Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of The Odds Are Good, a semi-regular column by Heather Hansman about real life stories in the ski world and things like beards, living in shacks, and getting into Canada.
When you show up in a ski town, the shack will be one of the first secrets locals let you in on. One of the guys you meet on the chairlift will say, “Follow me,” and then loop you through narrow trees, and across rutted traverses, and under a rope until you come to the shack. It could be a three-sided pile of branches, barely big enough to stand up in, or it could be two stories tall, complete with a staircase and porches.
Last month, shack culture went prime time when Inside Edition brought a reporter and hidden cameras to Breckenridge to set up a sting on weed-smoking skiers and snowboarders. The whole point of the news special was to show how puffing marijuana at secret smoke shacks makes skiers dumb, less attractive, and worse at riding. One-sided and sensationalist would be apt adjectives to describe the level of “reporting.” I don’t even like Breck or dreadlocks or particularly like weed and I took offense. The dudes they interviewed were unquestionably gapers from Texas or Massachusetts, hyped and mouthy on legal weed and altitude. As a result of the show, Leo’s, a long-standing multi-story shack was blown up. Which is understandable. I don’t think Breck could have turned a blind eye.
Stuff like blowing up a shack happens, and creativity comes from destruction and high seasonal turnover. But what was upsetting was that the not-very-liberal media reduced shacks and the culture of secret stashes to a few too-stoned-to-function jabronis with really bad facial hair.
Secret stashes, shacks included, are a part of skiing in the same way that early mornings and long drives are. If you are dedicated you will have yours, you’ll know the good ones, and the people to share them with inbounds and out. People who love the mountains cultivated them, probably long before you got there.
And it’s not just shacks. Ski hills are peppered with skier secrets. People have been building shrines to fallen friends and constructing hidden hangouts in the woods since probably forever. At Steamboat, dirty pictures etched into the trees have been there since sheepherders roamed the mountains 100 years ago.
We want to claim mountains and make them ours; localism is a big deal. People hike up hammers and boards in the summer to nail together shacks that will soon become perfect places for safety breaks between powder runs. They build up entire hidden parks of log features to hold a guerrilla contest in the spring. When I go to Aspen, I visit a shrine for the first boy I crushed on in college. After he died skiing in Alaska, friends built a swing and brought parts of his history up to the mountain so he could always be there. A sense of craft and a culture exists in every mountain relic, regardless of what you’re actually doing when you’re there.
So the real letdown is the dismissal, that a properly constructed shack with good intentions was reduced to a few burnout bros. It’s a bummer that Leo’s is gone, but it’ll be replaced. Shack life exists in winter, but it comes from summer, and construction season is ahead.