Some like it hut: A guide to backcountry bliss in the 10th Mountain Division Hut System
With Summit County and the surrounding area set to receive a much-needed blast of snow today, the winter season for the 10th Mountain Division Hut System is less than a week away.
Thanksgiving marks the start of the winter season for skiers, snowshoers and other backcountry adventurers who, through a reservation lottery, were lucky enough to book one of the 35 huts deep in the mountains between Aspen, Leadville, Breckenridge and other Rocky Mountain winter vacation destinations.
Littered throughout several wilderness areas south of the Interstate-70 corridor, treks into these huts range in difficulty, from, say, about 2 miles into Francine’s Cabin near Breckenridge to much more remote locations without official trails such as the handful of Braun Huts south of Aspen.
Wherever backcountry adventurers end up, the hut system is truly one of the most wild winter experiences deep in the Rockies. And Tuesday at the REI in Dillon, James Fulton, a longtime member of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, gave a pre-winter presentation on the system.
Here are three of the more interesting takeaways from Fulton’s session. You can find more information about the hut system at huts.org.
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Fulton was pointed when he described the kind of conditions he most enjoys traveling to the huts in. When a storm is dropping inches of snow on the trail.
“Sometimes the weather is not nice,” Fulton said.
“A lot of people might feel like they might need to shy away from the huts, but I love these times,” he added. “You can put your hood up, you got your pack on, you’re skiing up to the huts, you can ski around the huts when you are out there. And it’s always so quiet and so muffled.
“And I love the sound of the snow,” he continued. “It’s really beautiful because there is snow on the trees, snow all around you. And I swear you can hear the snowflakes coming down and hitting the trees. To me it’s just wonderful. It’s just you and the trail and hopefully you have a really strong man or woman up front breaking trail. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned, ‘Go on, I’ve got to tie my shoe.’ So it’s wonderful. Just don’t shy away from going to the huts at this time.”
WEAR A PACK YOU CAN SKI DOWN IN
As an avid backcountry skier, Fulton cautioned those traveling to the huts to practice before their trip with pack weight suitable for their ability to ski steep, narrow descents.
Fulton also encouraged the use of snowshoes, even for competent skiers, when accessing the huts due to the difficulty of skiing down in the backcountry.
To illustrate his point, Fulton described an ordeal he had leaving the Peter Estin Hut at 11,200 feet near Charles Peak.
“One of my nemeses forever was the Iron Edge trail which is the winter trail to the Estin Hut,” Fulton said. “And I’ll never forget my first time down that, and I had some skinny leather boots — back in the day — backcountry touring skis, which I think were just tele skis.
“Man,” he continued, “I thought I was going to die. I literally thought I was going to die and as I took my skis off, I was post-holing, I was going through, and a lot of it is packed, right? You have skiers going up, skiers going down. And, man, I learned a lot. I cussed a lot that day coming down, I really did. I wasn’t proud of myself. I think I even invented words coming down.
“So I just want to tell you,” Fulton added, “make sure whatever gear you use to go up to the huts make sure you feel secure on it, that you can ski down with a pack safe and secure and that you can control your speed.”
WITHIN THESE PAGES
Along with bringing organic food ingredients to cook and bake with up at the hut, Fulton also spoke highly of the kind of writing, reading and art that takes place in these wild locations.
Logbooks of memories reside at several of the huts, and Fulton described the illustrations, poetry and stories told in those pages as ones that “could fill a novel.”
“It’s amazing when you can be there for an entire day,” Fulton said. “It’s really great, that’s when you are creative with your cooking, you can enjoy, read a book. And there is a little library up there as well with a lot of books on the environment and birds and flowers, and history.
“You can actually get creative with your log,” he continued. “When you sign a log, what you write in there — man, I tell you what. I’m serious about that. When you get up there look through these logbooks. There are artists up there. They draw amazing. And then storytellers, and whatnot. And then there are people like me that are like ‘Had a good time in the hut, must ski down.’
“But it’s a lot of fun to look in those logs. And there are usually copies of past years. So if you are up there for two nights it is really wonderful.”
Utah ski resorts giddy over 2 seasons of record visitation and Olympic bid, but worried by DUI law
Utah ski officials kick off the new season energized by the growing possibility of another Winter Olympics bid and buoyed by two straight seasons of record visitation. But there’s also some concern that publicity surrounding the state’s strict new DUI law that goes into effect next year may keep skiers and snowboarders away by adding to the long-held stigma that visitors can’t have fun in Utah.
DUI LAW CONTROVERSY
State lawmakers voted to lower Utah’s blood alcohol limit for most drivers to 0.05 percent from 0.08 percent in a move they think will save lives. The change gave the predominantly Mormon state the strictest drunken driving threshold in the country and triggered backlash from tourism groups. The law is set to take effect on Dec. 30, 2018.
Nathan Rafferty, CEO of Ski Utah, said the ski industry wants to make the roads safe but said penalizing someone for driving after having one or two glasses of wine misses the mark. Rafferty said he’s going to lobby state legislators this year to tweak the law so that that it doesn’t penalize lower-level DUIs the same as higher levels.
The negative press that came after the Utah law was signed doesn’t help Utah as it tries to compete with Colorado, California and Canada for winter vacationers.
The American Beverage Institute ran full-page ads in Salt Lake City’s two daily newspapers and USA Today, featuring a fake mug shot under a large headline reading, “Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation.”
“It just underscores that element that we’re working hard to dispense with, which is that Utah is a tough place to have fun,” Rafferty said. “It’s one step forward and two steps back.”
Spokeswomen for Deer Valley and Park City Mountain said they will focus on reminding visitors they can do a car-free trip to their resorts in Park City thanks to town shuttles, car services from the hotel and the relatively close proximity to the Salt Lake City International Airport, which is about 30 miles away.
