Backcountry Cabin Escapes
Who needs muesli and mulled wine? The U.S. hut scene is gaining ground. These DIY trips put you in the best of the backcountry.
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Ski huts in the Alps are like small castles—most employ caretakers who greet you with beer or wine and cook you hot meals. The U.S. may not have the luxury or the sheer numbers (Switzerland alone has 213 hüttes), but we’re getting better. Last year, the newly formed, Colorado-based Grand Huts Association opened the Broome Hut at Berthoud Pass near Denver, and there are plans to add eight more linkable huts in the next decade. Until then, there are plenty of other options. At least ten states from Maine to Oregon have huts. With a little planning, you can piece together a world-class trip without the transatlantic flight.
The 10th Mountain Division hut system in Colorado remains the premier—and most popular—network in America, and its 20 well-stocked cabins (with little avalanche danger along the access trails) are ripe for three-to-five-day powder trips. The best is a 28.5-mile route between Vail and Aspen. Start at the Polar Star Inn (elevation: 11,040 feet) and milk the tree skiing on the western flank of New York Mountain, located just above it. It’s 8.2 tough miles from there to the Peter Estin Hut, but prime bowl skiing nearby makes the slog worth it. End with a seven-mile ski to the Harry Gates Hut, which sleeps 16 and is perched on a bench facing Avalanche Ridge. The next day, ski out to your car on Fryingpan Road. From $33 per person per night.
When people think of the Tetons, they almost always think of the range’s east face over Jackson Hole. But the west side holds rarely touched, navel-deep powder. Begin by climbing 5.5 miles through the Jed Smith Wilderness to Baldy Knoll, a Mongolian-style yurt operated by Teton Backcountry Guides and surrounded by prime face-shot terrain. The next day, skin nine miles along Alpenglow Ridge at 10,626 feet to Teton Backcountry’s Plummer Canyon yurt; if it’s a whiteout, take the lower route through the trees. Once there, you’ll appreciate the amply spaced aspen-grove heaven. Looking ahead: a 314-square-foot yurt with bunk beds, a pellet stove, and a full kitchen is opening in Teton Canyon next winter, so you can tour an extra day. From $355 per night for the yurts, which sleep six to eight.
More than 50 years ago, the Sierra Club built a series of huts above Lake Tahoe’s west shore. The best time to link them up is in late January, when Tahoe catches the best snow. The most feasible route begins at Donner Summit and travels six miles south to the Benson Hut, which is perched at 8,350 feet, sleeps 12, and offers high-alpine terrain. Then it’s four miles south to the Bradley Hut, an A-frame with a detached two-story outhouse that often gets buried in deep winters. The Bradley doesn’t have beds or cookstoves, so come prepared. $20 per person per night.