Hut, Two, Three, Four...

Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Hut, Two, Three, Four...

Bunk to bunk on backcountry skis
By Lisa Jones


First, the bad news: the mother of all hut systems, the 10th Mountain Division system in central Colorado, is experiencing a nasty reservations glut as a whopping 2,600 more reservations were made last year than the year before. The good news: several lesser-known but just as beautiful hut systems can easily pick up the overflow. Here are a few of the West's best routes:

Aprˆs-ski snuggle-up:
Brewster Lake Louise Sleigh Rides, Alberta
After a long day of blue-square vs. black-diamond bickering at Canada's grandest ski resort, even the iciest grudges melt away beneath heavy wool blankets on the after-dinner sleigh ride around the frozen lake at Chateau Lake Louise. Trust us: The Rocky Mountain alpenglow brings out the romantic fool in everybody. Besides, it's usually so far below zero that anyone turning a cold shoulder promptly freezes like a Fudgsicle.
— R.C.J.

The 10th Mountain Division system
This is the West's biggest, oldest, and best-known network, and its huts redefine the genre. Each contains the standard wood stove, kitchen facilities, and bunks, as well as electric lights (powered by solar panels), picture windows, and room to accommodate up to 16 people in relative comfort. A new hut was added last summer to cope with demand; by New Year's the system will encompass 21 huts scattered over the mountains and meadows between Aspen, Vail, Eagle, and Leadville. Still, it's advisable to book as early as possible; weekends in particular tend to fill up by early summer. Reservations are accepted beginning June 1 for the following winter.

Novices can ski up the gentle glades near Vail Pass to the Shrine Mountain Inn, which is made up of three huts, or to Vance's Cabin near Leadville. More ambitious skiers can take a two-week odyssey from Aspen to Vail, staying in the ten huts that skirt the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. If your party doesn't book an entire hut each night, expect company. The
fee is $22 per person per night for the 12 huts actually owned by the 10th Mountain Division, and from $26 to $40 for the nine privately owned huts that are also part of the system. The 10th Mountain staff can hook you up with guide services. Call 970-925-5775 for information.

The San Juan Hut System
Southwest of the 10th Mountain Division system, this is a less luxurious alternative. Four of the five cabins are unpreposessing, dark, plywood structures occasionally frequented by mice; the fifth is a yurt. Each holds a maximum of eight people. But the dramatic terrain makes up for whatever's missing in terms of amenities: The castellated San Juan Mountains are stunning, steep, and generally devoid of humanity. Although less-experienced skiers can get to a couple of the huts, the happiest campers in this system will likely be intermediate and advanced skiers. San Juan huts cost $22 per person per night. Mike Turrin and Joe Ryan, who run the system from its base in Telluride, offer guide service starting at $150 per person per day. Call 970-728-6935.

The Hinsdale Haute Route
Just to the east of the San Juan Hut System, this is a newer system better suited to less-experienced skiers. It, too, is located in the formidable San Juans, but two of its four huts — they're actually canvas-walled yurts — occupy relatively gentle terrain. The first lies near the beaver ponds of Cebolla Creek, an easy 1.5 miles from the trailhead; the second is five intermediate miles farther down the line. Past that, the terrain gets steeper and more exposed. The yurts are surprisingly cozy; they're super-insulated, light-filled solar collectors that can reach 80 degrees inside even when it's 5 sunny degrees outside. Three of them hold eight people; the last holds four.

Haute Route staff can pick you up at the airport (in Gunnison, Colorado) or lead you on skis behind a snowmobile to your yurt, where you'll break trail to the best telemarking in the area. Prices vary for these services; the yurts cost $100 per night for the first two nights ($75 for each additional night) regardless of the size of your party. Call 970-944-2269 for information.

Rendezvous Ski Tours
Up in Idaho, on the western slope of the Tetons, Rendezvous Ski Tours takes backcountry pampering to a new level. Owners Carole Lowe and Glenn Vitucci will pick you up at the airport (Jackson, Wyoming, or Idaho Falls, Idaho) and set you up in a guest house that comes with a hot tub, a piano, and lots of good books. From there they'll lead you on a couple of day tours to troubleshoot your equipment and ski technique, then you'll head out to one of three yurts high in the Targhee National Forest, where you can leave the cooking to them. Prices are $150 per person per day for a couple and $125 per person for a group of four or more. There are no set dates; tours are tailored to each group's preferences. They can also guide you for part of the time, then leave you to enjoy the backcountry on your own. Return customers can arrange do-it-yourself trips. The yurts rent for $150 a night and hold up to eight people; call 208-787-2906.

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