tangible—just a feeling of home.”

This same feeling governs her work. After marrying and having two children, Hahn began volunteering at a local foster-based rescue that no longer exists. Sensing the need to do more, she, along with Kelley Brenninger and Katie Solondz, started Lucky Day Animal Rescue of Colorado in 2011, to identify animals, mostly dogs, in neglected homes or in danger of being euthanized, and relocate them to local fosters until adoption. To date, Lucky Day has helped 200 animals.

“We look for good personalities and dogs that will do well with people,” Hahn says of the animals she serves. “We often find ourselves helping dogs people deemed not adoptable or [that] are just doomed. We feel as a rescue we have a responsibility to help the less adoptable ones. Many are simply wonderful dogs who just want to be loved.”

From fundraising and finding animals to choreographing transportation and arranging vetting, fostering and personal home visits for potential adopters, Lucky Day is now Hahn’s full-time volunteer job, one that sees her worrying about animal welfare as early as 3am—but the “payoff,” she relays, is worth it. “Year after year we continue to hear, ‘We love our Lucky Day dog.’ That’s why I do it.”

Lexi McNutt
General Counsel and COO, Knight Group Investments

Like many Aspenites, Lexi McNutt came to ski, and stayed for summer. But what’s kept this former securities, mergers and acquisitions attorney rooted to Aspen for the past 13 years—where she’s definitely made her mark—is the community.

A few years after visiting Aspen, the native Oklahoman fled New York City for the mountain town in 2001. And two years later, when one of McNutt’s law firm clients asked her to manage his family’s legal and business affairs, her life went from career-oriented to lifestyle-oriented.

Soon, along with other outdoor pursuits, McNutt developed a love of running, and through her involvement with a Wednesday morning running group, formed strong relationships with several local women. So, in 2011, when McNutt was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she naturally turned to the outdoors, her inner circle and the community that gives her access to both. And when she suggested doing a small fundraiser? Her running pals and husband Ray helped turn it into a major community event: the inaugural Town N Trail 10K, which in October 2013 drew 100 racers and raised more than $32,000 for the National MS Society’s Colorado–Wyoming chapter.

As for McNutt’s next chapter, she’s committed to continuing TNT as an annual event, and, in the process, refining and growing it. And with her symptoms of MS mild, believe McNutt when she says, “I so do not define my life by the fact that I have MS.” In fact, as someone who lives by Aspen’s mind/body/spirit philosophy, she’s also serving in volunteer roles as both a county planning and zoning commissioner and moderator for Aspen Institute’s Great Decisions series.

While still an outdoors enthusiast, these days McNutt reveals, “The longer I’m here [in Aspen], it’s more about the roots of the community, the strength of the friendships. I feel the impact I can have on a community of this size is much greater than anywhere else.”

Virginia Edelson
Founder/Owner/Principal, Bluebird Productions

Dealing with hysterical, hyperventilating brides at 11,212 feet above sea level on the summit of Aspen Mountain is only a small part of what Virginia Edelson does as the woman behind the yellow curtain of Bluebird Productions (bluebirdaspen.com). Also in her repertoire: “I throw a ton of parties. I organize them; I manage chaos; I play temporary psychologist; and I make things beautiful and seamless,” she says with a laugh.

When the statuesque 29-year-old Edelson started her company in the spare bedroom of the house she shares with her husband, Jeff Edelson, in Snowmass Village in 2011, she mostly played wedding planner to her friends while figuring out how to run her own business. But within three years, she found herself managing $800,000 weddings for 200 guests, throwing fundraisers for some of the biggest nonprofits in town, and opening a bona fide office in the Aspen Business Center. “It’s been such a whirlwind,” she confesses. “I don’t think I ever could have imagined how far we could come along in just a few years.”

And come far she has—literally. Originally from Charlottesville, Va., Edelson moved to Aspen eight years ago after graduating from the University of Virginia to ski for a season, but it wasn’t long before her flirtation with the place turned into something much more. “I fell in love with Aspen and realized I wanted to make a career here that I loved,” she says. “I love that you can go hiking and skiing on your lunch break, but it’s still such a cosmopolitan town.”

But for the benevolent Edelson, it’s not always just about throwing elaborate affairs. Edelson’s biggest reward is more altruistic in nature—being able to give back. Last December, Bluebird Productions helped put on Summit for Life, a nighttime uphill race and party on Aspen Mountain benefiting the Chris Klug Foundation—and, not surprisingly, the organization raised 40 percent more than they ever had. “Being able to give back is really important to me and to my company,” Edelson says. Now that’s something to tweet about.

Ashley Rankin
Owner/Designer, Shredly

Ashley Rankin made headlines when she raised the startup money to create SHREDLY (shredly.com), a line of high-performance, high-fashion mountain-biking/active apparel for women, via a Kickstarter campaign. And yet the fourth-generation Aspen local, who was born and raised in Basalt, credits her success to the strength of the community. “I’m not just someone in a big city,” she says. “It was definitely my family and friends in the valley [who] made it happen. Part of what made it such an incredible experience was the sense of community behind me.”

