Taking the LEAP — Future of Mountain Huts?

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 22, 2012      

Ben Dodge (head of 10th Mountain Huts) and I spoke on the phone the the other day. As it often does, our conversation turned to how sustainable and truly “green” our existing style of mountain hut building is in Colorado — and for that matter, the rest of the world.

Bivacco Gervasutti, in Italian, a 'bivacco' is a small mountain hut without food service.

Bivacco Gervasutti, in Italian, a 'bivacco' is a small mountain hut without food service. And yes Virginia, it can be any color you want. (photo from LEAP, Living Ecological Alpine Pod collection, Francesco Mattuzzi )

We can talk all we want about how environmentally sensitive our huts are, but when we’re doing major construction projects in nearly pristine mountain environments, and depositing large edifices as a result, just what, exactly, are we “really” doing? (Hint, “depositing” might according to some environmentalists I know be the exactly correct choice in words.)

The answers are manifold, but what if we take a whole new look, for new answers? And act on our conclusions?

Italian Alpine Club answered some of the questions when they worked with architects Luca Gentilcore and Stefano Testa to create and install the amazing Bivacco Gervasutti on the Italian side of Mount Blanc. Indeed, what these guys did is get past the green talk, and take green action. They decided the old ways of heavy construction could make way to something light on the land, quickly flown in by helicopter, made from materials as green and recyclable as possible, and set on stilts so even the footprint of the structure is minimal (it’s on legs).

One has to wonder, could this sort of thing be the wave of the future? Could we Americans get past our desire for huts that are something along the lines of a replica antique petting zoo, and enjoy something modern, efficient and low-impact?

We blogged about the Bivacco Gervasutti some time ago, having been literally stunned by the concept and subsequent reality (I mean, it’s amazing they installed the thing, and it is there to be used!). But that was not to be the end of my involvement. (Extensive article in English describing the hut.)

A little while back, the Turin ski touring school of the Italian Alpine Club contacted me to give a presentation here in Italy. I was honored to be asked, but my budget wasn’t working for the trip. Bummer.

Yet around the time I was communication with the Turin folks I’d been in contact with the well known (and yes, reviled by some) developers who’d bought the controversial property in Bear Creek above Telluride, and are causing no small amount of local angst by attempting to control recreation access related to their property holdings.

From the first time I’d met these controversial guys (Ron Curry and Thomas Chapman), they’d expressed interest in installing some sort of “mountain hut” on their property in Bear Creek. I was of course skeptical, and still reserve my approval till I see results. But the idea that they’d eventually have a public amenity component to their plans (that engendered public access) is intriguing, and in my opinion worth my helping with in ways I’m comfortable with. In all, the idea is to facilitate a win/win in whatever small ways I can.

Yeah, proof is in the pudding of course, but what do I have to lose by moving past the gnashing of teeth stage and instead encouraging the developers to do something that benefits everyone’s interests, by offering my experience with mountain huts if they need advice on exactly what they could do, and why do it? In doing so, I’m true to my ideals and goals when it comes to being an advocate for recreation access. (Though as has already happened, short-sighted folks will continue to accuse me of ‘being in bed’ with the wrong folks.)

Well, as has happened, the Bear Creek guys have indeed as far as I can see become truly serious about this hut building thing. To the extent that main partner Ron Curry decided to visit the LEAP factory guys here in Turin, Italy so he could experience a personal discussion of just what’s so cool about the LEAP hut, and what it would take to actually get one over to the U.S. and install it in Bear Creek Basin! Astounding!

So, Curry told me he was working on all this and said he’d be interested in somehow getting me to join his LEAP meetings, so he’d have an American hut and recreation expert there. Ron seemed to me to be a very sincere and pleasant individual, so I told him, yeah, the Turin guys want me there anyway, so with a consulting fee for the meetings, we could make it happen. It did (I’m still reeling at how the two things came together, presentation and meeting), and not only that, it turns out LEAP architects Luca and Stefano are part of the Alpine Club ski touring scene over here. It all meshed like the batteries in your beacon case.

Now before you Telluride folks accuse me of selling out, let me assure you I have not done so. I’ve been super careful all through this process to keep my distance from the development business side, and only focus on the possibility of huts, with attention to what LEAP is doing, as well as giving Curry advice about how the sport of backcountry skiing operates in the United States and worldwide (he’s a western Colorado boy, but not a skier).

Result of all this is, again, these guys are seriously (as in spending money) looking at the mountain hut option as the “highest and best use” of their Bear Basin property. I’d agree with both adjectives in that phrase. Though just to be totally upfront with Curry and everyone else, I’d also delighted to see the property somehow made public through purchase by a land trust or otherwise.

What’s the rub? We’ll, it’ll have to work for the developers financially. But more, due to land use codes the whole concept could well be impossible — even the “public” part of the equation could be nixed by the fact that “use by right” on those types of properties includes a _private_ dwelling, but try to make it public and you’re going up against the county land use code (law of unintended consequences for the anti growth objective?).

Again, proof is in the pudding and since this is a public process, the Telluride media (and the rest of us, if we want) can watch the process progress in their county planning department. My best methods of keeping tabs are probably to stay in touch with Curry, as well as watching local media and perhaps even calling the planning department myself to see how things are going. Along with that, please loyal commenters from Telluride, chime in and let us know what you hear on the streets that’s more constructive or informational than hate.

So, let’s move on to the nuts and bolts. After all, I traveled all the way to Italy to actually talk with Luca, Stefano and Ron about this stuff.

