Reefer sadness at Snowmass |

Reefer sadness at Snowmass

The Forest Service is ordering all "smoking shacks", like this one on Snowmass Mountain, be removed. (Joel Stonington/The Aspen Times)

SNOWMASS On Snowmass, ski-town culture is undergoing a quiet battle that no one wants to fight – one fueled mostly by liability concerns. The controversy regards the fate of a dozen or so shacks that represent some of the coolest hangout spots on Snowmass Mountain.The smoke shacks – or “unapproved structures” as the Forest Service calls them – are basically little hideaways to take a break and spark a joint. Most are well-hidden, with found wood and some twine, though a few have taken it to the next level with seats, multiple levels, and even iPod speakers. “It’s becoming an issue all over the place,” said Jim Stark, winter sports administrator for the White River National Forest. “I was just down at Sunlight, and they’re having the same issue popping up. I told [Snowmass] they need to start getting rid of them.”Skico brass says there’s no problem with the shacks and that it hasn’t been asked to take down the structures, but Rich Burkley, Skico’s vice president of mountain operations, said the Skico would comply with any Forest Service directive.

The Forest Service said it has ordered the shacks down. No one wants to be the bad guy in this battle. Unlike the shrines on Aspen Mountain, most of which are on private land, nearly all of Snowmass is public land, part of the White River National Forest. Shrines on Ajax came up for review last winter when Skico execs complained that some of the shacks were just trash and should be taken down.This year, as last, executives said these citizen creations were just “popping up” all over the place, highlighting the fact neither Skico nor the Forest Service has a reasonable solution for getting rid of either shacks or shrines.

“As these new ones pop up, they should be taken down,” Stark said. “The ones no one knows about are not a priority. They are probably going to keep popping up. They pop up quick. Kids have a lot of time and effort to put these up. To turn a blind eye to it is not the right thing to do.”It doesn’t take more than an hour to go in, nail a bunch of memorabilia, photographs, silk flowers and a pair of panties to a tree. Consummate that with a toke, and a shrine is born. Similarly, smoking shacks can be made in a matter of hours during the summer and can be easily disguised, he said.”We’re seeing stuff popping up all over the mountain,” former Aspen Mountain manager Steve Sewell said in an interview last year. He since has become Snowmass mountain manager. “We don’t really appreciate it at this point,” he said “One man’s shrine gets to be another man’s trash.”The shacks show how many people find the mountains, and ski hills in particular, an important place. Many of the shacks on various mountains are for lost relatives or heroes.Burkley noted that if shacks are not kept up, they quickly turn into trash. At the point when everything is faded and rarely visited, he said it’s no big deal to bag up the trash and throw it away.

“It would be unfair to compare those with ski area infrastructure,” Stark said. “It depends on how you determine impact. It might be more about image. It’s not strictly about cutting down a tree or limbing branches. The difference is that one is authorized and the other goes through an approval process.”Stark said the issue of safety has come up in discussions with the Skico. He said that while it is not the Skico’s job to baby-sit everyone on the mountain, liability concerns have made the issue much larger. Burkley, on the other hand, said there is not a safety concern at the moment regarding the shacks, and the Skico doesn’t even know where most of them are. About five years ago, Stark said, a kid passed out in one of the huts on Sunlight after drinking too much and nearly froze to death. That’s the worst-case scenario that Stark said must be avoided. However, Stark and Skico execs noted the value of the shacks. Neither party said drug use in the shacks was a problem; Stark said it was clear that people have been and would continue toking in the forest, shacks or no shacks. “Those funky things are kind of the old Aspen and add to messy vitality of the things a lot of us would like to cling on to, some funky stuff,” Stark said. “That’s probably why some of that is still up, both from our standpoint, the ski area’s standpoint and the public’s standpoint.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is

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