VAIL — When a structure on the ski hill comes down, for many it’s a sad moment.
Whether it’s Two Elk, destroyed illegally in 1998, or Jaz’s Cabin, destroyed in the name of the law in 2012, it’s been said it’s like losing a close friend or family member. Breckenridge skiers felt that sadness this week with the destruction of their beloved “Leo’s” cabin, but the dynamite used to destroy it was only the beginning of the explosion, as social media sites blew up with activity in response and Vail Resorts issued a press release on the matter.
But long-time local residents in Vail say this is nothing new — shack builders have been putting up secret structures, and the Forest Service has been tearing them down, since the ’60s. Places like the fabled Tuck ‘em Inn, or the Ice Bar on Vail Mountain come to mind.
Vail legend Bill Whiteford is mentioned in Vail’s 50th anniversary movie, “The Rise of America’s Iconic Ski Resort,” where his Ice Bar structure on Vail Mountain was not only erected illegally, it was profitable.
“We went up there at night, gathered ice blocks, built the ice bar at night and opened it during the day,” an unnamed accomplice says in the movie. “It was a howling success.”
Guilt by association
The Ice Bar was eventually torn down — as was the Tuck ‘em Inn, with its wood floors and silk sheets — and countless others since.
So, why the press release this time? It’s the structures’ link to marijuana that has Vail Resorts officials on edge, and the jargon applied to them hasn’t helped, either.
The structures are “commonly referred to as ‘smoke shacks,’” Russ Pecoraro, director of Vail Resorts communications wrote in the release, adding that they are “associated with prohibited marijuana use.”
Although the release references illegal structures and not marijuana in its headline, the statement was less about the shacks, and more about how the resort is going to handle marijuana on the slopes, Pecoraro said.
“I think the impression a lot of people are getting from the media is that you can come out here and consume marijuana on our slopes and we are here to tell you, you can’t do that. (The press release) is an example of what me mean,” Pecoraro said.
Some shacks survive
Breckenridge officials said a hidden-camera report about marijuana smoking at Leo’s — featured on Inside Edition in February — accelerated the cabin’s demise. But Leo’s was targeted to be destroyed anyway, Breckenridge Resort wrote on their official Facebook page, so it was just a matter of time. Structures on Vail Mountain have been destroyed nearly every spring during the past few years, including a 20-foot tall tree house in the spring of 2011. Structures such as the tree house at Vail and Leo’s at Breck, some of them are quite impressive.
However, “the long and short of it is, it’s illegal to build these structures without a permit on National Forest land, so we’re there to uphold our end of the bargain with the Forest Service,” Pecoraro said. “It’s this game, where we tear them down, and they build them back up.”
But not every shack on Vail Moutain will be destroyed, Pecoraro added.
“There are a couple that are historical sites,” he said. “We need to figure out a different way to approach those, whether it’s boarding them up or whatever ... We have talked at a high-level that these cases are out there, but I don’t know exactly where they are located.”
WHAT ABOUT BOOZE?
Pecoraro said safety on the mountain is the resort’s top priority, and acknowledged that many are asking the question “what about alcohol?”
“The difference with alcohol is also we have people serving in bars who are certified and trained not to over serve folks,” he said.
The resort plans to step-up enforcement of any kind of skiing under the influence, alcohol or marijuana, Pecoraro said. Pecoraro said he didn’t know the measures that will used to determine what constitutes “under the influence,” but those determined to be under the influence risk legal issues as well as resort penalties.
“We are going to report folks to ski patrol or security. We are going to pull your pass. We are going to kick you off the mountain, and if law enforcement happens to be there when we do that, you’re going to get cited as well,” he said.