Meeting with the LEAP guys and gals. Stefano Testa to right, me, Cristiana (who graciously interpreted) and Luca.

Meeting with the LEAP guys and gals. Stefano Testa to right, me, Cristiana (who graciously interpreted) and Luca.

Luca and Stefano’s “LEAP” (Living Ecological Alpine Pod) business is a subset of their work as architects. Nonetheless, the amount of media attention the new hut has received is astounding. They told me that during some days they have up to 15 journalist inquires stacked up and waiting for Cristiana to handle (she’s their PR person).

A tiny percentage of LEAP media coverage over past months.

A tiny percentage of LEAP media coverage over past months.

A lot of the interest comes from the fact that newer environmental regulations in the Alps have grandfathered the older huts in many ways, but made it difficult or sometimes nearly impossible to install anything new. Remind you of somewhere else?

That’s where these guys’ concept comes in. The LEAP shelter is built like the sandwich hull of a composite boat, only the hut walls don’t have to be as strong as a boat hull, so they use lots of foam as the matrix with as much reinforcement in there as necessary to reach engineering specifications. That makes the structure super insulated, but light enough to create as sections that can be flown in by helicopter or moved by small truck. The sections fasten together with a flange and bolt system, gasketed, high-grade silicone caulk forming the final weather defense for the seam.

Foam core of the LEAP pod, this is an actual chunk cut out during installation of vent.

Foam core of the LEAP pod, this is an actual chunk cut out during installation of vent.

The structure can be built to quite larger sizes with enough strength for snow-load roof spans. Interestingly, Luca and Stefano told me the smaller design used for the Mt. Blanc bivvy would stay plenty warm inside from body heat (even with necessary ventilation). To prevent stove fumes, cooking is only allowed on one small electric hot plate, powered by the solar system.

LEAP section during heli install.

LEAP section during heli install. Each part is engineered to be within spec for chosen freight method. Francesco Mattuzzi photo.

We had a lengthy conversation about sanitation, as that seems to be the rub for many hut projects and where the regulatory agencies can really block things (no pun intended, but I’ll take it, grin). In many cases around the world, the simple solution is to use a vault toilet and have it pumped, or swapped when full. Via helicopter or truck, expensive. LEAP solution is to use existing composting toilet technology, but make it work super well by encapsulating the bathroom in a LEAP pod with carefully regulated temperature and PV power. If that’s done well, nearly 100% of human waste is taken care of on site.

As mentioned above, a big deal with this sort of thing is they’re not created by doing an impactful construction project in the mountains. Instead, they’re totally pre-fabbed by vacuum molding and detailing in a factory or other roomy and equipped facility. Material choices can be as green as one desires. Yes, it’s plastic, but you can use the most recyclable, reclaimed, green plastic you want. And really, not much of it. Is a log cabin greener? Perhaps in some ways, but considering how “green” we’re doing plastic for everything from Patagonia jackets to Toyota cars, I’m not too worried about that aspect of the LEAP shelter.

Downsides? I didn’t see much. Let me tell you, these guys are alpinists and hut users themselves, and they seem to have thought everything through.

Aesthetics are of course a sticking point. As I mentioned above, we’re used to our huts being done in a kind of replica antique motif, what with rustic wood construction, wood stoves, more. Yet that style is consumptive, expensive to build, and doesn’t lend itself to smaller venues. A LEAP pod can be installed nearly anywhere — in a day. Not only that, but it can be taken apart and moved in hours. (And I repeat, any color.)

Interior finish in these things, as done on Mt Blanc, is similar to a high-end ocean yacht. LEAP even uses marine hardware for the doors and windows. For the interior, you could easily go with wood highlights and even wood veneer paneling, to keep users with plastic paranoia from freaking out.

Will anyone in Colorado take the leap to a LEAP style hut? Who knows. Anyone from 10th Mountain Huts to the Bear Basin developers could be the first to install one (assuming it could get permitted). Consider what Luca told me: “We continue to improve how we build the dwellings in our cities, why not work equally as hard at improving our backcountry shelter systems?

If any of you guys have questions, I’ve got a lot more details rattling around in my skull, and the LEAP folks may chime in as necessary. Oh, and please don’t get me wrong, I like some of our “antique replica petting zoo” huts — just trying to make a point. Meanwhile, presentation for Alpine Club is tomorrow and after that I’ll hopefully start getting some turns under my skis. Torino is a big city and I’m out of place!


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


44 Responses to “Taking the LEAP — Future of Mountain Huts?”

  1. Hojo February 22nd, 2012 9:38 am

    Are they (LEAP) considering manufacturing in the US for the US market or importing?

  2. Gentle Sasquatch February 22nd, 2012 9:40 am

    ok. I have a question. Considering that the outside wall is basically plastic – why can it not be fiberglassed plywood, similar to how folks make wooden kayaks (i.e. pygmyboats.com) ? The material is thin, lightweight, pliable to various shapes and the fiberglass keeps it at similar strength.

    You could construct the same shape as the current LEAP hut and then airlift it to the destination the same way as the LEAP hut. The outside appearance would be more in tune with the environment around it. Once every few years the hut crew would add a few coats of varnish on the outside for maintenance and thus I think the outside would age better than the LEAP plastic hut.

  3. Danno February 22nd, 2012 9:47 am

    That is super cool. And as someone who has stayed in yurts, cabins, and 10th Mountain mansions, I don’t really care what the structure looks like, so long as it has the basic amenities like warmth, “toilet”, cooking, etc. The whole point for me is to be out there, in the mountains, away from roads and people, yet still comfy and warm. I suspect a few won’t like the aesthetics, but I think most people who use facilities like this care about the same basic things I do.