“We’re always kind of dealing with those quirks of Utah and the perception,” said Emily Summers of Deer Valley Resort. “But then again we really thrive on family vacations and spring breaks where they have kids elementary-school aged.”
Rafferty isn’t worried about Utah’s reluctance to join Colorado, California and Nevada in legalizing marijuana. He said Utah ski resorts embrace being known as family friendly destinations.
“We’re happy not playing in that realm,” Rafferty said. “Utah is never going to be Las Vegas. We’re not going to sell ourselves as party central and we’re totally comfortable with that.”
MORE RECORD VISITS?
The first of Utah’s 14 ski resorts planned to open the day before Thanksgiving as the industry aims to set a visitation record for the third consecutive season.
Fueled by above average snowfall, the state registered nearly 4.6 million skier days last winter, surpassing nearly 4.5 million the year before, according to Ski Utah figures.
WHO OWNS WHAT
The biggest offseason news was Deer Valley Resort being purchased by a new company that has brought 13 ski areas from Quebec to Colorado under one umbrella. It marked the latest deal in an industry that is becoming more consolidated.
Deer Valley became the group’s first ski area in Utah and joined a collection of resorts that also includes Mammoth and Squaw Valley in California, Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado and Mont Tremblant in Quebec.
Summers said skiers won’t notice any changes this season. That means Deer Valley’s longtime ban on snowboarding remains, Summers said.
The company still doesn’t have a name (it’s run by affiliates of the KSL Capital Partners and Henry Crown and Company investment firms) and it hasn’t yet finalized a pass that would allow people to ski at all the company’s resorts, Summers said. That pass would help the company compete with Vail Resorts’ popular Epic Pass, which allows skiers to buy one pass to ski multiple times at its different resorts.
Deer Valley’s sale means all three ski areas in the mountain town of Park City, Utah, are owned by mega ski companies. Vail Resorts bought Park City Mountain Resort in 2014 and connected it to neighboring Canyons Resort to create one of the largest ski areas in the U.S.
Utah’s Solitude resort, which Deer Valley bought in 2015, was not included in the sale announced in August. Solitude will still be owned by Deer Valley partners, the resort said.
Utah resorts are giddy about the possibility of Salt Lake City hosting another Winter Olympics, which would bring priceless exposure and likely lead to infrastructure improvements by resorts and government.
“It’s a 17-day infomercial showcasing the very best of the best,” Rafferty said.
An exploratory committee is working to see if it’s feasible for Salt Lake City to make a bid for the 2026 or 2030 Winter Games. It plans to issue its recommendation to state leaders in February.
The state’s pitch would center on the fact that Salt Lake City can put on world-class Olympics for less money than cities that have to start from ground zero since most of the venues remain in use from the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Deer Valley regularly hosts World Cup ski events, one example of how the state would be able to easily get ready for another Olympics, Summers said.
“We’re all behind it and we could pull it off really well,” she said.
1st place Steamboat Wranglers take down Breck Bolts in pair of home games
The Breckenridge Bolts (3-7-0-2) of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League let up 11 combined goals in Friday and Saturday evening road losses to the first place Steamboat Wranglers (13-4-0-0).
Between the two contests, the Bolts were outshot 91-40 by the Wranglers, who jumped out to a 4-0 lead Friday night and a 3-0 lead Saturday.
On Friday night, a pair of even strength second period Bolts goals from Tanner Caldarola and Gavyn Entzminger pulled Breckenridge within 4-2 eight minutes into the second period. Breckenridge remained down 4-2 entering the third period before Steamboat extended their lead to 5-2, four minutes into the third period on a Quinny Baker power play goal.
The Bolts clawed back within one goal during the next nine minutes, two power play goals propelling Breckenridge back into the contest. Hunter Havice converted a power play goal six-and-a-half minutes into the third period, assisted by Entzminger and Sean Costello.
Then, just shy of 12 minutes into the final period, the Bolts leading scorer Luke Marsh scored on a power play to pull the Bolts within 5-4. He was assisted by David Pryde, who the Bolts signed just this week, and Kody Goodwin.
But the Wranglers put the game away with fewer than two minutes remaining in the game, as Shawn Catudal scored an even-strength goal for the final score of 6-4.
Bolts goalies Douglas Wakelyn and Declan Rooney both manned the net in Friday’s contest, combining to stop 87-percent of Wrangler shots, Wakelyn picking up two periods of play to Rooney’s one. Wranglers netminder Cole Kahut stopped 75-percent of the Bolts 16 shots-on-goal in 60 minutes of action.
On Saturday, the Bolts battled back again after giving up an early lead, drawing within 3-2 at the end of the second period on goals by Entzminger and Caldarola. The first of those two Breckenridge goals came just 30 seconds after Niklas Oda of the Wranglers pushed Steamboat’s lead to 3-0 three minutes into the second period.
The Wranglers took control of the game early in the third period, however, Nevada White scoring an even-strength goal fewer than three minutes into the period to push the score to 4-2. Then a minute-and-a-half later, Steamboat’s Braeden Gillmore scored on a power play for the final score of 5-2.
The Bolts were 0-2 on power plays Saturday as Wakelyn manned the net for all 60 minutes. Wakelyn saved 40 of 45 shots on goal Saturday for a 89-percent save percentage. Michael Bachofner Binder stopped 92-percent of Bolts shots on goal on Saturday, 22-of-24, in 60 minutes of play for the Wranglers.
Wakelyn ranks third in the league with 288 saves on the season and second in the league with a 92-percent save percentage. Marsh is tied for third in the league with four points per game.
Breckenridge is out of action until Friday Dec. 1 at 7:15 p.m., for the open of a three-game set at the Sertich Ice Center to take on the second place Pikes Peak Miners (9-5-0-0).
