Summit Huts Association to host Backcountry Ball after 2020 cancellation
Late founder’s legacy will live on in Francie’s Cabin remodel
After managing the uncertainty and financial disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, the Summit Huts Association on Saturday, Oct. 9, will host its traditional Backcountry Ball fundraiser for the first time since 2019.
Summit Huts Association Managing Director Karen McDonough-Yule said Summit Huts plans to raise $15,000 to $20,000 from the event, which goes toward the maintenance of Summit Huts’ five cabins: Francie’s Cabin, Janet’s Cabin, Ken’s Cabin, Section House and Sisters Cabin.
McDonough-Yule said that as of Thursday afternoon, this year’s event still has about 40 tickets available out of a capacity of 150 guests at The Maggie at the base of Peak 9 at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Summit Huts did not host a Backcountry Ball — either in person or online — last year in response to COVID-19.
“This is our largest, primary fundraiser — really to herald the start of the upcoming ski season,” McDonough-Yule said. “It’s important for us to raise money toward operating expenses, but this year, it’s also important for us to get back out to touch base with our donors, sponsors and community of guests and users to say, ‘Hey, we are actively fundraising, but we have missed the connection during COVID.”
In a normal year, McDonough-Yule said the Backcountry Ball raised more than $33,000 with upward of 250 people in attendance and many more tickets sold. This year’s event will feature a dinner followed by a silent auction. McDonough-Yule said the event will feature an indoor setting, where masks are mandated by Vail Resorts, and an outdoor option on the Maggie’s deck. McDonough-Yule added that Vail Resorts has provided The Maggie location, staff, and food and beverage support for the event as an in-kind donation through the company’s EpicPromise charity.
McDonough-Yule and Summit Huts Executive Director Josh Flenniken said the organization has made it through the past 18 months of COVID-19 pretty well despite the cancellation of spring 2020 hut service followed by alterations to hut booking availability for customers last summer through this coming winter.
While working on replacing the propane houses at Janet’s Cabin on Thursday, Oct. 7, Flenniken said Summit Huts dipped into its general reserve fund for the first time during the pandemic. Along with using the savings built up since Summit Huts launch in 1984, the organization received a generous loan of $60,000 from the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association at the best interest rate a nonprofit can legally extend to another.
Flenniken said the loan immediately helped Summit Huts make up for the revenue lost in March and April 2020, when the organization had to abruptly cancel six weeks chock-full of hut trips at the outset of the pandemic.
As for this winter, McDonough-Yule said COVID-19 vaccines will not be mandated in huts and that the organization will again rent out huts to only one party. But this year, that singular party size will return to each hut’s maximum capacity. McDonough-Yule said because Summit Huts capped occupancy numbers last season, the organization also discounted the price of each hut to align with the number of guests.
Guests at Francie’s Cabin this winter will stay at a classic hut that is in the middle of a remodel. This spring, Summit Huts installed new floors upstairs and in the hut master’s quarters. She said Summit Huts will close the cabin next summer for further renovations on the main level, including redoing the main living area, extending the kitchen and installing new floors and tables.
McDonough-Yule said Summit Huts hopes to raise $150,000 for the Francie’s remodel.
What: 19th annual Summit Huts Association Backcountry Ball
When: Saturday, Oct. 9. Doors open at 5 p.m., auction runs from 5-8:15 p.m. and dinner is at 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Maggie, Peak 9, Breckenridge Ski Resort
Tickets: $40 per adult or $25 per child at SummitHuts.org/shop
“Francie’s Cabin is the most utilized cabin in Colorado,” she said. “… That being said, it’s booked out almost every season. With that, wear and tear to Francie’s Cabin has come in the last 25 years.”
All five of the huts are scheduled to open Nov. 24 after volunteer and work days prepping the cabins for a deep Summit County winter full of guests. Demand to stay at a Summit Huts cabin is as high as ever, and McDonough-Yule said most of the cabins are already booked up from January to March.
Guests this winter will visit a Summit Huts Association cabin for the first time since founder David Jefferson died in February, three weeks after his final hut trip.
Flenniken said Jefferson’s fingerprints are all over the huts “in a literal and figurative sense,” as he built many aspects of the huts decades ago with his two hands. In subsequent years, he also guided the organization through changing times.
“One thing that he always did is he looked at the existing design,” Flenniken said. “He watched people when they were using the hut. … He’s always looking for ways to improve functionality, flow and positioning. He was so helpful in the remodel of Francie’s Cabin. We’re incorporating a lot of his ides and recommendations based on his years and years of hut use.
“It will be a great part of his legacy.”
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