  4. Lou February 22nd, 2012 9:58 am

    Hojo, how they get these to the U.S. is in preliminary stages. I asked if they could fit sections in standard shipping container, and they assured me that was so. Of course, you can make in nearly any size but would be best to keep sizes for standard shipping. Import duties are probably the rub… all in time, no reason they couldn’t make them somewhere in US

  5. Lou February 22nd, 2012 10:03 am

    Gentle, it’s all no different than a boat hull. Most folks don’t seem to worry too much about what their boat hulls are made of, so long as they work. And remember, they can make this stuff nearly any color, so it could easily be made to blend in. That said, when the Mt. Blanc hut is viewed from a distance, it actually blends in quite nicely, but stands out up close — showing how smart the designers are. In fact, what so un-environmental about white in a place where nearly everything is white most months of the year (grin)?

    As for resin/plywood construction specifically, from what I know it would be hard to argue that it’s much more “green” than straight glass/resin. After all, glass is just, sand.

    It’s all in the perceptions… like I said, if we want fake antiques for huts, then that’s what we want, but worth looking at the big picture…

  6. Lou February 22nd, 2012 10:06 am

    Danno, to me aesthetics are somewhat of an issue, but I can safely say that a large number of the zillions of huts I’ve stayed in over the years had ZERO aesthetic value, they were just run-down often rodent infested shacks. If all you use are nicely designed and build huts like some certainly are, you get spoiled, but the reality worldwide is quite different.

    The LEAP guys said they had some interest from Mongolia and even Everest, for replacement or new using their technology.

  7. Richard February 22nd, 2012 11:22 am

    If these indeed blend in from a distance, but are unmissable up close (not being able to find a hut in the mist when you’re right on top of it is no fun and potentially dangerous) make this concept even more attractive (pun intended). Also, having logged many dismal nights in the old Monte Rosa Hutte (indeed a rathole), I’d be interested in your take on the new hut that replaced it. It’s a very green, very functional design. There’s no question that mountain huts need to be rethought given the sensitivity of their locations and the technology that’s available that solves many of the problems of putting people and structures into remote, high altitude places.

  8. Dave Bell February 22nd, 2012 1:38 pm

    Excellent Lou!! Love the idea of low impact huts crossing into the US (esp. the idea of MORE huts).

    I know a great boatbuilder in Anacortes, WA who could build these with ease…..


    all things fiberglass, boats, cars, huts, all of it.

  9. Andy Jensen February 22nd, 2012 2:10 pm

    With the increasing number of folks around the world drawn to the alpine back country it seems logical to consider structured depots where people can stay warm, sewage can be managed and solid radio installations em placed to help deal with rescue and medical evacuation. Sure it’s nice if the materials can be Green and the foot print kept to a bare minimum, but it seems that long term,
    crowd management will quickly outstrip environmentally correct building concerns in the next decade.

  10. Jesse February 22nd, 2012 5:13 pm

    I can’t believe some of the comments on the previous post about this, I think that thing is absolutely gorgeous! The doorway looks pretty, ahem, exciting, although the CAD rendering on their website does show it with a staircase that doesn’t seem to bee installed yet.

    It does seem weird that they put it in such a precarious place if it’s partly there for rescue purposes; I’d have thought you’d want to minimize the chance of injured/exhausted/lost climbers falling off a cliff. But I guess it has to go somewhere that minimizes snow load and slide risk.

  11. cory February 22nd, 2012 6:31 pm

    Wondering aloud about windows and natural light. It looks like in one pic that one entire end is a window? Nothing’s better than kicking back and bragging about the day’s turns and dreaming about the next ones… Lou- remember the old Markley (we used to call it darkley…)

  12. stephen February 22nd, 2012 8:09 pm

    I think this a fantastic idea.

    Here in Oz it’s almost impossible to build anything new as our alpine areas are all in national parks, but since this can easily be moved (or removed) and has little footprint and – apparently – almost zero grond contact/disturbance make for more chance of approval.

    If the toilet facilities work as advertised one of the major stumbling blocks to acceptance by the Powers That Be is dismantled. This hut may expand the possibilites of having a shelter in many areas to something greater than the present zero. 🙂

  13. Jesse February 22nd, 2012 8:26 pm

    Lou, is this the only one they’ve actually installed?

  14. Neal Mendel February 22nd, 2012 8:48 pm

    I’d be willing to invest in this. please let me know if I can help.

  15. Lou February 23rd, 2012 2:20 am

    Richard, during our meetings we discussed the new Monte Rosa hut. The take is that new Monte Rosa is indeed much more in keeping with modern environmental ideals, but perhaps could not have been built except for that it was grandfathered in due to existing structure. Point being, if we want any new huts in the Alps and other places with heavy environmental regulations, something new is probably the solution, and perhaps LEAP has the idea that will work. Beyond scale and rodent proofing, main thing LEAP concept provides is actually the sanitation module that works with composting. That’s the biggie that in the U.S. would allow a smaller scale hut association to place a shelter in a remote location, and not have to come up with big yearly helicopter fees to remove waste. The actual hut structure itself of course doesn’t really have to be a composite tube, it could be anything pre-fab and efficient, but the composite tube makes huge sense. Also, the integration of mechanical systems based on integrated solar panels is important to the overall low-impact nature of the whole deal.