The Bolts next return to home ice at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena on Dec. 15 to take on the last place Colorado Thunderbirds (3-9-1-0).
Van Life: Who’s behind the wheel, what they’re up to and where local van life might be headed
It was their first night living full-time in their van.
That morning, Jes and Jason Striker had packed up the last few things in their 2000 VW Eurovan, waved Steamboat Springs "ta-ta" for now and headed northeast. Spirits were high and free; an itinerary for the foreseeable future was nonexistent. The adventure had begun.
As the van chugged its way down Poudre Canyon, the Strikers heard some unsettling noises, and the gauges went dead. They spent the night under the fluorescent lights of a Walmart parking lot in Fort Collins, waiting for a mechanic to open.
"But we were happy about it," Jes said.
"We were so excited, it was unbelievable," Jason said.
"This (breakdown) was just a little hiccup," Jes said. "It doesn't matter at all."
They'd bought the van, called Pearl, several years before with the intent to camp and travel during weekends and vacations. But during a Fourth of July weekend with their van at Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, they'd whimsically pondered, "Wouldn't it be great if we could do this all the time?" "Yes, it would," was the answer; and they realized, yes, it was possible.
The duo quickly went to work making full-time van living a reality. They set up a system to work remotely. They figured out how to deal with mail, bills and taxes. They held two massive yard sales and sold "almost literally everything," Jes said. They started a blog, and they rented out their house.
For the next three years, the Strikers were on the road. They mountain biked in British Columbia and Mexico and snowboarded through Alaska. When they got tired of driving, they surfed in Baja for a season. They parked the vehicle for a bit; they visited Sri Lanka and Greece, and maxed out European visas.
They traded out Pearl for a roomier rig. They visited family in New England. Jason got his paragliding license. They followed good weather. They got a dog.
When the Strikers set off on their adventure, they'd imagined that their van would be the lone van in many parking lots, that their blog would be pretty unique in its content of van life. But, as they rolled across the continent, they often found themselves in eye contact with another van driver in the rearview mirror or in the next lane or parked along the road on National Forest land for the night.
"We knew people did it," Jes said, "but we were surprised we were so not alone."
Madi King grew up on the stories of her parents.
"Before I was in the picture, they went to Alaska and lived out of a Toyota 4Runner for six months," King said. "They'd tell me about how they'd drink coffee and beer out of the same mug and be able to go everywhere they wanted. I always thought that sounded incredible."
During family trips, she'd sleep in the back of the truck with the bikes.
Once King got her driver's license, she found herself gravitating toward the idea of living in a van. A neighbor spotted a classified ad for a van, and King ended up test driving it during her high school lunch period and buying it with every dollar she had.
"(A van has) always been a symbol of going on an adventure," she said.
When King graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 2016, she completed a three-month NOLS — National Outdoor Leadership School — course in the Pacific Northwest, during which she practiced living simply and resourcefully. Soon after, she and a friend took the van on a month-long roadtrip around the West, a test run for what was next: heading out to Wisconsin and taking on full-time van life as she worked as a river guide on the Menominee and Peshtigo rivers.
Scott Hendrickson had been fascinated with the tiny house movement and other forms of minimalist living for a while. After graduating college with a degree in natural resource management, he moved from Georgia to New Mexico for a job as a wildland firefighter. During the long drives between his old and new home, and for weekend adventures, he'd camp in his Chevy Avalanche truck, to which he'd added a platform bed and folding table.
Soon after Hendrickson moved to Steamboat for the winter to be a ski instructor, another driver lost control in the snow and hit Hendrickson's truck, totaling it.
"But with every bad thing comes a good opportunity," Hendrickson said.
He started searching for a four-wheel-drive van, but the promising Craigslist postings were pricey and were plucked off the market almost as soon as they went up. Hendrickson broadened his search and eventually came across a listing out of North Carolina for an ambulance.
If you scroll through posts on Instagram that have been tagged #vanlife or #homeiswhereyouparkit, it becomes easier to see why some potential van-lifers might not truly grasp what they're getting into.
The lifestyle appears on social media in nearly copycat images: smiles and a dog or two around a campfire, strings of decorative lights strung up above van windows, dinner cooking on a two-burner stove at sunset, surfboards and mountain bikes latched to the outside of a van, a silhouette in a yoga position on top of a van, two pairs of bare feet peeking out from a woven blanket, a van's back doors open to a beach or mountain range.
"There's a big misconception that (van life) is all beautiful," Jes Striker said. "We did it to be closer to nature — we loved doing outdoor activities that much. But it's a grittier environment than I think social media portrays it to be. We've definitely encountered people who didn't know, and their van-life experience was short-lived."
"We've met people who are professional Instagram celebrities," Jason Striker said, referencing people who curate accounts featuring sponsored content and have thousands or millions of followers. "But it's marketing, it's an industry, not a true window into their lives. None of them post a picture of going into a Walmart at 2 a.m. to use the bathroom."
"Half the reason I did van life was so that I could turn my phone off and unplug for weeks at a time," Jes added.
Kathleen Morton lives in a 1987 van and has been doing van life for several years. She has more than 96,000 followers on her Instagram account Tiny House, Tiny Footprint, and runs a website of the same name that consists of a blog, podcast and resources for various types of minimalist, sustainable, off-grid living. She's also the American representative to Vanlife Diaries, an online network of stories, photographs and resources related to van life.
"A lot of companies are realizing that there's power in using people in the community to influence their brands," Morton said. "It's a no-brainer, in a way, to be partnering with us. We don't own a lot of things, and several of us are very conscious about what we buy and the value it has on our lives. When we do purchase something, it's a big deal."
The social influencer market was estimated to be worth $500 million in 2015 and poised to increase to $5 billion by 2020, according to Rachel Monroe, of The New Yorker.
Whether or not a van-lifer's goal is to grow and monetize their brand, social media can play an important role in their van-life experience.
