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North Face catered hut trips draw fire

Jeremy Heiman

A decision by The North Face to cater meals on a backcountry huttrip has drawn criticism from locals.The pair of events that drew objections are part of a “PremierDealer Program” operated by The North Face. The corporation, nowbased in Carbondale, sometimes rewards its top-selling retailersand salespeople with guided backcountry trips. TNF reserved boththe Tagert and Green-Wilson Huts on upper Castle Creek for March9-12 and March 15-18, and hired a caterer to bring in food ona snowmobile for some 25 participants on each trip.Because the two small huts only sleep a total of 14, organizersset up tents and an igloo near the huts to accommodate about 25people on each trip. Andy Steele, of the Forest Service’s AspenRanger District, said organizers originally intended for the participantsto carry in the food prepared by a caterer. But for some reason,plans changed at the last minute and a snowmobile was used. “I’mnot sure how that all happened,” Steele said.Steele said the Forest Service would like hut trips in the Ashcroftarea to be a non-motorized experience, but the agency doesn’thave control over Castle Creek Road, which belongs to Pitkin County.Pitkin County Public Works Director Stan Berryman said a policychange prohibiting snowmobiles on the road would have to be madeby county commissioners, after a series of public hearings.Jim Zellers, trip leader for the two events, said the snowmobilecame into the plan when trip organizer Jacob Uhland arranged fora local caterer to handle the food preparation. He said the catererused one snowmobile and made three trips per day during both ofthe events.Zellers, a snowboarder who has been with the company’s snow sportsteam for 11 years, said food preparation for up to 25 people onTNF’s backcountry trips can be a problem. “We’d be doing dishesand waiting for meals all day,” he said.Topher Gaylord, director of athletic programs for TNF, said hewasn’t sure what the company’s policy is toward motorized assistancefor backcountry trips, but the company’s general attitude is environmentallyfriendly. For example, he said, TNF presently has an expeditiongoing to Mt. Everest with the purpose of removing discarded oxygenbottles and trash left on the mountain by previous expeditions.Craig Ward, president of the board of directors of the AlfredBraun Hut System, of which the Tagert and Wilson huts are a part,said his organization has always discouraged the use of snowmobiles,but has no hard-and-fast policy. “The board doesn’t have a position,”he said. “We’ll have to develop a policy now.”Braun Hut System Manager Hawk Greenway, who sometimes uses a snowmobilein the course of his duties, said he had no problem with The NorthFace using the huts for their functions, but he said the hut systemintends to discourage the use of snowmobiles to support ski trips.”That’s not the intent of the hut system,” he said.Jeff Isaacson, nordic director at Ashcroft Ski Touring, makingit clear his opinions are his own and not those of Ashcroft SkiTouring, said he saw the TNF groups as they started to ski into the huts. “I saw some really healthy-looking people,” he said.”I thought, hey, couldn’t you be carrying your own stuff?'”If each one of those guys pulled a sled,” Isaacson continued,”they wouldn’t have needed to snowmobile their stuff in.”Lynne Mace, a Castle Creek Valley resident and co-owner of theToklat Gallery, advocates closing the valley to snowmobiling.She said above timberline, the road is not visible in winter,so snowmobilers have no way of knowing whether they are on theroad or in the wilderness area. “The Forest Service and the Braun Hut System need to come to aconclusion that snowmobiles are not appropriate in Castle Creek,”Mace said.


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