Ski resort "smoke shacks" have the bowls that really count

Three minutes into the seven-minute ride on the Super Gauge Express chairlift at Winter Park, one of my guides turns, pulls down the turtleneck of his red ski jacket and says, "I think I'm not feeling safe enough. I think we should get safer."

Soon I'm following the two skiers and one boarder through a double-black section of glades covered with about a foot of loose powder wind-loaded into the trees overnight on top of crusty, week-old snow. In my wake are jagged boulders, fallen trees, spear-like branches and stumps. We stop for a second, and I learn that there are cliffs about 500 yards to the right. Usually the snow is good enough to ski them — but not this season. So we veer downhill, to avoid going over the ledge like Gore-Tex-wrapped lemmings.

After dropping another hundred yards down the pitch, we come to a more mellow part of the woods, where the tracks are a bit more packed down. Those tracks converge at a flat spot, where my guides have stopped in front of a clump of trees with what looks like a snow-covered stack of firewood at their base. By the time I've carved my way down to them, my guides have ducked into the entrance of Frog Hut, a hobbit-sized wooden shack camouflaged from view.

The legendary, and lavish, Leo's in Breckenridge.
The legendary, and lavish, Leo's in Breckenridge.
The well-disguised No Fat Chicks at Winter Park.
The well-disguised No Fat Chicks at Winter Park.

Secret shacks and huts like this exist in the woods not just at Winter Park, not just at ski resorts across Colorado, but across the United States and Canada. And they're all designed as places where skiers and boarders can duck in for a quick warm-up and sometimes to get safe — mountain slang for puffing a quick bowl. It may seem counterintuitive in a demanding, athletic sport, but getting stoned is an intrinsic part of the snow-day routines of many skiers and boarders. Some say it helps them focus on the singular task very literally in front of them; others enjoy the spiritual connection with nature often provided by a joint of good herb.

The anonymous trio I'm with has been meeting at this hidden hut for years, getting safe before heading back out into the knee-shattering moguls of a nearby double-diamond run. Though other skiers, snowboarders, mountain managers and ski-patrol members certainly know of the Frog Hut's existence, the spot is still officially a secret, and I've sworn to keep its location secret, as well. (I've also promised to keep the identities of my guides — respected members of the Denver business world — confidential.)

While the few resort spokespeople who acknowledge that they've heard of smoke shacks all insist that they don't exist at their mountains, many of these spots have stood for decades, relics of the past and beloved testaments to individualism in a sport growing increasingly corporate. Once a secret shared only by word of mouth, today a quick Internet search brings up scores of discussion forums on which riders detail their favorite on-mountain escapes and post pictures. Some are mere shanties with dirt floors and logs to sit on; others are extravagant structures outfitted with tables, benches made of snowboards and stairs constructed of skateboard decks leading to second-floor observation towers. Some have attained near-mythical status and earned such nicknames as The Igloo, Leo's, Bob's Office, The 420 Club, Horsecock Cavern, The Cheetah Den, Topher's Trees, Frog Hut, The Foggy Goggle, Marley's and No Fat Chicks (so named because of its very small entrance).

Legend has it that some of the shacks on Mary Jane date back to before there was even a ski hill to schuss down. A few evolved from lean-tos left behind by miners; others were created by the logging crews called in to clear the trails before Mary Jane's opening season in the winter of 1975-1976. Instead of heading down the mountain at night, the workers would build huts where they could stay during the mild summer nights. One well-known hut that sat in a small grove near what became the free parking lot at Mary Jane was largely dismantled this past off-season, the log walls left behind to create a snow-covered modern ruin.

Other huts have been put up as memorials to lost friends. One of those is a smoke shack in Topher's Trees, named for 26-year-old snowboarder Christopher Sendroy, who died after falling into the quicksand-like snow of a tree well in 1995. There's a small shrine to Sendroy put up by family and friends on a tree near the site of the accident. But what has become the biggest monument to Sendroy is Topher's — a two-story wooden smoke shack bearing his name that reportedly was built around the evergreen where Sendroy died.

Also read: On Aspen Mountain, visiting memorial shrines is a tradition

Needless to say, protecting the shacks is a time-honored tradition. While a few are out in the open — like a bench above Springdipper at Keystone that's visible not only from the trail, but also from the chairlift and gondola, and which patrollers and lift operators are more than happy to point out — people who know about the shacks generally keep their existence quiet. As my Winter Park guides stress over and over, most of these places are well hidden and their actual locations known only by a small, unofficial club of skiers and riders skilled enough to reach the precariously located huts and smart enough to keep their locations secret so that a good thing can last.

