As children we made forts and shacks and tarp tepees. They were an extension of one’s wonder and imagination, a claim to a place and an area-a dream world.
As snowboarders, our true home is in the mountains. It’s in the millions of hexagonal snow crystals and the wind drifts where they collect. It’s in the rock and in the trees. It’s shared with other creatures. To truly live here is tough working’s a harsh way of life known by hardened pioneers from generations past. This is a tale of life on the edge-of a pair of brothers’ private purpose on the brink of the vast San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. Of the creation of two snowboarder’s own DlY dream world.
FRESH OUT OF high school, Chris Rapp followed his brother, Rich, from Ohio to Colorado in 1988. “J lived up in Summit County, rode Copper [Mountain] for a year,” Chris says. “I got turned onto Wolf Creek during the early ‘Rocking Out’ snowboard series clays. The first comp one season was racing at Wolf Creek and we came down a day early and it snowed like three feet. We all ate a bunch of mushrooms and were tripping balls ridin’ the Creek. It was the most epic time you could imagine for an 18-year-old kid straight from Ohio.” Wherher it was the psilocybin or the pow, char trip (no pun intended) changed things for Chris. Wolf Creek commonly gets three-foot dollops overnight and is known for epic early season conditions. The place boasts the most snow in Colorado and is one or the country’s last great family-owned mom ‘n’ pop areas. “I used to drive down from Summit County and sleep in my car in the parking lot and buy $12. 50 tickers and ride the Creek tons,” Rapp continues. “l eventually moved to Pagosa Springs ’cause Wolf Creek is the only place in Colorado where it really dumps.”
As Chris tells his tale, it ignites memories of my first experience at Wolf Creek Pass on Highway 160. I was 11 years old and moving south to Durango. It was late at night. I was riding in a box van full of our stuff with my mom’s friend Bruce, a grizzled home inspector from New York. My mom was in her beat-up lsuw Trooper behind us. A coincidental country crack from C.\'</. McCall bleared through the Al\1 radio: Me an’ Earl was haulin’ chickens on a flatbed out of Wiggins, and we’d spent all night on the uphill side of 37 miles of hell called Wolf Creek Pass. Which is up on the Great Divide? We was settin’ there suckin’ toothpicks, drinkin’ Nehi and onion soup mix, and 1 said, “Far/, let’s mail a cmd to Mother then send them chickens on down the other side. Yeah, let’s give ’em a ride. ” That song, Wolf Creek Pass,” is forever stuck in my memory. It’s piled right next to Halloween opening days with waist-deep fresh, bitterly cold nights sleeping in the parking lot and white-knuckle winter drives at the Creek. Chris’s story continues: “A friend char I used to ride with at Copper had just gotten back from a trip up co his brother’s cabin in Aspen and was celling me about how they were hanging cornice lines right in the backyard. I was like, ‘You have a cabin you can stay at and shred right out your back door?! l want to do that-I’m going to do that, too.’ Since then it’s always been a dream of mine.”
In the fall of 1994, Chris moved to Pagosa Springs. Early that wincer he took his first snowmobile ride up Elwood Pass, the area that would soon become the backyard of his and his brother’s backcountry abode known as Sheepshead Cabin. “lt all kind of came together once we started getting into the whole Sheepshead area, which is pretty remote,” Chris says. “There’s so much terrain that, to really ride out there, you need a minimum of three days at a time. We wanted to build a place, a killer mecca-home-base-locacion where you could spend as much time as you want. And do it good, do it right, do it up.” So they did. He and Rich bought 40 acres of land right below Sheepshead Mountain in the Rio Grande National Forest, right in the thick of the southern San Juan Mountains. “We bought the property in September of 2004,” Chris says. “The first thing I did was call my brother up and say, ‘Hey, we need to get something up there right now, like a Winnebago, and just put it up there for this season.’ He called me back in a minute saying, ‘Dude! I got a Winnebago and it’s free. lt’s in the A-Basin parking lot and I’m going to pick it up tomorrow.”‘
A mutual acquaintance had split to Montana and gifted them the four-wheeled den. “We used the Winnebago for like four years until we got the cabin ready. But we started building the next summer, getting the foundation going,” Chris says. “We were able to get cement trucks up there since we had a road in. The following year, we started framing. Well, it’s literally just these SIPs [structural insulated panels]. They’re these pre-manufactured, super-insulated panels that you can easily build with. That’s what we built the roof and walls out of. They’re super warm and hold heat. The place is all based on passive solar and it’s directly south facing. That cabin, at 12,000 feet, has sun all day-we leave water up there all winter long and it doesn’t freeze.” The Rapps and friends moved into the cabin in the winter of 2007-2008, “ghetto style,” as he says. It wasn’t until 2010-2011 that it was fully functional and ready for guests. “That cabin would not have been built without the help of all of our friends; it was a great group effort,” Chris says. “Rich and I got the place and drafted up the plans and scuff, but we had an important community of people up there building the place, and those people are still involved.”