Madi King, whose Instagram account has a following of 1,800, often gets messages from people asking if she thinks van life is something they could do and about her thoughts about interior layout strategies.
Part of Kathleen Morton's social media presence is proactively creating content to help people figure out answers to those same questions.
"We've spent a lot of work being a good resource, a good hub, for the information that van-lifers need," she said.
She and Vanlife Diaries are working on a documentary and a book about van-life experiences — works that are coming to fruition largely because of the company's significant social media presence.
Besides technical information, there's also a more personal community piece that some modern-day van-lifers find in social media.
"I had to get more comfortable with the internet (during van life)," Jes Striker said. "After a while, van life could get lonely. We'd see people on Instagram who had common interests and were on our same path. I'd always felt like meeting up was like a blind date and had some social anxiety about it, but we met some wonderful people. It was a breakthrough moment for me to realize you can actually meet people through social media."
Shane Corrigan is a traveling sales representative for the outdoor gear company Wilcor, for which he often comes through Steamboat several times per work season. Where most traveling sales reps would expense hotel rooms along their routes, Corrigan says, he found himself more drawn toward living out of his Subaru and tent camping. Soon enough, he'd moved into a green 1976 Westfalia, which he's been living in for six to eight months out of the year for the past four years.
"Instagram definitely helps people who are in the same area connect on the road," Corrigan said. "But the neat thing about my van is that, even if I don't exchange social media or contact information with someone, people will usually recognize (my van) when I'm in town, and we'll be able to go for a bike ride or beer."
No matter how a van-lifer hashtags about it — or if they opt to power off their devices entirely — there are pieces of van life that exist outside of social media.
"If you're just looking at the 20- and 30-somethings who are hashtagging 'van life,' they're probably all pretty like-minded," Jes Striker said. "But overall — if you walk into an RV campground in Cabo in the middle of winter, there'll be people from all walks of life. There's a lot of first names out there, people living off the grid. It can have a scary underbelly.
"We also met a lot of people raising their kids outside of the public school system. They're able to offer such exposure — they want to show their children something different," Jes added.
"It's people who've looked at the standard way of life and said, 'that's not for me,'" Jason Striker said. "Part of this whole revolution is this generation (millennials) saying, 'We don't have to do exactly what society says we do: the marriage, kids and constant debt.'"
"More and more people can't afford to pay rent, and van life has become an affordable housing solution to this," Kathleen Morton said.
"I would say the majority of van-lifers I know are saving money living this lifestyle," Morton said. "I surround myself with people in the community who enjoy being in nature and who want to take their time traveling. We camp in public land locations for several days at a time, which ends up saving money on gas and campground fees. We also aren't purchasing as many items because we don't need as many things. I think that spending $1,000 to $1,500 a month is reasonable."
"It's super inexpensive," Jes Striker said. "We escaped the regular monthly utility bills for three years: no electric, gas, trash, water, sewer, internet. And rent / mortgage can now become free if you so choose and your location allows. If it wasn't a cheaper lifestyle, there would be a fraction of people living in vehicles around the world.
"We met many folks living as cheaply as possible and would never even dream of paying to camp. We also crossed paths with a lot of others who chose to have the 'luxury' of plugging in at camp sites or RV parks that offer electric, water/sewer, even cable if that's your thing. So there are very different ends of the life-on-the-road spectrum for sure."
Shane Corrigan sees similarities of people who move to mountain towns and people who move into a van.
"It's people who are sick of their 9-to-5 day job, city living, that's the biggest trend," Corrigan said. "I meet a lot of people in the same age group that I am — mid-20s — who are in between the after-college and the don't-have-a-family-yet. It's a lot of like-minded people trying to do the same thing: ski, bike, meet people and experience life."
"After the first year or two years we were traveling, a friend asked how it was going," Jes Striker said, "and I said, 'I feel 10 years younger and 10 years wiser.'"
For Scott Hendrickson, who's building out the ambulance named Gerty, the project itself has been a fulfilling adventure, with a steep learning curve and plenty of adjustments along the way.
It took three sketchbooks of brainstorming layouts to reach a decision on how to do the build-out, and the wiring the ambulance arrived with has made some modifications tricky.
"Everything I do has to be meticulous in how I've thought it out," Hendrickson said. "If I was going to do it again, I'd probably get a Mercedes Sprinter van.
"At the same time, I really am glad I was impulsive about getting my ambulance," he said. "It's a neat opportunity and a cool experience. Maybe I keep it forever, maybe I don't. Either way, things come and go, but it's all about the memories and experiences you make."
Those memories and experiences may be best represented by the six pairs of skis and a snowboard that fit into the compartment that used to carry oxygen tanks, which he's taken on ski trips across the West, and the area of the ambulance roof where he sleeps on mild nights of camping — the space that's not covered by the ambulance lights or where, eventually, a solar energy system will be mounted.
"All the lights actually still work," Hendrickson said. "I don't use them on the road, but if I was in the woods and something came up on me, like a bear, I'd use the lights and sirens to scare it away."
Madi King, the river guide, has gotten to the point of feeling fulfilled by the way she's experiencing life in her van.
"You have to put a lot of thought and work into it, and it's uncomfortable at first, but it's so worth it," King said. "Comfort zones are interesting. It's all what you get used to — now, living in my van has become comfortable."
As much as King enjoys the independence and solo living that she gets out of van life, other people are part of what makes van life so good. She keeps a board in her van, which she invites those she meets along her journey to sign with their favorite quote.
"(Van life) is a really neat way to connect with other people — people who are curious about the adventure and who want to sit and enjoy the ambiance of my little abode," she said. "I love the community van life is creating. It's a really special community with so much knowledge and creativity and really stellar adventurers. I've learned a lot from people who've done van life."