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55 comments
Sterling Meeks
Sterling Meeks

Oh lookie. The cool kids are mad. Have a cookie.

Ken Lord
Ken Lord

Good Job, Westword, Vail just destroyed their shacks and so is everyone else... thanks for destroying things through publication.

Becca Doyle
Becca Doyle

That was pretty hilarious, actually. BOOM.

Benjamin Bradburn
Benjamin Bradburn

You guys lit the fuse that blew this up. Seriously, fuck you from the bottom of my heart. Being a good journalist is sometimes knowing what not to do. Fuckwits.

Blake Kimmel
Blake Kimmel

Westword, you wrote about this enough, move on. we get it. how about reporting on the controversial THC roadside test, that is actually an issue effecting most of the state.

Sterling Meeks
Sterling Meeks

"I really wish you Westword fucktards would stop posting shit about this." You're right. Media should be completely subservient to the delicate sensibilities of the endlessly butthurt portion of its audience and resort to self-censorship. Derp!

Jason Joyce
Jason Joyce

This has been going on for decades... way to ruin it.

Chris Tanaka
Chris Tanaka

Bret its not exactly "public" if its secret right? ;)

Bret Kantola
Bret Kantola

You might want to rat out the very few places left for public consumption too. Oh wait, you already did that. FAIL.

Brian Smith
Brian Smith

The point of em is you have to go find em. Thats the whole fun of it. Maybe you should start a sight see tour an bring all the tourist in to see em too. Stop already, you suck. If it wasn't for music listings I would never look at your paper.

L Vincent Miltenberger
L Vincent Miltenberger

Why don't you do a story on all of the out of state tourists who can't ski and get drunk off of all of the over priced drinks that are sold legally all over the mountain for a change. This is more bullshit propaganda....

Matt Levan
Matt Levan

William posted this article in February. Calm the fuck down people, some have been there since the 70's. They're not going anywhere.

RockyMTNSteeze
RockyMTNSteeze

Leos was spectacular when I accidentally found the structure.  I was riding in the trees and saw a building.  At first it did not occur to me it was a shack, it was a well made structure.  I rode closer unstrapped and walked in.  There was a foyer and a spiraling staircase made out of skate decks.  I walked up the coolest staircase and went up stairs.  The top floor had sky windows and a coffee table surrounded by seating made from retired snowboards.  I was in awe, this was the coolest shack I have ever seen until I found Ralphs (RIP).

 

Years later the shack is now full of trash and falling apart.  No more sky lights, just a regular broken skate deck staircase and busted windows.  I hiked to the shack in September and was saddened by the condition.  Things were falling apart and it's very dirty.  Please don't leave your trash in shacks, this is a good way to get them torn down.  If you can bring it in, please bring it out.  The mountains will be more tolerant if you keep them clean.  I don't think this shack will be around much longer, but I will always remember the day I found it.

Star Stepping
Star Stepping

some things are best unpublished.. .shhheeee get sum klass WW

doodooskywalker
doodooskywalker

Um dude. The first rule of fight club is that you don't talk about the fight club. Trust me, no one needs to know about these places. Only the people that matter. You kinda just blew it. 

Anna Gingher
Anna Gingher

The first rule of fight club is that you don't talk about fight club.

Charlie Whiskey
Charlie Whiskey

Some of the best things involved in snowboarding are the trees and the bowls.

Payton_vege
Payton_vege

Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

Fakeemail
Fakeemail

this is cool but i dont see the need to write an article lettin all the tool bags know the secrets

guest
guest

wow im the "hash cook" that the guys talking about who built the hashrishi temple. Forest service discovered the tent. Fined us $300. Ski patrol was nice enough to help us take it down the mountian. Got the whole thing down within a few hours. My advice to everyone is to keep building shacks whether big or small. Start a shack revolution!!

Anonymous
Anonymous

thanks for blowing the cover...

calhounp
calhounp

i'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with the author's full name. Contact me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

Denver MMJ Patient
Denver MMJ Patient

Sometimes, you gotta have some medical marijuana to ease the pain in those knees, or back, and be able to enjoy being on the mountain just like before the pain/injury(s) happened.

Now if there was just a medical marijuana dispensary or caregiver set up in some of those shacks...

guest
guest

I love how the first incident of someone getting sick or being endangered by a shack was kids drinking alcohol.

Stick with weed its natural and safe! Don't drink n ski!

comenow
comenow

Smoking on the mountain is one of the quickest ways to get hit with a federal possession charge. Be safe and cautious, your med card is no good with Forest Service cops.

http://www.denverpost.com/news...

