ASPEN - The man who was instrumental in expanding one of the renowned backcountry ski-hut systems surrounding Aspen was honored Thursday with completion of a new hut that bears his nickname.
Roughly 40 people turned out to celebrate the christening of Opa's Taylor Hut, named after the late Aspenite Fred Braun. The Alfred A. Braun Hut System south of Aspen is named after him, but there was never an individual hut in his honor.
Braun emigrated to America from Germany in 1928 and moved to Aspen in the early 1950s. He operated the Holiday House ski lodge and earned a reputation as a skilled alpinist and promoter of the mountain lifestyle. Braun was a popular guy who was known as Opa, German for Grandpa, by his family and friends.
He founded what evolved into Mountain Rescue Aspen and, in 1967, took over a growing hut system in the High Country south of Aspen. He expanded the system by building many of the huts himself, with the help of his family and volunteers.
"He did it because he loved it so much," said his daughter, Sigrid Stapleton.
"They were pretty funky," she later said of the original huts. "He'd say (the new hut) was too fancy."
Opa's new hut is stunning. It's tucked into a granite-lined niche at 12,000 feet. While standing on the expansive deck facing due south, it only takes a subtle turn to see it from Grizzly Peak east of Aspen to Taylor Peak, which looms to the hut's west. Jagged peaks are planted everywhere between.
The hut is about 6.5 miles southeast of Ashcroft and about 1.5 miles southeast of the summit of Taylor Pass. It's roughly halfway between the Friends Hut and the Goodwin-Green Hut.
"When I look at the system, I think of this as the center of the web," said Hawk Greenway, longtime manager of the Alfred A. Braun Hut System. Opa's Taylor Hut is located within 4.5 to six miles of five other huts in the system, so it will be integrated into multiday trips, he said.
Like all huts in the Braun system, Opa's won't be for the casual backcountry traveler. Nearly all the routes to Braun huts cross big avalanche paths. The huts also can be difficult to find. There are no trail signs.
Opa's hut is burrowed into a granite outcropping. It's invisible from the northwest until travelers are upon it. The most direct route during the summer, via Express Creek Road and another forest route from the summit of Taylor Pass, most definitely isn't a route backcountry skiers will want to take because of avalanche danger, said Greenway and David Swersky, a member of the hut system's board of directors.
Al Beyer, whose firm designed the hut, said the site was picked to minimize the impact. The foundation was anchored into granite to avoid excavation, he said. The exterior of the 850-square-foot hut is dominated by interesting roof lines and thick wooden beams. Windows naturally dominate the south side to maximize sun exposure and views. It is a one-story structure with lower-level storage.
The hut sleeps eight with three bedrooms capable of accommodating two each and room for two in the living room. The interior has an efficient design that concentrates the three dominant functions of a hut - cooking, hanging out at a dining-room table and sitting area, and crowding around a woodstove to warm up and dry out clothing. The stove isn't shoved against a wall. Instead, it's accessible from all sides and easily warms the 20-by-20-foot main room.
"I'll be surprised if a cord of wood is used in a year," Beyer said. Solar panels supply power for the lights.
Beyer and his team of architects also handled the design for the other huts in the system, which were replaced with bright, warm and efficient structures.
"All the huts are just gorgeous," Stapleton said.
Construction of Opa's hut presented challenges even though the summer was milder and drier than usual. Nothing is easy to build at 12,000 feet. Beyer and Braun system officials praised the work of Rutgers Construction, of Aspen, owned by Tony Rutgers. The closest a road comes to the site is about one-half mile, so tools and materials had to be hauled in by hand. Construction materials were hauled by truck about halfway up Express Creek Road and then flown in by DBS Helicopters, of Rifle. There were about 300 chopper trips over 3 1/2 days, Rutgers said.
Lucas Franze, a lead carpenter on the crew, said they worked through daylight hours Monday through Thursday. The work stretched over about 18 weeks.
Craig Ward, president of the Braun system's board of directors, said the hard cost of planning and building the hut was roughly $475,000. Without discounts in labor, services and materials, the cost would have exceeded $600,000, he said.
The Braun system - a nonprofit organization - covered most of the cost by selling two Aspen-area mining claims donated to the organization by the Anthony Mollica family. Swersky said the organization came about $100,000 short of covering the costs. It also wants to establish an endowment to cover maintenance.
The board wants the people who have enjoyed the Braun system huts over the years to feel ownership of the new hut and to help cover the remaining costs. Any donation of any size helps, Swersky said.
Donations can be made to Alfred A. Braun Hut System, P.O. Box 7937, Aspen, CO 81612. Hawk Greenway will field any questions about the hut and fundraising at (970) 920-7859.
The marketing and reservations for Opa's hut, like all in the Braun system, will be handled by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, which manages 34 huts that it owns or manages. Reservations for Opa's will be accepted starting Nov. 15 for dates after Dec. 15. There will be a flat fee of $200 for the hut.
Ward said Opa's will make a perfect addition to the Braun system.
"All the values we hold and all the principles we have are due to the Fred Braun family," he said.