Candlelight ski, dinner benefit group building Grand County hut system |

Candlelight ski, dinner benefit group building Grand County hut system

First course: a backcountry cause

There’s a particularly enchanting event that occurs each winter in the Ranch Creek Drainage a-la Devil’s Thumb Ranch.

At sunset, the Sawmill Meadow is studded with candlelight, directing the way for cross-country skiers.

About 200 milk cartons with candles are placed by Skyler Miller, son of Andy Miller, who is the grandfather of the Grand Huts Association. The plumber candles flicker in shadowy moonlight.

It’s the custom of the Progressive Dinner, where outdoorsy types support Grand Hut’s dream to link mountain trails with a hiking and skiing system in Grand County’s naturescape, to create a miniature version of the hut-to-hut experience.

Progressive diners follow the snowy trail to the horse barn at the Nordic venue, where they are treated to wine and a table spread of appetizers.

Second course: Second Creek

Clicking back into their skis, Nordic skiers continue their journey two miles to the secluded yurt, where a chance to break bread with fellow ski enthusiasts awaits. The soup course warms the soul as does the prospect of helping Grand Huts grow nearer its goal of building eco-friendly Second Creek cabin, on the west side of Berthoud Pass near the Vasquez Wilderness.

The cabin would replace the old Gwen Andrews A-Frame, condemned by the U.S. Forest Service, 0.8 mile from the road up about 1,000 vertical feet. It sits right at timberline at 11,500 feet near the Mount Nystrom Trail and looks across the Continental Divide.

Grand Huts doesn’t want Grand County’s overnight backcountry experience to die with a rotted A-Frame, so for 12 years, the group has been going about the steady leg work obtaining the necessary permitting and funds to build a new educational cabin there.

The redesigned one-story cabin with solar exposure heat, an efficient gas fireplaces, a composting toilet, and gray water filtered by osmosis is hoped to become the first of series of huts that would link Second Creek to Grand Lake.

Tentatively, from Second Creek, backcountry enthusiasts ultimately could venture to a handicap accessible site at or near the Bonfils Stanton Outdoor Center, Miller said.

From there, the string of huts would continue to a Cabin at the Arrow subdivision, then on to the upper ends of Devil’s Thumb property. From there, the High Lonesome Hut could be accessed, on to Arapaho Bay and Twin Creek, where a fishing cabin on U.S. Forest Service property may be the ticket. From there, if Headwaters Trails Alliance plans come to fruition, a trail could be followed along the Three Lakes to Grand Lake.

The concept is already “a viable industry in Colorado,” by example the 10th Mountain Hut System in neighboring Summit and Eagle counties, Miller said.

“And it’s a viable industry in the Alps,” he said.

The Second Creek location, when completed with an environmentally friendly cabin, would be the closest backcountry cabin to Denver and the closest to the highway.

Such a location would make it easy for at-risk youth groups, Scouts and inner-city school students to be introduced to raw nature.

When youngsters and adults come away with positive and educational outdoors experiences, 10th Mountain Hut officials say, there is an impact on their stewardship values.

They can gain a greater appreciation of the natural mountain environment, thereby perhaps becoming more inclined to protect and cherish natural lands in the future.

And with a mapped Grand County hut-to-hut system in the future, Miller said, the human impacts on the outdoors would be minimized and more localized.

The 1,700 square-foot Second Creek cabin is planned to accommodate 15 paying guests and four volunteers. Since last year, due to public comment, the Grand Huts organizers have decided to reduce the visual impact of the building by making it one story rather than the two originally planned, according to Miller, who will be managing the cabin construction.

And in the last year, the Grand Huts organization has raised $100,000 toward its goal, but is still in need of another $200,000 to $240,000 to build, a portion of which, it is hoped, will come by way of building supplies.

The Progressive Dinner at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort is the group’s primary annual fundraiser.

“It’s definitely the winter event of the season,” Miller said. This year’s dinner is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., March 15. Tickets are on sale for $50 adults (including ski rental) and $15 kids, available at The Winter Park Market, Rocky Mountain Roastery, Icebox Mountain Sports (Fraser), Budget Tackle (Granby), and Never Summer Mountain Products (Grand Lake).

With GAC’s continued tenacity, the construction of the building may begin off-site next winter. Then with the help of a helicopter and snowcat, the building could be placed at the Second Creek location by June 2009, according to Miller.

Third Course: reaching a goal

With a warmed feeling from the soup course, the candlelit yurt and the laughter with friends, Progressive diners proceed to their final destination, the Devil’s Thumb’s Broad Axe Barn back at the start.

For those not up to the mileage, organizers say a shorter course can be taken from the Nordic center to the horse barn and back again.

Back at the Broad Axe Barn, skiers always are greeted with lively music, a main course and updates on Grand Huts’ progress.

The final stop is the reward for an exhilarating night outdoors.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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