Summit Huts Operational Profile
Partner with Tenth Mountain Division Huts Association
Overview: (mission, purpose, programs, etc.)
Summary from the SHA website: “Summit Huts Association is a Colorado 501(c)-3 non-profit organization dedicated to developing and maintaining a system of backcountry cabins accessed by non-motorized trails in Summit County, Colorado. Summit Huts Association manages four backcountry huts in Summit County, Colorado: Janet’s Cabin, Francie’s Cabin, the Section House and Ken’s Cabin. All are open for winter use from November to May. Francie’s and Janet’s Cabins are also open for summer use from July to September. The Section House is operated by the Forest Service as an historic interpretive site open to visitors in the summer months.”
Huts and shelters: Description, location, capacity
- Francie’s Cabin: sleeps 20 in winter, 20 in summer, very close to road therefore very popular; accessible via 4WD in summer can drive within a few hundred yards;
- Janet’ Cabin: sleeps 20 in winter, 14 in summer
- Section House: sleeps 12, closed in summer, owned by USFS and operated as historic interpretive centers in summer
- Ken’s Cabin: sleeps 3, closed in summer, owned by USFS and operated as historic interpretive centers in summer
Jon Gunson, Breckenridge architect, designed both Francie’s and Janet’s, working pro bono.
- Three, three-burner propane stoves; cooking and eating utensils;
- Solar for lights
- First aid kit, fire extinguisher, smoke detector
- Wood chopped for heat, splitting maul and axe, matches
- Cleaning supplies, brooms, snow shovels
- Saunas at Janet’s and Francie’s
- Bring only food and sleeping bag.
- Games, playing cards, small library, logbooks.
- Guitar at Francie’s
- Crayons, pencils, markers, and a roll of paper for fire-starting can also be used for table-top drawing.
Policies and hut ethics
- No dogs because they would disrupt wildlife patterns and pee near the hut where snow is gathered to melt for drinking water.
- Clean up after yourselves; haul out your trash.
- Quiet time 10pm – 7 am
- See Hut Handbook, a great summary of policies and procedures for hut users.
- No attempt to regulate screens and use of devices.
- Snow melt in winter
- Janet’s and Francie’s have creeks nearby for summer use
- Indoor composting toilets at Janet’s and Francie’s.
- Simplicity of Clivus preferred to Phoenix.
- Photovoltaic power for keeping composting receptacle area above freezing 24×7.
- Fully composted toilet waste is dispersed in the area around the hut; USFS is pleased with results.
- Janet’s and Franice’s each use about 9 cords of wood per year.
- Ken’s Cabin and Section House use about 6 cords total.
- Firewood is generally purchased from offsite vendors and transported by truck/trailer or helicopter to the huts. We had a few years where we harvested deadfall around the cabins, but that is the exception not the rule. These days it is typically already processed and just requires unloading and stacking in the cabins, but we do have log-splitters and have done processing (particularly in the thick of the beetle kill epidemic).
- Solar collectors for lighting, and also for keeping the composting toilets above freezing 24×7.
Cooking and eating
- Groups cook together and in an informally determined sequence.
- Three 3-burner propane stoves;
- Plenty of cookware; cleanup is handled informally and seems to generally be handled responsibly. 50% do a great job of cleaning up and a bell curve seems to track the overall trend.
- Propane burners are on a timer system, which is a great way of ensuring people don’t lose track and waste fuel.
- I counted 8 large propane tanks outside Janet’s hut.
- Mattresses covered with flannel sheets;
- Pillows and pillowcases provided;
- Bring your own sleeping bag and sleep sheet.
Maintenance and repairs
- Scott and Mike do routine maintenance.
- A crew of 10-12 seasonal Hutmasters work in winter, touching each hut weekly. Some hutmasters work more hours than others.
Capital projects and repairs
- Backcountry construction is a niche market.
- A contractor was brought in to insulate the attic at Francie’s Cabin.
- As the cabins age more projects are needed, e.g. window replacements, a new deck at Janet’s, etc.
- Usually fly in maintenance materials once yearly.
- Janet’s and Francie’s designed by local architect Jon Gunson.
- Each of these two cabins have hutmaster quarters, i.e. mini-apartments that allow them to stay overnight without reservation;
- Log cabin design works fairly well for winter use, but logs don’t have the insulation value of modern materials and require considerable maintenance (critters, chinking).
- Twenty-year special use permits issued by USFS.
- Usually get visits from several different USFS personnel at least once annually, including from: a snow ranger and the permit administrator (more active; often than annually);
- Annual fee permit fee is calculated on the basis of a formula that has to do with gross annual receipts. Hannah said she’d get back to me about this. Meanwhile, she said the annual fee for Francie’s Cabin is about $2,300, which is about 10% of Summit Huts’ annual expenditures on Francie’s Cabin.