  16. Lou February 23rd, 2012 2:26 am

    Jesse, yeah, this is the only hut LEAP has installed on site. Apparently, as I alluded to above, their idea for a composting toilet module may actually be what they get involved with the most heavily. Anyone who’s climbed around the world understands the desperate need for something like that, that works flawlessly and can be installed in a few hours off a helicopter. A good example is the junkshow at Camp Muir on Rainier. They need to scrape everything there, put in a LEAP hut or two, and a half dozen or dozen of their composting toilet modules instead of the scary toilets they have there now. That whole thing is a travesty that reflects very poorly on the Park Service as well as the guide services who are involved with it.

  17. Lou February 23rd, 2012 2:28 am

    Cory, the whole end of the LEAP hut is indeed a huge window. I wanted to get up there this winter, but doing so is a somewhat sketchy endeavor. Perhaps next summer. I feel like a visit is mandatory.

  18. RDE February 23rd, 2012 7:19 am

    Actually I’m of two minds with this design. It is a perfect example of form following function:absolutely brilliant. I’ve used the same materials and techniques in yacht construction for decades, and can testify to their durability and insulation qualities. Its minimal foundation requirements and ease of removal are other strong positive features. If one is to have a climbing refuge in such a location it may well be the best solution possible.

    On the other hand I don’t accept esthetically that this kind of an object should be placed on a remote natural mountainside. The world is rapidly loosing places where human impact and presence doesn’t dominate. Climbing huts provide safety, convenience,social interaction (both positive and negative!) and concentrate the shit in one place. Perhaps in an increasingly crowded world they are something we should forgo, leaving the natural high alpine to those willing to shoulder the burden and hardship?

  19. chris blatter aka silvertonslim February 23rd, 2012 9:57 am

    Interesting for sure but I’m going to “leap” back and continue to build my rustico with timber I harvest from my site in the San Juans. But I’m not building for commercial use, just a home boy hut for friends. I’ll be pretty amazed to see if one of thes LEAP structures ever gets built in Colorado; but I’ve certainly been amazed before. Nice reporting…

  20. Jim February 23rd, 2012 11:59 am

    LEAP idea is great. I want one. Check out Microlodge in the UK building round wood tubes to camp in. The Canadians have a well developed hut system that seems well organized and well run in many beautiful locations. See alpineclubofcanada or backcountryskiingcanada for details. We stayed in an metal yurt in the remote backcountry BC in a perfect location for skiing and had a great trip. Yurts are small footprint and are another good low impact solution to the traditional wood box and work well in snow.

  21. Gary February 23rd, 2012 8:24 pm

    So, mr. Curry is a sincere and pleasant individual with whom you would consider working to create a win – win situation for everyone??? If I were in your shoes, I would google Tom chapman and west elk wilderness, or Tom chapman and black canyon of the gunnison. Perhaps you’ll have a better understanding of their idea of win – win.

  22. Lou February 23rd, 2012 9:28 pm

    Gary, I wasn’t born yesterday. I think I made it abundantly clear in the post that proof of the matter will be the outcome. Meanwhile, I’ll do what I can to affect the outcome. As to my impressions of people, they’re mine and while I use Google for research, being able to meet and spend time with a man in person is not exactly a useless endeavor when it comes to ascertaining character. More, I wasn’t here with Thomas Chapman.

    But really, in the end the outcome will be the thing. I’m comfortable with my contribution and am keeping my distance otherwise.

  23. Jon February 24th, 2012 12:19 pm

    I for one am glad you are doing some consulting with these guys. I am not to keen on GHDC and their way of going about their business, but I would love to see a happy outcome from the mess.

    You are in a good place to advise them on the possibilities in the abstract, maybe their plans will become a little less pie in the sky. GHDC has been fairly quite lately, no more big ads in the paper. We will see how the court case goes.

    Good luck with your consult.


  24. Lou February 25th, 2012 8:54 am

    Jon, sigh, at least someone understands (grin)!

    The outright lack of thought with this stuff astounds me. I mean, it seems like some of the folks who comment about GHD would like me to just ignore these guys, or perhaps write lengthy hate screeds — or at best spend days or months researching old property deals to try and discredit them. I truly do not understand how any of those approaches could ever help achieve a positive outcome that was win/win for private as well as public interests.

    Probably best for me to just state, unequivocally, that my work has blessed me with an unprecedented amount of access to all sides in some of these issues. So long as the paths that leads me on seem to have potential in helping produce positive outcomes for recreation, I’ll take that path.

    But, more….

    First, if a meet someone in person, as any blogger worth their keyboard should do I’ll make a stab at sharing my overall impressions of them. Those are simply mine, simply impressions of their character. Nothing more. Could be right, could be wrong. Proof is in the outcomes.

    Regarding GHD in particular, I’d say all the whining, moaning and gnashing of teeth about Thomas Chapman is getting a bit old. I’ll bet if you looked at lots of things, you could find individuals involved in those things who had track records that included stuff you didn’t like. Does focusing on the past like that have much value? Sure it does in some ways, as in good to know who you’re involved with and how that might influence actual concrete actions. For example, if someone in Telluride actually tries to buy the GHD property and donate it to the public or otherwise provide access, they are going to know that GHD includes guys who are smart when it comes to making money on property deals. So? That just means the public has got to have some smart guys on their side as well! What, really, is so new and earth shattering about that? I mean, would that be the first time the public has to deal with devoted and expert business people to acquire property for public use?

