Take a Backcountry Hut Trip This Winter
Many backcountry huts are now available as private rentals, so you and your pod can have the entire place and be COVID safe. From Maine to Washington, here are a few of our favorites.
Winter hut trips are a rite of passage for experienced backcountry skiers: haul in your own stuff, stay in a high-alpine cabin, and earn your turns right outside the door. While some huts will remain closed this winter due to the pandemic, others across the U.S. are going private and adjusting their operating policies to follow local COVID-19 ordinances. Here are some of our favorites.
For Cross-Country Skiers
The Adirondack Mountain Club has two rustic backcountry huts (from $200 a night for the whole hut) on a private 23-acre parcel within the High Peaks Wilderness of Adirondack Park, located outside Keene Valley, New York. It’s about 3.5 miles on skis to reach the lodges, which come equipped with basic supplies like cookstoves and mattresses. Grace Camp sleeps up to six, while the larger Camp Peggy O’Brien can house 12. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are easily accessible from your doorstep, as well as some adventurous backcountry terrain through dense glades. Be sure to check New York’s travel advisory if you’re coming from out of state.
For a Splurge
It’s not fair to call Red Mountain Alpine Lodge a hut. It’s more like a backcountry hotel at 11,000 feet. This lavish timber-frame lodge, which opened in 2018 just 300 yards from the highway atop Colorado’s Red Mountain Pass, between the towns of Ouray and Silverton, has Wi-Fi, a wine cellar, radient heating, hot showers, and panoramic views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains. This winter it’s offering full-lodge buyouts for up to 22 people as well as loft and private-room reservations (from $122 for loft rooms; $2,195 per night for the whole lodge). San Juan Mountain Guides provides guided backcountry trips from the property.
For First-Time Hut Goers
On the east side of California’s Sierra Nevada, outside the town of Bridgeport, ride a snowcat to a high-alpine yurt owned by High Sierra Snowcat. The 24-square-foot lodge sleeps six and will be open only for private groups this winter (from $330 per person). A separate 18-square-foot yurt nearby houses hangout and dining areas. Situated in the Virginia Lakes basin, a prime backcountry ski destination, bookings include guides and stays are fully catered, making this a good option for newer hut goers. The surrounding summits, such as Dunderberg Peak, are over 12,000 feet and offer a wide range of ski terrain, from low-angle faces to steep couloirs. You can also sign up for an avalanche course or opt for a single-day outing.
For Those on a Budget
Thirty minutes south of Evanston, Wyoming, the Bear River Outdoor Recreation Alliance, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, rents six yurts (from $75 per night for the entire yurt) across the state border in Utah’s Uinta Mountains. Known as the Lily Lake Ski Area, the zone has backcountry skiing on open bowls that top out at 11,000 feet, as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The yurts sleep six to twelve people in bunks; four yurts are ski-in, and two can be accessed via snowmobile. They come stocked with firewood, a propane cookstove, and kitchen supplies, but you’ll have to bring your own bedding. The reservation calendar opened in late October, so book soon to snag a spot.
For Dog Owners
All three of the dog-friendly Maine Wilderness Lodges (from $249 per night), run by the Appalachian Mountain Club, will be opening to same-household groups of up to six people starting in mid-January. You’ll need to ski or snowshoe into the Gorman Chairback Lodge and Little Lyford, but you can drive to reach the Medawisla Lodge. Communal meals in the main lodge are no longer offered, but you can get your meals delivered to your door. The three cabins, located in the 100 Mile Wilderness Area just outside the town of Greenville, are connected by a 130-mile trail network, and around 90 of those miles are groomed during the winter for cross-country skiers. Read up on the AMC’s COVID-19 policies before you go, as well as Maine’s latest travel restrictions if you’re coming from out of state.
For Heat Seekers
Located near Stevens Pass, Washington, the Windy Mountain Yurt (from $1,700 per person for two-night trips), operated by Cascade Powder Guides, normally sleeps ten, but this year, it’s offering trips for up to five people. The two-story yurt, set at an elevation of 5,000 feet, is stocked with firewood and has a boot-drying rack and a treehouse latrine. By day, certified guides lead you into mellow glades and alpine bowls through a 1,920-acre private powder stash (cat-skiing or ski-touring options are also available). By night, sweat it out in an on-site wood-fired cedar sauna. Catering comes optional for an extra fee, if you don’t feel like cooking.
In Cooke City, Montana, Beartooth Powder Guides owns two backcountry huts (from $350 per night for the whole hut). The Woody Creek Cabin sleeps ten and is easily accessed just over two miles from the trailhead, while the Mount Zimmer Yurt can fit six people and requires an eight-mile approach (snowmobile shuttles are available for an extra fee, or you can bring your own sled). Both have out-the-door access to backcountry ski terrain known for its deep powder, ranging from pillow lines to high-alpine descents off 11,550-foot Mount Zimmer and 11,831-foot Mount Wilse. Hire a guide from the company to show you around (from $450 per day), though this year, guides won’t stay at the huts and catering won’t be available. An updated cancellation policy offers credit for a future trip if you need to scrap your plans at the last minute for COVID-related reasons.