Built and designed in 1991 by ski instructors Jerry Berg and Jerry Begly, the original Fort Frog, in the trees alongside Buttermilk’s No Problem run, was a favorite kids’ play destination for a quarter-century. The Old West–style structure, with its two-story lookout towers, false-front buildings, and rustic log fence, took its name from longtime ski school supervisor Greg “Frog” Fortin, one among a group of colorful ski pros at Buttermilk in the ’80s and ’90s.
Tragically, Fort Frog burned to the ground in May 2016, when careless campers failed to fully extinguish a campfire. Nothing in the all-wood structure could be saved from the conflagration, but this winter, thanks to the efforts of Aspen Skiing Company Project Manager Dana Dalla Betta, Z Group Architects Project Manager Melanie Noonan, and others, a completely rebuilt Fort Frog is back and better than ever. Here’s what it took.
Spark of Inspiration
The ashes of the old fort were still warm—literally—when the decision was made to build a new one. Two days after the fire, Buttermilk kids’ ski school coordinator Alex Kendrick wrote a letter to the Aspen Times remembering Fortin, who passed away in 1998. Before sending it, she asked SkiCo if she could state in the letter that the fort would be rebuilt. “They said yes,” she relates.
SkiCo hired Aspen-based Z Group to draw up plans that stayed within the original footprint, though rebuilding on a grander scale was tempting. “We were like, ‘If we can dream big and shoot for the moon, what do we want it to be?’” says Kendrick, who took part in the early brainstorming sessions. But ultimately Z Group was instructed to hold the fort, as it were, and design a replacement that incorporated many of the earlier elements, with a few modifications. “So many people had loved the original fort,” says Noonan. “We looked at a lot of photos of it to get the same feel.”
Towers of Power
All of the structures have now been elevated to accommodate four feet of annual snow buildup. This allows a snowcat to groom the central area and also means that doorways don’t have to be shoveled out. Plus, the fort’s three towers, now topped with more-durable corrugated metal roofs, are taller for better views. “You really feel like you’re in the trees when you’re up in them,” says Noonan—an element that will appeal to adults, too, she adds.
Construction began last June with crews from Carbondale-based Crystal Springs Builders. The fort was erected using spruce and Douglas fir logs, most of them with bark on and sourced primarily from Kremmling, Colorado. The warming hut includes cedar siding to re-create the rustic feel of the old fort.
Though the new Fort Frog looks much like the old one, a few added features increase the fun factor. The “post office” tower includes a spiral slide; kids can access it by walking across a swinging rope bridge from the “jail” tower. Large net hammocks next to the ski school warming hut (a.k.a. the saloon and mercantile) provide another place to climb and balance.
While anyone is welcome to explore the rest of the fort, the warming hut exclusively serves kids’ ski school classes as a gathering place and snack stop; it also houses a mini ski school museum.
Time Will Tell
It may look all shiny and new this winter, but after a season in the elements, the fort should regain some of its timeless appeal. “As the new Fort Frog ages,” predicts Noonan, “I think some of that more rustic ghost town feel will return.”