    As for what’s happened with the Bear Creek Property, what did people expect? That it would just sit there forever, especially after the Telluride skico starts using it to promote themselves (with blog posts, for example, showing photos involving the private property)? The whole situation was not sustainable. In other words, if not now, when?

    As I’ve stated about a thousand times now, I am a recreation advocate. I will do whatever I can to influence this and other situations to outcome that is positive for public recreation. That is my mission statement. Please examine my actions in light of that. If I screw up, I’ll admit it and apologize. But hopefully, by taking careful and thoughtful action I can do what is appropriate and at the least simply have neutral influence, and at best help good things to happen.


  25. Ed Smith February 26th, 2012 7:51 am

    Great job Lou on the consultation, GHDC has now officially started to waste the County Commissioners time as they want to start the permit process for a tube hut. Question for you Mister Consultant, how do you recommend GHDC get around the fact the could possibly build a private hut, but they will never be able to commercialize it? Unfortunately Lou, you have just been the latest sad puppet in GHDC’s game to try and stir the pot and get someone to buy the property. I guess Lou will be the only one to use the tube hut as it will be a private residence, invite only. Just imagine Ron Curry, Tom Chapman and Lou Dawson bundled up drinking cognac at sunset, how cute.

  26. Lou February 26th, 2012 8:39 am

    They’ll try something with or without a few hours of input from me. Go ahead with the sarcastic hate, meanwhile, I’ll do what I can to influence the outcomes. Nothing is impossible. Lou

  27. Jon February 26th, 2012 10:05 pm

    Don’t mind the haters. Like I have said before on this topic, the Telluride community is reaping what we have sown in Bear Creek. If GHDC hadn’t made their move on this, someone else would have. I wish it could have been a recreation or conservation advocate (although that would have had it’s own issues) or (shudder) Tel Ski themselves. Unfortunately the “good guys” have a hard time keeping up. There are so many parcels, access issues, mining issues and such, and only so many people, and more importantly, cash, to go around.

    Preemptive action is the cheapest way to go, but we will never catch all the issues.

    Wasting the county commissioners time with a tube hut is a step up. It could be possible, although I have my doubts with the access and resupply issues (have they noticed the number of avalanche paths their proposed access plan crosses?). It wasn’t to long ago they were talking Euro style Chalet on the ridge, balloon supported igloos, spa and privacy fence. A little progress is progress never the less.

    Still hoping for a solution that includes nothing but bruised egos.

    Sorry for the novel.


  28. Lou February 26th, 2012 10:34 pm

    Jon, thanks. Good point about the vast amount of these inholdings that presently exist. Thay’re all over the place, hundreds if not thousands in Colorado alone. Many are “Bear Creeks” waiting to happen. As for GHD projects in Bear Creek, as far as I know no formal proposals (e.g., building permit applications) have been received by the government, so all that’s happening is just public conjecture. GHD of course has the right to talk about what they want to talk about, in turn we as the public have to be realistic and enjoy yammering about things like styles of huts, but at the same time know we’re just chatting about raw ideas, nothing concrete. As a blogger I choose to have fun with that, and I also think it’s a good thing to stimulate some dialog about what can and can not be done in terms of huts in our high country. As for outcomes, in the case of inholdings that compromise public recreation I’m of course a huge advocate of solutions that work for both public and private interests.

    Main thing we all have to remember, is whether we like it or not private property exists and the owners of that property have related rights/privileges/needs just as the public has related rights/privileges/needs. For good outcomes, both the public and the private have to be addressed. Otherwise you get things like the all to common broken access, as happened in Bear Creek.

    In other words, the best and usually most functional final outcome for all inholding dilemmas has the owner of the property happy, and the public happy. It seems to me that this occurs through some exchange of value. Figuring out that exchange out is the process that’ll occur with Bear Creek and GHD. The process could simply be a conservation organization buying the property and in turn donating it to the public. Or it could be a combination of commercial use and public access, kind of like how some ski resorts are set up. Yeah, zoning and whatnot complicate the heck out of things, but immense power resides with county elected officials, and thus anything could happen over the months and years.

  29. Tim M. February 27th, 2012 11:36 am

    hi lou, i find it sad that you have played this issue and these guys in a way for you and your blog’s benefit – erstwhile in the appearance of impartiality, stealing others’ work along the way. please alert RC and his ad-makers to this ideal as well – i really don’t appreciate seeing my work replicated in GHDC promotional materials. good luck with the sweet hut…. like that’s gonna happen. regards, tim muXXXtrie

  30. Lou February 27th, 2012 1:17 pm

    Hi Tim, am sorry you’re sad. I made a big effort with this trip to keep it above board and positive. Yes, I worked for these guys for the benefit of my business as well as the benefit of the Italians who wanted me to come over and do a presentation. Wow, what a stunning thing, I’m the only guy in the history of the planet to do something for his business!

    Got some incredibly interesting information out of it, and some good blog fodder since Bear Creek is such a hot issue, along with perhaps having some tiny influence on the Bear Creek situation since I was able to spend time with Ron talking about the issues, though really, on the whole all I was was doing here is lending my expertise about huts to a developer — could have been anyone — public or private. Nothing nefarious or under handed. In fact, I’ve been communicating with other hut builders as well (for profit and non-profit), I just didn’t go public with that. More, after getting embroiled in the publication of the blog post you keep alluding to (the Chapman Q&A), I’ve been much more careful with what I get involved in as that event did teach me to think things through a bit more before pulling the trigger, and you helped with that.

