Going Places: Tales from the road: Colorado's Haute Route

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Colorado's Haute Route


The hut system is located in the central Rockies of Colorado
The Tenth Mountain Division Hut Association takes reservations year-round at 970-925-5775. Their ten huts currently rent for $22, plus taxes; five private hut-like lodges, managed as part of the hut system, cost $24-$32 per person per night. Reservations are difficult to get on weekends and holidays, so call early (that is, months in advance).

Getting There:
Aspen and Vail are the major jumping-off points for the hut system. Vail is a three-hour drive from Denver International Airport. You can take a shuttle van (Colorado Mountain Express, 970-927-9775 or 800-525-6363; Aspen Limo, 970-925-1234 or 800-222-2112), or rent a car. If you take a van, you will still need a ride from town to your trailhead, which may be an hour or more away, depending on your route (every hut has a spur route leading out to a road). You can also fly to Eagle airport, 35 miles west of Vail on Interstate 70, on Delta or American, and rent a car there for either Aspen (two hours further west) or Vail, 45 minutes east.

Aspen is a four- or five-hour drive from DIA in the winter. United Express provides connecting service from DIA and direct service from several other cities. Several other carriers fly direct from other cities: TriStar from Los Angeles, Lone Star from Dallas, and Northwest from Minneapolis). The vans that serve Vail also go on to Aspen, but expect a longer drive than if you rented a car. Because of the travel times, plan on a layover night in town and get an early start at the trailhead the following day. Again, if you don't drive to Aspen you will face a long cab ride to your trailhead.

Once you reserve, Tenth Mountain will send you combinations to the hut locks, waivers for everyone in the group to sign, and a suggested gear list. You can also ask for recommendations about where to rent equipment if you don't have your own. You'll need telemark or heavy-duty cross-country skis, as well as skins, poles, a backpack, sleeping bag, food, and clothing (avoid cotton like the plague; go for wool or polypro, and plan on layering--backcountry skiing is hard work in cold weather, which means a lot of sweating and chilling). The nonprofit organization also sells trail maps--7.5-minute series topo maps with the routes marked on them. At $6 a pop, these are a good investment (expensive, yes, but also waterproof and tearproof).

What To Know:
Although it is quite reasonable to undertake a hut trip without a guide, do so understanding that you should be able to read a map and compass, navigate and route-find in bad weather, know the strength of your group, be able to break trail, know basic first aid and gear repair, and be prepared to self-rescue for minor emergencies.

While the trails between huts generally follows routes that avoid avalanche danger, it is quite easy to get into avalanche terrain if you head off-route for a little three-pin skiing. Familiarity with avalanche precautions is paramount if you intend to get off the trail: Everyone in your group should carry appropriate avalanche rescue gear (shovels, probe poles, beacons) and know how to use it; your leader should be able to read and understand avalanche hazards in changing terrain, and be able to route-find around avalanche hazards if you aren't comfortable with what you find on a particular slope. Even if you have some experience in mountains with maritime climates, beware Colorado's snowpack, which behaves differently than maritime packs. Statistically, Colorado is the deadliest avalanche state in the nation, in large part due to its tender terrain.

Although most hut skiers don't use guides, they are available. These services will handle hut fees, shuttles to and from the trailhead and food preparation, and will provide recommended gear lists.

Aspen Alpine Guides (970) 925-6618
E-mail: [email protected]
Web site: www.aspen.com/aspenalpine

AAG charges $500 per person for a three-day trip on pre-arranged dates, on up to $1,000 for a six-day trip, with early registration discounts of about 10 percent. Custom trips run $225 per person per day.

Paragon Guides (970) 926-5299
E-mail: [email protected]
Web site: http:/vail.net/internetworks/vacationing/paragon.html

Paragon charges from $530 per person for a three-day trip on pre-arranged dates, up to $1,110 for a six-day trip. Custom trips (your schedule, your itinerary) start at $280 per person per day, and go down, depending on number of people and length of trip.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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