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Backcountry huts restored to warm Nordic skiers

Summit Daily/Reid Williams
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BRECKENRIDGE ” Two restored cabins will soon welcome and warm cross country skiers at the Breckenridge Nordic Center.

The “Hallelujah Hut” is the new name given to one hut by Gene Dayton, owner of the Nordic center and the man who decided to save the 105-year-old cabin from its likely demise in Breckenridge’s Swan Valley.

The hut is one of a dozen or so structures Dayton has decided to save over the years.



“It’s really been a labor of love,” Terese Dayton said of the work to restore and open to the public both the Hallelujah Hut and Josie’s Cabin.

The Hallelujah Hut is special because it’s a relic from Dayton’s past. When it was still located at the Revett property in the Swan River drainage, Dayton opened his cross country ski business there in 1967.



The Hallelujah Hut is located on the Breckenridge Nordic Center’s Siberia Loop, now called the New World, a 22-mile loop at the base of Peak 7 that is part of Dayton’s 1,600-acre ski permit from the U.S. Forest Service.

Gene and his wife, Terese, have spent about $30,000 installing the historic cabin to provide shelter for their customers who use the trails that can seem a long way from the center’s main lodge.

With propane heat, and a south-facing deck, the hut will be “a nice little destination place for people to ski to,” Terese Dayton said.

The Hallelujah Hut is about 300 feet up the trail from Kathy’s, which also offers rest and relaxation to wayward skiers with a wood-fired sauna.

The Hallelujah Hut restoration project started more than 18 months ago, when the owner of the Revett property “gave” the cabin to the Daytons for $1. It was moved in one piece to property owned by Tony Harris in the Tiger Run drainage.

Harris is the general contractor on the job. He decided to take the cabin apart, sand the logs and move them piecemeal to the new site, where the logs, “like a jigsaw puzzle,” were put back together, Harris said.

Once the logs were in place on a new foundation, a new roof and propane stove were installed, plus a front deck. Most of the original windows were preserved, but a new door had to be fashioned to meet the town’s code.

Harris is an expert at saving what he calls “the old stuff” but, like Dayton, has an affinity for turning the area’s dilapidated mining structures into useful shelters.

Through his company, Harris Construction, he managed the restoration of the Section House on Boreas Pass Road for the Summit Huts Association.

“If you don’t repair them, they just disappear,” Harris said. “Everybody saves a little piece,” and then they’re gone.

Instead, a restoration will ensure cabins like the Hallelujah Hut ” formerly known as the Retort House ” will be around for generations to come.

Ben Stanley Revett arrived in Summit County in 1893.

A stout Englishman who was, according to local history writer Mary Ellen Gilliland, “as wide as he was tall,” Revett was the man responsible for the rock piles seen from Highway 9 driving into Breckenridge.

In an on-again, off-again attempt to extract gold from the stream beds, Revett brought the first dredge boats to the area. They were monster wooden vessels designed to float on the river and dig deep into bedrock, where gold nuggets lay nestled in the gravel.

After a few false starts due mainly to gear malfunctions ” Revett’s first boats fell apart under the weight of the Rocky Mountain “gravel,” that according to Gilliland, could be boulders up to 6-feet wide ” the gold dredge king realized success with a steam powered vessel named “The Reliance.”

At a cost of $90,000, the Reliance was Colorado’s first successful dredge boat.

Revett married Mary Griffin in 1898, then designed and had built an elegant estate for her he named Swan’s Nest that was completed that year. The house still stands today and is for sale for $2.7 million.

Less than 30 feet from the manor stood the Retort House, where Revett’s workers brought gold from the dredge boats, melted it in a furnace and created gold bars to be shipped to the city.

“It’s where they processed the gold,” said Glenn Campbell, who has owned the Revett estate since 1969. “When we put the property up for sale, I was afraid a developer might buy it and tear (the cabin) down.”

Campbell invited the Daytons for dinner, and it was decided Gene would move it off the Revett property to save it.

A second cabin undergoing restoration at the Breckenridge Nordic Center is Josie’s cabin, located at the toe of Cucumber Gulch on the Blue Loop.

Harris supervised the work on Josie’s, which included installing a new roof and replacing the bottom four logs on all sides that were rotting or, in Harris’ words, “turning to dust.”

The cabin was owned by Cy Colburn, who owned the surrounding mining claim that ran all the way down the valley to what is now the site of Claimjumper condominiums.

Sharon Jefferson, who is Colburn’s niece, lived in the cabin in 1976 and visited frequently with family over the years.

“I remember viewing stars through the holes in the roof,” Jefferson said. “It was either freezing in that cabin or 180 degrees, up in the loft.”

Jefferson’s two brothers, John and Russell Ford, tended a herd of goats on the property while living in the cabin in 1965. During hunting season, the brothers went out for a hike, came back to the cabin and their small herd of goats had been shot.

“They decided to leave the area after that and went to live in a cabin in Georgetown,” Jefferson said.

Bob Ford, a third brother and a teacher at Colorado Mountain College who liked to play music at the cabin, lived there for a half-dozen years in the mid-1970s.

Because he didn’t mine the property, Colburn lost the mining claim to the government, “probably after a fiery Irish fight,” Jefferson said.

Now it’s owned by the town.

The Daytons are working on approvals from the town of Breckenridge to allow private parties and snowshoe dinner tours to Josie’s.

Both cabins are expected to be complete and open to the public by the end of the year.

” Information on Ben Stanley Revett and the history of the Revett manor was gleaned from Mary Ellen Gilliland’s book, “SUMMIT: A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado”

As a volunteer for the Summit Huts Association, I’ve been to the area’s backcountry cabins countless times.

While the work involves a few hours of cleaning and list-checking, I always feel after a trip that I received more than my volunteerism contributed.

A little cold at first, but always welcoming at the end of the road, it’s the huts that make these trips special.

After a long trek through knee-deep snow, torrid winds or under a clear blue sky, the first task I set to is unpacking. I lay my items out on the common table, hang my gear on the hooks and “claim” the space.

Every time, I recognize the deep void ” no phone to ring, no laundry to start, no little errands to do.

While at the cabin those distractions that interrupt my regular days are forgotten. Instead, I feed the fire, boil water, sweep the floor or simply watch the snow blow out the window.

The new huts at the Breckenridge Nordic Center won’t accommodate overnight guests, but they will provide an opportunity to check out, to leave the town of Breckenridge, the ski area, the errands and the ringing phones behind ” even if only for an afternoon.


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