IT’S DEC. 26, 2013 and the temperature dwindles as J winds eastward down a narrow canyon off Wolf Creek Pass. I’m fortunate to have been extended an invite to Sheepshead during a short lull in reservations. The Rapp brothers began renting the cabin our to snow enthusiasts two years prior for $300 per night and business has picked up steadily since. Toward the bottom I hook into a small parking lot and begin unloading and hiding my sled. Duffel, gas, food, boards, backcountry and overnight gear. I have loose directions and a meeting time. There’s no cell service, but a radio can ncl chat might work. The road is clear and groomed and there is little in the way of avalanche danger, I’ve been told. lt’s 17 miles to the meeting point at the forest Service Road 330/380 split. 1 begin westward, working back over the pass by snowmobile, two-stroke exhaust and crisp cold air wafting through my nose and lungs. The groomed trail unfolds from a tight, creek-laden canyon before gradually opening up to broad fields and steep rock walls. Signs for old mining camps pass by along with a few sledders and olTshoor trails before I arrive at the junction. It’s a bluebird day. Soon, my good friend and blue-collar snowboarder Ryan Cruze greets me and we begin three miles of boondocking across rolling meadows and faint creeks before funneling into a tight gut of trees. We spit onto a groomed road, and as we crest the last hairpin, l finally sec the product of the Rapp brothers’ decade of dreams: six walls, two decks and stained wood basking in the sun aa 11,960 feet. Ryan’s dad Mike and brother Sean, here from Tennessee, are stirring on the deck. Closer inspection leads to a loft and beds for eight, couches, a full kitchen, a propane-powered fridge and range, solar panels and wood-fired stove, plus an arsenal or food, gas, moonshine and random goods the Cruze family brought in with sled rubs.
While living in Summit County, Ryan meet Rich Rapp at Copper Mountain. “He’d been celling me about this land and cabin since 2005,” Cruze says. Over the years he developed a friendship with the brothers Rapp and made numerous trips to the cabin. “Chris Rapp is an unknown legend in skate and snow community in Colorado,” Cruze continues. “At 44 he still rides some rowdy stuff and slashes pools on a skateboard. He’s been a proponent of skatepark building in Pagosa and there’s no better person to have built something like this. He’s a true lifer in skateboarding and snowboarding.” Cruze leads me through rolling, wooded hills below the rounded, rust-colored nub of rock and craggy spires of Sheepshead Mountain proper. Some of the best runs start right from the deck of the cabin and drop more than 1,500 feet into a web of gullies, dirt and gentle pillows below. lt’s early season and the snowpack is thin but stable, and at this time of year in Colorado it stays light, cold and dry for weeks. The route back up is packed in well, making doubling and tripling relatively easy. (Well, until Ryan’s brother sends Chris’ trusty, mid-’90s Polaris WideTrak IX and Ryan’s father directly into a tree 100 yards from the cabin. Luckily Ryan’s father comes away with only scrapes, bur the machine is lost and in net:d or a row our.)
We fall easily into the cycle of Colorado cabin life: barbecue, guns, beers and moonshine, Jenga, sledding and shredding. No worries about time, only of rations and how long they’ll last. Even in late December, u·ue to Chris’ claims, the cabin stays toasty and there’s hardly a need to bum a log. At times there’s even a faint, cell signal up top, so I message another fiend, Kyle Cartwright, who brings in supplies and scotch. The adventures continue as the group grows and we soak in the surroundings from sun-up to sundown. “That place, like any cabin that you stay at for multiple days on end, is about more than the snowboarding,” Chris later tells me. “It’s the whole experience of literally living for multiple days at a rime out in the middle of nowhere. Sunrises, sunsets, stars at night, weather pattern changes, storms coming in, storms blowing out, fresh powder days, riding during the storms, riding the trees, riding huge peaks, exploring new lines-I’ve been riding our there forever and I can still find a line l’ve never ridden. It’s adventure, man, exploration and adventure.” The Rapp brothers’ refuge is the realization of youthful desire, one that offers more than shelter for those who seek it. A grown man’s tree fort dream up on the Great Divide.