Notes on the history of the Summit Huts Association
Picture of Janet White Tyler on skis.
Staying in the Summit Huts and talking with folks involved in founding and running them, one is struck by the sheer number of friendships, connections and remembrances that permeate the huts and weave them into a strong hut community. This moved me to dig a little deeper into the history of Summit Huts Association – essentially an outsider scratching the surface for a few days — and here are some notes on the history of this remarkable community-based hut system. This is a placeholder for a more in-depth account in future. Need to add photos of founders and staff. See Summit Huts Photo Gallery for relevant documents.
Not surprisingly, SHA was inspired by its neighbor and partner, the Tenth Mountain Division Huts Association (10MD) and by a memorial hut. In 1985 Dr. John Warner and his friends Tim Casey, John Cooley, Bob French, Jon Gunson, and Rick Hum were on a hut ski trip at the Friends Hut near Aspen. Friends Hut was built as a memorial to a group of friends killed in a private plane crash. Browsing through the photo album documenting the conceptualization and construction of the Friends Hut, John Warner said, “Hey, we can do this!”. And they did!
They began meeting informally, and at the urging of Dr. Ben Eiseman, a founder of the 10MD, they incorporated in 1987 and began making plans and fundraising. The original plan was to establish 8-12 huts in Summit County. A survey of potential sites identified about 40, which was narrowed down to 12 possible locations. Over time the regulatory environment got more restrictive and the larger plan was replaced with the aspiration to build 5-7 huts. Today, after 8 years in the planning the fifth, Weber Gulch Hut, is nearing construction. Most folks involved seem to believe this will be the last of the Summit Huts to be built.
SHA established a strong, working Board, Leigh Girvin Yule was hired as Executive Director in 1994, working with Scott Toepfer, Hutmaster and avalanche expert. A Friends of the Summit Huts group was started and it appears that great community volunteer and philanthropic energy was generated quite quickly. As part of this, a community visioning process around the huts was undertaken in the late 1980’s.
Janet’s Cabin was built in 1989/90 and Francie’s in 1993/94. Local architect and SHA Board Member John Gunson designed both of these first two cabins.
Janet’s Cabin, a three-story log building, was built as a memorial to Janet White Tyler, 1926-1983. Janet was an enthusiastic, life-long skier and a great lover of life. She was by all accounts a woman of real grace and charm, who knew how to make people feel comfortable in her presence. She was known for her friendly conversation and for the hospitality she extended in her Vail home. Family and friends raised about $200,000 towards the construction of the cabin, The Town of Breckenridge contributed some funds, and a huge amount of volunteer labor went into the construction project, which in the end was estimated to cost $385,000.
The logs for Janet’s cabin were flown in by helicopter, and there was a helicopter accident after the last batch was dropped off. Pete Wingle, a former 10MD and SHA Board member, was instrumental in working with the U.S. Forest Service in planning the Cabins and assisted SHA in many ways. Before retirement, Wingle served as Director of Recreation for the region that includes Colorado, and was an expert on ski area development. He pioneered in helicopter construction of ski lifts as a more environmentally sound method.
Francie’s Cabin, very similar in design to Janet’s, was opened in 1994. It was built as a memorial to Frances Lockwood Bailey, 1953 – 1989, who died in a commercial plane accident (in which two of her sons were injured). Francie was known as a kind, gentle, caring and artistic woman who took pleasure in the small things in life. She was a graphic artist and started a business designing children’s wear called “Baby Boomer Designs”. Francie was an enthusiastic skier and loved the Breckenridge area. Her friends and family were inspired by the idea of building a cabin in her memory.
Herb’s Sauna at Francie’s Cabin is dedicated to one of Francie’s brothers, Herb Lockwood, who died in a construction accident shortly after finishing college at Hamilton College, where he wrote his senior thesis (a copy of which is at the hut) on the geology of the drainage systems of Crystal and Mohawk Lakes near Breckenridge.
Ken’s Cabin and Section House are a great example of public/private partnership in preserving historic buildings. The USFS uses the buildings and site as an historic site interpretive center in summer, and provides a special use permit to SHA to use these historic buildings as ski huts in winter.
Ken’s Cabin (1864) is one of a cluster of four historic buildings at Boreas Pass. Owned by US Forest Service, Ken’s Cabin (built as Wagon Cabin) and Section House (1882) were built as living quarters for railroad workers and their families. They were part of a very small settlement housing employees of the South Park Highline, one of two rail lines operated by the Denver and South Park and Pacific Railroad built to connect Denver to the mining districts on the other side of the Continental Divide. once had a post office and a population of 25.
Section House (sleeps 12) is a delightful period structure that evokes the history of this lonely railroad outpost with a restoration that took place in mid-90’s, a great old wood kitchen stove, metal bunk beds. It was opened as a SHA ski hut in 1998.
The adjacent Ken’s Cabin was renovated and opened as a ski hut in 1999 (?). This three-person cabin, restored by SHA and USFS, is dedicated to the memory of Ken Graff, MD (beloved friend and pediatrician), who died at age 33 in an avalanche near Francie’s Cabin on January 15, 1995. On the first weekend that Francie’s cabin was open he skied up to reconnoiter for a group trip the following Thursday. Skiing about a half mile from the Cabin he was killed by an avalanche. There is a moving journal entry by the people who discovered his ski tracks that were suddenly covered by a fresh avalanche, with no tracks coming out the other side of the avalanche field. The search and rescue effort included flying in the rescue dog “Hasty”, and his owner Patty Burnett, from Copper Mountain. Hasty located the body within five minutes of arriving on the scene. Ken was not a registered guest at Francie’s but had stopped there for lunch before skiing towards his death. He chatted with the two couples who later discovered the avalanche and wrote the account.
The SHA received a special use permit from the USFS in June 2015 for construction of its fifth hut, Weber Gulch Hut. The site was one of those identified in the 1980’s site selection process. During the environmental assessment process, several public concerns surfaced: impact on wildlife — specifically habitat for Canada lynx, pine martens and elk — and off-site parking for the hut’s users. Construction is estimated to cost between $1 million and $2 million.