Mining for Gold...
Celebrating 50 Years!
As we embark on our 50th Anniversary year, we have a new project to add to the nearly 100,000 we’ve completed since 1971.
No engineering prowess needed.
This project will focus on YOU -- our employees. You are the most important piece of CTL | Thompson’s success, and that has been true since my father, Bob, founded the company. Your predecessors and current co-workers have and continue to trailblaze our path to success.
In a monthly series, we will highlight stories from CTL’s rich past, along with commentary and predictions for our present day and future success. We’re calling the series “Mining for Gold,” because we have so many precious and rich stories that highlight our industry-leading expertise and entrepreneurial culture and reiterate how we live out our values of thoughtful, time-tested and thorough engineering.
When sitting down with John Mechling to talk about the early days of the Glenwood Springs office, I was struck by a thought: Our team moves mountains. Literally.
Our work in the Roaring Fork Valley started in the early 1980s when a young Darrel Holmquist was awarded a seat on the team that would complete the last two-lane stretch of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon. The 10-year project was, at $490M, the most expensive non-urban interstate highway in the world.
It isn’t gilded with gold — but it was a gold-medal engineering achievement. The team had to engineer a 14-mile road through a mountain, complete with tunnels, bridges and elevated stretches. They had to take into consideration existing obstacles, including said mountain but also a stretch of railroad, a paved bike path and the mighty Colorado River. Ultimately, they transformed the country’s last existing two-lane stretch of interstate highway into the country’s first “intelligent highway” in an effort that ACEC-Colorado named one of the “Nine Colorado Engineering Feats of the 20th Century.”
And the Glenwood Springs office has been moving mountains ever since.
During the Canyon project, CTL set up a temporary office staffed by Dan Downing and Sandon Thibault with four or five field technicians. Dan’s wife, Cherry, managed the small team. Along the way, the team developed a reputation for solving complex engineering problems and for its ability to successfully navigate a diverse team of governmental and commercial entities.
When the I-70 project wound down, this reputation stayed strong, and we were tapped for more work in the region, including what became a cornerstone project — construction observation and materials testing for the Little Nell Hotel in Aspen.
CTL Western Slope is born
Bob Thompson saw the opportunity. He changed the structure of the office from a temporary field operation to a satellite called CTL Western Slope. He promoted John Mechling, a young staff engineer at the time, to project manager of the Little Nell and “invited” him to join the fledgling Glenwood team.
“Bob told me I was moving to Glenwood Springs,” said Mechling, in his signature deadpan style.
If you’ve been reading Mining for Gold, you already know this isn’t the first time Bob saw an opportunity and saw potential in a young engineer, and a satellite office was born.
This wasn’t the first time John Mechling was sent to a far-flung location, either. He started his career in the late 1970s working in Craig, Colorado, for a Wyoming-based engineering firm, first on a power plant and then on a large mining project.
Mechling took off running and made a few other CTL-ers run, too.
“Mark (Thompson) used to shag concrete for me at the Little Nell project while he was still in college. We had a crane, but Mark was getting ready for football and ski season, so he spent his summers running up a ramp with wheelbarrows full of concrete.”
During this time, Mechling met Jack Donovan, then a vice president at PCL Construction. He moved to Hines Development in the late 1980s and, according to Mechling, “has consistently hired CTL for every big project he’s overseen.”
One of those projects was the Aspen Highlands base. In the ’80s, it was just for locals. Back then, après ski looked a lot different.
“The base consisted of a few shacks where the locals would hang out and party,” said Mechling. We don’t know if Mechling attended the parties, but Hines poured hundreds of millions of dollars into developing an expansive new base with commercial, retail and residential space. Hines also developed many other commercial and residential projects throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
A whole lot of wow
Donovan also introduced CTL to what Mechling describes as his “wow” project — the Residences at Little Nell, which started in 2005.
Sales materials for the exclusive condo community say the ski-in/ski-out residences are “nestled” on the edge of Aspen Mountain. Nestling, according to Mechling, required “84 feet of hole.”
Together with longtime geotechnical engineer and earth retention expert John Hart, the team designed an earth retention and foundation system that could support a 26-unit, $400M structure on a limited site at the base of a mountain that moves.
“The base of Aspen Mountain creeps downhill,” said Mechling.
The earth retention system consisted of a 64-ft wall and a 20-ft wall, stacked basically on top of each other, according to Mechling.
And a whole lot of wow.
“It’s one thing to see an excavation on a set of plans,” said Mechling. “But when we stood at the bottom of the excavation, looking up at 84 feet of hole cut into the hillside — so steep it was straight up and down at the base of Aspen Mountain — that was the wow moment.”
When some movement occurred, Bob Thompson, John Hart and Mechling developed plans for a permanent earth retention system, incorporating drilled shafts, soil nails, tieback anchors and micropiles to stabilize the existing slope.
The Residences project also catapulted CTL into becoming the region’s go-to consulting team. As Mechling describes it, if there is a deep excavation project in the mountain towns of Colorado, CTL was involved.
To name just a few, CTL was an integral part of the team that designed developments at the base at Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain and Snowmass Ski Area, including the Timbers Club, Obermeyer Place, the Grand Aspen Hotel, and the Burlingame project. In Vail, CTL was part of the engineering team for the Vail Plaza Hotel and Vail Conference Center. In the early 2000s, we opened a satellite office in Crested Butte to manage the West Wall Lodge, Crested Butte Town Center and Prospect at Mount Crested Butte projects, as well as base area improvements in Telluride.
The list could go on and doesn’t include newer excavations in Montana, also work generated by our expertise and longstanding relationships. About five years ago, Lone Mountain Land Company began exploring undeveloped territory in Montana, ultimately contracting for a big piece of the largest ski area development project of the time — an estimated $1B in development, including $150 million worth of improvements to Big Sky Resort.
As Mechling described it: “Our professional involvement in Big Sky stems from relationships with key folks who were part of the redevelopment of Aspen Highlands Ski Area 25 years ago. When our contacts became involved with projects in Big Sky, they turned to us because they trusted in our geologic and geotechnical expertise.”
In 2019, we officially opened an office in Bozeman to support our clients with construction observation and materials testing, managed by James Kellogg (who also oversees the Glenwood Springs office).
The Glenwood Springs office has grown and downsized and grown again. We expanded to Grand Junction and Crested Butte, then closed those offices, only to open in Bozeman. Dan and Cherry have retired. Yet through it all, Mechling is still engineering, Thibault is still testing, our relationships are still solid, and the office continues to move mountains.