- In applying for permit for new Weber Gulch Cabin, SHA hired a local consulting group to manage the EIS process. It cost about $120,000 and took 4 years for the documentation and 7-8 years total to secure the permit.
- Use snow machines in summer and trucks in winter for delivery of supplies.
- If everything has been planned correctly, all supplies will be delivered by truck/trailer or flown in to the cabins during the summer and fall months, use of snow machines/cats is in extreme emergency only. Hannah says: I can only think of one time in the 14 or so years I’ve been around that we needed something big enough delivered that we had to go through the ordeal of arranging the machine and the permission to do all that. Mike probably has a few more examples, but it’s rare.
- Composted waste is spread in the area of the hut per agreement with USFS.
- Distances and elevation changes (see Ohlrich book)
- Navigation and connectivity among huts
- SHA is not designed for traverses, but rather as destination huts;
- It is possible to do traverses, but not common;
- Ohlrich’s 10th Mountain Hut Guide, outlines some hut-to-hut traverses involving Janet’s Cabin, but not for the other SHA huts.
Trail building and maintenance
- SHA does not build or maintain trails to its huts;
- they frequently use existing trails such as the Colorado Trail and CDT.
- Most trails are maintained by USFS, along with some by Summit County.
- In some places SHA has “administrative access” agreements where trails to their huts cross private lands;
Data, policies and practices relating to environmental impact of hikers and of huts?
Governance, Staff and Management:
- Governance SHA has a board comprising five members of the Executive Committee, and an additional 10 board members.
- People from the community; includes an insurance broker who assists with their insurance policies.
- See http://summithuts.org/about-us/ for list of Board members.
- SHA operates under a standard set of Bylaws.
- Staff implements the will of the Board.
- Mike Zobbe is Executive Director at 1.0 FTE
- Hannah Taylor is Operations Manager at .8 FTE
- Additionally, there are up to 10-12 part-time hut masters who work as contract labor as needed, more regularly in winter than in summer.
- Rely heavily on volunteers for help with maintenance and re-stocking;
- About 100 different people volunteer annually;
- Mostly organized by work-days in which a team assembles to perform specific tasks.
- Volunteers are given certificates to use the Hutmasters quarters for free.
- Not used
Reservations, Marketing, Memberships:
- Tenth Mountain Division Hut Association handles reservation for SHA as one of its partner organizations.
- Weekend reservations go very quickly in the annual lottery;
- Information packet – See website; handled by 10MD through their reservation system. SHA sends an email to trip leader in advance to the trip reminding them of certain information and asking if they have any additional questions.
- Waivers – See website; handled by 10MD through their reservation system.
- Rates See website; handled by 10MD through their reservation system.
- Very little marketing done; no need at present;
- One fundraiser per year, the Backcountry Ball, which is a means of community outreach as well as a fundraiser.
- Some branding through sale of mugs and t-shirts.
- Reciprocity with 10MD for member eligibility for participation in annual Hut Lottery.
- According to SHA web site: As a member of Summit Huts, you will receive a newsletter e-mailed twice a year, periodic e-mail updates, a membership card good for discounts on “Club Days” at outdoor retailers, and the opportunity to reserve Summit and 10th Mountain Division Huts three months before the general public for the winter season through participation in the Hut Lottery. Most of all, you will be supporting a great organization and your support is greatly appreciated.
- SHA has about 120 members; memberships at several levels:
- $25 individuals (eligibility to pre-book 1 trip per year)
- $35 families
- $50 eligible to pre-book up to 3 trips per year;
- $100 Hut tripper; eligible to pre-book unlimited trips per year;
- $1,000 Lifetime Member; eligible to pre-book unlimited trips per year; plus, naming levels available
To the trailheads: No transportation provided by SHA; parking available at each trailhead. Can use public transportation to get to most trailheads.
Catered trips: NA
- SHA does not have a USFS permit to offer guiding services and is not interested in getting into this arena;
- Paragon Guides is permitted to guide to Janet’s Cabin.
- Not allowed at any SHA huts;
- Most recent White River National Forest Travel Plan closes snowmobile travel routes near the huts.
Horses and pack animals
- Cannot hitch horses within 200’ bubble around huts per Forest Supervisor order.
Car access to huts
- Janet’s Cabin has no vehicle access;
- Francie’s has 4WD access in summer, including a parking area ¼ mile away that is not used much.
- Safety/Search and Rescue is summoned via 911 call to Summit County Sherriff’s Office, which connects to Summit County Search and Rescue
- Each hut has a cache of search and rescue equipment, including a rescue sled, oxygen, and medical supplies.