Mary and Paul, who are based in Wyoming and didn't want their last names used, have had their VW van for the past 18 years, taking it on hiking-oriented trips for several weeks or months at a time. They also attended a van gathering in Steamboat in 2016.
"I'd say van life culture doesn't really have a lot of boundaries, whether they're in a van or camper or whatever they're in," said Mary, who's 60. "There are no boundaries as far as age or what you've been doing with your life. There's a lot of acceptance of how you want to do it."
Dave Walsh owns Vanlife Customs, a custom van build-out company based in Denver, and he also lived and traveled in a Mercedes Sprinter van fulltime for a year. Before he accepts a project, he sits down with the van owner and talks with them about their intentions.
"We want people to make educated decisions," he said. "I try to make sure everybody understands what they're getting into."
Many of Walsh's customers are in their mid-30s — some who are taking a year off from work, some who recently sold a house.
"A common theme when people come to the van world is that they don't want an RV.; that's too many gadgets and too many complex systems. They still want the amenities: a simple bed, to be able to cook and turn on the lights," Walsh said.
Vanlife Customs works on two complete build-outs at a time, meaning a customer has brought in an empty van to be built into a living space from scratch, which takes eight to 10 weeks. A full build-out will usually cost a customer $30,000 to $50,000, Walsh said, depending on the amenities and material finishes they choose.
The company also does smaller projects, like installing solar electrical systems, windows, fans and metal bed frames for customers who are otherwise taking the DIY route to a build-out.
Other potential van-lifers are interested in testing the waters of van life for a short stint.
In addition to her work with Vanlife Diaries and Tiny House, Tiny Footprint, Kathleen Morton is also head of community with Native Campervans, a Denver campervan rental company that's a partner of Vanlife Customs. In June, Morton organized and guided a two-week, six-van caravan Vanlife Adventure Tour across 1,500 miles of Colorado and Utah. It was the company's first such tour.
Participants came from across the U.S. and were a variety of ages — some solo travelers, some couples, some families. Each participant paid $3,000 for their seat in a four-person van rental, outdoor adventure and group activities in national parks, monuments and hot springs, a welcome party, reserved camping spots, a van gathering and giveaways.
"A lot of people want to do van life, but they don't know how to start and they're nervous, and they might be lacking the community piece of van life," Morton said. "So, we thought we could bring people together and be that resource: show them the experience without them having to do the planning, teach them how to build a fire, how to be comfortable in their space. No one had to worry about where they were going to sleep that night, which is one of the stressful parts of van life."
When the caravan stopped in Steamboat Springs, they hiked, biked, sampled restaurants and floated the Yampa. After the tour, one participant went out and bought herself a van.
"That's what we wanted to happen; that was kind of the point of it," Morton said. "We wanted to spread awareness about van life."
A space where van-lifers of all ages, backgrounds and level of van-life experience might find themselves together is a van festival.
Carbondale's annual Van Life Rally began in 2012 as part of the 5Point Adventure Film Festival, featuring an open house display of livable vehicles with music and lawn games.
Syncro Solstice, an offroad event in east Moab that describes itself as the paragon of the VW Vanagon culture and experience, marked its seventh annual event in May. Eighty vans showed up for a weekend of outdoor adventure, van-related contests and conversations and an attempt to set a new van-stuffing record — fitting 29 adults into a Vanagon.
Buses by the Bridge, in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, markets itself as an event for "VW buses of all vintages and types," accommodating as many as 500 vehicles on a first-come, first-serve basis. The four-day gathering features a Boy Scout pancake breakfast, a kids coloring contest and a corn hole tournament.
Three years ago, two Steamboat Springs couples founded Gathering of the Vans, a local van-life festival. Casey and Ali Gianfagna and John Miller and Sara Boyle lived in houses next door to each other and each had a van for weekend and vacation camping trips.
"Gathering of the Vans is a grassroots version of Syncro Solstice," Casey Gianfagna said.
The first Gathering of the Vans event, three years ago under a red moon on Buffalo Pass, saw two VW vans attend, and several friends in cars and trucks who enjoyed camping and wanted to join.
The 2016 event, on Rabbit Ears Pass, saw a dozen VW vans and 10 vans of other brands. Van-lifers went on mountain bike rides, brought potluck dishes to community meals, played music and had a campfire surrounded by three dozen van and camping enthusiasts, according to John Miller.
"We're not trying to be elitist," John Miller said. "There was a Honda CRV that showed up to one — I called it the Honda CRVan."
"The bigger and more organized these festivals are, the less open they are to people who are in other kinds of vans," Ali Gianfagna said. "We let everyone come camp."
"Van life is a pretty big thing I didn't really see coming," Shane Corrigan said, "but now it's this whole craze. It definitely seems to be more and more popular each year. The first year I did it, people were pretty confused and were questioning my decision all the time; now, everyone's open to it and wants to know more. The mindset is definitely changing, especially in Colorado."
"Access to National Forest or BLM land makes van life better out here, in Colorado, Utah, the Pacific Northwest and California," Kathleen Morton said. "It goes hand-in-hand with the van-life community being bigger out here — it's nice to have that community piece."
"Van life has existed for a while, but in the last three years, it's gotten a lot more prevalent," Mary said. "At least, there are a lot more people who I see talking about it. Maybe that's more people doing it, or maybe there's more people discussing it."
In northern Wisconsin, Madi King said she and her van still stick out like a sore thumb.
"I have stickers about ohm and the mountains," she said. "As a guide, I talk to a lot of people, and they're usually pretty intrigued about van life; but when I venture out (of the river camp), I definitely get a lot of looks, and people are like, 'Who's that hippie in the van?' It's not something a lot of people do out here.
"It's great how supportive people are of van life in the West, and in Steamboat especially," King added. "It's like, 'Rock on, you're living out of a van.'"