That’s not to underestimate her trajectory. Rankin, 30, studied marketing and apparel design and production at Colorado State University and spent a summer in Florence, Italy, for a design internship. And even though she knew the city was a better place to pursue her interest in couture, Rankin moved home to Aspen shortly after graduating from college—the mountains were in her blood. “I tried to think about not living here,” she confesses, “but I just couldn’t imagine it.”

But knowing peak-chic opportunities in Aspen were in limited supply, Rankin simply created one. And, as an avid mountain biker, she saw the need for functional apparel that delivered comfort, but also looked good. So she designed a padded chamois short with a yoga-inspired fit (a thick low-rise waistband) and an array of surfer-style boardshorts in fun, colorful patterns. Since launching her company in February 2012, its founder now has a full product line of shorts and jerseys with 35 vendors in 12 states and the UK, with five more vendors already planning on launching the line in March. But Rankin’s biggest reward is when she’s out for a ride and runs into a group of local women on the trail raving about her product—without knowing who she is.

“It’s not only about how you look, but how you feel,” Rankin reveals. “When you’re comfortable, that’s when you’re going to be confident.” For her, whether it’s hauling down the mountain on a bike or creating sporting gear specifically for the pursuit, Rankin is full speed ahead.

Melissa Long
Executive Director, Aspen Education Foundation

When Melissa Long moved with her two children from Hong Kong to Aspen, she knew she wanted a change. She figured she’d spend some time with her sister and expose her born-and-raised city kids to the outdoors, but she hadn’t planned on staying for more than a year. “It seemed like a great place to take a sabbatical,” she says.

After honing her skills on the slopes (“I went from being a mediocre skier to a better than mediocre one,” she jokes), it was time to get back to work. With two kids in the public school system and a passion for working in the nonprofit sector, Aspen Education Foundation (AEF; aspenaef.org) was a natural fit for Long, and a year and a half ago she became its executive director.

“When I go out and talk about what’s going on at the school, it’s easy. It’s exciting. These are our kids. Whether or not you have kids in the schools, having good schools helps our community. It benefits everyone.”

As with public schools nationwide, Aspen has been affected by budget cuts to education. The pressure to uphold its standards in terms of maintaining staff and critical programs, and to keep the teacher-to-student ratio low becomes more challenging every year. “You think of a foundation as a way to supplement and enhance the schools,” Long says. “But with the budget cuts our schools face, it’s no longer about the bells and whistles, but funds for material positions and programs on which we have come to expect and rely.”

Because of funding provided by AEF, programs like college counseling can have a significant impact, not only on the quality of education for these kids, but their future as well. Says Long, “Ninety percent of Aspen High School graduates go on to college, compared to the state average of 60 percent. It’s not a matter of if they go, but where.”

But what Long loves most is giving back to the community. “It’s easy to ask people for money when you really believe in the mission you’re promoting,” she says.

Piper Foster
Vice President, Amatis Controls

Only in her early 30s, Piper Foster has already worked both sides of the climate-change coin, first in the nonprofit sector as the executive director of the McBride family’s Sopris Foundation, and now as vice president of Amatis Controls, a company that creates products to help businesses and homeowners gauge energy use.

But it was a 12-day walking trip last year along the Alaskan Arctic coast where she witnessed firsthand how global warming impacts the environment and the local Iñupiat people. “The sea level is rising; erosion is taking place; permafrost is melting; and the land is becoming uninhabitable,” she says. “It all sounds Orwellian, but it is happening.”

On an act of pure intuition, Foster made the move to the Aspen area a decade ago to begin working with the Rocky Mountain Institute, introducing her to the world of energy policy.

“I was at a crossroads in my life and simply felt led to take the job at RMI,” Foster recalls. “Though I knew few people my first year, I steadily met more. There were people who are creative [and] love to have what I call ‘organized fun’—citywide capture the flag, costume parties and theme dinner parties. I deeply value my friends here. As you care for a place, and look for ways to participate or contribute, you begin to really belong.”

Since moving to Aspen, Foster has sat on the board for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, is currently on the board of Aspen TREE and is board president for the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, which advocates for the solar industry.

Although Foster never counts out the individual work everyone must do for the environment, she does believe big steps are needed to impact global warming, like working with coal-fired power plants, as well as small steps, like focusing on changing lightbulbs. She believes that Aspen as a community can, and must, lead these large projects for climate-change progress.

“The silver bullet for Aspen would be a train or light rail,” says Foster, who happens to live on a section of the notoriously congested S-Curves. “With that many people sitting in traffic, people are bound to realize that a train is better. It will make us all more productive than sitting in traffic. We’ve seen that the use of buses means there is plenty of demand for light rail, especially as people are diversifying, living all over the valley and driving to Aspen to work. A train would be among the most substantial contributions to reduce our carbon emissions. It’s just a matter of time until we get it right.”

Shot on location at a West Buttermilk home courtesy of Shane Aspen Real Estate; Long and Foster photos shot on location at The St. Regis Aspen Resort