    As for your business, I’d advise you to take care of it yourself. Or are you saying you want me to intervene somehow on your behalf for some wrong that was done to you? I don’t understand what you’re getting at.

  31. Daniel February 27th, 2012 11:39 pm

    Lou, great work on this story, I am so all about some green huts in the mountains, and I think this LEAP thing is awesome. I’m sorry you have to put up with all these whiners and moaners on the whole GHDC thing, I love the guys who criticize you for using this to promote your business and your blog, and yet they’re here reading your blog. They probably bitch and moan about a lot of things in life, while actually doing very little to advance their own position, or at least make themselves happy. I honestly can’t even believe there are still people crying about that property in Telluride, did they think it would just sit there, forever, for them to use whenever they wanted, it’s private property for crying out loud. That’s what America was freaking founded on! Come on guys, drop it already.
    Lou, keep up the great work, love your writing, your blog, your coverage of lots of cool things and your attempts to do the right thing.
    I want one of these huts in my backyard, yeah, that’s right, I want to use this ugly ass tube thing as my backcountry hut. Let’s build it cheap and green, and pass that savings onto good people, so they can come experience what I do everyday!

  32. Lou February 28th, 2012 12:38 am

    Daniel, thanks for getting it. Anyone who talks the talk about green and sustainability needs to walk the talk when it comes to mountain huts. If that means doing things like LEAP rather than our site-built faux antique cabins, then we should be heading that direction. In my view, doing so is inevitable.

    The LEAP hut has received massive media coverage in Europe because of the above. While Europe has major problems with air quality, sustainability, crowding and such, not to mention economics, people here do think about this stuff and they try to do better — just like we do. Result, Stefano, Luca, Massimo, Italian Alpine Club, and others came up with the LEAP concept and actually got it done, installed, on-site. For me to go over there and meet with them in person was gold and an opportunity I obviously could not pass on. The fact that part of what I was doing was working for someone who might install a hut, as a use by right on some private property in Colorado, is in some ways a minor detail that yes, is blown out of proportion.

    In other words the fact of the matter is the LEAP hut is reality, I got the opportunity to cover it in more detail and bring more of the good news back to the US in English. What happens now with GHD is another story that people can indeed whine and moan about, hate on, and be sarcastic about, but the fact remains I’ve now got a personal connection with the LEAP guys, covered their work in person, and perhaps I’ll have some small influence on improving our hut building process in the U.S.

    Your point about the GHD private property is a good one that I wish more people would think through so they could move beyond the hate and perhaps put more energy into creating a positive outcome.

    I mean, what’s really happened in Bear Creek? Someone bought some property. They asked people not to trespass. As a result, Forest Service tried to regulate access but everything is pretty much business as usual when it comes to such access. Yes, the potential for some restricted access does exist because of the private property, BUT YES, the property has been there for around a century!

    Indeed, it’s probably better the issue is now out in the open and getting delt with one way or another than continuing in the weird denial state it was obviously in for the past few decades as even the adjacent ski resort used the area of the private property as a virtual extension of their resort! In other words, if not now, when?

    Yeah, one of the property partners is a controversial guy who’s been involved in developing some inholdings. Even that is somewhat of a red herring as in reality, how many people have had their lives affected one iota by anything Thomas Chapman has ever done? Certainly not myself, and not anyone else I can think of. Even so, I’m supposed to panic and run, or use Wildsnow for hate mongering against the developers as if that’s going to improve the outcome? As if this is the first ski resort area property in history to be bought by a controversial developer? This stuff is just not computing for me.

  33. brian h February 28th, 2012 12:46 pm

    As one who certainly vocalized my opposition to the “development”, I was a little surprised at the news of the consulting gig. BUT, Lou’s ideas about why he’s doing it seem plenty valid. I respect his point of view on a lot things so why not give him the benefit of the doubt? When I look at my own motivations at being in the opposition I’d say it could easily be classified as ‘ compulsive’. I’m no landowner, I struggle to pay bills, I come from environmentally aware people, I’ve lived in ski towns and I’m always looking for a utopia where balance is the norm and all passions are positive. I went to a liberal arts school and was willingly brainwashed by an amazing array of radical thinkers. This all means that I have a natural tendency to OPPOSE ALL DEVELOPMENT. But like the “Ivory Tower” from which some of this thinking comes from, is that idea productive or helpful or grounded in any discernible ‘reality’? GHDC ain’t goin away fellow oppose’rs. I’m cool with Lou being my ambassador.

  34. Lou February 28th, 2012 1:19 pm

    Brian, thanks, you’re a thinker! And yes, in my own small way I’m really nothing more than an ambassador for the interests of public backcountry skiers like nearly everyone who reads WildSnow.com. When I took this on, I thought a few people might read into it more than it really is. I took that risk since, like I said before, what was I supposed to do, turn it down because a vocal few haters would think I’d somehow gotten into the development business in Bear Creek? No on both counts. One might not agree with the guys at Gold Hill Development, nor like their approach, but they are human beings and can thus be involved in discussion, evolution of just what exactly their “development” goals entail, stuff like that.

    More, I’d ask the folks who are so bent about GHD, what are your proposed alternatives? Sure, best case is some altruistic entity buys the land and gives it to public. But beyond that, what do you propose? Would you like GHD to put it on the market and thus step aside when someone else buys the land? Why would that next owner be any better? Or, do you propose the land owners simply give permission for the public (as well as Telco business interests such as guides) to use their land? The latter does happen, especially when land has little intrinsic value, but thinking the owners of a prime inholding would never be concerned about public ingress is wishful thinking. Again, I just don’t see the logic to sitting around and hating on the owners instead of trying to work with them, or at least offer constructive criticism instead of weird statements like “i find it sad.”