On the other end of the spectrum, Dave Walsh notes some ways that the lifestyle might be outgrowing itself.
"Van life is getting a little trickier for folks with more people doing it," Walsh said. "In Steamboat, you're fine if you're going up to National Forest area and following the rules, but in towns and cities, especially in the Front Range, people are realizing that people are living in these vans. There's always the question, 'Am I pulling my weight in my community?' In any population, you're going to have people who take advantage of it, and people are starting to frown upon van life. That makes it harder for everybody to stay stealthy."
Even with the abundance of land close to Steamboat city limits that allows car camping, police have seen a recent uptick in people sleeping overnight in their vehicles on public property, which is prohibited under city ordinances.
"This summer was one of our highest number of citations of people sleeping in their vehicles. Not necessarily at campsites, but in the city," said Officer Isis Adams, of the Steamboat Springs Police Department. "If you're going to do it, at least do it in a legal camping space."
Public property, where sleeping overnight or living in a vehicle is prohibited, includes city streets, the Stockbridge Transit Center, city parks and public parking lots.
"I've probably only been asked to move maybe twice in the four years," Shane Corrigan said. "The police have been very kind but for the most part I've been pretty much left alone. In my experience, it's all been really positive. I hope it doesn't get spoiled."
Van life as a social phenomenon seems to have revved its engine and gained significant attention, for better and for worse. So what's down the road for this lifestyle?
Walsh and his fellow workers in the van build-out world speculate on the future of the industry.
"We're having a tough time predicting what's going to happen," he said. "If we're in a financial bubble right now, what's going to happen is it's going to pop and then our industry could die off. The weekend warriors would stop buying vans, but we'd also see an uptick in the people living in their van full-time, because it's cheaper than buying a house."
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Jes and Jason Striker are now almost half a year into their transition back into their house in Steamboat Springs after full-time van life. The first few weeks, they were thrilled at the ease of taking a shower, cooking and laundry.
"We domesticated immediately," Jes Striker said.
Then slowly the feelings of nostalgia about van living — of sleeping under the stars and the little things — came creeping back in.
"Right now, I know what I'm going to do this winter and next summer," Jes said. "But there's excitement to not knowing. I miss the uncertainty." F
Rams can’t corral Mustangs’ rally, fall 38-28 in state semifinal game
OAK CREEK — The Soroco Rams scored 28 points in Saturday's state semifinal playoff game in Oak Creek. It was more than any other team in the state has scored against West Grand — a team that recorded seven shutouts and only gave up 52 points all season — this season.
But as the game clock expired in Saturday's 8-man state semifinal game, it wasn't enough for the Rams. The Mustangs simply had too many horses to corral, and Soroco’s historic state playoff run came to an end, one game short of the ultimate goal — playing for a state championship.
"We have something we should be very proud of in Oak Creek, we have something that we are very proud of," head coach Dick Dudas said after his team fell to the West Grand Mustangs, the No. 2-ranked team in the state, 38-28.
No. 14 Soroco was the lowest-seeded team remaining in this year's 8-man state football bracket. No. 1 Sedgwick County defeated No. 5 Holly, 41-8, in the other game played Saturday, setting up a showdown for the state title between No. 1 and No. 2 next weekend.
The Rams had hoped to play in that game, but despite Saturday's loss, the team can't help but be happy with how far its’s come this season.
"We are a much different team than we were a month or so ago," Dudas said. "(West Grand is) a good team, and they are the No. 2 team in the state for a reason. Except for a couple of onside kicks that they recovered, we were neck and neck."
That can't be said about the last time the Rams faced West Grand on Oct. 19. On that day, the Mustangs rode away with a 54-0 victory. But this time around, the Rams were out to prove they belonged.
"We came in with better attitude this time," senior Sky Carlson said after the game."We were the underdogs so we had nothing left to lose.”
In fact, Soroco jumped out to an early 8-0 lead after the team's leading rusher Jace Logan rambled into the end zone on a 60-plus yard rush. Jesse Amrein bulled in for the two-point conversion and the Rams were up early.
West Grand would answer on the Mustangs next possession. Quarterback Brady Gore hit senior receiver Jake Bentler on a 72-yard pass play. Junior Fleets capped off the touchdown with a two-point conversion and the game was tied at 8.
The Rams did their best to put the game away at the end of the first half, however. Logan carried theball eight yards for his second touchdown of the game. The conversion failed, but the Rams took a 14-8 lead.
Then with a little more than a minute remaining in the half, the Rams stretched the lead to 22-8 when Truman Anarellahit Kendall Hood with a long pass play for the touchdown.
"We definitely wanted to win, we knew that we had a chance. We came out after halftime and kind of lost the team continuity," Carlson said. "It was still a heck of an effort, and we are proud of where we came from."
Logan finished the game with 207 yardson 14 carries. He rushed for twotouchdowns and caught another. Amrein carried the ball seven times for 37 yards, and Anarella carried the ball three times for 12 yards and threw two touchdown passes. Jesse Koler had 24 yards on four carries.
On the other side of the field, the Mustangs were led by Luis Dominguiz, who rushed for 143 yards and scored three touchdowns helping fuel the Mustangs’ rally.
"We have never been behind all year," West Grand coach Chris Brown said after the game. "You never know how you will handle those kind of things, but our kids did a really good job."
The West Grand coach said he was impressed by the Rams’ performance Saturday, but he wasn't surprised.
"Soroco played really well," Brown said. "I expected that — thesemifinals are always tough."
Following the game, the disappointment could be seen as the Ram players walked off the field including on the face of Carlson, who had just finished his final high school contest along with seniors Colton Stroup, Hood, Jonah Jonas, Erik Shaffer, Joseph Johnson and Bosch Erickson.
"We just never gave up," he said. "There were a lot of times that we were getting beating bya lot, and we just never gave up. That is what I love about this team."
