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Yurt operator at a Colorado state park disappeared with guests’ money

CPW revoked contract for Never Summer Nordic Yurts; company must remove 10 yurts and cabins by the end of June
Never Summer Nordic owns and operates 10 yurts and cabins in State Forest State Park. (Kevin Kopischke/Special to The Colorado Sun)

Jill Brabec and her family were packed and ready for their unplugged, ski-in Thanksgiving trip to their favorite yurt in State Forest State Park.

The little trailer at the edge of the park where they typically checked in with Never Summer Nordic Yurts was empty and dark. The sign on the door – “Be back soon!” – was not freshly hung. They poked around the campground across the way. Knocked on all the doors they could find. They went into nearby Walden, wondering if anyone knew where the operators of Never Summer Nordic might be.

Brabec’s daughter checked the internet on her phone and saw a post by an angry visitor from a few days earlier saying the owners of Never Summer Nordic had disappeared. The Brabec family went home to Steamboat Springs to celebrate Thanksgiving, abandoning a yearslong holiday tradition of “playing cards and noodling around the backcountry” from a remote snowy cabin, Brabec said.

Brabec is an attorney in Steamboat Springs and said she sent the owner of Never Summer Nordic Yurts plenty of “nasty grams.” She never heard back. Her credit card company eventually refunded the hundreds she lost to the suddenly darkened outfit.

“It’s frustrating because this guy is clearly out there doing this to a ton of other people,” she said. “What peeves me more than anything is that he doesn’t seem to have any remorse. He is a crook.”

Dozens of would-be visitors have the same frustrations with Never Summer Nordic Yurt. As owners Bron Austin Deal and Gregory Graves flooded their inboxes with 50% discount deals, people booked trips for this winter and next, expecting to stay in Never Summer Nordic’s 10 yurts and cabins in the State Forest State Park. Many now assume their money is gone. Deal, 39, is facing charges of embezzling funds from the Gould Community Association where he served as a treasurer.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is equally peeved with Never Summer Nordic and waiting on money. After notifying Graves and Deal that they were in violation of the concession contract in August 2022, the agency canceled the contract and in December ordered the company to remove its yurts and cabins, and remediate the sites by the end of June. CPW also posted a letter on the state park website urging visitors to beware of sending Never Summer Nordic Yurts any money.

CPW “continues to have difficulties” with the company and its owners, said agency spokeswoman Rachael Gonzales. The company’s website still invites visitors to book a yurt and promises “a new NeverSummerNordic.com experience coming soon.”

In August, the agency notified Deal and Graves they were in breach of their contract for failing to pay an annual $1,500 fee, not submitting monthly revenue reports and not paying the agency its percentage of the company’s revenue. A letter mailed to the operators said CPW was using the company’s $5,000 performance deposit to offset its debt. Another letter a week later asked the company to provide proof of insurance.

A month later, State Forest State Park officials sent the owners a letter telling them the Never Summer Nordic contract was terminated. The park managers told the owners to stop taking reservations and connect with their guests to provide refunds. It also told the company to provide the agency with a list of customers with reservations, remove park maps and ads from its website and deliver updated revenue reports to the CPW. That letter included a letter Never Summer Nordic should send to its customers announcing the contract termination and cancellation of all reservations.

Deal, who owns a liquor store in Walden, and Graves, who has run Never Summer Nordic at the park since 2002, never responded. They also did not respond to multiple emails and calls from The Colorado Sun.

Several customers told The Sun they were never notified of canceled reservations and payments have not been returned. This week Never Summer Nordic began sending emails informing some customers that “State Parks have canceled all reservations” due to “a contractual issue.”

“We have asked the state to honor these reservations but they have chose not to,” said the email from Never Summer Nordic, which suggests guests “may want to file a dispute with your bank for a faster response” for refunds.

“That’s the most disappointing part of the whole thing,” said Ryan McSparren, a Littleton father who reserved a yurt for his family in February 2023 and February 2024 last fall. “They didn’t have the courtesy to reach out and say ‘Hey, we’ve gone bankrupt,’ or whatever. Just no communication at all. All told I’m out $800-plus in reservations. I don’t expect I’ll get that back.”

Deal’s delay in responding may have something to do with his recent arrest. A spokesperson with the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office said Deal was arrested on Jan. 6 on felony charges of theft between $5,000 and $20,000.

An affidavit from Larimer County alleges Deal, the former treasurer of the Gould Community Association, wrote 13 checks from the nonprofit association totaling $14,999.59 to Never Summer Nordic and his own business account.

The affidavit reports a part-time employee at Never Summer Nordic contacted association members in August 2022, saying Deal “was not meeting payroll, creditors were calling and he was having financial issues.”

The association found Deal, who had been elected treasurer for the group in January 2019, had written association checks to Never Summer Nordic and himself from February 2019 through July 2021. When association members asked for updated bank statements in January 2022, the affidavit reports Deal delivered counterfeit documents.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado Bureau of Investigation began investigating Deal in August last year.

In December, State Forest State Park manager Josh Dilley sent Deal and Graves a letter ordering them to remove the company’s yurts and cabins from park property.

“Any NSN property remaining on site after June 30, 2023, will be deemed abandoned and the property of CPW,” said the letter, which directs Deal and Graves to secure permits to remove the yurts and remediate the land where the structures have been for decades.

The Never Summer Nordic yurts and cabins are popular with families. They could be reserved mere months before a trip, unlike, say, 10th Mountain Huts, which book up a full season or two in advance. And the ski into the huts was short and mostly flat, also unlike some of the state’s most popular huts that require long, arduous treks to reach.

CPW is “looking at different options for the future of the yurts,” Gonzales said.

“We definitely understand the importance of those yurts and their popularity,” she said. “We don’t know what that future might be right now.”

State Forest State Park renewed a 10-year concessions permit with Graves and Deal in 2018 with an option to renew the contract for an additional eight years. The contract requires Never Summer Nordic to maintain two backcountry cabins and eight yurts. The concessionaire contract directed 5% to 11% of the company’s annual gross income to State Forest State Park. All 71,000 acres of State Forest State Park are owned by the Colorado Land Board and leased to CPW as part of the board’s overarching mission to use public lands to fund education.

Never Summer Nordic’s 2018 contract included a plan to add 10 more yurts or huts to the park by 2028. The park attracts more than 320,000 visitors a year and recent surveys show more than a quarter of those visitors stay in a cabin or yurt, according to the park’s most recent management plan. The park has about a dozen other cabins in campgrounds that are not operated by Never Summer Nordic.

“The park tends to draw a specific type of recreationalist that is more backcountry-oriented than the average state park visitor (46% vs. 41%), and slightly less amenities oriented (39% vs. 41%),” the State Forest State Park 2019 management plan said.

An alert on the CPW’s State Forest State Park website urges visitors who have been “misled or defrauded” by Never Summer Nordic to file a consumer protection complaint with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

Kevin Kopischke has been visiting the Never Summer Nordic cabins and yurts since the early 1990s. The Steamboat Springs resident’s teenage son and daughter first visited the yurts more than a decade ago. He’s got two reservations for later this year and two for next year. He always took advantage of the Never Summer Nordic fall discounts, offering 50% off reservations. His family loved the Never Summer yurts and cabins.

“They are not really that far in and the hiking is amazing up there,” Kopischke said. “They were so great to get the kids out there when they were young, just walking around in snow and getting them interested in winter hut trips. I really hope the State Forest finds someone else to take over up there. Those are some special places.”

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.