Breckenridge patrol to tear down ‘smoke shacks’
BRECKENRIDGE – An old, unspoken tradition is a new problem at Breckenridge Ski Resort.For years, locals have built huts in the trees between runs at Breckenridge. This year, members of the Breckenridge Ski Patrol noticed an unusual abundance of the makeshift log cabins and have plans to tear down any they come across in the future. The resort leases the ski terrain from the U.S. Forest Service, which works with ski patrol to keep the mountain safe and environmentally friendly. Breckenridge spokeswoman Emily Jacob was clear in defining the resort’s stance on the shacks. “Anything and everything they find will be torn down,” she said. “We are very eager to get it done.”Breckenridge ski patrol director Kevin Ahern said there are two main reasons for the project. “One, building structures like that on national forest land with materials from the forest is illegal,” Ahern said. “The other big one is safety. People end up trashing them and leaving food behind that attracts animals.”
To many Breckenridge locals that explore their home mountain as much as possible, the huts are referred to as “smoke shacks.” They range in complexity from crude lean-tos to multi-storied log fortresses equipped to host anyone that might come by.Stoves, grills, carpet and endless decoration can be found inside and around the shacks, with several lounging options along the walls. Many of the shacks are accompanied with log jibbing rails attached or nearby, ideal for a crew looking to spend the day in the woods. Silverthorne resident Thomas Berger has lived in Summit County for six years, and couldn’t imagine a shackless Breckenridge. “It’s a staple of everyday riding,” he said standing at the door of the “Marley hut” on Peak 9. “You can’t go riding without having to go stop off for a little stress relief. When you’ve got people cutting you off, swerving back and forth all over the runs, you need a place to go take a timeout.”Ahern said razing the huts has nothing to do with the “smoke shack” stigma many people associate them with. “What happens in there, I’m not really sure,” he said. “The thing that really bothers me is how trashy they are.” In response to Ahern’s concern about litter, Berger said he and his friends help clean any trash left behind.
“We take out what we bring in there, and if there’s any extra trash lying around, we’ll grab that,” Berger said. “And really conscious people will come up with trash bags and clean up.”During an hour-long period Saturday, more than 20 people came by the Marley hut to hang out. Other than Berger, none of the visitors wanted to give their names.”The huts give historical significance to the mountain,” one Breckenridge resident said. “They are at every mountain I’ve ever been to and do no harm. Most of the people that ski here don’t even know they exist.”Finding the huts may be the biggest problem facing ski patrol. Oftentimes, tree skiers or riders can pass by a shack without noticing it at all. And many of the huts can only be found with a knowledgeable local leading the way.Joe Foreman, the U.S. Forest Service winter sports administrator for the Dillon Ranger District, is communicating with Ahern on the best ways to clear the huts. Foreman is a former ski patroller for the Steamboat Ski Area, a resort that experienced the same situation several years ago. “(At Steamboat) I didn’t find out about them for a while because they are so hard to find,” Foreman said. “When we realized we had a problem, we removed quite a few shacks.”Huts like those at Breckenridge also exist at Copper Mountain. Yet Copper spokeswoman Jamie Wilson said the resort has no plans to seek them out.
“We don’t actively seek out the smoke shacks, but if we come across one we will work on dismantling it,” Wilson said. “With our resources, we are trying to keep the mountain as safe as possible.”Ahern said one hut on Peak 8 has already been dismantled because it was “a nuisance.” He said ski patrol isn’t going to remove any more until the spring crowds clear out.”We’re still busy with the spring break crowd, so we don’t have time to do it now,” Ahern said. “We’re looking at the end of the season when we have more time to do it. We will remove the trash and any wood with nails in it, and scatter the rest of the wood around so it doesn’t look like a mess. “If it’s done in the summer, the trails department will do it. If it’s done in the winter, patrol will do most of it, but may get help from the trails department.”Berger said if the huts are torn down, it won’t be permanent. “We’ll just build more,” he said. Andy Frame can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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