5 Minutes With … New Smartwool President Travis Campbell
New Smartwool president Travis Campbell, 45, who took the reins of the Steamboat-based merino apparel company last spring, is fresh to town with his wife, Jenny, and children Samantha, 13, and Cole, 11. While he comes from the fly-fishing industry (don't be surprised to see him casting into the Yampa), he's excited to bring his angling experience to the apparel sector and even more excited to call Steamboat home. We caught with him for his take on moving to town.
In His Own Words
For the last 16 years I worked in Bainbridge, Washington, for a collection of fly-fishing brands — including Sage, Redington and RIO Products — called Far Bank Enterprises, and was the president and CEO for the last eight years. I also chair the board for the Outdoor Industry Association.
We first visited Steamboat in 1995, when Jenny was in graduate school in Denver and we visited one of her college friends. We also spent the week before our wedding and our tenth anniversary here as well, so Steamboat has a special place in our lives. We used to joke that if we could ever figure out how to work here we'd move here. It’s amazing it came true.
Steamboat has incredible access to outdoor activities, all the amenities of a resort town, a healthy business sector outside of the resort, and a vibrant and engaged local community. It’s an amazing combination for a small, remote town.
We’re an outdoor family. The hardest part about living here seems to be choosing what to do on any given weekend — that and figuring out how to store all our gear.
I was equally excited for both moving here and working for Smartwool, which is an amazing company with great employees and culture. A company is strongest when its employees' values mirror its customers', and being based in Steamboat allows our employees to do just that. It helps us build better products and better connect with our customers.
Fly-fishing and Smartwool are part of the broader outdoor industry; we each serve a similarly passionate outdoor consumer, and we even sell our products in overlapping retailers. While my last company was mostly hardgoods and Smartwool is softgoods, I hope my leadership experience transcends a given product category.
Smartwool is a leader in the outdoor industry and I appreciate the voice and responsibility that gives us in the market. I love that we can be a platform for proving you can run a professional, profitable business while making a positive impact on the world.
I love all the seasons here, but if I had to choose one it'd be fall. I love the cool mornings and warm days, the slightly quieter feel of town, and the color change on the hills. It’s an amazing time to be standing in the river or rambling through the mountains.
I love skiing Triangle Trees and mountain biking Emerald. Given my age I probably shouldn’t, but I love bombing down NPR. As for the fishing here, I love it — but like any good fisherman, I can’t divulge my favorite hole.
This story originally ran in Steamboat Living magazine.
Mush! High school senior Greta Thurston is dog sled race champ
Forget the dog days of summer. Local high school senior Greta Thurston will take the dog days of winter.
That's because Thurston's passion is pooches, in particular, racing them. And she's doggone good at it.
"She did three dog sled races around the country last year and won all of them, competing against adults," says father Tom, a four-time Iditarod racer. "And on one of them she set a course record."
On that one, the Bachelor Butte Dog Derby, in Bend, Oregon, she blistered the course in 1 hour, 11 minutes, 35 seconds, minutes ahead of the next closest racer.
"We weren't expecting to set the record," she says. "On the first day, we were four minutes off, so on day two I calculated that for every six miles, we'd need to shave off a minute. I didn't want to push the dogs but the trail conditions were good and my team had great energy, which helped everything fall into place."
Greta did nearly as well at 100th anniversary of the American Dog Derby in Ashton, Idaho, finishing in 1:38:47, five minutes ahead of the second-place finisher. And she kept the streak going at the Colorado Mountain Mushers Snow Mountain Ranch II race, which she also handily won.
"I think it's because of all the extra time we put into training," she says. "I knew my team inside and out and they knew me. I could tell if a dog was having a bad day or if her gait was off. At the races, I knew that we'd worked as hard as we could; the only thing left was to have fun and do our best."
With her dog team including such faithful trotters as Faith, Gretzsky, Heath, Hobbs, Katness, Kiersten, Maurice, Muenster, Pippin and Sam, Thurston plans to compete in four big races this winter.
"I'm excited to do some harder races and train some new dogs," she says. "And I know more what to expect."
Her father feels she can expect more wins if she keeps at it. "It comes naturally for her," says Tom. "Plus she has the dedication. Add our caliber of dogs and my own experience, and it's a great combination."
Most importantly, it's something she loves.
"It's not just about racing," she says. "It's everything leading up to it — the 365 days a year of feeding, watering and caring for the dogs, and waking up at 5 a.m. to take them on a training run before school. It's hard work but it pays off."
And the bottom line is being out there with the dogs themselves.
"I love spending time with them doing what they love to do," she says. "The most rewarding thing is the bond created between the musher and the dogs. It's an amazing feeling to rely on your dogs and have all your practice pay off."
This story originally ran in Steamboat Living magazine.
Logan’s big gridiron season making mark on state record book
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Six touchdowns, six points each, equals 36. His 430 yards are worth 0.1 points, so together 43, and he also ran the ball in on a two-point conversion, earning two more points. Subtract two points for an interception, sure, but the math still adds up to some serious regret for anyone who didn't start Soroco High School running back Jace Logan and his 79 points (by standard ESPN scoring) in their fantasy football league.
If there were actually any Colorado high school fantasy football leagues, Logan would be in the midst of a legendary run, but he's been plenty legendary in the real world this season.
He'll try to continue it at 1 p.m. Saturday in Oak Creek against West Grand in the 8-man football state semifinals.
"That kid's an animal," Soroco senior Schuyler Carlson said of the junior tailback. "He just keeps pounding. You get him a block, and he can go the whole distance."
"You'll see him and think, 'He's not going to break through that,' but he does, breaks a couple of tackles, and he's off to the end zone," said Bosch Erickson, another Rams senior.
Logan's adjective-demanding season has already registered as one of the best in the history of the state, and his stats have rocketed up the Colorado High School Activities Association all-time record books.
