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Reefer sadness at Snowmass

Joel Stonington
Vail, CO Colorado
Joel Stonington/The Aspen TimesThe Forest Service wants all "smoking shacks", like this one on Snowmass Mountain, removed.
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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, according to a certain group of people, some of the coolest hangout spots on Snowmass Mountain.

The smoke shacks ” or “unapproved structures” as the U.S. 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 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.”

The Aspen Skiing Co. says there’s no problem with the shacks and that it hasn’t been asked to take down the structures, but Rich Burkley, vice president of mountain operations, said the company would comply with any Forest Service directive.

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Unlike the sheds 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 Aspen Mountain came up for review last winter when the ski company 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 the resort nor the forest service has a reasonable solution for getting rid of the shacks.

“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 smoke shack 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,” said Steve Sewell, manager of Snowmass Mountain. “We don’t really appreciate it at this point. One man’s shrine gets to be another man’s trash.”

Stark said the issue of safety has come up. 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.

But 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.”


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