    Lastly, I honestly do not know what it’s possible to do up there on private land. Playing guessing games with that is not what I’m interested in, though it’s a known fact that GHD can build three single family private dwellings on their land as use by right (if I’m wrong about that, I’ll stand corrected, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case). I’m only interested in visioning, and for some reason the owners are interested in the idea of mountain huts both large and small. Since I like huts, and that seems like it could be a good location for one, my vision went that direction. And then my vision took me to Torino. Funny how those things happen. I wonder what would have happened if I’d instead sat around wallowing in anger and hate? Probably nothing except a compromised immune system.

  35. Jhaus February 28th, 2012 2:05 pm

    I don’t have a dog in this particular fight, but haters really need to remember the wisdom of their elders in regard to conflicts and their resolution. Particularly: “Opportunities multiply as they are seized,” -Sun Tzu, and “keep your friends close but your enemies closer,” -Michael Corleone. This invitation is a spectacular opportunity for recreation interests to get closer to the developers, learn more about their plans and motivations, and potentially have some influence on the end results. Refusing because of the odiousness (real or perceived) of the opposition wouldn’t do anything to advance the cause of recreation access. Plus, free trip to Italy. I’d be all over that even if it was paid for by puppy-stomping strip miners represented by Glenn Beck.

  36. Jack February 28th, 2012 2:13 pm

    Lou – Thanks for framing up the sustainability and “green” issues. We internally debate this at Summit Huts in Colorado. What I think is important to also discuss is the customer. Its’ one thing when your mountaineering objective on the Monte Rosa is to bag a 4000M peak and the hut is more of pullover in route. You look for efficient shelter, a toilet, make a meal, sleep, and just go.

    What we have found with our huts (Summit Huts) is that our customers objective is the experience. The look of the hut, the smell and heat of the fire, the social aspect, making dinner with the group, getting off the grid, seeing your kids playing board games rather than video games, the discussions, and the great skiing just out of the huts. I know you call it the “replica antique petting zoo”, but our customer prefers a building that looks like it has been here for 100 years. Like it fits in with the environment. Timeless architecture. Natural materials and colors. Keep in mind when I say “customer” I refer to a large majority–by no means does it represent every single one of our hut users. We think we are headed in the right direction.

    We are processing a hut thru the USFS near Breckenridge and we wrestle with how far to go down the spectrum to be “green.” We have debated whether to have a wood burning fire stove for instance. The operations/go green side of the argument is clear. It takes a lot of effort and $ to stock our four huts with wood each fall and clearly we have a larger carbon footprint because of this. However, we also know from our surveys that part of the ritual of going to a hut is tending the fire, chopping the wood and contributing to the group effort. Our living, dining & kitchen spaces revolve around it. We would lose customers if we did away with this.

    We still have a lot to learn and have certainly picked up much from the 10th and Ben Dodge. They are very conscious of their impact and have shared with us everything they have learned along the way. Their redo of the Fowler Hilliard was remarkable and smart.

    Anyway I just wanted to point out the differences in customers. I am interested in hearing your constructive thoughts and from your group above.

    As far as your involvement with the Bear Creek property and guys–good job for trying to positively effect the outcome. Hopefully they are sincere and not using your reputation to bolster their case or, only to jack the value of the land.

  37. Lou February 29th, 2012 12:21 am

    Nice to see what happens when the discussion goes beyond the gnashing of teeth (grin).

    Jack, thanks for putting in words what’s behind the “faux antique petting zoo hut” scene (grin). Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the rustic architecture, that’s one reason I like the Tyrolean gasthauses I frequent over here in Europe. My main points with the green huts issue is 1.) If we want to walk the green talk, it’s an appropriate place to do action instead of tongue wagging. 2.) People can change, perhaps the faux antique experience could give way to the experience of the environment of where the hut is located, while the hut could still provide a cozy place for board games — only without splinters.

    Good example is deep ocean sailing. Some folks like the old wooden boats, but in sailing literature you can find hundreds of amazing and life-changing experiences people have while using composite hulls.

    Now, getting to the nitty gritty, if done with care, in a place with existing road access, the faux antique style hut can probably fit the bill in terms of being done green, if built from scratch to be that way including the use of a super clean wood burning furnace system. But needing road access is incredibly limiting on where we can put huts in Western U.S., and results in stupid siting mistakes such as building huts on snowmobile trails (then subsequently fighting with the snowmobilers), huts too far away from good skiing, and huts too close to trailheads. Yeah, it’s nice having some huts on snowmobile trails and some huts super close to the parking lot for novice users. But variety is important if we’re going to have the hut culture I think many of us are going to want as the sport grows and matures.

