Why Leo’s smoke shack really got blown up
By Alex Ryden
Yes, we are bummed. A little angry. A bit confused. But what happened on Friday Febuary 21st amidst the clouds of smoke billowing out of Breckenridge’s national forest couldn’t be any more clear—the iconic Leo’s smoke shack was exploded into a million tiny pieces by local ski patrol.
Its destruction is being blamed on the recent Inside Edition story that brought national attention to something that has been an inherent part of snowboarding culture for decades—weed and where to smoke it. The episode revealed a few of the hidden smoke huts off the trails of Breckenridge pieced together with fallen wood like sanctuary on a desert island. But the problem was the sacred grounds for hanging and blazing were deep in the boundaries of a national forest—smack dab on federal property, making the issue highly illegal and now highly visible, as the controversy was broadcasted live across the nation during primetime television.
“Yeah, the [Inside Edition] video made the rounds here,” said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. “I think the episode ran on a Wednesday, and the shack was gone by Friday. So I felt good about how quickly the resort and our team reacted.”
The offending Inside Edition report
Because of the bad press, Vail Resorts—the publicly traded company that owns a majority of Colorado’s mountains—alongside Colorado Forest Service made a move to immediately dodge controversy.
“The resort had actually planned to take down Leo’s in the spring,” said Fitzwilliams. “But given the highlighted nature of the shack, we decided to destroy it right away.”
So the Inside Edition coverage didn’t necessary tip off the specific location of the smoke shack, but it did incite its ruin, prompting the question of whether or not mainstream attention is good for the sport. Whether the riders who appeared in the video should have allowed themselves to be filmed. Whether elevating snowboarding to primetime entertainment is a positive thing and—in the end—if hype is help, or exploitation.
“I think smoke shacks do the resort a big favor,” says local Breckenridge rider Ryan Cruze. “They keep these groups in areas where they don’t bother the families and other people at the chairlifts. It’s way worse to have that obnoxious kid ripping his one-hitter in the morning lift line. I’d assume they’d rather have that go unseen, especially when it’s being done at one of the most popular resorts in North America.”
Due to being one of the biggest mountain destinations on the continent, Breckenridge has one of the biggest responsibilities—keeping the hundreds of thousands of people heading down its hill every year absolutely safe.
“We want people who aren’t interested in that culture to know that they are perfectly safe when they come here,” says Vail Resort Director of Mountain Communications Russ Pecoraro. “We are definitely being more proactive about getting our stance on the issue out there—we’re going to protect our guests.”
And Vail Resorts’ stance on the issue extends further than mountain safety, officially offering a statement on the current weed debate that’s spreading across the state.
“The media coverage around Amendment 64 has been skewed in the wrong direction,” says Pecoraro. “They [the media] are giving the impression that it’s okay to smoke in Colorado and we’re here to say it’s not. The destruction of Leo’s is a result of that.”
Although the law condemning the consumption of weed and building un-permitted structures on federal land is black and white, some are beginning to view the battle for Leo’s as a debate of core versus mainstream, snowboarding culture versus the pressures of society, whether it’s better to respect or regulate, and whose side the resorts are really on.
“Leo’s had a cult following,” says Cruze. “So after the spot was demolished by ski patrol, it was really cool seeing everyone showing their support. It’s not often you see a beautiful place like that hand-built with sticks.”
With Leo’s gone, local rider Cody Boan wonders if leveling the shack will really make any difference in the long run. “Destroying one shack isn’t going to change what people do,” he says. “Really bums me out seeing something that is such a big part of the mountain’s history blown up. Leo’s was built by local friends that love Breck and grew up here. RIP.”