Dave
Dave

Whoa! People in Colorado ski and smoke pot? Yet another fine bit of investigative reporting by this crack team of go getters. I got a tip for you, there's these things called dog parks that not many people know about. Oh and someone could write about a kid who plays Canasta, way more edgier than Bridge.

tele-mon
tele-mon

I learned about the Winter Park huts on my first road trip to Colorado in 1991. After moving to Vail in '92, we created many of the great local's hideouts: Berries Hut (made from the remains of an original sheep-herder cabin), The Equilibrium Hut (EQ), Bwana Palace, all gone now thanks to VR and the USFS. We always kept them clean, but after an early spring visit by the wife of a VR executive saw some garbage that had melted out, before we had a chance to do some mainenance; BOOM! A waste of a constantly-shrinking USFS rec budget.

C
C

Thanks narcs for telling all of the authorities(and esecially Denver Republicans) where they are located. It's not legal everywhere in Colorado yet.

William Breathes
William Breathes

Hate to tell you, but your cover has been blown for years now.

Orionnewman
Orionnewman

They are good with forest service cops, and unless ur blaZin over 2 zones or are maybe growing in there mountain range you will never get a friggin fed charge Or any for that matter! Quit tryin to freak people out bro!

High Country Caregiver
High Country Caregiver

C, no matter how you look at it cannabis is a social drug, skiing is a social sport, the more the merry! Ain't none of your authorit-eye ever gonna change that. Breckenridge pulls in more skiers than any resort in Colorado and part of that is the smoke shack appeal, and they aren't about to start fucking with the guests and messing with the shacks. It's important that humans be able to enjoy cannabis in secure social settings, combined with skiing, it's a high made in heaven.

William Breathes
William Breathes

We don't give away any specific locations in this story, with the exception of a fully-visible bench at Keystone that is in plain sight - even then, it's a general location.

And I hate to break it to you, but the "authorities" (ski patrol and the forest service) were already well aware of the in-bounds shacks we do mention.

Dave
Dave

I'm sorry, I forgot about another scoop for you. Apparently there are secret spots in City Park where kids from East go to get high. It practically writes itself. You can title it, "East, High?". You're welcome.

GeeRam
GeeRam

Seriously - anyone who thinks ski patrol isn't aware of nearly every shack is naive. However, in producing this article you did apply further pressure to them and forest service to 'handle' the issue as its now in the public/management's view.

Dave
Dave

Hey man, I'm on your side. I agree with you. But before you hit send, or whatever, read what you're about to send and say it out loud. For example, you wrote, and I quote, "On the upside Petr, and it should be applauded, is anyone who is working in the media who will show that marijuana is safe, and a very common way that many Americans have been enjoying life in recreation, or medically for years." End quote.

What you typed makes no sense. I think the better way to further your cause, hell my cause, is to read OUT LOUD TO YOURSELF what it is you're trying to get across. Seriously, it works.

WhiteRabbit77
WhiteRabbit77

On the upside Petr, and it should be applauded, is anyone who is working in the mediawho will show that marijuana is safe, and a very common way that many Americans have been enjoying life in recreation, or medically for years. It is nothing new, but we still have the government, and several media members who continue to lie, and make statements to indicate it is bad.

Thanks William, keep up the good work Brother!

Petr Czestiv
Petr Czestiv

Spot on Dave."...but getting stoned is an intrinsic part of the snow-day routines of many skiers and boarders." I love the word intrinsic, but Billy smashed it. While many people on the mountain do enjoy some cannabis or a flask, characterizing those things as 'intrinsic' is the kind of hyperbole WW spins out quite predictably. Lemmings in GoreTex indeed. The better story would have about a wrongly-accused or excessively-punished drug-popping-pushing, once-violent-now-spiritual street urchin turned 25 y/o semi-pro snowboarding pot head with a 17 y/o impregnated "fiance" who is taking on the Forest Service for his god given right to get stoned in comfort instead of on the lift like everybody else. That's cover material right there.

I've been skiing and climbing for 30 years. Nothing new about this "story". Smoke if you want. Or not. But there is no value here in this piece. Just because the backdrop is snowboarding, does not mean that it is not a story about drug use. But then, given that 80% of the ad revenue for this rag comes from dispensaries and 'self-employed models', it fits quite nicely I suppose. I've got a red card, but don't agree with romanticizing controlled substances for the sake of pandering to the hedonistic narcissistic droves.

William Breathes
William Breathes

You could be onto something huge here, Dave. Especially if it involves kids playing stoned Canasta in the previously mentioned dog parks.

Thanks for the tip.

 
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