- More inexperienced users; easy to rent gear; can result in more safety risk and calls for help.
- SHA has a general outdoor recreation policy, which includes general liability and property damage;
- Local insurance broker on SHA Board very helpful in advising.
Use of hut system: capacity, demographics, survey data, trends over time, etc.:
- 76-78% of use is during winter;
- 2 in winter 25% of use is snowshoes and 75% is skiing;
- three year rolling average of use is trending upwards.
- Operating in the black for the past 5 years;
- This includes annual transfer of funds from operating to maintenance reserve fund;
- Annual budget about $240,000 per year.
- Insurance and payroll are the two largest expense categories;
- Operate a tight ship;
- Non-profit organization
- Operates mainly on earned income
- Doesn’t have to spend a lot of time fundraising
- However, board president says they do need to step up fundraising for maintenance endowment.
Partnerships and educational programs:
- Works with community groups, e.g. Mountain Mentors, on service projects, and with Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center;
- There is a longstanding program to bring Fifth graders to the huts.
- SHA doesn’t participate directly in programming, but provides the space and logistical support. They do not have a permit from USFS to do educational programming; for that they would need an outfitters permit.
- SHA participates in 10MD’s Backcountry Explorers Program, which provides a 50% discount for non-profit groups using the huts for educational/environmental programming;
- SHA is able to get grants from the Summit Foundation to offset these discounts.
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 ask and read more about the history of Summit Huts Association. Based on reading accounts in the log-books and talking with folks – essentially an outsider scratching the surface for a few days — here are some notes on the history of this remarkable community-based hut system.
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, John 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. A community visioning process 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, titled: “Rock Glacier Deposits in the Tenmile Range, Summit County, Colorado”.
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.
Some important lessons learned by the managers of the system:
- Don’t be in a hurry; things take a long time, particularly in relation to proposing new hut.
- Patience and persistence are key attributes;
- Focus on quality of the experience;
- Importance of locating huts in good ski terrain.
- Success/popularity is determined by:
- Access-close to trailhead; people prefer a short ski in to huts;
- Great skiing in proximity to huts; people will travel distances to get to good skiing terrain; huts with best turns are most popular;
- Great views and setting are appealing;
- Proximity to major population centers; SHA’s proximity to metro Denver area is a key to its success.
- SHA model from the outset was for huts as destinations.
- User surveys have shown very little interest in Nordic traverses, vs. use of specific huts as destinations for weekend stays.
- Hut-to-hut traverses are seen as intimidating; lots of weight to carry; lots of work to clean up hut, pack and move to another hut; easier to stay put in one place.
Observations by Sam:
As mentioned above, this hut system seems unusually well-connected to its community, Breckenridge. Over the years a high degree of community input and engagement seems to have developed a strong sense of local ownership and pride in SHA. The energy and intelligence of those who operate and support SHA is impressive, and one of its greatest assets.
The gradual change of focus from connected huts offering hut-to-hut traverse possibilities seems to be part of a larger trend in US hut skiing.
Challenges and opportunities:
- SHA is getting so popular, and with the Lottery, there is a perception issue: it is too busy and not worth trying to get reservations;
- Perception that SHA is a Breckenridge resource vs. a Summit County resource; i.e. too heavily identified with Breckenridge;
- Demographic changes:
- Less skilled people using huts as ski and snowshoe gear is getting easier to use, lighter, and more reliable.
- Hut-to-hut traverses are seen as intimidating; lots of weight to carry; lots of work to clean up hut, pack and move to another hut; easier to stay put in one place.
- While the non-motorized ethos remains, some of the people using the huts are less sensitive to hut ethics, e.g. more partying, less sensitive to their roles and responsibilities in sharing the hut space with others.
- New Hut: Weber Gulch Cabin in planning phase will be built in the next few years.
- Another 14 beds to manage;
- Design and operational plans incorporate 25 years of experience;
- Opportunity to build a new hut from scratch;
- Use of new, lighter materials providing more insulation value;
- Possible new partnership opportunities:
- People approach SHA about possible partnerships in ventures such as mining cabins; so far none have seemed viable;
- There are USFS cabins in various states of repair;
- Colorado Open Space operates cabins.
- Web site: http://summithuts.org/
- Contacts: Hannah Taylor and Mike Zobbe, firstname.lastname@example.org
Document written by:
Sam Demas based on interview with Hannah Taylor, Mike Zobbe and Board President, Rich Rowley; First draft Dec. 2017; reviewed by Hannah Taylor and updated January 3, 2018 based on feedback from Hannah.