    Jack, also another thought. I wonder how appropriate it is to be using public land and non-profit funding mechanisms to build large, expensive structures that are primarily used to house wood stoves and shelves of board games (grin)? I’m playing devils advocate on that one, but one does have to consider what’s appropriate when examining the ethics of all this stuff. Again, if those of you out there who are building huts purport to be sensitive to “green” issues, these issues need to be constantly examined. After all, you’re “depositing” something in what are otherwise nearly or totally pristine backcountry areas. That’s pretty serious, from an environmentalist point of view. Indeed, sometimes I get the feeling that hut organizations fall into the mental trap of thinking that the actual act of building a rustic structure in the backcountry is somehow a green and environmentally sensitive action, when in fact it’s quite the opposite and they’re really just high impact developers,


  38. Lou February 29th, 2012 12:38 am

    Jack, also, regarding people “using” me. I suppose anyone could do that to some extent, but in this case I don’t feel used. If GHD wanted to say something like “Lou thinks it might be nice for the public to be able to use a mountain hut in Bear Basin,” that would be honest. Anything beyond that would be inaccurate and disappointing, but wouldn’t radically alter my life (grin). I’ve got a pretty good soapbox here at WildSnow if I want to use it and could easily clarify my position if GHD started spouting inaccurate stuff about my opinions.

    Most importantly, I doubt the land use officials and elected officials who have authority over the land use process in Bear Creek would give a rip about my opinion if GHD quoted me or used me in some other fashion. The land use officials (including elected officials) are going to listen to the locals, as well as do what they need to do under the law of the land.

    Beyond their use-by-right, anything GHD accomplishes up there that’s not zoned for will have to be done by working through the elected officials — and there is a lot that can be accomplished in the political system in terms of zoning variance. For example, here is a thought experiment: The County Sheriff has a huge amount of power. Perhaps the Sheriff wants a rescue headquarters in Bear Creek so in the future, when thousands of skiers are in there and it becomes a de-facto ski resort, he can have a professional rescue team on site all day long, same concept as a fire station. Could he do that in spite of the zoning? Perhaps. My point? Many things could be possible.

  39. stephen February 29th, 2012 3:31 am

    Lou: The force is with you!

    Advantages I can see with the LEAP versus the trad style hut is that there’s much less disturbance of the surroundings during/after construction, and removal and/or re-siting would be fairly trivial, given it’s a prefab structure with comparatively little dependence on integration with the ground beneath, i.e., it sits on the ground but isn’t dependent on it for structural integrity. (Yes, I understand it still needs to be held down so it doesn’t blow away.)

    These points could make all the difference in being granted permission to put a hut in, especially on public lands like national parks. If the Powers That Be decided later on that the hut shouldn’t be just there, it could be relocated fairly easily, rather than needing to be demolished and removed in pieces (or burnt).

  40. Lou February 29th, 2012 5:18 am

    Well, one thing that humbles me is constantly attempting to figure out how to balance conservation of the environment with the interest of recreating in that same environment. As many of you know, I tend to prioritize the recreating even if if involves some amount of sacrifice of the environment where it is done (axiomatic, really, since even the mere presence of humans is viewed by some as a degradation, and once the crowds reach a certain level I wouldn’t dispute that). But what perplexes me is where we draw the lines. Regarding huts, it seems a no-brainer that we could easily reduce the impacts on the land by going smaller, spreading them out, and installing by helicopter rather than site-built major construction projects… yep, LEAP really got me thinking about this, and I’m just getting started on figuring out where I’m at with it all… Thanks everyone for joining the chat. Lou

  41. Mark February 29th, 2012 4:20 pm

    First of all I would like to greet you with: “Happy LEAP Day!”
    When it comes to putting huts waaay out there, the LEAP capsule approach makes a lot of sense.
    There is also plenty of room for ‘full service’ ‘rustic huts’ at the wilderness edge that cater to the family-oriented and fireside crew.
    lots of room for cool huts out there.

  42. Jack curtis March 4th, 2012 5:10 pm

    This is only tangentially related, BUT I have a notion to build a passiv-haus guest house within a climbing, alpine, AT environment and market it as a micro Eco-tourism resort. (wow – one sentence). The intent is to take outdoor recreation minded people and introduce them to modern European low carbon housing design.
    P.S. I skinned up to hojo’s on Mt. Washington for the first time on 25-feb !!! Woo hoo! Sound of cherries popping!

  43. Jack curtis March 4th, 2012 6:05 pm

    To be clear, my idea is resort or near-climbing area centric and not oriented towards high mountain shelters. Some of the LEAP impacts do not apply. I think that one of the basic tensions inherent in my plan is who accesses the backcountry – elite vs. The Masses.

  44. Lou March 4th, 2012 10:04 pm

    Someone yesterday mentioned that in their view the LEAP capsule used as an example here is not a “hut,: but should be called a “shelter.” Use of the word “hut” in the U.S. has never come to have much of any specific meaning. Here in Europe the term “hut” as in “mountain hut” does connote something more roomy and perhaps built of conventional materials. Just thought I’d mention that I have no wish here to fracture the meaning of the word “mountain hut” but use it broadly in reference to the LEAP. Better term would probably be “bivouac shelter.” The Italians call the unit the “Bivacco Gervasutti.” thus using the word (as we would in English) “bivouac” instead of “hut.”

    I should also mention that in the Alps they’ve come up with lots of solutions for installing small bivouac shelters. I like the LEAP approach because of how integrated all the mechanical systems are, as well as that it’s (I’m assuming) super resistant to exterior environmental degradation. More, it’s not a metal box, which is the worst kind of bivvy shelter due to how cold those things are.

    Perhaps the most important LEAP concept is the perfectly integrated and highly engineered human waste module they’ve come up with that uses a composting toilet. If that’s perfected to be super low upkeep, it could be very helpful around the world in places where human waste from alpinists is a huge and sometimes very expensive challenge.

    Oh, and the LEAP structure can be nearly any size, any color, and so forth. Thus, perhaps the concept could serve as more of a conventional “hut.”

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