New book chronicles inspiring history of huts around Aspen

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times

If You Go …

What: ‘The Friends’ Hut’ book release party

Where: Explore Booksellers

When: Thursday, Jan. 8, 5 p.m.

When two planes collided over East Maroon Pass in 1980, killing ten Crested Butte and Aspen residents, the two mountain communities came together in their grief. A handful of committed volunteers have continued to come together in the years since – founding, building and maintaining the Friends’ Hut in the wilderness between the towns.

Over the three decades since it opened, the hut has become both a memorial to the dead and a home for celebrating life in the mountains. That unique story is the subject of the new book, “The Friends’ Hut: A Living Memorial in the Elk Mountains,” by Aspen Times columnist Paul Andersen, Crested Butte writer/photographer Xavier Fané and others.

Explore Booksellers hosts a signing and talk on Thursday with the authors and Friends’ Hut board members, including Aspen architect Graeme Means.

The book recounts the story of how tragedy spawned the hut, motivating a group of committed Aspenites and Crested Butticians to raise money to build it, then trekked to construct it beneath Star Peak. That a handful of grieving ski bums could succeed in such an undertaking – and maintain it for three decades – seems a minor miracle.

“It’s also a tragic miracle that the two planes collided as they did,” Andersen said this week. “Both represent a coming together. One in destruction and death. The other in in love and community.”

Along with the historical narrative from Andersen, Fané and others, the soft cover book includes reproductions of drawings and notes from the Friends’ Hut logbook, remembrances of the dead, some goofy hut trip stories, and a collection of newspaper clippings about its construction.

The book came together over the last year, Andersen said. When founding Friends’ Hut board member Jim Gebhart died in 2005, his wife, Rosie, put together a scrapbook about the hut. That project inspired the new book, which Anderson, Fané, and Means brainstormed about on a trip to the hut last winter, then got to work on it.

Andersen has been writing about the Friends’ Hut through the course of its lively history. He lived in Crested Butte from 1970 to 1984, where as a reporter at the Crested Butte Chronicle, he wrote about the plane crash and the beginnings of the Friends’ Hut. When he moved to Aspen, he continued covering the fundraising efforts to get it built, its construction, and updates along the way – including the addition of solar panels in the mid-1980s, hauled to the hut on a llama.

“When it opened in 1985, I was up there to check it out and it became a meeting point for me and my old friends from Crested Butte, and a lovely place to convene for what we called ‘summit meetings,’” Andersen said. “We’d party and ski and we’d connect from both sides of the Elk Range, with the hut as the focal point.”

On Thursday, they’ll convene at Explore instead.