Take the 430-yard game he's coming away from. That ranks as the 11th-highest, single-game rushing performance according to CHSAA's records. Logan's 446-yard game earlier this season against Plateau Valley ranks ninth.
His 3,023 yards this season ranks as the sixth-best season, and he still has at least one game to go. A performance like he had against Mancos would push him to No. 1, currently held down by Myles Smith of Cheyenne Wells, who's 2003 season included 3,416 yards.
Logan's 44 touchdowns this season ranks him 13th.
That 44 was something he was aiming for. He got it with his final touchdown against Mancos, a 38-yard dash through the middle of the line. Logan, who wears No. 44 and is usually somewhat reserved after a score, came off the field shouting, "44! That's 44!"
"Ever since I was little kid, I made that my goal, to score more than my jersey number," he said.
It used to be easier. He wore No. 23 in middle school.
"It's something kind of cool for me, but it's my team that allowed me to do that," he said.
Logan's always quick to point to his offensive line, and that group has played well this postseason. It was plenty evident in Soroco's first touchdown against Mancos, in the waning seconds of the first half.
The Rams were backed up, way up, starting the drive at their own 1-yard line. Logan lined up in one end zone, then ran to the other. Rams' lineman Sam Shaffer was the first to the hole, on the right side. He got one big block. Then Jesse Amrein was next. Amrein is getting snaps as one of the team's other tailbacks, but he often serves as more of a fullback, and on that play, he was right behind Shaffer. He, too, picked up a big block.
Logan was right behind them and cruised untouched 99 yards.
Those are special moments for those in the stands and from Logan’s own vantage point.
"It's clogged up and you see green grass and you just go for it, turn it loose, and go 'yee haw' down the sidelines," he said. "It's pretty special. It doesn't happen to very many people, it's just so much fun for me."
About the only time this season anyone would have wished they'd have started, say, Le'Von Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers instead of Logan in that extremely fantasy football league was Oct. 19, against West Grand.
Logan was hobbled by an ankle injury. He was well enough to play but was hobbled considerably further by the Mustangs swarming, penetrating defense.
He was held to 35 yards on eight carries, and it was his only game of the season without a touchdown.
"We got some luck," West Grand coach Chris Brown said this week.
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To be fair to Brown's defense, there's been too strong of a pattern for luck to have been a major factor. West Grand didn't allow a single point in league play this season.
"We got him corralled enough and jumped out to pretty early lead," Brown said. "That doesn't change what he can do. Any time he touches the ball, he could go all the way. You have to have a plan. We have a plan but sometimes plans don't work."
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Wranglers coach Joakim Falt is excited about his team, and he said Friday and Saturday night are the perfect opportunity to show the squad off to its hometown, and for a good cause on top of that.
The Wranglers will play at 8 p.m. Friday night as a part of the "Pink the Rink" fundraiser to benefit Steamboat's Gloria Gossard Breast Cancer Center.
The fundraiser will be a part of the Steamboat junior hockey league's weekend home stand against Breckenridge.
"What we're doing, it's hockey fighting cancer, and every single dollar except the gate will go back to the hospital," Falk said. "It will be massive."
The players will wear special pink jerseys for the night. and several of the jerseys with be auctioned off during the game. There will also be silent auction items including other pink Wranglers gear and "some surprises."
Fans who attend this weekend's games — Steamboat will face Breckenridge again at 7 p.m. Saturday — will catch the Wranglers on a hot streak.
They're coming off a three-game sweep of Pikes Peak, the reigning champions of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League and the team that, going into those three games, the Wranglers were tied with at the top of the RMJHL standings.
There's no tie now, and the Wranglers are in control with an 11-4 record.
Pikes Peak is second at 7-5, the Colorado Rampage third at 5-6-1, the Breckenridge Bolts fourth at 3-7 and the Colorado Thunderbirds fifth at 3-7-1.
Steamboat won those games in Pikes Peak 4-2 on Friday, 3-2 on Saturday and 5-3 on Sunday to cap the weekend.
Those three games showed off the team's depth as 10 different players scored, only two getting into the net more than once.
Shawn Catudal and Andrew DeMorat each scored two while Grant Longtin, Brett Wilson, Nevada White, Ben Lepper, Max Kleiner, Hunter Howe, Jarrett Strutz and Joel Rothman all scored one goal each.
Helluva haul: Catching a 34-inch, 12 pound pike with a spearfish
While an August Yampa River pike fishing derby by Colorado Parks & Wildlife and Straightline Sports brought fishermen out in droves, no one pursued it deeper than Cedar Beauregard and his kids, Luke and Adrian, who spearfished for the invasive, trout-eating species. "We went from Fetcher Pond up to Chuck Lewis State Park," he says. "It's like an alligator wrestling match getting one. I wear Kevlar gloves and keep my hands away from their mouth."
In all, the Beauregard clan entered 30 fish on the contest sheet, the largest measuring 34 inches and weighing 12 pounds. The tally easily won Beauregard the title, and pike fly rod that came with it. "He blew everyone else away," says Straightline co-owner Brett Lee, adding the contest included awards for biggest, most and even smallest pike caught. "He won all of the categories hands down."
Beauregard, who uses a 5mm open-cell wetsuit, leaded dive belt and a 1,200-lumen dive light, says it's somewhat nerve-racking. "Snorkeling in the river in the dark is the most spooky thing I’ve ever done," he says. "It’s like going through the haunted house multiple times. Most people I bring to do it don't do it twice."
In all, Lee says, anglers entered more than 60 pike during the month, whose information is being supplied to CPW. "Our goal was to get rid of as many pike as possible," he says. "It didn't matter how people caught them; Cedar's technique was perfectly legal — and effective."
This story originally ran in Steamboat Living magazine.